Mojo - October 2009

Need To Read: October 26, 2009

Mon Oct. 26, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

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Podcast: Trigger Options, Obama Conspiracy Games, and Climate Cover Models

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 1:32 AM EDT

On this week's podcast with David Corn and Kevin Drum:

Which health care reform gun is attached to the trigger option? Who's behind the new World-of-Warcraft-like Obama conspiracy online game? And what will Inkblot and Domino be doing for Saturday's International Day of Climate Action, other than posing naked on the cover of Mother Jones?

Listen to the latest Week-In-Review podcast here, then put your family pic on a Mother Jones magazine cover through MoJo's cool new planet-saving Facebook app and consider online holiday cards done this year.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer, editor, and sometime geek for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

Chamber Rejects Use of Term "3 Million Members"

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 5:21 PM EDT

For the first time, the US Chamber of Commerce has admitted that its membership should be reported at one tenth the size that many major media outlets have listed it for more than a decade.

In an interview on Friday, Greg Marx of the Columbia Journalism Review asked Chamber spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel to comment on two competing newspaper accounts. Presented with a Wall Street Journal article that said the Chamber claims "300,000 members," Wohlschlegel said, "That's accurate." Read an Associated Press article that said the Chamber claims "a membership of 3 million," he responded, "That's not exactly reported correctly."

The second statement appears to be a reversal for Wohlschlegel, who, in September, told the New York Times: "We have over 3 million members."

Last week, after Mother Jones first questioned the accuracy of the Chamber's claim to represent "3 million members," the group backed off the number in public statements. It then sought to distinguish between the meaning of two figures and argued that it has long used both in the proper context. Yesterday a Chamber representative acknowledged that the 3 million number often gets reported "without qualification." And yet today is the first time the Chamber has publicly characterized the reporting of the larger membership figure as inaccurate.

The Chamber's response to the controversy, which has been reported in the Washington Post, Politico, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper's, MSNBC, and numerous blogs, appears aimed at shifting blame for the inflated membership number to journalists. The Chamber's website claims that it "represents" 3 million businesses, which is not the same thing as calling them members. That the 3 million number gets reported out of context "is hardly our fault," Chamber representative Brad Peck told E&E News this week.

At the same time, the Chamber has resisted doing anything more to explain its true size on its website or press releases. Neither source cites the Chamber's true membership number or explains what the group means when it says it "represents" 3 million businesses. Maybe the Chamber thinks the media is lazy or gullible enough to continue exponentially inflating its size. And some in the media may well be, as Marx diligently reveals in a solid piece of reporting.  

Obama (Finally) Enters Climate Debate

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

Barack Obama on Friday gave a speech long-anticipated by advocates for climate legislation, calling for a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that will limit emissions and help transition to a new energy economy.

While the speech put some momentum behind the issue as the Senate committee dealing with the legislation prepares to begin hearings next week, it was scant on specific directives. It did, however, position the legislation as an economic and security imperative.

"There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy—when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs," said Obama, addressing a crowd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It seems this is going to be the first of several Obama speeches on the subject. According to a press scheduled released Friday afternoon, Obama will travel to the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida on Tuesday for a second speech. That speech falls on the day that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will kick off legislative hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill, with a panel featuring a number of administration officials.

This level of attention is something that advocates have long been hoping for from the president, who has thus far focused much of his public speaking on health care. While he did make a big (and rather unimpressive) speech at the UN last month, today's speech was the first aimed at a domestic audience solely on the topic of climate and energy.

In his speech on Friday, Obama praised Senate climate bill sponsor John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the lone Republican who has signaled he is willing to cooperate on the bill. "This should not be a partisan issue," said Obama. "Everybody in America should have a stake in legislation that can transform our energy system into one that's far more efficient, far cleaner, and provide energy independence for America."

Keeping Tabs on Stimulus Contractors

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

As part of the stimulus package, billions of dollars have been allocated to highway and bridge projects. Curious where the money has gone, and which contractors have benifited from the windfall? Check out this exhaustive ProPublica database of all the projects across the country.

