Blogs

GOP Congressional Candidate Shoots Down Drone in New Ad

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 10:52 AM PDT

In Montana congressional candidate Matt Rosendale's newest ad, which you can you can watch above, Rosendale aims a sighted rifle at a "government drone" and blows it away, before sending a message to the Obama administration: "Spying on our citizens—that's just wrong."

This isn't the first attempt by Rosendale, a state representative who is seeking the GOP nomination to replace Rep. Steve Daines in Congress next fall, to make nice with his state's far-right elements. In December Rosendale attended an event held by a group called Defend Rural America, whose founder, Kirk MacKenzie, called environmentalists "domestic terrorists." And although this is the first time a candidate has pretended to shoot down a drone, politicians have a long history of blowing things up in campaign ads. In 2008, Montana Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer used a double-barreled shotgun to blast the federal Real ID law into tiny bits.

As always, Mother Jones reminds you that if you must ritually annihilate a federal policy in a campaign ad, you should at least wear safety goggles and ear plugs.

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Gov. Susana Martinez Reacts to Mother Jones Story: "One of the Most Desperate and Despicable Attacks"

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 10:16 AM PDT
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

On Wednesday morning, Mother Jones published a cover story about New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party, that draws on previously unreleased audio recordings, emails, and text messages. In these audio tapes, she and her aides use crude and often offensive language when referring to political opponents. Martinez's reelection campaign immediately responded.

In an email blast to supporters, Martinez attacked the messenger, calling Mother Jones a "tabloid" and "one of the most radically liberal publications in the country." Martinez accused Mother Jones of "peddling false, personal attacks against me, using stolen audiotapes from our debate prep sessions four years ago." She claimed that "this shows just how far the Left is willing to go to stop reforms in New Mexico." In the email, Martinez does admit to calling 2010 Democratic opponent Diane Denish "the B-word," adding, "I admit it—I've had to fund the cuss jar a few times in my life." Her email ends with a plea for a campaign contribution.

Her email neglects to address several parts of the story, such as the reports that Martinez's top adviser, Jay McCleskey, wrote "I HATE THAT FUCKING BITCH!" about a fellow GOP pol, and that a former Martinez adviser mocked New Mexico political icon Ben Luján for his English-speaking abilities, saying he "sounds like a retard."

Martinez's campaign has also created a petition describing Mother Jones as "the far-left's premier magazine" and calls the story "one of the most desperate and despicable attacks to date." The Martinez campaign's message goes on to ask supporters to sign a petition ostensibly to "show the D.C. liberal media that their desperate attacks have no place in our state."

Here's the petition:

Martinez's campaign has made full use of social media in its pushback, buying a promoted tweet on Twitter urging people to "stand with me":

Similarly, she asked her Facebook friends to "stand with me against the D.C. liberal media and show them that their Washington-style attacks have no place in our state."

Martinez did retweet a link to Mother Jones' story that was tweeted by Buzzfeed writer McKay Coppins—only to delete her tweet 14 seconds later.

In Red States, the Uninsured Are Up the Creek

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 10:03 AM PDT

Gallup has previously reported a drop in the uninsurance rate among Americans following the rollout of Obamacare last year. Today, they broke down these numbers between states that embraced Obamacare by setting up their own exchanges and expanding Medicaid vs. states that have resisted implementing the law.

The results are no surprise. States that embraced Obamacare—which presumably were more committed to public health in the first place—had lower uninsurance rates to start with and saw bigger declines. The states that resisted were the ones with the biggest uninsurance problems to start with and saw only token declines. In fact, the decline in states that embraced Obamacare was more than triple that in the other states, 2.8 percent vs. 0.8 percent.

These numbers will change a bit over the next couple of months as things settle down and signups are complete, but the relative differences will almost certainly remain huge. Republican governors have been almost unanimously dedicated to sabotaging Obamacare and withholding health care from their own residents, and they've been successful. I hope they're proud of themselves.

LBJ Was Great. LBJ Was Horrible. Deal With It.

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 8:43 AM PDT

David Greenberg and Michael Kazin are arguing about whether LBJ was a great president. Here is Greenberg's wrap-up:

Maybe our differences really come down to this: For Michael, the enormity of the Vietnam debacle is so great that LBJ must remain forever confined to a historical doghouse. In contrast, I would submit that we have to hold both Johnson’s great deeds and his terrible deeds in our minds at the same time. This uneasy position, I think, does more to invite or even demand continued attention to LBJ’s presidency from historians. And it implies a moral verdict on the man that is, in my view, ultimately more unsettling than a tout court denial of any esteem for him whatsoever.

Yes. A thousand times yes. There's no need to rate LBJ or any other president on a scale from 1 to 10. He was a great president in some areas and a terrible one in others. That's it. You can't put those two things in a blender and come to a single, homogenized conclusion, no matter how badly you want to.

