Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 11:53 AM
Anyone who has waited tables or cooked in a restaurant kitchen knows the backbreaking work, the questionable conditions, and the meager rewards. Now, it’s easy to find the restaurants that treat their employees right with the 2012 National Diners’ Guide, presented by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). The guide outlines the pay and benefits of 186 of the country’s most popular eateries, from fast food to fine dining.
Before you look at the guide to see where your favorite establishment stands, check out some of the reasons why the ROC says the ethical treatment of restaurant workers is vital:
With a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers and $7.25 for non-tipped workers, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just below the poverty line for a family of three. This means that more than half of all restaurant workers nationwide earn less than the federal poverty line.
90 percent of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center report not having paid sick leave, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick, making sick leave for restaurant workers not only a worker rights issue but a pressing concern in public health!
Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many opportunities to move up the ladder. Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 73 percent reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.
Jaeah Lee at Mother Jones has distilled the ROC’s guide into an excellent Zagat-like reference for diners. (See, at a glance, that Starbucks’ employees don’t get paid sick days, but Chipotle’s do.) And, also on MoJo, Utne Reader visionary Tom Philpott takes a moment to look on the bright side of the report, pointing out that the “ROC isn’t just dishing up the restaurant industry’s dark secrets. It’s also working with restaurant owners across the country to come up with fair labor standards.”
For me, waiting tables at the Tic Toc Supper Club at the end of my teenage years was a crash-course in a range of adult matters: wine bottles are harder to open with a tableful of people watching; wearing a skirt gets you better tips; and the boss will rarely give you more than the bare minimum of what is required by law. Thanks to the ROC, restaurants just might be encouraged to give that bare minimum a boost.
Sources: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Mother Jones
Image by rbnlsn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:21 PM
Some of the best stuff from the Twitter feeds we follow...
The Nation (@
Robert Reich eviscerates the Supercommittee's skewed priorities, draws a cartoon.
See more at The Nation
Mother Jones (@
Chart of the Day: How Not to Create Jobs mojo.ly/vy6C5e
Chuck Marr of CBPP notes that the CBO recently studied a laundry list of job creation proposals and concluded that higher unemployment benefits had the biggest bang for the buck. "That’s not surprising," he says, "given that jobless people are severely cash constrained and would quickly spend most of any incremental increase in cash and that, in turn, would lead to higher demand and job creation."
But which proposal came in last?
See Kevin Drum’s Chart of the Day at MoJo
The American Prospect (@
Despite what you've heard from many pundits, Mitt Romney isn't the kid who gets picked last in gym class. ampro.me/u6m2We
Mitt Romney is just as popular as Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, his problem—in part—is that he has too many competitors, and Republican voters are indulging the extent to which they have a fair amount of choice. When the field begins to winnow in January, odds are very good that Romney will pick up a lot more support from Republican voters.
Read more about a Gallup poll about the Republican presidential candidates at The American Prospect
In These Times (@
Library in the slammer, roughed up. Librarians surveying the damage. bit.ly/sxUK22 @melissagira livetweeting from the garage.
OWS librarians attempted to reclaim their collection and found it decimated, according to the Maddow Blog. The librarians told Maddow that they only found 25 boxes of books in storage, many of which were damaged or desroyed. Laptop computers were recovered, damanged beyond repair.
Read more at In These Times
Bill McKibben (@billmckibben)
If you want to see someone looking nervous on Colbert, tonite is your big chance
Oxford American (@
Musician Chris Isaak likes Oxford American
“I was reading the ‘Oxford American,’ a great, great music magazine,” he said. “It’s like getting four years of ‘Rolling Stone’ all in the same magazine.”
Read the rest of the article about Chris Isaak in The Kansas City Star
Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:03 AM
Troy Davis—the man about whose case former FBI director William S. Sessions has written “What quickly will become apparent is that serious questions about Davis’ guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction”—was executed by the state of Georgia last night at 11:08pm.
Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing a police officer. There’s not much I can add to the discussion around this case. If you’re looking for insightful writing on it, there’s Mother Jones’coverage, this from The Nation editors, an impassioned plea at In These Times, and of course Amnesty International, which has used Davis’ visage in their campaign to abolish the death penalty. There, too, is the video below of Democracy Now’sAmy Goodman reporting from Georgia last night.
As many others have stated, this execution is not only about Troy Davis. It is, and especially now should be, a time to reflect on this country’s use of the death penalty. To add to that conversation, here are some articles from our November-December 2010 issue about capital punishment in the U.S.
interviews legendary capital punishment opponent Sister Helen Prejean:
According to Amnesty International, 93 percent of the world’s executions take place in five countries: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and the United States. Why is our government on such a list?
The death penalty is a natural outgrowth of our long history of using violence to achieve our ends. We’re a very young country, and violence has worked for us in the past. It began with the settling of this continent and the genocide against Native Americans, then continued when we brought slaves over.
Continue reading >>
The Texas Observer’s Robert Leleux takes a very hard look at executions in the Lone Star State:
One of the things about the death penalty is that, because convicted killers (for a whole variety of reasons) aren’t typically white, middle-class honor students, with reputations for being kindly, wholesome people, it’s very easy for middle-class people like me to presume that folks on death row are people from “over there.” Folks from another, meaner America—that hard, irredeemable underbelly of the nation’s poverty and crime. You know, the kind of place you see on Cops.
Of course, there are so many things wrong with this presumption that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Continue reading >>
And finally, as an online extra to those two articles, here is a blog post with a number of resources from around the web about executions in the U.S.
Source: Democracy Now!, Mother Jones, In These Times, Amnesty International, The Sun, The Nation, The Texas Observer
Image by World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:25 PM
The data on the poor in this country announced Tuesday by the Census Bureau was not good, and due to measures already taken by Congress and those likely to come, the outlook doesn’t provide much reason for hope. Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones gives some of the “lowlights”:
The overall poverty rate has reached a record high and the number of people living in deep poverty—that is, below 50 percent of the poverty level, or $11,000 for a family of four—is the highest it’s been since 1975. Experts are predicting that things are only going to get worse in the years to come….
Median income has sunk lower than it was almost 15 years ago. The number of people living without health insurance is up slightly. The number of kids under the age of six living in extreme poverty is up to nearly 12 percent. The recession has been especially hard on women and people of color. The extreme poverty rate for women is more than 6 percent, the highest recorded in 22 years, and the poverty rate for black women is up a percentage point from 2009, to more than 25 percent.
In These Times’ David Moberg continues:
But it is especially painful because it follows what many are calling a “lost decade” for the majority of Americans. The median household income peaked in 1999 at $53,252, then dropped in most of the following years, never recovering its pre-recession high. Likewise, even during the recovery of the Bush years, poverty levels crept upwards. The big exception was the very rich, who captured most of the new income generated as productivity of the economy rose and inequality continued to grow.
All this while we learn, as associate editor Margret Aldrich wrote on her Sweet Pursuit blog last week, “Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.”
Unfortunately we see that’s not happening, leaving The Take Away this morning to ask the discouraging question, “Does America Care About Its Poor?” Though The Take Away left it up to listeners, the answer seems to be, for the most part, no. That said, Moberg at In These Times does point out that “bad as these numbers are, they would have been much worse if many government programs and policies had not been in place,” including unemployment insurance, The Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and the Obama administration’s stimulus programs. (I don’t know how many times economists and others have to point out that the only problem with Obama’s stimulus was that is simply wasn’t big enough before it will be okay to use the word “stimulus” again. But I digress.) Still, “welfare” programs aren’t what they used to be. “Evidence suggests,” writes Jarret Murphy in City Limits, “that today’s needy families are, in large measure, not getting the help to which they are legally entitled. In 1996, for every 100 families that were in poverty, 79 were on welfare. In 2010, the figure was 28, according to the CBPP [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].” LaDonna Pavetti, the vice president for family income support policy at the CBPP is quoted as saying, “It’s just truly people are not being served. And it’s not because we’ve had this incredible decline in poverty.” Point proven by the recent Census data.
But now the conversation in Washington is switching back to jobs, so everything should be just fine, right? We’ve gotten our priorities straight, so we can figure out how to fix the problem. Not so fast. Writing about the declining middle class in The Atlantic, Don Peck writes that the jobs that are coming down the pike will be low-skill, low-wage jobs, jobs like the ones highlighted a decade ago by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed and now touted (though not in so many words) by the possible Republican presidential candidate from Texas. In short, jobs that won’t bring people up out of poverty and back into any sort of middle class. “[T]he overall pattern of change in the U.S. labor market suggests,” Peck writes,
that in the next decade or more, a larger proportion of Americans may need to take work in occupations that have historically required little skill and paid low wages. Analysis by David Autor indicates that from 1999 to 2007, low-skill jobs grew substantially as a share of all jobs in the United States. And while the lion’s share of jobs lost during the recession were middle-skill jobs, job growth since then has been tilted steeply toward the bottom of the economy; according to a survey by the National Employment Law Project, three-quarters of American job growth in 2010 came within industries paying, on average, less than $15 an hour. One of the largest challenges that Americans will face in the coming years will be doing what we can to make the jobs that have traditionally been near the bottom of the economy better, more secure, and more fulfilling—in other words, more like middle-class jobs.
