Blogs

See Mary Crash

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 8:57 AM PST

bike-topper.jpgIt's not exactly big news that baby boomers have decided not to ride off into their golden years playing Scrabble in the booth of some tacky Winnebago. Instead, they're flocking to their local Harley dealers and saddling up some big-ass Hogs. The decision to trade the RV for a Harley, though, hasn't come without a price. Boomers, with slower reflexes and quite a few more pounds than their younger counterparts, are slaughtering themselves on the nation's highways in record numbers. The number of people killed on motorcycles who were 50 and older has quadrupled over the past decade.

Among those boomers with some experience crashing a motorcycle is our very own U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. While she ranks high on the list of "cabinet secretaries you've never heard of," Peters put herself in a public service announcement last month to talk about how her safety gear saved her life when she wiped out on her huge bike in 2005. The PSA is part of her new motorcycle safety initiative aimed at goading boomers into better driving and encouraging Harley Davidson into giving its novice customers driving lessons before letting them zoom off the lot. What it doesn't do, of course, is something really useful, like force boomer-heavy states like Texas and Florida to reinstate their mandatory helmet laws.

DOT's own data show that after Florida repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2000, motorcycle fatalities went off the charts. Texas, which repealed its law back in 1997 under Gov. George W. Bush, had similar results. Apparently Peters, who has championed privatizing the nation's highway system, doesn't want to offend her fellow bikers with heavy-handed regulation, even if it might save some of their lives. But hey, she looks cool in those shades..

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Google Earth: The Ultimate NIMBY Tool

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 3:27 PM PST

The EPA has harnessed Google Earth to give us the most detailed picture of point-source pollution ever: a Google Earth map showing every major power plant, oil field, petroleum refinery, chemical factory, cement manufacturer and paper mill in America. In short, it's a NIMBY dream. From the comfort of your home you can pull up the biggest smokestacks in the hood and imagine precise amounts of NOx, SOx, VOCs drifting down to your lawn. Fun, fun, fun!

Of course, the EPA probably hopes the fun will make you forget how it substantially weakened requirements that companies disclose toxic releases this year, and that it now offers significantly less public info in its popular Toxics Release Inventory reports. Earlier this month the GAO found that the EPA had been pressured to scale back the reports by the White House. The EPA had "expedited" the decision to satisfy the Office of Management and Budget, which wanted to reduce the paperwork burden on industry, the GAO found.

So take the maps with a grain of salt. Air, for the time being, still can't be Googled.

Writers' Strike Could Drive a Quarter of TV Watchers Away for Good

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 3:09 PM PST

youtube100.jpgAs the writers' strike slogs on, TV pundits look to the past for answers—specifically, the last writers' strike in 1988. A blogger over at YouLicense has talked to a Writers' Guild official who claimed that after the last strike, 10 percent of TV watchers gave up the tube for good. There aren't many hard numbers to back up that claim, but some are saying that the decline in TV devotees will be even steeper this time around—and this time, there's a much more compelling reason—Internet TV:

Whichever way this strike plays out in the near future the real winner is the internet. There are hundreds of well funded online TV platforms like Joost , Babelgum, RayV, Knocka TV and many more ready to make their big move. Millions of viewers are emigrating to these newly launched platforms. Millions of viewers prefer watching 3 minute videos on YouTube and Metacafe over the traditional TV shows. The longer the strike continues, the more accustomed these viewers are to getting their fix online.

Some predict as many as 28 percent of viewers will switch to an Internet-only diet. We can only hope this means online TV will get better.

—Kiera Butler

Huxley's Brave New World Led to Bush's Stem Cell Decision

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 2:29 PM PST

brave75.jpgA high school English class classic helped Bush make up his mind about stem cells, according to a former Bush adviser. From a Commentary Magazine piece called "Stem Cells and the President: An Inside Account" by Jay P. Lefkowitz, who worked as general counsel in the Office of Management and Budget under Bush:

A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room. "We're tinkering with the boundaries of life here," Bush said when I finished. "We're on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there's no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time."

H/T Think Progress.

Edwards Campaign Linked to Trouble-Making 527 Group

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 2:07 PM PST

If this gets any major play, it could seriously undercut John Edwards' pro-transparency, pro-clean government message.

In the final days before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, John Edwards has stepped up his criticism of outside organizations that spend money to influence elections, repeatedly disavowing a labor group that is blanketing Iowa with commercials supporting his candidacy.
"As for outside groups, unfortunately, you can't control them," Mr. Edwards said last weekend as he distanced himself from the actions of the group, known as a 527 for the section of the tax code it falls under. He would prefer the group "not run the ads," he said.
But the Edwards campaign may have expected the support of the group, Alliance for a New America, set up by a local of the Service Employees International Union. An Oct. 8 e-mail message circulated among the union leaders who created the group suggests that they were talking with Edwards campaign officials about "what specific kinds of support they would like to see from us" just as they were planning to create an outside group to advertise in early primary states with "a serious 527 legal structure."

