Mojo - August 2007

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Gay by Choice? Yeah, What If?

| Sat Aug. 11, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

Alright, so Bill Richardson was confused. He looked it in the gay rights' forum the other day when Melissa Etheridge asked him whether he thinks homosexuality is a choice. He said yes; she rephrased the question, and he said yes again. Then, yesterday Richardson spent the day backtracking. All of which has created quite a hubbub.

My question is, does the gay rights movement really want choice to be the nexus of the fight? Asking whether you think being gay is a choice is kind of like asking whether you think there's life in other galaxies. Asking for an opinion on science isn't so useful; scientifically we just don't know for sure yet. Whatever your answer is, it's your opinion, nothing more.

And if the answer to that question is indeed a proxy for belief in equal rights, as this hullabaloo suggests, then what happens if the science ends up showing there is choice involved in sexual preference?

Whether being gay is a choice, to me, isn't the crux of the issue. Yes, it would make the fight for equal rights much cleaner (and I believe it someday may), but I would rather see Etheridge ask Richardson whether he believes that people should be afforded differential treatment based on whom they love? Make that the platform, force humanity to the fore, and let science, if it turns out to show genetic predisposition, strengthen the argument.

Somehow the religious right has co-opted the gay-by-choice meme and owns this pro-choice movement. How about the left sticks to its right-to-choose guns here? That choosing whom we love, same sex or opposite, is a "lifestyle choice" regardless. I mean, where is the science proving we are born straight by default? The argument could be made that there are plenty of gay folks out there choosing to be straight, do they then have fewer rights in their straight relationships?

Think about it, and fire back.

Giuliani Exposed: Terrorism Record Based on Lies

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 4:22 PM EDT

Wayne Barrett's Village Voice article titled "Rudy Giuliani's Five Big Lies About 9/11" ought to be required reading for anyone thinking about the GOP presidential primary.

Here are the facts: Giuliani focused little on terrorism while mayor of New York in advance of 9/11, failed to prepare the city for an attack in any significant way, prioritized his petty personal needs over the advice of experts when constructing an emergency response command center, and didn't supply first-responders with the equipment they needed — all of these facts from Barrett's article are supported by former Giuliani aides and members of his NYC administration. More importantly, all of these facts directly contradict the strongest-on-terrorism image Giuliani presents on the campaign trail. Terrorism is Giuliani's "best" issue, and he consistently lies about his record.

Barrett's article is a portrait of a man willing to accept illegitimate praise and eager to spread legitimate blame. As Barrett writes, "naked revisionism" is the name of Giuliani's game. Have a read.

MoJo Deadline Today

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 1:49 PM EDT

News of Mother Jones' new Washington, D.C., bureau—the first major news bureau to be opened by a U.S. media organization in years—is being noticed by the MSM. Click here for a piece by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz.

If you're just tuning in to this change, we've expanded our D.C. bureau from 2 to 7 journalists. Our plan is to dig even deeper into the most important stories from the nation's capital and to have the results land with more impact in the media and political worlds.

Why this matters plays out virtually every day in the news stories trumpeted the loudest by the mainstream. A case in point is Newsweek's current (August 13) cover story—"Global Warming is a Hoax*," by science correspondent Sharon Begley. It is absolutely an important story, fingering "the well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change" and the special interests that fund them.




That there is a well-funded denial industry won't, of course, be any shock to Mother Jones readers—MoJo's cover story on ExxonMobil's multimillion-dollar support of the climate change deniers was published in April 2005. A year later, the MJ feature was nominated for a National Magazine Award for public service, and Al Gore plugged it on "Fresh Air" —the story received a lot of attention from people who pay attention. Still, out in mass media land the insidious effects of the denial spin doctors have continued to muddle public understanding of the scientific consensus, thanks in significant measure to the history of big media (like Newsweek) giving credence to the deniers.

Point #1 is obviously that two and a half years is too much lag time between when a big public interest news story is broken and it's, uh, accepted by the MSM. But point #2 is that we (that is, Mother Jones, other independent media, and you) are in a great position to change that.

So that's what we're doing: putting more reporters on the most significant public interest stories and making full use of all of the cheap and powerful new media tools around us to bust the BS. In doing that, we can respond to BS and spin quickly, debunking it before it becomes the conventional wisdom of the MSM.

Here's who we're putting on the scent:

• Laura Rozen, who's covered national security and foreign policy as a senior correspondent for the American Prospect and on her blog, warandpiece.com, as well as in the pages of Mother Jones.

• Stephanie Mencimer, the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door, an investigation into conservative and corporate attempts to limit corporate liability and to restrict people's access to civil court remedies through "tort reform."

• Bruce Falconer, who joins Mother Jones after working for several years as a staff editor and writer on international assignments for the Atlantic Monthly.

• And Jonathan Stein, who started at Mother Jones in San Francisco 18 months ago and helped produce the "Lie by Lie" timeline as one of the lead researchers on the project.

