Blogs

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Tick, Tock: Time Running Out on McCain's Membership on Non-Profit's Board

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

ProjectVoteSmart.gif As Mother Jones reported Monday, the nonpartisan voter-education non-profit Project Vote Smart (PVS) has spent nine months trying to get John McCain to respond to its Political Courage Test. The test is a survey that PVS sends to state and federal candidates every time they run for office — it tries to get politicians to cut the spin and equivocations and tell voters where they really stand.

We all know McCain loves straight talk more than anyone, so it's natural that McCain has been on PVS's board of directors for a decade. But after nine months, 17 phone calls, and eight emails, PVS simply can't get a response to its survey. It's executive committee has a set a deadline: if McCain doesn't respond by the end of the day today, he gets the boot.

Since Mother Jones' story came out Monday, the McCain campaign has not responded to calls for comment or sent any materials to PVS.

A Feminist Hears a Who

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 1:52 AM EDT

I was aghast to hear my four year old daughter playing with her dolls the other day. The dolls are not the problem; the story line was. Tuning in and out while she nattered on, I suddenly realized the dialogue went something like this:

First Princess: "Oh no! The evil witch is coming. We need Prince Sean!" (Sean is the boy she's all but stalking at preschool).

Second Princess: "Oh! She'll cut our guts out. Where are the boys? We need boys."

FP: "Girls aren't strongly brave. We shall die! Who will save us? Oh! It's the prince. He'll save us."

All in a high-pitched and annoying ditzy soprano. It got so much worse than this, I had to sit her down for a chat. Where on earth was she getting this stuff?

I pummel her and her 7-year-old brother with feminist analysis of every medium they encounter, from billboards to story books to cereal boxes. I'm a single mom with a freelance career; they watch me struggle and kick ass everyday, all without help from a 'prince.' Yet, my daughter argues furiously with me that only boys are strong and brave and tough. She was actually offended when I called her a tough cookie after she'd done something cool. "I'm not tough, Mom! I'm a girl." Yeah, and if I'm very lucky, someday I'll get to wipe the sweat from your brow as you push out a fetus as big as you were. Then we'll talk about tough.

I know she's just trying to make sense of all the conflicting messages the world is lobbing at her, but overhearing her made me see just how naive I'd been to think my unrelenting feminist harangues would shield her from the world's low expectations of what she can do. Make her doubt herself, no matter what her actual accomplishments. Her four-year-old brain is telling her that she has to choose between feminity and strength. I know. She'll work it out over time. But, boy, was I freaked.

I fight bigotry for a living; surely my kids would be immune to it, right? The light came on when I took them to the movies this weekend.

Botox Takes a Hit from Flailing Economy

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 7:28 PM EDT
The effects of the struggling economy are finally trickling up. The Los Angeles Times reports that local LA resident Goldy Anthony has had to give up her regular botox-cum-ladies-who-lunch appointments in Beverly Hills because, well, at $1,800 a session (not including lunch), she no longer has the pocket change to spare. With the announcement last week that 80,000 American jobs were cut in just this past month, and foreclosures sweeping the nation, it's hard to bemoan the casualty of Goldy's botox procedures, and that she will no longer be able to inject toxins into her face to achieve that eerily placid perma-expression.

But the whole thing is making cosmetic surgeons pretty nervous. One doctor claims his number of surgeries decreased by "5% in January and February," while other doctors are reportedly "off by 30% to 40%." Although we may easily shrug off cosmetic surgery, the fact that the economic downturn has reached this sector indicates that even the wealthy are being forced to cut back—which is not a good sign for consumer spending. Over at Slate.com, though, William Saletan is rejoicing that elective cosmetic surgery has taken a small hit. Cosmetic procedures have increased 457 percent since 1997. Now, maybe doctors will get back to the true meat and potatoes work of practicing medicine.

—Joyce Tang

Music: The Prizes, They Are a-Changin'

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

mojo-photo-dylanpulitzer.jpg

Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock 'n' roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall. Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.
- AP

Hip-hop has finally broken the boundaries of time and space, as the Nobel Foundation announced today that Snoop Dogg would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Gunnar Öquist, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, presented Snoop with the prize in a ceremony in Stockholm, citing the rapper's "inquisitive lyrical themes concerning the behaviors of liquids ('Gin and Juice') and gases ('Chronic Break')," as well as his "hebetudinous delivery which has been proven to alter the listener's perception of time." Snoop pronounced the medal "fly."

Back in the States, in a move that has been anticipated for weeks, Miley Cyrus was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work as Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana. The MacArthur foundation heaped praise on the singer for her contributions to "the advancement of syncretic metafiction," describing the singer, real name Destiny Hope Cyrus, as a "a web of multiple identities, the first true post-human creation of the digital age." Cyrus reacted to the news by hugging her dog and thanking her role model Hillary Duff, who won the Pritzker in 2007.

In related news, it was screaming mayhem at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice awards last week as host Jack Black presented Richard Dawkins with the award for "Favorite Male Evolutionary Biologist." "Up yours, Gouldy," he exclaimed, referring to the writer Steven Jay Gould, who had famously been nominated 14 times for the award, yet never won. Attendee Tiffany Wright, 11, clutching a tear-stained copy of The God Delusion, told reporters she had actually touched the writer's tweed jacket. "Religion is the opiate of the masses," she exclaimed, "Ricky is totally my idol!"