2010 - %3, August

DOJ's Marxist Web Makeover

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 11:57 AM EDT

Obama-haters these days seem to find evidence everywhere of socialism creeping into the federal government. The latest outrage: the Department of Justice's new website. DOJ recently scrapped the old Bush-era stars and stripes website banner in favor of a more somber look, prompting lots of online conservative angst about the Obama administration's lack of patriotism. But it wasn't just the flag replacement that has conservatives atwitter. It's the quote that now graces the top of the page, which says, "The common law is the will of mankind issuing from the life of the people." 

The quote is also inscribed on the DOJ's headquarters in DC, but according to administration critics, it's a sign of just how serious Obama is about spreading Marxism in America. While no one seems to know for sure where the quote comes from, some believe the source to be C. Wilfred Jenks, the head of the United Nation's International Labour Organization in the 1930s and a leading member of the "international law" movement. The American Spectator, which first alerted the blogosphere to the change, insists that Jenks helped make the ILO a tool of the communist movement and, "Most telling: Jenks, as director of the ILO is credited with putting in place the first Soviet senior member of the UN organization, and also with creating an environment that allowed the ILO to give "observer status" to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and to issue anti-Israeli statements, which precipitated efforts by the U.S. Congress to withdraw U.S. membership from the ILO."

What's most interesting about the Spectator article is the many anonymous quotes attributed to DOJ staffers, who have nothing good to say about their employer and the new website. One tells the Spectator, ""We were told that the media team and the senior leadership that signed off on the design thought that the patriotic shtick from the Ashcroft days was a bit much for an agency that isn't supposed to be political. It was a real effort not to laugh at that." The internal sniping suggests that despite some efforts by Attorney General Eric Holder to re-professionalize the department, it is still full of Bush-era political hacks who burrowed their way into the bureaucracy where civil service rules make it difficult to remove them.

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BP's Magical, Disappearing Oil Spill

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

By now you've probably seen the headlines on a forthcoming government report that finds that three-quarters of the oil from the 4.9 million barrel Gulf spill has "evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated." The remaining oil, the government report says, is diluted and poses little threat. From the New York Times piece:

A government report finds that about 26 percent of the oil released from BP's runaway well is still in the water or onshore in a form that could, in principle, cause new problems. But most is light sheen at the ocean surface or in a dispersed form below the surface, and federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places.

A few things to note. Most importantly, just because the oil has dispersed doesn't mean it disappeared. It's now spread under the water, thanks to the at least 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants used on the spill. This is what the dispersants were designed to do in the first place. But fact that the has dispersed doesn't mean it poses no problems. While the headline and lead of the Times piece are rather rosy, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which lead the work on this new report, noted that there are still many unanswered questions. Indeed, the unprecedented use of dispersants still leaves much to be studied. "I think we don’t know yet the full impact of this spill on the ecosystem or the people of the gulf," said Lubchenco. The piece continues:

Among the biggest unanswered questions, she said, is how much damage the oil has done to the eggs and larvae of organisms like fish, crabs and shrimp. That may not become clear for a year or longer, as new generations of those creatures come to maturity.

Meanwhile, some researchers are finding evidence that oil and dispersants are making their way into the food chain, despite assurances from the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week that they are not.

There was at least some good news on the dispersants this week, as the EPA announced that its own studies concluded that the oil-dispersant mix is not any more toxic than the oil alone. But as Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, points out, there's still bad news:

So the good news is that the dispersant doesn’t appear to be increasing the acute aquatic toxicity of the oil released into the Gulf. The bad news is that the oil is pretty toxic, and the dispersant certainly doesn’t help directly with that. And of course, the bigger questions about longer-term effects of dispersants and dispersed oil are not addressed by the new data.

Yes, the dispersed oil is still toxic, and it's still there, under the water, even if we can't see it.

Arizona Law Mastermind Triumphs at the Polls

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 10:46 AM EDT

Kris Kobach—the mastermind behind Arizona's immigration law—used his reputation as an anti-immigration crusader to ride to victory in the Republican primary for Kansas Secretary of State last night. Kobach took advantage of the heated debate over the Arizona law to raise his national profile, becoming a regular on Fox News and appearing with the likes of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to rally against illegal immigration.

