Mojo - June 2007

Bush Staffers Want to Grow Oranges in the Arctic

| Sat Jun. 30, 2007 3:34 PM PDT

In this week's Rolling Stone Tim Dickinson, a former MoJo editor, waded through thousands of previously-FOIAd documents and emails to construct a comprehensive look at the Bush Administration's campaign of global warming denial.

Mother Jones was among the first on this beat back in spring of 2005 when Chris Mooney uncovered the administration's attempts to silence the global warming debate by way of its close ties to ExxonMobil, and that company's funding of climate change skeptics.

Interestingly, Tim notes that many of the documents he details in his feature were in plain sight, not buried from the public under any sort of top secrecy. I too, as the fact-checker for Mooney's piece two years ago, recall the reams of documents, the trail of evidence linking high-ranking administration employees, such as Larisa and Paula Dobriansky and Phillip Cooney, to the upperest of oil-industry crust.

Check out Tim's piece for a good summary, and for doozies such as this email to ExxonMobil lobbyist turned White House adviser Cooney, from White House energy staffer Matthew Koch, who, upon hearing about an industry-funded study that refuted warming was happening at all said:

"What??!! I want to grow oranges in the Arctic!"

Did he not learn anything from Jack Abramoff? If you are going to be callous and mess with the nation and people's lives on a grand scale, please, at least refrain from boasting about it in email verse.

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What is Jay Rosen For?

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 7:36 PM PDT

For the past three days, writers and editors at Mother Jones have been engaged in a flak session over at the blog Press Think, and more recently, the Huffington Post, where NYU professor Jay Rosen has lambasted the magazine's package of stories and interviews on "Politics 2.0." Or rather, he has lambasted the "framing" of the stories, which is to say he's unhappy with the way we introduced the stories in our press release and in the opening essay. Thousands of words have been expended on the subject, but Rosen's beef can be summarized (I think) like this: In a shameless ploy to promote itself, Mother Jones has set up a false tension between the idea that Politics 2.0 is revolutionary and the idea that it's irrelevant, and then congratulated itself with showing how neither one is true. "The Mother Jones editors," Rosen writes, "had a great story about politics and the web within their grasp, but they were too busy fabricating myths they could bust up later— and so they missed it."

Personally, I haven't felt a need to respond to Rosen in our own blog because I feel his critique is, on its face, kind of silly. But I think some of the issues that have come out in the discussion of his post are worth talking about, and so I'm going to wade through this. First, in response to Rosen, I wrote in his blog:

Much of your argument against our Politics 2.0 package presupposes that the extremes of thought on net politics--"revolutionary" or "irrelevant"--do not exist. I will grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don't hold black and white views, but the rhetoric that they and the press employ frequently comes off as totally unambiguous, and results in a mistaken impression that things really are that simple. It is thus unfair to say that we are setting up two straw men. The straw men are already there. Yes, knocking them down is easy, but it's also a way to, in the process, explore a lot of interesting issues raised by politics 2.0 with more complexity and nuance. . . .

What we have done is allow people in the field--actual bloggers, actual professors, actual online political consultants--to weigh in themselves, and we're allowing anybody to comment on their thoughts at the end of each article and interview online. Our "idea," in short, is have a bunch of people talk about their ideas. It's not revolutionary, but it's very Web 2.0, and it differs from the I'm-an-expert-so-let-me-tell-you-how-it-is approach that bloggers have come to expect and loathe in the print world. I fear that if we had opted for the latter, you'd simply be caviling over that instead.

In response, Rosen said that we should have simply "framed" the package as an exploration of "the complex landscape of Politics 2.0 with some of the world's best guides." He wrote:

But... and here we come to the contradictions at the heart of this little episode... that isn't the stance you wanted to take. Doesn't feel tough enough. Non-dramatic. It lacks that savvy sheen print journalists like to have on the surface of their work. Your desire, I believe, ran counter to your concept.

Rosen is missing several important points, I believe. For one, he's writing from the perspective of an avid blogger who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Politics 2.0 world (I think) and doesn't seem to realize that some of our readers, especially of the print magazine, are not. People with less exposure to that world need to understand the big questions at play--What's the deal with this grand Politics 2.0 talk?--before they will see a reason to read about it. So we use that question as a starting point and then flesh it out with more nuance. It is a classic element of magazine journalism: Will Al Gore stop global warming? Well, here's Al Gore, and here's what he says and what he'd doing. And so on.