Peck’s article offers a number of suggestions about how to regain a middle class and avoid further separation between those at the top and those at the bottom. Unfortunately, nothing so serious as his article seems to be on the table in Washington discussions. And it’s Americans who are paying for it.
Audio from The Take Away with guest Photojouranlist Steve Liss, director of AmericanPoverty.org:
Source: Mother Jones, In These Times, The Take Away, City Limits, The Atlantic
Image by sylvar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 4:14 PM
Anyone who has ever had the yearning to vote for an alternative, independent, and progressive third party candidate only to cave in the voting booth and vote Democrat—haunted by voices saying, “You’d be throwing your vote away”—must surely be asking these days, “What if?” After seeing what just a few elected officials can do to the whole political process, each and every one of them has to be saying, “If only we’d voted with our hearts.” After all, as Kevin Drum points out at Mother Jones, “So who was driving the absolutist view in Congress over the past few months? If it was the no-compromise wing of the tea party, that's less than 10% of the country.”
Less than ten percent. No doubt, at some point in the last few decades all those people wishing they could break out of the tired two-party system and vote for a truly progressive-minded candidate could have reached a number in Congress that could rival the number of Tea Partiers taking the country hostage now. What then? What would this country look like had we known that so few could do so much? We’ll never know.
Still, if we must try and find a silver lining in this nobody-wins model of government, maybe it’s this: It turns out we might not being throwing our vote away if we vote more progressively than we previously thought possible. Or, at the very least, form a political base with some teeth, able to make Democrats believe they may be ousted for a more progressive candidate if they continue to woo the Almighty Independent Vote in lieu of actual liberal ideals. This is the conclusion behind recent articles in Dissent and Change-Links.
In “Stopping Obama’s Next Betrayal” Mark Engler has little time for debating whether or not Obama is a true liberal or a centrist. Such discussions don’t “lead very far in terms of suggesting a political response,” Engler writes. Obama is what he is and, no matter what else you say about his administration, it will listen to opposing sides. The problem, according to Engler, is that progressive movements aren’t doing their part in making the president or Congress work for them.
Obama is willing to compromise and cave because progressive movements are not strong enough to enforce discipline among politicians. Nor are they strong enough to consistently outweigh corporate influences within the Democratic Party….
Until a vocal, dedicated, progressive grassroots, taking a page from the Tea Party, can show that it’s far more effective to reposition the center of the debate than it is to forever triangulate in hopes of appealing to “independents,“ Democratic politicians will continue to do the latter.
Similarly Shamus Cooke, in “The Rich are Destroying the Economy,” calls for a strong, organized movement to make politicians respond to progressive ideals, though he is suspect of Democrats being willing or able to rise to the task:
Organized labor needs to bring masses of people in the street all over the country in order to get attention and pressure the government to respond to these demands. And it can succeed, especially if it organizes a serious, protracted campaign and especially if this campaign does not get funneled into supporting Democratic candidates, the surest way to kill campaign momentum.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently spoke in favor of a strong, independent labor movement. This is the direction it must take, rather than relying on the Democrats. The labor movement must get its act together, unite to put up a fight and demand specific policies that can concretely address the crisis faced by millions of working people.
So, the silver lining is that maybe we aren’t really stuck with a two-party system. Maybe we wouldn’t be throwing our votes away if we voted the way we actually wanted to vote. At the very least, we’re (oddly) reminded by the Tea Party of what Margaret Mead said about a small group of committed citizens changing the world. (Though she did also use the word “thoughtful.”) That said, if there’s gridlock now in DC, can you imagine what it would be like if the left side of the aisle was actually full of progressive politicians bent on staying true to their ideals instead of caving for the “betterment” of the country?
Source: Dissent, Change-Link, Mother Jones
Image by Image Editor, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011 12:52 PM
Unless you are a very conscientious consumer or a vegetarian, you’re implicit in the industrialized slaughter of animals. Many of us are (myself included). It’s easy to forget that the Sunday morning bacon was once on the hoof, and easy to imagine that the animals are treated humanely until their deaths. Recent journalism, like Robert Kenner’s documentary Food, Inc., and the ongoing activism of PETA, PCRA, and ASPCA has cast light on many of the otherwise hush-hushed commercial practices of meat-processing plants.
Ted Genoways, reporting for Mother Jones, covers the history of the modern meat industry in his profile of the Quality Pork Processors, Inc. plant in Austin, Minn. But what really stands out in his writing is the description of how the bloody work of slaughter is done in the post-butcher economy. (Warning: The following quotes are exceptionally graphic.)
On the other side, Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. (Some workers say the goo looked like Pepto-Bismol; others describe it as more like a lumpy strawberry milkshake.) When the 10-pound barrel was filled, another worker would come to take the brains for shipping to Asia, where they are used as a thickener in stir-fry. Most days that fall, production was so fast that the air never cleared between blasts, and the mist would slick workers at the head table in a grisly mix of brains and blood and grease.
Tasks at the head table are literally numbing. The steady hum of the automatic Whizard knives gives many workers carpal tunnel syndrome. And all you have to do is wait in the parking lot at shift change to see the shambling gait that comes from standing in one spot all day on the line. For eight hours, Garcia stood, slipping heads onto the brain machine’s nozzle, pouring the glop into the drain, then dropping the empty skulls down a chute.
Genoways describes how the “fine rosy mist” at QPP has caused a viral outbreak that attacks the workers’ brains—leading to, in some cases, paralysis—after it is inhaled during work.
Taking a more literary angle to the abattoir, Bookslut’s JC Hallman writes about his obsession with dead chickens and unheeded predictions about their treatment in “The Chicken Vault.” Here’s his second-hand description of an industrial chicken farm in New Jersey that left 50 tons of meat unrefrigerated for most of a summer. (Again: graphic description.)
They made for the main cooler, where the bulk of the 100,000 lbs. of processed meat had been stored. The cooler was like a huge vault: its hydraulic door stood eight feet high. Jim and Frank [two Environmental Protection Agency officials] set up a battery of floods to illuminate the chamber, and then cracked the door. Something like steam puffed out from the vacuum suck of the room and rose up heavy and thick, like a plague from God. It fogged the lens on the camera until Jim figured a way to clear it. The vault stretched back forty feet and stood half as high. Racks for boxed meat rose on opposing walls. Most of the product had come down by then, rotting through the cardboard containers, an opaque matter the consistency of jelly that had flooded the floor of the room and hardened there. The meat and the fat of the chicken didn’t mix; there were marbled streaks of color. The racks continued to drip even as the men watched, like trees after a heavy rain. After a moment, Jim moved in for a close-up: maggots digging into the muck to escape the light, and a collection of chicken bones like the skeleton of a dinosaur caught in a tar pit.
Sorry for ruining your delicious lunch.
Sources: Bookslut, Mother Jones
Image by Ordered Chaos, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 4:02 PM
Work finds a way to slip under our front doors and into our personal lives. We check email while making dinner and return phone calls on the weekend; we think about our jobs as we’re falling asleep at night and when we’re washing our hair in the morning. It’s no secret that Americans are overworked. What’s surprising is how overworked we are—and how much corporations benefit from our around-the-clock labor.
According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, report Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery in Mother Jones, even as jobs are cut and American workers put in longer hours for static salaries. What were once manageable 40-hour-a-week appointments have morphed into “superjobs,” overladen with increased tasks when staff is downsized.
Workers are left scrambling to get everything done at the office and at home, often ignoring spouses, skimping on family time, or avoiding community commitments—shortcomings that may feel like failures. But: “Guess what: It’s not you,” says Mother Jones.
These might seem like personal problems—and certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is happy to perpetuate that notion—but they’re really economic problems. Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans.
Take time to check out Mother Jones’ infographic collection “Overworked America: 12 Charts that Will Make Your Blood Boil.” And then, take a look at your calendar…aren’t you due for a day off?
To read more articles on work in America, see our January-February 2011 issue on the topic.
Source: Mother Jones
Image by luxomedia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:12 AM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for general excellence, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
Since 1932, The American Scholar has provided a forum for the spirited exploration of ideas. The “venerable but lively” quarterly, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, enlightens and provokes readers with thoughtful prose on public affairs, history, science, and culture.
An arts magazine with a decidedly literary bent, The Believer covers books, film, music, and pop culture with barely contained intellectual glee. Part of the McSweeney’s empire founded by author Dave Eggers, it constantly finds new ways to showcase the creative impulse.
The Western United States is a key battleground for many environmental issues, and High Country News is your experienced and knowledgeable correspondent from the front lines. Its watchdog coverage of mining, ranching, logging—and simply Western life—is unmatched.
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending the day’s political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle.
The most literary of environmental magazines, Orion takes a big view, touching on spirituality, philosophy, and the arts in its gorgeous pages. Thoughtfully provocative columnists keep it from drifting off into the rapidly warming atmosphere.
is the best of so many things—philosophy, spirituality, photography—but what always stands out is the writing. In essays, fiction, memoirs, and poetry, this ad-free, independent magazine lets all of its content shine brightly, whether it’s a story about a recovering alcoholic finding redemption in a new family or a poem about the sweet things we leave behind when we die.
A labor of love, the Brooklyn-based Wax Poeticsis a geeked-out fanzine dedicated to unearthing the grittiest funk, coolest jazz, and smoothest soul ever pressed into a groove. The writers proselytize, the editors keep the mix fresh, and the archival album art and concert footage is beatific.
YES! Magazine, a magazine of “powerful ideas, practical actions” published by the nonprofit Positive Futures Network, gives us information and tools to build a more sustainable, just tomorrow. Readers cannot help but be inspired by the quarterly’s celebration of human potential and community well being.
See our complete list of 2011 nominees.
Image by .reid., licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011 1:52 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best political coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
The American Conservative
was founded in 2002 as a counterweight to the neocon fervor of the George W. Bush presidency, espousing what it calls “traditional conservatism.” Opening it is like a trip to a parallel universe where right-leaning thinkers can be against war, imperialism, and civil liberties abuses, even while espousing many tenets of social and fiscal conservatism.
The American Prospect
reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy.
A dark horse among its peers, Dissentsubverts politics-as-usual with a cogent blend of rigorous intellectualism and snarky radicalism. Eschewing partisan ideologies, this insightful quarterly never fails to “dissent from the bleak atmosphere of conformism that pervades the political and intellectual life in the United States.”
Bureaucratic crooks and market-wrangling fat cats, beware. You’re under surveillance by the unblinking (and unsympathetic) eye of In These Times. A tireless champion of the oppressed, forgotten, and ignored, the progressive magazine combines meticulous reporting, fierce cultural criticism, rock star writers, and staunch independence.
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle.
A vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, The Nationweighs in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend toward the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real.
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also of their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway.
is more than 100 years old, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 1:34 PM
As the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf approaches we look to some of our most trusted sources to get us up to date on all things BP and the Gulf. Below are some of the nominees for this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards in the environmental and political categories with their most recent coverage of the oil spill, one year later.
Let’s start at Audubon Magazine for a little history on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, by way of an excerpt from A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout by Carl Safina (who also appears in the latest issue of Utne Reader). Even though we know how it all ends, Safina’s build up to the blowout is tense and makes you anxious while reading:
A churning drill bit sent from a world of light and warmth and living beings. More than three miles under the sea surface, more than two miles under the seafloor. Eternal darkness. Unimaginable pressure. The drill bit has met a gas pocket. That tiny pinprick. That pressure. Mere bubbles, a mild fizz from deep within. A sudden influx of gas into the well. Rushing up the pipe. Gas expanding like crazy. Through the open gates on the seafloor. One more mile to the sea surface.
The always feisty Mother Jones doesn’t beat around the bush with their latest blog post about the spill: “10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Oil Disaster.” The all-too-clear-but-all-too-easily-forgotten reasons include, “BP is gunning to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico” even though “People are sick” and “Fish and other sea life in the Gulf are still struggling after the disaster.” Meanwhile, “GOP House members want more drilling off all our coasts with less environmental review” and “Congress hasn’t changed a single law on oil and gas drilling in the past year.” As promised, the list of 10 will piss you off. (Also, if you missed Mother Jones’ September/October 2010 issue with the cover story “The BP Cover-Up” it’s worth revisiting now.)
And if that’s not enough to piss you off, add this to the mix from The Nation: “BP’s Oil Spill Tax Credit Matches EPA’s Entire Annual Budget.” While the oil giant’s tax credit claim may be old news, The Nation highlights the protests of US Uncut, a group focused on corporate tax breaks and attacks on the public service sector:
Thousands of young voters rallied at the White House this Tax Day to demand President Obama stand up to Big Polluters and make them pay their fair share. During the day of action, a flash mob, led by US Uncut’s Carl Gibson, successfully shut down a BP gas station in response to the company’s $9.9 billion tax credit from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which nearly matches the EPA’s entire annual operating budget.
Conveniently, OnEarth has all of its coverage of the Gulf oil spill in one spot—Disaster in the Gulf—including the most recent post from Ian Somerhalder (the actor most known for his role as ‘Boone’ on Lost).
A year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, dozens of dead baby dolphins are washing ashore in the Gulf of Mexico; oyster populations are devastated, crippling a multi-billion dollar industry and the tens of thousands of jobs that go with it; and Gulf residents continue to complain of lingering health problems that they believe were caused by the BP oil spill. Despite what you may read in the mainstream media, the oil has not gone away.
Finally, In These Timessums up the situation clearly and succinctly. Simply put, one year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history the “government and media may be moving on from [the] aftermath of the Deepwater disaster, but the scars left behind by the spill are still raw and festering.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention here the story “Fish with the King” that we recently reprinted from the excellent online magazine of politics and arts, Guernica, about the devastation the oil spill has had on the fishing communities in the Gulf.
Source: Audubon Magazine, Mother Jones, The Nation, OnEarth, In These Times, Guernica
Image by lagohsep, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 11:42 AM
After shopping himself around a bit in 2006—the year CBS decided not to renew is contract—long-time anchor Dan Rather found himself without a home and without many takers within the ranks of the mainstream due to a story he had done on President Bush’s National Guard service. Unwilling to go quietly into the night in what would have amounted to a forced retirement, Rather went looking for an independent station that might take him in.
He found an unlikely ally in Mark Cuban, the noisy owner of the Dallas Mavericks—an NBA franchise—and billionaire from the dot com era. Cuban, the owner of HDNet, home to an odd combination of programming that includes ultimate fighting and Girls Gone Wild shows, said that he “liked the fact that [Rather] was a lightning rod” in those days following his exit from CBS.
In the March/April Issue of Mother Jones, Jim Rendon tells readers how this strange marriage came to be. In a profile that is as much about Cuban as it is about Rather, Rendon shows two men driven by their own interests and just where such drive can lead today when it comes to hard-hitting journalism. As Mother Jones puts it, “the former CBS anchorman is still kicking ass and winning Emmys. But with his exposés sandwiched between pro wrestling and Girls Gone Wild, is anybody watching?”
Source: Mother Jones
Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011 1:09 PM
In these dark times, a whole cavalry of fiscally conservative knights quest to slay the civil-liberty-scorching, deficit-belching dragon of Big Government and save our miserly populace from economic terror. But these gallant soldiers are all armed alike: with threats of tax cuts and illusions of grandeur. Quixotically, the fiscal conservatives will face the dragon and, like those before them, perish. Enraged, the dragon will mete out vengeance on the hapless, defenseless commoners. Or at least that’s how the tax-cut fairytale goes, argues former Reagan budget director David Stockman.
Although not a Democrat, Stockman’s views on budget-balancing and deficit reduction—as profiled by Mother Jones—are entirely out sync with the Republican Party’s. And what’s more, Stockman sees the cut-and-spend strategies of contemporary conservatives as grossly adulterated Reaganomics. Mother Jones’ David Corn summarizes Stockman’s account of authentic Reagan-era tax policy:
In the ‘80s, Reagan and his White House crew were eager to cut income taxes across the board. The aim, he asserts, was to fix the slumping economy, not to starve the beast of big government. Republican leaders on the Hill were initially skeptical—they insisted that the White House pass spending cuts before Congress tackled the tax side. “The honest-to-goodness fact,” Stockman says, “is that in February 1981, there wasn’t close to a Republican majority for tax cuts without any accompanying or coupled spending cuts. The idea of supply-side in its purest form”—that tax cuts fuel economic growth that yields increased tax revenues—“was only embraced by a handful of junior Republicans, plus Jack Kemp.”
Corn clarifies that Reagan did jointly cut taxes and spending, but the culture of tax reduction grew much faster than the culture of expenditure slimming. Reagan would go on to pass a number of tax hikes to jump-start the economy. The result, argues Corn, was ideologically consequential:
Republicans took the wrong lesson from that episode, Stockman contends: that big tax cuts are economic magic. For GOPers to argue, as they do nowadays, that only permanent tax cuts spark economic activity is “totally inconsistent with what we used to argue in the 1980s,” Stockman notes. “These were two-year tax cuts, and they’re praising them as Republican doctrine.”
Any respectable, armchair dragon-slayer should offer solutions of their own. Stockman’s suggestion to regain fiscal sanity? “First, cut military spending by $100 to $150 billion a year [. . .] His second point is classic deficit-hawkery: Apply a means test to Medicare and Social Security. His third: ‘Massively raise taxes.’”
Source: Mother Jones
, licensed under
Monday, February 21, 2011 1:01 PM
As demonstrators continue to protest Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed cuts to the state budget, questions arise as to just what exactly the fight is about. Is Walker trying to bust unions or simply balance the budget? Do public workers make more than their private counterparts? Who is and who is not paying their fair share? Sometimes it’s hard to get a grasp with all the conflicting voices, so we turn to some of the trusted sources in our library and elsewhere to point us in the right direction. Here’s what some of those sources are saying about Wisconsin.
