Mojo - August 2009

Need To Read: August 10, 2009

| Mon Aug. 10, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Some must-reads from around the web:

You say you want a Twitter revolution? Not so fast.

An excellent question about the Hank Paulson-Goldman Sachs huddle during the AIG bailout.

A pollster's handy health care cheat sheet for Dems.

An illustrated history of White House drug czars.

Hillary's African adventures.

Justice for Alberto Gonzales—of the karmic variety, anyway.

Rielle Hunter: the novel

David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is on twitter, and so are my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Nick Baumann, and our editor, Clara Jeffery. You can follow me here. (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 10, 2009

Mon Aug. 10, 2009 5:54 AM EDT

ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (July 28, 2009) Marines from Task Force Personnel Recovery (TF MP) of Multi-National Force-West conduct recovery efforts at the crash site of U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, whose F/A-18 was shot down over Anbar province, Iraq, Jan. 17, 1991. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo/Released)

Dogs Are As Smart As Politicians

| Sun Aug. 9, 2009 7:59 PM EDT

Dogs may be smarter than most people think they are, according to the findings of a Canadian researcher. But when it comes to knowing that they're getting shafted, they are just as dumb as a lot of politicians--and the voters who support them.

The web site LiveScience yesterday reported on recent studies conducted by Stanley Coren, an academic from British Columbia who has done extensive research on canine intelligence. Coren says that the average dog compares favorably with a human two-year-old in language abilities; smarter breeds, like my Border collie, rate with kids six months older, and can understand about 250 words. Dogs fare even better in math, showing abilities similar to a four-year-old. And in terms of social development, they are more comparable to human teens, Coren says, "interested in who is moving up in the pack and who is sleeping with who and that sort of thing." (This may or may not be a compliment to dogs, depending on what you think of teenagers).

Coren also studied the responses of dogs on some issues that might be seen to have political implications:

While dogs know whether they’re being treated fairly, they don’t grasp the concept of equity. Coren recalls a study in which dogs get a treat for “giving a paw.”

When one dog gets a treat and the other doesn’t, the unrewarded dog stops performing the trick and avoids making eye contact with the trainer. But if one dog, say, gets rewarded with a juicy steak while the other snags a measly piece of bread, on average the dogs don’t care about the inequality of the treats.

If that’s the criteria, it appears that dogs suffer from the same intellectual shortcomings as some adult humans. Why else would so many working-class and middle-class people vote for politicians who oppose tax hikes for the rich? Why else would they stick up for a health care system that screws them over, leaving them with crumbs while the wealthy and the insurance and drug companies keep their jaws around the juicy steak?

In this area, at least, canine intelligence seems to be about on par with that of most Republicans--and quite a few Democrats, too. (Again, you may or may not think this is a compliment to dogs. I know what I think.)

My dog Jenny: Smarter than Max Baucus?

My dog Jenny: Smarter than Max Baucus?

 

Justice Comes to Alberto Gonzales

| Sat Aug. 8, 2009 1:16 PM EDT

Not enough justice, mind you. Still, in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon has a satisfying interview with Bush's former attorney general, who resigned in disgrace over the attorneys generals firing scandal. Upshot: Gonzales has had no law firm job offers, has no book publisher, hasn't talked to Bush, who isn't helping out with legal bills, and a considerable portion of Texas Tech's faculty signed a letter protesting his appointment. Read the whole thing. It'll make you feel somewhat better. (H/T @GregMitchell)

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones and a Twitter newbie. You can follow her here.

American Hikers Moved to Tehran, Pre-Trial on Sunday

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 7:17 PM EDT

Breaking Friday Evening: ABC News's Martha Raddatz is reporting that Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer, his girlfriend Sarah Shourd, and friend Josh Fattal—who apparently strayed into Iran while hiking in the Kurdistan region of Iraq—are being moved to Tehran. ABC characterizes this as a sign that the negotiations over the fate of the three Americans will drag on.

Yesterday, Mother Jones printed the account of a fourth American hiker, Shon Meckfessel, about how Shane and his friends came to be detained. " I hope that people understand my friends’ presence in the area for what it was: a simple and very regrettable mistake," he concludes.

Shane has a piece in the upcoming issue of Mother Jones on corruption among Iraqi contractors. In accordance with the wishes of the families of all three missing Americans, we plan to post the piece early next week.