This isn't like Mussolini making the trains run on time, or Hitler building the autobahn, trivial achievements that simply don't bear on either man's place in history. LBJ's domestic achievements were gigantic. His foreign policy failures were equally gigantic. That's it. That's what happened, and that's who he is. We just have to live with it.

In War, Truth Is the First Casualty

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 8:00 AM PDT

David Herszenhorn reports that Tuesday marked yet another day of "bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies" that have marked the Russian response to the crisis in Ukraine:

It is an extraordinary propaganda campaign that political analysts say reflects a new brazenness on the part of Russian officials. And in recent days, it has largely succeeded — at least for Russia’s domestic audience — in painting a picture of chaos and danger in eastern Ukraine, although it was pro-Russian forces themselves who created it by seizing public buildings and setting up roadblocks.

....To watch the television news in Russia is to be pulled into a swirling, 24-hour vortex of alarmist proclamations of Western aggression, sinister claims of rising fascism and breathless accounts of imminent hostilities by the “illegal” Ukrainian government in Kiev, which has proved itself in recent days to be largely powerless.

The Rossiya 24 news channel, for instance, has been broadcasting virtually nonstop with a small graphic at the bottom corner of the screen that says “Ukrainian Crisis” above the image of a masked fighter, set against the backdrop of the red-and-black flag of the nationalist, World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on Soviet forces.

Over the course of several hours of coverage on Tuesday, Rossiya 24 reported that four to 11 peaceful, pro-Russian “supporters of federalization” in Ukraine were killed near the town of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine when a mixed force of right-wing Ukrainians and foreign mercenaries strafed an airfield with automatic gunfire from helicopter gunships before landing and seizing control.

In fact, on the ground, a small crowd of residents surrounded a Ukrainian commander who had landed at the airfield in a helicopter, and while there were reports of stones thrown and shots fired in the air, only a few minor injuries were reported with no signs of fatalities.

Thank God we live in America, where this kind of thing doesn't happen.

A Single Pot Plant Uses HOW Much Water?!

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Dude, where's my stream?

Like college sophomores philosophizing over bong hits late at night, the California North Coast's booming marijuana farms languish in the smoky haze of paradox. On the one hand, they're hyperregulated—that is to say, illegal (with the exception of farms licensed to grow for the medical trade). On the other hand, being illegal, they're essentially not regulated at all, as my colleague Josh Harkinson showed in a recent piece.

A rogue grower tending a plot on a California state park isn't worried about running afoul of state fish-and-wildlife authorities for illegally diverting a stream for irrigation. Instead, he's scrambling to avoid being busted on federal drug charges—and will thus grab any resource necessary to churn out a fast and plentiful pot harvest.

And with California's drought settling in for a long, hot summer, that's bad news for ecosystems that rely on the state's increasingly scarce surface waters—including the once-prolific Northern California salmon run. A recent article in the Mendocino County Press Democrat shows just how dire things have gotten in the state's pot-farm-heavy "Emerald Triangle" (Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties).

A pot plant consumes six gallons of water every day.

The piece looks at a forthcoming study from the California Fish and Wildlife Department on three key Emerald Triangle watersheds. Using satellite imagery, the researchers found that pot cultivation had skyrocketed in the areas since 2009, rising between 75 percent and 100 percent. The three watersheds contain an average of 30,000 pot plants each, they found. (Here's a nifty map). And they're thirsty. According to the Press Democrat, "Researchers estimate each plant consumes 6 gallons of water a day. At that rate, the plants were siphoning off 180,000 gallons of water per day in each watershed—all together more than 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools over the average 150-day growing cycle for outdoor plants."

Mind you, that's just in the three watersheds the researchers looked at. According to the Press Democrat, there are more than 1 million pot plants in Mendocino alone—not counting legal ones licensed for the medical market.

Already, the region's salmon tributaries are under severe pressure—as many as 24 went dry last year, the Press Democrat reports. And even without the drought, there just isn't enough water available to keep the pot crop humming and the salmon moving along, state Fish and Wildlife Senior Environmental Scientist Scott Bauer told the paper.

And water diversions aren't the only vice indulged in by large-scale pot growers. Last year, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board listed a few others, including land-grading and dam-making that leads to stream-clogging erosion; wanton use of pesticides—most egregiously, wildlife-killing rat poison; and "discarding of trash and haphazard management of human waste."

Of course, like any other crop, pot could be grown in ecologically responsible ways. For example, "if growers collected all their water during the rainy season and stored it in permitted tanks or ponds—like many other farmers—marijuana's water consumption would not be such an issue," one environmental watchdog told the Press Democrat. And in dry years like this one, at least some pot fields could be fallowed, leaving more water for wildlife.

But since pot farming is illegal, growers have little incentive to act as land stewards. Indeed, they tend to sneak onto—and trash—state and federal parkland to plant their illicit crop. If pot farms were legal, growers could be held accountable for their environmental footprint. As one activist told Harkinson for his Mother Jones story, "It is not the growers who are a disease. They are just a symptom. The real disease is the failed drug war."

