Blogs

The Right Wing Trains Its Hysterical Eye on Renewable Energy

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 8:10 AM PDT

Evan Halper of the LA Times filed a story this weekend about new conservative efforts to fight America's biggest energy scourge: solar power. And they're dead serious:

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation's largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

....At the nub of the dispute are two policies found in dozens of states. One requires utilities to get a certain share of power from renewable sources. The other, known as net metering, guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates.

....The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a membership group for conservative state lawmakers, recently drafted model legislation that targeted net metering. The group also helped launch efforts by conservative lawmakers in more than half a dozen states to repeal green energy mandates.

"State governments are starting to wake up," Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, said in an email. The organization has led the effort to overturn the mandate in Kansas, which requires that 20% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources.

There are, technically speaking, some colorable objections to the way net metering (or feed-in tariffs, a similar concept) operate. Sometimes the incentive schemes go awry, and sometimes the pricing goes awry. It's reasonable to insist that these programs be evaluated regularly and rigorously, and modified where necessary. Mandates need to be designed properly too, though in practice they tend to have fewer problems since they allow a lot of flexibility in implementation.

But does anyone think this is what's going on here? A calm, technocratic effort to make sure these programs work better? Of course not. We've now entered an era in which affinity politics has gotten so toxic that even motherhood and apple pie are fair targets if it turns out that liberals happen to like apple pie. There are dozens of good reasons that we should be building out solar as fast as we possibly can—plummeting prices, overdependence on foreign oil, poisonous petrostate politics, clean air—but yes, global warming is one of those reasons too. And since global warming has now entered the conservative pantheon of conspiratorial hoaxes designed to allow liberals to quietly enslave the economy, it means that conservatives are instinctively opposed to anything even vaguely related to stopping it. As a result, fracking has become practically the holy grail of conservative energy policy, while solar, which improves by leaps and bounds every year, is a sign of decay and creeping socialism.

Does it help that the Koch brothers happen to be oil barons who don't want to see the oil industry lose any of the massive government support it's gotten for decades? It sure doesn't hurt, does it?

If there's anything that liberals and conservatives ought to be able to agree on, it's the benefit of renewable power. It's as close to a no-brainer as you can get. But President Obama made green programs part of his stimulus package, and that was that. When tea-party hysteria took over the conservative movement, renewable energy became one of its pariahs. Griping about Solyndra is ancient history. Today's conservatives oppose renewable energy for the same reason they've gone nuts over Benghazi and the IRS and Syrian rebels: to show solidarity to the cause. Welcome to modern American politics.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Cardinal Defends Hobby Lobby: "All You Have to Do Is Walk into a 7-11" for Contraceptives

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 7:47 AM PDT

On Sunday, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, culture warrior extraordinaire, made a curious argument for why the Supreme Court should allow Hobby Lobby to eliminate the morning-after pill from its employee health care plan: if you want contraceptives, "all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them."

The East Coast's top Catholic made his comments Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. "I think they're just true Americans," he told host Norah O’Donnell of Hobby Lobby's owners, who claim that providing emergency contraceptive pills violates their religious beliefs. "Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available—my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them—is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?"

Couple of things:

  • The owners of Hobby Lobby are proposing to eliminate one kind of contraception from the company's employee health care plans: the morning-after pill. The Greens, who own the company, do not have a problem with all contraception. In fact, the company plan still covers birth control pills.
  • Birth control pills are a form of contraception that isn't available without a prescription. They are not sold on any shop on any street in America.
  • If Dolan is talking about emergency contraception, we would note that only one type of morning-after pill for sale in the US without a prescription: Plan B One Step and its generics.
  • These are also not sold on any shop on any street in America.
  • These are not sold at 7-11.

It's almost as if Dolan doesn't know very much about the contraceptives he opposes. Either that, or he hasn't been to a 7-11 since giving up Go-Go Taquitos for Lent.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 21, 2014

Mon Apr. 21, 2014 6:58 AM PDT

FORT CARSON, Colo. - A fireball engulfs a mortar round, March 19, 2014, during a mortar live-fire exercise. Soldiers of the 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducted mortar training as part of gunnery training and certifications executed by units across 3rd ABCT. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Grady Jones, 3rd ABCT Public Affairs, 4th Inf. Div.)

GOP Senate Candidate Endorses a 9/11 Truther's Questions: "Things Like This Have to Be Asked"

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

In 2012, Greg Brannon, who is now a North Carolina Republican Senate candidate, wouldn't say whether he thought the attacks on September 11, 2001, were an inside job—but, he said, "Things like this have to be asked."

