Organic Kicks Monoculture Ass

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 7:54 PM EDT

Guess what? Those endless fields of corn, soybeans, or alfalfa are not the thriftiest way to farm. Not in dollar terms. Not in environmental terms. So why are continuous and no-till farming still such staples in American agriculture? Because you & I subsidize them with our tax dollars. Farm welfare for the corporate farm.

A 13-year study out of the University of Wisconsin assessed pastures planted with multiple crop species, as well as organic fields, and compared them to conventional alfalfa and corn farms at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

The simple conclusion: Diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping and organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn, no-till soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.

Even adding risk premiums into the equation did not give monoculture the edge expected by the researchers. Bottom line: monoculture is riskier and less profitable than organic and rotational farming.

The authors' advice: Government support of monoculture is outdated and should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.

When that happens—you know what?—we'll all be able to afford food that is better for us and better for the planet. Let's go, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, hailing from Iowa, land of the newly progressive. Lead the way.

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Trophy Wives Beware: Sugar Daddy's Dipstick May Be Defective

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 6:08 PM EDT

According to Lisa Belkin, "Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. Data they analyzed from more than 33,000 American children showed that the older the man when a child is conceived, the lower a child's score is likely to be on tests of concentration, memory, reasoning and reading skills, at least through age 7."

It gets worse: higher risk of autism, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Not good news, but it does sort of even the cultural score in which past-their-prime women are understood to be the greatest risk to the children they bear 'late' in life. Damaged goods. Darwin makes them chase younger women to bear their healthy children, not mid-life crises. But what if younger women start looking at that "distinguished" guy driving the red 'vette and thinking like Belkin?

The push and pull between timetables and dreams, between our bodies and our babies, is at the core of many women's worldview, which also means it is at the core of relationships between the sexes. This tension feeds the stereotype of woman as eager to settle down and men as reluctant, and it's the crux of why we see women as "old" and men as "distinguished."
If those underlying assumptions were to change, would all that follows from them change as well? A world in which each man heard his clock tick even a fraction as urgently as each woman could be a very different world indeed. All those silver-haired sex symbols, and balding sugar daddies, and average-Joe divorced guys who are on their second families because they can be while their exes are raising their first set of kids—what if all of them became, in women's eyes, too darned old?
What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age? What if men, as the years passed, began to look with new eyes at Ms. Almost Right? Would men of all ages come to understand—firsthand, not just from the sidelines—the fear that the very passage of time will put your not-yet-conceived baby at risk?
Welcome to the club boys.

Flogged Pakistani Girl Denies It

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 5:15 PM EDT

Whoever it was (and in all likelihood it was her), a young woman somewhere in Pakistan got her ass literally whipped. Only question is who. The answer to 'why' will never satisfy those of us living in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, next door in Afghanistan, the powers that be just threw their women to the few wolves they were safe from by legalizing marital rape and a severe curtailment of female liberty.

Gates Kills the F-22. Will Congress Revive it?

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 4:33 PM EDT

On Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally announced his long-planned cuts to big-ticket programs, including the F-22 Raptor and the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter. (Mother Jones  previewed the cuts—and military spending opponents' reactions—last month.) In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

In March, President Barack Obama said he recognized "the real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich." The proposals Gates revealed today are supposed to reflect that tradeoff. It's no surprise, then, that defense contractors are rebelling against the proposed changes. The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman details the gathering storm:

In January, Lockheed Martin unveiled a website called Preserve Raptor Jobs, arguing that the F-22 fighter jet it produces for the Air Force was a jobs engine during trying economic times. A spokesman for Lockheed told TWI last month that the site was merely intended to “provide information” primarily to the jet’s “supplier base,” but lawmakers from F-22-producing states warned Gates against cutting funding for the jet — which costs approximately $143 million per plane, of which there are currently 183 — using talking points that sounded much like text on the site. Similarly, defenders of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program for tech-enabled land warfare — the target of a Government Accountability Office report this week that criticized its “staggering” cost-overruns of $300 million — have argued in recent days that the program is crucial to soldier safety against insurgent attacks, even though it has yet to be deployed in full. The Politico reported this week that Boeing has deployed 100 lobbyists to Washington to push back against potential cuts.