A couple fun tidbits:

    --The biggest contracting recipient is NorthGate Constructors, which has pocketed a whopping $250 million to expand highways in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

    --The largest state recipient, California, has received $2 billion in project money. The smallest, Puerto Rico, has received $79 million.

For those interested in keeping tabs on the companies that have received contracts, ProPublica also provides a handy tip guide to sniff out environmental and safety snafus. Get to!

Chamber Unleashes Lawyers on Yes Men

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 12:48 PM EDT

After the Yes Men pulled their now-famous prank earlier this week on the US Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber issued a vague threat of "law-enforcement action." The group doesn't appear to have called the cops on the Yes Men just yet, but on Wednesday it issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down demand notice for the parody site that the Yes Men set up to publicize their fake event, in which the "Chamber" announced that it would support a sane global warming policy after all.

The Chamber's attorney at the intellectual property law firm Kenyon & Kenyon issued a notice to the Yes Men's internet service provider, Hurricane Electric, asking them to take down the site. "The website infringes the Chamber of Commerce's copyrights by directly copying the images, logos, design, and layout of the Chamber of Commerce's copyright-protected official website, located at www.uschamber.com," they wrote.

They ask Hurricane to "take down all such infringing material" and/or end their business relationship with the Yes Men. "Continuing to be the ISP for this material could subject Hurricane Electric to legal liability," the letter states.

"We are certain you can understand our client's concerns, and its need to protect its intellectual property," it continues.

And now the Electronic Frontiers Foundation is jumping in, telling the Chamber to take a chill pill. The site, they say, fits within the accepted fair use and parody rights.

"We are very disappointed the Chamber of Commerce decided to respond to political criticism with legal threats," said EFF staff attorney Corynne McSherry in a statement. "The site is obviously intended to highlight and parody the Chamber's controversial views, which have sparked political debate and led high-profile members to withdraw their support from the Chamber."

Ars Technica has more.

UPDATE: It seems that Hurricane, fearing the Chamber's legal rebuke, pulled the plug on both the Yes Men site and May First/People Link, the group that was directly providing service for the Yes Men. Hurricane was the upstream provider, but a May First/People Link in turn provided service for the Yes Men and 400 other groups. So, for a period last night, all 400 groups had their websites shut down.

The Yes Men issued a press release on Friday stating that May First/People Link was able to get the service reconnected for the other groups. Meanwhile, the Yes Men have relocated the parody site.

It also presented a problem for ticket sales, as the Yes Men's latest film, The Yes Men Fix the World is currently in theaters. The action, say the Yes Men, threatens theaters (which also happen to be small businesses) who may be selling tickets through the Yes Men site.

"The Chamber claims to represent 3 million businesses of every size, yet their actions undermined a fair number of small businesses," said Yes Man Mike Bonanno. "The Chamber is clearly much less interested in actual freedom, economic or otherwise, than in the license of their largest members to operate free from the scientific consensus."

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McKibben's Case for a Climate Treaty

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 12:19 PM EDT

After yet another climate conference (this time in Bangkok, ending earlier this month) in which world leaders failed to make any headway on the planet's most pressing problem, the prospect of a climate treaty in December, when 192 nations meet in Copenhagen, looks bleaker than an Arctic winter.

Then again, as Mother Jones contributing writer and author Bill McKibben writes in his most recent story, "Copenhagen: Too Hot to Handle," those Arctic winters might not be so bleak after all if our leaders leave climate change unchecked by failing to reach an agreement at Copenhagen. Indeed, the consequences of an unsuccessful Copenhagen conference, as McKibben describes, would be disastrous.

Already the planet is changing before our eyes as a result of climate change. Glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. Dengue fever is spreading to new regions. Drought could turn the American Southwest into a new dust bowl. Climate change even threatens to wipe entire nations, like the Maldives, off the map. Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives' bold new president, has even started setting aside part of his country's budget to buy a new homeland.

