Wednesday, August 29, 2012

George W. Bush: The President Who Must Not Be Named At Republican Convention

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright turned heads last week by saying that Democrats could very well blame George W. Bush's presidency forever for the nation's problems.

Republicans cried foul, arguing that it was well past time to move on from the former president. After all, they've basically expunged him from their memories.

The Bush name and legacy are noticeably absent from the 2012 Republican convention. The former president unceremoniously announced he was skipping the affair months ago. Dick Cheney, the former vice president who remains more revered among the core national-security minded conservative set, isn't speaking, either. Bush's brother, Jeb, the former Republican governor of Florida, will address the crowd. As will Bush's former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. But they're expected to address specific policy issues, mainly education, rather than defend their brethren and their former boss.

There is a "special guest" appearance at the convention on Thursday night. But virtually no one in the convention hall was bold enough to predict that Bush (or Cheney) would be the one to fill it. Should they not show, it would mark eight years since a live Bush convention speech. (He gave a video address in 2008, skipping the event in Minnesota due to fear of a hurricane in the Gulf.)

"The modern Republican Party changed dramatically at the shock of Obama's overspending, which also brought into focus the fact that we had been creeping up on this with Bush," anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist offered as explanation for why the party had washed itself of its last White House occupant. "Instead of being the party that won't raise taxes and everything else is open season, we are now the party that won't raise taxes and wants to restrain spending and everything else is up for negotiation. Bush was a pre-Tea Party president."

With respect to Bush, it seems, there is simply nothing to talk about. Or, rather, nothing that the Romney campaign wants to talk about.

Immigration reform, which Bush pursued, has hardly been touched (though as The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman reports, several Bush family members are privately advising the party on how to turn out the Hispanic vote.)


Foreign policy has been an afterthought during the convention's first two days. On occasion, an attendee will gripe about President Barack Obama taking credit for policies that his predecessor put in place (in conversations, several attendees echoed complaints by a group of conservative-leaning former Navy SEALS that Obama is taking too much credit for Osama bin Laden's death). But as of Wednesday morning, there had been only one mention of Bush's policies towards Afghanistan, Iraq or terrorism in general during the convention.

"I think it is best for the whole party for him to step aside," said Christine Sutton, 62, of Honolulu. "The candidate we have now doesn't need support form anybody else and why should a former president or a vice president appear. ... Bush did his thing and he was a wonderful president, a wonderful president. We will talk about him, but he's not the issue now. The issue is to get our candidate elected."

"I think George W. Bush is taking the opportunity to have some time with his family and friends," said A.J. Matthews, the lone RNC delegate from the city of Tampa. "His time in the forefront of the spotlight is over. I think he is allowing Mitt Romney the opportunity to carve his own path. And I respect him for it."

Presidential legacies are cast over decades, not conventions. And while top Republicans conceded that Bush's presence in Tampa would have caused collective angina -- offering the perfect photo op to frame Romney as a continuation of his governing philosophy -- they argued that it won't always be this way.

"Give it time," longtime strategist Mike Murphy told The Huffington Post. "It will get better."

Still, the contrast between Bush's reception among Republicans and former President Bill Clinton's reception among Democrats will be hard to ignore. Clinton has a prime-time speaking role at the upcoming Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., his fourth-straight cycle making an appearance.

At first, Democrats' arrangement with Clinton was complex. In 2000, top aides to former Vice President Al Gore were concerned about the shadow Clinton would cast -- not just because of his ethical issues, but because Gore needed to prove he was his own pol.

"Clinton was not the same person in 2000 as he is now," said Bob Shrum, who helped manage Gore's campaign and the 2000 convention. "People had a cognitive dissonance about him. They thought he'd been a good president, but they thought he'd embarrassed them as well.

"Obviously as the incumbent Democratic president, he was going to speak. He gave an extraordinary speech and then he left the convention and went to Michigan. He did an introductory speech [there, for Gore] and that was the handoff."

It ended up being the second-most memorable address of that convention, Shrum added. Gore's speech was the first. "But what would have hurt us is if Gore looked like he was completely derivative and not his own person."

Clinton's advisers spent that night and much of the rest of the election convinced that Gore's effort to create distance was harming his chances. After the election, those concerns grew louder. But even at the height of intra-Democratic-Party psychodrama, Clinton had a role to play. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry gave him a primetime-speaking slot. In 2008, Obama would do the same, with an eye on repairing bruised feelings that had resulted from the biter primary fight he'd waged with Hilary Clinton. In 2012, Obama is leaning on Clinton once more, this time with more weight.

The setup has invited mockery in the halls of the Republican convention in Tampa.

"It's odd to think Obama has to look backwards to Clinton in order to find a forward message, especially after spending so much time blaming the previous president for his lack of progress," said Rich Grenell, a conservative foreign policy spokesman who briefly served on the Romney campaign. "Romney has done a good job of breaking with McCain and Bush and forging his own brand of conservatism."

But it also offers an illustration of how presidential reputations can be shaped, molded and made politically potent or toxic over time. As longtime Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf noted, Clinton worked hard to make sure that his standing improved once he left office, launching a philanthropic foundation and diving into complex socioeconomic and global health problems.

