2008 - %3, June

National Review Lamely Attacks Mother Jones To Lamely Defend Phil Gramm

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 2:29 PM EDT

Is this the best a prominent conservative writer can do?

In the latest issue of National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru claims I penned a "hit piece" on Phil Gramm, the cochairman of John McCain's presidential campaign. Ponnuru does so in an article that accuses Mother Jones, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation and Keith Olbermann of "smearing" Gramm with the threefold mission of discrediting Gramm, McCain, and deregulation. (Gramm, when he was the Republican chairman of the Senate banking committee, was the king of financial deregulation.) Ponnuru has little to say about the fact that Gramm is now an executive at Swiss banking behemoth UBS, who has lobbied Congress on behalf of the bank. Is it appropriate for a campaign official to be working for a foreign-based transnational? Several lobbyists have had to depart the McCain campaign because they toil for private interests. Does Ponnuru believe they should be welcomed back?

But on to his specific complaint about the article I wrote about Gramm. The piece focused on what I called a "sly legislative maneuver" pulled by Gramm in December 2000 that "greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown." During a week of chaos in Washington--Bush v. Gore was being decided by the Supreme Court, and Congress was trying to pass quickly an omnibus spending bill--Gramm attached to that massive spending bill a 262-page measure called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. That bill deregulated financial instruments known as "credit default swaps," which, according to Michael Greenberger, who directed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's division of trading and regulation in the late 1990s, have been at "the heart of the subprime meltdown,"

Here's what Ponnuru wrote about that article:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Do We Care If First Ladies Can Cook?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

Back when there was still potential for the first spouse to be a man, Parents magazine asked the contenders to submit their favorite recipes for cookies.

Minor scandal ensued. Cindy McCain, revealed Wonkette, actually totally cut and pasted her tasty oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipe from the Hershey Corporation. Sure, she substituted "brown sugar" for "light brown sugar," but (asked pundits) is that really enough of a change?

A better question is: Why do we ask presidential spouses to submit their baking ideas to the nation at all? Even before Hillary Clinton gave the world her 1992 recipe for chocolate chip cookies, presidential cooking contests were nothing new—and always a little forced. Martha Washington provided America with a recipe for mincemeat that likely only slaves had ever produced. Julia Grant offered a somewhat frightening recipe for veal olives. Even Jackie O sallied forth with a recipe for white rum cocktails.

But these days, when unofficial first lady bake-offs finally pit one high-powered corporate exec against another, can't we at last drop the illusion this matters?

—Daniel Luzer

Michael Gerson Has a Complete Lack of Self-Awareness

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 12:35 PM EDT

President Bush launched a war of choice against a country that posed no imminent threat to the United States by misrepresenting intelligence to the American public (or by not vetting intelligence fully enough and not seeking dissenting opinions, if you want to be kinder). That war of choice led to the death of over 4,000 young American men and women and the dismembering and disfiguring of 30,000 more. The number of Iraqis dead counts in the hundreds of thousands, most just civilians. Anti-Americanism has increased dramatically around the world, in both states we count as allies and as enemies, and terrorism has gone up along with it. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, black sites, rendition, waterboarding, and torture exacerbated all of these problems. Americans saw photos of detainees that our soldiers had hooked up to wires or attacked with dogs. President Bush threw fuel on the fire with a bellicosity and an insensitivity that helped turned even his own country against him. "Bring 'em on." "Now watch this drive." "Nope, no weapons over there."

But former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, creator of the phrase "axis of evil," needs you to understand — incivility is key. Incivility will ruin this country.

Flood of Divorces Begin Due to Gay Marriage in CA. That's How This Works, Right?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 12:19 PM EDT

Heterosexuals were running wild in the streets of DC this morning, divorcing each other left and right. The reason? Yesterday was the first full day of gay marriage in California, and now the decline of marriage has set in.

Come to think of it, my grilled cheese sandwich was a little off last night. And I woke up with a crick in my neck. Must be the gays.

Idaho: Best Senate Race Ever?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 11:49 AM EDT

Honestly, I wish I could just post this entire Wall Street Journal article, but considering you have to be a subscriber to access it online, that's probably illegal. It begins, "The launch of Rex Rammell's Senate bid didn't go as planned. The mud pit and the monster trucks were an insurmountable distraction. The would-be supporters were too drunk to think about the election." Classic, right? Here's what you need to know:

(1) Dr. Rex Rammell is a conservative independent who is running in the Idaho senate race to replace Sen. Larry Craig. He is only running because the Republican in the race, a man named Jim Risch, once had Fish and Game Department officers kill 43 members of Rammell's private elk herd. Risch was serving as interim governor at the time. Rammell, who staged a sit-in on a fresh elk carcass that game officers were trying to remove, vowed at the time "to see Jim Risch never gets elected in this state again."

(2) Rammell's daughter is Miss Idaho USA. After winning her crown, she refused to have her photograph taken with Risch, due to the aforementioned dispute between Risch and her father. She called Risch a "weasel."

