2010 - %3, October

The Price of Fiscal Honesty

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 11:02 AM PDT

Jon Cohn writes today about the successful Republican attempt to create enormous opposition to healthcare reform among senior citizens. How? By demagoguing the $500 billion in Medicare cuts contained in ACA, of course. Then he says this:

But even to the extent that seniors hold different views, it's surprising they believe Republicans will keep Medicare sacrosanct. After all, this is the party that opposes government-run insurance (which Medicare is) and has tried repeatedly to privatize the program. Young Guns, the new book by three House Republican leaders, calls for turning Medicare into a voucher program that would dramatically reduce the program's guaranteed benefits — an idea that, as [Marilyn Werber] Serafini points out in a separate story, seniors strongly oppose.

I'd guess that two things are going on here. First, seniors just tend to be more conservative than other age groups and also a lot more resistant to change. So a lot of what we're seeing is Republicans pushing on an open door. Second, seniors aren't reading Young Guns. They're watching Fox News and reading stuff on tea party email lists, something that would turn anyone's brain to mush. What's worse, there's not even any pushback from Democrats to any of this. After all, what can they say? Yes, we cut Medicare spending, but it won't have any actual effect? Good luck with that. They're stuck.

This is one of the reasons why I think moderate conservatives give Democrats way too little credit for their relatively honest funding of ACA. Were there some optimistic assumptions there? Sure. Are some of the cost control measures not going to work as well as they hope? Sure. To about the 80% level, though, Democrats really did insist that ACA be fully funded. By ordinary political standards that's pretty impressive, and by recent Republican standards it's just a plain miracle. And it was a pretty costly piece of fiscal honesty too. A big part of how ACA was funded comes from that $500 billion Medicare cut, and that's just a flat out electoral disaster. It may have been necessary, but there's no question that Democrats are going to pay for it at the polls. They really deserve a little more credit for that.

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Does Your Birth Control Really Turn Male Fish Female?

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 10:59 AM PDT

A few months back, I blogged about a pro-life group's weird environmental campaign. The American Life League basically said women should feel guilty about taking birth control because it ends up in rivers and "is making male fish, frogs and river otters less masculine."

Turns out that campaign is not only annoying, it's also based on faulty information. A new study from UC-San Francisco found that only a very small fraction of estrogen in waterways comes from oral contraceptives. Other sources include landfills, non-contraceptive pharmaceuticals, soymilk and biodiesel factories, but quite a bit comes from big farms. From Chemical & Engineering News:

The UC San Francisco researchers also found that runoff from large animal farms could contribute to waterway contamination, in part because – unlike household waste – livestock effluents are untreated. A study conducted in the United Kingdom estimated that even if only 1% of the estrogens produced by farm animals reached waterways, they would make up 15% of the estrogens in the water. The data suggest that animal farm runoff should be treated before being released into the environment, Wise says.

And considering the heavy antibiotic use on most factory farms, I'm guessing estrogen isn't the only thing going from farms into waterways.

Maddow, Miller, and MoJo's Scoop

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 10:28 AM PDT

Last night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow finally managed to track down Alaska's elusive Republican nominee for Senate, Joe Miller. On a brief but labyrinthine tour through an Anchorage  events center, Maddow sought clarification on Miller's stances on abortion and gay rights. Along the way, she brought up Terry Moffitt, a Miller campaign aide and strident anti-gay activist first profiled by Mother Jones.

While he supports the Defense of Marriage Act, Miller said that gay rights and gay marriage remain state issues—so as to better "accommodate the various differences that we have in the country."

Check out Maddow's walk and talk:


More Inflation, Please

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 9:54 AM PDT

Would a Fed commitment to higher inflation merely spark capital flight to other, more investor-friendly countries? Yes! But Karl Smith explains why that's exactly the point, and does it with emoticons. Worth a quick read.

Suppressing the Vote, GOP Style

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 9:35 AM PDT

A friend writes to complain about press treatment of the biannual frenzy over voter fraud. Here is the New York Times, for example, in a story headlined "Fraudulent Voting Re-emerges as a Partisan Issue" yesterday:

A report by the public-integrity section of the Justice Department found that from October 2002 to September 2005, the department charged 95 people with “election fraud”; 55 were convicted. Among those, fewer than 20 people were convicted of casting fraudulent ballots.

