Blogs

Quote of the Day - 4.5.09

| Sun Apr. 5, 2009 12:11 AM EDT
From the Wall Street Journal, about a guy who just finished building a spectacular $24 million home in Toronto with a private concert hall:

Jim Stewart, who will only say he is in his 60s, is a top-shelf classical violinist who earned his millions writing calculus textbooks.

You can earn millions writing calculus textbooks?  Seriously?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Taking on the Iron Triangle

| Sat Apr. 4, 2009 3:25 PM EDT
Apparently the shit is scheduled to hit the proverbial fan in two days:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to announce on Monday the restructuring of several dozen major defense programs as part of the Obama administration's bid to shift military spending from preparations for large-scale war against traditional rivals to the counterinsurgency programs that Gates and others consider likely to dominate U.S. conflicts in coming decades.

....Among the programs expected to be heavily cut is the Army's Future Combat Systems, a network of vehicles linked by high-tech communications that has been plagued by technical troubles and delays; with a price tag exceeding $150 billion, it is now one of the most costly military efforts.

Gates also is considering cutting a new $20 billion communications satellite program and reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, and he plans to eliminate elements of the decades-old missile defense effort that are over budget or considered ineffective, according to industry and administration sources.

But congressmen like military toys, and they especially like military toys manufactured in their districts.  I guess we're about to find out whether they like them even more than they like winning actual wars.

Listening to the Right

| Sat Apr. 4, 2009 3:03 PM EDT
Charles Blow has been listening to talk radio:

Lately I’ve been consuming as much conservative media as possible (interspersed with shots of Pepto-Bismol) to get a better sense of the mind and mood of the right. My read: They’re apocalyptic. They feel isolated, angry, betrayed and besieged.

Well, sure, though this is hardly unusual.  A sense of besiegement has been the right's stock in trade for as long as I've been alive.

But there is something different about their tone these days, and I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it is.  My tentative take is that there's an inchoate quality to their fears that's new.  In the past they were fighting against specific things: communism, hippies, Bill Clinton, Islamists, abortion, etc.  But communism is dead, the hippies are grown up, Clinton is off doing good works in Africa, al-Qaeda is pretty quiet, and it's pretty obvious that the culture wars have been lost. They're doing their best to slot Obama into the old Clinton/Gore role, but he just doesn't fit and the media isn't playing along the way they did in the 90s.  So they're stuck.  Who, exactly, is their enemy these days?

I'm not sure they know themselves.  But maybe that makes it worse.  A nuclear-armed USSR may be scary, but at least it's something you can identify.  These days that's a lot harder.  Like a horror movie where you're surrounded on all sides by something you can never quite make out, I guess it seems to them like there's something horrible going on, but it's something so insidious that they're only allowed to catch occasional foggy glimpses of it.  Budget deficits?  Healthcare reform? Top marginal tax rates going back to 39.6%? Negotiations with Iran?  Those aren't things that normally stir the blood.  But what if they're really just stalking horses for something far more malign?

I dunno.  Maybe that's the reason for the apocalyptic tone.  The actual policies that liberals are pursuing aren't that big a deal even by right-wing standards, but if besiegement is your stock in trade then that only means there must be something else going on that you're not being allowed to see.  Because there has to be something, doesn't there?

"Holy Hell"

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 11:58 PM EDT
Michael Isikoff reports that the White House is in the middle of an internal brawl over whether to release the last of the Bush-era torture memos:

As reported by Newsweek, the White House last month had accepted a recommendation from Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify and publicly release three 2005 memos that graphically describe harsh interrogation techniques approved for the CIA to use against Al Qaeda suspects. But after the story, 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.

....Brennan succeeded in persuading CIA Director Leon Panetta to become "engaged" in his efforts to block release, according to the senior official. Their joint arguments stalled plans to declassify the memos even though White House counsel Gregory Craig had already signed off on Holder's recommendation that they should be disclosed, according to an official and another government source familiar with the debate. No final decision has been made, and it is likely Obama will have to resolve the matter, according to the sources who spoke to Newsweek.

Brennan's argument is that release of the memos might embarrass allies who helped us torture prisoners.  He might even be right.  But if that makes foreign intelligence services more cautious about helping us commit war crimes in the future, that would be a argument in favor of releasing the memos, not against it.

