2010 - %3, June

Rape-aXe UPDATE: What CNN Got Wrong

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 7:30 PM EDT

Yesterday, I reported that women should never feel the need to arm their vaginas to snare rapists. But that's the unfortunate case/real-life horror show since the patented device called Rape-aXe arrived.

CNN reported that the Rape-aXe's creator, Sonnet Ehlers "is distributing" the device during the World Cup, a statement which was picked up by bloggers and daily news sources all over. This, however, is not true, which sucks since, as I pointed out, 317 South African women will be raped during one 90-minute World Cup game. The truth is Ehlers wants to pass out the toothed condoms during the World Cup, but she hasn't and won't be able to unless she receives enough donations. I discovered this fact this morning after reading an email she sent me last night. I emailed her back to find out if there's been any fallout from CNN getting a vital part of the story wrong, and to get her take on why South African donors aren't breaking down her door to jump on this (unfortunately) much-needed product. Once she replies, I'll update this post. In the meantime, here are Ehlers' responses to my other questions:

MJ: Why did you choose the distribute the Rape-aXe during the World Cup?

SE: Because I wanted to protect women against possible rape. You know parties and with parties comes liquor.

MJ: How many have you distributed during the World Cup?

SE: I received by then only $120. Could not give out free condoms with such little money. I hope donations will come in so that I can give free condoms to women.

MJ: Has anyone outside of South Africa ordered the Rape-aXe? If so, where were they from?

SE: From all over the world. Head office for license rights and distribution is in Germany

MJ: How much does it cost?

SE: It will differ from country to country

MJ: I've read reports that South African officials are determining if and/or when to make the Rape-aXe available in the tampon aisle of stores. Is this true?

SE: It will be sold in the aisle of condoms

MJ: Will the Rape-aXe be readily available in stores?

SE: It depends on the distributors in each country

MJ: When will the Rape-aXe be in stores?

SE: It depends on the country

MJ: According to your previous answer, you have not distributed Rape-aXe condoms so far for the World Cup. Is this correct?

SE: Yes

MJ: Do you intend on distributing 30,000 Rape-aXe condoms in South Africa during the World Cup if the donations come in?

SE: Yes

MJ: Also, when (what date) will the Rape-aXe be available in the condom aisles in South Africa?

SE: As soon as a South African becomes a distributor. No one has come forward.

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Dave Weigel and the Culture of Exposure

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 6:56 PM EDT

When General Stanley McChrystal was fired this week, it was for disparaging his superiors on the record.

When journalist Helen Thomas retired this month, it was for disparaging the Jews on the record.

When blogger Dave Weigel left the Washington Post today, it was for disparaging conservative figures in an off-the-record conversation with friends and colleagues on a private discussion list.

All are recent casualties of the newly dubbed "culture of exposure" that's consumed Washington today—one intent on "destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important," as David Brooks writes in his column on McChrystal. (See Ezra for more on this and Julian Sanchez on the DC-as-high-school theory of Beltway culture.)

But McChrystal and Thomas, at least, knowingly exposed themselves and their comments to public scrutiny, if sometimes under the influence of a Bud Lime Light (or five). By contrast, Weigel—a leading reporter on the conservative movement, who I also consider a friend and colleague—never consented to do so, as his comments were cherry-picked from private correspondence and leaked to a journalist/lobbyist tag-team. I can attest to the fact that  If his remarks were truly newsworthy—that is, if the failure to expose them would have done real harm to the public good—then exposing them might have been warranted. Instead, they were just an overheated version of personal views that Weigel had already made public in his writing, blogging, and Tweeting, where he made it clear that he was no party-line conservative. And as a member of the now-defunct JounoList, I can vouch for the fact that there was nothing more to Weigel's remarks than what was published, despite the speculation from some that he must have had a clear ideological agenda. In dredging up his private remarks, FishbowlDC, the Daily Caller, and the email leaker simply facilitated a smear job that spawned the kind of outsized ragefest that’s accompanied all of these so-called exposés.

The anti-Weigel camp has succeeded in its mission. But it’s only a matter of time (days? hours?) before the same scandal-hungry culture of exposure, shaming, and hyperbolic outrage moves on to the next one.

BP Still Playing Dumb About Size of Gulf Disaster

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 3:24 PM EDT

In an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune published today (via ProPublica), BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles maintains that how much oil his company is responsible for letting loose in the Gulf is irrelevant. The flow rate, he said, "has never impacted the response."

It sure does impact the destruction in the Gulf, and the amount of money the company may have to pay in civil and potentially criminal penalties. As we've reported here before, the company could owe $4,300 a barrel for Clean Water Act violations alone. BP's earliest estimates said at first that no oil was leaking, then 300 barrels a day, and then 1,000 barrels. The latest government estimates, however, put the flow rate as high as 60,000 barrels per day.

