2008 - %3, July

Now on the San Francisco Ballot: The George W. Bush Sewage Plant

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 2:54 PM EDT

It's the mother lode of all potty jokes: In November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to rechristen the city's Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant as the George. W Bush Sewage Plant.

sealweb.gif

So great is the pun potential--Cleaning up Bush's mess! Memorializing the president of the affluent with effluent!--that Keith Olberman covered the issue with the help of a comedian and newspapers are dropping stinkers too (LA Times: "San Franciscans' Planned 'Tribute' to Bush Stirs Some Muck"). The website of the initiative's sponsor, the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, says, "No other president in American history has accomplished so much in such a short time." So much, well, you know.

In the spring the members of the Presidential Memorial Commission began circulating a petition in support of the measure, often in city parks, while wearing Uncle Sam outfits and blaring patriotic music from a boom box. Yesterday the San Francisco Department of Elections certified that they'd turned in enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, opening a new chapter in the time-honored tradition of wacky San Francisco ballot measures.

Not everybody in the city supports the idea. Officials at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission say the plant is an award winning facility. (A more fitting memorial would be the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, which in February spilled 2.7 million gallons of poop water into San Francisco Bay). San Francisco, after all, cleans up its own shit just fine.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

AFRICOM: State Dept., USAID Concerned About "Militarization" of Foreign Aid

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 2:50 PM EDT

uganda.jpg

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), an organizational construct intended to unify the entire African continent (except Egypt) under a single U.S. commander, is due to become fully operational September 30. As described by the Pentagon, it will be a new sort of animal, a combatant command "plus," that will have the ability to mount military operations, but which will rely primarily on "soft power." AFRICOM "will support, not shape, U.S. foreign policy on the continent," Theresa Whelan, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told a House subcommittee on Wednesday. But despite official assurances, concern is mounting that AFRICOM could stray from its "supporting" role to become the new center of power for U.S. activities in Africa. The issue is central to the ongoing debate over the new command's proper place.

At this week's hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, the first of two scheduled hearings on AFRICOM, General Michael Snodgrass and Ambassador Mary Yates, both members of the command's nascent leadership, assured lawmakers that AFRICOM is "a listening, growing, and developing organization dedicated to partnering with African governments, African security organizations, and the international community to achieve U.S. security goals by helping the people of Africa achieve the goals they have set for themselves." And to its credit, AFRICOM has gone out of its way to calm fears that it represents a new imperial push into the Dark Continent. (It even hosts a blog to keep the public informed of its progress.) AFRICOM's primary purpose, say proponents, will be to coordinate with the State Department and USAID in the pursuit of "stability operations"—one of the Pentagon's latest enthusiasms, encoded in Directive 3000.05, which places humanitarian and relief operations on a level plane with combat missions. (You can read my earlier piece on the subject here.)

Messiah Watch: Obama as Neo

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 1:07 PM EDT

Apparently, Barack Obama is referred to sardonically as "The One" within the McCain campaign.

Sorry — that's actually pretty funny.

Obama Loses One Fundraising Advantage

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 12:16 PM EDT

We've covered the fundraising beat a little bit recently. Here's a new piece of news: Obama may be shifting to a more conventional top-dollar fundraising model. Washington Post:

Sen. Barack Obama reversed a three-month fundraising slide by raising $52 million in June... Obama's campaign would not say how much of his total was raised from small donors who gave online, and official reports are not due to be filed until Sunday. But an examination of his campaign schedule — which has been packed with high-dollar fundraising events — would suggest that he relied less on Internet donors than he did in February, when he took in $55.4 million...
The shift has been noticed by top Obama fundraisers, who have been busily planning the kind of big-money events the candidate was able to bypass in the heat of the primary campaign. Several said in interviews that the campaign is no longer seeing the kind of online bonanza that occurred during Obama's long battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, when more than $1 million was flowing in each day.

One of the advantages Obama is seen as having over McCain is his freedom from fundraisers. The theory goes that because Obama raises so much cash online, he can spend his time holding rallies instead of high-end fundraisers, thus improving his chances of winning and decreasing his dependence on fat cats.

I've asked the Obama campaign if they are seeing a decrease in small donors. But the WaPo's analysis of Obama's schedule suggests that no matter what the numbers say, the "freedom from fundraisers" advantage has been lost.

Part of a Peace Group? Might Want to Take a Look Around...

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 12:03 PM EDT

This is pretty horrifying. Here's UPI:

Undercover Maryland state troopers infiltrated three groups advocating peace and protesting the death penalty — attending meetings and sending reports on their activities to U.S. intelligence and military agencies, according to documents released Thursday.
The documents show the activities occurred from at least March 2005 to May 2006 and that officers used false names, which the documents referred to as "covert identities" — to open e-mail accounts to receive messages from the groups...

