Blogs

Why So Silent, NRA?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 9:45 AM EDT

Why won't the NRA speak? The National Rifle Association is not known as an organization run by people who are shy with the media. Yet the most powerful player in the gun lobby--and one of the most powerful political organizations around--still won't say anything about Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate).

Last week, Mother Jones broke the story of Sapone, who for about fifteen years was a gun lobby mole within senior levels of the gun control movement. Sapone was a self-described "research consultant" who had also penetrated the animal rights movement and environmental groups. But none of her operations--as far as is known publicly--were as extensive as her infiltration of various gun control organizations. And for at least some of the time that Sapone (as Mary McFate) worked at various gun violence prevention groups she had the NRA as a client, according to the deposition of a former business associate (as we explained in our story on her). Other evidence suggests a years-long relationship between Sapone and the NRA or gun rights advocates connected to the NRA.

So shouldn't the NRA have to address this? Before our story was posted, we called the NRA several times, explaining what we were going to report. Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the NRA, promised she would get back to us. She never did. Other media outfits pursuing the Sapone tale have also received the brush-off. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a front-page piece two days after our expose and noted that its reporter had contacted the NRA, extracting no comment from the influential lobby. The same thing happened when ABC News did a report on Sapone. The ABC News team even found more evidence of the Sapone-NRA relationship: her neighbors in Sarasota, Florida, said that she "often spoke about working for the NRA."

Can anyone push the NRA to respond to the Sapone story and explain its involvement in this 15-year-long penetration of assorted citizens groups? Congressional Democrats these days are not too eager to be IDed with the gun control issue, but perhaps one of them in Congress--paging Chairman Waxman or Chairman Conyers?--could send the gun lobby a note asking a few pointed questions.

The NRA has been holding its fire on this one, obviously hoping that it can duck the story and that the Sapone mess will fade away. But maybe not just the media but the NRA's own members (and board members) ought to ask why the lobby was spying on its political foes, who at the organization authorized this covert activity, how much money was spent on it, and, perhaps most important of all, was Sapone its only agent, past or present.

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Bacteria Not Flu Killed Most In 1918

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 1:39 AM EDT

1918_1.jpg A new study in Emerging Infectious Diseases concludes that bacteria not influenza killed most people in the 1918 flu epidemic. The lesson: stock up on antibiotics for the next flu pandemic—bird flu, horse flu, or otherwise.

New Scientist reports that researchers sifted through first-hand accounts, medical records, and infection patterns from 1918 and 1919.

They found that bacterial pneumonia piggybacked on surprisingly mild flu cases. And the victims didn't die fast. A supervirus would have likely killed them in three days.

Instead, most people lasted more than a week and some survived two weeks—classic hallmarks of pneumonia.

Most compelling: medical experts of the day identified pneumonia as the cause of most of the 100 million deaths—the most lethal natural event in recent human history.

Other research suggests the brutal mechanism. Influenza killed cells in the respiratory tract, which became food and home for invading bacteria that overwhelmed overstressed immune systems.

Ten years later, penicillin overpowered bacteria in subsequent influenza epidemics. But nowadays we're having those nagging antibiotic problems.

So health authorities are increasingly interested in the role bacteria will likely play in the next pandemic. Yet little action has been taken. "They are just starting to get to the recognition stage," says Jonathan McCullers, infectious disease expert. "There's this collective amnesia about 1918."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Hess Corp., Where Low-Level Oil Workers Donate Thousands to McCain

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 10:51 PM EDT

Alice and Pasquale Rocchio are not the kinds of people you typically see donating $57,000, the maximum combined amount, to a single political campaign. Alice is an office manager; Pasquale, a foreman. They rent their home in Flushing, Queens, a modest, blue-collar suburb of New York City. They drive a 2003 Buick and a 1993 Chevrolet. Yet they both maxed out in donations to Sen. McCain's campaign fund, McCain Victory 2008. Surprised?

Don't be. Alice Rocchio works for the Hess Corporation, a mammoth American oil company, according to Talking Points Memo. At Hess, she joins a slew of employees who have also given the maximum allowable amounts to McCain's fund.

Alice Rocchio told The New York Times that she made the decision on her own and wasn't reimbursed by Hess as a way of circumventing campaign finance restrictions.

If she changes her mind about that, we'll let you know.

—Max Fisher

Review: HBO's Baghdad High

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 9:20 PM EDT

If you think high school student dramas are played out, HBO's planning to prove you wrong. Tonight, they'll showcase a class clown, an aspiring musician, a sports stud, and a lovelorn teen. But these aren't your average high school teens—these are students of Baghdad High.

synopsis_baghdad_pic.jpg

In Congress, A Role Reversal On Energy

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

Several members of the House of Representatives returned to the House floor today, despite the Congressional recess that began on Friday, to protest Congress' failure to pass legislation combating high gas prices before beginning the month-long vacation. But they're not from the party you might think.