Kobach's spot on the Kansas ballot has put the spotlight on a typically low-profile race. All three Republican candidates charged that there was rampant voter fraud in the state, which Kobach explicitly linked to illegal immigration. He now faces incumbent Democrat Chris Biggs in the general election. A former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, Kobach insisted on ideological purity during his tenure and alienated some of the state's party establishment, which rallied behind his opponents during the primary. But Kobach's notoriety gained him widespread visibility and the support of right-wing notables like Michelle Malkin and Tom Tancredo.  Whether or not Kobach prevails this fall, the race will just be the latest stepping stone in his political ascendancy.

Sexism in the Immigration, Birthright Debates

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 7:11 AM EDT

Several Republican Congressmen, including Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Mitch McConnell (KY), and Lindsey Graham (SC) have been calling for revisions or hearings on the 14th Amendment, which grants US citizenship to any child born on its soil. Even Arizona's John McCain (who was born in Panama, by the way) has  agreed, if reluctantly, that having Congressional hearings on the 14th would be a good thing. I might believe they were genuinely concerned about the Constitution (rather than attracting a conservative base for upcoming elections) if it weren't for the virulent racism and sexism underlying the statements of many with their eyes on the 14th.
 
Case in point: According to an email circulated by Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, undocumented immigrant women don't "give birth" or "have a baby" or "start a family": they "drop" a child. "If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do," read the email. One California activist called it "invasion by birth canal" and Sen. Lindsey Graham said that: "They come here to drop a child. It's called 'drop and leave.'" 
 
The use of the word "drop" by 14th Amendment revisionists is deliberate. Not only does one "drop" anchor, the word "drop" is also used when animals give birth. Mares will "drop" a foal, for example, or you can buy a "drop calf": one that's been taken from its mother shortly after birth. Women only "drop" a baby when the fetus descends into the pelvis, or they physically lose their grasp of on an infant. Equating women, regardless of their legal status, with farm animals is just plain offensive.

Tim Geithner's Economic Recovery Tour

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner took to the New York Times editorial page on Tuesday to tell Americans how great the economic recovery is going. On Wednesday afternoon, he's scheduled to speak at the Center for American Progress, where he'll presumably expand on his defense of the administration's management of the economy. If the quality of Geithner's op-ed is any predictor of the quality of Geithner's speech, Wednesday's event is sure to be a must-miss. The title of Geithner's op-ed—and I am not kidding—is the extremely patronizing and almost-impossible-to-parody "Welcome to the Recovery." (Did the Times headline writers come up with that one? That's no excuse.) 

I don't know what Geithner's apparent "economic success" tour (he was on Good Morning America on Tuesday, too) is supposed to accomplish. A Times op-ed is not going to convince Republican pundits to support Obama's economic policies. It isn't winning over their libertarian or liberal colleagues, either. Perhaps the administration hopes that Joe-the-New-York-Times-reader will forward Geithner's op-ed (or the video of his GMA appearance) to his friends and family with a thoughtful message: "I guess things really are improving!" But when more than nine percent of Americans are unemployed (16.5 percent if you're using U-6), it's going to be hard to convince even Joe that things are peachy. "The public is unlikely to be fooled," writes Ryan Avent. As Kevin Drum says, "the economy still sucks." Geithner's vaunted powers of persuasion aren't going to convince people otherwise. The thing that's most likely to persuade people the economic situation is improving is to improve the economic situation.

So given all that, why did Geithner's op-ed even get written? There are a number of possible explanations, and none of them make the administration look particularly good. 

  1. The Obama administration knows that things are worse than Geithner says, but is spinning for political reasons. This would imply that the administration thinks that Americans are easily fooled about the state of the economy. If the administration thinks that, they've got another thing coming. Also, this is a strategy based on dishonesty. That's not unprecedented in politics (far from it), but it's still slimy.
  2. The Obama administration thinks that things are better than they are. This would imply that the administration is stupid, pollyannaish, and insular. Those are bad things—not only on their face but also because they mean the administration won't take the steps necessary to improve the economy.
  3. The Obama administration is hoping the economy is "fixed," but is pretty sure it's not, and they need someone to be the sacrificial lamb to tell voters (falsely) that everything's going to be okay. So they're throwing the already damaged Tim Geithner under the bus. Geithner is making the kind of statements that Republicans will point to in 12 months when unemployment is still over 8 (or 9) percent. If the GOP is running Congress by then (and it probably will be), the administration might feel like it needs to fire someone to appease its critics. (The White House hasn't seemed reluctant to fire people to please the Right so far.) Geithner's head might be the first to roll. All the points from number one apply here, too. This scenario reminds me of the Bush years, when the administration would trot out some hapless, soon-to-be-fired flunky to assure Americans that everything was going just fine in Iraq. 
  4. The administration knows the economy isn't "fixed," and secretly blames the Republicans, but really believes all of its happy talk about bipartisanship and doesn't want to play hardball. This one makes the administration seem dishonest, naive, and weak—the trifecta! Paul Krugman suggests that "one way to play [the bad economy] politically would be to tell the truth [about it being bad], and try to place the onus on Republicans, accusing them of perpetuating high unemployment." I'm skeptical that political rhetoric could change people's opinions about who they trust to manage the economy. Still, if the Obama administration secretly believes that the Republicans are blocking economic recovery measures, it could at least be trying to work around the congressional GOP's obstructionism. It hasn't even done that.
  5. It's just an op-ed, and we shouldn't read too much into it. We can only hope! 

One final thought, from 538's Nate Silver: "One overarching critique of some of the less successful Presidencies of the recent past is that they suffer from a bunker mentality: they were either too stubborn, or too detached from reality, to acknowledge mistakes and correct errant courses of action." The Obama administration still hasn't admitted any error in its response to the economic crisis. But almost everyone agrees that the economy isn't recovering quickly enough to return us to full employment any time soon. Maybe it's time to climb out of the bunker, explain what went wrong, and fix it.

California Pols Got Free Extreme Cagefighting and Sesame Street Tickets From BP

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

Despite being on the hook for unprecedented cleanup and legal costs in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has spent thousands of dollars in recent months on free concert and sports tickets for California lawmakers. As I reported last month, getting the tickets is as easy as calling the BP ticket request line, an unpublished phone number that appears to exist for the sole purpose of granting freebies to lawmakers, regulators, and their staffs. Since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in April, BP has given government officials 32 tickets valued $2500, according to a BP lobbying report filed yesterday. All of the performances took place at Arco Arena, the Sacramento stadium named after BP's West Coast subsidiary.
 
While BP gave away less than half the tickets it did in the same period before the Gulf disaster, its image problems didn't prevent staffers for some of California's most powerful politicians from partying on its dime. Junay Gardner Logan, chief of staff for state Senator Bob Huff (R-metro LA), the chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, accepted two tickets to see the Eagles' "Long Road to Eden" concert. She declined to comment. And staffers for Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) took in the Eagles and Cirque du Soleil. A spokeswoman for Perez said one of the staffers is no longer with him. "Speaker Perez has not accepted any gifts from BP," she added. "The fact that the Speaker has proposed a new tax on oil companies to close our deficit should underscore the fact that BP's ticket practices have no influence on public policy in the Speaker's office."
 
One recent recipient of a seat in BP's corporate box is helping to draft rules to implement AB 32, California's landmark cap and trade law, which is one of BP's main lobbying interests. In addition to tapping BP to see the Sacramento Kings play at Arco in 2009, Dan Pellissier, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's deputy cabinet secretary on energy and environmental policy, hit up the oil company for Eagles tickets this April. But this time he reimbursed BP for the cost, according to BP's lobbying report.
 
Shortly after I began reporting on BP's ticket request line, BP disconnected the line's recorded voicemail system. But now the ticket line is up and running again. To request a ticket, call (916) 444-7968. 
 
Below is a complete list of California officials who've accepted free tickets from BP since the spill, along with highlights from the attractions that lured them into the embrace of the world's most hated oil company. 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 4, 2010

Wed Aug. 4, 2010 2:59 AM EDT

 

US Soldiers assigned to 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division patrol fields out side of Joint Security Station Basra Operation Center, Iraq, on July 23. Photo via the US Army.

Rove, Palin Pick Dumped in Kansas

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 2:00 AM EDT

[MoJo has more primary coverage: Read Andy Kroll's report on Michigan's gubernational results, and Nick Baumann's take on Missouri's primaries for US House and Senate.]

Kansas Rep. Jerry Moran narrowly beat fellow US congressman Todd Tiahrt to secure Kansas' Republican nomination for Senate following a pricey, vitriolic campaign season in which the congressmen brawled over social conservatism, illegal immigration, and government spending.