From talking to Edwards supporters in Iowa, my understanding is that most of his support is due to his passion, his concern for the little guy, and his anti-corporate message. Maybe this new news won't jeopardize that. But it certainly won't help.

Street Violence, Successors, and Stability: South Asia Expert Daniel Markey on Picking Up the Pieces After Bhutto Killing

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 1:35 PM PST

I've pulled out some highlights from a conference call press briefing today by Council on Foreign Relations South Asia expert Daniel Markey. Markey served on the State Department's Policy Planning staff from 2003 to 2007.

It's a bad day for Pakistan, a bad day for the U.S., and I think we'll be paying the price for it for a while.
Who Did It: With regard to who did this: all indications from any kind of intelligence and semi intelligence would be it's al Qaeda – it's one of the militant groups operating or based in Pakistan's tribal areas. Baitullah Mehsud, one of the militant leaders in conflict with the state of Pakistan has expressed the desire to hit various political candidates including Bhutto, he is a potential candidate. You can't rule anybody out.

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Wal-Mart Sells Noncompliant Gas Cans...Again

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 12:45 PM PST

walmart200.jpgWal-Mart's up to its old tricks. For the fourth time in the last few years, the company has been caught selling illegal gas cans in California. The cans, which leak hydrocarbons that create smog, have been outlawed for some time in the state. This time around, Wal-Mart paid about $250,000 for violating air quality laws.

Between 2003 and 2007, the company sold about 3,000 illegal cans. Funny, since it was during those same years that the biggest big box really pumped up the volume on its environmental PR efforts. So here's the question: How do we make sure that Wal-Mart walks its talk? Considering the fact that in 2005, the company reportedly made $20,000 a minute, it'll take a whole lot more than a $250,000 fine, that's for sure.

—Kiera Butler

Housewives Are Better Recyclers Than College Kids

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 10:59 AM PST

beer200.jpg
When one thinks about the demographics most likely to be great at recycling, college students spring immediately to mind. I mean, come on, they were made to separate out papers from plastics, what with their boundless reserves of idealism. And if they're not putting all that wide-eyed earnestness to good ecological use, what are they doing, anyway?

Lying around. According to a recent study, college students are actually less likely to recycle than housewives. The reason? Basically, sloth:

...the researcher points out that university students "have less control over glass recycling behaviour, given they perceive it as a series of barriers and limitations hard to overcome." The container being far from home and they having to make their way to it while carrying heavy bags full of glass, for example, is viewed as a difficulty for students, and not for housewives.

Okay, so the study was pretty small—only 525 students and 154 housewives participated. And the task on which participants were evaluated—separating glass from other trash—does not an ecologist make, to say the least. And maybe the fact that college students are lazy is not exactly a groundbreaking finding. But the main point that they researchers took away from this strange little study remains, nonetheless, an interesting one: Ecological awareness does not necessarily lead to action. In other words, just because someone considers herself an environmentalist, doesn't mean she's going to get off her butt and do something about it.

The next step: figuring out how to make environmental activism more compelling than, oh I don't know, stealing music off the Internet while pounding Bud Light. Or whatever.

—Kiera Butler

Interview with Former U.S. Intelligence Official on Bhutto Assassination

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 9:56 AM PST

I interviewed a former U.S. intelligence official knowledgeable about Pakistan about the assassination today in Rawalpindi of Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. While his comments make clear Bhutto was an irreplaceable political figure in the country, and that her political party cannot exist in the same way without her, he also emphasized his belief that Pakistan and its institutions are far more resilient and disciplined than many people in the West may understand. Here is a summary of the interview:

Former U.S. Intelligence Official (FUSIO): Let us never forget that at least in my lifetime we had two presidents shot and one died, and a likely Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy killed and Martin Luther King Jr., all in rapid succession. Before we jump in and [scream that Pakistan is a failed nuclear state] and draw conclusions about collusion. If some guy has one hand on a lanyard and the other on a gun, and he's willing to blow himself up, whether it's in Washington or Rawalpindi, if he gets through, he can do his dirty job. It's a conspiracy theorists' dream. …

Mother Jones: There's no doubt that it was some form of Al Qaida who was behind this?

FUSIO: I hate to use that word [because it's not precise]. "Al Qaida" and the "Taliban" – everybody [in the West] can even spell them both. But it is that crowd - - militant Islamists.

Huck You, Romney

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 8:23 AM PST

squirrel.jpeg Mike Huckabee is one passive aggressive Mo-Fo. His pheasant hunting outing yesterday was the perfect example: he was able to showcase his wily criticism, to slam Mitt Romney without ever mentioning his name. And to make broad allusions to political muscle while really only talking about varmints.

He compared killing a pheasant to trying to crossing him politically: "Don't get in my way, this is what happens." In between shots he said that he's the candidate who brings a "level of authenticity and credibility to the campaign."

And by that, of course, he meant Romney is no hunter. He criticized the Massachusetts governor, who has called himself a hunter, for only tracking "small varmints." Then, going after even the varmint vote, Huckabee added that in college he ate his fair share of fried squirrel and Coke. Greased up in his popcorn popper.

Ah, a man of the people.