Blogs

Did the White House Create a Bunch of Fake Lois Lerner Emails?

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 11:53 AM EDT

Howard Kurtz thinks Jon Stewart is going too damn easy on our current president:

When it comes to Obama, the humor is gentle. I do recall Stewart pummeling the president over the botched ObamaCare rollout. But on the IRS scandal this week, he mocked the tax agency for almost criminal stupidity in losing all those emails—but never questioned whether the Obama administration is engaged in a coverup.

Yes, Kurtz actually wrote that. He thinks Jon Stewart should have entertained the possibility that someone in the White House invented a time machine and wrote a bunch of emails in 2011 asking the IT department at the IRS to fix Lois Lerner's crashed hard drive. Maybe it was the same time machine that inserted Obama's birth record in the Honolulu Advertiser in 1961. Or, perhaps, Mission Impossible-like, a crack team of forgers ginned up a bunch of fake emails that just looked like they were from 2011.

Look, I'm not saying that's what's happened. I'm just asking the question. It's what any responsible journalist would do.

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Travels Through India's Sexual Revolution

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:01 AM EDT
Anti-molestation street art by Yelahanka Action Heroes

In late 2012, Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student, boarded a bus in Delhi headed towards home. She never made it to her destination. While on the bus, she was gang-raped by six men who left her with fatal injuries. 

But unlike in the past, when Singh's story might have remained hushed, tens of thousands of men and women poured into the streets to protest the rape. This public pressure led to the passage of a bill that criminalized stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment (though it falls short of criminalizing marital rape). The January 2013 anti-rape uprisings are part of a socio-sexual revolution unfolding in India, argues journalist Sally Howard in her book The Kama Sutra Diaries: Intimate Journeys Through Modern India, which hit American shelves in May. 

Anti-rape protests in India Courtesy Sally Howard
 

Originally from the UK, Howard has been traveling to India for the past 15 years, writing for Indian and British publications like the Telegraph, the

Guardian, and the Sunday Times. India is a land steeped in contradiction, observes Howard; a place which gave the world the revolutionary Kama Sutra, but remains hooked on the idea of arranged marriages; "where families bow down to a graphic depiction of a conjoined phallus and vagina, the Shivaling, but where couples are routinely attacked by the police for the indiscretion of holding hands in public," she writes in The Kama Sutra Diaries.

But over the last decade, Howard argues that a sexual revolution has begun in India, one with very different characteristics than the West's transformation during the 1960s. "While the Western sexual revolution was propelled by contraception and feminism," she tells me, "India's revolution has more to do with a young generation rediscovering sex, and pushing up against parental expectations." Today, more than half of India's population is under the age of 25, with 65 percent of the population under 35. "And these young are saying we've had enough, we want to have sex. They're telling their parents 'I don't want the life you have ascribed to me,'" says Howard. 

Kama Sutra temples in Madhya Pradesh Kirat Sodhi
 

Howard's travel partner Dimple, a 32-year-old Delhiite who left a loveless arranged marriage, exemplifies this social shift. "I was married at 21 by arrangement to a man I didn't know," Dimple told Howard. "The consummation of my marriage was like being hit with a cricket bat. Now I'm 32 and I'm a divorcée. My mother, who was herself very unhappy, and my grandmother, couldn't think of getting divorced. So this is a big change for my generation."

Over the course of two years, Howard and Dimple journey to the Kama Sutra temples of Madhya Pradesh, the hillside station at Shimla where Indians had a history of sexual escapades with the colonial British, and to Delhi, rocked by the recent rape uprisings. In Gujarat, Howard interviews a gay prince who is setting up a retirement home for gay and hijra (third gender) Indians, many of whom don't have families to rely on for support as they age.

Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay prince who established a retirement home for eunuchs Hemant Bhavsar
 

Howard's journey voyage helps her uncover some shifts in sexual attitudes across the country. "Middle class Indians are getting more flexibility in choosing their own mate, and finding the space to be together and experimenting," she tells me. And aided by new digital tools, Indians seem more piqued by sex. Over the past decade, Google searches for the word "porn" in India have increased fivefold. In 2012, people in New Delhi searched for the word "porn" at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. A survey by India Today showed that 35 percent of Indian women consume porn as opposed to 13 percent a decade ago. Fifty percent of women disapprove of pre-marital sex, as opposed to 64 percent in 2003.  But remnants of a misogynist past still linger. The same India Today survey revealed that 36 percent of men blamed women's revealing clothes for India's rape crisis.