Friday Cocktail: Dash the Wolves, Splash of Dolphins, Jigger the Straw Bale House, Shake Over Ice

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 9:31 PM EDT
As Oscar Wilde said: Work is the curse of the drinking class.

Round 1: In Your Eye. The US Fish & Wildlife Service basically threw up its hands (again) on the issue of gray wolves and tossed their fate back into the temperamental ballcourt of the states of the West. Except for the state of Wyoming. Apparently Wyoming's thirst for wolf blood turns even the stomach of rancher and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Wyoming managed to slaughter wolves so fast after 2006's aborted delisting that they lost the privilege to kill any more under their own terms. Just yet.

I mean, seriously, Team Obama... Sarah Palin could hardly have shot a better bull's-eye from her Alaskan helicopter. The final rule removing federal protections for wolves was published yesterday in the Federal Register and will go into effect on May 4 when state wolf management laws take effect. So, run, Wolves, run. Meanwhile lawsuit engines are revving, including those of the Humane Society of the United States.

Round 2: ¡Salud!
A federal judge just kept alive a lawsuit that might just keep the Mexican wolf alive. US District Judge David Bury buried a motion by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to throw out a lawsuit regarding the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf—the subspecies of gray wolf exterminated in the Southwest since the 1930s. The feds reintroduced them in Arizona-New Mexico in 1998 and biologists hoped to have at least 100 in the wild by now and 18 breeding pairs. Instead we've got just 52 and only two breeding pairs. Why? Because ranchers keep killing them and even worse the frakkin USFWS trapped and shot 19 wolves in 2007. That's nearly three times the number of suspicious wolf deaths in 2008. Team Obama? Wake up.

The lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and many others claims the USFWS is sitting on their lazy asses and relinquishing their powers to others. The lawsuit also challenges a perverted 3-strikes rule that calls for wolves to be permanently removed from the wild (huh?) or killed (oh…) if they prey on livestock three or more times within one year. Judge Bury is saying: Hang on there, pardner. Let's try this in court. Buy that man a drink.

Round 3: Sláinte! Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society announced the discovery of 6,000 rare Irrawaddy dolphins in Bangladesh. Prior to this announcement, dolphin populations in the area were feared to number in only the low 100s. In neighboring Burma, these dolphins fish cooperatively with humans, herding schools of fish toward boats and then benefiting from the relationship by easily preying on the fish cornered in the nets and from those falling out of the nets when the fishermen pull them from the water. I'll drink to that.

Round 4: Stirred but not shaken!
A greater than 7.6 magnitude simulated temblor did not knock down Darcey Donovan's straw bale house at the University Of Nevada Reno. The full-scale, 14-by-14-foot straw house, complete with gravel foundation and clay plaster walls—just the way she builds them in Pakistan—was subjected to 200 percent more acceleration and shaking than was recorded at the 1994 Northridge CA earthquake: the largest measured ground acceleration in the world. The straw house also survived the equivalent of the 2005 Kashmir temblor that killed 100,000 people and left 3.3 million homeless or living in tents. Buy that woman a drink.

Round 5: Here's to Hell, where the snowballs are melting. The European Space Agency reports that the Wilkins Ice Shelf is leaving its home base on the Antarctic Peninsula as the ice bridge connecting it to Charcot and Latady Islands looks set to collapse. The beginning of the demise of the ice bridge began this week when new rifts resulted in a large block of ice breaking away. Bye-bye iceberg.

Round 6: Sotally tobering.

MIT Teams Up With the Flu to Make Batteries

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 8:16 PM EDT

You may have heard of oil-eating microbes, or microbes turning weeds into biofuels. Now, there are battery-making microbes.

A few MIT whizzes recently discovered a way to make genetically modified flu viruses help construct the anode and cathode (negative and positive) ends of re-chargeable lithium batteries.

The research team, led by MIT professors Angela Belcher, Paula Hammond, and Yet-Ming Chiang, made the virus self-assemble a host of carbon nanotubes (each one-tenth the width of a human hair) and tiny particles of iron phosphate and silver (for the cathode) or cobalt oxide and gold (for the anode) to create a network of charged nanowires, which act as active battery material.