Lobbyists for defense contractors don't get paid to sit on their hands, so you can bet that there's a whole gaggle of them on Capitol Hill right now telling members of Congress and their aides how important x piece of Cold War-era weaponry is to national security and, naturally, jobs in members' districts. That's the kind of hard work that got the V-22 Osprey (now operational) revived four separate times by Congress after Dick Cheney—Dick Cheney!—tried unsuccessfully to kill it. You can bet that Lockheed Martin will try to ensure the F-22 enjoys a similar resurrection. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), for one, doesn't seem to be over the moon about Gates' proposals. Skelton, the chair of the House armed services committee, released a statement this afternoon calling the proposal "a good faith effort" but emphasizing that "the buck stops with Congress," which will "decide whether to support these proposals."

Torture Memo Followup

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 2:08 PM EDT
A few days ago Michael Isikoff reported that the White House had backed off on plans to release some Bush-era torture memos thanks to mounting internal pushback: "U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. 'Holy hell has broken loose over this,' said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities."

Today, Scott Horton suggests that there's more than just pushback involved:

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public....A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

These memos must be real time bombs.  So much material has been released already, both officially and otherwise, that I've long assumed we already knew everything the Bush administraton had done — in broad terms, anyway.  But apparently not.  If these memos just confirmed our use of things like stress positions and black sites, it's hard to imagine they'd prompt such ferocious opposition.  There must be some truly new — and truly gruesome — disclosures in them.

Lessig on Giannoulias' Forgoing Lobbyist and PAC Money in Illinois Senate Race

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:36 PM EDT

Last week, Alexi Giannoulias, who is considering a run for the Illinois senate seat currently held by Roland Burris, announced he would forgo taking money from federal lobbyists and corporate PACs if he does run in 2010. Giannoulias, who is currently the state treasurer of Illinois, narrowly led in a March poll that pitted him against state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Burris. I asked Lawrence Lessig, the publicly funded elections advocate I interviewed last year, about Giannoulias' decision. Lessig writes in an email:

It is an important and valuable statement. But more important is to build a coalition of support for a more fundamental reform—citizen funded elections—as many simply have no such opportunity, and many more will follow this example only to be defeated because of the enormous power of this money.

It's a crucial point. While Giannoulias has garnered praise for his decision, real change won't happen without congressional action. That's why passing the Fair Elections Now Act is so important for good government campaigners. Lessig's organization, Change Congress, has a tool that allows you to track the bill's supporters and how much money they've lost from Change Congress' donor strike. You can even "whip" votes. Check it out.

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Empire State Building Cutting Energy Use by 40 Percent

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:28 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:28 PM EDT

The owners of the Empire State Building announced Monday they will invest $20 million in the 80-year-old skyscraper as part of a plan to cut the building's overall energy use by 40 percent.

Projections from the Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls, Inc., and the Rocky Mountain Institute showed the building will save $4.4 million a year—and qualify the building for a LEED Gold certification—after the project is complete in a few years.

The thing I like most about this project is how they're going to save that energy and cut their carbon output: They'll be retrofitting windows and radiators, and installing new lighting and ventilation systems—all in the name of efficiency.

The Rocky Mountain Institute and its founder, Amory Lovins, have been promoting energy efficiency for more than two decades now. As Lovins told Mother Jones last May, it's one of the cheapest and best ways to save money and cut carbon.

MJ: If you had $1 million to invest in the energy sector, where would you put it?

AL: Efficient use. I want to do the cheapest things first to get the most climate protection and other benefits per dollar. Buying micropower and “negawatts” [Lovins' term for efficiency measures] instead of nuclear gives you about 2 to 11 times more carbon reduction per dollar, and you get it much faster.

In other words, owners of older buildings don't have to wait around for cleaner energy—and a smart grid to supply it—to proliferate before they can cut carbon output and energy use. And Lovins thinks the this project in particular could "help inform and inspire [similar] initiatives." In a building so iconic, the project certainly sets an example. If the cost-saving projections hold, it should turn into a trend.

How to Read Poll Results

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:01 PM EDT
Consider the poll question below, from a CNN survey emailed to me this morning.  If it is to be believed, 95% of all Americans have an opinion about Turkey.  Question: Is it to be believed?  Do you think 95% of Americans could even find Turkey on a map?

