Mojo - July 2009

What You Should Have Read Yesterday

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 5:59 AM EDT

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content. You can follow me, of course. (David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So is my colleague Daniel Schulman.) But for those of you who aren't too eager to hop on the tweetwagon, here's what you should have read yesterday:

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Props to Our Bad-Ass Interns

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 7:14 PM EDT

The staff at Mother Jones knows it couldn't live without our interns, who fact-check our stories, blog, research, and generally work their butts off. But you, dear reader, may not know how cool these folks are. So, via our friends at the Village Voice, here's a sampling, in an article entitled, "You Just Graduated from Journalism School, What Were You Thinking" [emphasis mine]:

"I grew up with doom and gloom," counters Sonja Sharp, 23, who was paralyzed at eight and, despite being told she would never walk again, is now ambulatory. "So you can doom-and-gloom until you're blue in the face, and I'll yawn." She knows things are "apocalyptic" now, but believes journalism will emerge all the stronger for it. "I decided when I was nine—and in a wheelchair—that I would write," she says. "I still want to be a journalist because I'm stubborn, and dropping in on total strangers and having them open their lives to you is addictive, and I'm not a 'just say no' person."

Sharp turned down an education beat at a Los Angeles weekly in favor of Columbia, and started in the newspaper concentration. "Journalism marries the two things in the world I'm actually good at—being nosy and writing for money," she says. After graduating, Sharp landed a six-month internship at Mother Jones. "I don't know where I'll be next year, but I'll be somewhere," she says, adding that uncertainty is fine "when you're young and you don't mind living hand-to-mouth."

Sonja puts all of our woe-is-me impulses to shame, and her cohorts: interns Ben Buchwalter, Andy Kroll, Stephen Robert Morse, and fellows Steve Aquino, Taylor Wiles, Nikki Gloudeman, and Sam Baldwin are just as great. Follow those links to learn more about them and read their clips. Learn more about our awesome (and paid!) fellowship program here.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @clarajeffery.

 

Government To Allow Release of Guantanamo Detainee

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 6:32 PM EDT

For nearly seven years the US government has defended its detention of Mohamad Jawad, possibly the youngest inmate at Guantanamo Bay. But in an abrupt about-face late on Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers said they will allow Jawad to be released, acknowledging that key evidence in their case had been tainted by torture. This admission could affect the cases of more detainees and complicate the administration’s attempt to close down Guantanamo by the end of the year.

The government's decision to release Jawad suggests that it may stop trying to delay the release of at least some of the detainees whose cases hinge on evidence contaminated by torture. It could also signal a real break between Obama's Justice Department and the agencies that have previously run the show at Guantanamo: the Defense Department and the CIA.

One-Way Tickets for Homeless?

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 4:51 PM EDT

Since 2007, the city of New York has bought one way tickets for nearly 600 homeless families to the city of their choice. Destinations have included Florida, California, and even Johannesburg, South Africa, via trains, planes and automobiles. Mayor Michael Bloomberg embraced this program as a realistic and relatively inexpensive solution to New York's overcrowded homeless shelters. Sending the families to a new city, as long as they have a friend or relative to live with there, is much less expensive than the average $36,000 a year spent on a family in shelters. Once the families arrive at their new homes, New York social workers check in on their progress periodically and the city has on rare occasions fronted funds for rent and a security deposit.

In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker about a similarly creative program in Denver that could have saved the city a fortune while making strides towards solving its homeless problem. The experimental program gave free housing to chronically homeless people who had accumulated massive hospital bills, which were paid for by taxpayers.  The study found that subsidizing housing for homeless people cost an average of $10,000 a year per person, about a third of what the city would spend on social services if the people remained on the street. The idea, writes Gladwell, "is that once the people in the program get stabilized they will find jobs, and start to pick up more and more of their own rent, which would bring someone's annual cost to the program closer to six thousand dollars." By 2016, Denver hopes to create an additional 800 housing units for the chronically homeless to compound the success of this experimental program.