Brannon, an OB-GYN endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a leading contender in the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), made that comment as a guest on a local conservative talk show. At the time, Brannon was running Founder's Truth, a North Carolina tea party organization. A caller offered up a conspiracy theory about September 11, and as the host, Bill LuMaye, tried to redirect the conversation, Brannon answered:

John, caller: I'm a 9/11 truther. And I had a friend of mine…tell me, look on the internet, Google "the Pentagon" and show me where the plane hit the Pentagon. Where is the plane? There's all kinds of pictures of that building smoldering, and fire trucks everywhere. There's no plane. So I did research on the size of planes, of the engines that ran this plane. These things are 12,000 pounds, these engines that would have flown off—that's six tons—and put a hole in something. There's nothing there.

Bill LuMaye: Well, without getting into—

John: There's a hole in the building and there's no broken glass.

LuMaye: Well, I'd rather not get into a discussion on whether 9/11 was an inside job or not. I really, I mean, we can save that for another day, I have no problem with that, it's just—

Greg Brannon: These questions, again, actually, that's what [9/11 commission vice-chair] Lee Hamilton said. And he just said, there's other questions that need answering. The guy who got all the information…a Democrat and a Republican, were the co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, and when they got done, they did not put their stamp of approval on the commission. They said, 'There's data that we did not put in there.' So things like this have to be asked.

LuMaye: Well, I appreciate your call, John.

Brannon: Thanks, John.

It's true that Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, said that the commission's investigation of the September 11 plot was incomplete. But their complaint was that government agencies blocked the commission from assessing how badly prepared the United States was for the attacks, and which US agencies were responsible for failing to prevent the attacks—not that the US was hiding its own involvement.

Meaningful Music Meets Debauchery in the Desert: Anti-Flag Rocks Coachella

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

The sun had set on the first day of Coachella. Bright, colored lights adorning art installations and beaming from stages highlighted the plumes of smoke and dust clouds emitting from audiences at the Indio Fairgrounds. I hurried through the sweaty shoulders clustered in front of the main stage, excited to see a band that played a big part in my musical upbringing.

Anti-Flag, which celebrated 20-years of punk rock in 2013, was set to play one of the smaller stages Friday, April 11, at midnight in the Gobi tent. The Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival has consistently delivered on nostalgia, bringing out new artists along with acts audiences know and love. But I wondered what the Anti-Flag crowd would look like.

The festival, which started small in Indio, California, in 1999, has since grown to attract worldwide attention, amenities such as craft beer, gourmet food, and luxury campsites, along with a hefty price-tag (admission runs from $349-$799, not including transportation, housing, food, and a budget for the more nefarious activities commonly considered part of the festival experience). 

The aesthetic of the festival's attendees is often discussed (and criticized) more than the music, and it largely defines the brand and attraction of Coachella. This year, the throngs of festival-goers were styled as expected. Neon tanks blended with short skirts, a scattering of ironic Native American headdresses, and, of course, skin, skin, skin. Dressing for the heat of the desert doesn't leave much to the imagination.

The hallmark of festival style, however, is a flowered wreath. A bouquet of large blooms wrapped in a crown, these wreaths adorned heads in every direction. Beautiful but cumbersome, their glamor began to wear thin the more often I saw them. They're worn as a nod to the "free-spirit" identity crafted by music festivals like Coachella, but in reality, they seem limiting. How can you head-bang with flowers in your hair? I didn't expect to see many of them at the Anti-Flag set that night.

Anti-Flag drummer Pat Thetic Megan Thompson

When I spoke to drummer Pat Thetic earlier that the day, he said he wasn’t fazed by the notion that his punk band might be playing to a more eclectic, or at least a smaller audience at Coachella."There are a lot of people here and they are open to ideas," he said."We need to have a voice of dissent in every environment. Whether it is a place like Coachella or a place like Warped Tour or at a local football game—you have to have a voice of dissent."

Anti-Flag is no stranger to the role. Hailing from Pittsburgh, the band started with a political aim, founded on their town’s history of labor movements. Its two original members, Thetic and lead singer/guitar player Justin Sane, were joined by Chris Head (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Chris Barker or "Chris #2" (lead vocals, bass guitar) in the late nineties.

Punk Rock was a venue for voicing their beliefs and rallying others."We were all trying to say something," Thetic says. "It did not necessarily mean that we were intelligent and had good things to say, but we were angry and activism and politics were a place to release that anger and frustration." His words perfectly described how I felt as a high school kid when I first discovered the band and punk rock. I loved the pounding rhythm that paralleled how I felt about the messages in the music.