"I don’t think Bush has made any effort to make his numbers great," Elmendorf said. "He's decided he is who he is and doesn't want to be out in the public trying to rehabilitate his image. Clinton has."

Where that leaves Bush come the next Republican convention, and those after that, is anyone's guess. But for now, offered Shrum, the best modern parallel to Bush's standing within the GOP would be an uncomfortable one for conservatives to consider.

"The right analogy is probably [Jimmy] Carter in the '80s. He didn't have a speaking role at Democratic conventions in the '80s," said Shrum. "I think he is the better analogy or metaphor or analog because, fairly or unfairly, his presidency was perceived to be a failure."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top Ten Differences Between White Terrorists and Others

1. White terrorists are called “gunmen.” What does that even mean? A person with a gun? Wouldn’t that be, like, everyone in the US? Other terrorists are called, like, “terrorists.”

2. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners.

3. Doing a study on the danger of white terrorists at the Department of Homeland Security will get you sidelined by angry white Congressmen. Doing studies on other kinds of terrorists is a guaranteed promotion.

4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed.

5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream.

6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.

7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations.

8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.

9. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane.

10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists.

Texas Women are Crossing the Border... For Abortions

n the past year, Texas women watched as lawmakers slashed funding for family planning and passed the "Sonogram Law" which, you may recall, forces women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram a full 24 hours before the procedure. In retrospect, the 2011 legislative session basically operated as a reminder to Texas women that while we can have babies, we can't have a voice.

Now, in reaction to the lack of available family planning resources, New American Media is reporting on women in Texas border towns who travel to Mexico to obtain Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec), an ulcer medication that, when taken in high doses, can terminate unwanted pregnancies in the first nine weeks. The drug works quickly, is (relatively) cheap and available without a prescription.

But despite Misoprostol's effectiveness, healthcare providers worry about the lack of medical supervision for women taking the drug. Pharmacists in Mexico are not required to be trained or licensed and women often fail to visit the doctor for follow-up exams.

As the radical measures taken against family planning continue to be implemented, there is no doubt that women will continue to find radical ways to get around them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is It Finally Time to Let the South Secede?

The author of a new book challenges Northerners and Southerners to consider the possibility of a friendly divorce.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that cultural friction between the North and South persists to this day. After all, we fought an incredibly brutal, ugly Civil War. The battlelines that were drawn then continued to divide us through the Reconstruction period and well into the middle of the 20th century, as federal troops were once again deployed to enforce the civil rights acts.

According to Chuck Thompson, a veteran travel writer who toured the American South, a degree of mutual enmity between Northerners and Southerners continues to be a source of cultural tension and political gridlock. We remain divided even as we have grown to become the world's superpower. In his new book, Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto For Southern Secession, Thompson argues that it may be time for a divorce – to shake hands and go our separate ways.

Thompson appeared on last week's AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss his book. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion is below (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: Chuck, you seem to be channeling the frustration of a lot of Northern liberals. I may have even said myself that we should have let the Confederacy walk in 1860. But I haven’t heard a lot of people calling to break up the Union today. You’re known as a comedic travel writer. So my first question is to what degree are you being tongue-in-cheek here? To what degree are you being serious?

Chuck Thompson: I am being serious. I understand that the meta arguments here that call for secession can be received as somewhat absurd in some corners. I acknowledge that it is probably a remote possibility. Within the framework of that argument I think there is a lot of room to highlight a lot of these problems and a lot of these frustrations that you refer to. One of the goals of this book really was to more or less articulate – to put some facts, figures and research behind a lot of this frustration of Northern and Southern liberals, of which there are many. I encountered many Southern liberals while conducting my research.

There’s this seething frustration people have. There’s this kneejerk reaction to blame the South. The sort of Northern media strafing of the South for a lot of the nation’s ills is a longstanding tradition. What I wanted to do was to get away from the traditional stereotypes of the dim-witted, mouth-breathing, Southern racist redneck and really look at what’s going on today. Find out why people are still having these issues with the South, and put some hard research and some facts and figures behind this general unease with the influence that the South has on the rest of the country.

JH: So we know we have an overtly religious political culture down South, and a culture today that is pretty hostile toward organized labor. What is it in your travels or in your research that prompted you to call for Southern secession?

CT: I get tired of everybody bitching about the problem. It’s like what Mark Twain said about the weather. Everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. People have been having this problem with the South for my entire lifetime, and as my research pointed out to me, since even before there was a United States of America. Even in the Continental Congress, before the Declaration of Independence was signed, there were a lot of Southerners from South Carolina – particularly a family called the Rutledge family – sort of running the show back then and didn’t want any part of the United States. So a lot of the problems that have arisen between North and South have been around for a long time.

So, as I’ve said, I’ve spent a lot of my life hearing from everybody from Seattle to Savannah. Almost every American, at one time or another, has said that it’s too bad the country didn’t just split when we had the chance. We didn’t let the South go when we had the chance. We would have avoided a lot of problems. We – meaning this group in the north as we might identify ourselves – could take the country we want into a direction that we think is befitting of America without this push and pull that comes from the Southern states. At the same time the South could do the same thing.

What really led to this call for secession was understanding that a lot of people from the South are just as sick and tired of people like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid having an impact on their country as I am sick of people like Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions, Eric Cantor, Haley Barbour having an impact on my country.

So why shouldn’t each of these societies that are really very different from each other in the way they approach the fundamental building blocks of society – education, religion, commerce, politics – both sides of the country really approach their problems in the way they want to put their societies together in very diametrically opposed ways. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to live in a pseudo-theocracy if they want to? If the majority of the people in a very large part of the country wants to have the Ten Commandments emblazoned in front of their legislative houses, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?

My call here for secession isn’t really a punitive thing towards the South, though I admit to a lot of these Northern frustrations. It’s an effort to identify these differences; to acknowledge that they’re very striking and very strong, and to say each one of these sides might be better of without the other.

JH: So we could have a divorce without an excessive amount of acrimony.

CT: I would hope so. Why not?

JH: How are you defining the South? Are we losing the research triangle in North Carolina? Are we losing Texas in this deal? And is there any chance we could give them some of the duller states. We’re not using South Dakota, are we?

CT: There are some noncontiguous pockets of what would be left of the North that I think would be culturally more comfortable in the South. It’s the first question I started off with in doing the research. It’s a lot trickier than we might imagine. As for the research triangle in North Carolina? Yes, we’re going to lose it. Texas is really interesting to me. The best line I heard about Texas during the research was from a student at the University of Georgia who said the Texas state flag is a perfect representation of Texas, in that it looks just like the American flag without all the other states.

Even though Texas was part of the original Confederacy, it’s always been an all-around pain in the neck to categorize. They’ve never really been much of a team player, let’s face it. In my breakdown of the South I did not include Texas as a Southern state. I completely acknowledge there’s a lot of room for argument there, and that’s probably the easiest point in my book to argue against. I could argue both sides of it myself. In the end I decided that Texas would stay with the North in large part for economic reason. Texas is really one of the economic anchors of this country.

JH: So it wasn’t just for the barbeque?

CT: Barbeque, cheerleaders and Dr. Pepper.

JH: What about the people who live in those states? It’s easy to say they vote for the crappy government they deserve, but consider that in Utah – the reddest state in the country – 30 percent of the population vote Democratic. I’m not saying that voting Democratic is a perfect proxy for one’s ideology, but there’s a good chunk of people down there who we would be consigning to basically English-speaking Mexico. In Alabama, it’s 40 percent. Do you just say, 'here you go you have to live in a third-world country with crappy education systems, no healthcare, and a government of snake handlers?'

CT: [Laughing] You’re tougher on the South than I am! Let me give you two answers to that. One is that in my imaginary secession legislative framework, I’m building in a period of 10-20 years where there’s free and open citizenship for anybody who feels caught on the wrong side of the divide. A tofu-scarfing liberal in Mississippi would be free to come on back over to the North, as well as maybe some survivalist NRA fanatic in the hills of Washington state would be legally entitled to take up residency in the new Confederate homeland. So I’ve built something into the imaginary structure for that.

The larger point goes back to what I said about even if you consider the argument for secession absurd, it really does give us a lot of room to address other issues. One of those that you allude to in your question is one of Southerners who are not the mouth-breathing, white-supremacist, gun-toting rednecks. That is the stereotype, but the fact of the matter is that’s a minority in the South.

JH: Fifty-seven percent of African Americans live in the American south.

CT: That’s right. That’s exactly right. One of the big mistakes that people who make these sort of polemics and screeds against the South is that they assume “Southerner” equals conservative white male. Now if you want to be really mean you include “racist” with Southern white male, that’s the stereotype.

But let’s even say that it’s conservative, evangelical Southerners. The fact of the matter is that’s not what the whole South is. There are a lot of African Americans in the South. There are increasingly a lot of Hispanics in the South. There are a lot of liberals in the South. There are atheists in the South. One of the things I really try to do with this book was not solely traffic in those easy stereotypes that I think a lot of people trap themselves with. That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of those Southern, evangelical, white conservatives. I did and they’re in the book, but I also made a huge effort not to define the South solely on the classic Northern stereotypes.

JH: Ultimately, while I share your befuddlement with Southern politics I have to say that I’ve traveled extensively in the South. I lived in Arkansas briefly. I love the South, and I’ve met good, progressive people everywhere I’ve gone.

CT: What did you love about it?

JH: I love the culture of the South. I love the people of the South. I really had some great experiences dealing with Southerners. Even those Southerners I couldn’t necessarily discuss politics with.

I guess a related question is this: We have a really screwy political system with lots of deeply entrenched problems. Do you see anything that could be gained by the South’s secession that couldn’t be achieved by, say, getting money out of our political system? Or bringing back the fairness doctrine? Maybe reforming the filibuster in the Senate? Do you know what I’m saying? Those things aren’t likely to happen in today’s environment, but the South splitting away isn’t too likely either.

CT: That’s right, but a lot of these problems have been deeply entrenched in American society long before this dysfunction befell our political system. Politics is really only one way in which the South is quite a bit different it approaches its society. I think religion is the really big factor here and I think that’s what’s really not going to change in the South. Yes, there are evangelicals and religious lunatics in all 50 states in the country. Only in the South, though, do they represent a voting quorum. Only in the South can you appeal to voters in very overtly religious terms and expect success on a consistent basis. Again, that’s not to deny that this exists in the rest of the country. It does, but in the South is where its power base is.

I think that is the piece of the puzzle here that informs the politics of the South, in the same way that evangelical Christianity is the least tolerant of any sort of diversity or diversity of opinion. It’s Bible literalism. Everything is true and you adhere to everything; it’s black and white. When that is the foundation of the majority of the people in your society, when that becomes your whole social framework, then that’s the politics that grows out of that society. So we get that same sort of blinkered view of humanity of politicians in the South who come up to the North – we get this absolute, no compromise stance between these hardcore conservatives and other politicians.

When there were Republicans and Democrats fighting it out in the '80s during the Reagan years, there was the famed Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan give-and-take. This is how politics works; it’s the art of compromise. The ruling power says to the opposition we won the election so we’re going to get these big things. Don’t give us too much trouble and we’ll work with you. We realize you have a constituency. Let us get our big things through without a lot of hassle and we’ll make sure you’re taken care of on some level. That’s sort of how it has worked for the most part. In the South, it’s different, because there is no such thing as compromise. If it’s God’s law that is driving you, if God says gay marriage is an abomination, if God says abortion is an abomination, then you simply can’t compromise. That’s not in your DNA if you really believe that. That’s where I think a lot of the dysfunction of our political process comes into play.

And I don’t think that’s going to change, regardless of whether you pull the money out of it or not. This ties into how the South deals with education. Southern states don’t typically fund their public schools the way other states do – they're typically at a much lower level. There’s less commitment to the ideal of public education in the Southern states than there is in the rest of the country. That’s why we see over and over when the statistics come out, the South has the lowest SAT scores, lowest graduation rates, the most illiteracy. Whatever measures you want to put on academic performance it’s those core Southern states that are always leading the bottom of the back. In the bottom 10, eight or nine of them are always going to be Southern states.

I wanted to look into this. Why is that? Is it just that Southerners are stupider than the rest of us? Clearly that’s not the case. It’s the same gene pool. The more you look at it the more you realize there’s just a lower commitment to public education in the South than there is in the rest of the country. That’s been going on for hundreds of years. It’s not changing.

I was in Arkansas. I spent a week in Little Rock while they were searching for a new superintendent of schools last year. The dysfunction that I saw just in attending these public meetings where they were talking about what they needed was astonishing.

JH: We see a lot of liberal animosity towards the South. Were you at all concerned in writing this book about whether you would reinforce the stereotype of the coastal, elite liberals looking down their noses at the middle and the South? Was this a concern?

CT: Sure, people are going to jump to that conclusion. As you know -- and as I found out in writing web articles and books -- most of the really heated criticism you get from people are always from people who don’t even bother to read your article or your book in the first place. That’s going to happen. There’s nothing I can do about it. I really did make an effort not to be strident – though I’m certainly judgmental – and to find good things in the South, which there are. You deal with Southerners on an individual basis and they’re great. They’re friendly, hospitable, gregarious, and they like to party. They like to drink, to give you their food, they like to play music. It’s a lot of fun.

I didn’t try to be this super-strident jerk who was just sitting there bashing. I really am trying to put some numbers and some facts to this argument. These are two very different societies that have been economic and social frenemies from the day they were founded. The dysfunction has got to stop at some point.

The U.S. Army Says Hello to Its First Openly Gay General

Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith has become the U.S. Army's first openly gay general after being promoted from colonel on Friday at Arlington National Cemetary. Smith is the highest-ranking gay or lesbian officer to acknowledge her sexuality during service, and her promotion comes nearly a year after the reversal of "don't ask, don't tell." Smith's wife, Tracey Hepner, pinned Smith's star insignia on her during the ceremony, which was sort of a huge deal because, before the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," Smith and Hepner couldn't appear together as a military couple during official functions.

Though Smith says she recognizes the social significance of her promotion, she insists that her duties as a newly-minted brigadier general are of more immediate importance. "All of those facts [about the social significance of her promotion] are irrelevant," Smith said after the ceremony. "I don't think I need to be focused on that. What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mike Luckovich, Copyright 2012 Creators Syndicate

The New Yorker’s Terrifying Profile of Ayn Rand-loving Paul Ryan

Ryan Lizza has written a must-read profile of Paul Ryan for the New Yorker that will send chills up your spine:

Sitting in his office more than three years ago, Ryan could not have foreseen how successful his crusade to reinvent the Republican Party would be. Nearly every important conservative opinion-maker and think tank has rallied around his policies. Nearly every Republican in the House and the Senate has voted in favor of some version of his budget plan. Earlier this year, the G.O.P. Presidential candidates lavished praise on Ryan and his ideas. “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan,” Mitt Romney said on March 20th, in Chicago. The following week, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he added, “I think it’d be marvellous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the President.”

To envisage what Republicans would do if they win in November, the person to understand is not necessarily Romney, who has been a policy cipher all his public life. The person to understand is Paul Ryan.

Indeed. In fact, the Veepstakes panty sniffers are all over the fact that Ryan cancelled a big speech this week-end, intimating that he's undergoing some sort of Romney vetting. A heartbeat away?

The whole article is interesting, but this is key:

His father’s death also provoked the kind of existential soul-searching that most kids don’t undertake until college. “I was, like, ‘What is the meaning?’ ” he said. “I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on.” Like many conservatives, he claims to have been profoundly affected by Ayn Rand. After reading “Atlas Shrugged,” he told me, “I said, ‘Wow, I’ve got to check out this economics thing.’ What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of the fatal conceit of socialism, of too much government.” He dived into Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.

In a 2005 speech to a group of Rand devotees called the Atlas Society, Ryan said that Rand was required reading for his office staff and interns. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he told the group. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” To me he was careful to point out that he rejects Rand’s atheism.

What that really says is that Ryan has not intellectually matured since he was a teenager. But we knew that. What follows shows just how powerful and influential this stunted boy-man has become:

[D]espite some desperate appeals by Republican pollsters, Ryan’s plan passed the House of Representatives, 235 to 193. Only four Republicans voted against it. Ryan told me that the class of Republicans elected in 2010 was transformational. “Usually, you get local career politicians who want to be national career politicians,” he said. “They’re more cautious. They’re more risk-averse. They’re more focussed on just reëlection.” He went on, “This crop of people who came up are doctors and dentists and small-business people and roofers and D.A.s. They’re not here for careers—they’re here for causes.”

Whatever benefit the White House had seen in raising Ryan’s profile, his increasing power, and his credibility as the leading authority on conservative fiscal policy, soon made his imprimatur essential for any Republican trying to reach a compromise with Democrats. Ryan helped scuttle three deals on the budget. He had served on the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission but refused to endorse its final proposal, in December, 2010. When deficit negotiations moved from the failed commission to Congress, Ryan stuck with the extreme faction of the G.O.P. caucus, which withheld support from any of the leading bipartisan plans. In the summer of 2011, when a group of Democratic and Republican senators, known as the Gang of Six, produced their own agreement, Ryan’s detailed criticism helped sink it. And, also that summer, during high-level talks between the White House and Republican leaders, Cantor and Ryan reportedly pressured Boehner to reject a potential deal with President Obama.

Ryan had aligned himself with Cantor and the self-proclaimed Young Guns, who made life miserable for Boehner, their nominal leader. They were the most enthusiastic supporters of the Ryan plan, while Boehner had publicly criticized it. Cantor’s aides quietly promoted stories about Boehner’s alleged squishiness on issues dear to conservatives, and encouraged Capitol Hill newspapers to consider the idea that Cantor would one day replace Boehner. As the Republican negotiations with the White House fizzled in the summer of 2011, Barry Jackson, Boehner’s chief of staff and a veteran of the Bush White House and Republican politics, blamed not just Cantor, who in media accounts of the failed deal often plays the role of villain, but Ryan as well.

“That’s what Cantor and Ryan want,” Jackson told a group of Republican congressmen, according to Robert Draper’s recent book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do.” “They see a world where it’s Mitch McConnell”—as Senate Majority Leader—“Speaker Cantor, a Republican President, and then Paul Ryan can do whatever he wants to do. It’s not about this year. It’s about getting us to 2012, defeating the President, and Boehner being disgraced.”

2016's right around the corner.

Lizza goes on at great length to describe how much money the stimulus and other government programs has helped Ryan's own district and asks Ryan about it. And Ryan shows once again what a whining little adolescent he is whenever he's confronted with the reality of his hideous misanthropic philosophy:

When I pointed out to Ryan that government spending programs were at the heart of his home town’s recovery, he didn’t disagree. But he insisted that he has been misunderstood. “Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature,” he said. “As if we’re some bizarre individualists who are hardcore libertarians. It’s a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy.” He added, “Of course we believe in government. We think government should do what it does really well, but that it has limits, and obviously within those limits are things like infrastructure, interstate highways, and airports.”

As Lizza points out:

[I]ndependent assessments make clear that Ryan’s budget plan, in order to achieve its goals, would drastically reduce the parts of the budget that fund exactly the kinds of projects and research now helping Janesville.

Of course it does. He just refuses to admit that he doesn't give a damn about the parasites, moochers and looters. 

The article implies that Ryan is playing with fire and that the Republicans are doing their usual hubristic self-immolation by following his lead. We'd better hope that's right because if this infantile extremist ever gets into high office we're all going to need to go Galt in a hurry.

More of America Is A Disaster Than Not

More than 50 percent of American counties are now designated as disaster areas.

The Secretary of Agriculture has declared 218 more U.S. counties to be drought disaster areas, bringing the total number of American counties designated as disaster areas (mainly due to drought) to more than 50 percent.

More than 1,000 counties in 26 states had already been declared disaster areas by the federal government prior to today's announcement. As of July 24, 53.44 percent of the land area of the United States and Puerto Rico was in moderate drought or worse, and 38.11 percent was in severe drought or worse.