Rosen believes that this approach, in its more intellectually lazy forms, is associated with the print media. The thread over at HuffPost has veered off into condemnations of the mainstream media and exaltations of the blogosphere as a less spin-oriented alternative. I do think that blogs serve as a crucial check on journalistic folly, but I don't think that they have proven to be any less susceptible to the same "framing" issues. Case in point is Rosen himself. Over at HuffPost I noted that Rosen had written his post under the headline: "Printing Press Progressives at Mother Jones Try to Debunk the Political Web." Talk about framing. I wrote back:

Are we printing press progressives? Then what about our well-established blog? Are we trying to "debunk the political web?" We're certainly interested in dispelling hype when it exists, but the way you phrase it makes it sound like we are out to expose the political web as a sham, which we aren't, and it isn't. Indeed, we are a part of the political web (or did you mean to say citizen journalism?) So who is guilty of lazy and self-serving framing here? This question leads naturally to ones about your motives for attention, which mirror your questions about our motives for attention. Pretty mind bending. But hey, I'm sure you can handle it since you're a salaried NYU professor.

So this leads to the question: What is Jay Rosen For? (His book was called "What Are Journalists For?). I'm sure he's good for something, but I'll let him answer as to what that is. Meanwhile, he still hasn't responded to my question about why he is accusing us of setting up straw men, only to do so himself.

Supreme Court Stops the Insanity

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 12:24 PM PDT

Finally a little bit of sanity on the bench! Yesterday's 5-4 decision, written by Justice Kennedy—whose votes have helped temper the Court's conservatism on capital punishment (if nothing else)—found that Texas should not execute Scott Panetti because his mental illness prevents him from comprehending the reasons for his death sentence.

Panetti is schizophrenic with a history of depression, paranoia, and delusions. He was hospitalized 14 times before he killed his in-laws in 1992. One hospitalization came after he buried furniture he thought was possessed by the devil. After being arrested and charged with capital murder, Panetti said that "Sarge"—one of his personalities—committed the murders. Panetti then fired his lawyers so that he could represent himself at his 1995 trial. He wore a purple cowboy suit and 10-gallon hat to the courthouse, and addressed the jury with old-western phrases like "runaway mule" and "bronc steer." Jesus Christ, John F. Kennedy, and Pope John Paul II were among those who he subpoenaed to testify.

When the "circus" was over, the jury voted to convict and sentence Panetti to death. One juror said that Panetti's irrational behavior was scary, and that was the reason the jurors chose death. Since arriving on death row, Panetti has believed that Texas is conspiring with the devil to kill him so that he won't be able to preach the Gospel anymore.

Think this all sounds crazy? What's even crazier is that despite the obviousness of Panetti's illness, his lawyers toiled for 12 years filing dozens of petitions with four unsympathetic courts before the Supreme Court finally stopped the insanity. Well, temporarily at least. The case will now go back down to the federal district court, which will decide whether Panetti has no "rational understanding" of the connection between his crime and execution.

Executing the mentally ill is unconstitutional, but because the standard is so high to prove incompetency, not a single inmate since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976 has successful overturned his death sentence based on mental illness. Five to 10 percent of death row inmates suffer from a serious mental illness. And it's worth noting, the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and the American Bar Association all support abolishing the death penalty for the mentally ill.

—Celia Perry

Privatization Backlash

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 12:14 PM PDT

At the direction of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, the state has been studying the possibility of privatizing various public assets to pay down its mounting debt for close to a year. Among the assets potentially on the table was the state's 148-mile turnpike, a long-term lease on which, some analysts believe, could fetch more than $20 billion. Back in January, Jim Ridgeway and I explored the growing toll road privatization trend, and found it, in many cases, to be a dicey proposition that was being pushed by investment banks, particularly Goldman Sachs, where, incidentally, Corzine once served as chairman.

Under fire from New Jersey residents and state lawmakers—when I drove the Turnpike a couple weeks ago I saw a billboard blasting the privatization option—Corzine said yesterday that he won't seek to privatize the state's roads. "New Jersey's roadways will not be sold; and they will not be leased to a for-profit or foreign operator," he said in a statement.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, Corzine made this statement on the same day that the Spanish toll road operator Cintra (which, with its partner, Macquarie Infrastructure Group, currently holds leases on the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road), lost its bid to overhaul and operate a highway in Texas to a public entity. As Reuters notes, this development could "stall road privatization plans in other states." This could prove seriously problematic for a number of companies, including Cintra and Macquarie, who have positioned themselves to take advantage of toll road opportunities in North America. Nor does this bode well for the investment banks, including Goldman, that have raised multibillion dollar infrastructure investment funds on the assumption that a private highway boom was imminent.

Get Out the Vote...With Ringtones?

