Blogs

The Grandma Behind Obama

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 2:40 PM EDT

The Boston Globe has a lovely piece this week about Michelle Obama's mother—the Grandma who's making Obama's historic race possible.

A steely 70-year-old matriarch with a raspy voice and seen-it-all laugh, Robinson manages the family while Obama and his wife, Michelle, venture to the far reaches of the campaign trail. Amid the daily chaos of the marathon primary campaign, it often falls to Michelle's mother to keep the Obamas' two daughters—Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6—grounded, not to mention fed, bathed, and in bed by 8:30 p.m.

"The whole time I'm raising [son] Craig and Michelle, I am telling them that, 'Look, you see, I am raising my kids, so don't you all have any kids that you expect me to help you raise,' " Robinson said with a laugh last week, in her first extended interview of the campaign. "And look at what I'm doing!"

Grandma Robinson comes off as the delectable, quintessential matriarch, blithely criticizing her daughter in the media and chuckling about ignoring all her jack-booted instructions.

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More Questions for Petraeus

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 11:43 AM EDT

Yesterday I posted tough questions that a dozen national security experts would like to pose to General David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, when he testifies before Congress next week. And two retired generals have additional queries to add to the list. Here they are:

Retired General William Odom, former National Security Agency director:

-- What historical example is there for rebuilding a collapsed state from the bottom up except by civil war in which a single leader wins?

-- Why is Iraq not on the road to Balkanization? Fragmentation?

-- What historical example is there of the U.S. military building an army for a government whose leaders have neither the power to rule nor the capacity to bring warring factions under their control?

-- Do you propose to string out the surge although the Army simply does not have forces to continue?

-- Why did the Iraqi forces you trained a few years ago fail to emerge as an effective fighting force that survives and serves as the core of the Iraqi army today? If you succeeded, then why do we have this problem with standing up an effective Iraqi Army?

John McCain's New Ad: War War War Glory Country War

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 11:00 AM EDT

John McCain's new web video entitled "Sacrifice" is 2:45 of non-stop war-fetishizing. His campaign might as well have played a loop of an American flag waving with fighter jets screeching past. Or heck, even 2:45 of Gladiator starring Russell Crowe.

Here's a word count:

"War": 7 mentions
"Duty": 2
"Honor": 2
"Valor": 2
"Country"/"nation": 5
"Loyalty": 3
"Glory": 5
"God": 1 (just for good measure)

The grave voice-over in the ad says that soldiers' claim on a nation's success in war is "shorn of all romance, all nostalgia." Funny, considering the whole ad is romance and nostalgia for war.

John McCain and "war" is the new Rudy Giuliani and "9/11."

Update: Video of the ad is after the jump.

Report: Jack Bauer "Gave People Lots of Ideas" at Gitmo

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 10:26 AM EDT

bauer-torture.jpg Great reporting from Vanity Fair on how administration officials were involved in developing the interrogation techniques to be used at Gitmo. This tidbit is particularly disturbing:

The first year of Fox TV's dramatic series 24 came to a conclusion in spring 2002, and the second year of the series began that fall. An inescapable message of the program is that torture works. "We saw it on cable," Beaver recalled. "People had already seen the first series. It was hugely popular." Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo, Beaver added. "He gave people lots of ideas."

I don't know what's more disturbing: the fact that torture had become so acceptable that folks within the military were taking ideas from TV shows, or the fact that there were so few instructions on how to torture that folks within the military were taking ideas from TV shows.

Immorality plus incompetence. And there's your Bush Administration in a nutshell.

Please Please Go Away, Joe Lieberman

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 9:48 AM EDT

If you thought Joe Lieberman would campaign for his traveling buddy John McCain without taking nasty shots at the other candidates in the race... well, think again.

As for Lieberman's argument that McCain "misspoke," consider the fact that McCain made the Iran/al Qaeda gaffe over and over. That's a lot of "misspeaking."

(H/T Jane.)