So needless to say, the stakes are high for December's climate conference. McKibben's piece—an absolute must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in climate change—puts the looming negottiations into context, and offers a clear-eyed assessment about what we, and our leaders, need to do to make a treaty happen—and what we should expect if they don't.

Poll Finds Americans More Confused About Climate

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 11:17 AM EDT

This is, uh, a bit of a concern: A Pew poll released on Thursday finds the number of Americans concerned about climate change has declined—and the number of global warming skeptics has increased.

Thirty-five percent of those polled agreed that global warming was a serious problem—a nine-point drop from April 2008, when 44 percent of respondents agreed. Worse, though, is the number of skeptics. Just 57 percent think that there is "solid evidence" that the earth is warming, down from 71 percent just a year and a half ago. Only 36 percent think that the warming is due to human activity, down from 47 percent.

The decline has been sharpest among people who identify as political independents: Only 53 percent of independents see solid evidence of global warming, down from 75 percent in April 2008. Republicans were already highly skeptical—now only 35 percent of Republicans believe that global temperatures are rising, down 14 percent from the last poll. And that's just the objective question of whether they're rising: only 18 percent think that any warming that may be happening is caused by human activity.

But fewer Democrats think the planet is warming, too—75 percent today compared to 83 percent last year and 91 percent in August 2006. And only 50 percent of self-identified Democrats believe the warming is due to human activity.

Oh, my.

Chris Cillizza, Harry Reid, and Lazy Conventional Wisdom

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 10:45 AM EDT

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has a new post on Sen. Harry Reid that tries to deal with the results of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's poll of Nevada that I wrote about on Thursday. The poll found that 55 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats with unfavorable views of Reid say they don't like him because he's not progressive enough. These results contradict Cillizza's earlier assertion that Reid has to "carry Obama's agenda effectively while also appealing to Nevada voters to whom that agenda is too liberal." The poll also doesn't square with Cillizza's claim that Reid is in a similar situation to South Dakota's Tom Daschle, the Democratic senate majority leader who was defeated for reelection in 2002.

It's possible that Cillizza's right: Maybe a different poll would find vastly different results. Maybe if Reid moved left to satisfy Democrats and independents who disapprove of him, he'd anger the Democrats and independents who approve of him now. But what's frustrating about most of the reporting on Reid's poll numbers (including Cillizza's) is the extent to which right-wing arguments about what voters want are taken for granted. Cillazza just assumed that Nevadans wanted Reid to move to the right. It seems that whenever a Democrat is unpopular, mainstream journalists assume that it's because he or she is too liberal. That could be the case. But such claims should rest on evidence, not gut feelings or dubious parallels between South Dakota in 2002—when George W. Bush's popularity was formidable—and Nevada, a much larger, more urban and diverse state, in 2008.

Cillizza certainly makes some interesting arguments in order to avoid acknowleging the problems that the PCCC numbers create for his assumptions. For example:

From a rawly political perspective, Reid's number among self-identified Democrats may not matter that much as he does not have a primary race and it's hard to imagine loyal Democratic voters ultimately opting for either former Republican state party chairwoman Sue Lowden or businessman Danny Tarkanian.

This seems almost willfully obtuse. Midterm elections are generally low-turnout, base-driven elections. It's not that Harry Reid has to worry about Democrats voting for Lowden or Tarkanian—he has to worry about them staying home and not voting at all.

Cillizza is really missing the point here. It's unlikely that Reid is going to be able to win over Republicans by moving to the right. Republicans do think Reid's too liberal, but he's the Democratic leader in the Senate—they're not going to vote for him unless he essentially abandons his party. That's something he doesn't seem prepared to do. So Reid should really be worrying about getting his base to turn out and convincing persuadable independents to vote for him. The PCCC poll is the best currently available information about where Democrats and independents want Reid to go. If they say he should move left, he probably should.

Beautiful Gay Marriage Testimony

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 10:17 AM EDT

This is beautiful:

I don't think you can watch that video and not think, as even Ross Douthat does, that opposition to gay marriage is "a losing argument."