The band has remained dedicated to highlighting social ills and continues to be involved in important causes. Last year, they partnered with Art For Amnesty, the Amnesty International campaign inspired by the imprisonment of Russian activist punk band Pussy Riot. Their version of "Toast to Freedom" (below), featuring Donots, Ian D’Sa of Billy Talent, and Bernd of Beatsteaks, is just one example of their musical advocacy efforts.

They have raised funds for nonprofits championing an array of issues—from PETA to Planned Parenthood, African Well Fund to the ACLU. Anti-Flag founded Military Free Zone to highlight problems with military recruitment in schools and Underground Action Alliance, a site that brings young activists together.

That’s why when I asked Thetic how music can solve the worlds problems I was surprised to hear him say it can’t."Music doesn’t change the world by any stretch," he said adamantly,"but the people who are changing the world are listening."

I wondered if the people changing the world were even at Coachella. Thetic assured me that they were—even if they didn’t know it yet."These kids are not being taught about these things but if they come to a festival like this maybe they will stop by and hear an Anti-Flag song," he explains. “If they are like ‘Who are these guys? Why are they so angry? What are they talking about? Should I be that angry?’ Those ideas can catch hold and spark a fire."

I reached the Gobi tent right before Anti-Flag was scheduled to play. I looked around at the people trickling in and hoped to see a fire spark. The lights went up. The band took the stage. The crowd grew. The onlookers transformed into a sea of bobbing heads and thrashing arms. Some shouted along. Others just moved to the music.

“Welcome to the most right and righteous circle pit of all Coachella history!" Chris #2 shouted from the stage."It happens right here, right now. Everyone is running in a circle. If someone falls down we pick them up!" The crowd erupted into organized mayhem—a blur of circular motion cycling through the middle. The moshing continued throughout the set. People kept their phones put away, even when Thetic brought his drum kit into the crowd for the final song.

By the time the band finished it was nearing 1 am. The dust from disbanded festival-goers was settling as workers made the rounds collecting trash left behind.

As I made my way out of the tent I saw it. Crumpled, laying in the dirt near the stage, a flower wreath had been left behind by its wearer. I hoped it had been ripped off in triumph and danced into the ground while its owner was caught in the moment, hearing the message, and truly listening to the music. One can only guess how it landed there, but to me it was a symbol that someone left that night changed—if only in the smallest way.

 

 

 

 

Quick Reads: "Authorisms" by Paul Dickson

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Authorisms

Authorisms

By Paul Dickson

BLOOMSBURY

Are you a literary muscleman or a munchkin? A word ninja or a spewer of malaprops? And who came up with these terms anyway? In Authorisms, Paul Dickson traces writerly coinages (a coinage of the Elizabethan scribe George Puttenham) of words and expressions ranging from assassination (Shakespeare's Macbeth) to zombification (the poet Andrei Codrescu). He takes things too far sometimes—while Jane Austen may have been the first to mention base ball in print­, for instance, it wasn't the baseball we know. Yet I was fascinated to discover that sayings I'd mistaken for relatively recent—blurb (1907), frenemy (1953), weapons of mass destruction (1937), wimp (from an 1898 children's book by Evelyn Sharpe)—actually predated me. It's enough to drive an anxious magazine editor to verbicide.

This review originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Nope, There Are No Russians in Eastern Ukraine. Why Do You Ask?

| Sun Apr. 20, 2014 10:59 PM PDT

Imagine my surprise:

For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces....More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.

Nope, nobody here but us surprisingly disciplined, well-trained, and Russian-armed guys in masks taking over government buildings. Anybody got a problem with that?

"Veep" Just Aired Its Best Episode Yet

| Sun Apr. 20, 2014 8:00 PM PDT
Biden meeting with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who plays Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep"), as she sits at his desk in his West Wing office on April 12, 2013

This post contains some spoilers.

When I spoke with Veep creator Armando Iannucci last year, we had some fun discussing (among other topics) how he does his research for the HBO satire and why he would never, ever, ever allow Joe Biden on the show. But what really stood out to me was when Iannucci talked about his characters' professional and personal frustrations—and how those frustrations reflect his view of Washington's effect on the soul:

I don't want [the characters in Veep] to seem like caricatures—I want them to be viewed as real people, with their own problems, and hopes, and dreams, and frustrations…And it's that frustration and exasperation that I look for in comedy…What I want to do is show what the system can do to you, and to have [the audience] sympathize with the terrible set of circumstances these characters have to deal with every single day.

