MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Biden's White House Ambitions May Die in Iowa—Again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Joe Biden's 2008 campaign died on the evening of the Iowa caucuses. "So many of you have sacrificed for me and I am so indebted to you,"&nbsp;Biden <a href="">told supporters</a> in a speech in Des Moines announcing that he was <a href="" target="_blank">shutting down</a> his campaign, shortly after the results had come in. "I feel no regret. I ain't goin' away." Biden, then a senator from Delaware, had staked his entire campaign on a strong showing in the caucuses. He spent months bouncing around the state from campaign event to campaign event, but he came up well short. He finished in fifth place, with just 1 percent of the caucus delegates, behind not only the marquee candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, but also Bill Richardson.</p> <p>If Biden decides to run for president again in 2016, he'll surely draw more support, thanks to his increased public profile after serving as Obama's vice president for the past seven years. But Iowa will once again pose problems for his presidential ambitions, particularly with such a late entry into the race. Caucus votes will be cast five months from now, and so far there is scant evidence of a groundswell behind Biden in the state&mdash;or the organization to bring it about.</p> <p>Recent polls have put Biden far behind Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa. The veep drew just 14 percent in a <em>Des Moines Register</em> <a href="">poll</a> released this week, compared with 37 percent for Clinton and 30 percent for Sanders. (Biden supporters argue that his numbers are high for someone who has yet to start an official campaign.) In the Democratic caucuses, a candidate needs at least 15 percent support in a precinct in order to win any delegates, a bar Biden currently falls under statewide.</p> <p>There doesn't appear to be much movement toward an official Biden campaign in Iowa either, according to old Biden hands in the state. "There's been interest, there's been conversations," says one Biden 2008 Iowa staffer who requested anonymity due to continued involvement in state politics. "There's been outreach at the first level [of close Biden friends], but it hasn't been intense." Some of his longtime supporters have yet to hear from that inner circle, though. "Our sense is that it's more possible that he's going to run than not run," says state Sen. Tony Bisignano, a supporter of Biden's 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns. "It seems much more likely." What gives Bisignano that sense? "We're just hearing the news and reading different stories about it," he says. He hasn't heard anything beyond that.</p> <p>Bisignano is part of a <a href="">small band of elected officials</a> in Iowa who have endorsed Draft Biden, a super-PAC started earlier this year to encourage the vice president to enter the race. The Chicago-based group <a href="">started off as a small-time outfit</a> of former low-level Obama staffers and volunteers, and got off to a slow start, raising just $80,000 in the first half of the year. Even as it has gradually been ramping up over the past month, <a href="">bringing on</a> a slew of former Biden staffers, the group has a small Iowa footprint.</p> <p>Clinton and Sanders already have massive field teams working the ground to identify supporters in Iowa. According to a spokesperson for the Sanders campaign, the senator has 53 paid organizers working out of 15 field offices in Iowa. As of early June, the Clinton campaign <a href="">tallied</a> 47 paid organizers in Iowa.</p> <p>Draft Biden, on the other hand, didn't bring on an Iowa state director until June. And that director, James Rigdon, spent just two months in the state before moving to Chicago to work as the group's national outreach director. Draft Biden recently hired a new state director and two other paid organizers in the state. "First and foremost, it's going to be outreach to volunteers and supporters who have already signed up, and there are plenty of those to make a continued hit with," Rigdon says of the new hires. "Beyond that, it's going to be attending the county party meetings and attending any other local events across the state. Just getting the word out that Draft Biden is for real, this isn't a flash in the pan or a desperate attempt, we are a force to be reckoned with."</p> <p>But that force of potential volunteers to be organized is still a small pool. Draft Biden has gained more than 200,000 signatures for its petition encouraging Biden to run. Rigdon boasted that 6,000 of those signatures had come from supporters who live in Iowa&mdash;hardly the makings of a grassroots army.</p> <p>Still, Biden's Iowa fans are optimistic that the campaign could ramp up rapidly should the vice president officially enter the race. "I think the Democratic race needs to get reenergized," Bisignano says. "I think it has fallen flat this summer. With the Clinton issues, it's a constant flow of negativity and negative discussion. Biden would bring a breath of fresh air to the enthusiasm here."