Not surprisingly, Howard notes, the shift in thinking about sex is happening mostly with younger generations. But that doesn't mean the past is trivial. In fact, India's ancient texts may better inform contemporary lust than America's Puritanical roots. "I hope that the new sexual story the land of the Kama Sutra tells itself will feature some of the depths of romantic feeling of the old courtly poets—that it might rediscover the deep sentiments that gave the world its finest physical embodiment of romantic love: the Taj Mahal."

The Kama Sutra Diaries is equal parts travelogue and cultural analysis, blending vivid characters with upbeat prose and humor. With this entertaining read, Howard pushes past taboo to give us a more exposed India.

Map: These Are the Places Central American Child Migrants Are Fleeing

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:48 PM EDT

A recently produced infographic from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the majority of unaccompanied children coming to the United States are from some of the most violent and impoverished parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The map documents the origins of child migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol from January 1 to May 14. It was made public by Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, and it includes the following analysis about the surge in child migrants:

…Many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating that they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.

This echoes what I found in my yearlong investigation into the explosion of unaccompanied child migrants arriving to the United States. As I wrote in the July/August issue of Mother Jones:

Although some have traveled from as far away as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, the bulk are minors from Mexico and from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which together account for 74 percent of the surge. Long plagued by instability and unrest, these countries have grown especially dangerous in recent years: Honduras imploded following a military coup in 2009 and now has the world's highest murder rate. El Salvador has the second-highest, despite the 2012 gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Guatemala, new territory for the Zetas cartel, has the fifth-highest murder rate; meanwhile, the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production (Guatemala imports half of its corn) and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel.

Below is a more granular look at where kids are coming from, also produced by DHS. San Pedro Sula, the world's most violent city, was home to the largest number of child migrants caught by the Border Patrol (more than 2,500). Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, sent the second-most kids, fewer than 1,000.

 

What Does "Transformers" Say About America's Failure to Combat Climate Change?

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:46 PM EDT

Nothing. It says nothing. It's a stupid movie about trucks fighting each other and stupid humans running around doing meaningless bullshit. As far as movies about trucks from space fighting each other go, it's fine, I guess. The trucks fight quite well and the humans run around doing meaningless bullshit impressively. The humans are all very attractive, too, which is nice. None of it makes any sense, of course. The movie is awful. This is an objective truth. You're probably going to see it eventually because that's the way life works, but make no mistake, it's deeply stupid.

This is the fourth film about robot trucks from space fighting each other and maybe the thrill has just died a bit? I think for the fifth one they should switch it up and have the robot trucks from space kiss each other while the humans run around doing meaningless bullshit. The humans and their meaningless bullshit are a key factor to the success of this franchise. They shouldn't abandon that. But I personally would like to see something new. Something fresh. The trucks in the sweet embrace of love. Kissing, holding, touching, rubbing.

Anyway, have a great weekend.

Friday Cat Blogging - 27 June 2014

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:15 PM EDT

Here is Domino peeking out from under one of Marian's sweatshirts. I guess cats just like caves. It's not like it's been chilly around here these days.

And now, I'm off to the dentist to see if we can finally install a crown. The first two didn't fit properly, so we're hoping third time's the charm. It will be nice to be able to chew on both sides of my mouth again.

Are Tea Partiers Really Less Willing to Compromise Than Extreme Lefties?

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 1:58 PM EDT

Ezra Klein writes today:

Hardcore conservatives agree with liberals on a lot. They just don’t want to compromise.

This is based on the Pew typology survey, which finds that "steadfast conservatives" oppose compromise by a 2:1 margin, while every other group favors compromise by at least a little bit. At the far left end of the spectrum, "solid liberals" favor compromise by 84-11 percent.

This is the same result that we've seen in lots of other surveys, and I sure wish someone would dig deeper into this. I can think of several questions:

  • Are folks on the far left really in favor of compromise? Or by "compromise" do they actually mean "the other side should back down in exchange for a few bones"?
  • Do extreme conservatives have good reason to be suspicious of compromise? A feeling of being sold out is a common trope on the right, but is it justified?
  • Are liberals in favor of compromise because they believe—correctly—that change is always incremental, which makes it sensible to accept an increment now in the sound belief that it will encourage a slippery slope toward further increments? (And likewise, are conservatives perfectly rational to oppose compromise for the same reason?)
  • In practice, when various real-world compromise positions are polled, are extreme liberals truly more willing to accept them than extreme conservatives?