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 11:54 AM PDT

As if cell phone ringtones weren't annoying, ubiquitous and pervasive enough, now ringtones have gone all political on us.

Ringtones08.com says you should, "Let your cell phone do the talking. Exercise your freedom of speech and ring!" Come on, now. Not to sound like a curmudgeon or anything, but if folks need a ringtone to get fired up about an endless war or your First Amendment rights, we've got bigger problems to address.

That said, I couldn't help but notice that "Klaus Flouride" created some of the tones. Is that the same Klaus Flouride that played bass guitar for the 80s punk band the Dead Kennedys? WTF? The "GeorgeAllenMacaca" ring tone mixes a hip hop beat with a quote from Allen 's famous "macaca moment" speech. The "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" ring mashes a quote from George Bush about former FEMA director Michael Brown with the Arlo Guthrie song, "The Train They Call the City of New Orleans."

But the ring tones are pretty janky. For better ring tones and a better laugh, check out Obama ringtones on the Daily Show.

My advice? Switch your phone to vibrate and move on. Also try checking out our latest issue, which just hit newsstands, where we ask a whole mess of politicos and digerati, are we entering a new era of digital democracy complete with Hillary ringtones, or just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?

We also spell out the latest on cell-phone activism and the political power of text messaging.

Blogger Hubris 3.0

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 10:28 AM PDT

Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum and a guru when it comes to the impact of technology on politics, was not pleased—not pleased at all—with my piece on the lefty blogosphere in our latest issue. "You study a few trees and decide that you can describe a forest," he writes, in the comments section of MoJo's blog, and questions the premise that top liberal bloggers have become an elite or part of the Democratic power structure. I'm sure the numerous bloggers (some of whom I note in my piece), who have parlayed their online musings into political consulting work and prominent staff positions on campaigns, would plainly disagree with the latter.

As for his contention that the liberal blogosphere doesn't have an elite—look no further than "Blogroll Amnesty Day," when, last February, a handful of big kahuna bloggers, including Atrios and Kos, purged their blogrolls of the small fish who had secured coveted spots there. Explaining the move, Atrios wrote, "one of the big complaints by new bloggers is that it's impossible to get onto blogrolls because established bloggers tend not to add them. They're right. A big reason for that is that everyone feels a wee bit guilty about removing blogs from their blogroll, so they're hesitant to add new ones to an ever-expanding list." So, he decided to purge his roll and "grow it again naturally, adding blogs I find myself wanting to read on a regular basis."

Fair enough. His blog; his decision. But the casualties of this purge could also be forgiven for feeling that they were at the mercy of an elite, who, on a whim, decided to stop directing traffic to them, cutting down their readerships considerably. As one angry blogger wrote:

Fuck the big boys. They're the blogospheric equivalent of the Washington pundits who think they're better than bloggers because they get invited to the right parties and of the Democrats who hold fundraisers where they take money from corporations. We hold bake sales and support our candidates twenty-five bucks at a time. What's hilarious is that most of these guys come out of the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, only a taste of success has made them forget all about people-powered.

And Chris Bowers, himself an elite blogger who writes at MyDD, noted at the time: "The blogosphere may have started as a new form of individual punditry, but at its elite levels, the progressive blogosphere has now moved beyond that. Take a quick look at the structure of the new progressive blogosphere elite, and consider how difficult it is for a new blog to break into this group." He also posited that "it is very possible that the blogosphere will either collapse due to a lack of funding, or develop into a new form of establishment elite." I think there's evidence to suggest that certain top tier bloggers have already become firmly entrenched in the political establishment —unless dining at John Edwards' Georgetown digs or strategizing weekly with Democratic leadership aides doesn't count.

Sifry is also upset about my depiction of Townhouse, the invite-only email list administered by blogger/activist/consultant Matt Stoller whose members (Micah, are you one of them?) are select blogger/activists/consultants.

"You have one on-the-record source attacking Kos and other 'elite' bloggers for running a 'Skull and Bones' like email list," he writes. "That hardly is proof of anything in my mind."

Given that the first rule of Townhouse is that there is no Townhouse, it was quite a challenge to get even one person to talk about the list on record (though I spoke to several people about the list who did not want to be quoted, even anonymously). It's my understanding that any list member who speaks about it publicly, or even acknowledges that it exists, risks immediate expulsion from the list. Incidentally, that's precisely what happened to Maryscott O'Connor of My Left Wing, who was unceremoniously dumped from Townhouse after my article came out. O'Connor had this to say about Townhouse: "It's fucking Skull and Bones, man. The very secretive, behind-closed-doors nature of it is anathema to everything that blogging is supposed to be about: accountability. We are supposed to be showing the way, not skulking around behind closed doors, coming up with strategies. Those are the people who we're trying to fight. I know about 'the real world' and all that shit. But we're the idealists, aren't we?"