Iannucci is a brilliant satirist and a clever political observer. His brand of comedy and commentary (also seen in British TV series The Day Today and The Thick of It, and the latter's brilliant 2009 spin-off film In the Loop) is a mischievous deromanticization of political and media elites. It's smart, wildly funny stuff that's full of carefully constructed, linguistically acrobatic profanity.

But with many of Veep's episodes, that sympathy he mentions in the above quote doesn't always come through. Your average viewer might watch a random episode and come away with the impression that it was written by someone who despised Washington, DC, and all its inhabitants. (Iannucci is actually a self-described "politics geek" who finds DC "fascinating.") However, in Sunday's episode, "Alicia" (directed by Chris Morris and guest-starring Tracie Thoms), Iannucci's humanist outlook is more apparent than it ever has been before in the series. This is the reason why "Alicia" is perhaps the finest episode Veep has yet to pull off.

Housekeeping Notes

| Sat Apr. 19, 2014 8:50 AM PDT

These are real housekeeping notes. That is, notes about stuff around my house. First topic: LED light bulbs.

I've purchased several LED floods that are can-mounted in my ceiling. They're great. The quality of the light is good; they turn on instantly; they don't flicker; and they use hardly any electricity. There's only one problem: they seem to last less than a year. The LEDs themselves last for decades, of course, but the circuitry that drives the bulb doesn't. As near as I can tell, there's eventually enough heat buildup in the can to burn out the chip that controls the whole thing, and when the chip burns out, no more bulb.

I'm just guessing here, but this has now happened three times out of five bulbs I've purchased, and in all three cases the case of the bulb was hot to the touch when I unscrewed it from the base. So here's my question: Does anyone know for sure what's going on here? Is my guess that a chip is burning out probably correct? Am I just buying cheap bulbs? Can anyone recommend a can-mounted flood that's reliable and will actually last for the 25 years that manufacturers so cheerfully promise?

Second: a cell phone update. In last weekend's thread, the Google Nexus 5 got a lot of love, but so did the Motorola Moto X. I had actually made up my mind on the Nexus 5, but the T-Mobile store only sold it in a 16GB version, so I decided to go home and buy one online. But then I started dithering because of all the nice things people had said about the Moto X. Eventually, after far more dithering than makes sense for someone who doesn't use a cell phone much, I decided the slightly smaller Moto X was the better choice. So: thanks, folks! I don't think this would have come across my radar otherwise.

The US Government Really Isn't Worried About "Transcendence" Happening in Real Life

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 3:34 PM PDT

This post contains spoilers, but the movie is bad so I don't think you'll care.

Transcendence is an awful movie—two hours of squandered potential. (You can read my colleague Ben Dreyfuss' review here.) The film stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, and Kate Mara. It was executive-produced by Christopher Nolan, and marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Wally Pfister (the guy who made Christopher Nolan movies look like Christopher Nolan movies). The plot goes something like this: Depp plays a renowned artificial-intelligence researcher named Will Caster. He gets assassinated by a terrorist group that fears super-intelligent, sentient machines will one day rule the world. Will's wife Evelyn (played by Hall) has the bright idea to upload his consciousness to a big computer thing, hoping he'll live on in cyberspace or something. It works, and this achieves technological singularity (when A.I. becomes greater than the human mind), which Will calls "transcendence."

Things get really creepy and it starts to look like Johnny Depp The Omniscient Computer really is trying to take over the world. The US government begins to wage a secret war on him/it, and gets into bed with some shady, gun-toting characters in doing so.

Anyway, that may sound like a cool premise, but the movie is really, very boring—but it did get me and my buddy thinking: What would our government do if this happened in real life? Does the government have a contingency plan if (as some believe is possible) sentient machines began outdoing mankind? What if the machines went to war against us? What would Barack Obama do???

Okay, this is stupid. But if America once drew up legit plans to invade Canada, maybe there's a chance we have a plan for this. I called up the Department of Defense, and was transferred to spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. I asked him these questions, and if anyone working in cyber warfare had anything to say about this. His response:

I'm gonna be frank with you. There is nobody here who is going to talk about that...There are currently no plans for this. It's just a completely unrealistic scenario. We have a lot of people working on this team on serious stuff, but this just isn't a real threat.

"Well," he concluded, "at least not for now."

For now.

Obama's America.

Here's the trailer for the Johnny Depp movie: