Political MoJo

Rewarding Polluters Fuels Gulf Of Mexico Dead Zone

| Thu Jun. 28, 2007 9:39 PM EDT

A new study determines that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. This is an area of coastal waters -- visited in MoJo's The Fate Of The Ocean -- where dissolved-oxygen concentrations fall to less than 2 parts per million every summer. According to a paper published at Environmental Science & Technology Online, these findings bode poorly for the Gulf, as more and more acres of land are planted with corn to meet the growing U.S. demand for alternative fuels. Farmers in areas with the highest rates of fertilizer runoff tend to receive the biggest payouts in federal crop subsidies, says Mary Booth, lead author of the paper. What's more, they have fewer acres enrolled in conservation programs compared with other parts of the Mississippi River basin. Agricultural nitrate loading could be reduced substantially if farmers took just 3% of the most intensively farmed land out of production.JULIA WHITTY

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Monaghan's Ave Maria Town Open for Piety

| Thu Jun. 28, 2007 11:20 AM EDT

So GQ nabbed an interview with the ever-elusive Tom Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza mogul turned Catholic-utopia builder. Monaghan wouldn't talk with MoJo when we covered the development of his $400 million university, Ave Maria, earlier this year. But GQ is different; he can tell them things like, "If I didn't have my faith, I'd make Hugh Hefner look like a piker."

Hef allusions aside, the GQ profile digs into Monaghan's motivations for building what will become a Catholic universe set amidst former panther habitat. Turns out he's always wanted to be an architect, and is now living his dream having built the anti-Las Vegas, complete with a towering cathedral and town square modeled after Siena, Italy, all tucked in the middle of the Florida Everglades.

The town, which the WSJ once compared to a "Catholic Jonestown," will be as pious as possible; if Monaghan had his way contraceptives and pornography would be outlawed. After all, his goals are big ones; he plans to "reinvent hometown living," one condo at a time.

Please Describe To the Jury What Happened..."Sounds Like..."

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 8:11 PM EDT

Tory Bowen of Nebraska says that she was raped, but testifying in court is a little difficult because the judge, Jeffre Cheuvront, has instructed her that neither she nor the prosecutors can use the following words: "rape," "sexual assault," "victim," assailant," "sexual assault kit." The words were banned at the request of defense attorneys, who also wanted the words "sex" and "intercourse" banned, but the judge did not go that far, presumably because the trial would then have been reduced to a game of charades. The jury will not be informed that the words have been banned.

This is the second time around for the accused, Pamir Safi. His first trial resulted in a hung jury when jurors deadlocked, 7-5. The banned words were in place at that trial, too.

Apparently, rape defense lawyers throughout the country are asking that the word "rape" not be used by the alleged victim and the prosecutor. This made me wonder whether anyone had asked an alleged armed robbery victim not to use the words "steal," "rob," and "gun." Or whether a witness to a murder has been barred from saying "murder," "kill," or "dead." I'm guessing the answer is no. Indeed, law professor Wendy Murphy of the New England School of Law says that "that is a profoundly unfair thing for a judge to do. I have a problem with the idea that you can compel a witness to contrive their testimony. I have a problem (with a judge) directing a witness, not the government, to say certain words. It impugns their candor, their credibility."

And, Murphy added, Bowen won't be able to explain to jurors why she's using clinical words--or, worse, words that imply consent--when she describes the encounter with Safi.

Glass Houses

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 6:10 PM EDT

The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the president and the v. president of the Senate today for information related to the warrantless wiretapping program. The subpoena is a result of the ever-expanding examination of what the hell is wrong with Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department. I'm all but certain it won't unearth anything of value, but there's a lesson in it, nonetheless: If you're going to stretch the boundaries of the law, you have be competent enough not to beg for an investigation. In other words, the Bush administration might have gotten away with its attempt to stretch the law so aggressively that a handful of officials threatened to resign if there hadn't been a sh-t show so big that everybody and his dad got a chance to air their grievances before the Senate and the American public. On the other hand, the word impeachment remains strangely absent from Democratic discourse, so maybe you can have your cake and eat it, messily, while also throwing stones from your glass house. See what I'm sayin'?

Chris Rock(s) 2008

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 5:22 PM EDT

Mother Jones Makes Chicago Tribune's Annual 50 Favorite Magazines List

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 4:37 PM EDT

Hot(tish) off the Chicago Tribune presses, their list of the magazines they consider to be the best in the country.

"Every year we ask each other what periodicals we've been reading, and then we ask you. Every year we argue about what makes a good magazine and why we rush to pick up certain titles or swipe them from a neighbor's desk. We urge each other to try something new, and we smack our foreheads when a title bubbles up that we'd completely missed."

"...Mother Jones. As well-written, at its best, as anything out there (check out the story on the guy who gets 60 miles per gallon in a plain old Honda Accord), Mother Jones is a lot better than we remembered. Unabashedly liberal but more entertaining than the Nation and journalistically oriented but more passionate than the news weeklies, it fills a need we didn't know we had."

They like us, they really, really like us! We're one of only six mags given a shout-out in the news/business/point of view category. And if you're into who got dissed—and there are some most notable exceptions—I've pasted the whole list in after the jump.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Cheney Smackdown

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 3:26 PM EDT


Dick Cheney has claimed that his office is not subject to National Security Archives oversight of its handling of classified information because the vice president, as president of the Senate, is not part of the executive branch. Yet, to avoid public scrutiny of his meetings with energy industry leaders, Cheney declared that going public "would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch." Question 1: Does this contempt for the constitution violate Cheney's promise to uphold the same document?

