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Multimedia Essay: The Torch's Secret Trail

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 1:02 AM EDT

UPDATE: /photos/monk-tank-500x331.jpg Hear the subject of this photo, and others in the photo essay, speak here. Read more coverage of the torch relay events by Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson here and here.

In a day of raucous protests and angry confrontations, human rights activists stalked the Olympic torch through the hilly streets of San Francisco in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. As planned, the torch was lit shortly after 1:00 p.m., but a phalanx of bodies clogging the streets prevented it from proceeding down the anticipated route along the downtown shoreline. Instead, a different torch was driven across town to Van Ness Avenue, a rolling artery that divides the city, where it proceeded towards the ritzy Marina District under the heavy cover of SUVs and motorcycles.

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What If There'd Been Fox News or CNN During Slavery?

| Thu Apr. 10, 2008 12:15 AM EDT

If nothing else results from the conversation America is having, however dysfunctionally, about Rev. Wright and Obama's speech, we can't help but learn to take the black church seriously as the ultra-complicated reality it truly is. It's not just about rousing gospel songs, old ladies in big hats, and ministers foaming at the mouth—all insulting sins even I have long committed.

I was raised a hard-core black Protestant and considered myself well versed in its contours, but I now find myself challenged and informed in ways I'd never expected. I never really understood the significance of the black prophetic tradition, or that it even was one. Nor did I properly understand or evaluate the schism that the modern black church's focus on prosperity, vice prophecy, represents. That history is rich and troubling. It also situates the black church at a Gladwellian tipping point; will the current controversy silence the voice of black prophecy and strident critique and replace it with a 'feel good, get rich' religiosity to which whites won't object?

From CNN this week:

Tibet: The Populist Playlist

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 8:35 PM EDT

Rick-Springfield-250x200.jpgAt the "finish line" for the Olympic torch runners at the Embarcadero area of San Francisco today was a live band made up of five white dudes wearing leisure suits and wigs, and performing mostly 80s songs.

As hordes of folks carrying Tibetan national flags, Chinese national flags, "Free Tibet" signs, bullhorns, video cameras, and cellphones surged through the massively barricaded area, the band performed as if it were a homecoming party at a frat house. Here's a sampling of their set list, what my colleague calls the Populist Playlist for the day:

San Francisco Dispatch: The Torch's Gauntlet of Protesters

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 6:15 PM EDT

The outcome of today's Olympic torch relay in San Francisco could determine whether the torch will continue along its planned route—the longest in Olympic history—or be cut short due to the boisterous, disruptive protests that have accompanied it in Athens, London, and Paris. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the Committee's executive board will discuss on Friday whether to end the relay after this afternoon's event, which is shaping up to be a tense stand-off between police and protesters.

The City of San Francisco has called in extra law enforcement officers from the California Highway patrol and nearby suburbs, banned flights above the city and boats near the waterfront where the torch will pass, and sequestered the the flame in an undisclosed location. During the relay the city plans to encase the torch in a three-layer babooshka doll of police officers: cops on foot, cops on bikes, and cops on motorcycles. If protesters still manage to block the relay, the city will load the torch onto a boat and sail around them.

Only once crowds begin to line the route this afternoon will anyone be able to tell whether San Francisco is in for the same experience as Paris. An activist with Save Darfur in Paris told me roughly 15,000 protesters showed up for the torch relay there. Organizers in San Francisco predict half as many. Some American activists, particularly on the left, are reluctant to protest China's human rights record while the U.S. government continues to occupy Iraq and operate Gitmo. Moreover, many leaders of San Francisco's Chinese-American community (Asians comprise 30 percent of the city), see the protests as a pall on what they'd hoped would be Chinese-American community's moment in the sun. Near the start of the route this morning, protesters exchanged shouts with supporters of the Chinese government as police stood between the two groups. San Francisco was chosen as the torch's only stop in North America because of its sizable Chinese-American community, but the strength of feeling on both sides could prove to be a powder keg of a kind not seen across the Atlantic.

