Mojo - October 2007

Organic Milk Continues To Go Sour

| Thu Oct. 18, 2007 11:38 AM PDT

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Yesterday, the Wisconsin-based farm policy group, the Cornucopia Institute, announced the filing of class action lawsuits against the nation's largest organic dairy outfit—Aurora Organic Dairy. The company, which sells its organic milk to big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, has been under investigation by the USDA for the past two years. According to their April findings, the company is guilty of labeling and representing its milk as organic when it was "not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program regulations." Cornucopia's own investigation found animals were confined to pens and sheds, another violation of federal law. In August, Aurora and the USDA established a consent agreement: Aurora can continue to operate as an organic outfit, but the company is on notice with a one-year probation.

The Cornucopia Institute went further. The class-action lawsuit filed yesterday (a second one is being filed today) demands redress for consumers who purchased milk from Aurora, and requests the U.S. District Court halt the ongoing sale of Aurora's organic milk until the company can demonstrate compliance with federal regulations.

Mother Jones has had its eye on Aurora for a few years now. Read this piece on the corporatization of organic milk. The organic dairy business is estimated to value at $3.5 billion by 2010 and industrial operations like Aurora, who already make a killing off organic milk, will be set to rake in a big chunk of that. By flooding the market with a surplus of cheap milk, companies like Aurora have slashed market prices, pushing many smaller operations out of the business. Many large corporations have gobbled up organic operations, check out this chart provided by Cornucopia to see whose in bed with who. Far from a democratization of the market, industrial scale outfits threaten the entire organic movement. More accountability for these corporate producers is a must.

—Michelle Chandra

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Bush Wins Battle Over S-CHIP; Will He Lose the War?

| Thu Oct. 18, 2007 11:35 AM PDT

I got a little worked up about the Derbyshire thing. Sorry. Here's something a little more straightforward. The Democrats' attempt to override the president's veto of S-CHIP failed today, but Time reports the GOP's troubles won't end. The Democratic leadership in Congress plans on passing other popular legislation that President Bush has threatened to veto—including bills on education and veterans—so as to ruin to GOP's fall. Every time the Republicans block a popular bill, or the president vetoes one, it hands the Democrats a 30-second attack ad come 2008.

John Derbyshire Disgusts Me

| Thu Oct. 18, 2007 11:21 AM PDT

creep.jpg I don't normally troll conservative blogs to find and comment on the most outrageous things I find. But when it comes to immigration, National Review writer John Derbyshire really gets under my skin. Maybe it's the thinly veiled argument that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, or maybe its the insistence that maintaining "ethnic balance" is a justification for limiting immigration, legal and illegal. (Or maybe it's a leftover sense of nausea from when Derbyshire blamed the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting for their own deaths.)

No matter what the reason, Derbyshire isn't in Coulter territory. He may be shrill, and there may be a sly knowingness in his inflammatory statements, but he writes for one of the leading intellectual journals of the right and must be taken seriously. So I had to point this blog post from The Corner:

Incidentally, while hobnobbing with those Midwesterners at Storm Lake, Iowa—their surnames mostly taken from the Stockholm, Oslo, and Berlin phone books—I heard a couple of times the remark that in this little corner of rural Iowa, the student body in the schools is half Hispanic. The remark was passed in a polite, diffident and non-condemnatory way—of course! this is Iowa—and when I tried to probe, people just retreated into niceness ("These Mexican restaurants are really great!")
Still, I found it hard to believe, surrounded as I was by Lundqvists and Muellers. In an idle moment, however, I looked up the stats on GreatSchools.net. Sure enough, the "Student Stats" on GreatSchools for Storm Lake show percentages Hispanic as:
High school: 32
  • Middle School: 43
  • Elementary schools: 53, 66, 63, 53.
  • Say what you like, that is truly an invasion. Why on earth are we letting this happen?

    Why are we letting WHAT happen? Why are we letting the racial demographics of the nation change, as they have for hundreds of years? There is no indication that the Hispanic students Derbyshire references are in this country illegally, though I'd bet Derbyshire assumes they are. He is, in essence, objecting to the presence of people of a different national origin (or a different race) in high numbers. That's it.

