In "The 'Animal Spirits of Capitalism' Are Devouring Us," I write about our biggest investigation in quite some time: A "stunning exposé," nearly six months in the making, that digs deep into the hidden world of private equity. It's quintessential Mother Jones journalism. And as we stare down a big $200,000-plus fundraising gap to close by June 30, next week, I hope you'll read about this huge project and, if you can, that you'll help make our work possible with an urgently needed donation today.
In "The 'Animal Spirits of Capitalism' Are Devouring Us," Monika Bauerlein writes about our biggest investigation in quite some time: A "stunning exposé," nearly six months in the making, that digs deep into the hidden world of private equity. And with $200,000-plus still to raise by June 30, we hope you'll read about this huge project and, if you can, that you'll help make our work possible with an urgently needed donation.
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Is That a President in Your Pocket? Who wouldn’t want the president in their pocket? After all, look at what he’s done for Big Oil, mining companies, and the top tax bracket. Now, thanks to the sly wit of Washington, D.C., satirist Bill Shein, you too can slip George W. in your pocket and feel the power.
Shein launched pocketpresident.com 18 months ago to express his outrage that President Bush is “awfully close with virtually every monied interest in the country.” Since then, about 50,000 people have downloaded their own “pocket president” for free. Big spenders can send in $3.95 — Shein donates any profits to the Natural Resources Defense Council — for the deluxe full-color cardboard version. It’s almost as lightweight and two-dimensional as the real thing!
— Alastair Paulin
Watching the Detectives If the Information Awareness Office didn’t exist, paranoid conspiracy theorists would have had to invent it. The office, a division of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is not only building the Orwellian-sounding Total Information Awareness system, a vast database of the employment records, ISP accounts, medical histories, and credit-card information of average Americans, but it is also headed up by Iran/Contra bogeyman John Poindexter and features perhaps the creepiest government logo ever. The logo has recently been pulled from the agency’s website, with the only explanation from DARPA being that the site’s content is in flux. But could it be that the agency realized the logo was just too spooky, even for an office of spooks? We checked our theory with some notable designers. — Andi Zeisler
Roger Black Chairman, Danilo Black Design Consultancy “This combines inhibition of liberties with thumpingly bad design. I was thinking the Rosicrucians might be upset because darpa stole their image. But the Rosicrucians’ website is beautiful. If the goal of this is to frighten the public, it succeeds.”
Art Chantry Graphic Artist “It’s a terrible design. The layout, the balance — it’s schlock. But from a cultural standpoint, it’s fantastic. If someone actually sat down and tried to make a parody of a design for a surveillance agency, they couldn’t have done any better. They might as well have put a swastika in there.”
Shepard Fairey Graphic Artist “That the government would be so blatant about the idea of seeing all and knowing all is disturbing, but at least they’re honest. Graphically, it’s the equivalent of something like Spinal Tap, where you can’t believe something is as bad as the jokes about it.”
Milton Glaser Founder, Milton Glaser Studio “This is not a design; it’s an assembly of ideas. The pyramid is traditionally a tomb. The image from the dollar bill, in Masonic terms, represents the eye of God. Why does the dollar represent information awareness? The latent totalitarianism in this is appalling.”
Want Irrigation with That? The deleterious effects that supersize portions pose to human health have been well documented. Now to the list of obesity, heart disease, and bad skin we can add a new evil: wasted water. A typical American eats four orders of fries a week, or 30 pounds a year, a 700 percent increase since Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s in 1955. It was Kroc who first developed the techniques necessary to mass-produce fries. In Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters, author Robert Glennon shows how each revolution in fry uniformity has come at an ecological cost.
Texture To ensure that the fries’ interior is properly fluffy, potatoes are washed, steam peeled, sliced, blanched, and par-fried in beef flavoring before being frozen and shipped to retail outlets. There they are deep-fried, which replaces their water with fat. Optimal potatoes, Ray Kroc deemed, are 80 percent water. But unless spuds absorb moisture at a constant rate, they develop eyes and knobs and grow into irregular potatoes. As McDonald’s standardization took off, such oddities were no longer commercially viable. So although potatoes were once “dryland farmed,” today the two leading fry suppliers to McDonald’s and other chains — Simplot and Frito Lay — will accept only irrigated potatoes.
Appearance White on the inside, golden brown on the outside. It is the hallmark of a MickeyDee’s fry — one that takes water to achieve. To keep potatoes from losing water weight and thus value, they’re stored in a 95-percent- humidity environment. And since McDonald’s won’t accept fries that aren’t white, the environment can’t be cool — that would cause a potato’s carbohydrates to convert to sugar, which browns while cooking. So it’s goodbye, root cellars and hello, climate-controlled ware-houses, where banks of com-puterized furnaces prevent any variation of temperature.
Length Introduced in 1988, supersize fries may or may not lead to the downfall of Western civilization. But Glennon makes a good case that they did at least push growers to irrigate. Fries once came in little white bags, and were accordingly stumpy, but now fries are taller, designed to proudly jut out of a supersize carton. Longer fries require longer potatoes, best achieved by center-pivot irrigation systems. Irrigation alters aquifer exchange rates, stream hydrology, and water temperature, which degrades fish habitats. As the delivery system for fertilizers and pesticides, water becomes toxic runoff. According to Glennon, reduced water flow in Minnesota’s Straight River during pumping season is largely due to wells that feed a 7,500-acre farm owned by R.D. Offutt Co. — the nation’s largest potato grower. Each year a nearby Offutt processing plant uses an additional 600 million gallons of groundwater turning 1 billion pounds of potatoes into 500 million pounds of fries worthy of McDonald’s. Perhaps Americans could be persuaded to accept a fry that was just as tasty, but shorter and browner. But what kind of clown would try to sell that?