Although the batteries are very small, they have an above average energy density, and the method could conceivably be developed to make larger batteries used in everything from portable chargers to electric cars. Belcher says that just 10 grams of the viral battery material could power an iPod for 40 hours.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Recession Lingo

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 7:58 PM EDT

When the going gets tough, the tough make up euphemisms to soften the blow.  Here are a few recession-inspired words to add to your Urban Dictionary.

In-sourcing:
when workers float through different departments in lieu of temps.

BBR: buy, burn, and return. Buying DVDs or software from a store, burning them, and then returning them for a refund.

Intaxication: euphoria when receiving a tax refund.

Wii bum: a person who has no Wii of their own, so goes over to others' houses largely to play their Wii for free.
 
Sellsumer: a consumer/entrepreneur who hawks insights and ideas to corporations to help sales.
 
TALF’d: Tricked into believing something big is going to happen when it doesn’t.

Ponzimonium: describes the recent spike in mini-Madoffs.
 
Furcation: an unpaid, forced holiday.
 
Shovel-ready: local infrastructure “ready to go” projects waiting for stimulus money.
 
Duppie: a downwordly-mobile urban professional.
 
Renoviction: when a landlord moves a tenant out during renovations and then jacks up the rent.

Keira Knightley's Domestic Abuse Ad

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 5:46 PM EDT

Public interest videos are rarely aesthetically appealing, but this one starring Keira Knightly just might buck the trend. Directed by her Atonement and Pride and Prejudice collaborator Joe Wright, the two-minute ad spot for Women's Aid features Knightly as a victim of domestic violence in a smartly shot movie-within-a-movie. You can watch it for yourself above, but suffice to say it's disturbing—and effective. I don't know much about advertising, but when a public interest ad works, it works

Spousal abuse has been especially linked with celebrity recently, so it's nice to see someone lend their time and energy to promote a solution. And the way this has made traffic around the web is testament to the power of a familiar name and some top grade directing. Well done.

TARP Funds Still MIA

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 5:11 PM EDT
The U.S. Public Interest Group has been doing an admirable job of tracking the government's failure to track what banks are doing with the billions in taxpayer dollars they've received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Today, they circulated a nice little chart showing the status of the many alleged efforts at transparency. It's not encouraging. Here's the running tally:

Hearings on or related to the Troubled Asset Relief Program:   24
TARP Special Inspector General reports received from banks:   364
Department of Treasury requests for lending data:   21
General Accounting Office reports urging more oversight: 11
TARP oversight bills pending Congressional action:  14
TARP oversight bills passed into law so far: 0
Comprehensive accountings made to public agencies or the public to date: 0
 
USPIRG observes that "Six months, $565 billion, 24 hearings and 364 reports later, the American taxpayers still don’t know where their money has gone."

 

Should Madonna Adopt Again?

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 4:50 PM EDT
As any tabloid reader knows, Madonna is back in the African country of Malawi, where her 3-year-old adopted son, David, was born. This time she's hoping to adopt a 4-year-old girl named Mercy James, whose 18-year-old mother died shortly after giving birth. Now an American organization that promotes reform in international adoption has started a grassroots fundraising effort to keep the child in Malawi, arguing that Mercy could likely remain with extended family for less than $300 a year. While Ethica admits it doesn't have specific information about the case, its "Call to Action" argues that the child is being fast-tracked to international adoption without regard to possible alternatives. Ethica argues that kids should only be adopted internationally when:

* The child is a "true orphan" with no family (including appropriate extended family).
* The child cannot find appropriate, permanent, in-country care in a family-like setting.
* There is an established system for intercountry adoption in the country of origin.

"For every child that does not meet the three criteria above but that enters the world of intercountry adoption anyway, another child that meets these criteria waits without a home," Ethica maintains. The group is asking supporters to help raise the $2,240 they calculate would be needed for extended family to raise Mercy until she turns 14; they say that if the girl does end up being adopted, they will donate the funds to child welfare efforts in Malawi.

Mother Jones has covered international adoption extensively, most recently here and here. What do you think? Is this fundraiser a good idea? And when is international adoption appropriate--or not?