</p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Elections Top Stories iowa caucuses Joe Biden Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:00:12 +0000 Patrick Caldwell 283151 at Jeb Bush Says He Helped Save Thousands of Ethiopian Jews. Here's What Really Happened. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Did Jeb Bush help launch a covert mission to airlift thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 1980s, saving them from starvation?</p> <p>He says he did. Twice in the past week his campaign has posted blog posts on its website making this claim in order to tout Bush's record on Israel and to show his foreign policy chops. One <a href="" target="_blank">reads</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>In the 1980's thousands of members of the Jewish community had fled their homeland due to famine for a refugee camp in Sudan. Jeb, hearing of the conditions in the camp and the persecution these Jews were suffering, suggested to Reagan-Bush officials that the United States had a duty to support a massive airlift. The resulting effort, Operation Moses, made history when Israeli planes, with American support, brought these Jews to the homeland of the Jewish people, the State of Israel.</p> </blockquote> <p>But Bush's campaign boast is false. Bush, then 31 years old and a fledgling developer in Miami, had nothing to do with with Operation Moses, the secret operation that rescued nearly 8,000 Jews in Africa. And he played no role in triggering the rescue effort by prodding the Reagan-Bush administration to take action. However, he&mdash;and several other Americans&mdash;did play a bit part in a subsequent effort to rescue about 900 Ethiopian Jews left behind when Operation Moses was halted abruptly in early 1985.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2015/08/jeb-bush-ethiopian-jews-israel-operation-moses"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics 2016 Elections Human Rights Jeb Bush Top Stories Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:00:11 +0000 Stephanie Mencimer 283091 at Coal Companies Are Dying While Their Execs Grab More Cash <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>These are dark days for coal. In July, the industry hit a milestone when a major power company announced plans to shutter several coal-fired power plants in Iowa: More than <a href="" target="_blank">200 coal plants have been scheduled for closure</a> since 2010, meaning nearly one-fifth of the US coal fleet is headed for retirement. President Barack Obama's <a href="" target="_blank">recently completed climate plan</a>, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, is designed to keep this trend going over the next decade. But the industry <a href="" target="_blank">was in deep trouble</a> even before Obama's crackdown, thanks to the rock-bottom price of natural gas made possible by America's fracking boom.</p> <p>In case the shutdown of hundreds of coal plants wasn't a sufficient indicator of the industry collapse, here's another clue: coal companies' rapidly deteriorating bottom lines.</p> <p>A <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> this spring from the Carbon Tracker Institute found that over the past five years, coal producers have closed nearly 300 mines and lost 76 percent of their value. In August, Alpha Natural Resources, the country's <a href="" target="_blank">second-largest coal company</a>, filed for bankruptcy, making it the biggest domino to fall in a string of more than two dozen corporate collapses during the past couple of years. On Monday, one of the company's top executives <a href="" target="_blank">resigned</a>. Meanwhile, shares of Peabody Energy, the world's biggest coal company, hit their lowest price ever, dipping below $1. A year ago, Peabody's share price was hovering above $15; it peaked at $72 back in 2011. The stock plunge at Arch Coal was even more extreme&mdash;it fell from $3,600 to under $2 between 2011 and August 2015. (It has since rebounded slightly.) This year, both companies have been among the <a href="" target="_blank">worst performers in the S&amp;P 500</a>.</p> <p>You might think that the leaders of coal companies would be made to pay the price for these failures. But in the perverse world of American corporate compensation, they are, in fact, getting a raise.</p> <p>According to a <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> today from the Institute for Policy Studies, which bills itself as the country's oldest progressive think tank, executive salaries and bonuses at the top 10 publicly traded coal companies increased an average of 8 percent between 2010 and 2014, even as the companies' combined share price fell 58 percent. Meanwhile, the same executives cashed in well over $100 million in stock options, according to the report, which analyzed the companies' public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In other words, coal execs are cashing in while their companies tank.