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RED 3: Mitt Romney May Be Retired, But Still Extremely Dangerous

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 11:00 AM EDT

Byron York says that Mitt Romney aspires to be the Harold Stassen of the 21st century:

Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging '16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn't mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

....A significant number of Romney's top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself.

....If Romney did run, one thing the loyalists expect is a change in his top strategists. Recently one veteran Republican operative who was not involved in the Romney campaign said, "All his people want him to run again because they made so much money off it the last time." Now, Romney supporters say that if he mounts another campaign, they would demand that Romney not employ Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, the Republican strategists who played key roles in the 2012 campaign. Who would take their place is an open question.

I know that Romney doesn't want my advice, but here it is anyway: Just pay all these guys a bunch of money to go away and stop dreaming about a chance to light more of your money on fire. It will be cheaper in the long run, and your eventual job description will be the same too.

But as long as we're supposedly taking this seriously, let's put on our analytical hats and ask: could Romney beat Hillary Clinton if they both ran? On the plus side, Hillary's not as good a campaigner as Barack Obama and 2016 is likely to be a Republican-friendly year after eight years of Democratic rule. On the minus side, Romney has already run twice, and the American public isn't usually very kind to second chances in political life, let alone third chances. Plus—and this is the real killer—Romney still has all the problems he had in 2012. In the public eye, he remains the 47 percent guy who seems more like the Romneytron 3000 than a real human being.

Still, snark aside, if you put all this together I guess it means Romney really would have a shot at winning if he ran. We still live in a 50-50 nation, after all, and for the foreseeable future I suspect that pretty much every presidential election is going to be fairly close. And Romney certainly has a decent chance of winning the Republican nomination, since he'd be competing against pretty much the same clown show as last time.

So sure: Run, Mitt! I hear that Eric Cantor is available to be your vice president.

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The Right's Newest Obama Conspiracy: He Made Up a "New" Terrorist Group to Defeat

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 10:44 AM EDT

On Monday night, the US military bombed ISIS, the radical group taking over chunks of Iraq and Syria. As a "last-minute add-on," as NBC put it, the US also targeted an organization called the Khorasan Group, a shadowy outfit composed of Al Qaeda veterans. After the bombing, the White House and the Pentagon noted that the Khorasan Group was in the "execution phase" of planning attacks on the West.

But some conservatives made sure not to give President Obama any credit for possibly thwarting a terrorist threat. Instead, they hatched yet another anti-Obama conspiracy theory: The president had concocted a supposedly new terrorist organization to destroy. That is, he and his aides were calling this new target the Khorasan Group, and not Al Qaeda, so they would not have to acknowledge that Al Qaeda—which the president in 2012 said was "on the run"—was still a threat.

"From what I understand, the [Obama] regime has given this group a new name in order for Obama to be able to continue to say he wiped Al Qaeda out," Rush Limbaugh said on Wednesday. "So you come up with a new name for Al Qaeda, the Kardashians, or Khorasans, or whatever they are, and either way it's defeating…So this new group is essentially just Al Qaeda renamed."

Glenn Beck came to a similar conclusion: "What is Khorasan? [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper mentioned Khorasan for the first time last week. What is it? It's an Al Qaeda splinter group. Notice they're not saying 'Al Qaeda Khorasan.' They're just calling it Khorasan. Why? The Pentagon claimed they have been watching Khorasan for a very long time, but it wasn't too long ago that this administration said Al Qaeda was decimated and on the run. But now they're an imminent threat? It doesn't add up, does it?"

Right-wing bloggers jumped on the bandwagon. Sweetness and Light (the Conservative Political Action Conference's blog of the year in 2009), claimed, "There are dozens of Al Qaeda subsets, and we have never bothered to call them by their specific tribal names before—but now all of a sudden we have to call Al Qaeda 'the Khorasan Group' in order to help save Obama's ass face." 

Sarah Noble of the Independent Sentinel wrote, "Khorasan IS Al Qaeda…They have been dangerous since 2009 and they have been unremittingly dangerous."

The Gateway Pundit noted: "The Obama administration can't say they bombed al-Qaeda because they said they defeated al-Qaeda. So, now they spin lies about core al-Qaeda being defeated and how they bombed the 'Khorasan Group' instead of al-Qaeda. It's just more lies."