You can probably guess that I'm a little skeptical of the entire notion that liberals are all sweetly willing to compromise. They certainly talk in a more conciliatory manner than tea partiers, and maybe in the end they really are more willing to swallow half a loaf. But I have my doubts. More research, please.

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Most Americans Think Racial Discrimination Doesn't Matter Much Anymore

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 12:40 PM EDT

On Thursday Pew released its latest "typology report," which breaks down Americans into seven different groups. I'm a little skeptical of these kinds of clustering exercises, but I suppose they have their place. And one result in particular has gotten a lot of play: the finding that more than 80 percent of conservatives believe that blacks who can't get ahead are responsible for their own condition.

But I think that misstates the real finding of Pew's survey: everyone thinks blacks who can't get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition. With the single exception of solid liberals, majorities in every other group believe this by a 2:1 margin or more. That's the takeaway here.

The other takeaway is that the news was a little different on the other questions Pew asked about race. The country is split about evenly on whether further racial progress is necessary, and large majorities in nearly every group continue to support affirmative action on college campuses. A sizeable majority of Americans may not believe that discrimination is the main reason blacks can't get ahead, but apparently they still believe it's enough of a problem to justify continuing efforts to help out.

Overall, though, this is not good news. It's obvious that most Americans don't really think discrimination is a continuing problem, and even their support for affirmative action is only on college campuses, where it doesn't really affect them. If that question were about affirmative action in their own workplaces, I suspect support would plummet.

I don't have any keen insights to offer about this. But like it or not, it's the base on which we all have to work. Further racial progress is going to be very slow and very hard unless and until these attitudes soften up.

President Obama Has Finally Learned the Limits of American Military Power

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 11:59 AM EDT

I've been meaning to make note of something about Iraq for a while, and a story today in the LA Times provides the perfect hook:

A group of U.S. diplomats arrived in Libya three years ago to a memorable reception: a throng of cheering men and women who pressed in on the startled group "just to touch us and thank us," recalled Susan Rice, President Obama's national security advisor....But in three years Libya has turned into the kind of place U.S. officials most fear: a lawless land that attracts terrorists, pumps out illegal arms and drugs and destabilizes its neighbors.

....Now, as Obama considers a limited military intervention in Iraq, the Libya experience is seen by many as a cautionary tale of the unintended damage big powers can inflict when they aim for a limited involvement in an unpredictable conflict....Though they succeeded in their military effort, the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies fell short in the broader goal of putting Libya on a path toward democracy and stability. Exhausted after a decade of war and mindful of the failures in Iraq, U.S. officials didn't want to embark on another nation-building effort in an oil-rich country that seemed to pose no threat to Western security.

But by limiting efforts to help the new Libyan government gain control over the country, critics say, the U.S. and its allies have inadvertently helped turn Libya into a higher security threat than it was before the military intervention.

The view of the critics in this piece is pretty predictable: no matter what happens in the world, their answer is "more." And whenever military intervention fails, it's always because we didn't do enough.

But I don't think Obama believes this anymore. He mounted a surge in Afghanistan, and it's pretty plain that it's accomplished very little in the way of prompting reconciliation with the Taliban or setting the stage for genuine peace. Even lasting stability seems unlikely at this point. That experience made him reluctant to intervene in Libya, but he eventually got talked into it and within a couple of years that turned to shit too. Next up was Syria, and this time his reluctance was much more acute. There would be some minor steps to arm the anti-Assad rebels, but that was it. There was a brief moment when he considered upping our involvement over Syria's use of chemical weapons, but then he backed off via the expedient of asking for congressional approval. Congress, as Obama probably suspected from the start, was unwilling to do more than whine. When it came time to actually voting for the kind of action they kept demanding, they refused.

