Mojo - December 2009

A Terry Gilliam Christmas

| Thu Dec. 24, 2009 7:34 AM EST

It's been four years since Terry Gilliam's last film—the surreal Tideland, starring Jeff Bridges. Now, for Christmas, the Monty Python animator-turned-filmmaker has given us The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a production that was a roller coaster ride even by Gilliam standards. (Speaking of which, Gilliam is taking another crack at The Man Who Killed Don Quixote—and Robert Duvall has reportedly agreed to play the lead.) Imaginarium is very Terry, with more than a small dose of the Python vibe. It's a dark, absurdist joyride pitting imagination against apathy and an ancient protagonist (Christopher Plummer) against the Devil (Tom Waits). It's a lot of fun. Go see it.

I spoke with Gilliam about how the film was thrown into complete disarray by the death of leading man Heath Ledger. That's a familiar narrative by now, but we also talked about the director's upbringing, his neuroses, his rep as a Hollywood nemesis, and his decision to give up American citizenship—not to mention sign that controversial petition in support of Roman Polanski. And of course, we talked about the constant struggle to sell his ideas: "It's enough hard work making the movie, and then you have to go out and blow the trumpet and beat the drum and do all these things," he told me in a bit that didn't make the edited interview. "Actually this part of the selling, at the end, is just repetitious. The difficult selling is at the beginning, trying to get the money."

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Coal's Greatest Hits, 2009 Edition

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 5:00 PM EST

Santa's on his way, which means it's time for that great year-end tradition: the listicle! Thus, we bring you the Top 10 Most Evil and/or Ridiculous Things Done By or On Behalf Of Coal in 2009, in descending order.

10. Coal's favorite congressman, Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), jumping out of a plane to show his support for coal.

9. Industry group using iStockphotos instead of real people in their "grassroots" FACES of Coal campaign.

8. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) declaring coal the official state rock.

7. Handing out coal propaganda to kids.

6. Republican House members circulating talking points straight from the coal industry.

5. Coal lobby gets more than $60 billion in handouts for "clean" coal in the House cap-and-trade bill while avoiding the vast majority of regulations—but still opposes the legislation.

4. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce pushing senators to hold health care legislation hostage until the Obama administration ends its "war on coal."

3. Steve Miller, CEO of Americans for Clean Coal Electricity, the main coal lobby group, appearing to lie under oath about the organization's views on climate legislation in a congressional hearing.

2. ACCCE misrepresenting two major veterans' groups in an email hyping coal's role in energy security.

1. Bonner and Associates sending forged letters to Congress (for ACCCE) claiming to be on behalf of veteran groups, minorities, women, and senior citizens.

Got your own reccomendations? Weigh in below.

While we're at it, who can forget 2008's greatest hit, the Clean Coal Carolers? Last Christmas, they brought us delightful hits like "Clean Coal Night," "Deck the Halls with Clean Coal," and "O Technology," at least until some PR person at ACCCE realized what an awful idea this was and yanked them off the internet. Thank goodness Treehugger saved the video for posterity. Here's my personal favorite, "Frosty the Coal Man":

Nuclear Lab Accidentally Blows Up Building

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 2:16 PM EST

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico accidentally blew up a building on December 16 with a Civil War-style cannon. According to an occurrence report [pdf], which was first reported by the Project on Government Oversight, the lab's Shock and Detonation Physics team was testing a large-bore powder gun when they heard a "loud unusual noise."

About 20 minutes later, the researchers ventured out of their bunker to see what had happened. Upon further investigation of the facility’s Technical Area 15, the team discovered that Building 562 had been blown apart. Two doors were "propelled off the structure" and concrete shielding blocks were blasted off the walls. Parts of the cannon were also found lying on the asphalt nearby. The Facility Operations Director declared a "management concern" regarding the explosion. No-one was hurt, but sources told POGO that damages could cost $3 million. The lab reported that it has conducted a "critique" of the incident.

This is not the first time that Los Alamos has fallen short when it comes to safety and security matters. In early 2009, it emerged that the nation's major nuclear weapons lab had misplaced at least 67 computers sensitive information, and others had been stolen from a lab employee. The facility has also come under fire in recent years for, among other things, failing to properly protect nuclear materials and shipping a deadly radioative package by Fedex.

 

Gun Owner Nabbed Near Obama Was Bush Employee

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:25 AM EST

The man who was arrested with two guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition near the Capitol during President Barack Obama's health care speech in September had been an employee of the George W. Bush White House. The arrest of the man, Joshua Bowman, was widely reported at the time, but the news stories made no mention of his previous employment: For several years he worked in the Executive Office of the President, dealing with tech issues, including White House emails, his lawyer, George Braun, tells Mother Jones.

On the night of September 9, Bowman was on his way to meet Braun, a Bush administration political appointee, at the National Republican Club on First Street, SE when he was stopped by Capitol Police around 7:45 p.m.—minutes before Obama was scheduled to deliver a major address to Congress pushing his health care initiative. Bowman had driven up to a security checkpoint and told officers he wanted to park, but his lack of a permit for the area aroused their suspicions, and they asked to search his car.