</p> <p>"That [stock-based] part of their compensation package is not so valuable right now, so the value of their cash-based pay has been going up," said Sarah Anderson, the report's author. "We're seeing this move to insulate them from the implosion of the coal sector by handing out more cash."</p> <p>The chart below, from the report, shows how cash compensation started to rise just as the share prices took their second dive in five years:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/coal-execs-chart.jpg"></div> <p>At Peabody, for example, CEO Greg Boyce cashed in $26 million in stock before the price collapse that began in 2011. At Arch Coal, cash compensation for the company's top five executives grew 94 percent between 2010 and 2014, to an average of $2.3 million. Arch, Alpha, and Peabody did not return requests for comment.</p> <p>To be clear, there's no evidence of anything criminal happening here. But you can include this trend in the pantheon of corporate executives getting rewarded for their companies' bad performance. Even the world's best CEO probably wouldn't be able to save these corporations&mdash;the fact is, the American coal market is disappearing and isn't coming back. But, Anderson argues, if these execs were truly interested in fixing their business models, they could have invested in alternative forms of energy, such as gas or renewables. "The smart thing," according to Anderson, "would have been to diversify their portfolio so they wouldn't be so vulnerable."</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Economy Energy Top Stories Infrastructure Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:00:11 +0000 Tim McDonnell 283146 at The Controversial Doctor Behind the New "Viagra for Women" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The path to market for the first-ever women's libido drug began in 2010 when Dr. Irwin Goldstein chased a pharmaceutical executive around a Miami medical conference.</p> <p>"Irwin is famous for chasing people around with his MacBook," says Cindy Whitehead, the CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals and Goldstein's quarry that day. "And you're always a little scared of what he's going to show you on video."</p> <p>Goldstein is one of the top researchers in the budding field of sexual medicine. But on this occasion, he showed Whitehead videos of his patients&mdash;clothed&mdash;as they relinquished samples of a drug they had been receiving through clinical trials. The drug was a female libido booster called flibanserin, and the pharmaceutical giant that owned it was shutting down the clinical trials. The women looked dejected. Several of them cried.</p> <p>For Whitehead, it was an "aha" moment. The encounter sent Sprout on a quest to obtain the rights to flibanserin and a five-year saga of costly clinical trials, <a href=";contentCollection=DealBook&amp;module=RelatedCoverage&amp;region=Marginalia&amp;pgtype=article">aggressive lobbying</a>, and fraught regulatory meetings that ended last month when the Food and Drug Administration <a href="">approved the drug</a> for sale under the brand name Addyi.</p> <p>For others, the moment was another case of Goldstein's expert leveraging of his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. To these critics, Goldstein's work raises the same controversy that is dogging flibanserin: Is he advancing the frontiers of medicine, or the bottom line of the pharmaceutical industry?</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2015/08/irwin-goldstein-controversial-doctor-behind-new-viagra-women"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Pharma Sex and Gender Top Stories Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:00:09 +0000 Molly Redden 282836 at Can This Genius Strategy Stop Big Ag from Dumping Fertilizer Into Drinking Water? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Iowa_630.jpg"><div class="caption">Gary Taxali</div> </div> <p>Corn is to Iowa what oil is to Texas&mdash;so it's not every day that an Iowa official takes on the state's biggest industry. But Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager of <a href="" target="_blank">Des Moines Water Works</a>, has had it with Big Ag. It "rules the roost in this world," he says. "It's a nasty business."</p> <p>Stowe isn't just talking smack: Last March, in an unprecedented move, Des Moines Water Works <a href="" target="_blank">filed a lawsuit</a> in federal court against three upstream counties, charging that they violate the federal Clean Water Act by allowing fertilizer to flow into one of the rivers from which the city gets its drinking water. The suit will likely drag out for years, says Neil Hamilton, director of Drake University's <a href="" target="_blank">Agricultural Law Center</a>. But if it succeeds, it will not only force farmers upstream from Des Moines to limit their fertilizer runoff; it could also herald a new era for the <a href="" target="_blank">Clean Water Act</a>, the '70s-era legislation that severely limited pollution from heavy industry but left farms essentially unregulated.