2009 - %3, October

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 29, 2009

Thu Oct. 29, 2009 5:33 AM EDT

US Army paratroopers prepare to load into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during an air assault mission to detain a known militant in the Bermel district of Paktika province, Afghanistan, Oct. 13, 2009. The paratroopers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division's Company B, 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. (US Army photo by Pfc. Andrya Hill.)

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Need To Read: October 29, 2009

Thu Oct. 29, 2009 5:29 AM EDT

Today's must-reads are an acrostic:

(I lied about the acrostic.) Anyway, you can get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

The Latest in the Bonner Forged Letters Controversy

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 8:33 PM EDT

Jack Bonner—head of controversial political consulting firm Bonner and Associates—and Steve Miller—the CEO of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity—have a lot of explaining to do on Thursday morning. That's when they're due to be grilled by the House Select Committee on Energy and Global Warming about the role their organizations played in the creation of forged letters urging representatives to vote against the Waxman-Markey climate bill in June. According to documents relating to the matter and viewed by Mother Jones, the hearing will likely shed new light on the inner workings of Bonner—and how it utilizes minority groups on behalf of its corporate clients.

So, in anticipation, a quick recap of what we know so far: the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal front group, coordinated with contractors at the Hawthorn Group, a communications firm, and subcontractors at Bonner and Associates to generate letters and calls to Congress urging members not to support the climate bill. Those letters included at least 13 confirmed forgeries purporting to be from minority groups such as the NAACP, as well as seniors and veterans groups.

The three companies knew about the forgeries at least 48 hours before the House voted on the climate bill on June 26: Bonner notifiied Hawthorn, which alerted ACCCE on June 24. But no attempt was made to contact the three House members who received the fake letters until July 1, according to the documents. In fact, Bonner did not actually reach any member until July 13. (Two of the three recipients of the phony letters voted against the bill.)

ACCCE and Hawthorn have maintained that they expected Bonner to inform representatives, and were assured that the organization would do so. For its part, Bonner has blamed the whole affair on a temporary "rogue" employee.

But this version of events doesn't square with the company's standard protocol, former Bonner employees told Mother Jones.  Generally, they say, the company employs fewer than 10 permanent staffers who oversee dozens of temps. The former employees note that had the organization's own standards been upheld, a permanent staffer would have been responsible for confirming that all letters sent to Congress were genuine. 

We'll have much more on this on Thursday morning—the hearing starts at 9.30.

Chart of the Day

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 6:22 PM EDT

Gallup released a poll on Monday showing a slight blip in the number of Americans who identify themselves as conservatives.  Since this got a fair amount of attention, I figured it was time to update my chart of the Harris Poll version of this data, which goes back to the early 70s and consolidates the results from multiple polls throughout the year.

As you can see, nothing much has happened for the past three decades.  In the mid-70s a bunch of "not sure" respondents decided they were conservatives after all, and since then the numbers have remained remarkably steady: about 18% identify as liberals, 37% as conservatives, and 40% as moderates.  This hasn't varied by more than three or four points since 1980.  The most recent Harris data is for 2008, and breaks down 18% liberal, 37% conservative, and 41% moderate, right in line with the historical averages.  It's possible that something dramatic has happened since then, but Gallup aside, I wouldn't count on it.  Ten bucks says Harris gets pretty much the same results when they consolidate all the 2009 data at the end of the year.

Taking Graft to New Heights

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 4:01 PM EDT

I've never heard of the Italian news agency ADNkronos, but today they report a pretty spectacular statistic:

Kabul, 28 October(AKI) - Anti-corruption officials believe graft is eating up a staggering 75 percent of the Afghan government's revenues, a news conference heard on Wednesday. A senior official in Afghanistan's anti-corruption department, Muhammad Yasin Osmani, said most of the revenues were being wasted due to administrative corruption.

....Finance ministry spokesman Aziz Shams admitted government revenues were being squandered but said Osmani had over-dramatised the situation.

But does Aziz Shams mean over-dramatized in the sense of "wrong" or over-dramatized in the sense "making too big a fuss over it"?  Steve Hynd wants to know.

Obesity Kills More Than Hunger

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 3:31 PM EDT

Something to think about as we navigate a health care plan. A new report by the World Health Organization documents how one-quarter of the total 60 million annual deaths annually are premature and preventable deaths.

Furthermore, global life expectancy would increase by 5 years if we tackled 5 preventable factors affecting health. These are: underweight children, unprotected sex, alcohol abuse, unsafe water and related sanitation and hygiene issues, plus high blood pressure.

The report, Global health risks, describes 24 factors that shape human health and longevity. They are a mixture of environmental, behavioral, and physiological factors, including preventable societal ills, like air pollution.

Eight factors alone account for over 75 percent of coronary heart disease deaths—the leading cause of death worldwide. These eight factors include booze abuse, smoking, and low fruit and vegetable intake. Obesity creates or contributes to the other causes: high blood glucose, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity.

Worldwide, overweight and obesity now cause more deaths than underweight.

Combining any or all of these factors gets deadly in a hurry, the report notes. Reducing even one risk increases longevity.