The newly affected counties are in a total of 12 U.S. states: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced an expansion of emergency hay harvesting and grazing on 3.8 million acres of conservation land, an effort to provide relief to livestock producers who are struggling to feed their herds.

Vilsack also announced that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide an extra 30-day grace period on their policies, meaning farmers will now have 30 extra days to make payments on their premiums without penalties.

The drought has been tough on agriculture, with the price of corn increasing by 50 percent from June to July alone. The pressure on crops comes during a tight market for grain, researchers said during a briefing with media on July 25. Demand is significantly higher than the last time the United States saw a serious drought in the late 1980s.

June was the 10th driest on record for the Midwest and Great Plains, and the 14th warmest for the same region. (Drought Grips U.S. (Infographic))

Climate researchers expect the risk of drought in the central United States to increase over the coming decades as the globe warms. This could create an feedback loop in which western forests die, taking with them their ability to take up and store carbon. The result would be even more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Ohio Limits Early Voting Hours In Democratic Counties, Expands In Republican Counties

Ohio has introduced a new tactic in their broader attempts to make it even harder for Democratic voters to get to the polls this year. Early voting stations in Ohio’s heavily Democratic counties will only be open between 8 am and 5 pm, while Republican counties have expanded their hours to allow voting on nights and weekends.

This rule is the latest in a broader attack on voting rights in Ohio, which often comes down to a tiny margin of votes. Ohio Republicans are currently ensconced in a legal battle with the Obama campaign over another new rule that would limit early voting in the three day period before the election exclusively to military families. Mitt Romney falsely claims Obama’s lawsuit is meant to take away voting rights from military families, when in fact he is simply trying to restore voting rights to all Ohio residents. Early voting was introduced to mitigate Ohio’s notoriously chaotic elections, in which thousands of votes are tossed due to clerical errors and bureaucratic confusion.

Starting October 1st, voters in Democrat-leaning urban centers including Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo will now only be allowed to vote between 8 am and 5 pm on weekdays, when the majority of people are at work. The board of elections in these counties, which are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, was gridlocked over a Democratic effort to expand hours. The Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted stepped in to deny expanded hours in these counties. But Republican-heavy counties have actually expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends, when most people have time to go to the polls. The Nation reports:

According to the Board of Elections, 82% of early voters in Franklin County voted early on nights or weekends, which Republicans have curtailed. The number who voted on nights or weekends was nearly 50% in Cuyahoga County.

“I cannot create unequal access from one county board to another, and I must also keep in mind resources available to each county,” Husted said in explaining his decision to deny expanded early voting hours in heavily Democratic counties. Yet in solidly Republican counties like Warren and Butler, GOP election commissioners have approved expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends.

Besides historically favoring Democrats, these urban centers comprise Ohio’s most populous and diverse counties. 28 percent of Cuyahoga County is African American, as is 20 percent of Franklin County. President Obama won the African American vote by 95 points in Ohio.

Voters in these cities already have to surmount many challenges to get their votes counted. A recent study by the Cincinnati Enquirer found urban counties are particularly vulnerable to the clerical errors that lead to thousands of discarded ballots. An investigation into Ohio’s chaotic 2004 election by the Government Accounting Office confirmed Democratic districts’ complaints of a shortage of voting machines, along with malfunctioning equipment that incorrectly registered the voter’s choice. George W. Bush narrowly won the state, putting him over the top for a second term.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Federal Court will Review Marijuana’s Classification as a Dangerous Drug with No Health Benefits

For the first time since 1994, the question of medical marijuana will go before a federal court. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging the DEA’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. The ten-year-old suit, brought by Americans for Safe Access, will present scientific evidence on marijuana’s therapeutic properties.

The appeal brief calls the DEA’s refusal to analyze numerous studies on the drug’s medical uses “arbitrary and capricious,” and asks the court to order the DEA to conduct a hearing on the scientific evidence.

Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 substance with “high potential for abuse,” in the same legal classification as heroin and cocaine. In spite of numerous petitions to reschedule the drug, the federal government has maintained that marijuana has no medical value and launched costly and aggressive eradication efforts. Just a few weeks ago, the Justice Department sued to close the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country, even as Congress, in a rare bipartisan move, prepared a bill to protect medical marijuana possession.

But the conditions for the ASA’s case — in which oral arguments will be presented on the morning of October 16 — are optimal. Since the original petition was filed in 2002, studies have piled up evidence of marijuana’s benefits in the treatment of illnesses including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer. In 2011, the National Cancer Institute listed cannabis as a complementary and alternative medicine, noting that it has been used as medicine for thousands of years. And, of course, 17 states and the District of Columbia (with Massachusetts poised to join the list) have laws on the books recognizing marijuana’s medicinal properties and enabling safe providers to open shop.

Rescheduling marijuana would help ease the tensions between these state laws and federal crackdowns. It would also remove the roadblocks that have prevented more extensive research into the drug’s properties, which, according to the American College of Physicians, is much needed.