The protesters, who took to the empty House floor this morning despite dimmed lights and switched-off microphones, are Republicans. They're pushing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open a vote on allowing off-shore drilling, even though the Department of Energy has stated that opening the shoreline would have no effect on gas prices until 2030. Democrats show no sign of budging.

Normally, Congressional infighting would have ended there. But this is campaign season, so of course the president and the two senators seeking his office got pulled in.

New Videos: Vampire Weekend, The Carribean, The Streets, Spiritualized

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 7:06 PM EDT

Vampire Weekend – "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

In which the New York band soundtracks some super-awkward party moments at a fancy pad. Don't miss the dreamy shot of lead singer Ezra Koenig superimposed over rolling ocean waves. Swoon!

The Carribbean – "The Go from Tactical"

In which the DC quartet's melancholy tune is illustrated by the cutest little robots you ever did see. It's like Wall-E without the budget!

After the jump: a very long walk and some rather high jumps.

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Study: Music Industry Should "Embrace" Illegal Downloads

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 6:20 PM EDT

mojo-photo-piratecat.jpgHey, look, smart people are saying this too! A new study that looks at Radiohead's online release of In Rainbows last year recommends record companies accept—nay, celebrate—the realities of file-sharing. As we mentioned here a few months back, despite the fact that the British combo's album was available on a pay-what-you-want basis, around twice as many people bypassed the official site anyway to use file-sharing web sites or torrents. Maybe, like me, they had trouble logging on to the official site? Yet the study, by the MCPS-PRS Alliance, which represents music rights holders, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, sees this as a positive, calling the Radiohead release a "success story" that resulted in strong ticket sales and enormous publicity. Ultimately, the study concludes, record labels should consider "the costs and benefits of control versus the costs and benefits of scale." The UK Guardian suggests purveyors of frozen delicacies take up this strategy as well, by "giving away free ice-cream and selling advertising on the cones," but I'd like to point out the equivalency would be downloading the recipe for ice cream, wouldn't it?

Last.fm Leads to Uncomfortable Musical Self-Awareness

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 4:43 PM EDT

mojo-photo-lastlogo.jpgSome readers out there in Rifftopia might consider your ridiculously-named contributor to be an ahead-of-the-curve proponent of bleeding-edge technology. But nothing could be further from the truth. To be honest, I'm like a curmudgeonly grandpa, grudgingly forcing myself to take up new software and gadgets only after their obvious usefulness has finally seeped through my thick skull, and even then it's a real effort. Crimeny, I didn't have a MySpace page until 10 months ago, and I was the last one of my Nebraska family to even get a cell phone. Pathetically lazy or just wary, I'm no "early adopter."

Obama Moves to the Center on Energy: Blergh

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 4:28 PM EDT

I suppose if he's going to reach across the aisle in order to (1) form compromises and (2) use conservative ideas that have value, he has to do stuff like this. But it still makes progressives groan.

Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins: Another Hatfill?

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 2:10 PM EDT

U.S. bioweapons researcher Bruce Ivins was the FBI's prime suspect in the anthrax attacks. His suicide last week, it was initially reported, came as the Justice Department was preparing to file charges against him. But even as his name is plastered everywhere in relation to the attacks, the facts of the case—the evidence that ties him to the attacks—remains unknown. And despite reports that Ivins' arrest was "imminent," it seems that the FBI may have uncovered less than first thought. The New York Times reports that a source close to the investigation, although characterizing the evidence against Ivins as "damning," acknowledged that it is "largely circumstantial."

Steven Hatfill, the FBI "person of interest" who was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing after years of having his name dragged through the mud, knows a thing or two about circumstantial evidence. In June, he settled with his erstwhile pursuers for $5.82 million. Ivins' suicide, coming when it did, reinforces the perception that he may have been involved in the attacks. In this case, the FBI's novel analysis of anthrax samples appears to have led them back to Ivins, but, the Times reports, more then a ten people had direct access to the same material. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Ivins was in New Jersey at the time the letters were mailed from there in September and October of 2001.

That said, the circumstantial evidence does raise an eyebrow or two. According to the Times:

That evidence includes tracing the prestamped envelopes used in the attacks to stock sold in three Maryland post offices, including one in Frederick, frequented by Dr. Ivins, who had long rented a post office box there under an assumed name, the source said. The evidence also includes records of the scientist's extensive after-hours use of his lab at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases around the time the letters were mailed, the source said.
The FBI's case against Ivins is expected to be released to the public later this week.