Statistics! Actual facts! For all practical purposes, there is no voter fraud. Charges of fraud are merely a cynical tactic designed to suppress the vote of various demographic groups who are likely to vote for Democrats.1 So, my friend asks, why not collect some actual facts about that?

You don't see major outlets examining in any detail the suppressive effects of voter fraud hype, monitoring and legislative restrictions. Reporters duly note that Democrats claim it's intended to suppress turnout, but then they simply go back to whether there is evidence of fraud, because the facts to analyze that are frankly available through Google. They certainly investigate Republicans claims of voter fraud — why don't they investigate claims of suppression?

Actually, the Times article above does a decent job of glossing the issue of voter suppression, but glossing is all it does. So why not really dig into this? The facts themselves, after all, are painfully obvious: every two years, like clockwork, Republicans gin up a massive hysteria over voter fraud that study after study shows doesn't exist. The fact of its nonexistence is about as well established as anything can possibly be, so there has to be some other reason for relentlessly bringing it up. And that reason, quite plainly, is to suppress the vote of groups unlikely to vote for Republicans.

So why doesn't the mainstream press dig into that more deeply instead of merely dismissing it as a "partisan issue"? The cynical among you will probably think it's because an actual investigation would be unlikely to turn up a narrative in which both parties can be held equally to blame. But that would be pretty damn cynical, wouldn't it?

1And raise money from the kind of people who respond well to racially tinged hysteria, of course. We can't forget that.

How to Gut Regulations the Old Fashioned Way

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 9:08 AM PDT

Is George Painter just another old guy suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease? Or is he perfectly in control of his faculties and quite correct when he says that Bruce Levine, his longtime colleague as an administrative law judge for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, made a vow 20 years ago never to rule against an investment firm? He made the charge in his resignation letter last month:

There are two administrative law judges at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission: myself and the Honorable Bruce Levine. On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor. A review of his rulings will confirm that he has fulfilled his vow. Judge Levine, in the cynical guise of enforcing the rules, forces pro se complaints to run a hostile procedural gauntlet until they lose hope, and either withdraw their complaint or settle for a pittance, regardless of the merits of the case.

Michael Hiltzik looks into Painter's charges here, and concludes that (a) he seems pretty lucid, and (b) he seems to be right. It's a great example of how you can effectively gut a financial regulatory regime without actually going through the hassle of getting the regulations themselves changed. Just hire someone someone who refuses to enforce the regulations, and voila! They might as well not exist. Nice work, George H.W. Bush.

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Terror Trial Update: Looking for the Bombers

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 8:49 AM PDT

Read Karen Greenberg's previous coverage of the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court.

Here we sit for the fourth week in a row, in the federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan. It's first trial of one of the High Value Detainees rounded up in the war on terror to take place in a federal courthouse. No, we don't have a bin Laden in custody. Or a Zawahiri. Or even a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Instead, we have Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a young man charged in connection with the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzani. Despite the fanfare surrounding the discussion of the KSM case and the Americans' emotional fearfulness of terrorism, the case, as presented by the prosecution, is mundane, technical, and altogether without drama of any sort—a marked contrast to the pre-trial hearings which centered on the torture of the defendant while in CIA custody.

On Monday and Tuesday, the prosecution presented a series of FBI agents who had examined the crime scenes of both embassies, as well as the dwelling and businesses of the men they allege to have perpetrated the crime. The jury is getting an education in many things during this trial, including forensic studies. The team of experts who examined the residence of the alleged conspirators in Mombasa, Kenya, explained how they donned Tyvex suits so as not to "track anything in or out," took swabbings to test for chemical residue, bagged items such as a Fanta bottle (now on display in the courtroom), and packed up the evidence for transport to the FBI labs in Quantico, Virginia. One FBI explosives expert explained that he "actually conducted mini-seminars" at the bombing site as he and his colleagues raked through the debris, often with bare hands. He estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of TNT would explain the size of the explosion that damaged the US Embassy in Nairobi, demolishing a nearby structure and damaging a 22-story bank building across the courtyard.