But if the Obama administration wants to hide the Khorasan Group's connection to Al Qaeda, it has done a poor job. The administration and US officials have been open about Khorasan's affiliation with Al Qaeda—especially the ties of its leader Muhsin al-Fadhli, a close ally of Osama bin Laden—since disclosing details about the group this week before the strikes. Obama referred to the Khorasan Group as "seasoned Al Qaeda veterans" in a statement on Tuesday morning. US officials told the Associated Press earlier this month that the group of about 50 Al Qaeda veterans, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, set up shop in Syria on the orders of Al Qaeda top dog Ayman al-Zawahari in order to attract recruits.

Because the Obama administration has not revealed any intelligence showing that the Khorasan Group was indeed close to executing plots against the United States and other Western nations, it's hard for pundits and citizens to evaluate the claim that a direct and imminent threat was addressed by these air strikes. If administration officials can be taken at their word, then Obama has scored a hit in the battle against Islamic jihadists aiming to harm the United States. But that might be too difficult for conservatives to concede.

Bill Clinton Is Right: Storyline Reporting Has Poisoned the Political Press

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:45 AM EDT

Today brings a remarkable column from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. It's about the Clinton family's adversarial relationship with the press:

Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

“If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. "And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, every thing that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.”

That's an interesting comment from Bill Clinton. Is it true? Well, check this out from the start of Cillizza's column:

Amy Chozick is the reporter tasked with covering the Clintons — and the runup to the now-almost-inevitable Hillary Clinton presidential bid — for the New York Times. Sounds like a plum gig, right? Until, that is, a press aide for the Clinton Global Initiative follows you into the bathroom.

Chozick describes a "friendly 20-something press aide who the Clinton Global Initiative tasked with escorting me to the restroom," adding: "She waited outside the stall in the ladies’ room at the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference is held each year."

Yes, this may be an extreme example. And, yes, the press strictures at the Clinton Global Initiative are the stuff of legend. But, the episode also reflects the dark and, frankly, paranoid view the Clintons have toward the national media. Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

Here's what makes this fascinating. If you click the link and read Chozick's piece, you'll learn that every reporter at the CGI is "cloistered in a basement at the Sheraton" and that an escort is required wherever they go, "lest one of us with our yellow press badges wind up somewhere where attendants with an esteemed blue badge are milling around." It's entirely fair to argue that this is absurdly restrictive. It's not fair to imply that this is special treatment that Chozick got because she's the beat reporter covering the Clintons. Every other reporter at the event got the same treatment.

But that's what Cillizza did. In other words, he had already settled on a storyline, so he shoehorned the Chozick anecdote into his column to support that storyline. Which was exactly Clinton's complaint in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I don't actually have any doubt that the Clintons do, in fact, have a pretty tortured relationship with the press. After the way the press treated them in the 90s, it would be remarkable if they didn't. It might even be "dark and paranoid." That wouldn't surprise me too much either.

Nonetheless, I wish Cillizza would at least try to analyze his own tribe's behavior with the same care that he analyzes the Clintons'. In any fair reading, the press has legitimate grievances about its treatment by the Clintons, but the Clintons have some legitimate grievances about the obsessive shiny-toy-feeding-frenzy nature of modern political press coverage too. Unfortunately, all Cillizza manages to say about the hostile atmosphere of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign is that reporters weren't "entirely innocent in the whole thing."

Nobody should take this as a defense of the Clintons. High-profile politicians have always gotten klieg-light treatment, and they have to be able to handle it. At the same time, there ought to be at least a few mainstream reporters who also recognize some of the pathologies on their own side—those specific to the Clintons as well as those that affect presidential candidates of all stripes. How about an honest appraisal—complete with biting anecdotes—of how the political press has evolved over the past few decades and how storyline reporting has poisoned practically everything they do?

Chart: It's Never Been a Better Time to Be Rich

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday's chart looked at how the richest of the rich have enjoyed massive income gains for decades.

But wait, you say, isn't that the way it's always been? Yes and no. It's never been a bad time to be rich in America. But some times have been a lot better. In fact, the best time may be now, especially when you consider the amount of total income controlled by the top 1 percent since colonial times (with ancient Rome thrown in for comparison):

Sources: Rome: Walter Scheidel and Steven J. Friesen; US in 1774 and 1860: Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson; US in 1929-2012, Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel)

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

The Rich Are Getting Richer, Part the Millionth

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 9:59 PM EDT

It's not easy finding new and interesting ways to illustrate the growth of income inequality over the past few decades. But here are a couple of related ones. The first is from "Survival of the Richest" in the current issue of Mother Jones, and it shows how much of our total national income growth gets hoovered up by the top 1 percent during economic recoveries. The super-rich got 45 percent of total income growth during the dotcom years; 65 percent during the housing bubble years; and a stunning 95 percent during the current recovery. It's good to be rich.