Of course, legal agriculture isn't a paragon of environmental responsibility, and criminal pot farms aren't the only operations wreaking water havoc in California. As I wrote recently, the state's ag-heavy Central Valley is currently in the midst of sucking dry its fossil water resources, driven largely by a boom in tree nut production and a near-complete lack of regulation of groundwater pumping. The situation has gotten so dire that even big farming interests, which have for decades fought back any pumping regulations, are openly considering the possible need for smarter water rules.

But that debate can't even begin among pot growers until they can no longer hide in the shadows cast by the drug war.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 16, 2014

Wed Apr. 16, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Marines with the Maritime Raid Force, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare to enter the well deck aboard the USS San Diego during Amphibious Squadron Marine Expedtionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT) off the coast of San Diego, Calif. April 8, 2014. PMINT is the first at-sea event in the MEU’s predeployment training program at which they have the opportunity to conduct amphibious based operations while embarked on a ship. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan/Released)

Unsportsmanlike Conduct in the NBA Follows an Inverted U-Shaped Curve

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 10:56 PM PDT

Over at 538, Benjamin Morris asks "Just How Bad Were the Bad Boys?" The bad boys in question are the Detroit Pistons basketball team of the late 80s, who had a reputation for being unusually aggressive on the court. Did they deserve their reputation? To test this, Morris looks at how many technical fouls they racked up, a good measure of unsportsmanlike conduct. In fact, he takes a look at the total number of technical fouls for the entire league, and finds that the number rose steadily until 1995 and then started a long-term decline.

I promise this is just for fun, but I've overlaid another line against Morris's chart. Not a perfect fit, granted, but not too far off, either. I'm sure a few of you can guess what it is, can't you?

Medical Inflation Is Up, But It's Probably Just a Blip

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 6:25 PM PDT

Sarah Kliff reports that health care spending ticked upward at the end of 2013:

A four-year slowdown in health spending growth could be coming to an end....Federal data suggests that health care spending is now growing just as quickly as it was prior to the recession.

....The Altarum Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich. tracks health spending growth by month. It saw an uptick in late 2013 that has continued into preliminary numbers for 2014. Separate data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which tracks the growth or consumer spending by quarter, shows something similar: health spending grew by 5.6 percent in the last quarter of 2013, the fastest growth recorded since 2004.

Inflation in the final quarter of 2013 ran a little over 1 percent, which means health care spending rose 4.5 percent faster than the overall inflation rate. That's a lot. But it's also only one quarter, and it's hardly unexpected. Take a look at the chart on the right, which shows how much per capita health care spending has increased over and above the inflation rate for the past 40 years. There are two key takeaways:

  • Medical inflation has been on a striking long-term downward path since the early 80s.
  • There's a ton of noise in the data, with every decline followed by a subsequent upward correction.

The HMO revolution of the 90s sent medical inflation plummeting. Then a correction. Then another big drop. And another upward correction. Then another drop. If that's followed by an upward correction for a few years, it would hardly be a surprise.

Nonetheless, the long-term trend is pretty clear, and it shows up no matter how you slice the data. For many years, medical inflation was running as much as 4-6 percent higher than overall inflation. Today that number is 1-2 percent, and the variability seems to be getting smaller. What's more, that 1-2 percent number matches the long-term trend during the entire postwar period (see chart below). There's good reason to think that it might be the natural rate of medical inflation, with the 80s and early 90s as an outlier. That's where I'd put my money, anyway.

Donald Rumsfeld Will Never Overpay His Taxes

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 2:52 PM PDT

Via Steve Benen, I see that Donald Rumsfeld sends the IRS a letter every year when he files his taxes. Here it is:

I have sent in our federal income tax and our gift tax returns for 2013. As in prior years, it is important for you to know that I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and our tax payments are accurate. I say that despite the fact that I am a college graduate and I try hard to make sure our tax returns are accurate.

The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know I cannot have any confidence that I know what is being requested and therefore I cannot and do not know, as I suspect a great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their tax returns are accurate. As in past years, I have spent more money that I wanted to....

Etc. Two things here:

  • As a longtime feeder at the public trough, Rumsfeld is surely aware that the IRS isn't responsible for the complexity of the tax code. Congress is. He needs to write an annual letter to his representative in Congress instead. As a resident of Washington DC, of course, he doesn't really have one, but that's a whole different story. However, I'm sure Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton would be delighted to receive his letter anyway.
  • The big reason taxes are complicated is because people do complicated things with their money—often with the express aim of lowering their taxes. Nobody is forced to do this. If you want, you can just add up all your income and pay the statutory rate without worrying about deductions and loopholes and capital gains rates and so forth. That will make your taxes easy. But if you're the kind of person who has enough money to hire expensive accountants to manage your carefully tailored investments, then you have enough money to pay those accountants to do your taxes too.

In any case, none of this really matters. No matter how much Rumsfeld pays in taxes, it will never be enough to make up for the damage he's done to this country over his lifetime. He should stop whining. He owes us.