Andy Kroll at Mother Jones is on the ground in Madison and is providing updates via his Twitter feed. Kroll also has a primer of sorts on the Mother Jones website, addressing the basic questions of who exactly Scott Walker is, what is being proposed, and how the protests in Wisconsin might spread to other states, such as Ohio, where similar bills are being proposed.
Meanwhile, Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson at The Nation call the Republican governor’s actions a betrayal of public workers, writing, “Let’s remember that the recession was caused by Wall Street hyper-speculation, not the pay scales of elementary school teachers or public hospital nurses.”
Sarah van Gelder writing for Yes! asks if the Wisconsin protests are the first stop on an American uprising, looking to a group out of England called UK Uncut. That group protests tax breaks for corporations, claiming that if those tax breaks were taken off the table cutbacks for other government services would be unnecessary. An American version called US Uncut has formed and is planning events to highlight corporate tax breaks in this country. (The issue of class warfare brought up in van Gelder’s article is one the Utne Reader focuses on in our March-April issue. See the cover stories here and here.) Van Gelder writes:
The tide may now be turning. Inspired by people-power movements around the world, people in the United States are beginning [to] push back. The poor and middle class, those who didn’t cause the collapse but have felt the most pain from the poor economy, are now being asked to sacrifice again.
Ezra Klein may put it most simply, though. In a column for the Washington Post titled simply “Unions Aren’t to Blame for Wisconsin’s Budget,” Klein, in reference to the “economic crisis unions didn’t cause, and a budget reversal that Walker himself helped create,” writes,
That’s how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular. And note that not all public-employee unions are covered by Walker’s proposal: the more conservative public-safety unions—notably police and firefighters, many of whom endorsed Walker—are exempt.
The fact that those public-safety unions are exempt from the proposals doesn’t mean that they’re sitting idly by, as Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association, told Democracy Now! viewers and listeners this morning. Mitchell called the exemption a “favor” his union didn’t ask for and told Amy Goodman, “An assault on one is an assault on all. As firefighters and police officers, we do not sit idly by. We make things happen.”
Sources: Democracy Now!, Mother Jones, The Nation, Washington Post, Yes!
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Monday, November 15, 2010 1:46 PM
Revenues and Spending Exluding Interest, by Category, as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product Under [Congressional Budgest Office's] Long-Term Budget Scenario.*
Economist Robert Reich and Mother Jonesblogger Kevin Drum agree on the proposal put forth by co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson last week to reduce the federal budget deficit. They agree that they disagree with it, that is. Or they at least disagree with where the report places its emphasis.
According to Reich:
At their best, presidential commissions focus the public’s attention—not only on the right solution to some important problem but also on the right problem. Sadly, this preliminary report does neither.
If the report misses the mark, where then should the commission be looking? “[A]ny serious long-term deficit plan will spend about 1% of its time on the discretionary budget, 1% on Social Security, and 98% on healthcare,” Drum writes.
Any proposal that doesn't maintain approximately that ratio shouldn't be considered serious. The Simpson-Bowles plan, conversely, goes into loving detail about cuts to the discretionary budget and Social Security but turns suddenly vague and cramped when it gets to Medicare. That's not serious.
Reich agrees, with slightly different percentages:
As to solution, the report mentions but doesn’t emphasize the biggest driver of future deficits – the relentless rise in health-care costs coupled with the pending corrosion of 77 million boomer bodies. This is 70 percent of the problem, but it gets about 3 percent of the space in the draft.
And, while the report suffers from the lack of attention it gives to health-care costs, it suffers a more fundamental flaw, according the Reich: The “unquestioned assumption that America’s biggest economic challenge is to reduce the federal budget deficit.”
This is Reich’s drum, and he beats it often. Calling it “budget-deficit mania,” he fears that too much attention given to reducing the deficit while still very much feeling the effects of the Great Recession could lead a slow, but steady climb out of that recession right off a cliff, ending in an economic flatline. Pointing out that in the past even a national debt of 120 percent of GDP has not been a lasting issue because the U.S. economy regained strength, Reich sees government as “the only remaining booster rocket” for the economy, since people aren’t spending and companies aren’t hiring. To focus too much on deficit reduction at the expense of investments that will improve the country will have dangerous long-term consequences.
The preliminary report of the President’s deficit commission doesn’t help. It’s another example of budget-deficit mania generating more heat than light.
While Drum dismisses the thing on its face:
Bottom line: this document isn't really aimed at deficit reduction. It's aimed at keeping government small. There's nothing wrong with that if you're a conservative think tank and that's what you're dedicated to selling. But it should be called by its right name. This document is a paean to cutting the federal government, not cutting the federal deficit.
Extra: Read a statement signed by more than 300 economists and civic leaders, including Robert Kuttner (a co-founder, along with Robert Reich, of The American Prospect), that fleshes out the job-growth path, as opposed to the deficit-reduction path to recovery.
: The alternative fiscal scenario deviates from CBO’s baseline projections even during the next 10 years, incorporating some changes in policy that are widely expected to occur and that policymakers have regularly made in the past.
Source: Mother Jones, Robert Reich
Image from the Congressional Budget Office.
Friday, October 29, 2010 5:20 PM
Two Tea Party leaders, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, have been jet-setting all over the country ginning up support for conservative politicians. Literally.
They’ve been flying around in a private jet like Wall Street CEOs, except they’re heading to “grassroots” rallies instead of merger talks. Meckler and Martin don’t say how outraged, ordinary citizens can find the money to support such extravagance, and they don’t have to. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this year's Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, they can now accept unlimited funding without disclosing the identities of their donors.
No one would even know about the jets themselves, but Meckler and Martin never counted on Mother Jones, or a reporter named Stephanie Mencimer. Using public flight-tracking information, the Tea Party Patriots’ flight schedule, and some serious attention to details in the group’s own videos, Mencimer was able to figure out which jet the not-so-populist duo were using. She then traced the plane to Raymond F. Thomson, founder and CEO of a semiconductor company called Semitool, which he sold last year for a cool $364 million.
It’s both sad and hilarious to see the secret financial arrangements of the super-rich masquerading as grassroots activism. But it also shows the lengths to which reporters must go to actually report on political spending in the wake of Citizens United. There is no documentation to follow, just the contrails of private jets.
Social groups target state races
And while secret political spending has been dominated by big corporations this cycle, the legal maneuvering that liberated corporate coffers was actually performed by fringe right-wing groups targeting social issues. As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent:
Groups advocating against abortion and gay marriage have waged a low-grade war on laws restricting their ability to spend money freely in elections since the early 1980s, and their victory in the recent Citizens United ruling has hardly caused them to rest on their laurels.
Our democracy is now more beholden to corporate greed than ever, but at least gays won’t be allowed to visit each other in the hospital.
This is just the beginning of corporate rights
But the implications of Citizens United extend far beyond the (critically important) realm of campaign finance itself, as Jeff Clements and John Bonifaz of the organization Free Speech for People emphasize in an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! As Bonifaz notes:
Citizens United was not just a campaign finance case, it was a corporate rights case. In fact, it was an extreme extension of a corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment for thirty years.
At its core, Citizens United grants First Amendment rights to corporations on the grounds that corporations are people, just like ordinary citizens. Sound crazy? It is.
The bill of rights for corporations?
As AlterNet’s Joshua Holland emphasizes in an interview with historian Thom Hartmann, the implications of the view that corporations are people are simply absurd. Now corporations have been granted First Amendment rights, but what happens when they start arguing for Second Amendment rights? And what would it even mean for a corporation to have Second Amendment rights?
A visual map of Campaign Cash
What are the most common themes and issues surrounding the untold amounts of cash flowing into this election cycle? To create that visual, the Media Consortium piped 10 articles by our members through Wordle. While all the articles were generally focused on this topic, they were picked at random and published between October 25-29.
For clarity's sake, we made "Tea Party" "TeaParty," "Supreme Court" became "SupremeCourt," and we also merged the first and last names of key players such as Karl Rove and Jim DeMint. Finally, we removed any extraneous words such as "the," "and," and "even." We did not combine the words corporate/corporation/corporations or Republican/Republicans (but examine the frequency as much as the size). To get the latest reporting on the funds feeding into the mid-term elections, go to www.themediaconsortium.org or follow the search term #campaigncash on Twitter. Wordle research by Amanda Anderson.
But wait, there's more!
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
Friday, October 29, 2010 12:29 PM
“If there are 14 and 15 and 16-year-olds, 13-year-olds, 12-year-olds out there watching this video,” says author, gay-rights activist, and love-advice mogul Dan Savage, “what I’d really like you to take away from it is that it gets better . . . and it can get great—it can get awesome.” These were among the first encouraging words of the It Gets Better project founded by Savage in response to the suicide of Billy Lucas, a teen who was harassed to the point of life-ending depression for being gay. Since the anti-bullying project’s inception, it has receivedenormoussupportfromcelebrities, professionalorganizations, andeverydaypeople. But for one already at-risk group, youths in foster care, chances are it’s not getting better.