Bowman had a bumper sticker like this one on his car, according to court records. (Patriot Depot).Bowman had a bumper sticker like this one on his car, according to court records. (Patriot Depot).The previous weekend, Bowman and Braun had gone duck-hunting, according to Braun. But Bowman forgot that he still had the guns in his car when he consented to a search of his vehicle, a Honda Civic with a bumper sticker proclaiming, "I'll keep my guns, freedom, and money.... you keep the change." The officers found a Beretta 12 gauge semi-automatic* shotgun, a .22 caliber long rifle, and over 400 rounds of ammunition in Bowman's trunk. The guns were unloaded and in their cases, according to court records. Braun says they were disassembled. The Capitol Police took Bowman into custody and charged him with two counts of possession of an unregistered firearm and one count of unlawful possession of ammunition. He faced up to $3,000 in fines and as much as three years in jail. (The case is still pending.)

When Braun—who was at the National Republican Club, hanging out with congressmen including Iowa's Tom Latham and Nebraska's Lee Terry—finally heard from Bowman, it was around 10 p.m. Bowman told Braun he needed Braun to get him out of jail, explaining that he had been stopped with guns in his car. "Don't you know that's illegal?" Braun asked.  Both men were surprised when they heard the story on the radio as they left jail the next day. Braun thought the coverage was excessive. "They were making him sound like a terrorist," Braun said. "Does [Bowman] look like a terrorist? He has the élan to walk around with a bowtie."

Braun suggested that Bowman was only caught with the guns because he was used to having a White House security pass and expected to be able to park near the Capitol. He probably wouldn't have been stopped and searched by Capitol Police if he had still had the pass. He had left government employ just a few weeks earlier, having landed a high-paying job at Northrop Grumman. "He hung out for a long time. He worked for a Republican administration and he was pretty much the last person in the Democratic administration. It's not that he thought the new administration was right or wrong—it's called 'a year and a day,' and Josh was there for six," Braun said, referring to the Washington tradition of working a government job for long enough to put it on your resume and then leaving for a higher-paid private sector gig.

It seems pretty clear that Bowman wasn't planning anyone any harm when he drove to Capitol Hill in September. Braun claims the Secret Service was unconcerned about the incident (no federal charges were filed) because they knew Bowman from his years in the White House. But having unregistered guns in the District of Columbia is illegal (although perhaps not for much longer if gun rights advocates continue to win court challenges), and Bowman certainly made a big mistake. Even his girlfriend thought so. "His girlfriend called me up and asked, 'Is my boyfriend the stupidest guy in the world or what?'" Braun said. For the moment, it's unclear whether that mistake will land Bowman in jail.

*An earlier version of this article described the shotgun as automatic.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 23, 2009

Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:23 AM EST

Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, listens to community leaders of Nawa district discuss recent events at a lunch party Dec. 8. The celebration was held at the district administrator’s residence in honor of McCollough and 1/5’s success in the district over the past five months. McCollough, known throughout Nawa as "Colonel Bill," dressed in traditional Afghan clothes and a headdress out of sincere respect to Afghan culture. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill.)

Need To Read: December 23, 2009

Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:20 AM EST

Today's must reads will be on vacation Thursday and Friday:

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Jesse Ventura Body-Slams the Climate Change "Conspiracy"

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:00 AM EST

Jesse "The Body" Ventura, the erstwhile professional wrestler, Navy Seal, motorcycle gang member, and governor of Minnesota, has embarked upon yet another career: investigator of nefarious plots. This month, Ventura launched a show called "Conspiracy Theory" on TruTV which claims to shine light on "the most frightening and mysterious conspiracy allegations of our time." So far Ventura has explored whether 9/11 was an inside job (he doesn't buy the 9/11 Commission's official explanation) and whether the government is testing mind-control weaponry at a secret base in Alaska. (Conclusion: "I learned that radio waves really can get inside your head. They got inside mine.") And in another recent episode, he takes on "the global warming scam."

"Whether global warming is real or not, some people may be using the issue to earn billions of dollars, start a one-world government and control people's lives," warns the teaser on the website for TruTV (formerly known as Court TV). In the show, a voiceover promises that "Jesse Ventura finds the direct link between global warming and a plot to rule the world."

Enter Ventura, who spends much of the 60-minute show skulking around in a black leather jacket, meeting gravelly voiced informants in abandoned warehouses for no apparent reason. "I never thought I'd be investigating global warming. I believe it's real and that saving the planet is good," intones Ventura. "But now I'm on my way to see a guy named Noel Sheppard. He says he has proof that some people are using global warming as an excuse to make money and control the world. That's a conspiracy I want to expose."

Ventura sets up a "clandestine meeting" in a deserted San Francisco courtyard with Sheppard, who is described as an "investigative journalist." This not-exactly-elusive figure—he is a writer for Newsbusters.org—has it on good authority from Russian tabloids that "the earth is now on the brink of entering another Ice Age." He also believes that the occurrence of snowstorms disproves global warming. Ventura learns that climate change may in fact be a vast and elaborate hoax—perpetrated, as he puts it, for "Power. Money. Control."

