2010 - %3, December

The Cover of the Mother Jones

| Mon Dec. 20, 2010 7:00 AM EST

[Read also: The Mother Jones editors-in-chief on Haiti vs. pot.]

When I turned in a story about Burmese refugees late last year, my mom thought (based partly on the sheer staggering size of it—it came in at more than 10,000 words) that it was going to be on the cover of Mother Jones. When it wasn't, because this creepy dude was, she dragged my uncles Ted and George, my aunts Paula and Kim, and my 80-year-old grandmother into a friend's studio to complain about it to the tune of Dr. Hook's "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," then sent the recording to me. 

Well, guess what. Despite one of my coworkers telling me she couldn't read it past the first paragraph and another saying it gave her nightmares, my Haiti feature is on the cover of the new subscribers' issue of Mother Jones. (The newsstand version sports a more fun/less horrifying topic: pot.) In honor of my mother's wish being fulfilled (and because I have a really high threshold for embarrassment), I'm sharing the best song-present ever. (Speaking of pot, comma, my mother's affinity for, be prepared for congas. And kind of a nonsequitur about my father, her ex-husband, being a pervert. I think the song's writer, Shel Silverstein, would be...pleased?)

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Looking for Charitable Christmas Gifts?

| Fri Dec. 17, 2010 12:07 PM EST

Let's say last night you couldn't sleep for the panic of having done nothing for the people you want or have (damn organized gift exchanges) to buy presents for this Christmas. Allow me to recommend this post about socially conscious gifts, like donating a goat to a rural family in a developing nation. I originally put it together due to a similar panic around Mother's Day, but the links are all still valid. Now all I have to do is decide whether my 16-year-old cousin will feel warm and fuzzy and like she gained important perspective or totally shafted if I give her a card that says Merry Christmas: An AIDS orphan has been educated in your name! 

Execution Joke of the Day

| Thu Dec. 16, 2010 4:12 PM EST

Did you know that the state of New Hampshire (Live Free or Die!) has only one person on death row? Also FYI, as Amnesty International reports, New Hampshire Republic Senator-elect Kelly Ayotte's friends think that guy's death sentence is hilarious. Read this email exchange, which occured between Ayotte and close political adviser Robert Varsalone just as she kicked off her plans to run for senator, for the punchline:

"Have you been following the last 2 week.  A police officer was killed and I announced that I would seek the death penalty," Ayotte responded to Varsalone in the Oct 27, 2006 e-mail.

"I know, I read about it.  Where does [then-Attorney General] Ayotte stand on the Death Penalty? BY THE SWITCH."

See what he did there?

The Price of Covering the BP Oil Spill

| Wed Dec. 15, 2010 8:11 PM EST

Some Mother Jones end-of-the-year fundraising copy came across my desk yesterday (you'll probably see it in the box to the right), and the part that points out that our content is "expensive for us to produce" has inspired me to share the numbers from my very long assignment reporting on the BP oil spill. So what did it cost to keep me covering the Gulf all summer long?

Well, first, here's what it should have cost: $45,000, at least.

There were plane tickets, car rentals, cabs to and from airports. Meals and snacks and enough water to combat a heat index of 105°. A place to sleep for 120 nights. Four months worth of paychecks plus benefits like health care. Then add in all sorts of random extras like steel-toe boots so I could walk around on the relief well, laminated nautical maps for kayaking around the Louisiana barrier islands, gas to drive to Pensacola, and the pricey door charge of female-oil-wrestling events.

But this was a trip of great resourcefulness and thrift. I persuaded people I knew in New Orleans, as well as Grand Isle-based Twitter followers, to let me stay at their houses. I bribed these people. Generally it was with bottles of nice booze. Often it also involved going to the grocery store, plus cooking meals and/or doing the dishes; sometimes it was a matter of watching some kids, driving the kids to school, giving the whole house a hardcore Midwesterner's scrub-down. As a result, 16 weeks of lodging—one of the biggest pieces of the reporting-budget pie—cost Mother Jones about $2,000. I also cut my exorbitant car rental charges in half when I ingratiated myself with someone who was going out of town and lent me his pickup truck for a month, then worked a combination of public transit, occasional cabs, and borrowed rides for another month.

So in the end, the bill for my reporting extravaganza was deeply discounted, but it was still far from cheap: about $30,000. And that doesn't include institutional overhead, or web costs, or all the hours my brilliant editor had to spend untangling my sentences and reminding me via email that I swear too much. Nor does it include the wages and expenses of the rest of the (award-winning) Mother Jones oil-spill-reporting team, with Kate Sheppard busting ass in DC and Julia Whitty briefly joining me down South and editors blogging and webmasters staging and so on.

And then I went straight from the Gulf to Haiti, which is like the most expensive place in the world.

There's your partial breakdown from just one-half of a year from my little corner of the magazine. It's what our editors in chief call The Price of Truth. "Sure, information wants to be free," they wrote in an ed note last year. "Alas, it's not." 

(You can contribute to Mother Jones via credit card or PayPal. Just btw.)