Following the trials of Kenneth Jones—a gay foster child from Washington, DC—Mother Jones reports on the outright hostility toward homosexuals within the system and the lack of support for them when their situations become dire. The magazine dug up some dark statistics about foster care for youths:
According to the American Bar Association's 2008 guidebook for child-welfare lawyers and judges, virtually all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning kids in group homes had reported verbal harassment; 70 percent had been subjected to violence; and 78 percent had either run away or been removed from a foster placement for reasons related to their sexuality.
What’s more upsetting is that many foster homes are unwilling to even accept gay teens. Jerry Walters, vice president for foster-care services with the Jacksonville-based Boys' Home Association, told Mother Jones that “his organization recently surveyed its 246 families and found only 21 who were willing to accept a gay teenager.” There are some tactics that may alleviate the problem, including reaching out to gay and lesbian adults and recruiting them as foster parents and housing foster kids in independent-living facilities, but they are largely unused. It’s one unfortunate situation that needs to get better.
Image courtesy of
Nathan Csonka Photography
, licensed under
Thursday, August 26, 2010 1:51 PM
Since the moment an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the muckrakers at Mother Jones have been on the beat. After months evading local law enforcement, drilling BP-execs for answers, and witnessing a slow tide of oil lap at the shores of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, MoJo’s staff have released an excoriating report on ecological peril in the Gulf region.
Julia Whitty’s examination of the hidden threat to the ocean’s mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones—the stretch of ocean approximately four miles beneath sunlight’s reach and a critical, less-understood area of the ocean’s ecosystem—from chemicals used by BP to alleviate the oil spill will make your stomach drop. By using potentially toxic chemicals that break up globs of oil before they ever reach the surface—technically called “dispersants”—BP has ensured that the full scope of the spill will never be seen.
Although the devastation of the spill still feels immediate and visceral, the implicit message of Mother Jones is that the worst is yet to come. One particularly shocking info-graphic maps the infrastructure of the oil business in the Gulf. Here’s a spoiler: There are thousands of oil platforms, rigs, and wells and miles and miles of oil pipelines that are just waiting to get ripped apart by a hurricane.
Thanks as always, Mother Jones, for fearlessly exposing the truth and depressing us at the same time.
Source: Mother Jones
Image by lagohsep, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 21, 2010 3:32 PM
News Corp., parent company of the notoriously anti-green Fox News, plans to go entirely carbon neutral by the end of 2010.
In her Mother Jones article “Fair and…Carbon Neutral?,” Kate Sheppard explores Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to make his media conglomerate completely green through “reducing energy use in its office facilities, moving to renewable energy, and purchasing offsets to take care of the remaining emissions.”
Not surprisingly, News Corp.’s green movement seems to be fueled less by altruism or any meaningful concern for the environment than it does financial gain and economic incentives (Rupert Murdoch referred to the whole effort as “simply good business,” and Sheppard points out that News Corp. is merely making a voluntary change that will soon become mandatory for many companies).
Still, recognizing its relative insignificance in the grand scheme of global emissions reduction, the corporation is focusing on spreading its eco-friendly mindset to a group with a much larger carbon footprint than its own: its audience. By “encouraging subsidiaries to run public service announcements on global warming” and “weaving climate-related themes into its entertainment programs,” News Corp. hopes to initiate more far-reaching change through its viewers.
After listening to Sean Hannity denounce carbon offsets as a “fraud” or Glenn Beck sneer derisively at the shrinking polar ice caps, I can’t help but think Fox News’ audience will be slightly confused when they are met with a PSA promoting greener living during the subsequent commercial break.
Source: Mother Jones (article not yet available online)
Image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, May 24, 2010 11:44 AM
A journalist travels to Louisiana for a look at the spill and finds herself in a web of PR flacks, angry law enforcement officials, and spill workers. Oh, and that oil washing up on beaches? BP is bagging it and processing it. They've still got to make a buck, right?
God bless Mother Jones.
Source: Mother Jones
Image by uscgd8, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 30, 2010 5:08 PM
It’s easy to avert your eyes from disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil rig spill, but for people willing to hold their gaze and witness our oil addiction’s worst side effects, there’s plenty of excellent media coverage of this slowly unfolding tragedy. Among our favorites:
The New York Times published an interactive map detailing the wildlife that could be at risk. Audubon’s blog The Perch also covers the wildlife angle, including not just birds but whales, turtles, and sharks.
Agence France Presse (via Grist) reports that Louisiana shrimpers have filed a lawsuit against rig operator BP, accusing it of negligence, seeking millions of dollars in damages for the catch they’re going to lose.
The Houston Chronicle reports that investigators had been noticing more oil rigs having “blowouts” during a procedure in which they cement the walls of undersea wells.
Grist has ongoing coverage—much from Agence France Presse—and commentary, including a piece by Keith Harrington speculating that the accident may lead to a better climate bill. Harrington points out that before Obama approved new drilling, “10 coastal state senators wrote a letter to their colleagues John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) pressing the trio to keep expanded offshore drilling out of their now floundering climate and energy package.”
At The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan writes, “If the Democrats do not use this disaster to advance the energy bill ASAP, they may miss a critical moment to escape the oil addiction even George W. Bush acknowledged in his final years.”
Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes thinks Sullivan has it only “half right,” though: “It is a critical moment that Democrats are insane not to use, but the KGL [Kerry-Graham-Lieberman] energy bill isn’t the plan we need—it’s the least-terrible bill that was believed to have a chance of passing in the Senate. Now, with this ongoing crisis changing the political climate, there should be an opening for a better bill.”
Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones noted that political winds were already shifting: “On Friday, environmental groups, many of which had indicated a willingness to accept some offshore drilling in a climate and energy bill in exchange for components like a price on carbon pollution and a renewable energy standard, were rallying in opposition to Obama’s plan. “We were willing to accept some new drilling, but this changes everything,” said Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program at Sierra Club. “I can’t imagine there’s going to be any offshore drilling in this bill.”
Sources: New York Times, Audubon, Grist, Houston Chronicle, The Atlantic, Mother Jones
Monday, April 19, 2010 2:54 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25, at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C., and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of political coverage.
The American Prospect reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy. www.prospect.org
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending the day’s political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle. www.motherjones.com
Ms. has been at the forefront of feminist politics since 1972. In 2009 the editors shone light on a host of pressing issues, including the Obama administration’s abortion policies and the need for domestic workers’ rights. Featuring journalism that provokes action, this quarterly loves a righteous fight. www.msmagazine.com
The Nation has been a vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, weighing in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend against the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real. www.thenation.com
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway. www.tnr.com
The Progressive turned 100 last year, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers. www.progressive.org
With hard-hitting reports on immigration, life on the border, education, prisons, and social justice issues, The Texas Observer has carved out a niche worth celebrating. Its unmatched reportage and analysis kneecaps those who traffic in malfeasance, corruption, and injustice. www.texasobserver.org
Washington Monthly forged ahead of the mainstream on many issues this year, from textbook revisionism in Texas to the subprime student loan racket, making it a must-read beyond the Beltway. Its reporting is unimpeachable, its analysis sound, and its reputation for sagacity well earned. www.washingtonmonthly.com
Want more? Meet our international, health and wellness, spirituality, and science and technology nominees.
Thursday, April 15, 2010 5:27 PM
Many veggie burgers are made using hexane, a pollutant and neurotoxin also found in gasoline, Mother Jones reports, citing a recent study by the Cornucopia Institute. Writes Kiera Butler:
In order to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, manufacturers of soy-based fake meat like to make their products have as little fat as possible. The cheapest way to do this is by submerging soybeans in a bath of hexane to separate the oil from the protein. Says Cornucopia Institute senior researcher Charlotte Vallaeys, “If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane.”
These veggie burgers are made with hexane:
Boca Burger (conventional)
It’s All Good Lightlife
Yves Veggie Cuisin
While these veggie burgers are hexane-free:
Boca Burgers “made with organic soy”
Morningstar “made with organic”
Superburgers by Turtle Island
The Mother Jones blog post kicked up a lot of comments and questions and led Butler to do a follow-up interview with Vallaeys. The researcher points out that the hexane process is used to make many cooking oils, margarines, and other products. A key question of course, is whether residues from the hexane remain in the food—and Vallaeys concedes that more testing is needed in this realm.
But personally, I don’t need any more testing to convince me that using a gasoline ingredient to soak the fat out of vegetables is a bad idea, and to cut foods that use this process from my diet.
See the full report (pdf) on the Cornucopia website.
While the rest of us are freaking out about our veggie burgers, we might do well to get outraged on behalf of babies, too. Writes Butler:
More worrisome still: According to the report, “Nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane extracted.”