    This shouldn't have to be said: As a nation we have agreed to let this happen. Through our laws, our attitudes, and the inscriptions we allow to be placed on our most famous national symbols, we have decided that we are a free nation that allows people from elsewhere to come and share in our success. That's what makes America America, not the fact that a majority of our residents look like John Derbyshire.

    But that's not all.

    It's Not Them, It's Us: The Country's Pundits Reflect

    | Thu Oct. 18, 2007 11:00 AM PDT

    Maybe it's because we are still fighting a war, for which there is no responsible resolution. Maybe it's the dull realization that our Democratic Congress cannot or will not intervene to halt the perpetuation of torture, secrecy, and surveillance. Or maybe it's nostalgia, for a time real or imagined when the press, the judicial system and elected leaders fought for what was right. Whatever the reason, over the past few weeks the country's pundits have been self-reflecting, quietly turning in their recycled outrage at the administration's injustices and wondering instead why we, the educated and appalled electorate, seem capable of little more than pummeling the virtual world with sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    The question, of course, is how to protest. Harper's has some suggestions. As for our national despair, well, acceptance is the first step towards recovery.

    —Casey Miner

    Sam Brownback Dropping Out of Presidential Race

    | Thu Oct. 18, 2007 8:32 AM PDT

    brownback_sad.jpg The announcement of Kansas Senator Sam Brownback's withdrawal from the presidential race is slated for tomorrow, when Brownback is supposed to join the other GOP candidates at the Family Research Council's big annual Washington event. I'm not sure how to reconcile that with press reports that Brownback will announce his withdrawal from his home state of Kansas. I'll be at FRC's event, and if Brownback is there, I'll liveblog the announcement as it happens.

    Some thoughts on the withdrawal. Brownback had raised $4,235,333 this year. Having spent $4,140,660, he is left with less than $100,000 left in the bank. That's simply not going to cut it, especially when Rudy Giuliani has $17 million in the bank and Mitt Romney has close to $10 million. (More money figures here.)

    The big winner here is Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, was Brownback's main competition for the evangelical vote (and the evangelical money). Huckabee is picking up steam lately, moving into a tie for second in Iowa, while Brownback still can't crack the top five. Romney is trying to secure the religious vote, but Brownback has routinely slammed Romney as a phony, so it's unlikely his supporters will jump ship to the Massachusetts Mountebank.

    And FYI — if you google Sam Brownback, the first thing that pops up is a sponsored link reading, "Mike Huckabee in 2008."

    Past Mother Jones blog posts on Brownback here, here, and here.

    Stephen Colbert For President (Really! Maybe? Sorta?)

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 8:15 PM PDT

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    Good lord, this just may be the best thing that ever (maybe, sorta) happened to presidential politics. Last night Colbert announced he planned to run for president ( full details after the jump) and while nobody knows whether or not to take him seriously, he's got both parties worried. Particularly in South Carolina, where he aims to get his name on the ballot for both the Democratic and Republican primaries (he explained the strategy by saying "I can't lose twice") as the state's 'favorite son.'"

    "I am from South Carolina and I am for South Carolina and I defy any other candidate to pander more to the people of South Carolina, those beautiful, beautiful people," he said on "The Colbert Report." Colbert listed several different potential presidential tickets including Colbert-Huckabee, Colbert-Putin, or Colbert-Colbert.

    And what do party elders have to say to that?

    "If Stephen fulfills the requirements met in our delegates' election plan and he actively campaigns in South Carolina, we welcome him to compete," said Joe Werner, executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, in an interview with CNET News.com. Werner added that representatives from "The Colbert Report" had placed calls to the state party's headquarters several weeks ago but that the party thought it was all a joke at the time.
    Fulfilling the requirements, however, will be the tough part. Party regulations, Werner said, prevent Colbert from attempting to run on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. "It's in our rules somewhere that you can't be on two ballots," he explained. "He'd have to pick one party."
    Representatives from the South Carolina Republican Party were not readily available for comment.

