Mojo - November 2006

Limitations to Robo Calls May be Forthcoming

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 12:33 PM PST

A Federal Trade Commission proposal likely going into effect in January will prohibit telemarketers from making "robo calls" to any customer -- unless a customer gives written permission to do so.

It is impossible to tell if this is a long-planned development, a product of Barack Obama getting serious, or a result of Mother Jones' strenuous coverage of the issue. I think we all know the answer.

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Michael Crichton Plugs Mother Jones

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 12:26 PM PST
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Well, not exactly. In our big package on global-warming deniers last year, Bill McKibben dinged Michael Crichton's State of Fear for combining "all the clichés of pulp fiction (heaving breasts, cannibals, poisoning by octopi)" with a deliberate misreading of the science of climate change. After quietly stewing for two years, Crichton has struck back. From today's New York Times review of his latest distraction for cross-country fliers: "Next does occasionally turn ham-handed: one of its resident idiots is a whiny environmentalist who reads Mother Jones and thinks genetic modification could make cool protest art." Snap!

Meanwhile, having conclusively disproved global warming, Crichton has moved on. According to his website, "Michael has completed all interviews/speaking engagements regarding State of Fear and related themes and will not be revisiting these subjects in the future." Guess not even breasts and cannibals could convince Hollywood to buy that screenplay. Better luck with this one, Michael!

Supreme Court Rules Against NY Times; Press Freedom Continues to Die a Slow Death

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 11:46 AM PST

The Supreme Court ruled against the New York Times yesterday, refusing to block the government from reviewing telephone records of two reporters in a leak investigation concerning a terrorism-funding probe.

In a series of stories in 2001, the Times revealed the government's plans to freeze the assets of two Islamic charities, the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation. The cast of characters here are old and familiar: the reporters are Judy Miller and Philip Shenon and the U.S. Attorney trying to track down the reporters' confidential sources is Patrick Fitzgerald. (For the record, the Fitzgerald fetishizing that was so abundant during the Plamegate scandal may have missed an important point: Fitzgerald is still an agent of a hyper-aggressive government that frequently targets reporters in an effort to curtail their ability to do their jobs. Sometimes his duties put in him the right, sometimes in the wrong.)

Just yesterday, Mother Jones blogged about the Hearst Co. lawyer who is trying (and, unfortunately, frequently failing) to protect the rights of reporters in her company who find themselves under subpoena more and more these days.

And on Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrated their concern on the subject with a very good and very thorough piece entitled "ASSAULT ON PRESS FREEDOM." No mucking around there.

Put it all together and there's little wonder we're tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga for 53rd in the 2006 Press Rankings.

Chris Carney, the Fighting Dem With Intel Creds. How Will He Use Them?

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 11:34 AM PST

Newly elected Democrat Chris Carney of Pennsylvania is the only member of Congress with a background doing pre-war intelligence on Iraq. A New York Times profile today looks at whether he'll aide congressional investigations into the flawed intel that led to war. Not likely:

Mr. Carney is not enthusiastic about the possibility of a new Congressional investigation of prewar intelligence, which he said would be a major distraction. For Mr. Carney, there is an element of been there, done that to looking back at the now-familiar cast of prewar characters, including Mr. Feith; Mr. Tenet; Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary; and Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader who was a prewar favorite of many in the Defense Department to take the reins of a future Iraqi government.

"Let's win the war first, then maybe look at how we got into it," Mr. Carney said. "The more energy spent on answering Congressional investigations, the less time will be spent on winning the war."

The Times story makes passing mention of Republican efforts during the campaign to smear Carney for his intelligence work, which, ironically, had been part of a pre-war intel review led by high ranking members of the GOP (a group first covered by Mother Jones). Also, for an early rundown on the swift boating of Carney, and his response at the time, see my MJ story, Swift Boating the Fighting Dems.

Homeland Security's Legal Loophole

| Tue Nov. 28, 2006 10:15 AM PST

Cross-posted from The Tortellini:

The Washington Post reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security has shown complete ineptness in contracting for a host of anti-terrorism services and devices. These include everything from airport screening machines to radiation detectors. The Post notes that DHS has wasted billions of dollars on security stuff, much of which doesn't work.

I find these stories especially disturbing because in creating the department, Congress allowed DHS to grant legal immunity to the manufacturers of anti-terrorism products. That means victims of a terrorist attack would not be able to sue a manufacturer if, say, its gas mask failed to filter out anthrax spores as promised.

More of Democracy's Downside in the Middle East

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 11:13 PM PST

As in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, so in Bahrain. Given the chance to vote more or less freely, even for a Parliament with limited powers, voters in the island kingdom overwhelmingly threw their support behind Islamist parties. Their secular liberal opponents were stomped flat.

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Death Sentences Dropping

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 11:00 PM PST

Hurray for DNA! Thanks in large part to all those guys who keep getting exonerated from death row, the number of death sentences juries have handed down in execution-happy Texas has dropped by more than half in the last ten years, from 40 in 1996 to just 14 this year. That fits the pattern nationwide, where death sentences have fallen from about 300 per year in the 1990s to 125 in 2005. Even Texas' Harris County, which has sent more residents to Death Row than any other jurisdiction in America in recent decades, only sentenced three people to be executed this year.

Brownback May Block Bush's Nominee For U.S. District Court Judgeship

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 6:15 PM PST

Judge Janet T. Neff, a member of the Michigan Court of Appeals, is George W. Bush's nominee for a spot on the U.S. District Court. Neff has a long-time neighbor who is a lesbian, and in 2002, she attended her friend's commitment ceremony in Massachusetts. According to Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Neff's attendance gave the appearance that she "betrayed her legal views on gay marriage."

Apparently, whether Neff favors gay marriage or not, Brownback thinks it would be perfectly fine for her to betray her friendship and hurt her friend's feelings. Such is the complexity of "family values."

The senator says he does not believe Neff should automatically be disqualified because she attended the ceremony. "I'm still looking at the Neff situation, and I will in the future," he said.

Foreign Aid Used to Manipulate U.N. Votes

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 5:46 PM PST

From the Atlantic (sub only):

The occupants of the ten rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council may, in effect, be trading their votes for cash, argues an article in The Journal of Political Economy. When nations begin their two-year terms on the Security Council, the aid they receive directly from the UN jumps 8 percent. Once a country's term expires, aid immediately drops to pre-membership levels, leading the authors to reject the possibility that temporary members receive more aid because they have become more visible. During periods when the Security Council is very active (and when temporary members' votes are more valuable), annual aid for developing countries holding temporary seats rises 166 percent. The authors single out the United States as an especially likely vote buyer: rotating members receive 59 percent more U.S. foreign aid while on the council, and their gains in direct UN aid come primarily via UNICEF, an organization seen as a center of U.S. influence.

For more [pdf]: "How Much Is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations," Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker, The Journal of Political Economy

Did Exxon Nix Showing "An Inconvenient Truth" in Schools?

| Mon Nov. 27, 2006 1:54 PM PST

That's the theory put forth by Laurie David in the Washington Post, describing how the National Science Teachers Association rejected an offer to send 50,000 free copies of Al Gore's shockumentary to schools. The NSTA claimed that it didn't want to distribute materials from "special interests" and besides, the film offered "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members." And, oh yeah—it might tick off the global-warming deniers at Exxon:

But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it.

While the NSTA won't distribute science-based documentaries like Gore's, it does promote curricula from companies including Exxon:

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.

Exxon may be funding more than just innocuous science materials. Laurie reports that its free lesson plans for teachers include "propaganda challenging global warming."