By now, I suspect that Obama's reluctance to support military intervention overseas is bone deep. The saber rattlers and jingoists will never change, but he never really cared about them. More recently, though, I think he's had the same epiphany that JFK had at one time: the mainstream national security establishment—in the Pentagon, in Congress, in the CIA, and in the think tanks—simply can't be trusted. Their words are more measured, but in the end they aren't much different from the perma-hawks. They always want more, and deep in their hearts the only thing they really respect is military force. In the end, they'll always push for it, and they'll always insist that this time it will work.

But I don't think Obama believes that anymore, and I think he's far more willing to stand up to establishment pressure these days. This is why I'm not too worried about the 300 advisors he's sent to Iraq. A few years ago, this might very well have been the start of a Vietnam-like slippery slope into a serious recommitment of forces. Today, I doubt it. Obama will provide some limited support, but he simply won't be badgered into doing more. Deep in his heart, he now understands that Iraq's problem is fundamentally political. Until there's some chance of forging a genuine political consensus, American troops just can't accomplish much.

Immigration Reform: It's Finally Officially Dead

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 11:10 AM EDT

I've had a friendly argument with Greg Sargent for some months about whether immigration reform was dead, or was merely on life support and still stood a chance of resuscitation. But in a way, it may turn out we disagreed a little less than we thought. He points me today to this Politico story:

Last summer, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) privately told the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference that if reformers won the August recess, then Republicans would move a bill in the fall. But the Syria crisis, the government shutdown and the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov consumed attention through the end of 2013.

....As recently as this month, however, there was more movement in the House than previously known....But then Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost his Republican primary election. And young children from Central America crossed illegally over the southwestern border in record numbers. Those two unforeseen events killed any remaining chance for action this year.

....For their part, reformers underestimated how impervious most House Republicans would be to persuasion from evangelicals, law enforcement and big business, and how the GOP’s animus toward Obama over health care and executive actions would bleed into immigration reform.

Before last summer I didn't think immigration reform was irretrievably dead. I thought it was damn close, but it wasn't until fall that I was pretty sure it was, indeed, completely dead. And that's pretty much my read of what Politico says. (Though, as it happens, I wouldn't actually put much stock in John Boehner's promise to the NHCLC, since it sounds mostly like something he said merely to avoid gratuitously pissing off a constituency, even though he knew perfectly well the reformers weren't going to win the August recess.)

I'd say the last paragraph of the excerpt is key. The reformers may have kept up their hopes, but for some reason they simply didn't understand just how hellbent the tea partiers were against any kind of serious immigration reform. I, on the other hand, being a cynical liberal, understood this perfectly. They were never going to bend—not no how, not no way—and Boehner was never going to move a bill without them.

The canary in the coal mine was always Marco Rubio. He genuinely wanted reform; he genuinely worked hard to persuade his fellow conservatives; and he genuinely had credibility with the tea party wing of the GOP. But by the end of summer, he understood the truth: it wasn't gonna happen. At that point, he backed away from his own bill, and that was the death knell. No base, no bill. And by the end of summer, it was finally and definitively clear that the base just wasn't persuadable.

In any case, Republicans have now abandoned even the pretense of working on immigration reform, and Sargent says they'll come to regret this:

The current crisis is actually an argument for comprehensive immigration reform. But [Rep. Bob] Goodlatte — who once cried about the breakup of families — is now reduced to arguing that the crisis is the fault of Obama’s failure to enforce the law. Goodlatte’s demand (which is being echoed by other, dumber Republicans) that Obama stop de-prioritizing the deportation of the DREAMers really means: Deport more children. When journalist Jorge Ramos confronted Goodlatte directly on whether this is really what he wants, the Republican refused to answer directly.

....This is the course Republicans have chosen — they’ve opted to be the party of maximum deportations. Now Democrats and advocates will increase the pressure on Obama to do something ambitious to ease deportations in any way he can. Whatever he does end up doing will almost certainly fall well short of what they want. But determining the true limits on what can be done to mitigate this crisis is now on him.

I don't know what Obama is going to do. For years, he followed a strategy of beefing up enforcement in hopes of gaining goodwill among conservatives. In the end, all that accomplished was to anger his own Hispanic supporters without producing anything of substance. At this point, there's no downside to taking maximal executive action, so he might very well do that. But will he do it before or after the midterms? Or just give up and move on to other things? Hard to say.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 27, 2014

Fri Jun. 27, 2014 8:59 AM EDT

US Marine Corps recruits go through chemical warfare defense training. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)