    I don't even know which alternative would be funnier. Is it possible? Ballot Access News reports that the "filing deadline for those primaries in November 1. He must pay $25,000 to run in the Republican primary, and $2,500 to run in the Democratic primary." For the kind of publicity he's getting (btw: he has a new book), that's a pretty cheap date either way. Awesome. And If you think this doesn't have potential, just remember Jesse Ventura...

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    Why Are We Paying $89 A Barrel for Oil? (Answer: It's Not What You Think)

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 5:43 PM PDT

    Oil hit a new high today, $89 a barrel. Some analysts predict it will soon hit $100. All this has caused much anxiety in the markets and handwringing in the press, which has generally attributed the increase to 1) unrest in the Middle East 2) increased demand, particularly from China and India and 3) speculators.

    Okay, so all of these things are a factor to some extent. But what analysts and pundits generally fail to point out is another reason for high oil prices in the U.S. market is the devaluation of the dollar. If it weren't for that, oil would cost about $60 a barrel, as it does effectively does in Europe and Canada. On George W. Bush's inauguration day in January 2001, you could have purchased a barrel of oil for about $30. If you lived in Europe, a barrel would have set you back about 32 Euro. Because the value of the U.S. Dollar has fallen so substantially since then (it took 93 cents to buy a Euro in January 2001, it now takes $1.42), the increase in the cost of oil for a U.S. consumer has far outstripped the increase for a Euro (or Canadian, or Swiss, or just about any other) consumer.

    Today, it takes US $89 to buy a barrel of oil, but only 62 Euro. Going from 32 Euro to 62 is a healthy rise, but is less than a 10% annual increase since Bush has been in office. By contrast, the move from $30 to $89 is nearly a tripling, or more than 17% per year. See this chart, where the price of oil in U.S. dollars is represented in white while the price in Euros is in red:

    oilprices.gif

    Thus, of the $59 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil to a U.S. consumer, more than $30 is due to the depreciation of the U.S. Dollar and the fiscal and trade policies that have contributed to it. Not Middle East tensions, not China's increased appetite, etc. Same thing is true with skyrocketing price of gold; gold is going through the roof, sure, but what's really happening is that the dollar is going through the floor.

    Many things have led to the devaluation of the U.S. Dollar. But a big portion of it can be attributed to a growing deficit. Now some, like MoJo contributor James K. Galbraith, would argue that deficits per se aren't bad. But the problem with this deficit is that it is largely attributable to 1) runaway spending on a disastrous war with no end in sight—in fact the chart shows how the divergence between currencies really starts to pick up following the invasion—and 2) massive tax cuts to the wealthy.

    And that ain't good.

    Update: News story from Bloomberg confirms my thesis. Also, a primer on the difference between the price of crude vs. gasoline and the role of taxation.

    Nursing Shortage Explained

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 5:09 PM PDT

    The most recent issue of JAMA reported that in 2005 the United States had 218,800 fewer nurses than it needed. With nurses getting paid decent wages, why is that the case? Maggie Mahar at Health Beat has the answer:

    Consider this: In the San Francisco area, a nurse with a bachelor's degree can hope to start out with a salary of $104,000. The salary for a nursing professor with a Ph.D. at University of California San Francisco starts at about $60,000.
    This goes a long way toward explaining why nursing schools turned away 42,000 qualified applications in 2006-2007—even as U.S. hospitals scramble to find nurses.

    Mahar also notes that the situation is just going to get worse: "The fact that the average nursing professor is nearly 59 while the average assistant professor is about 52 suggests that, as they retire, the shortage could turn into a crisis." There's also a pretty good post by Niko Karvounis on why the Republican cry of "socialized medicine," frequently used to describe the Democratic presidential candidates' health care proposals, is a bunch of malarkey.