Up against an opponent with backing from Kansas' tea partiers, Moran's campaign won the primary by bolstering his conservative record and carefully courting the party's moderate wing. Tiahrt took the opposite approach, and sought out the state's most socially conservative voters. He scored endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and conservative organizer Phyliss Schlaffly, among others. That list of conservative luminaries, though, couldn't save Tiahrt, who lost the Republican primary Tuesday night by 5 points.

Kansas political consultant Jeff Roe considers Moran "a common-sense, conservative, plain spoken man for western Kansas" and Tiahrt "a touch more idealogue, from Witchita, with an aggressive posture and base." Not that Moran was particularly timid on the campaign trail. In televised debates and on one TV spot, he accused Tiahrt of supporting "amnesty for illegals" based on Tiahrt's co-sponsorship of bills seeking deportation protection and lower college tuition for undocumented immigrant students.

Tiahrt, meanwhile, branded Moran a watered-down moderate. In one well-publicized commercial, a former hostage whom terrorists held captive in the Philippines for more than a year endorses Tiahrt while an off-camera voice suggests Moran supported constitutional rights for terrorists. One of Tiahrt’s most punishing jabs at Moran came in late June from surrogate and supporter Karl Rove, who accused Moran of trying to barter a vote for a 2001 fundraiser. (Moran and his staff emphatically denied the claim.)

The most recent polls showed Moran slightly ahead of Tiahrt entering Tuesday's contest, but this was a lead he held in terms of geography and fundraising from the beginning. Tiahrt's home district in south-central Kansas has about 168,000 registered Republicans, the smallest Republican registration for any House district in Kansas. Moran's sprawling district, which covers parts of western and central Kansas, has more than 203,000 registered GOP faithful. Moran also raised more money than Tiahrt in one of the most expensive races in the state’s history; together, the candidates spent more than $5 million.

This November, Moran will square off against Lisa Johnston in a contest to succeed Sen. Sam Brownback. However, Johnston, the winner of Tuesday's Democratic nomination for Senate and an assistant dean at Baker University, stands little chance against her Republican opponent. Kansas has been electing Republican senators for the nearly 80 years, and Tuesday's win is a near assurance that Moran will continue that GOP streak this fall.

Military: No Afghan Embed for Rolling Stone Reporter

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 1:59 AM EDT

…Aaaaand we have revenge. The military today announced that Mike Hastings, the Rolling Stone freelancer and longtime war reporter who ended Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s career by, um, listening to stuff that happened and writing it down, will not be returning to Afghanistan anytime soon. His request for a September frontline embed, which had been previously approved, was suddenly rescinded by the unit’s commander, according to a DOD spokesman, Colonel David Lapan:

"There is no right to embed," Lapan said. "It is a choice made between units and individual reporters, and a key element of an embed is having trust that the individuals are going to abide by the ground rules. So in that instance the command in Afghanistan decided there wasn’t the trust requisite and denied this request."

Now, the military could have maybe welcomed Hastings to show they could let bygones be bygones...as well as to do some pushback against the WikiLeaks crowd by inviting a real, live reporter with a camera and junk out there to cover the "ground truth" by being, you know, on the ground. You'd think Bill Caldwell, the ISAF training commander who once ran the coalition's public affairs machine in Iraq, would know that.

Or not.

Is the military's explanation kosher? Not likely; the reasons why after the jump.

Flying Windmills

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 1:08 AM EDT

OK, let's end the day with a bit of (potentially) good news: flying turbines. The basic idea is simple: the wind gets stronger the higher up you are, so why not build flying turbines that hover a mile or two above the earth and crank out the megawatts? Gar Lipow looks into the future and explains:

Other factors being equal, the power available from wind is the cube of its speed....A turbine at ten kilometers can generate eight or more times the energy of a turbine at 100 meters. Estimated high altitude energy potential is about 100 times all energy human civilization currently consumes.

....Kites have been used for millennia, balloons for centuries, motorized planes and helicopters for more than 100 years. Put turbines on an automated kite, plane, balloon or helicopter with no human pilot. Run a tether to transmit the electricity to the ground, and in (in many cases) to provide power for the initial launch. The result is a flying energy generator....This is not merely an idea. A number of companies have working prototypes. It has been proven possible, though not yet practical.

The rest of his piece includes a long Q&A that answers most of the obvious questions (Is it safe? What kind of tether do you need? Would it interfere with airplanes?). The video above shows one concept. I would have used this one instead, which looks cooler, but apparently the folks at Joby Energy don't really want anyone embedding their videos. In any case, I for one look forward to our jetstream-powered future.