Asbestos Company Settles, Leaves Montana Residents in the Dust

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

W.R. Grace & Co., the mining company responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Libby, Montana residents, is finally going to pay for the damage it did. Well, sort of. On Monday, the company reached a $3 billion settlement with the families of people killed and those made ill by asbestos from the company's vermiculite mine between 1963 and 1990.The problem is the effects of asbestos don't immediately present themselves, so Grace's battle with Libby residents should be far from over because future diagnoses and lawsuits are sure to arise. But this week's settlement encompasses all future lawsuits as well, meaning current and future victims are going to get measly sums. The company isn't saying how it will calculate everyone's share but if the $3 billion were to be evenly dispersed to settle only the existing 120,000 lawsuits, each victim would receive $25,000. And that doesn't even account for the folks who will undoubtedly contract cancer and other asbestos-related diseases in the years to come. As the company's vice president told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Grace "want[s] to get on with business."

Mother Jones investigated the presence of asbestos in Eldorado Hills, CA in our May/June 2007 issue. But unlike the people in Libby, residents there only have government officials and themselves to blame.

—Celia Perry

Former Polygamist on Polygamy

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 5:26 PM EDT

yearning200.jpgIt's been five days since authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a compound outside Eldorado, Texas owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Tipped off by a phone call from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been repeatedly "beat and hurt" by her middle-aged husband, the cops stormed Yearning for Zion and took 419 children into custody, accompanied by 139 of their mothers, into custody.

To be sure, Yearning for Zion sounds like a horror show. But is it polygamy's fault? I mean, "the principle" seems to work okay on Big Love, right? I wanted a plural marriage expert to weigh in. After an admittedly quick Internet search, I decided on John Llewellyn, a retired Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lieutenant who has been involved with a bunch of polygamy investigations. Once he started talking, though, it was clear that Llewellyn had some pretty strong opinions about plural marriage, and with good reason: He used to be a polygamist himself.

At the beginning of his career with the Salt Lake City Sheriff's Department, Llewellyn and his young family became active in Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mitt Romney kind of Mormons; they will be the first to tell you that they have noting—they said NOTHING—to do with polygamy). A young single mother asked him to be her children's godfather, and somehow that turned into a request to be his second wife. To Llewellyn's surprise, his first wife acquiesced, and thus began his involvement with the Apostolic United Brethren. He quickly discovered that polygamy wasn't for him—he didn't like how it pitted women against each other. Twenty years later, he left the church with his second wife. (His original wife, he says, chose to be "the fifth wife in a more affluent family.")

Since then, Llewellyn has written several books about life in polygamist communities. These days, he's made it his mission to spread the word about the evils of plural marriage, which he calls "a barbaric custom...to accept it is like going back to the Middle Ages." And he's given up church life, too. "I don't want anything to come between me and God," he says. "If there is a God, I'll handle my own salvation. I don't need a pope or a prophet to come between me and God." I asked Lewellyn a few questions about the Yearning for Zion raid, and, uh, he didn't mince words. Q&A after the jump.

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Bright Lights, Green City

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 5:04 PM EDT

time_square_york_271314_l.jpgIn the city that never sleeps, where the lights of Times Square blaze 24/7, electricity is at a premium for the more than 8 million New Yorkers. Yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that New York City is seeking proposals for the greening of NYC. Private developers will be contracted do all the legwork to outfit city-owned buildings with solar power—by purchasing, installing, and maintaining the solar installations. Developers can choose from among 11 potential sites throughout the cities 5 boroughs.

The solar power installations will have a total capacity of two megawatts, which is more than the 1.6-megawatt Google headquarters' solar array installation—the largest corporate installation in the United States. It is estimated that Google's solar panels will generate 2.6 megawatt hours—enough to power 1,000 homes in California—and offset 3.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions per year.

New York City is just one of 25 cities chosen to participate in the Solar America Initiative, which has partnered with the Department of Energy in order to make solar energy costs competitive with those of traditional energy sources. By 2015, the city hopes to increase its solar capacity to 8.1 megawatts, more than 5 times Google's current capacity.