A few other sad and preventable highlights:

  • Nine environmental and behavioral risks, together with 7 infectious causes, are responsible for 45 percent of cancer deaths worldwide
  • Unhealthy and unsafe environments cause one in four child deaths worldwide
  • 71% of lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoking
  • Easily remedied nutritional deficiencies prevent one in 38 newborns from reaching the age of five in low-income countries
  • 10 leading preventable risks decrease life expectancy by nearly 7 years globally and by more than 10 years for Africa

It's the challenge of our individual and collective future: to eat right (be it more or less), exercise more, quit smoking, drink booze in moderation, wear condoms, clean the waters, clean the air. That should keep us busy for 80 years or more, a decent lifespan.

 

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Now Baucus Wants to Mess With the Climate Bill

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 1:54 PM EDT

With Lindsey Graham offering support for climate legislation and other Republicans making sympathetic noises too, the prospects for a climate bill had been brightening recently. Or at least they were—until Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) made it clear on Tuesday that he won't vote for the Senate proposal in its current form.

Up until now, Baucus has been too preoccupied with health care reform to devote much time to climate issues. But his ability to gum up the works is significant. He's a member of Sen. Barbara Boxer's Environment and Public Works committee, which will mark up the bill and must approve the measure before it can be considered by the wider Senate. As chair of the Finance Committee, Baucus has also indicated that he plans to assert jurisdiction over how the bill allocates emissions permits.

In the health care debate, Baucus delayed the bill in the Finance Committee for months, watering it down in an effort to win the support of the panel's Republicans. In the end  only one (Olympia Snowe) voted for it. Now, he's apparently proposing a similar process for the climate bill. "I support passing common-sense climate legislation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while protecting our economy. And the key word in that sentence is 'passing,'" said Baucus at the Environment and Public Works Committee's first hearing on the measure. He questioned whether the bill as written "will lead us closer to or further away" from that goal.

Boxer's committee was expected to pass the legislation with relatively little trouble—the panel is much more progressive on environmental matters than Rep. Henry Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee, which took the lead in the House. But now Baucus is arguing that a significant number of Senate moderates share his views—and wants to cater to their concerns before the bill even comes before other committees like the agriculture panel which are expected to water down its provisions. "We cannot afford a first step that takes us further away from an achievable consensus on common-sense climate change," Baucus said "We could build that consensus here in this committee. If we don't, we risk wasting another month, another year, another Congress, without taking a step forward into our future."

Helping Out

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 1:46 PM EDT

A friend of mine with a son serving in Afghanistan emailed yesterday about a group that raises money to provide injured service members at military hospitals with voice-controlled laptop computers and related technology that helps their recovery.  It's a terrific organization that's holding a fundraising drive right now, and I just kicked in for a hundred dollars.  If it sounds like a good cause to you too, just click here.  They accept donations in any amount.

Alonzo King's Delicious Dance

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 12:03 PM EDT

When introducing the world premiere of Refractions on Friday, the choreographer Alonzo King of San Francisco's Lines Ballet told the audience to treat the dance as food. Even if the food seems strange, King said, taste it anyways. Since he founded his company 27 years ago in San Francisco, King has blended together African dance, ballet and contemporary movement into the ingredients of his choreography. If Refractions, King's latest work, is food, it is a meal of small plates, some quite delicious, others quotidian, brought course by individual course to the audience. King serves it up with the help of legendary New York jazz pianist Jason Moran, who created an original score for this work that owes much to Charles Mingus.

Capitalizing upon the frisson of traditional ballet and contemporary style, King composes Refractions mostly as a string of little dances: solos and duets, and occasionally duets turned trios, upon the arrival of a third dancer who becomes the principal in the next section. In the opening salvo, David Harvey delivers Caroline Roche literally by the hair, and an off kilter tug of war ensues in which the audience is treated to flexing, torso-thrusting movements that are peppered by Moran's jazzy effects. In ensuing courses, dancers contort, pirouette and leap romantically, thuddingly, or jauntily, in accompaniment to a range of music, including some drums. When the movement and music are perfectly intertwined, this works wonderfully; when they aren’t, there’s a sense of hollow shapes being made on stage without consideration for musical propulsion. Still, King and his dancers often achieve a seamless momentum through some lovely sequences.

King is among a handful of venerable choreographers who first harnessed other genres to create new and "strange" movement out of the familiarity of the classical western art form of ballet. Likewise, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and Philadanco combine ballet, contemporary dance, and African dance to varying degrees, and their popularity has inoculated the audience of the notion that melding these dance forms is exotic. In fact, many contemporary dance companies today regularly fuse ballet, modern and non-western dance, and laboratories for dance such as the American Dance Festival showcase cutting-edge choreographers who interweave dance forms to create new movement that is not just beautiful, but that is truly new and meaningful. In Refractions, King has created some tasty food, but strange it is not.

Lines Ballet will tour various cities in Europe and the Unites States beginning in early 2010.
 

Arnold Speaks

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

In case you're wondering what's up in California these days, here's our current object of obsession: Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto message for AB 1176.  Arnold's flack says it's just "a weird coincidence."  No doubt.