    The New York Sun's Ethnic Paranoia

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 4:53 PM PDT

    Following up on the talk of Rudy Giuliani as "the New York Sun candidate," the Sun editorial board complained this morning about "[a] new epithet … in use on the left in respect of Mayor Giuliani—namely that he has been 'fostering a climate of ethnic paranoia.'" The "left" here is Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, who first used the offending phrase, and the Atlantic's Matthew Yglesias, who repeated it. Both references to "ethnic paranoia" occurred in discussions of Rudy's group of radical foreign policy advisers, several of whom harbor Islamophobic, Israel-centric world views. The Sun notes:

    Yglesias quotes Joshua Marshall as saying of Mr. Giuliani that "the guy has no real sense that posturing and pandering to ethnic paranoia in New York City simply isn't the same as running a national foreign policy."

    And then wonders, coyly:

    What are New Yorkers to make of this idea of "ethnic paranoia"? To what — or to whom — are Messrs. Marshall and Yglesias referring? Ethnic New Yorkers? Ethnic Americans? Well, go figure...

    Of course, the ethnic group Yglesias and Marshall are referring to is the American-Jewish community, specifically in New York City. And the Sun's charge, as Marshall noted today, is that he and Yglesias, "two Jews, are peddling some sort of subtle anti-semitism." Coming from the Sun (once described as "a journalistic SWAT team against [those] seen as hostile to Israel and Jews"), this is no surprise. But what I find interesting about this episode is the Sun's inability to accept the neutral descriptor "ethnic" for American Jews. As it turns out, this principle is codified in the Sun's in-house style guide, which, as reported by the Observer, contains this notable entry: "Ethnic. Means not Jewish or Christian." Interesting. But click over to the American Heritage dictionary and you'll find the first, or preferred, entry on "ethnic" accommodates Jews quite nicely: "Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage." The Sun's definition is from the second entry, reading in full: "Relating to a people not Christian or Jewish; heathen." Talk about ethnic paranoia.

    —Justin Elliott

    Politics 2.0 Strikes Back

    | Wed Oct. 17, 2007 4:01 PM PDT

    The July/August issue of Mother Jones roiled the blogosphere with an irreverent take on so-called Open-Source Politics. Web pundits inveighed against yet another print magazine (nevermind our blog and website) questioning the impact of Web 2.0 on political campaigning. A flash point in this flame war was the mock Wikipedia entry that we published in print and on our website. It claimed Open-Source Politics would "revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns," but then wryly added: "And if you believe that, we've got some leftover Pets.com stock to sell you." Our goal was to mirror the way that Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 pages often get pranked, and slalom between extreme views, even as they move towards a middle ground and, hopefully, the truth. But the critics complained that our definition was a gimmick with little connection to the way Netizens actually thought of themselves.

    At the time I wondered if the critics really spoke for the Web masses. Given that Web 2.0 is supposed to enshrine Web users (and not Web pundits) as the arbiters of truth, I decided to see what the Web actually thought about our mock Wiki. So in early July I posted our definition of OSP as an actual entry in Wikipedia. I cut only the Pets.com quip and the reference to Karl Rove, thinking that would get the entry booted. And then I waited. Three months have passed, and I think I can now say the results are in. Not only is my mock Wiki still the official entry for "Open Source Politics," it now comes up as the top hit for the term on Google.

    There have been a few changes along the way. Most significantly, the entry is now titled "Open source political campaign" instead of "Open-source politics." But it still goes on to use "open-source politics" as the official term throughout and most of my original text is unchanged. The reference to "party bosses in smoky backrooms" was deleted, but the language about how Web 2.0 will "revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns" still remains. It seems that what stuck our blogger critics as gimmicky hype strikes Wiki users as a pretty reasonable definition.

    The other dramatic change to the entry is how official it now looks. Someone added a list of references that I'd cited, a bevy of links to ideas such as "open source governance," a table of contents, and a list of related terms under the header "see also." I should hope the page looks good, given that on Google it outranks every blog, outranks The Nation, Wired, MSNBC, and Slate, and yes, outranks Mother Jones (which ranks 14th in a search for the term). It's all quite frightening, or flattering, or humbling, depending on how you look at it.