2011 - %3, December

WATCH: Last US Convoy Leaves Iraq

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Early Sunday morning, the last remaining US soldiers at Camp Adder climbed into their MRAPs and Humvees on the base, outside Iraq's southern city of Nasiriya. Slowly, their convoy of 110 vehicles ambled across the sand, through a gate at the Kuwait border. The last truck passed through just after 4:30 a.m. As the sun began to break over the horizon, a handful of troops pushed the gate closed.

Just like that, it was over:

That's a video of the last trucks entering Kuwait, and the gate closing behind them, courtesy of an Air Force Predator drone. Not exactly shock and awe, or an embassy airlift. The New York Times reports:

As an indication of the country the United States is leaving behind, for security reasons the last soldiers made no time for goodbyes to Iraqis with whom they had become acquainted. To keep details of the final trip secret from insurgents—or Iraqi security officers aligned with militias—interpreters for the last unit to leave the base called local tribal sheiks and government leaders on Saturday morning and conveyed that business would go on as usual, not letting on that all the Americans would soon be gone.

Last week, MoJo looked back at a decade's worth of reporting on Iraq—wars and rumors of wars. Add it all up, and you get something like this Sunday tweet by military analyst Andrew Exum—a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns:

US combat is over, but the war's after-effects will be keeping reporters busy for years to come. As the Washington Post's veteran Iraq correspondent, Liz Sly, reported Sunday morning, a sectarian struggle between minority Sunnis and the Shiite-led government has already broken out in Baghdad's Parliament. Even after the fighting calmed down in 2008, US soldiers and diplomats kept an uneasy modus vivendi between those groups; if Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki doesn't show some restraint (and start to root out corruption in his government), Mesopotamia may see another cycle of tyranny and insurgency.

As for America's way forward? Hard to say, but I couldn't help wondering about it as I waited to watch this Post video of the last Louisiana National Guardsmen returning home from Iraq. Before it loaded, I had to watch a 15-second pop-out commercial…for Chevron Oil.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Your Daily Newt: Hillary Clinton's a B****

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 7:00 AM EST

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Like most Republicans in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich was not a fan of Hillary Clinton. Unlike most Republicans in the 1990s, his dislike for the First Lady was so great that it bubbled to the surface in the middle of a 60 Minutes interview with his mom. When CBS' Connie Chung asked Kathleen Gingrich in 1995 if her son had ever vented about Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Gingrich said she couldn't talk about it. Then Chung pulled off the journalistic equivalent of the fake-to-third-throw-to-first pick-off move:

The Notorious Kims: Lil' Kim vs. Kim Jong Il

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Okay, it's a little unceremonious. But at the news of Kim Jong Il's death, we couldn't resist going back into the archives to disgorge this gem from the May/June 2003 issue. Enjoy. And for more KJI weirdness, go here.

7 Christmas Songs That Don't Suck

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Mr. Claus was not about to peaceably accept the onslaught of terrible seasonal pop songs played in his honor. The cops drew the line at public urination, though.

By now, it's almost impossible to remember a time when local radio stations weren't blasting Christmas/winter/secular-Santa music 24/7. You've probably heard the holiday stylings of Mariah Carey, Wham!, Miley Cyrus, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Gene Autry enough times in the past few weeks to recall the lyrics as well as you would your mother's maiden name.

And to get you through the remainder of the holiday blitz, here are seven Christmas songs that don't in fact suck. We've got Ike & Tina Turner, John Lennon, and oddball community college students from that NBC sitcom nobody watches. In the event that you are seeking more diversity in terms of musical epochs, many apologies in advance for most of these songs being of a "classic" variety. (Kings of Leon probably could've come up with a pretty sweet contemporary Xmas jingle, but it just so happens that they find the holiday hugely "depressing.")

1. James Brown, "Please Come Home for Christmas": This 1960 blues song by Charles Brown has been covered to death: Aaron Neville, Willie Nelson, Bon Jovi, the Eagles. But the Hardest Working Man in Show Business recorded the most tastefully ragged version. (As his final act of impeccable style, the Godfather of Soul died on Christmas Day 2006.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 19, 2011

Mon Dec. 19, 2011 6:57 AM EST

US Army Sgt. Nathan West, left, from Minneapolis, Mo., serving with C Troop, 6th Squadron, 4th Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, and an Afghan National Army soldier, search for a possible weapons cache, November 29, 2011, outside Camp Parsa, Khowst province, Afghanistan. Making themselves a constant presence, US and Afghan forces work to introduce themselves to the locals and discourage insurgent activity. (US Army photo by Spc. Phillip McTaggart / Released)

It Ain't Easy Skiing Green

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 6:30 AM EST

As a skier, I'm constantly in search of empty fields of white far from the crowds. So the idea of my local ski area acquiring new mountainsides to plunge down sounds like a good way to disperse hoards of fellow snow bunnies into wider pastures. This year in California, skiers and boarders have been gushing over the merger between Tahoe's Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, a connection that now allows patrons to access the two resorts using one lift ticket. Even more exciting is the potential that we'll get to ski in the undeveloped wilderness behind each resort to get from one to the other through a backcountry access gate (an internal pilot program to test this traverse starts this winter). Eventually, says Squaw Valley spokesperson Amelia Richmond, there may even be a series of chairlifts connecting the two mountains. It's also rumored that JMA Ventures, Alpine's former owner that still owns nearby Homewood Mountain Ski Resort, has looked into connecting Homewood to Alpine–clearing prized backcountry wilderness in its path.

