Blogs

Quick Reads: "Unruly Places" by Alastair Bonnett

| Sat Jul. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Unruly Places

Unruly Places

By Alastair Bonnett

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

By now, given the pace of technology, you'd think every square inch of the planet's surface had already been discovered, scrutinized, and made accessible online. In this catalog of the world's forgotten, ignored, and phantom places, British geographer Alastair Bonnett shows us that our maps still hold plenty of secrets. Take Wittenoom, an asbestos-mining center turned ghost town in Western Australia that vanished from official records—but not from the face of the earth. Or the no man's land between Senegal and Guinea that is host to entire nationless villages. There's also Sandy Island, a South Pacific sandbar that existed on Google Earth until 2012—when an Australian expedition discovered that it never actually existed. The geography of the unknown has never been so comprehensible.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

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David Vitter's Deportation Proposal Could Require More Planes Than There Are on Earth

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 6:31 PM EDT

David Vitter has had it with undocumented immigrants. "Enough is enough," the Republican Senator and Louisiana gubernatorial candidate tweeted on Friday. "I introduced a bill to require mandatory detention for anyone here illegally & get illegal aliens on the next plane home."

The legislation Vitter introduced Friday doesn't actually require all immigrants to be detained and deported. It mostly applies to child migrants, 70,000 of whom will make their way to the United States from Central America this year. Specifically, unaccompanied minors without asylum claims would be put "on the next available flight to their home countries within 72 hours of an initial screening."

But if we really tried to do what Vitter's tweet suggests—and why not? He's a senator!—it would entail increasing the nation's immigration detention capacity by a factor of 365. And flying all those immigrants home would require more planes than currently exist.

The math is simple. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are 11 million people currently in the United States without permanent legal status, the bulk of them from Latin America. In 2011, the average flight to that region had room for 171.8 passengers. It would require 64,027 flights to move all those migrants. Unfortunately, there were only 7,185 commercial aircraft in the United States as of 2011, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, so the mass deportations might take a while, especially considering Tegucigalpa's Toncontín International Airport boasts "the world's trickiest landing."

Even if other nations chipped in, it'd still be a tough row to hoe. According to Boeing, there are only 20,310 commercial airliners in the world, although that figure is set to double by 2032, if we want to wait. 

These back-of-the-envelope calculations don't take into account other details, like the costs and logistics of finding and rounding up 11 million people. On the plus side, the amount of jet fuel required for Vitter's plan would be a boon for the oil and gas industry—one of Louisiana's largest employers.

The EPA Dithers While a Popular Pesticide Threatens Ecosystems

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 4:18 PM EDT

Ah, summer—the season when trillions of corn and soybean plants tower horizon-to-horizon in the Midwest. All told, US farmers planted more than 170 million acres in these two crops this year—a combined landmass roughly equal in size to the state of Texas. That's great news for the companies that turn corn and soy into livestock feed, sweeteners, and food additives; but not so great for honeybees, wild pollinating insects like bumblebees, and birds.

That's because these crops—along with other major ones like alfalfa and sunflower—are widely treated with pesticides called neonicotinoids. Made  by European chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta, these chemicals generate a staggering $2.6 billion in annual revenue worldwide—and have come under heavy suspicion as a trigger of colony collapse disorder and other, less visible, ecological calamities.

Friday Cat Blogging - 18 July 2014

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

In an awesome display of athleticism, Domino hopped into the laundry hamper this week. I was shocked. I didn't think she could do it. But I guess when you're motivated by the sweet, sweet prospect of snoozing among the delicate aromas of worn human clothing, you can accomplish anything. As for what she's looking at in this picture, I have no idea. Probably something in the cat dimension.

Iran's Oil Exports Have Fallen By Half Since Sanctions Were Imposed

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 2:09 PM EDT

If you're curious about the impact of economic sanctions on Iran, OPEC's newly-released 2014 statistical bulletin provides a pretty concrete look. As the tables below show, in just the past two years Iran's oil exports have fallen by nearly half and the rial has lost a third of its value. If you want to know why Iran is negotiating over its nuclear program, that's the story in a nutshell.

The whole report is here. Plenty of interesting little tidbits there for inquiring minds.

Obama Slams Putin and Calls for Ukraine Ceasefire

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 12:32 PM EDT

On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama demanded that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine adhere to a cease fire, and he slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for not keeping his vow to de-escalate in the Ukraine and for continuing to provide weapons and training to the rebels. Obama confirmed media reports noting that US intelligence has determined that a missile fired from the rebel-held area downed the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane, killing over 300 people. Obama announced that one US citizen was on the flight. Watch the speech here:

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Blueberries, Gold, Inflation, and Professor Krugman

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 12:18 PM EDT

So Paul Krugman writes a column about all the folks who have been hysterically predicting runaway inflation for the past few years, and what does he get? This:

I know it's just a coincidence. The other 500 comments are quite likely perfectly sane. Nonetheless, this is what we're up against.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you're curious, food prices have actually risen 11 percent over the past five years. In other words, about 2.2 percent per year.