Sources: Mother Jones, Cornucopia Institute
Wednesday, December 09, 2009 4:11 PM
One idea floating around the international climate change talks in Copenhagen is the notion that letting the earth warm by two degrees would be acceptable. A two-degree agreement would translate to 3.75 degrees for Africa, according to Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, “which means basically Africa is being turned into a furnace.” Di-Aping, one of the primary negotiators for a coalition of mostly impoverished nations called the Group of 77, told Mother Jones, “That’s basically certain death for Africa, and as such it’s not something that any African—man, child, or woman—will accept.” In response to the idea, representatives staged a protest by chanting, “two degrees is suicide.” You can watch a video of that protest below:
Source: Mother Jones
Friday, November 27, 2009 3:18 PM
The current issue of Mother Jones offers a handy guide to the eco-labels that get slapped on food, flowers, and other products, parsing overly broad claims like “free range” and “fragrance free” (practically meaningless) and pointing to trustworthy labels that have sets of standards to back them up (official “Certified Biodegradable” label, yes; plain old “Biodegradable,” no). Labels from the Forest Stewardship Council, Humane Society, and Marine Stewardship Council get high marks; ubiquitous declarations like “hypoallergenic” and “cruelty-free” are exposed for the standard-less shams that they are. It’s a great cheat-sheet (compiled by Rebecca Clarren, a savvy environmental reporter) for savvy shoppers.
Source: Mother Jones
Friday, October 09, 2009 4:48 PM
If people knew how bad fast food is, they’d eat less, right? Not according to a new study highlighted by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. New York City recently enacted a law that forces chain restaurants to post the calorie counts on menus. Data published in Health Affairs journal found that about half of the people they interviewed hadn’t noticed the calorie counts (pdf), and only 15 percent took the labels into consideration when making choices. What’s worse, after inspecting the respondents food receipts, the researchers found that overall, people were actually buying more calories than before the law was put into place. Drum reports, “The results aren't statistically significant, though, so basically all the researchers can really say is that the law (so far) hasn't had any effect.” For advocates fighting obesity and fast food, the study seems to say activists should find different tack.
Source: Mother Jones
Friday, September 25, 2009 4:27 PM
A new, yet-to-be-named, local website will be forming next year to fill in the gaps left by regional newspaper shutterings in the Bay Area. The nonprofit site nabbed a hefty donation—$5 million—from San Francisco businessman F. Warren Hellman, and its expertise and manpower will come from “KQED-FM, which has a 28–person news staff, and the 120 students of the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism,” the New York Times reports.
Source: The New York Times
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 10:47 AM
An arresting photo essay about the city of Janesville, Wisconsin, published in Mother Jones, serves as a stark illustration of the troubling numbers released in the new national poverty reports. For nearly four generations, the town was home to one of the oldest General Motors factories in the country. The plant abruptly halted its assembly line in December 2008.
The somber photos, taken by Danny Wilcox Frazier, capture Janesville’s remaining residents living like ghosts amid the ruins of a once-booming company town, where a defunct strip club has become a venue for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and empty hotels don’t bother leaving the light on for anyone.
Source: Mother Jones
Friday, July 10, 2009 12:24 PM
Pop songs romanticizing murder and corruption among drug cartels and federales (Mexican national police) have been a staple in Mexican culture since the '60s, writes William T. Vollmann in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.
Through a series of intimate encounters, Vollmann explores the complicated role the baladas prohibidas, or narcocorridos, play in the lives of people in Mexico, many of whom understandably vilify corrupt authorities and uphold drug lords as idyllic figures of honor and bravery, seemingly without a sense of fear for their own lives. But recently balladas prohibidas have come under fire, and even been banned from certain Mexican radio stations and outlawed altogether in Baja California. He writes:
The policeman Carlos Pérez said that some of the most famous ballads were about Jesús Malverde, whom he called the patron saint of the narcotraffickers. He lived in Sinaloa. He was Robin Hood. He sold drugs and used the money to help the people. He was killed in a gun battle because he didn't want to give himself up. Some say he was never caught. Some say he died of old age, and others say that he is still alive. Everybody has his own story
Below are some popular narcocorridos we dug up from YouTube.
Source: Mother Jones, YouTube
Image biy DavidDennis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 2:07 PM
Will the death of journalism mean the end of democracy? The newest issue of Mother Jones provides us with a rundown of depressing statistics about the state of media:
- 43% of Americans say it would hurt civil life “a lot” if their local newspapers closed. Yet when asked if they’d miss their paper, 42% say “not much” or “not at all.”
- By one estimate, an entirely Web-based New York Times could generate only enough money to support about 20% of the paper’s current staff.
- The editor of the New York Times Magazine says a typical cover story costs more than $40,000 to produce—and that excludes editing, art, and fact-checking. That’s more than Mother Jones’ story budget for freelance writers for an entire issue.
- The top 10% of bloggers earn an average of $19,000 a year. For all bloggers, the median is $200 for men, $100 for women.
Source: Mother Jones (article not yet available online)
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:30 AM
Reports coming out of Iran from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and various blogs are giving foreigners an unprecedented view into the ongoing political crisis in the country. The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, blogging from “a pier in Cape Cod,” has emerged as one of the major arbiters of information on the Iranian protests. Twitter and Facebook users are turning their profiles green in support of the protesters. The same technologies are giving idealists around the world the chance to engage in the crisis, both symbolically and actively. But just because people can engage, doesn’t mean they always should.
The raw, unedited nature of much of the information coming out of Iran could give every the impression that they know what’s really going on inside the country. The abject failure of cable news networks to cover the events reinforces that idea. Editor and Publisher recently admitted, “Web reports from Iranians, including Twitter feeds, have outflanked much of print and certainly cable TV.” With foreign reporters getting kicked out of the country, the reliance on social media for news will likely continue to grow.
As influential as social networking tools are in publicizing Iran’s conflict, much of that information has been unreliable. It was widely reported that opposition leader Mousavi was placed under house arrest, which was just one of many rumors that circulated and later turned out to be untrue. The best reporting, according to Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones, may be coming from the BBC and the New York Times, and other mainstream, traditional outlets.
News from Iran has also made people “desperate to do something to show solidarity,” according to tech guru Clay Shirky in an interview with TED. Shirky said, “Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement.” This has led people to help out the protesters, according to Shirky, by offering secure web proxies to help them mask their online identities. That sense of involvement, however, has the potential to lead people astray.
Some foreigners have been moved to launch web-based attacks against the Iranian state-run media, overwhelm the state’s servers with a constant stream of requests. Tech-President advocated this “bit of cyber aggression aimed at the Iranian government” as a way to channel the considerable energies of observers outside Iran. The process is so easy that I accidentally helped launch one of these attacks by clicking on an errant link while researching this blog post.
The motivation behind the web-attacks is understandable, but they may end up doing more harm than good. Evgeny Morozov, writing for Foreign Policy, points out that these attacks from other countries actually strengthen the Iranian government’s argument that “foreign intervention” is the driving force behind the protests. And if the attacks get bad enough, there’s a chance that the government could simply pull the plug on the highly centralized internet throughout the country, cutting off the Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube videos that feed the foreign knowledge of the protests.
Sources: The Atlantic, Editor and Publisher, Mother Jones, TED, Tech-President, Foreign Policy
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:18 PM
This morning, Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here’s a quick look at the blogosphere’s reactions so far.
Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog has an informative, balanced, and calm overview of Sotomayor’s qualifications, as well as a helpful warning about the controversy that’s already stirring:
Because proponents’ and opponents’ claims about nominees are provided for public consumption through the mass media, they involve bumper sticker messages; there is not much nuance. Almost always, they collapse into assertions of ideological extremism, as when some on the left attempted to portray John Roberts as a (secret) ideologue and single-minded tool of the government and corporations against individuals.
SCOTUSblog has also assembled a very helpful series of posts (here, here, and here) summarizing Sotomayor’s opinions in civil cases.
Mark Halperin predicts an easy confirmation at Time’s blog:
Obama has chosen a mainstream progressive, rather than a wild-eyed liberal. And he has chosen a rags-to-riches Hispanic woman. Her life story is inspirational—a political consultant's dream. Since she is certain to be confirmed, there are plenty of smart conservatives who will, by midday Tuesday, have done the political cost-benefit analysis: at a time when Republicans are trying to demonstrate that their party can reach beyond rich white men, what mileage is there in doing anything but celebrating such a historic choice?
At Mother Jones, David Corn parses the potential for a conservative “cat-fight”:
By selecting Sotomayor, Obama is forcing Senate GOPers to choose between attacking a Hispanic appointee (and possibly alienating Hispanic voters) and ticking off social conservatives. At the moment, the GOPers' calculation seems obvious. But it could come at a cost of a cat-fight on the right.
We have some hints of what the battle over Sotomayor’s nomination might look like because, as Steve Benen notes at the Washington Monthly, “many leading far-right activists—including Limbaugh and Fox News personalities—started the offensive against her weeks ago.”
It’s worth noting that they did so with help from the so-called “respectable intellectual center,” in the form of Jeffrey Rosen’s May 4 piece for The New Republic, “The Case Against Sotomayor.” The article, which has been debated and debunked by several bloggers, used mostly anonymous sources to paint a pretty negative picture of Sotomayor’s intellect, temperament, and general preparedness for the Supreme Court. As Jason Linkins puts it at Huffington Post, Rosen essentially characterized Sotomayor as “a not-smart person who nevertheless went to Princeton, and a hotheaded Latina whose ethnic hotheadedness seemingly carried none of the accepted, value-added ethnic hotheadedness of Antonin Scalia.”