BP would have us believe that at this point, 65,000 barrels have leaked into the Gulf, a fine of $279.5 million. If the high-end government estimate is right, the disaster is already at more than 3.9 million barrels (or 164 million gallons)—$16.7 billion in fines. Yes, billion, with a "b."

Suttles says that estimating the size is "extraordinarily imprecise and we took a view very early on that we didn't think you could do it and we didn't think it was relevant either." (This despite the fact that company bragged two years ago about how awesome their technology to measure flow rates is.)

Despite Suttles insistence that their low-balling "has never impacted the response," as the Times-Picayune notes, the federal on-scene coordinator, Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Watson, sent a letter to the company on June 11 complaining that their response was inadequate because they were underestimating the size. "I am concerned that your current plans do not provide for maximum mobilization of resources to provide the needed collection capacity consistent with the revised flow estimates," Watson wrote to Suttles.

So yes, in this case, size does matter Mr. Suttles. For many reasons.

Ben Nelson: Jobless Rate No Big Deal

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 2:52 PM EDT

On Thursday afternoon, despite eight weeks of haggling and dealbrokering, the Senate rejected extending unemployment benefits amidst rising deficits but at a time when one in 10 people are jobless. The 57-41 vote against the tax extender bill, which would've also given tax breaks to small and large businesses, was the third time Democrats failed break a GOP filibuster, and the bill's failure leaves upwards of 1.2 million unemployed Americans still without help. "They have taken the filibuster and made the Senate dysfunctional," Sen. Dick Durbin, the majority whip, told Politico, referring to Senate Republicans.

Those GOPers who opposed the bill typically cited fears about the country's spiraling deficits, railing on the fact that the jobs bill would've cost $100 billion and added $33 billion to the deficit. Despite the obvious need for the extended unemployment insurance, it's not hard to see why GOPers, however wrongheaded or hypocritical, would vote against this.

Are Liberals Less Liberal Than They Think?

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 2:39 PM EDT

British economist James Rockey suggests that self-identified liberals actually possess more conservative views on issues than their ideological affiliations would suggest. Andrew Sullivan points us to an academic working paper that surveyed some 280,000 people in 84 countries, including Hungary, Vietnam, and China, as well as major Western industrialized countries. One of the paper's most perplexing findings:

It would seem that the better educated, if anything, are less accurate in how they perceive their ideology. Higher levels of education are associated with being less likely to believe oneself to be right-wing, whilst simultaneously associated with being in favour of increased inequality. This result contrasts with those for income: higher levels of income are associated with both believing oneself to be more right-wing as well as considering more inequality to be necessary.

So what's going on here? In the US, for example, there are certainly pockets of wealthy self-identified liberals who are less inclined to support income redistribution—but who support liberals because they’re either willing to overlook some of their differences with the left on economic issues (given their views on social issues), or who ultimately decide it's not worth being as selfish when it comes to actually casting a vote.

Audio: How Green Was My Organic Milk?

Fri Jun. 25, 2010 2:08 PM EDT

Think you’re saving the environment by buying organic or fueling your car with corn oil? Heather Rogers, author of “Green Gone Wrong, How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution,” says that “green” products aren’t always as environmentally responsible as they appear. In this interview with Need to Know host Alison Stewart, she discusses the reality of organic foods and biofuels, among other things.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 25 June 2010

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

I may be out of town, but thanks to the miracle of scheduled posting and tiltable camera LCDs we have catblogging this week anyway. Today's theme is lap cats. On the left, Domino is in one of her favorite spots, snoozing away in the crook between my legs. On the right, we have a rare shot of Inkblot sitting in my lap, something he doesn't do often — and probably just as well given his impressive geometrodynamic proportions. Believe me, Inkblot can put your legs to sleep pretty quickly. Still, until they wear out their welcome there's nothing quite like a purring cat nestled into your lap. Highly recommended as a stress reliever.

Why the Health Care Repeal Movement Is Failing

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 12:42 PM EDT

Jonathan Chait proffers the latest evidence of why the Republican movement to repeal health care reform is doomed. The problem is that even hard-right conservatives admit that there’s something to love in the health care law, as Florida Senate hopeful Marco Rubio recently told the National Review:

[Rubio] just mentioned that there are two parts within the Obamacare legislation that he doesn’t want repealed*. The first is the ban on insurance companies denying coverage based onpreexisting conditions and the second is that he thinks that children up to age 26 should be allowed to “buy into” their parents’ coverage.

The problem is that you can’t just cherrypick the parts of the health care reform that you want to support and junk the rest, as both the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and Chait acknowledge. If you prohibit discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, then you have to find ways to compel both healthy and sick people to get coverage, otherwise costs will skyrocket if only sick people are insured. This is part of the reason why the Affordable Care Act contains an individual mandate to purchase insurance—one of the provisions that’s a frequent conservative target—as well as other ways to expand insurance coverage.