Haiti Votes, Then Burns

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 7:11 PM EST

Lucas Oleniuk/Zumapress.comLucas Oleniuk/Zumapress.comThe results of Haiti's election are in: Former first lady Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestin are the front-runners who will move on to the next round on January 19. President Rene Preval, who's backing Celestin, is not particularly popular, but Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, one of the candidates who did not make it to the runoff, is. Now the populace is engaging in the important Haitian political tradition of setting shit on fire.

Preval took to the radio to tell people to stop trying to burn the country down, but observers say his speech is unlikely to calm the protesters. Nor is Sweet Micky, a superfamous singer whose performances mix camp with sociopolitics (and cousin of another wildly famous musician, Richard Morse, best known outside Haiti as Twitter user @RAMhaiti), backing down on his vow to challenge the results.

Haitians aren't the only ones doubting the race's legitimacy. Canada is threatening to not recognize the results. A leaked memo sent last year by a US ambassador to Haiti said Preval's "overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for Preval." On Tuesday, the US Embassy said that it was skeptical Celestin could have advanced to the runoff. One freelance journalist in Port-au-Prince says an elections commission member straight-up told him that the government fixed the elections (h/t @lisahoashi):

"President Preval put pressure on us," he explained, "we were forced to include Celestin in the second round." I was shocked, this man was clearly scared for his life, yet he was divulging this huge bomb of information that the President of Haiti forced one candidate out of the run-off, and inserted his own hand-picked candidate into his place. 

Whether or not the anonymous worker's fraud claims are true, he is probably right about the end result: "We kicked Martelly out of the race, and now the people are going to destroy the city."

You can keep tabs on them doing so on the Flickr stream of the always excellent user Gaetantguevara.

UPDATE: The president of the electoral council has announced a recount, which international observers and the top three candidates are invited to attend. Questions of ballot-stuffing and thrown-out votes have yet to be resolved.

What Next for San Fran's Sit/Lie Law?

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 2:26 PM EST

I didn't even realize Proposition L had passed—it doesn't seem like something that would in San Francisco—until a whole day after Election Day. I started to sit on a sidewalk to wait for an outside bar table on one of our five annual warm nights when my friend said, "Oh, this is illegal now."

The law that bans sitting or lying on city sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. passed with 54 percent approval after Mayor Gavin Newsom put it on the November ballot, after he put it before the Board of Supervisors in June and they were like, no way. Put to the popular vote, the pros of "afford[ing] everyone accessibility and civility on our sidewalks" and protecting the world from "hostile" and "confrontational" homeless people beat out the cons of infringing on citizens' right to sit in a lot of the city's public areas. (Some of the opponents of the law awesomely pointed out that the sidewalk campaigning the proponents are doing in this picture would be illegal.) 

So what happens now that "Civil Sidewalks" are law? It's time for the San Francisco Police Department to train its officers how to enforce them. Lieutenant Lyn Tomioka explained to me that City Hall, the mayor's office, homeless and youth groups, businesses, and the officers' commission are working together to come up with a training manual. The exact details are still up in the air, but whatever form it takes, Tomioka stressed several times, "it will be very thoughtful." And I really don't doubt it. Every interaction I've ever seen a San Francisco cop initiate with a homeless person has been superpolite. 

This law isn't aimed at me, and enforcement may or may not be, but what would police say to two upwardly mobile white gals sitting outside a Mission bar? What would they do if said gals become "hostile" or "confrontational"? We should know what the new sit/lie manual calls for soon. Tomioka says the cops' training will likely start in January, and that I can sit in. 

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How to Help Haiti

| Mon Dec. 6, 2010 8:07 PM EST

Read human rights reporter Mac McClelland's dispatch from Haiti, or see the full Mother Jones special report on Haiti's reconstruction.

Since I live-tweeted about my day with a rape survivor in Haiti and ran this story about a displacement camp in Port-au-Prince—and now, additionally, there's the cholera crisis—we've gotten a LOT of letters from people who want to know who's making a difference in the beleaguered country. This info will appear as a handy sidebar in the January issue of Mother Jones, but in the meantime, here are some groups doing great on-the-ground work—plus a bonus charity involving underpants.

KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims) and FAVILEK (Women Victims Get Up Stand Up)
Founded and run by Haitian rape survivors, both of these organizations assist victims with medical, legal, and moral support, in addition to building a movement against sexual violence. Visit them here and (through an American partner) here, respectively. 

Partners in Health
The group cofounded by American superdoctor Paul Farmer has been battling health care problems in Haiti since 1987, and now it's at the forefront of the cholera response. The J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Sean Penn's charity, is also teaming up with PIH to tackle the disease.

KONPAY (Working Together for Haiti)
Provides assistance and support to grassroots environmental, women’s, and human-rights groups. Since the quake, KONPAY has also fought to get Haitian voices included in foreign-run relief and reconstruction meetings. konpay.org.

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
In addition to providing legal support to Haitians and creating a force of Haitian human-rights lawyers and advocates with its partner, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Boston-based IJDH publishes extensive reports that keep a light on conditions in the displacement camps.

PACT
Somebody gave me a pair of this company's organic man-panties recently, so I can personally attest to their awesomeness. But more important, every pair you order from the Winter Lights collection gets a solar-powered lantern donated to a displaced woman or family in Haiti.