Together with Jim Ridgeway and Dan Schulman, they make up a crew of smart, independent journalists who bring years of savvy reporting experience to the job. Get used to seeing their names; they're already posting online, including on the MoJoBlog and in Washington dispatches. Click to see some entries by Ridgeway and Schulman, Rosen, Falconer, and Stein.

This is an ambitious project for Mother Jones. We need to raise $60,000 in the next few weeks to complete the D.C. bureau. If you value original reporting that makes an impact on politics and media, I hope you'll make a tax-deductible donation.

It's also why we've pulled together some cool prizes to give you an extra incentive to hit the "donate" button. But time is running out, the deadline for our campaign is midnight tonight, Friday, August 10, 2007 for you to make a gift and be entered to win a super prize.

If you've already made a contribution, thank you very much. But if you haven't, please take a moment now to do so.

Jay Harris
President & Publisher

Dear God, We Really Are Going to War With Iran

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 12:19 PM EDT

President Bush's proclamations that Iran is meddling in Iraq and will face severe but unnamed consequences if it continues to do so have become so common they have almost faded into the background of the national discourse. But this should grab your attention:

Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iraq run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy.

Dick Cheney has a solid record of using force judiciously and wisely. Surely everyone within the administration is listening to him, right?

Thankfully, no. According to the McClatchy report linked above, Secretary of State Condi Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both object to expanding the war outside Iraq's borders. In response, Cheney is calling on his friends at the think tanks and in the media to help him. Writes McClatchy: "The debate [in the administration] has been accompanied by a growing drumbeat of allegations about Iranian meddling in Iraq from U.S. military officers, administration officials and administration allies outside government and in the news media... The Bush administration has launched what appears to be a coordinated campaign to pin more of Iraq's security troubles on Iran."

As it happens, the Post had an article yesterday about that "drumbeat of allegations." It details how Bill Kristol, Michael Rubin, Norman Podhoretz, the Heritage Foundation, and others are making a military attack on Iran part of the Overton window — that is, part of the range of acceptable policy options.

Honestly, the best part of the 2008 election won't be getting Bush out of office. It'll be keeping the globe's citizens safe from Dick Cheney. That man never should have had the most powerful military in the history of the world at his disposal.

Finding the Leaders Among Us

| Fri Aug. 10, 2007 3:11 AM EDT

Think we're short on leaders? Then become one. Bill McKibben's put out the call through StepItUp.org for an event on Saturday November 3rd.

McKibben asks us to forward his call far and wide, to anyone who might possibly be interested. "We're not really an organization, and we don't have lists of names—we depend on people like you to take the initiative." Hope you can help. JULIA WHITTY

Here's the full letter.

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The Man Behind the Utah Mine Collapse

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 6:33 PM EDT

The six miners now trapped in a coal mine in Utah were working for Murray Energy, whose owner has become one of the most outspoken—and unhinged—spokespeople for coal power in the last year, as the dirty energy source has come under increasing scrutiny. Coal is the largest single contributor to greenhouse-gas pollution—but Mr. Murray denies that fossil fuels cause global warming.

Murray has used his platform as spokesman in the tragedy to continue his defense of the industry. On Tuesday, he delivered what the Washington Post called "a general paean to coal," threatening that, "Without coal to manufacture our electricity, our products will not compete in the global marketplace…and people on fixed incomes will not be able to pay for their electric bills."

Murray also adamantly denied that the "retreat" method of mining which was used in the section that collapsed had anything to do with the accident. Retreat mining involves taking the last bits of coal from pillars that hold up the roof, and result in—ideally controlled—collapses. Murray has blamed the collapse on an earthquake, though seismologists say vibrations were caused by the collapse, not vice-versa.

Murray's unconventional approach has drawn criticism from the Democratic chairs of two House committees that oversee labor issues. Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey pressed the Labor Department to assume the spokesman role because Murray's statements do "not meet [the] standard" for such emergencies.

But it should be said that the Democrats and Mr. Murray have no love lost. Murray has given heavily to Republicans, including, according to the Post, $100,000 last year alone from his political action committee to GOP congressional candidates.He has used his ties with important Republicans—particularly Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, oversees mine safety—to avoid facing the music for safety violations. The Utah mine's safety record was fairly average, despite fines for safety violations in the hundreds of thousands, but nationally, Murray's mines have a shoddy safety record. When confronted in 2002 with safety violations, Murray threatened to have the inspectors fired, referring to his close friendship with McConnell. "The last time I checked," he said, "he [McConnell] was sleeping with your boss."

Great guy, huh? Would you trust him with your life?

Google Reveals Everything Important About America

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:45 PM EDT

For the first time since February, Google has updated its Google Trends database, allowing me to give you an up-to-date look at our nation's most important issues--or at least its most important internet searches, which we all know is the same thing.