San Francisco Mayor (and now CA gubernatorial candidate) Gavin Newsom announced in 2005 that his Care Not Cash program, which took homeless people off welfare in favor of social services, had decreased the number of homeless people on welfare by 84 percent, disproving critics who said it could never work. This voter-approved initiative decreased monthly welfare checks to homeless people from $410 to $59 and used the money saved to pay for homeless services, including food and shelter.

On the surface, these experiements in New York, Denver and San Francisco sound like a homerun. They appease progressives because they offer social services to a disadvantaged population. And who doesn't love a goverment program that saves money? But they are far from perfect, and raise questions about where to draw the line and how to guarantee that once the cash runs out, the homeless won't end up back on the streets.

Can You Get Sued for Tweeting About Mold?

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

The latest from my neck of the woods has Chicago realty group Horizon suing a former tenant $50,000 in damages over a tweet. On May 12, Amanda Bonnen tweeted the following:Realty TweetSeemingly innocuous right? It's the kind of content that a stream-of-consciousness oriented medium might be expected to produce. And hey, it could be a worse.

Apparently it can't be. Horizon released a statement yesterday that contained the following sentence:

As you can imagine, allegations of mold are taken very seriously by our organization.

And earlier in the week Jeff Michael, whose family owns the company, told the Chicago Sun-Times the Horizon Realty Group was "a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization." It doesn't matter that Bonnen had only 20 followers at the time of her tweet or that her account has since been deleted. (See the Google cached version here.)

This story reminds me of a lawsuit that came up in a recent Mother Jones investigation. In the July/August issue of Mother Jones, Adam Matthews writes about the evils of big property owners Stellar Management. When former residents of Stellar's San Francisco Parkmerced complex anonymously complained about the facilities and management on ApartmentRatings.com, Stellar subpoened the website for the identities of the commenters. Good thing they didn't check out Yelp!, where, coincidentally, many of the complaints focus on the apparently prohibitive mold situation.

Now obviously the only reason Amanda Bonnen's story has garnered so much attention is because Twitter was involved. Look past the Twitter craze, however, and there is something at stake about the way we live now. For young professionals and students, the internet is increasingly the beginning, middle, and end of the apartment search. Horizon Group Realty acknowledges as much with the online lease application and rent pay apps featured on their website. As with so many other things, the internet has shone a bright ray of information into a formerly dark corner. In this case, it found mold. Whether or not Bonnen ends up forking over the 50k, are you going to be more careful about what you tweet? I didn't think so...

Coast Guard: Still in Deep Water?

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

You might remember that the Coast Guard's 25-year, $25 billion modernization program, Deepwater, has had a lot of problems. Eight ships that contractors tried to extend from 110 feet to 123 feet ended up completely unusable, for example. But the Coast Guard plowed ahead with the construction of eight 418-foot "National Security Cutters" that are set to be the crown jewels of the service's revamped fleet. Last week, the Coast Guard kicked off construction of the Stratton, the third NSC, engraving the initials M.O. into the ship's keel in honor of Michelle Obama. But critics of the new ships maintain that their communications systems are likely vulnerable to interception, and Deepwater still faces a lot of problems. Read all about it here.

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More News From Planet Obvious

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 2:06 PM EDT

It turns out that texting while driving, in addition to being profoundly stupid, is linked to truck crashes. Who would have guessed?

What you might not have guessed is that the government withheld information on the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Mother Jones reported that last October. Mike Mechanic has the details.