(3) One of the fringe candidates in the race (okay, one of the other fringe candidates in the race) is named Pro-Life. That's his whole name. He is an organic-strawberry farmer who, apparently, cares passionately and exclusively about the rights of the unborn.

Republicans are legitimately worried that Rammell will take a few percentage points away from Risch, thus giving the seat to the Democratic contender, Representative Larry LaRocco. If Democrats are winning in Idaho this fall, say hello to a 60-vote majority.

"Broken Laws, Broken Lives": New Physicians' Report

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 11:08 AM EDT

Physicians for Human Rights has released a new report that examines the medical evidence that it says confirms the "first-hand accounts of men who endured torture by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. These men were never charged with any crime."

From the report's preface, written by retired US Maj. General Antonio M. Taguba, one of the whistleblowers on abuse at Abu Ghraib:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Seymour Hersh profiled Taguba in the New Yorker here.


Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bush Trips Up McCain on Offshore Drilling

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 10:48 AM EDT

Yesterday, John McCain gave a speech announcing that he is reversing his position on offshore drilling: he's now strongly in favor.

Today, in a move that must have Rick Davis and Charlie Black pulling their hair out, President Bush will publicly proclaim his support for McCain's idea. President Bush should have to refund the McCain campaign for all the money it spent on these ads.

Update: This is putting McCain-supporting Florida Republicans, all of whom opposed offshore drilling, in an awkward position.

Six Degrees of Jello Biafra

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 8:16 PM EDT

jello-biafra-250x200.jpgJello Biafra, the green latex glove-wearing front man for arguably one of the 80s' most prolific punk/hardcore bands, is celebrating his 50th birthday this week by performing two shows in San Francisco alongside the Melvins and Jello's latest band, the Axis of Merry Evildoers, which includes members of Victims Family, Faith No More and Sharkbait. I'm told that a sweaty, shirtless Jello did his share of jumping into the crowd at Monday's show, which was reportedly a mix of "old punk dudes" and younger folks who were born well after Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables dropped in 1980.

After the jump: Ministry, who got their start that same year, gave an amusing shout-out to Jello this week:

US Fish and Wildlife: Oil and Gas Extraction Have Nothing - Nothing! - To Do With Arctic Habitat Loss

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 4:40 PM EDT

Loath to go too many days without flouting some kind of law, the Bush administration last week granted permission for seven oil companies to harass and potentially harm polar bears while drilling for oil and gas in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, provided they do so unintentionally. Polar bears were just recently classifed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, an obvious lapse in judgment the administration apparently rushed to rectify. The "final rule" (.pdf) states that "The Fish and Wildlife Service has developed regulations that authorize the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of small numbers of Pacific walruses and polar bears." To "take", as defined in the document, means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill" a marine mammal, or to attempt to do so.

So, if I read this correctly, Fish and Wildlife has just authorized oil companies to accidentally harass, hunt, and capture polar bears. While no extraction is yet underway, it seems fair to conclude that the government is covering its legal backside in anticipation of the inevitable havoc that seven companies' worth of oil and gas exploration will wreak.

Which would make sense, if the agency were not also claiming that the exploration won't cause any trouble at all. Speaking to an AP reporter, Fish and Wildlife director H. Dale Hall insisted that "the oil and gas industry in operating under the kind of rules they have operated under for 15 years has not been a threat to the species...It was the ice melting and the habitat going away that was a threat to the species over everything else."

But as the article continues, "exploring in the Chukchi Sea's 29.7 million acres will require as many as five drill ships, one or two icebreakers, a barge, a tug and two helicopter flights per day, according to the government. Oil companies will also be making hundreds of miles of ice roads and trails along the coastline."

All of which I'm sure has nothing to do with "the ice melting and the habitat going away."

Russian Bureaucrats Smother the World's Best Alt-Weekly

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 4:20 PM EDT

a26c.jpgSad news out of Russia this week. The AP reports that The eXile, the English-language biweekly for Moscow's expatriate community, is going out of business following an unannounced inspection by officials from Russia's media bureau that scared off the paper's financial backers.

The temptation in eulogizing The eXile is to string together lengthy excerpts of the paper's best work. But I'll keep it to a few quick hits: It's where Matt Taibbi got his start; it published a military affairs column by "War Nerd" Gary Brecher, a data enterer who, according to his Wikipedia entry, describes "himself as a fat slob who spends approximately 8 hours a day on the internet searching for war news"; in 2001 the editors famously "stormed into the Moscow bureau of The New York Times and threw a pie filled with equine sperm into the face of the bureau chief after accusing him of soft coverage of Russia's political elite." And even with their Larry Flynt-like standards of taste and decency—even while describing their most malicious pranks in vile detail—the editors managed to come off as the good guys.

Really, it's a measure of the paper's brilliance that it managed to be consistently interesting and readable while covering a country that plenty of readers, like me, had never even laid eyes on.

Over at Radar, Mark Ames, who founded The eXile 11 years ago, has been providing some hilarious coverage of the slow death of the paper. Here's a sample passage, in which officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and the Protection of Cultural Heritage quiz Ames on eccentric opposition leader/eXile columnist Eduard Limonov (slightly censored because The Riff is a family blog):