Mojo - March 2007

Burger King Finally Gives PETA an Inch

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 4:36 PM PDT

Burger King has just announced an initiative to purchase 2% cage-free eggs and 10% of its pork from farms that allow sows "some room to move around." As far as its Canadian and American suppliers are concerned, anyway. In Asia, anything still goes.

Nevertheless, the policy leaves the chain way behind other reduced-cruelty crusaders like Wolfgang Puck and Chipotle. One reason for the slow start is the higher price of humanely-raised meat, which the company is currently negotiating so its menu prices won't change (read: BK is going all Wal-Mart on its suppliers and demanding lower prices, because it certainly wouldn't want to keep the Hamlette Sandwich cheap by diverting money away from video games or an ad campaign featuring the world's creepiest mascot).

An industry VP says that an increase in mindful consumers will require more companies to jump on the bandwagon – that's right, this guy actually calls "social responsibility and social consciousness" a "bandwagon." There are 285 million egg-laying hens and 63 million pigs in factory farms in the U.S., a country in which 9 billion chickens are raised and killed for meat annually. Keep an eye on that bandwagon, which, if it gets big enough, could cause changes of revolutionary proportions when industry giants may not be able to strong-arm farmers into selling their quality goods for less, and companies and consumers alike will finally have to admit that there's not enough room on the planet to give the meat we eat "free-range."

—Nicole McClelland

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Security Surge Fails in its Strong Suit

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 3:44 PM PDT

I blogged last Friday about TIME's optimistic assessment of the surge-backed security crackdown in Baghdad (for which General Petraeus was a major source). I was skeptical. But one new tactic even I had to admit was a good idea—if a tad slow in coming—was Operation Safe Markets, where the military uses concrete barriers to prevent cars, and car bombs, from getting close to the crowds markets draw.

Today, a car bomb killed 61 people at a market in the Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, and 40 were injured. Simultaneously, a car bomb killed 43 and wounded 86 in the predominantly Shiite town of Khalis, north of Baghdad. The Shaab neighborhood is one of the crackdown's key areas.

Convinced yet? Don't just take my word for it. Those who have warned the surge won't work include Colin Powell, the Iraq Study Group, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Petraeus's sacked predecessor, General Abizaid.

Tensions Mounting Between U.K. and Iran

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 1:47 PM PDT

Iran has reneged on its pledge to release the female soldier seized among 15 Britons the nation accused of entering its territorial waters during a sea patrol. Things are a bit hairier than a simple territorial dispute, however. Britain asked the U.N. to issue a press release "deplor[ing]" the marines' capture (how British is that?). In response to that action, Iran reneged on its promise to release Leading Seaman Faye Turney. Iran has now released a letter written by Turney, asking the U.K. to begin removing its troops from Iraq. Blair has called the soldiers' release the "only outcome" to the crisis, and suggests he will "step up the pressure." But Iran doesn't respond well to pressure, so this conflict has the potential to turn into something big.

National Review Visits Shrinking Alaska Glaciers (While Sipping Martinis)

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 12:17 PM PDT

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I love it: The conservative National Review is planning a cruise to Alaska. Of course, plenty of magazines do fundraising cruises -- but not a lot of them take a boatload of global warming deniers to Alaska, where glaciers are becoming puddles due to climate change.

Speakers on the cruise include William Rusher, who calls global warming the "Big Daddy of all...scare stories," Jonah Goldberg, who says the campaign against climate change a is "half-baked environmental jihad that could waste possibly trillions of dollars," and Robert Bork, who sided with the Bush administration in last year's Supreme Court showdown on global warming.

The cruise's first destination? Glacier Bay -- where glaciers are very visibly on the retreat (check out the photo above, and this NASA video.) I'd love to be a fly on the wall during that stop.


The Unsinkable John Lott vs. "Freaky" Economics

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 10:49 AM PDT
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The world of economics is predictably unpredictable; we know that markets will ebb and flow, but not when or often why. So too it goes with John Lott, the undefatigable conservative economist who is guaranteed to pop up in some new controversy of his own creation every so often. What keeps him going—and why places like AEI embrace him—remains a mystery. Lott is most infamous for his claims that crime rates are inversely proportional to rates of gun ownership; or as his book title put it, More Guns, Less Crime. Small problem: His research is far from bulletproof, and he's been repeatedly exposed and denounced for what could be charitably called sloppy research. In his defense, Lott has blamed "coding errors," claimed that some of his data have been destroyed, and in his finest moment, created a fictitious online identity to take on his critics. But none of this has slowed him down. For a good rundown of Lott's sins, see Chris Mooney's 2003 piece on our website, which shot some more holes into his work. More recently, Lott sued the Freakonomics guys for defamation after they wrote that he had "falsified his results." A judge threw part of his case out. Now Lott's firing back with a new book, Freedomnomics, a defense of the free market against "freaky theories," printed by renowned academic publisher Regnery. Fact checkers, statisticians, and economists, start your BS detectors...

That's Some Gaydar!

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 9:58 AM PDT

Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear were looking for a reasonably priced place to stay for a while, so they went to Affordable Suites of America in Sumter, South Carolina. At the desk, they asked about rates, deposits, and things of that nature, and then were cut short by the clerk, who said "We don't rent to multiple people of the same sex." "So you don't rent to gay couples?" Pickel asked her. "No," she said, "we don't rent to gay people at all."

There is no law in South Carolina that protects gay citizens from housing discrimination, so Affordable Suites of America has broken no law. But the clerk's comments beg analysis:

If the hotel does not rent to "multiple people of the same sex," that means that a mother and daughter or two sisters traveling together, two women on a vacation, or two businesswomen traveling together cannot stay at the Sumter Affordable Suites of America. They must turn away quite a few people.