Breaking News: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Crazytown) Still Crazy

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:00 PM EDT

In a move that shocked absolutely no one, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), said another crazy thing this weekend. This time, the Minnesota Independent reports, she warned that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, an expansion of AmeriCorps program that has already passed Congress, would lead to "re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums." Any non-crazy people who want to get a sense of how non-controversial this bill is should note that it has been praised by David Broder and passed the Senate 79-19.

The far-right blogosphere is having none of that bipartisan nonsense. Steve Benen rounded up some of the reactions here (one blogger compared it to the "Hitler youth"). Of course, the simple fact that the legislation is not, in fact, a plan for a Hitler youth corps or re-education camps is lost on people who are crazy. And while it may be impolitic to point it out, Michele Bachmann, who not only believes in this insane conspiracy theory but also believes that the US is moving towards a unified global currency, thinks that people should be "armed and dangerous" opposing cap-and-trade legislation, and supports a McCarthyite investigation of "anti-American" liberals, is clearly crazy. She's also a member of Congress, which means we unfortunately have to pay more attention to her than your average kook on the street corner (or your average crazy rightwing blogger or talk radio host, for that matter). Sorry.

What To Do About that North Korean Missile Launch

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

North Korea wants some attention. So on Sunday it launched a missile that failed to place a satellite in orbit but did travel about 2000 miles, twice as far as previous Korean missiles. President Barack Obama decried this "provocative act." At the United Nations, members of the Security Council met but could not put together a response. So what should be done? New America Foundation think-tanker Steve Clemons has some solid thoughts:

Barack Obama in a well-crafted speech in Prague calling for a return to serious work on constraining the spread of weapons of mass destruction has ratcheted up the decibel level of his protest of the North Korea launch -- saying that their must be consequences.

The problem is that China and Russia, which actually deployed warships and fighters to the region of the launch, believe that the world must not overreact to North Korea's provocation. These two countries have thus far blocked the issuance of any statement from the United Nations Security Council, which met last evening (Sunday) for an emergency session.

North Korea seems to be demanding that it not fall too far down the Obama priority list -- and it has engineered one of the first of many probable global crises designed to test the resolve and strategic course of the Obama administration....

North Korea is already the target of some of the world's most stringent sanctions. And maintaining them -- and even adding some categories of sanctions -- does send a signal, but it is a soft one that the North Koreans may not care about or respect.

If this provocation was designed primarily "to get attention," then the Obama administration should be asking what can be done to give North Korea "more" attention. Attention itself is not a strategic commodity -- or something that a great nation should withhold if there is a chance of securing strategically significant successes over the ability of North Korea to further enhance its nuclear weapon systems capacity.

Giving North Korea more attention will be pilloried as appeasement by voices such as John Bolton and Frank Gaffney who think that there is little else but expedited regime change and military collision that will change North Korea's course.

But what I have learned watching North Korea's engagement with the US over the years is that North Korea does not move behaviorally in straight lines. But after all is said and done, when one looks back, one sees that North Korea is moving generally in a direction that the West may eventually be able to accept.

Clemons suggests that Obama not "put himself into a box" by talking too tough about this particular provocation. He advises Obama to throw some "attention" at North Korea, while keeping the ongoing negotiations (involving China and Russia) alive and while craftily devising ways to embolden and strengthen those interests within North Korea--be they robber barons or so-called progressives who want better relations (or some relations with the outside world)--that might possibly be at odds with Kim Jong Il's regime.

Clemons, a realist-minded expert on Asia, adds:

Bluster [from the United States and other nations] will not work and is not respected. Force actually is respected by the North Koreans but can easily escalate beyond control.

North Korea is not monolithic. It would be prudent to try to generate some leverage on the competing factions around Kim Jong Il.

But hitting North Korea hard now may undermine any chance of teasing out these factions and of generating other more promising scenarios.

In politics, it certainly is difficult to respond to a potential threat (even an exaggerated one) by saying, "We're going to tease out a more promising scenario." And in this instance, neocons and other hawks will be eager to deride and attack any approach that is not a full-throated roar of aggression. For his part, Obama will have to be careful about the rhetoric he uses--so as to not decrease his own options and undermine a policy that might have to depend more on nuance than swagger. That certainly is easier said than done.