Countrywide Probe Puts Rep. Towns in Tight Spot

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 1:56 PM EDT

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House oversight committee, has some deep thinking to do. By week's end, he tells The Hill, he'll render a verdict on whether his committee will launch a full-scale investigation into failed subprime lender Countrywide Financial. It's an investigation the committee's minority staff, under Darrell Issa, has been pursuing for more than a year, with a particular focus on the company's "Friends of Angelo" VIP loan program. But in order to take his probe to the next level, Issa needs the backing of the full committee to subpoena records from Bank of America, which took over Countrywide following its epic collapse. And Issa has been pressing hard for Towns' cooperation. Towns, meanwhile, has been dragging his heels on this. Why? One potential reason is because this investigation could shed unflattering light on the favorable financing some congressional lawmakers received through Mozilo's VIP program.

These alleged sweetheart deals, first reported last summer, have bubbled back up in the news recently. On Monday, the AP reported that a former Countrywide employee has provided some damaging information to Republican oversight investigators and members of the Senate Ethics Committee relating to VIP loans granted to Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). According to the AP, Robert Feinberg, who worked in the company's VIP loan section, has said that Conrad and Dodd were made fully aware that they were receiving favorable treatment, a claim both lawmakers strongly deny. This scrutiny comes at a particularly inconvenient time for Dodd, who's already in serious jeopardy of losing his senate seat in the upcoming election.

This puts Towns in a tight spot. If he goes forward with an investigation, he risks tainting fellow Democrats, as well as other lawmakers who may have received Friends of Angelo financing. If he doesn't, he leaves himself open to charges that he is playing politics, forsaking his oversight role to provide cover for congressional colleagues. Issa surely isn't going to let this go quietly.

So what's it going to be Rep. Towns?

Health Care Retort: You're Lying! No, You Are!

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 1:32 PM EDT

It seems as if the partisan squabbling over health care reform is ratcheting up. On Wednesday, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party each accused the other side of lying about what's in the health care reform package under construction in Congress. It began with a conference call for reporters held by the RNC, in which Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry claimed President Barack Obama has been prevaricating about his plan. Within moments, the DNC zapped out a retort.

Here's how the DNC chronicled this spat:

On an RNC conference call today, Congressman Patrick McHenry accused the President of lying about the details of his health insurance reform plan. The only person lying on that call, however, was Rep. McHenry, and you don't have to take our word for it. Multiple independent fact checkers have debunked the claims McHenry and his fellow Republicans continue to make about health insurance reform. With the cost of premiums soaring for so many families and small businesses, it's disgusting that Republicans are willing to lie and use the same old Washington scare tactics to try to "kill" health insurance reform on behalf of their insurance company friends.

The DNC explained further:

Do Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias Want A Revolution?

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 1:14 PM EDT

The Economist's Democracy in America blog has a fascinating post on the shift that seems to be happening in the thinking of the moderate, lefty blogosphere from process-oriented gradualism towards what you might describe as a kind of revolutionary cynicism. In a different era, if you were less kind, you might even describe Ezra Klein's and Matt Yglesias's recent claims—that our political system is irrevocably broken, that we won't do anything about health care costs or global warming—as "shrill." DiA compares Klein and Yglesias to Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, which is another way of saying the same thing. The (anonymous) DiA blogger points to this post by Klein as evidence of a near-total loss of faith in the system:

The country, and the system, will continue to whistle while our wages get eaten up and our government tumbles further into debt and our interest rates rise and other priorities get squeezed out and a serious and painful fiscal reckoning inches ever closer.

Meanwhile, as DiA notes, Yglesias has been calling for the abolition of the US Senate. That's not moderate wonkery. It's radicalism. (That doesn't mean Yglesias is wrong.) DiA thinks "there's something going on with these guys," and it could lead to "the kind of thing you saw happen to those clean-cut moderate liberal kids who wrote the Port Huron Statement."

So I say to the Juicebox Mafia et. al.: Why not? Sure, no one appointed you or elected you. But that didn't stop the kids at Port Huron (or in Sharon, Connecticut, for the matter). You're in leadership positions whether you like it or not. I'm serious. Set up a wiki and get to work. I'm sure the wider lefty blogosphere would be happy to help. Get some sort of statement together, and let DiA and others know for sure exactly how radical (or not) this generation of young liberals really is.