Update: On Saturday, PressTV, an English-language news agency funded by the Iranian government, reported that the a commission of the Majlis (Parliament) will meet to discuss the fate of the three Americans tomorrow. Since the US has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran, the Swiss are acting as an intermediary. Things got odder on Saturday when Iraq (an age-old enemy of Iran) also pressed Tehran officials for details surrounding the hikers' arrest.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Podcast: Birthers, Health Care, and August Derangement

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 6:17 PM EDT

This was a fun week to review. Topics covered: When will the Birther insanity end? Where will Bill Clinton go next? Who will win the battle for August's health care reform town halls? And what's with Rush Limbaugh calling you the Joker, David? Plus: Kevin's take on liberal vs. conservative derangement. Listen to the podcast here.

 

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

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Shocker: Ethics Committee Clears Dodd and Conrad

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 2:40 PM EDT

After a yearlong investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee has dismissed complaints against Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) for their participation in Countrywide's "Friends of Angelo" VIP loan program. (I can't say this is unexpected, since the House and Senate members who sit on the congressional ethics committees aren't exactly known for taking fellow lawmakers to task.) Informing Dodd and Conrad they'd been cleared of wrongdoing, the committee gave the Democratic senators the mildest of rebukes:

While the Committee finds no substantial credible evidence as required by Committee rules that your Countrywide mortgages violated Senate ethics rules, the Committee does believe that you should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a Senator.

The ethics committee also told the lawmakers that participating in "a program with the name 'VIP' should have raised red flags for you"—a major understatement if you ask me.

The White House's Bad Drug Deal

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 12:52 PM EDT

Obama’s sellout on health care is hardly any secret, but this week's news of an outright backroom deal guaranteeing drug makers control over pricing is one for the history books. Even the Republicans didn’t lay down for big business quite like this.

As it now stands, there is no control over drug pricing in the US (save for a gesture in that direction under the Medicare Part D prescription drug insurance plan for the elderly). The system allows drug firms to set prices for prescription drugs under Medicare, in what amount to sweetheart deals with private insurance companies. Because drug pricing and insurance costs are set—basically at will—by these two industries, critics have demanded the government step in and set prices. Those demands haven’t gone anywhere, but never has there been an explicit announcement from on high about the arrangement. It’s always been just another one of Washington’s dirty little secrets.
 

Congress' Travel Hypocrisy?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 11:24 AM EDT

This is just odd. In the middle of a recession, after lambasting executives for flying on expensive corporate jets after receiving millions in taxpayer bailout funds, the House has approved $550 million to buy eight new jets for use by members of Congress and their staff, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Lawmakers in the House last week added funds to buy those planes, and plus funds to buy an additional two 737s and two Gulfstream V planes. The purchases must still be approved by the Senate. The Air Force version of the Gulfstream V each costs $66 million, according to the Department of Defense, and the 737s cost about $70 million.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Department of Defense didn't request the additional planes and doesn't need them. "We ask for what we need and only what we need," he told reporters Wednesday. "We've always frowned upon earmarks and additives that are above and beyond what we ask for."

But don't worry! The Journal also reports that most travel "must be approved by congressional committees." So we can rest assured that even if some freewheeling spenders in Congress want to abuse their travel privileges, others will step in as champions of fiscal responsibility. The Senate still needs to sign off on the decision, but its track record is not promising either—or perhaps their champions of fiscal responsibility were absent earlier this month when Congress approved a tour of Europe for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and three other senators and their spouses.

"It's obviously an economically difficult time in this country, so every decision such as this will be looked at with more scrutiny than in times of prosperity" says Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. "There could indeed be outcry by citizens of this country." But, he says, congressional accountability will depend on how incensed constituents get about wasteful spending. With the public focused on the healthcare debate, an issue that directly impacts their wallets, these kinds of proposals could slip below the radar.

The APA Nixes "Ex-Gay Therapy": A Win for the Religious Right?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 9:03 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the American Psychological Association made headlines by repudiating gay-to-straight therapy. In a report, the APA found that not only is there no evidence that the practice actually works, but it can also lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. Considering that so-called "reparative therapy" has been enthusiastically championed by the religious right, you might be surprised to learn that they're touting the report as a major victory.

Confused? Here's what happened. In addition to instructing members not to seek to change a patient's sexual orientation via therapy, the APA also issued additional guidelines advising therapists how to deal with a patient struggling with their sexual identity. And these guidelines explicitly state that it may sometimes be appropriate for a therapist to help a client deny his sexual orientation because of his faith.