UCLA Scientist Discovers Plate Tectonics on Mars

For years, many scientists had thought that plate tectonics existed nowhere in our solar system but on Earth. Now, a UCLA scientist has discovered that the geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet's surface, also exists on Mars.

"Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics. It gives us a glimpse of how the early Earth may have looked and may help us understand how plate tectonics began on Earth," said An Yin, a UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences and the sole author of the new research.

Yin made the discovery during his analysis of satellite images from a NASA spacecraft known as THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and from the HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. He analyzed about 100 satellite images -- approximately a dozen were revealing of plate tectonics.

Yin has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, where two of the Earth's seven major plates divide.

"When I studied the satellite images from Mars, many of the features looked very much like fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology," said Yin, a planetary geologist.

For example, he saw a very smooth, flat side of a canyon wall, which can be generated only by a fault, and a steep cliff, comparable to cliffs in California's Death Valley, which also are generated by a fault. Mars has a linear volcanic zone, which Yin said is a typical product of plate tectonics.

"You don't see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars," said Yin, whose research is featured as the cover story in the August issue of the journal Lithosphere.

The surface of Mars contains the longest and deepest system of canyons in our solar system, known as Valles Marineris (Latin for Mariner Valleys and named for the Mariner 9 Mars orbiter of 1971, which discovered it). It is nearly 2,500 miles long -- about nine times longer than the Earth's Grand Canyon. Scientists have wondered for four decades how it formed. Was it a big crack in Mars' shell that opened up?

"In the beginning, I did not expect plate tectonics, but the more I studied it, the more I realized Mars is so different from what other scientists anticipated," Yin said. "I saw that the idea that it is just a big crack that opened up is incorrect. It is really a plate boundary, with horizontal motion. That is kind of shocking, but the evidence is quite clear.

"The shell is broken and is moving horizontally over a long distance. It is very similar to the Earth's Dead Sea fault system, which has also opened up and is moving horizontally."

The two plates divided by Mars' Valles Marineris have moved approximately 93 miles horizontally relative to each other, Yin said. California's San Andreas Fault, which is over the intersection of two plates, has moved about twice as much -- but the Earth is about twice the size of Mars, so Yin said they are comparable.

Yin, whose research is partly funded by the National Science Foundation, calls the two plates on Mars the Valles Marineris North and the Valles Marineris South.

"Earth has a very broken 'egg shell,' so its surface has many plates; Mars' is slightly broken and may be on the way to becoming very broken, except its pace is very slow due to its small size and, thus, less thermal energy to drive it," Yin said. "This may be the reason Mars has fewer plates than on Earth."

Mars has landslides, and Yin said a fault is shifting the landslides, moving them from their source.

Does Yin think there are Mars-quakes?

"I think so," he said. "I think the fault is probably still active, but not every day. It wakes up every once in a while, over a very long duration -- perhaps every million years or more."

Yin is very confident in his findings, but mysteries remain, he said, including how far beneath the surface the plates are located.

"I don't quite understand why the plates are moving with such a large magnitude or what the rate of movement is; maybe Mars has a different form of plate tectonics," Yin said. "The rate is much slower than on Earth."

The Earth has a broken shell with seven major plates; pieces of the shell move, and one plate may move over another. Yin is doubtful that Mars has more than two plates.

"We have been able to identify only the two plates," he said. "For the other areas on Mars, I think the chances are very, very small. I don't see any other major crack."

Did the movement of Valles Marineris North and Valles Marineris South create the enormous canyons on Mars? What led to the creation of plate tectonics on Earth?

Yin, who will continue to study plate tectonics on Mars, will answer those questions in a follow-up paper that he also plans to publish in the journal Lithosphere.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why the Reaction Is Different When the Terrorist Is White

Atrocities like the attack on the Sikh congregation in Wisconsin introduce terrifying dissonance into America's post-9/11 mindset.

Observing that the Sunday attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin hasn't attracted nearly as much attention as other shooting sprees, including last week's rampage at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, Robert Wright wonders if the disparity is due to the fact that most people who shape discourse in America "can imagine their friends and relatives -- and themselves -- being at a theater watching a Batman movie," but can't imagine themselves or their acquaintances in a Sikh temple. "This isn't meant as a scathing indictment; it's only natural to get freaked out by threats in proportion to how threatening they seem to you personally," Wright says, adding that the press ought to give much more coverage to the incident.

In a provocative essay in The Awl, Jay Caspian Kang goes different places with the same core insight. "Who, when first hearing of the news, didn't assume the killings were an act of racial hatred? Who didn't start to piece together the turbans, the brown skin, the epidemic of post-9/11 violence that is under-reported, or at least never has all its incidents connected?" he asked. That narrative "only implicates a small percentage of Americans," he continued, "the story of the massacre at Oak Creek will be, by definition, exclusionary. It will be 'tragic' and 'unthinkable' and 'horrific,' but it will not force millions of Americans to ask potentially unanswerable questions. It will not animate an angry public." It will seem different, he adds, to members of the several minority groups "who cannot limit themselves out of the victims of Oak Creek."

These observations ring largely true to me.

There is, however, another factor that likely explains some of the reticence of some Americans, including professional commentators, to focus very much attention on the Oak Creek massacre.