But the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition, which grades ski resorts on their green practices, sees this type of development as something else entirely: a devastating blow to untouched natural reserves. Transforming a mountainside into a ski hill makes it unavailable as habitat to most species, and denudes land, making erosion more likely. New ski runs also mean more energy-guzzling chair lifts, which add to the emissions you've already created by driving to the resort. And making new snow to cover these runs depletes streams in already drought-ridden areas, as well as uses energy and contributes to global warming. That's just the beginning, says SACC: Ski resort land development paves the way for a real estate creep from incoming hotel chains, condos, and outlets. At the core of SACC's research efforts lies the nagging question: Do we really need to ski more terrain?

The SACC grades Western ski resorts on 36 criteria, ranging from snow-making practices to investment in biodiesel, to educate winter sports nuts about which ski area to choose if they care about their environmental impact. Released in an annual report card, the grades reflect info culled from public records, development plans, and surveys filled out by each resort.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Is China Next?

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 2:36 AM EST

Is China about to implode? Paul Krugman is worth a read on the subject, though in the end he doesn't know any better than anyone else. For what it's worth, the one encouraging thing I've consistently read about China is that their property bubble is largely driven by cash purchases, not debt. And non-debt bubbles, like the dotcom bubble, are inherently less destructive when they burst than debt-driven bubbles.

Of course, even a non-debt bubble can cause a lot of damage if it comes on top of an already fragile world economy — an economy that will be more fragile yet if Europe continues along its self-destructive path. It's sort of hard to believe that America might have the best managed large economy in the world, but you know what? We might.

The Newest Anti-Romney Takes the Stage

| Mon Dec. 19, 2011 2:24 AM EST

From Public Policy Polling:

Newt Gingrich's campaign is rapidly imploding, and Ron Paul has now taken the lead in Iowa. He's at 23% to 20% for Mitt Romney, 14% for Gingrich, 10% each for Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, 4% for Jon Huntsman, and 2% for Gary Johnson.

Seriously? Ron Paul is now going to take a turn as the GOP's reigning not-Romney? Republicans are just bound and determined to figure out some way to lose next year, aren't they? If I were a shrink, I'd say they subliminally get more pleasure from wailing about the imminent decline of everything good and true than they do from actually putting one of their own guys into office. This is just bizarre.

The Power of Fish

| Sun Dec. 18, 2011 6:46 PM EST

This is possibly the single most profound passage in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman's memoir cum valedictory survey of cognitive biases. He's recounting a year that he spent working in Vancouver:

The Canadian government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans had a program for unemployed professionals in Toronto, who were paid to administer telephone surveys. The large team of interviewers worked every night and new questions were constantly needed to keep the operation going. Through Jack Knetsch, we agreed to generate a questionnaire every week, in four color-labeled versions. We could ask about anything; the only constraint was that the questionnaire should include at least one mention of fish, to make it pertinent to the mission of the department.

"Always make sure there's at least one mention of fish." This is, somehow, a metaphor for the entire human condition. Explaining this is left as an exercise for the reader.

Newt Gingrich and God

| Sun Dec. 18, 2011 4:41 PM EST

Newt Gingrich isn't backing down from his jihad against the federal court system, and yesterday he said this:

When pressed as to whether a president could ignore any court decision he didn’t like, such as if President Obama ignored a ruling overturning his healthcare law, Gingrich said the standard should be “the rule of two of three,” in which the outcome would be determined by whichever side two of the three branches of government were on.

That's fascinating, isn't it? Unless I'm misremembering my lessons from Schoolhouse Rock, just about every law ever passed was approved by two out of three branches of the government. So this means the Supreme Court would never be allowed to overturn a law. Surely even Gingrich doesn't believe such a thing?

Apparently not. In fact, he wants the judiciary to be independent 99% of the time — which brings to mind all the usual jokes about being a little bit pregnant — and defines the 1% this way:

Another branch would step in, Gingrich said, when a judge or a court makes a decision that is “strikingly at variance with America.”

Even for Newt this is crazy stuff. I've heard of strict scrutiny and original intent and reasonable doubt, but I've never heard of the "strikingly at variance with America" rule. But not to worry. If you read more about Newt's views on this, it turns out that "strikingly at variance with America" isn't nearly as vague as you think it is. What it really means is any court decision dealing with religion in the public square. Newt wants religion front and center in the public square and he wants it funded and fully endorsed by any level of government that's so minded. And woe betide the judge who tries to get in the way.

That's pretty much it. Oh, he also makes some noises about decisions that restrict the president's power to handle enemy combatants any way he wants, but it's really nativity scenes and prayer in public school that animate him on this subject. He doesn't just want America to be a Christian nation, he wants to make sure the government is allowed to marshal all of its considerable resources to ensure it is a Christian nation without any pesky courts getting in the way. He's a visionary, Newt is.