Rosen’s unsubstantiated characterizations of Sotomayor rapidly spread to mainstream media outlets. Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:
[T]he meme couldn't be contained. It resurfaced less than a week later in two Washington Post articles and has colored today's coverage of the nomination, and of all cable news coverage of the SCOTUS stakes for the past month.
It’s definitely showing up in the post-nomination right-wing blogs, too. “Conservatives rejoice,” writes Erick Erickson at RedState. “Of all the picks Obama could have picked, he picked the most intellectually shallow.” At National Review’s The Corner blog, Ramesh Ponnuru deems Sotomayor “Obama’s Harriet Miers.”
Adam Serwer dismantles this ridiculous comparison in an excellent post at The American Prospect:
Sotomayor's resume doesn't just look good compared to Harriet Miers. Sotomayor has more than 10 years on the appeals court—by contrast, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, had two years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit before being nominated. As a white man, however, his credentials and intelligence are beyond reproach.
A case against Sotomayor based on her "credentials" or "intelligence" is false on its face—this is a kind of Southern Strategy all over again. By stoking white resentment over the rise of allegedly unqualified minorities getting prominent positions, the GOP is hoping to derail her nomination. It probably won't work, but it's another sign of how little the GOP learned from last year's election.
Sources: SCOTUSblog, Time, Mother Jones, Washington Monthly, The New Republic, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, RedState, National Review, The American Prospect
Monday, April 20, 2009 1:56 PM
Artist and activist (and visionary!) Favianna Rodriguez collaborated with eco-chef Bryant Terry to design these beautiful posters addressing food justice:
The posters debuted a few weeks ago, at the release party for Terry's phenomenal new cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen (out last month on Da Capo), and just in time to join a host of alt-press stories on food activism. Mother Jones recently published "Smart Growth," a fantastic special report on the subject, and the new issue of YES! profiles Will Allen, whose urban farming operation Growing Power produces a staggering 159 varieties of food—tomatoes, honey, chickens (and their free-range eggs), goats, you name it—in the middle of a Milwaukee "food desert," an area that's home to zero full-service grocery stores.
Sources: Vegan Soul Kitchen, Mother Jones, YES!, RaceWire
Images courtesy of Favianna Rodriguez.
Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:36 AM
Have you heard? In 2007 a record-breaking number of U.S. babies—nearly 40 percent—were born to single mothers. But the stat that’s not making headlines, writes Julia Whitty for Mother Jones, is the one we ought to heed: 2007 also holds the title for most babies born annually in the United States ever, period. That’s 4,317,119 bundles of joy.
According to a study published in Global Environmental Change, which Whitty cites, every American baby “costs” six times a parent’s own carbon emissions. “The bottom line is that absolutely nothing else you can do—driving a more fuel efficient car, driving less, installing energy-efficient windows, replacing lightbulbs, replacing refrigerators, recycling—comes even close to simply not having that child,” she writes.
Assuming perpetuation of the standard U.S. lifestyle, true indeed. But Whitty mitigates her argument with a final stat: “In comparison, under current Bangladeshi conditions, each child adds 56 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of the average female.”
And in a snap, we’re back where we began. Our spiraling global population is part of the climate equation, no doubt. But sitting heavy on the scales is a disparity in consumption so vast that a single U.S. newborn can be charged with 169 times the environmental havoc as a Bangladeshi infant. So much for the innocence of youth.
Plainly speaking, there’s got to be a way to combine consideration for how many people with how much each individual consumes—before nudging the door open to preposterous scenarios where the childfree American can consume with impunity, or carbon-light countries encourage their populations to boom without concern.
As Utne Reader’s publisher Bryan Welch writes in our Jan.-Feb. 2009 issue: “Conservation alone cannot save us from ourselves. With the right combination of imagination and common sense, though, we can begin to address a hard reality: that although the world can always get better, it’s not going to get any bigger.”
Sources: Mother Jones, Global Environmental Change
Image by normanack, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:27 AM
International adoption, like any business, is driven by market forces. In this month’s Mother Jones, Jim Carney tells the story of a boy adopted from India into an American family who is later revealed to have been kidnapped rather than relinquished. After the news is broken to both families, the boy’s Indian parents wish to have contact with their American counterparts, who choose instead to cease all communication. The article is accompanied by a podcast interview with Carney, who elaborates on what happened after the story was published, as well as his own views on how the supply and demand of international adoption contribute to its corruption.
“American families don’t want children who have lived in orphanages for too long,” he explains, noting the vulnerability of institutionalized children toward diseases, neurological problems, and general lack of care. “They aren’t very saleable.”
So, corrupt adoption brokers look for healthy children of “better stock”, i.e. from loving families, abduct them, and then concoct back stories that label the children as willingly relinquished. Thus, the receiving families, predominantly from the global west, get what they want, and the brokers get paid.
Systemic corruption in international adoption is not limited to India, either, with similar reports common from other sending countries.
For further examination of international adoption’s supply chain, check out E.J. Graff’s op-ed in The Washington Post, “The Orphan Manufacturing Chain,” which breaks down the system.
Beneath the traditional rhetoric of international adoption as save-the-children altruism lies the undeniable influence of basic economics. Framing international adoption in economic terms allows us to deconstruct the various forces that drive it and contribute to its corruption.
Sources: Mother Jones, The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 10:01 AM
There’s a lot of conflicting information available on how to live lighter on the earth: Washing dishes by hand uses more water than a dish washer, but it also uses less energy. Paper bags from the grocery store produce a lot of greenhouse gases, but plastic bags aren’t nearly as biodegradable. What’s an eco-conscious person to do? The new issue of Mother Jones tries to solve these questions and 18 other “Econundrums” with simple, straightforward answers.
Monday, October 06, 2008 3:37 PM
American politics crept its way into Paris Fashion Week, where models lankier than Obama himself strutted down runways in attire inspired by the presidential contender. Designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac debuted a loud yellow, black, and white dress with a headshot of Obama printed on the front and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words, “I have a dream today,” on the back. The model sporting the dress wore fingerless gloves reading “yes” on one hand and “no” on the other. Obama also captured the creative imaginations of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, who sent a simple knit dress with “Obama” written boldly across the chest down the runway as part of a tribute show to Sonia Rykiel.
But the Democrat isn’t the only one making a mark on the design and retail worlds. Mother Jones reports the release of the Sarah-Cuda, a pink camouflage crossbow named after Sarah Palin and touted by the retailer as a “tribute to women like Sarah Palin who bear the responsibility of family and work while strengthening the moral fiber of society.”
Sunday, September 07, 2008 11:22 AM
Christians are trying a new tactic to pack pews: magic. That's right, pick-a-card, nothing-up-my-sleeve magic. Writing for Mother Jones, Catherine Price explores the world of Christian illusionists, entertainers who use tricks to connect audiences with Christian concepts. For example, “[a] mind-reading trick may illustrate God's omniscience; an escape-artist routine reminds audiences that they can break free of sin; an illusion in which three black rings explode into color is a metaphor for what it's like to suddenly see the light.”
Critics point out that the Bible expressly forbids any type of witchcraft or sorcery (a problem that comes up frequently, most recently in a controversy over Harry Potter), but these entertainers insist that the ban is not an issue. They’re careful not to equate their illusions with the miracles found in the Bible, and claim Jesus’ stories and parables as the inspiration for their craft. In other words, they’re following Jesus’ teaching examples, only with silk scarves and coin tricks rather than walks on water. Replacing fire and brimstone with smoke and mirrors may be effective at drawing crowds, but Price writes that entertainers must not “derive too much pleasure from performing, lest they divert glory from God. Given that most successful magicians (not to mention preachers) are born scene-stealers, this can be tough.”
Monday, August 25, 2008 6:11 PM
Ahh, prepackaged conventions. What’s the media to do? How about rehash the primaries? Hence, we have the Hillary Clinton narrative that just won’t die: The party’s divided, delegates are going to spoil the convention, chaos will reign (cross your fingers).
The Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk smacked down the tired media meme last week. Choice moment:
[T]he angry-women-will-sink-Obama myth is yet another example of the media confusing activist opinion with public opinion in general. And public opinion generally defies such a simple—if dramatic—storyline.
But the media’s not the only one dumping gasoline on a dying fire. There’s also the McCain camp, which just released this ad:
Kevin Drum, newly blogging for Mother Jones, surmises that “the folks running McCain’s war room are getting cabin fever or something.” But that could be a good thing:
Maybe an attack ad this transparent will be just the thing to finally get all those ex-Hillary supporters fully on board with Obama.
Drum points to some savvy analysis by Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic, who notes that despite all the hand-wringing about party unity, the Democrats are remarkably in step with each other:
[F]or all the talk of disunity, the really remarkable story about the Democrats right now is the absence of meaningful dissent on the party's agenda. When it comes to substance, the Democrats are arguably more united than they have been since the early 1960s. Yes, you can find divisions on both domestic and foreign policy, on everything from the relative priority of deficit reduction to America's response to Darfur. But these debates don't match the kind we've seen in the past.
For her part, Hillary had this to say about McCain’s ad blasts this morning at a breakfast for the New York delegation: “I’m Hillary Clinton, and I do not approve that message.”