CO2 Reductions Overly Optimistic

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 10:10 PM EDT

2108987446_0cc86b89ec.jpg Reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide over the coming century will be more challenging than society has been led to believe. This according to an important commentary, called "Dangerous Assumptions," appearing in the journal Nature, and summarized in a press release from the National Science Foundation. The authors, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, and McGill University in Montreal, write that the technological challenges of reducing CO2 emissions have been significantly underestimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won the Nobel in for its Climate Change 2007 reports.

"In the end, there is no question whether technological innovation is necessary—it is," write the authors. "The question is, to what degree should policy focus explicitly on motivating such innovation? The IPCC plays a risky game in assuming that business-as-usual advances in technological innovation will carry most of the burden of achieving future emissions reductions."

"Not only is this reduction unlikely to happen under current policies," says Roger Pielke, Jr., of CU-Boulder, "but we are moving in the opposite direction right now. We believe these kinds of assumptions in the analysis blind us to reality and could potentially distort our ability to develop effective policies."

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Congress Grants Too Much Authority, Then Tries to Take it Back... Again

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 7:25 PM EDT

Earlier today, I wrote about the Department of Homeland Security's intention to ignore three dozen U.S. laws in order to complete 670 miles of border fence by the end of the year. In yesterday's official statement, Secretary Michael Chertoff cited the total authority Congress granted him to make such decisions. Today, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson (D), head of the House Homeland Security Committee, tried to deny the veracity of Chertoff's defense, arguing that Congress never meant to grant such broad discretion. "Today's waiver represents an extreme abuse of authority," he told the Washington Post. "It was meant to be an exception, not the rule."

Unfortunately, the legislation that authorized the waivers says otherwise. The original law on which Secretary Chertoff is basing his authority is the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which allowed the Attorney General to waive portions of the Endangered Species act and the National Environmental Policy Act as he saw fit. In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, which transferred decision-making power to the head of Homeland Security and greatly expanded his discretion:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

Denying the power granted by that provision is a little like arguing that voting to authorize military force didn't mean agreeing to let Bush go to Iraq. If Congress doesn't like it when the government uses its authority, maybe it should stop granting it.

—Casey Miner

UK-Style Music Festivals Gaining Traction in the US

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 6:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-festivals.jpg

While Brits themselves may be lying back and dramatically fanning themselves over their embarrassment of festival riches, the US is just starting to get a taste of "festival mania." The announcement last month of Outside Lands, set for San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and featuring Radiohead, Beck and Wilco, was just the latest addition to a growing trend of large-scale events. It's hard to believe that just ten years ago, the American summer music festival sure seemed dead in the water.

Homeland Security Builds Fence to Enforce Law; Waives Law to Build Fence

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

border%20fence.jpg

A month ago, Julia Whitty wrote that the government might be moving towards a saner approach to the border fence—environmentally speaking, anyway. Yesterday's news was not so sunny (and not so sane): the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will waive a host of federal environmental regulations in order to complete nearly 700 miles of border fence by the end of the year.

DHS insists that "the department remains deeply committed to environmental responsibility, and will continue to work closely with the Department of Interior and other federal and state resources management agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized." Hard to see how they can possibly argue this when they plan to ignore the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and 28 other pieces of legislation whose scope includes everything from desert protection to Native American rights.

I wish I could say that this will be a tough sell, especially in those border communities already chafing at the government's heavy hand. But, sadly, it won't, because they don't have to sell it at all. The Department's authority comes directly from Congress, which amended a section of a 1996 law to allow the head of Homeland Security to waive regulations at his sole discretion. In short, legislators are so determined to build a fence that they'll ignore the ongoing, unified opposition of local leaders and environmental groups, and flout the law in order to enforce it.

Update: In the "nothing money can't buy" department, The Texas Observer reports that the fence will skip property owned by a major Bush donor.

—Casey Miner

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user jcarter.

Time's Breaking News: Ethanol Is Bad

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 3:19 PM EDT

Time's cover story this week debunks the idea that ethanol holds the promise of clean energy. But that's old news, right? Back in November, Mother Jones' "The Ethanol Effect" broke down America's newest cash crop, kernel by kernel. It reveals that growing one acre of corn requires 110 gallons of gasoline, and that ethanol's net energy output is far less than that of conventional fuel. Check out all the raw numbers here.

—Celia Perry