But there's more! The next chart, via Ryan Cooper, shows this trend even more explicitly. It comes from Pavlina Tcherneva, an economics professor at Bard College, and it also shows the distribution of national income growth during economic expansions. The difference is that it shows the share of the top 10 percent, and it shows it for every single expansion since World War II.

It's a pretty stunning chart. The precise numbers (from Piketty and Saez) can always be argued with, but the basic trend is hard to deny. After the end of each recession, the well-off have pocketed an ever greater share of the income growth from the subsequent expansion. Unsurprisingly, there's an especially big bump after 1975, but this is basically a secular trend that's been showing a steady rise toward nosebleed territory for more than half a century. Welcome to the 21st century.

Pat Roberts Is Apparently Too Dumb to Realize He Called Obama a Nazi

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 4:42 PM EDT

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said this on the campaign trail a couple of days ago:

There's a palpable fear among Kansans all across this state that the America that we love and cherish and honor will not be the same America for our kids and grandkids....We have to change course because our country is heading for national socialism.

What do you think? Should we treat this charitably and assume Roberts is too dim to realize that national socialism is Nazism? I guess so. According to a piece today from WaPo's Philip Rucker, Roberts explains that (a) President Obama is leading the country in the direction of a "European socialistic state," and (b) "You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize." So there you have it.

Aside from the fact that Obama hasn't tried to nationalize so much as a coal mine, which suggests Roberts doesn't know what that word means either, I'm pretty sure no one in history has put those two terms together and called it "national socialism" unless they're explicitly talking about the Third Reich. But there's a first time for everything. So congratulations, Senator Roberts! I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you managed to violate Godwin's law through stupidity, not malice. Not everyone can claim that.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt on What It Means For Him to Be a Proud, Male Feminist

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 3:34 PM EDT

Joseph Gordon-Levitt produced a thoughtful video exploring what it means for him to identify as a feminist and the nuances surrounding the label.

"To me it just means that your gender doesn't have to define who you are," Gordon-Levitt explains. "That you can be whatever you want to be, whoever you want to be, regardless of your gender.”

Acknowledging feminism's complexities, the actor goes onto dispel notions positioning feminism as somehow "anti-men" and that the movement might even be old-fashioned.

"The facts are pretty contrary to this, if you actually look at the evidence of salaries vs. salaries for men," he sayd. "There's still a definite disparity."

Earlier this year, Gordon-Levitt first revealed he was a proud feminist on the Ellen Degeneres Show, explaining his mother's influence on his views of women and gender equality.

"It's worth paying attention to the roles that are sort of dictated to us and realize that we don't have to fit into those roles -- we can be anybody we want," he told Degeneres.

Just another reminder to Pharell, boys and girls can both be feminists, too.

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Emails (Non-IRS Version)

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

In the famous case of Lois Lerner's missing IRS emails, it really does appear that the whole affair was the result of nothing more than a genuine hard drive crash combined with outdated IT procedures for saving backup tapes. Needless to say, this hasn't stopped Republicans from yelling endlessly about conspiracy theories and the deliberate erasure of damning messages.

So let's see. How do you think they'll react to a case in which it appears that emails really were deliberately erased and hard drives really were destroyed? Before you take a guess, it's only fair to let you know that this case involves a pair of Republicans: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who was the DA of the state's Third Judicial district before her election, and Amy Orlando, a close friend of Martinez's who was her chief deputy DA and then briefly succeeded her as DA. Andy Kroll tells the rest of the story:

On Tuesday, Mark D'Antonio, the current DA in New Mexico's Third Judicial district, released the findings of an internal investigation that concluded that large amounts of emails—potentially including those sought by the Democrats—had been "deleted and/or removed" during the period when the office was briefly run by Orlando, Martinez's onetime deputy. Two of the four hard drives used by Orlando's administration—hard drives that might have contained the requested emails—were missing. And investigators noted that all emails in the DA's office were supposed to be backed up by a "special tape drive" in the office, but the back-up tapes were "blank and appear to have been erased."

The report also noted that, under Orlando, the DA's office misled a reporter who'd made his own request for similar records. The DA's office told the reporter that the records he wanted didn't exist because the office's server "is routinely cleaned." But after interviewing IT staffers, investigators concluded this statement "was inaccurate because IT personnel stated that servers were not routinely 'cleaned' and that the data should exist on a server."

You may now submit your guesses about how conservatives will respond to all this. I'm predicting crickets at best, a smear campaign against D'Antonio at worst.

Watch Jon Stewart Explain Science to the Climate Deniers in Congress

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 1:49 PM EDT

This story originally appeared in Slate and is republished here as part of our Climate Desk collaboration.

