Mojo - December 2009

Copenhagen: Time To Get Over Ourselves

| Mon Dec. 7, 2009 4:16 AM EST

A few hours ago, the United Nations agency that is organizing the Copenhagen climate conference sent out a beleaguered-sounding email saying that the conference venue fits 15,000, but 34,000 people—delegates from around the world, journalists, NGO representatives—are trying to attend, so they're implementing a "quota system." Does that mean Al and Leo will have to wait in line?

For updates on that and many other pressing questions, bookmark the Blue Marble, MoJo's environmental blog, which will be covering the climate talks 24/7. Our Washington bureau chief, David Corn, is headed there as we write, as is blogger Kate Sheppard, and essayist Bill McKibben. And because climate change is the biggest story of our lifetimes, we've also joined forces with a group of other journalism shops, including the Nation, Grist, Treehugger, the Center for Investigative Reporting/Frontline World, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, and The Uptake—together, we have several dozen reporters on the ground, and we'll be using a nifty by-journalists-for-journalists technology called Publish2 to pull together all of their posts and stories. (Check the right-hand column of the Blue Marble for the feed, and also this page.)

Hey, if any group of people is harder to get to collaborate than politicians, it's probably journalists. If the latter can get over our myriad hangups and work together, maybe there's hope for the former. (P.S.—while you're thinking about it, why not put a picture of your kid--or your pet, favorite celebrity, or self—on our climate cover? It's a fun way to let your friends, or your representatives, know where you stand.)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Carbon Tax Hail Mary?

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 8:39 PM EST

On both the left and the right, there are mutterings that the Senate should ditch cap-and-trade legislation in favor of a carbon tax. But is a carbon tax the silver bullet its supporters claim, or simply a product of wishful thinking? 

At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate policy this week, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska  and Bob Corker of Tennessee repeatedly suggested that a carbon tax would be simpler and more transparent than a cap-and-trade scheme. Corker has also argued that a tax could return the revenues to consumers via rebates.

For carbon tax fans, these kinds of remarks are signals that their favored policy isn't a lost cause. That's the case made by the US Climate Task Force, a project founded by former Clinton administration officials Robert Shapiro and Elaine Kamarck.

 

Resignation of the Day

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 5:17 PM EST

Ed Kilgore relays some fascinating news:

Georgia's Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson resigned today, a few days after his ex-wife in a television interview said she knew for a fact that the conservative solon had conducted an extramarital affair with a utilities lobbyist even as he championed legislation highly beneficial to the lobbyist's employer.

That's not the half of it.

New Military Drone: The Beast of Kandahar

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 3:14 PM EST

Photo: Secret DéfensePhoto: Secret DéfenseWired's Danger Room has the lowdown on new photos of a long-rumored new unmanned drone the military is supposedly operating in Afghanistan, popularly known as "the Beast of Kandahar":

Earlier this year, blurry pictures were released by the French magazine Air & Cosmos of a previously unknown stealth drone taken at Kandahar in Afghanistan. The photos, snapped in 2007, prompted a wave of speculation about the classified aircraft. That speculation grew even more intense this week, when a blog belonging to the French newspaper Libération released an even better photograph. But while the new picture may answers some questions, it also creates a heap of new mysteries. Chief among them: Why use such a fancy, stealthy aircraft in Afghanistan? The Taliban have neither the radar to spot the plane, nor the weaponry to shoot it down.

The speculation is that the stealthiness of the drone is intended to allow it to operate undetected in Pakistan or even Iran. Wired has much more, including this:

 

The Beast has also been identified with the covert Desert Prowler program, identified by black ops spotter Trevor Paglen. The Desert Prowler’s patches include the phrases “alone and unafraid” and “alone and on the prowl” as well as the figure of a wraith taken from an album cover by Insane Clown Posse. The wraith is said to represent the Grim Reaper…peculiar as it may seem, Paglen has shown that a remarkable amount of information can be gleaned from Black Ops patches and has written a book on the subject.

Peglen's book, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World, is pretty cool, and he has a website where you can get a taste of what it has to offer. It's a treasure trove for anyone interested in Black Ops, symbology, or random trivia.

Dubai, AIG, and the Ports

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 1:35 PM EST

We learned last month that Dubai, the Gulf microstate, needs more time to pay off its debt. Adam Maxwell Jenkins, a college roommate of mine, has a great letter in today's Financial Times explaining one especially interesting way that affects us:

It was only a little more than three years ago that the teetering Middle East state conglomerate was barely beaten back from taking control of 22 US ports after its DP World subsidiary agreed to purchase the British owner-operator P&O. Congressional opposition, voiced at first by Senator Charles Schumer, soon flowered into bipartisan outcry, attacking the deal as dangerously undermining US homeland security by placing a vulnerable component of our border infrastructure in the hands of a foreign company.

Dubai ended up agreeing to sell the ports to another conglomerate in order to calm the controversy. The punchline is that company's name: AIG Global Investment Group. "Truly, one cannot make this stuff up," Jenkins writes:

If only cooler heads had prevailed, taxpaying investors in the US might now be well positioned to capitalise on Dubai World's distress as it gears up to dispose of purchases made in better times.