(Fun fact: According to an email I obtained, sent out to Townhouse members by Stoller in March, the list is now a commercial enterprise. Subscriptions run $60 per year for individual subscribers and up to $1000 for organizations, the proceeds of which will go to pay Stoller's rent and health care costs, according to his message.)

One of the questions O'Connor raised when we spoke, an interesting one I thought, is what will become of the once independent bloggers, the idealists, now that they've worked their way into the inner sanctum of the Democratic machine. Will they change it for the better from the inside, or simply become a new generation of win-at-any-cost political operatives. It's a question worth asking, but I don't think anyone has any answer just yet.

It's worth noting that I didn't disrupt the sanctity of Stoller's semi-secret blogger thinktank for the heck of it. I did so because I thought it was worth raising an episode that occurred last summer, when Kos appealed to list members to "starve" a particular story of "oxygen," one that was damaging to his friend and business associate Jerome Armstrong. As TNR's Jason Zengerle noted at the time, the episode seemed "just another case of politics as usual." It also seemed a bit hypocritical, given that the spirit of blogging, at least as I understand it, is about transparency and accountability, not about squelching unfavorable stories.

Sifry calls my piece an "indictment of all progressive bloggers" and "humbly" suggests that my "attitude towards online journalism and blogging could use an update." While I fully acknowledge that I have a lot more to learn about the brave new world of online journalism, politics, and activism, I would suggest, just as humbly, that the egalitarian blogtopia Sifry knows and loves is changing—and not always for the better.

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Supreme Court Race Ruling 'Judicial Activism'

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 7:14 AM PDT

The U.S. Supreme Court reignited the debate over how to appropriately handle diversity in U.S. public schools when it overturned policies intended to diversify student enrollments in Jefferson County, Kentucky and in Seattle.

Political leaders called yesterday's ruling "appalling," "a terrible blow to school districts," and "judicial activism." Others said that the ruling gave racist school policies a "smackdown." Some are going so far as to say the ruling marks a return to segregation, while others claim that existing, binary (white and black) notions of race still cloud the debate.

It's worth noting that at least one of the original plaintiffs in the case was a white mother who was disappointed that her child didn't get accepted into her first school of choice. Many plaintiffs in the case (not necessarily white) were also pissed that schools were using race as a determining factor for "tiebreakers."

How educators define and treat race from here on out remains to be seen — since the ruling stopped short of prohibiting all consideration of race in K-12 education.

For an inside look at those involved in the Seattle case check out this MoJo interview with David Engle, former principal of Ballard High, who resigned rather than eliminate the racial tiebreaker at his school.

Rewarding Polluters Fuels Gulf Of Mexico Dead Zone

| Thu Jun. 28, 2007 7:39 PM PDT

A new study determines that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. This is an area of coastal waters -- visited in MoJo's The Fate Of The Ocean -- where dissolved-oxygen concentrations fall to less than 2 parts per million every summer. According to a paper published at Environmental Science & Technology Online, these findings bode poorly for the Gulf, as more and more acres of land are planted with corn to meet the growing U.S. demand for alternative fuels. Farmers in areas with the highest rates of fertilizer runoff tend to receive the biggest payouts in federal crop subsidies, says Mary Booth, lead author of the paper. What's more, they have fewer acres enrolled in conservation programs compared with other parts of the Mississippi River basin. Agricultural nitrate loading could be reduced substantially if farmers took just 3% of the most intensively farmed land out of production.JULIA WHITTY

Monaghan's Ave Maria Town Open for Piety

| Thu Jun. 28, 2007 9:20 AM PDT

So GQ nabbed an interview with the ever-elusive Tom Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza mogul turned Catholic-utopia builder. Monaghan wouldn't talk with MoJo when we covered the development of his $400 million university, Ave Maria, earlier this year. But GQ is different; he can tell them things like, "If I didn't have my faith, I'd make Hugh Hefner look like a piker."

Hef allusions aside, the GQ profile digs into Monaghan's motivations for building what will become a Catholic universe set amidst former panther habitat. Turns out he's always wanted to be an architect, and is now living his dream having built the anti-Las Vegas, complete with a towering cathedral and town square modeled after Siena, Italy, all tucked in the middle of the Florida Everglades.

The town, which the WSJ once compared to a "Catholic Jonestown," will be as pious as possible; if Monaghan had his way contraceptives and pornography would be outlawed. After all, his goals are big ones; he plans to "reinvent hometown living," one condo at a time.