Their disinclination to grapple with it has less to do with the victims than the gunman. The key factor isn't that they're Sikhs; it's that the apparent homegrown terrorist -- a term virtually no one would object to had a murderous Muslim burst into the Sikh temple -- was perpetrated by a white guy.

Hold the victims constant and give the perpetrator the last name Mohammed. Does anyone think for a moment that such an attack wouldn't still be the most discussed story at Fox News and National Review? And at various network news shows and unaffiliated newspapers for that matter?

Instead Wade Michael Page was the gunman.

Attacks like his are disconcerting to some white Americans for a seldom acknowledged reason. Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they've tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)     

In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.

What if white Americans were as likely as Muslims to be victimized by those policies? What if the sprawling national security bureaucracy we've created starts directing attention not just to Muslims and their schools and charities, but to right-wing militias and left-wing environmental groups (or folks falsely accused of being in those groups because they seem like the sort who would be)? There are already dossiers on non-Muslim extremist groups. In a post-9/11 world, Islamic terrorism has nevertheless been the overwhelming priority for law enforcement, and insofar as innocents have suffered, Muslims have been affected far more than any other identifiable group, because the bulk of the paradigm shift in law enforcement hasn't spread beyond them.

Would that still be true if the next terrorist attack on American soil looks like Oklahoma City? How would President Obama or President Romney wield their unprecedented executive power in the aftermath of such an attack? Who would find that they'd been put on no fly lists? Whose cell phone conversations and email exchanges would be monitored without their ever knowing about it?

It ought to be self-evident that non-Muslims perpetrate terrorist attacks, and that a vanishingly small percentage of Muslims are terrorists, but those two truths aren't widely appreciated in America. That doesn't mean they won't reassert themselves, for terrorist attacks have always been with us; the tactic has never been exclusive to a single ideology for very long; and the power the state marshals against one sort of terrorist is sure to be first to hand when another sort strikes.

Anxiety over this possibility was evident early in President Obama's term, when a Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism was roundly denounced by conservative bloggers, who know as well as anyone that you don't want to wind up in a class of people whose rights are determined by the Office of Legal Counsel. Spencer Ackerman just did a followup with that report's author. Whatever you think of the document, its warning against the possibility of a disgruntled military veteran perpetrating right-wing extremist violence seems vindicated by initial reports from Wisconsin.

Quoth that most famous scene from A Man for All Seasons:


William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Having flattened so many laws (and a good many innocents) in pursuit of the terrorist, the American majority is naturally loath to focus its attention on a terrorist who looks, talks, and dresses as they do. It is particularly uncomfortable for those in the country who feel most reflexively safe when "an American" is beside them on a plane, instead of a bearded man with a turban. Watching Oak Creek, that subset of Americans was put in a position to realize that a day prior they'd have identified with the terrorist more than his victims.

Fischer Calls for ‘Underground Railroad’ to Kidnap Children of LGBT Parents

The director of issues analysis of a conservative fundamentalist Christian organization is backing the idea of an “Underground Railroad” to kidnap children from same sex couples.

In tweets posted on Tuesday night, the American Family Associations’s Bryan Fischer cited the need for an “Underground Railroad” in defense of a Mennonite minister who helped an “ex-gay” woman flee to Nicaragua after a court ordered that her former lesbian partner was allowed to visit their 10-year-old daughter.

Jury selection began on Tuesday for the trial of Kenneth Miller, who was charged with aiding and abetting the kidnapping of the daughter.

“Head of Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households goes on trial,” Fischer wrote in the first tweet.

“Why we need an Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households,” he added several minutes later, with a link to a column by a conservative California man who claims that his mother’s same sex relationship is responsible for all of problems in life.

“Quite simply, growing up with gay parents was very difficult, and not because of prejudice from neighbors,” Robert Lopez explained in his column. “I have no mental health disorders or biological conditions. I just grew up in a house so unusual that I was destined to exist as a social outcast.”

Think Progress’ Zack Ford pointed out that Fischer’s “Underground Railroad” idea was “incredibly dangerous rhetoric that has the potential to do great harm.”

“How much destruction could self-declared ‘Harriet Tubmans’ do to same-sex families, motivated by Fischer’s claims?” Ford wrote. “More than ever, the ‘culture war’ is a direct attack on the lives of LGBT and their families.”

Failed Tea Party Rally Leaves Attorney with $748,000 Bill

Two years after local attorney Judson Phillips failed to lure tea party activists to a rally in Las Vegas, a judge is ordering him to pay the bill for a slew of hotel rooms he booked for the event.

Phillips, the founder of the for-profit corporation Tea Party Nation, owes the Venetian Casino Resort more than $748,000, according to the ruling. The hotel alleged Phillips reserved 1,637 room nights for a July 2010 event but then canceled the gathering just a few weeks prior.

A claim was filed against Phillips in July of last year.

The judgment, handed down last month by the Clark County District Court, represents the unpaid bill of $554,000 plus nearly two years of interest charges for another $194,300.

Phillips did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment on the decision, nor did the attorney for the Venetian Casino Resort.