If you ever catch me in a moment of weakness about the weapons-grade dumbosity of global warming denial on the Republican side of the US House of Representatives, it might look a lot like what Jon Stewart did on The Daily Show on the Sept. 22, 2014, show:

It’s become a cliché that majority members of the House Science Committee know nothing at all about actual science (or they do, but choose to ignore it for ideological reasons)—but here on display for all to see is just how ridiculous the reality of it is. What you just saw are long, long debunked denial points being brought up like they are revealed wisdom, along with “gotcha”-style barbs that are transparently, bone-headedly wrong.

And isn’t presidential science adviser John Holdren a freaking ninja in those clips? He easily and smoothly shuts down the salvos of scientific ignorance tossed out by the committee members. For his part, I’m very glad Stewart pointed out the glaring hypocrisy of people like Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Indiana, who accuses climatologists of faking the science for money, when Bucshon himself is funded quite well by fossil fuel interests.

Holy oiliness. It’s loathsome enough that Bucshon would choose to simply ignore the agreement of the vast majority of climatologists who know the Earth is warming and that it’s our fault … but to do so while happily taking the Koch brothers' money is really galling.

If I seem upset about this, it’s because I am. It’s like we’re in some sort of alternate reality, a Hollywood spoof of what government is like. But it’s real, and these buffoons are holding up any real chance we have of making any progress about one of the (if not the single) largest problem we as a species face.

There’s an election coming up, folks. Vote. I know there’s essentially no chance that the GOP won’t lose the majority in the House, but it’s important to get out there and vote, and to get others to as well. If we don’t, then we’re just handing over our future to these people who have their minds firmly closed to reality.

It's Now Illegal to Kill Wolves in Wyoming

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 1:24 PM EDT

For the past two years, killing a wolf in Wyoming was pretty simple. In a trophy game area near the border of Yellowstone, licensed hunters were allowed to take a certain number of gray wolves. In the rest of the state, or about 80 percent of Wyoming's land, anyone could kill a limitless number of them on sight.

But that's about to change. A judge ruled Tuesday that the animals' delisting in 2012, which handed management of the species over to the Wyoming government, was "arbitrary and capricious," and that the state isn't ready to manage wolf populations on its own. The move has wolf activists breathing a sigh of relief; Wyoming's management plan, as Sierra Club's Bonnie Rice put it, could have potentially taken wolves "back to the brink of extinction." Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not challenge the previous finding that wolves had recovered and that the species "is not endangered or threatened within a significant portion of its range." But even so, her ruling means that Wyoming's wolves will again enjoy protections under the Endangered Species Act and can no longer be hunted—at least in the short term.

"The court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming's wolf management plan."

While as many as 2 million gray wolves once roamed North America, the carnivores were nearly wiped out by humans by the early 1900s. Roughly 5,500 remain today, though an uptick in laws permitting wolf hunting in states like Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, and Idaho all threaten to keep the animals scarce. Wyoming's hunting and "kill-on-sight" policies, for instance, meant 219 wolves were gunned down since 2012, according to Earthjustice.

In part because wolves were reintroduced in Wyoming, whether to kill or protect this predator remains a very polarizing issue in the state. Wolves kill farm animals and pets, pissing off ranchers and rural landowners alike and feeding into the attitude that the canids are just a deadly nuisance. A Facebook photo posted last year by hunting outfitters, for instance, shows a group of hunters posing with a dead wolf with blood covering its paws and mouth. The caption reads "Wyoming is FED up." Commenters responded with notes like "the only good Canadian gray wolf to me is a dead Canadian gray wolf" and "Keep on killing guys!"

But scientists and conservationists have fought hard to restore this species into the North American ecosystem. Studies have shown that wolves maintain balance in the environment: they prey on other large mammals like moose and elk, whose populations (and eating habits) can get out of control without a predator to keep them in check; their hunting helps feed scavengers like wolverines, bald eagles, and mountain lions; their predation can force elk to hang out in smaller groups, thereby reducing the spread of diseases; and they've even been found to be good for the soil.

By restoring protections to gray wolves, states Rice in a press release, "the court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming's wolf management plan." She argues that the state needs to reevaluate how it treats the animal and develop "a science-based management plan that recognizes the many benefits wolves bring to the region."

The conservation groups that sued after the wolves were delisted in 2012 include Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Though yesterday's news comes as a victory to these groups, a bigger hurdle lies ahead: The US Fish and Wildlife has proposed to remove the gray wolf from the federal Endangered Species list altogether based on the animals' perceived recovery. A final decision is expected later this year.