Sad stuff. For what it's worth, Mother Jones was on the right side of this: we posted an article in 2006 explaining why not selling the ports to Dubai was a bad idea.

Palin, Birther

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 12:58 PM EST

Sarah Palin called the "birther" issue a "fair question" in an interview with right-wing radio host Rusty Humphries on Thursday. Via Ben Smith:

"Would you make the birth certificate an issue if you ran?" she was asked.

"I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue. I don't have a problem with that. I don't know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think that members of the electorate still want answers," she replied.

"Do you think it's a fair question to be looking at?" Humphries persisted.

"I think it's a fair question, just like I think past association and past voting records -- all of that is fair game," Palin said. "The McCain-Palin campaign didn't do a good enough job in that area."

Smith notes that the McCain campaign did look at the birth certificate issue, and, "like every other serious examination, dismissed it." Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is Palin's justification for going birther. She cited "the weird conspiracy theory freaky thing that people talk about that Trig isn't my real son" as a similar situation. Or, in the words of Marc Ambinder: "Palin On Her Birtherism: It's Andrew Sullivan's Fault."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

On the Jobs Front

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 12:35 PM EST

Finally, some "good" news for President Barack Obama: only 11,000 jobs were lost in November. That's still too many—we need employment growth—but economists had been expecting over 100,000 job losses, so the numbers dramatically beat expectations. The New York Times' David Leonhardt calls this "some very good news" but warns, "It’s probably best to be conservative," and notes that he'd be "surprised if this rate of progress continues in coming months." Paul Krugman is even less sunny, arguing that the "good" news is actually bad news, because it will reduce pressure on politicians to do more to combat unemployment. Floyd Norris, also at the Times, isn't so counterintuitive:

In my Off the Charts column in Saturday’s newspaper, I will cite one economic indicator that shows the unemployment rate has peaked. Whether or not that turns out to be the case, I think the bad days for jobs are very close to being over, and that this will not be a jobless recovery.

Why?

One reason is the sheer abruptness of the decline in employment during the recent recession. (Yes, I think it is over.) After Lehman Brothers failed, the unemployment rate rose at a faster clip than at any time since 1975. There was something approaching panic among employers. They feared sales would collapse and that credit would be unavailable. In that spirit, they cut every cost they could. Imports plunged because no one wanted to add inventory. Ad spending collapsed. And people were fired.

That has left many companies in a position where they may need to add workers quickly for even a small increase in business.

Call me the optimist.

At least we found one! The president will be visiting Allentown, Pennsylvania today and plans a major jobs speech on Tuesday. This news should make giving that speech a little bit easier.

World's Wackiest Prison Riots

| Fri Dec. 4, 2009 8:00 AM EST

When most people think of prison riots, revolts like Attica or MacAlester spring to mind—violent uprisings sparked by racial tension, overcrowding, or abysmal conditions. But as I recently learned while fact-checking a story about a Mock Prison Riot (yes, such a thing exists), not all prison rebellions have such, ahem, sober causes.

Here's a brief list of some of the more kooky revolts to rock a lockup:

Cause of mutiny: Booze

The HMP Ashwell prison in England has an inmate sobriety problem. In 2003, four inmates smashed computers and caused more than $15,000 in damage after one of them was admonished for being drunk in their cell. Six years later, an inebriated prisoner led a violent protest that included stealing, arson, and looting.

Outcome: HMP learned a valuable lesson: Alcohol and angry inmates are not a good mix.

Cause of mutiny: Pancakes too small

At the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre in Canada, inmates started a fire and destroyed property, causing $80,000 in damage. Why? As the court document put it, they were ticked about the "size and number of pancakes" served at brunch.

Outcome: Offenders charged with disorderly conduct. No word on whether pancake size or quantity changed.

Cause of mutiny: Improper toilet use 

Racial tension came to a head at the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles when, according to the LA Times, an inmate "breached bathroom etiquette" and caused a gang fight. Perhaps for our benefit, the Times provided no further details about said breach.

Outcome: Some of the 102 inmates involved suffered knife injuries. Said the sheriff deputy: "When you're in jail, little things mean a lot, I guess."

Cause of mutiny: Prisoners want to move to higher security prison

At a penitentiary in Montreal, two prisoners demanded a transfer from their medium security prison to a maximum security one. When that didn't work, they held a guard hostage.

Outcome: Success! Prisoners get their wish, are transferred to max-security jail.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 4, 2009

Fri Dec. 4, 2009 7:03 AM EST

Soldiers of the 3rd U.S Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) prepare to move the casket of Medal of Honor recipient Leonard Keller to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery's section 60, Monday, November 30, 2009. (US Army photo via army.mil.)

Need To Read: December 4, 2009

Fri Dec. 4, 2009 7:01 AM EST

Today's must reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow Mother Jones on twitter! You can check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.