Air Force Design Divas Request First Class 'Comfort Capsules'

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 11:32 AM EDT

Flat screen TVs, leather chairs, cherry wood, "aesthetically pleasing" carpeting and wall and ceiling treatments—sounds like the makings for some mack daddy digs, huh? Members of the Air Force brass thought so too, as they oversaw two programs designed to provide senior military leaders with luxury aircraft accommodations costing millions of dollars, some of it diverted from counter-terrorism funds.

According to records obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, which calls these first class upgrades "a gross misuse... of taxpayer dollars," only "world class" accoutrements would do when it came to Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Capsules (SLICCs)—"comfort" was later changed to "conference"—and Senior Leader Intransit Pallets (SLIPs), readymade senior officers' quarters that can be loaded onto a variety of military cargo planes.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Next Week: The Overseas Obama Extravaganza

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 11:28 AM EDT

Get read for all Obama, all the time.

The three network anchors will travel to Europe and the Middle East next week for Barack Obama's trip, adding their high-wattage spotlight to what is already shaping up as a major media extravaganza.
Lured by an offer of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidate, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric will make the overseas trek, meaning that the NBC, ABC and CBS evening newscasts will originate from stops along the route and undoubtedly give it big play.

An All-American Advertisement

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 10:59 AM EDT

blond-baby-biofuel.jpg

The above ad is running on the Washington Post website. It's sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association, which is the national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry. I find it interesting because it is clearly an attempt to integrate ethanol into an all-American image. The ad could be called "Blonds, Babies, and Biofuels." (Or, "Babes, Babes, and Biofuels.") All it needs, in addition to the young mother and her smiling tot, is an apple pie cooling on the roof of the car and a flag waving in the background.

Ethanol is far from perfect, a fact we've been writing about for ages. But because it's produced by hard-bitten farmers in places like Iowa, it's probably the renewable energy source most likely to be integrated into our sense of national identity. And that's a start. After ethanol, hopefully we can move onto the stuff that works.

Gramm and McCain Still Close Pals? That's Good News for Dems

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 10:40 AM EDT

Robert Novak reports--and his reporting is not always spot-on--that John McCain has forgiven Phil Gramm after Gramm called America a "nation of whiners" and dismissed current economic troubles as nothing more than a "mental recession." According to Novak, "Gramm will continue as an adviser and surrogate" for McCain. Gramm is still cochairman of McCain's presidential campaign.

This reporting counters recent news stories that Gramm has been nudged aside within McCainland. If it is true, Democrats can only respond this way: good! Gramm is a wonderful--and deserving--target for Dems and the Obama campaign. But not only because his out-of-touch remarks seemed to reflect the inner thinking of McCain and his advisers. Gramm represents much of what has gone wrong with the economy. As chairman of the Senate banking committee, he championed relentless deregulation that led in part to the subprime mess and to the Enron debacle. After leaving the Senate, he then became a lobbyist and executive for Swiss bank giant UBS. (Remember when McCain used to blast lobbyists?) These days UBS is in the news for allowing wealthy American clients to park money off-shore (perhaps illegally) to avoid taxes.

So McCain was happy to recruit Gramm for his campaign--despite his past record, ideas, policies, and lobbying activity--and look to him for economic advice. He saw nothing wrong with Grammonomics. That's the issue, more so than Gramm's impolitic comments. And if Novak is right--and that may be a nice-sized if--the Gramm issue remains, for Phil Gramm remains within the warm embrace of John McCain.

UPDATE: On Friday, Gramm quit as cochairman of the McCain campaign. Maybe Novak got it wrong. But Gramm did not say he would no longer be advising McCain.

The Dark Knight: A Cartoonist's Take

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 5:19 AM EDT

Time was when comic-book fandom would keel over, twitching and gasping in excitement, when every decade or so a new movie based on a comic book hit the big screen. In my days as a younger, peppier geek, I too awaited each new comic-book movie with bated breath. Now, I'm just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of offerings (not to mention burned by two decades of movies like Batman Forever, and both versions of The Fantastic Four).

Marvel alone seems determined to overwhelm theatergoers this year: The wildly successful Iron Man (and wildly less successful Incredible Hulk) will be followed over the next few years not just by more Iron and Spider types, but The Silver Surfer, Ant-Man (no, really), and an entire Avengers team-up.

Then there's rival house DC's Batman offering, The Dark Knight, opening this weekend. There's already talk of an Oscar nomination for Heath Ledger's performance; currently, the only actor to have won a posthumous Oscar is Peter Finch (for his iconic madman in Network).

Given the heavy media coverage of this summer's stylized films, maybe that's why the only comic-book adaptation that really fascinates me right now isn't a movie.

Yes, I can't stop thinking about the Spider-Man musical. Bound for Broadway and featuring music by Bono and the Edge, Spider-Man put out this casting call for its three leads: