Mojo - July 2008

Part of a Peace Group? Might Want to Take a Look Around...

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 1:03 PM EDT

This is pretty horrifying. Here's UPI:

Undercover Maryland state troopers infiltrated three groups advocating peace and protesting the death penalty — attending meetings and sending reports on their activities to U.S. intelligence and military agencies, according to documents released Thursday.
The documents show the activities occurred from at least March 2005 to May 2006 and that officers used false names, which the documents referred to as "covert identities" — to open e-mail accounts to receive messages from the groups...

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Air Force Design Divas Request First Class 'Comfort Capsules'

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 12:32 PM EDT

Flat screen TVs, leather chairs, cherry wood, "aesthetically pleasing" carpeting and wall and ceiling treatments—sounds like the makings for some mack daddy digs, huh? Members of the Air Force brass thought so too, as they oversaw two programs designed to provide senior military leaders with luxury aircraft accommodations costing millions of dollars, some of it diverted from counter-terrorism funds.

According to records obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, which calls these first class upgrades "a gross misuse... of taxpayer dollars," only "world class" accoutrements would do when it came to Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Capsules (SLICCs)—"comfort" was later changed to "conference"—and Senior Leader Intransit Pallets (SLIPs), readymade senior officers' quarters that can be loaded onto a variety of military cargo planes.

Next Week: The Overseas Obama Extravaganza

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 12:28 PM EDT

Get read for all Obama, all the time.

The three network anchors will travel to Europe and the Middle East next week for Barack Obama's trip, adding their high-wattage spotlight to what is already shaping up as a major media extravaganza.
Lured by an offer of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidate, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric will make the overseas trek, meaning that the NBC, ABC and CBS evening newscasts will originate from stops along the route and undoubtedly give it big play.

An All-American Advertisement

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 11:59 AM EDT

blond-baby-biofuel.jpg

The above ad is running on the Washington Post website. It's sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association, which is the national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry. I find it interesting because it is clearly an attempt to integrate ethanol into an all-American image. The ad could be called "Blonds, Babies, and Biofuels." (Or, "Babes, Babes, and Biofuels.") All it needs, in addition to the young mother and her smiling tot, is an apple pie cooling on the roof of the car and a flag waving in the background.

Ethanol is far from perfect, a fact we've been writing about for ages. But because it's produced by hard-bitten farmers in places like Iowa, it's probably the renewable energy source most likely to be integrated into our sense of national identity. And that's a start. After ethanol, hopefully we can move onto the stuff that works.

Gramm and McCain Still Close Pals? That's Good News for Dems

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 11:40 AM EDT

Robert Novak reports--and his reporting is not always spot-on--that John McCain has forgiven Phil Gramm after Gramm called America a "nation of whiners" and dismissed current economic troubles as nothing more than a "mental recession." According to Novak, "Gramm will continue as an adviser and surrogate" for McCain. Gramm is still cochairman of McCain's presidential campaign.

This reporting counters recent news stories that Gramm has been nudged aside within McCainland. If it is true, Democrats can only respond this way: good! Gramm is a wonderful--and deserving--target for Dems and the Obama campaign. But not only because his out-of-touch remarks seemed to reflect the inner thinking of McCain and his advisers. Gramm represents much of what has gone wrong with the economy. As chairman of the Senate banking committee, he championed relentless deregulation that led in part to the subprime mess and to the Enron debacle. After leaving the Senate, he then became a lobbyist and executive for Swiss bank giant UBS. (Remember when McCain used to blast lobbyists?) These days UBS is in the news for allowing wealthy American clients to park money off-shore (perhaps illegally) to avoid taxes.

So McCain was happy to recruit Gramm for his campaign--despite his past record, ideas, policies, and lobbying activity--and look to him for economic advice. He saw nothing wrong with Grammonomics. That's the issue, more so than Gramm's impolitic comments. And if Novak is right--and that may be a nice-sized if--the Gramm issue remains, for Phil Gramm remains within the warm embrace of John McCain.

UPDATE: On Friday, Gramm quit as cochairman of the McCain campaign. Maybe Novak got it wrong. But Gramm did not say he would no longer be advising McCain.

Polling the Ohio Pols

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 4:36 AM EDT

Barack Obama and John McCain may be sparring over several different issues—Iran, Iraq, health care, immigration—in their fight for the White House, but, at least in swing states Ohio and Florida, one issue trumps them all: the economy.

An NPR poll conducted with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's School of Public Health shows (.pdf) more than 50 percent of respondents in both states say their pocketbooks will be the most important issue guiding their votes in November. When pollsters combined respondents' first and second most pressing concerns, the economy showed up 70 percent of the time.

This could bode well for Obama and his fellow party members, especially in Ohio, where some counties face unemployment rates of more than eight percent. "It does help the Democrats," says Johnnie Maier, chairman of the Democratic party in Stark County, Ohio, which historically has acted as bellwether county in presidential elections. "When George W. Bush took office, we had a budget surplus. We didn't have a housing crisis. Now we're replacing what used to be living-wage jobs with part-time jobs at places like Wal-Mart—a major Chinese importer. It's beyond a mess."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Diddling While America Burns

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 4:00 AM EDT

This must have been how the peasants felt, watching Nero fiddle a merry tune while Rome burned.

Gasoline approaches $5 a gallon, runs on our banks are just barely averted, the war on terror drags on and on and what are we obsessed with? A magazine cover, now that the New Yorker's suddenly embraced satiric ones, and Bernie Mac's barely funny jokes at an Obama fundraiser. Imagine...a comedian making luke warm fun of the probable next Prez's marital woes. Heavens!

Do our problems seem so insoluble that we don't know what else to tackle but inanities like this? The only good that can come of this puerility is the fodder it provides for those of us who teach journalism (students, see: what not to do). It's twaddle like this that makes good journalism so much more precious. Wanna feed your brain instead of swaddle it in crap, wanna encourage journalists to produce more of it? Here are three items not to miss.

When W Talks Down

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

Try this one on for size: W wouldn't dare talk down to his citizens by suggesting they drive less and conserve near $5/gallon gas. From Politico:

"I mean, you know, it's interesting what the price of gasoline has done," Bush said at a news conference in the White House press room, "is it caused people to drive less. That's why they want smaller cars: They want to conserve. But the consumer's plenty bright. The marketplace works."

"It's a little presumptuous on my part to dictate how consumers live their own lives," the president added. "I've got faith in the American people."

Unless, of course, the American people are women who want to control their own bodies.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Fed

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 6:53 PM EDT

How comforted should we feel by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's pronouncement that the country's largest mortgage-finance companies are in "no danger of failing"? Or this week's rebound in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae shares?

Not as comforted as Congress now appears to be. No, we don't have 25 percent unemployment, or the bread lines of the early 1930s, but anyone who lives in Indymac's hometown of Pasadena, California knows we're seeing bank runs. And while it's all well and good for the SEC to restrict the short selling of Fannie, Freddie and primary bond dealers, when whole countries are dumping US stocks and bonds, something more drastic is required.

Pre Pre-Negotiations?

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 6:48 PM EDT

With the media and international affairs observers focused on the Bush administration's decision to send a US envoy to international nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva this weekend, this detail in a wire report out of the Turkish capital Ankara today is interesting. From the AP, who's in Turkey today? White House national security advisor Stephen Hadley. What's he doing there? According to the AP report, talking about Iran. And who is coming to Turkey tomorrow? Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Now, Turkey has been playing the role of mediator - for a long time secretly, and recently openly - in indirect proximity talks between long time adversaries Israel and Syria. One wonders, is Turkey hosting some sort of pre pre-negotiations now between the US and Iran?

One former State Department official tells me that is unlikely. "It seems highly improbable… If only because it would undercut (or worse) the prospective Jalili-Burns meeting on Saturday. Mottaki is far less influential, so why would you have a more senior [US government] official do a sit-down with him?"