So Ventura dispatches his team of expert investigators to uncover the truth. These super sleuths fail to locate the thousands of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or other preeminent institutions who have spent years studying the phenomenon of planetary warming. Instead, they visit three scientists suggested by Sheppard. 

One of Ventura's hard-hitting investigators—June Sarpong, formerly a reporter on a British youth entertainment show—travels by what appears to be a passenger ferry to an undisclosed location to meet Dr. X, a scientist who is "hiding for his life." June frets that someone is following her (presumably someone other than Ventura's camera crew). In order to protect Dr. X from the climate change mafia, he is never named and nor are his credentials revealed. Sitting in deep shadow, he reveals that while he believes the planet is warming, the culprit isn't carbon dioxide. It's the sun. "There's absolutely no question the sun is virtually ignored by the authorities," he says.

Sean Hannity's Bogus Russian Climate Scandal

| Tue Dec. 22, 2009 8:50 PM EST

Late last week, Fox's Sean Hannity sent global warming skeptics into their biggest tizzy since ClimateGate when he announced that "a major Russian climate change organization dropped a bombshell:

The Institute of Economic Analysis now claims that much of its climate data was tampered with by a leading British research center. In fact, they say that any of their data that could help disprove global warming was simply ignored. Not exactly the news that all the alarmists in Copenhagen were now hoping for.

The conservative media has seized upon Hannity's "bombshell" as apparent confirmation that ClimateGate was but the tip of a solidly frozen iceberg. "Climategate goes SERIAL," crowed a blogger for the UK Telegraph, joining a chorus of triumphant skeptics in the Washington Times, the Investors Business Daily, and the Examiner.com, which described the IEA as a "key Russian ministry." What none of them mentioned is that the IEA is actually a libertarian think tank that has no scientific expertise in climatology but numerous ties to industry-backed climate change denial groups in the United States. (Needless to say, British scientists never tampered with the IEA's "data" or any other climate data)

As Media Matters first noted, IEA president Andrei Illarionov is a fellow at the US-based Cato Institute, a champion of climate change skepticism. The IEA is itself a member of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change, a group formed by the ExxonMobil-backed International Policy Network "as a response to the many biased and alarmist claims about human-induced climate change;" the DC-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation's Freedom To Trade Campaign, which circulated a "Petition Against Green Protectionism" in advance of the Copenhagen talks; and a network of global warming denying think tanks overseen by Canada's Fraser Institute, which is in turn backed by ExxonMobil and the oil-funded Koch family foundations. Illarinov has a long history of parroting the fossil fuel industry's climate claims. In 2004, he told the Moscow Times that the Kyoto Treaty will kill off the European economy like "an international Auschwitz."

Illarionov isn't alone. The IEA is part of a loose network of some 500 similar organizations in dozens of countries that are often bankrolled by American foundations that are, in turn, backed by carbon-spewing American industries. For a complete take on how they're working to end the modest progress made in Copenhagen, read today's story, Deniers Without Borders.

 

 

Fiore Cartoon: Consumption Holidays

Tue Dec. 22, 2009 7:05 PM EST

Ah, the holidays: that wonderful time of year when shopping, Chinese imports, and consumerism sweep the nation. Just like Jesus intended.

Watch satirist Mark Fiore's cartoon about the magical season below:

Top 10 Ethics Scandals of 2009

| Tue Dec. 22, 2009 3:09 PM EST

Christmas came early today when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington revealed their "Top Ten Ethics Scandals" of 2009. It’s their third annual list, and is jam-packed with titillating/depressing breaches of ethics in both the legislative and executive branches. A must-read for all observers of crooked ambition and unchecked hubris in the political sphere. 

Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford made the naughty list by taking secret trips to Argentina to see his mistress, possibly financing said trysts with state funds. (Happens to the best of us.) Filed under "Gov. Mark Sanford’s Excellent Argentinian Adventure," the scandal comes complete with a recommendation for accountability:

CREW’s holiday wish: For the South Carolina's Attorney General and the State Ethics
Commission to find the governor violated state laws, forcing him (finally!) to do the honorable
thing and resign. This would allow the state's government to focus on serving the citizens of
South Carolina, where nearly one in four adults are unemployed.

Other outrages include:

•   Federal "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg’s failure to stop financial firms that received TARP funds from kicking up exorbitant bonuses to execs.

•   The SEC's sixteen-year failure to stop Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme.

•   Loads of criminal and ethics violations committed by Senator John Ensign (R-NV) to cover up his affair with a campaign staffer, who also happened to be married to a member of his office staff.

Why do I suddenly feel the need to bathe? Anyway, don't forget to read the whole finger-wagging report, which won me over by having both a sense of ethical responsibility and a philosophical sense of humor. After all, at the end of the day, you just have to laugh about it. Then, once you're through laughing, feel free to weep for a few hours.