</p> <p>Not everyone is so keen on the changes that the lawsuit could bring about. Six-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, famously aligned with agribusiness, is fuming. "Des Moines has declared war on rural Iowa," <a href="" target="_blank">he snarled</a> at a January press conference. And in May, a group affiliated with the Iowa Farm Bureau called <a href="" target="_blank">Iowa Partnership for Clean Water</a> began running <a href="" target="_blank">TV ads praising farmers</a> for their water stewardship and claiming the suit "threatens our land, home, and even your food."</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2015/07/des-moines-nitrate-water-lawsuit"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Food and Ag Science Top Stories Wed, 02 Sep 2015 10:00:08 +0000 Tom Philpott 280381 at I Have No Headline Worthy of Donald Trump's Latest <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I hesitate to drop the P-bomb, but <a href="" target="_blank">this bit of word salad from Donald Trump</a> is eerily Palinesque. How is it possible that <em>Spy</em> magazine is no longer around to explain this to the world?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_argle_bargle.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 01:53:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 283191 at In the Contest for Worst Automobile-Driving Species, the Winner is Homo Sapiens <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A reader tells me this story seems <a href="" target="_blank">right up my alley:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Google, a leader in efforts to create driverless cars, has run into an odd safety conundrum: humans.</p> <p>Last month, as one of Google&rsquo;s self-driving cars approached a crosswalk, it did what it was supposed to do when it slowed to allow a pedestrian to cross, prompting its &ldquo;safety driver&rdquo; to apply the brakes. The pedestrian <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_car_in_pool.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 28px 0px 15px 30px;">was fine, but not so much Google&rsquo;s car, which was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan.</p> <p>....<strong>Dmitri Dolgov, head of software for Google&rsquo;s Self-Driving Car Project, said that one thing he had learned from the project was that human drivers needed to be &ldquo;less idiotic.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>That's the spirit! And when Skynet takes over, humans will finally cease to be such a nuisance. Driverless car nirvana will be at hand.</p> <p>Ahem. In reality, of course, this whole story is sort of silly. <em>Of course</em> the biggest problem with driverless cars is humans. What else would it be? Plop a few thousand driverless cars into an empty city and they'd get along swimmingly. No one is unaware of this, least of all Google.</p> <p>But I suppose from Google's perspective, stories like this are useful as ways to calm fears about driverless cars. And there <em>is</em> a good point to be made about that: driverless cars don't have to be perfect to be useful. They just have to be at least as good as humans. So while the fact that humans are generally idiotic drivers might be a short-term annoyance, in the long run it's a huge bonus for Google. They don't have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, just the local high school JV team.</p> <p>This, by the way, is why I'm so generally bullish on artificial intelligence. It's not because I have such a high opinion of computers, but because I have such a low opinion of humans. We really are just overclocked chimpanzees who have convinced ourselves that our weird jumble of largely Pavlovian behaviors&mdash;punctuated by regrettably rare dollops of intelligence&mdash;is deeply ineffable and therefore resistant to true understanding. Why do we believe this? Primarily for the amusingly oxymoronic reason that we aren't smart enough to understand our own brains. The silicon crowd should be able to do better before long.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> By the way, I'm a lovely driver. It's all you other folks who are causing so many problems.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:32:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 283171 at Sorry, I Don't Know Why Murder Rates Are Up In a Bunch of Big Cities <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I've gotten enough requests to comment on this piece from the <em>New York Times</em> that <a href="" target="_blank">I guess I'd better do so:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines,</strong> and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year &mdash; after 86 homicides in all of 2014.</p> <p>More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier. In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.</p> <p>Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing. Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.</p> </blockquote> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_crime_baseline_lead.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The reason I haven't said anything about this until now is that I had nothing to say. I have no more idea what's driving this increase than anyone else.