Cheney apparently considers himself his own special branch of government, outside the requirements of democracy—and perversely, he may just have a point. The report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (more here) reveals that outsourcing of government responsibilities to private contractors is "the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending." And Halliburton, the company Cheney once led and from which he continues to receive payment, has taken the lion's share of the growing business. Halliburton saw a six-fold increase in its income from government contracts under the VP—err, Senate President's watch. Question 2: Is this ethical?

So maybe the Dark Lord's ultimate agenda is simply personal greed. ThinkProgress points out that Cheney's stock options are worth more than 300 times more now than they were at the start of his second term. By contrast, the taxpayers have not profited from the arrangement. The House report concludes that 118 contracts—worth $745.5 billion—"experienced significant overcharges, wasteful spending, or mismanagement." Question 3: How is this not impeachable?

Blogger Hubris 2.0

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 3:21 PM EDT

I've enjoyed reading the insightful blogger responses to Mother Jones' "Fight Different" package on internet politics. I've also enjoyed the less insightful ones. I was particularly entertained by this morning's post on Techpresident, which is (usually) a smart group blog on everything politics 2.0. Techprez blogger Alan Rosenblatt has decided today that the mainstream media is too obsessed with his ilk (if he's flattered, it doesn't show) and that they're failing to look more broadly at "how the web is playing an enormous role in all aspects of politics." Singled out for specific calumny is our very own bastion of old thinking:

[A]fter reading so much mainstream press coverage about Politics 2.0 lately (for example, in Mother Jones this month), one might conclude that the sun rises and sets only on blogs and the bloggers that write them. There is so much more to online campaigning that we do ourselves a great disservice when we narrow our focus too much on blogs.

Thank you, Alan, for helping me understand why blog discourse often reduces to phrases such as "fucking dumbass."

If Alan had actually read the package, he'd see one story on bloggers out of four main pieces and 27 published interviews with netizens, digerati and politicos. Here's what Alan says Mother Jones is missing, which, since he's too lazy to look for himself, I've conveniently linked to stories in the package that deal with each subject: "the web is playing an enormous role in all aspects of politics, including fundraising, volunteer organizing, message dissemination, and voter engagement through social networks and social media." That's brilliant, Alan. Thanks for letting us know.

The most interesting thing about the Techpresident post is how it illustrates the blogosphere as echo chamber. Some bloggers earn their soup by setting up the old media as a paper doll to be burned, which works fine as long as nobody reads the old media to see what they're actually saying and nobody in the old media reads the blogs and bothers to debunk them when they're wrong. Fortunately, I see some light at the end of the tunnel here. For one, Mother Jones has a blog (hi, Alan!) and we can tinkle on logos just like the Calvinists.

All of this is not to say that Techpresident is a lame blog. I'm glad that Techprez blogger Cfinnie linked to my interview with Howard Dean (thanks, Cfinnie!). Too bad Alan doesn't read his colleagues either.

PS: I want to include a link to the blog of Seth Finkelstein, who is quite well-informed about many of the same issues we are discussing here and in the blog post on Rosen. I highly suggest following the links he's pasted into the comments below, and in his post. Also see our post from Dan Schulman for discussion about gatekeepers.

Waste in Federal Contracts Now More Than $1 Trillion

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

Last year California Rep. Henry Waxman released an in-depth report on government-contract spending under the Bush Administration. It found that:

  • Between 2000 and 2005, federal procurement spending rose by over 80%.
  • No-bid and other contracts awarded without full and open competition increased by more than 100%.
  • Contract mismanagement led to rising waste, fraud, and abuse in federal contracting.
  • Today Waxman released this year's analysis, which shows that what was already bad has actually gotten much worse.

  • For the first time EVER the federal government has passed $400 billion threshold in contracts for the year.
  • More than half of this spending — more than $200 billion in new contracts — was awarded without full and open competition.
  • The total value of wasteful federal contracts now exceeds $1 trillion.
  • Get the full rundown, and have a look at specific contracts, here.

    Louisiana to Make "Partial-Birth Abortion" a Crime

    | Wed Jun. 27, 2007 11:42 AM EDT

    Yesterday a Louisiana House bill that would criminalize so-called partial-birth abortions passed 104-0. Never mind that there is no such thing as partial-birth abortion, it is still mentioned by name 18 times in the three-page bill. If passed, the law will allow the sentencing of doctors who perform abortions to up to 10 years of "hard labor" and a fine of up to $100,000 (which actually seems low; why not really go for broke and slam them with million-dollar fines?). The bill would also allow the mother, father, or maternal grandparents if the woman is underage to sue the doctor for damages.

    The bill makes an exception for cases where a mother's life is threatened (but not for cases of rape and incest), which is often precisely when doctors use the technique, usually in later-term abortions, of removing a fetus from the uterus whole to avoid harm during extraction.

    This is a ban on 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions without saying as much, but it also eliminates a type of procedure that could save a woman's life at any point in her pregnancy. Does it fly in the face of Roe? Sure, but such bills are du jour: Already, 31 states ban the procedure, and now Louisiana is upping the ante, ensuring that women in their recovering state will have to search far and wide to find an abortion doctor willing to help them.