War

Iraq: blue / Star Wars: yellow / Halo: red / World of Warcraft: green

Iraq-Google-Trends.gif

When it comes to war, this easily generated chart shows fantasy war has been a more popular Google search this year than real war, except in late April and early May when the "Iraq" search term (blue) claimed fleeting victory over "Star Wars," "Halo" and "World of Warcraft." My guess is that kids were kicking the video game habit for a moment while researching end-of-semester term papers on foreign affairs disasters. If you run the search yourself and look at the localized stats, you'll see that the only cities where "Iraq" won were Washington, DC (of course) and Columbus, Ohio. Will somebody from Columbus explain? On the other end of the scale, Salt Lake City dominated each fictional war category. But then, I'm not sure Salt Lakers consider Star Wars to be fiction. (Mormons believe Native Americans descended from the 12 tribes of Israel, and before that, Jedi Masters). Anyway, combining all three fantasy wars leaves Iraq totally dominated. As for other real wars, the "Global War on Terror" doesn't even rank, but I'm not sure that bothers me seeing how GWOT is only slightly less fictional than World of Warcraft.

Climate Change

Global Warming: blue / Hummer: red / Air Conditioning: yellow / Al Gore: green

Global-Warming-Google-Trend.gif

As of late July, after dominating the field for months, "global warming" has fought "Hummer" to a bitter draw. Meanwhile, "air conditioning" was lying in wait during the cool spring months, only to crank up in May and blow past "global warming" in June in a cloud of CO2 emissions from dirty coal plants in the sweltering South. "Al Gore" came to the rescue when he announced a surprise Live Earth concert on July 7th, but within a week he had dropped to the bottom of the pack. (Al: We need more concerts. Can you play tambourine on a tour with Willie?)

The Presidential Election

Hillary Clinton: light blue / Barack Obama: red / Rudy Giuliani: green / Fred Thompson: yellow / Ron Paul: dark blue

Candidate-Google-Trends.gif

The internet has spoken: Ron Paul will be the next president. Everyone else might as well pack up and go home, because this 71-year-old libertarian from Lake Jackson, Texas is on fire with the power of bored IT workers Googling him on lunchbreak. And Digging him, and searching for him on Technorati, and demanding him on Eventful and befriending him on MySpace and pumping him on Meetup and submitting more questions to him than any other candidate during his rockstar appearance in Silicon Valley at Google Talks. Pretty much anywhere you look in cyberspace, he's kicking ass. Nevermind that he wants to abolish the IRS, the Department of Ed and the EPA. They're already irrelevant. . .

The Role of Government

Government: blue / Google: red

Government-Google-Trends.gif

This is why Silicon Valley rules America.

People Picks up on Hypermiling Guru

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 4:21 PM EDT

hypermilers100x120.jpgThe just-released August 13, 2007, edition of People magazine features stories on Star Jones' weight loss, Britney Spears' custody battle, and ... hypermiling? That's right, People has exactly 1 page covering the slightly wacky, fuel-effecient style of driving of Wayne Gerdes, the obsessive hybrid owner we featured in the magazine earlier this year.

Gerdes, the "king" of hypermiling, who glides his way toward 100 mpg in an ordinary Honda Accord, shares tips on how to use big rigs to reduce air resistance, and how to slow down without braking, in our article, but with People, readers learn about fuel-efficiency obsession on one page and the summer's hottest strapless dresses on the next. What would we do without People?

British to U.S. Forces in Afghanistan: Get Out

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 4:01 PM EDT

Guess who British forces in southern Afghanistan see as creating an intolerably high number of civilian casualties? If you guessed the Taliban, you're wrong. If you guessed the Americans, you've been paying attention for the last four years. Are we really making things worse, not better, in both halves of our Middle Eastern misadventure?

From the New York Times:

A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.

The Times tells the story of an Afghani man whose village lost 20 people in an American airstrike launched after Taliban fighters passed through. Six of the dead were family members; the living did not fare much better.

His son, Bashir Ahmed, 2, listless and stick thin, seemed close to death. The boy and his sister Muzlifa, 7, bore terrible shrapnel scars. NATO doctors had removed shrapnel from the boy's abdomen at the time of the raid and had warned his father that he might not survive, but two months later he was still hanging on.... His wife lost an arm, and the children's grandmother was killed, he said.
...He said that he opposed the Taliban, but that after the bombing raid the villagers were so angered that most of the men who survived went off to join the insurgents.

So American airstrikes are driving civilians into the arms of the Taliban. And what can the British forces on the ground use to make survivors forget their grief and not turn against the westerners? A few measly bucks.

Maj. Dominic Biddick, commander of a company of British soldiers in Sangin, is making a big effort to ease the anger and pain as his men patrol the villages. He has a $5,000 good-will fund and hands out cash to victims he comes across, like the farmer whose two sons were shot in the fields during a recent operation.

The magnitude of that insult is unimaginable. The dishonor and the disgust a father must feel when offered cash (in some amount under $5,000, no less) to compensate for the loss of two sons — that's truly brutal.

The total number of civilians dead in the region of Helmand this year has been estimated at 300, "the vast majority of them caused by foreign and Afghan forces, rather than the Taliban," according to the Times.