</p> <p>But what about lead? Here's the problem: gasoline lead explains one thing and one thing only. And that thing is the huge violent crime wave of 1960-1990 followed by the equally huge drop of 1990-2010. But that's over. What we're left with now is the baseline level of violent crime, which obviously wouldn't be zero even if there were no lead in the environment at all. And the causes of this baseline level of violent crime are all the usual suspects: poverty, race, drugs, policing, guns, demographics, and so forth. A more detailed explanation is <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> At this point, lead is a very small contributor to the crime level.</p> <p>It's also worth pointing out that crime figures, and murder figures in particular, are extremely noisy. Lead explains long-term shifts. It doesn't explain short-term spikes or (in most cases) differences from one city to another. The current increase in murder rates could be due to lots of things, or it could just be the usual noise in the numbers. Maybe they'll go right back down next year.</p> <p>But I don't know. The only thing I do know is that lead is playing no particular role in this, either good or bad.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 19:09:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 283166 at Let Us Now Praise Passionate Politics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>German Lopez notes the reaction in some quarters to the <a href="" target="_blank">recent shooting of a Texas deputy sheriff:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Despite any solid leads and facts about the motives in the shooting of 10-year deputy veteran Darren Goforth, some conservative media outlets and local law enforcement officials have already settled on the <em>real</em> culprit: Black Lives Matter.</p> <p>....Fox News's Elisabeth Hasselbeck later wondered aloud on air why Black Lives Matter isn't considered a "hate group." Bill O'Reilly was more blunt, concluding the movement was indeed a "hate group."</p> <p>....It's not just Fox News &mdash; other reports painted narratives that put Black Lives Matter and police as inherently in conflict. A CNN report, for instance, described Black Lives Matter's advocacy as "anti-police rhetoric." What does it say about American society that advocating for black lives and ending racial disparities in the criminal justice system <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_speakers_corner_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">would qualify not as pro-equality but as anti-police?</p> </blockquote> <p>It's hardly a surprise to hear stuff like this. Nor is it limited to conservatives. Liberals frequently fault anti-abortion rhetoric when someone kills an abortion clinic worker or anti-government rhetoric when someone shoots up an IRS office.</p> <p>That won't stop, but it should. People and groups have to be free to condemn abortion or police misconduct or anything else&mdash;sometimes soberly, sometimes not. And it's inevitable that this will occasionally inspire a maniac somewhere to resort to violence. There's really no way around this. It's obviously something for any decent person to keep in mind, but it doesn't make passionate politics culpable for the ills of the world. We can't allow the limits of our political spirit to be routinely dictated by the worst imaginable consequences.</p> <p>This is no apology for obviously incendiary speech. If you get on your soapbox and tell your followers to kill the pigs or murder the child murderers, then you bear a share of blame for what happens next. That's both common sense and legal reality.</p> <p>But we also need common sense toward speech that's less immediately incendiary but still fiery or angry&mdash;or both. After all, this is where change, liberal and conservative alike, comes from. It's sadly inevitable that in a country of 300 million, even the minuscule fraction who turn that fear into a killing rampage amounts to a lot of people. But it's neither a good reason to rein in our political vigor nor a good reason to blame passionate engagement in politics for every related tragedy. That way lies atrophy and rot.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 18:22:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 283156 at Science Marches On: We Now Have a Yard Sale That Runs Backward In Time <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">A sentence to ponder:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The world's longest yard sale runs for nearly 700 miles along a mostly vertical line connecting Alabama and Michigan, from the first Thursday in August through the first Sunday.</p> </blockquote> <p>But what if the first Sunday comes before the first Thursday? Do they cancel the sale that year? Does it run backward through time? I demand answers.</p> <p>(Via Tyler Cowen.)</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 16:50:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 283141 at