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
Monday, August 25, 2008 12:44 PM
Last week, Vin Crosbie, an outspoken critic of the so-called “digital revolution,” predicted that more than half of the nearly 1,500 daily newspapers in the United States “won't exist in print, e-paper, or Web site formats by the end of the next decade.”
As blogs take over print columns and advertisers study up on their HTML, the bricks and mortar of the physical newsroom are left in awkward limbo. Office work takes up less space than it did even 10 years ago, with computers that can slide through cracks in the sidewalk and rolodexes that amount to nothing more than pixels. Those lucky small-publications writers who haven’t yet been laid off are increasingly working from home, leaving behind decorated cubicles and monthly office birthday parties.
The Mother Jones website features graphic designer Martin Gee’s glimpse at one such dying newsroom, the San Jose Mercury News. Gee's photographs document a fluorescently lit ghost town, from its ever-blinking voicemail alerts to a graveyard of unplugged monitors. He captured the detritus of a shrinking staff from April to June 2008, when he was caught in a round of layoffs and left the paper. (View his entire "Reduction in Force" collection here.)
One must wonder how much hollow air our skyscrapers contain behind their mirrored windows, and if, in our age of continuous development, we might look toward existing space to get the job done.
Images courtesy of Martin Gee.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 11:11 AM
We all have different definitions of financial security and wealth, but some are more realistic than others. When asked to define a “rich” income level at the Saddleback Forum this past weekend, the responses from Barack Obama and John McCain were revealing. Obama said $150,000, while McCain posited, “How about $5 million?” He was ostensibly joking, but his response is the perfect example of sincerity cloaked in fatuousness, and completely in line with his party’s economic philosophy.
Ezra Klein, at the American Prospect, made a chart to contextualize the candidates’ definitions of wealth:
Klein concludes that McCain’s “profoundly out of touch” answer, facetious or not, is frustrating but inevitable: He's been richer, for longer, than Obama and most of his fellow Americans. “Nothing weird or malign: Just the naturally skewed perspective of someone who lives on a particular extreme, in this case, the extreme edge of the wealth distribution.” Obama is, by his own definition, undeniably wealthy, but Klein argues that because his family’s acquisition of wealth is relatively recent, Obama’s outlook is more realistic.
McCain and his companions in the richest slice of America’s population have no concept of what it is to barely get by on a middle-class income, much less at or below the unrealistically low poverty line. While statistically unsurprising, this warped economic outlook will have dire consequences for the middle and lower classes if McCain becomes president, all but ensuring an extension of the Bush Administration’s apparent mandate that the rich get richer at the expense of pretty much everyone else.
Chart courtesy of Ezra Klein.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008 6:13 PM
Gary Brecher is the War Nerd—a pseudonymous columnist for the English-language Moscow-based publication, the eXile. (The print-edition eXile was shutdown this spring, but the feisty periodical has found a new home online.) Soft Skull recently published a compilation of Brecher’s columns, which we reviewed in our July-August 2008 issue.
Brecher’s eponymous War Nerd is a curious, in-your-face book, as Utne associate editor Hannah Lobel points out in her review, calling the tome a “raucous, offensive, and sometimes amusing CliffsNotes compilation of wars both well-known and ignored.” Lately, the man who produced such a volume has attracted some curiosity himself.
War Nerd netted a review in Mother Jones that expresses skepticism regarding Brecher’s authority, given that he makes “continual narrative detours,” many about how he “is overweight, underpaid, and has a hard time getting a date.” Brecher offered explanation for those digressions on the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge. The nerd moniker was a “defensive move,” Brecher says. “Look, I understand that you can do all kinds of psychoanalysis about why I like war, so let me say up front, ‘Yeah, I’m a fat loser and I flunked puberty.’ And you can link that up with me liking war all you want, but I’m the statistical norm, and there are a lot of me out there.”
Far from shooting himself in the foot—a little war metaphor for you there—Brecher demonstrates his knack for the “surprising analysis” of which Lobel wrote.
You can listen to the seven-minute segment here:
(Thanks, Richard Eoin Nash.)
Wednesday, July 02, 2008 5:18 PM
The phone sex world thrives on anonymity, on the ability of strangers to confess their innermost desires to a person both real and of their own creation. Phillip Toledano’s Phonesex project, featured in Mother Jones, lifts the veil on this interior world with a series of elegant, respectful portraits paired with text written by the subjects themselves.
The phone sex operators’ stories are quirky, amusing, insightful, and disturbing, but all of them reveal the complex personalities that are obscured by ads of airbrushed beauties entreating us to dash off into the bedroom and pick up the phone. They also reveal a great deal about their customers on the other end of the line and about the repressive cultural mores that make this industry so successful.
Toledano’s book is due out in September from Twin Palms. You can find more portraits on the project’s website, along with the full subjects’ complete writings.
Image courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
Monday, April 21, 2008 10:40 AM
There’s nothing like frightening news to ruin a good night’s sleep, especially if the news in question concerns the chemical components used in mattress production. You can’t count sheep if they’ve been vaporized in a cloud of carcinogenic fumes. And carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, are just one of the lovely chemicals that make up the beds we lie down in, according to a recent piece in Mother Jones (subscription required).
While long-term data about the general health risks of mattresses is lacking and difficult to acquire, a few particular brands seem notably questionable. For instance, Walter Bader, author of the book Toxic Bedrooms, had an Atlanta lab test a memory-foam mattress, which conforms to your resting position, and the results sniffed out 61 chemical emissions, including the “carcinogens benzene and naphthalene,” according to MoJo. Moreover, the chemicals, such as antimony oxide and, again, formaldehyde, used to ensure that mattresses are flame-retardant—federal regulations (pdf) require that mattresses resist catching fire from an open flame for 30 minutes—may pose, beyond cancer risks, allergic discomfort to those sensitive to chemicals.
Given the void of data, we should take this news with a measured acceptance. Still, some reliably harmless alternatives, produced with natural latex, organic cotton batting, and organic wool, exist for those seeking a safe mattress. If only beds could be made with the incredibly soft, imaginary wool from the sheep who lull you to sleep. But then the question becomes: Could you fall asleep to shorn sheep? That’d be weird. Forget I brought it up.
Monday, February 18, 2008 10:44 AM
Over the course of several months, “citizen contributor” Patrick Corcoran steadfastly plugged his favorite Democratic congressional candidate, Mark Pera, on the Chicago Tribune’s user-generated, local reporting site, Triblocal.com. Corcoran wrote more than a dozen articles in support of Pera, and the Pera campaign happily linked to his stories on their site, reports Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader.
The doting stories didn’t raise an alarm online, but they did once they hit newsprint. Every week, a round up of the site’s best stories, Trib Local, is shipped with the Chicago Tribune. The January 10 print supplement’s leading headline—“Democrat Mark Pera picks up support”—caught the eye of the parents of a staffer for Pera’s rival campaign and Corcoran’s hand finally tipped: The “citizen contributor” was also the Pera campaign’s media spokesperson. Whoops.
Citizen journalism is a much-lauded fruit of internet democracy, as Adam Weinstein notes in Mother Jones, but the stories produced by these self-selected reporters are seldom vetted by editors or otherwise quality-controlled, spawning a briar patch of new media ethics questions. “The Triblocal.com kind of citizen journalism has at least one conspicuous defect,” writes Miner, “nothing gets written about unless somebody feels like doing the writing.”
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Monday, January 28, 2008 2:39 PM
For those who find the authority of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money insufficiently Biblical, the Jan.-Feb. issue of Mother Jones provides a financial narrative that hinges more squarely on the Good Book. Mariah Blake reports on apocalypse-minded evangelicals defrauded by Ness Energy International, a company claiming access to untapped Israeli oil fields. Faithful investors believed the tall tales of unknown reserves because of Biblical hints that the discovery of Israeli oil signals Armageddon. The prophesized oil was never found, and many investors were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, some continue to display a strange optimism. James Cojanis, an early investor who lost over $100,000 and may invest $100,000 more, emphasizes his sunny outlook:
“I’m glad the stock price is in the tank,” he says. “When they hit oil and the stock goes sky-high, that means Armageddon is around the corner.”
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 12:21 PM
Holiday music hounds us at this time of year, especially if we happen to be supermarket employees, whose days are overrun with the plinking and sighing of electronic, instrumental remixes of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But it doesn’t stop there.
Writing on Mother Jones’ blog, The Riff, Gary Moskowitz brings our attention to other musical offenses of the holiday season, in particular the Monster Ballads Xmas CD. The record features stalwarts of the ’80s hair-metal scene, such as Cinderella and Dokken, performing classic holiday tunes. You can hear some of these delightful aural baubles on the album’s MySpace page.
If you’ve been drubbed into a stupor by “Comfort and Joy,” thereby nullifying the song’s upbeat message, you’re likely to feel only further drubbing at the hands of Monster Ballads Xmas. Nevertheless, the video for Dokken’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” also featured on the MySpace page, deserves a chuckle, as does Moskowitz’s important question: “When Tom Keifer of Cinderella sings ‘Blue Christmas,’ all I can think is, who the hell is Tom Keifer?” God bless, Gary, and amen. —Michael Rowe
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