Republicans, as a result, have had to call for an all-out repeal of the bill, with the assumption that they’d pass another health care bill afterwards. This unpalatable option split the GOP from the very moment that health care reform passed. And it appears that even anti-reform Americans aren't buying it.

World's Only Full-Scale Oil Spill Test Tank Springs a Leak

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 12:20 PM EDT

There's just one facility in the world where scientists and emergency responders can run full-scale oil spill response tests and research. It's housed at US Naval Weapons Station Earle in Leonardo, New Jersey. But when Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) tried to arrange a visit to the facility earlier this week, he learned that the facility is presently inoperable. Why? The tank researchers use to simulate spills has sprung a leak. 

The Oil and Hazardous Materials Simulated Environmental Test Tank (OHMSETT) is owned by the Minerals Management Service (recently renamed the "Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement"). The wave pool there, which is used to test oil spill response technologies and techniques, was closed last month "because of multiple leaks" and is expected to remain out of commission until sometime in July.

Menendez, a major opponent of offshore drilling, says the situation demonstrates just how unprepared the federal government is to handle an oil disaster like the one in the Gulf. "I believe that the fact that this facility is inoperable during the nation’s largest oil spill is indicative of a complacency and lack of investment in oil spill response technologies," he wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday. "The industry and even the government has substantially invested in new technologies to drill in deeper water and deeper into the Earth, but little has been invested in safety or oil spill response and clean-up."

The Department of Interior issued this response today, arguing that maintenance on the tank was planned and that the Coast Guard doesn't need to use the facility right now because they are "too busy with the response" in the Gulf. Here's the full statement:

OHMSETT is currently closed to testing because of planned maintenance. Prior to the closure, BOE consulted with the USCG to see if they needed the tank after the Deepwater Horizon incident and they said that they were too busy with the response. No testing was delayed or postponed due to the planned closure. The tests normally conducted at the facility are scheduled months in advance and are more oriented to advancing research and development than to addressing current issues.
If the research is promising, it can and often is developed into procedures or equipment used to deal with real-world events. We also have the ability to bring the facility back on line in several days if the tank is needed for testing to help the spill response effort.

Even though it was inoperable at the time, Sharon Buffington, chief of the engineering and research branch of MMS, touted the tank as "a vital component" of MMS' oil spill research in testimony to a House panel on June 9. "It is the only facility in the world that allows for full-scale oil spill response testing, training, and research conducted with a variety of oils in a marine environment under controlled conditions," Buffington told a House panel. Now-dismissed MMS head Liz Birnbaum also talked up it at a hearing last month as integral to "ensure that the best and safest technologies are used in offshore oil and gas operations." Neither Birnbaum or Buffington mentioned that the facilty was offline.

Menendez, who is sponsoring an MMS reform bill in the Senate, says this is yet another example of why the divsion needs an overhaul.

"The need for the MMS reform could not be clearer when the agency charged with preventing Big Oil from spilling into our waters cannot keep water in its own testing tanks," Menendez tells Mother Jones.

Seems like the hole in the bottom of the Gulf isn't the only one we should be worrying about.

Jobs: A Silver Lining for Democrats?

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

Democrats have been vowing to make the 2010 elections all about jobs, jobs, jobs. And yesterday, the GOP dealt the Democratic Party—as well as the nation's economic recovery—a big blow by voting down the Senate jobs bill. By week’s end, some 1.3 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits, which had been extended by the federal government given the ongoing recession. By the end of the year, many states will begin a painful process of budget bloodletting that’s likely to axe hundreds of thousands of jobs in both the public and private sectors. The bill's failure will make it that much more difficult for Democrats to prevent voters from turning against them out of anger about the sluggish economic recovery.

But the New York Times points to a potential silver lining for jobs in key battleground states that could give Democrats a potential boost this fall. The story notes that the largest number of swing House races are happening in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio—places where jobs are actually bouncing back more quickly than in the rest of the country. And concrete improvements in these districts could end up having more of an effect on voters' mindsets than overall economic trendlines. Michael Luo explains:

All three states, coincidentally, are considered to be on the leading edge of the nation's recovery. Since December, they have added jobs at a faster rate than the country as a whole and even led the country in the total number of jobs added in April. One reason is that manufacturing, a traditional backbone, has been on the rebound; another is that these states generally did not suffer as acutely as other regions from the housing boom and bust.

While much attention has been paid to the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, political scientists have found little correlation between that measure and midterm elections results. Instead, they have found more broad-based indicators, particularly real personal disposable per capita income, which measures the amount of money a household has after taxes and inflation, to be better gauges.

The story notes, moreover, that "voters' memories tend to be short,” citing political science research showing that economic conditions between the second and third quarters of an election year (between April and September) matter the most.