AK-47 Manufacturer Fires Back at US Over Sanctions

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:56 AM EDT
Everybody's favorite assault rifle.

When the US imposed more sanctions on Russia this week, some US gun owners assumed the move was a targeted assault on their constitutional rights. It's not. But according to Rostec, the Russian government-owned company whose Kalashnikov subsidiary makes the AK-47, the assault rifle will be much harder to come by for US customers. After Rostec was added to the sanctions list, it fired back. "For Kalashnikov...the US is an important market for selling arms," a spokesman told ITAR-TASS, a Russian government news agency. "It should be noted that the Kalashnikov products are very popular in the US... This means that the sanctions the US Administration has imposed on Kalashnikov contravene the interests of US consumers."

AK-47's, which are cheap and durable (though not terribly accurate), are the world's most popular gun. As many as 100 million have been produced since its debut in 1947—by Kalashnikov and a multitude of imitators in China and Eastern Europe. Kalashnikov's fully-automatic models are illegal to own in the United States without a special permit. But the semi-automatic version are regulated under the same patchwork of state and local laws that regulate hunting rifles. In recent years, as the Russian military has reduced its orders, Kalashnikov has shifted its focus away from the full-auto weapons and toward semi-automatic models for the gun enthusiast market in the United States.

Kalashnikov's Russian logo Wikimedia Commons

The new sanctions cut off the supply of AK-47s from the factory source, but gun stores with an old inventory and gun owners with one to spare are free to go about their business as before. The only caveat is that Kalashnikov can't make any money off the deal.

In an unsigned statement posted on its website, Rostec notes that its analysts are conducting a "full study" of the impact of the new sanctions on its business, and argues that sanctions are putting its partnerships with US businesses at risk: "Now it is possible to say that the measures taken by Washington will have a negative impact on the cooperation of several Russian and American companies, threatening to undermine mutual trust," the company maintains.

The AK issue came up during a State Department media briefing on Thursday. Asked if the Kalashnikov sanctions would affect customers in the US, spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded, "We take into account the impact on the United States, on US businesses and consumers, and certainly we feel that peace and political stability and respect for international law are of critical importance to the global economy and to US businesses."

Kalashnikov's exclusive US importer, RWC Group, has not yet issued a statement.

No More Saturday Shipments for Netflix

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:45 AM EDT

From the LA Times:

Netflix Inc. has quietly stopped shipping DVDs from its distribution centers on Saturdays, a cost-cutting move that signals the company is easing out of the DVD subscription service and keeping its focus on online streaming. The change comes as Netflix is shedding hundreds of thousands of its DVD customers every quarter, yet gaining as many for its online streaming business continues to grow.

And so it begins. A few years from now, I assume Netflix will be out of the physical disc business entirely, which means it will be impossible to watch anything more than a few years old. We'll still have Redbox for recent releases as well as streaming services that offer whatever they happen to offer. But if you wake up one morning and decide you want to watch The Naked City? Well, you're probably out of luck.

I suppose that eventually every studio's back catalogs will be universally available via one streaming service or another. Unfortunately, "eventually" seems to be a helluva long time in Hollywood. What will we do in the meantime?

GOP Senate Candidate: I Forgot About My Bank Account With Oodles of Money in It

| Fri Jul. 18, 2014 11:45 AM EDT
Terri Lynn Land speaks at the Michigan Republican convention in 2010.

Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Michigan, has given nearly $3 million to her own campaign. That's perfectly legal—candidates can give as much as they want to their campaigns.

Here's the trouble: On the financial disclosure forms she filed last year and this May with the Federal Election Commission, Land reported she has assets of only about $1.5 million. So how could she give herself twice as much?

Don't fear, Land fans; her staff has an explanation. The other money was in a joint checking account she has with her husband Dan Hibma, a millionaire real estate developer. On Friday, the Land campaign told the Detroit Free Press (which broke this story) that in 2013 she "inadvertently" omitted the account from her disclosure form and in 2014 she "inadvertently" listed the account as solely owned by Hibma. In other words, Land claims she forgot about an account she had with an enormous amount of money in it—even as she was using that money to fund her campaign.

The Land campaign has not said how much money is in that joint checking account. "A candidate suddenly coming into possession of several million dollars raises questions," Paul Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center (no, not that Paul Ryan), told the Free Press.

As Michigan's secretary of state from 2003 until 2011, Land was responsible for enforcing the state's campaign finance laws.