"We don't rent to gay people at all" means that a gay person traveling alone could not rent a suite at the hotel. But how do the clerks determine who is gay? Is there a test? And if a presumably heterosexual person is traveling with a gay person, does the heterosexual person get the room and the gay person sleep in the hall? What about bisexual people? Can the clerks determine who they are, too? And do they get to stay?

Aside from the ugly bigotry involved, the "regulation" is absurd. Fortunately, there is at least a chance this nonsense may soon be a thing of the past: A bill in the South Carolina senate seeks to expand the Lodging Establishment Act to include a ban on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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You Know We're in Trouble When Saudi Arabia Turns on Us

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 8:11 AM PDT

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From the New York Times:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told Arab leaders on Wednesday that the American occupation of Iraq was illegal and warned that unless Arab governments settled their differences, foreign powers like the United States would continue to dictate the region's politics.

This is bad news for a number of reasons. The first is obvious -- we've screwed up our foreign policy so badly over the last six years that even a country long committed to our stead and ruled by people who have business connections to the family of our president are bailing on us. The second is not so obvious -- as the United States' influence in the region wanes, the Saudis are emerging as leaders of the Arab League, and losing them may mean ceding the region completely.

Iowans Falling in Love with Edwards (Because He's White and Male?)

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 7:49 AM PDT

Here are the facts. Ever since Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack dropped out of the presidential race, John Edwards has gained fifteen points in Iowa. Hillary Clinton has dropped one point, and Barack Obama, who continues to draw huge crowds in the state, has dropped seven. Edwards and Clinton have pulled into a dead heat for the lead, months in advance of the caucuses.

Here are two conclusions. One, Edwards has been campaigning in Iowa off and on since he lost the 2004 election and all of that hard work is finally paying dividends. Two, there is a portion of Iowa voters who would consciously or subconsciously prefer to support a white man, and when their favorite drops out, they'll find another.

I'm disposed to the second explanation because, after all, why would Edwards' years of campaigning suddenly pay off right after Vilsack drops out? (Vilsack, by the way, looks like this.) Is that too simplistic? Thoughts?

Note that the poll was conducted before Elizabeth Edwards announced the resurgence of her cancer and Tom Vilsack endorsed Hillary Clinton.

More on Fred Thompson, the Actor Who Would be President

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 7:09 AM PDT

Yesterday, I wrote about how Law and Order star and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson is currently third in GOP polls. A Slate article today points out that Thompson is the Republicans' "therapy" candidate -- depressed by the imperfections of supposed frontrunners McCain, Giuliani, and Romney, Republicans are turning to the man who looks appealing and makes them feel good. Slate paints him as the Republicans' Barack Obama. (Feel the excitement at draftfredthompson.com.)

But like with Obama, there are questions about whether Thompson has the substance to back up all his style. Thompson's experience consists almost completely of eight years in the Senate -- he has no other governing experience and his Washington work before coming to the Senate in 1994 was as a lawyer in the Watergate hearings and eighteen years as a lobbyist. Oh, and he was in The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard 2. And Sex in the City!

But the Republican base has shown a willingness to overlook a lack of prior experience when choosing presidential candidates. In fact, the comparison to George W. Bush is particularly apt. Thompson is from the south and wins hearts, not minds, based largely on folksy charm and "man's man" swagger. He doesn't have any foreign policy experience, and he enters (or returns to, I suppose) the national consciousness as something of a blank slate. So should we call off the contest and hand Fred Dalton Thompson the Republican nomination?

Not just yet. In a major break from the GWB formula, Thompson is under fire from none other than James Dobson for not being Christian enough. Originally, Dobson said he wouldn't support Thompson because he wasn't a Christian. Thompson's people fired back that Thompson had been baptized in the Church of Christ (phfft, as if baptism is the standard; one must be a veritable foot soldier for Christ if they want to succeed in today's GOP), prompting Dobson to respond that Thompson does not talk about or live his faith enough. Dobson said instead that he liked Newt Gingrich, who has a past full of indiscretions and truly awful moral behavior, but confessed his sins and confirmed his faith to Dobson early this year.

So give that a shot, Fred. Divorce your wife while she is in the hospital with cancer, remarry just months later, fail to make child support payments, then cheat on and subsequently divorce your second wife to marry an aide twenty years your junior. Then tell James Dobson you're sorry about it all. You'll be a lock.

Not ALL Men, Chris

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 7:50 PM PDT

Speaking on MSNBC's Imus In the Morning show today, Chris Matthews said: "You only hear criticism of Hillary Rodham Clinton from smart, college-educated women. They're the ones that always have a problem with her." Matthews then explained that men "are afraid to talk like that."

Bad grammar aside, Matthews' statement is almost funny when you consider that he, a man, has practically made a second career of criticizing Clinton--not for her policies or her votes in the Senate, but for her gender. In December of 2004, Matthews said on Hardball that a Clinton candidacy would "motivate all the men in the country to vote against her." In November of 2006, he wondered "What is she going to do about her husband? She makes an acceptance speech, and there he is, just standing behind her, smiling and applauding."

And the very next month, Matthews wondered whether Sen. Clinton was "convincing" as a mom.

In his interview with Imus, Matthews made a big deal over his speculation that Clinton "puts up" with her husband's lifestyle so that he will raise money for her. In other words, Sen. Clinton is a whore who will do anything to get elected, another version of the "Oh, my--Hillary is ambitious" song and dance we've heard from everyone from Matthews to Maureen Dowd.

Yes, Sen. Clinton is ambitious, as is Barack Obama, who had barely set foot in the Senate when he decided he should be president of the United States. Or Rudy Giuliani, who gives speeches against backdrops of the tragedy of September 11. Or Mitt Romney, who suddenly repudiated several values he had publicly held for years. Lucky them--no one is criticizing them for their ambition.