—Joyce Tang

Obama Swamping the Airwaves; Plus, the Expectation Game in PA

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

Wow:

Barack Obama has spent a record breaking $60 million to run more than 100,000 political television ads in pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, a new analysis conducted for CNN shows.
In contrast, John Kerry ran a little more than 19,000 TV ads four years ago in his successful bid for the Democratic nomination, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, CNN's consultant on political television advertising spending.
Kerry wrapped up the nomination in the first week of March 2004, while there is no end in sight in the battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the right to be the 2008 Democratic nominee.
Clinton, who trails Obama in fundraising by about $60 million, has run just over 60,000 TV ads in her bid for the White House.

Also, it appears that Obama is making a massive, massive ad buy in Pennsylvania — three times the size of Clinton's. I guess he thinks he might as well go for the jugular: the polls show PA tightening, and if he can pull out a surprise victory there, the campaign is effectively over.

That won't stop the Clinton campaign from spinning, however. "If Senator Obama is not able to win Pennsylvania," said Howard Wolfson on a conference all today, "it will again demonstrate that he has serious problems winning the large states and serious problems closing the deal with voters." Wolfson also said it would be a "significant defeat for [Obama]" if he can't come out ahead in PA. Hard to ignore that 20-point gap from a month ago, though.

On 5th Anniversary of Iraq Museum's Looting, New Attention to Antiquities Trafficking

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 12:36 PM EDT

iraq-artifacts.jpg Iraq's National Museum, home to artifacts of the world's oldest civilization, was looted five years ago tomorrow. A collection of academics, lawyers, law enforcement officials, and former military personnel commemorated the anniversary with the release of a new book, Antiquities under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War, and an event for interested parties at the National Press Club. That included me.

The invasion of Iraq actually did surprisingly little damage to Iraq's historic sites, in part because McGuire Gibson, an expert on ancient Mesopotamia based at the University of Chicago, gave the military coordinates of thousands of sites it should avoid on its way to Baghdad. "Iraq is Mesopotamia," said Gibson, who spoke at the Press Club. "It is the root civilization for all civilizations." The military did make mistakes, however. On April 10, looting of the Iraq Museum began and, due to a lack of postwar planning (and due to the Bush Administration's unwillingness to treat culture like a legitimate facet of post-war reconstruction), it took six days for American soldiers to show up to help museum staff defend the premises. In all, 15,000 items from the Museum's collection disappeared or were damaged. Theft and vandalism occurred at archaeological sites across the country.

Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine colonel, led the effort to investigate the looting of Iraq's artifacts and to secure their return. Speaking at the Press Club today, Bogdanos showed slides of stolen or damaged artifacts from the Iraq Museum — the first naturalistic depiction of a human face in stone, for example — that could be found nowhere else in the world. Speaking of the unique nature of Iraq's treasures, Bogdanos said, "Everything in Iraq can be prefaced with the word 'first.'"

House Democrats Go Soft on Petraeus, Crocker

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 12:04 PM EDT

congress1.jpg

Following on yesterday's lackluster performance by their Senate colleagues, House Democrats, if this morning's Armed Services Committee hearing is any indication, will show themselves to be equally cowed by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top-ranking military and diplomatic figures in Iraq, and just as unwilling to bring serious challenge to the larger theme promulgated by the morning's testimony—namely that, while "reversible," security (if not political) gains in Iraq are real and the result of an enlightened strategy. Certainly, in this morning's hearing, Democrats failed to subject their witnesses to the sort of aggressive questioning we might have expected from a party that took control of the Congress determined to challenge Bush administration policy in Iraq and, as of last summer, remained determined to affect significant short-term troop withdrawals.

This is not say that there was no loyal opposition to the Petraeus/Crocker message of cautious optimism, but simply to call attention to how exceedingly, excessively, and deferentially loyal it was. Perhaps the most significant challenge to the administration's narrative came from Rep. John Spratt, Democrat of South Carolina, who used his allotted five minutes to display charts showing the tremendous cost of the war to date, as well as projections from the Congressional Budget Office (the Pentagon refuses to speculate on such things) that by 2018, assuming troop levels have already declined to 75,000 by 2013, the U.S. government will have shelled out more than $2 trillion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point, Spratt said, was that "whenever you spend $2 trillion on one thing, you don't have it for something else"—whether that "something else" is stepped up operations in Afghanistan, reinvestment in the strategic readiness of U.S. forces for future high-intensity conflicts, or any number of other things you can imagine the federal government might do with a couple trillion bucks.