Did Aqua Buddha Backfire?

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 8:35 AM PDT

You probably saw the ad or at least heard about it: a bizarre 30-second spot sent onto the airwaves by Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate in Kentucky's bruising Senate race. Simply titled "Why?," the ad rips Rand Paul, the race's GOP candidate and tea party favorite, for his reported membership in a secret society that allegedly called the Bible "a hoax," and that tied up a college student and made her "bow down" before the "Aqua Buddha." (Read more about Paul's strange college daze, ahem, days here in GQ.) Playing into Paul's supposedly mysterious past, the ad ends by asking, with a Buddha and Paul sharing the frame, "Why are there so many questions about Rand Paul?"

Here's the ad:

Trailing by a healthy margin for months, Conway needed—pardon the tired phrase—a game-changing move to seriously challenge Paul. Presumably Aqua Buddha was just that. But according to new polls, the candidate hurt most by the antics of Aqua Buddha was Conway himself.

A new Public Policy Polling survey puts Paul ahead of Conway by 13, the tea party darling's widest lead since he won his party's primary in May. More telling is Kentuckians' response to the Aqua Buddha ad itself, which PPP also measured.

Of the 62 percent of voters who saw the ad, 56 percent said it was inappropriate. Split by party, 72 percent of Republican disliked the ad, as did 41 percent of Democrats. As PPP's Dean Debnam put it, "Down by single digits until now, Jack Conway threw a Hail Mary with the 'Aqua Buddha' TV spot, and Rand Paul looks set to intercept it and return it for a touchdown next week."

Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro, reporting from Kentucky, found voters giving voice to the Aqua Buddha revulsion. He spoke to 26-year-old Obama supporter Emily Daniel who said the ad "really crossed the line." And then there's local school secretary Karen Crouch, who Shapiro also interviewed:

"The ad's pushing me towards Rand Paul. It's such a personal attack and he did it because Rand Paul had a lead in this race. Conway's desperate." Crouch, who was having lunch with her husband Larry, is a registered Republican with an independent streak. When I asked her about her 2008 presidential vote, she said, "Well, it wasn't McCain."

What's Killing Voter Registration This Year?

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 8:30 AM PDT

Another bummer for Democrats this election cycle: new voter registration has been plummeting this year—down 43 percent in Wisconsin as compared to 2006 and 35 percent in Indiana, with similar drops in other states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. As I noted earlier, this is partly due to the demise of ACORN, which dissolved after a barrage of conservative-led attacks on the organization. But there are other ways the GOP has helped tamp down the number of new registrations.

As the New York Times points out, the housing crisis has foreclosed three million this year, forcing people out of their homes and making it harder for them to establish residency to vote. There are signs that Republicans have tried to seize upon this as a political opportunity: back in 2008, a local Republican group was accused of using foreclosure lists to challenge people's eligibility to vote. The Obama campaign filed suit against the tactic, ultimately leading both the Democratic and Republican national committees to agree not to use lists of foreclosed homes to challenge voter eligibility. But given the massive uptick in foreclosures—which have increased 30 percent since 2008—Americans who've recently been foreclosed upon may still be confused about their voting rights, particularly given the increased suspicion and scrutiny surrounding the voter registration process as part of the Republican-led anti-fraud campaign.

Moreover—partly in response to the conservative panic about fraudulent registrations—"many states have also enacted laws in recent years that make registration drives more difficult, with stricter reporting and filing deadlines for voter registration groups," the Times adds. In Georgia, for example, a new state law requires voters to prove citizenship, which has made the registration process more onerous.

But not everyone agrees that such laws are necessary: A similar law in Arizona was struck down just yesterday by a federal appeals court, which ruled that requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration ran afoul of the National Voter Registration Act. Voting rights advocates cheered the ruling: "This will enable the many poor people in Arizona who lack driver's licenses and birth certificates to register to vote," Jon Greenbaum, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the AP. But it's unlikely to do much to stop the bleeding in voter registrations this year, at least.

Joe Miller's Employment Record: Lying, and then Lying about Lying

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 8:29 AM PDT

Joe Miller may be in trouble up in Alaska. On Sunday, after spending weeks trying to keep his personal history out of the campaign spotlight, the tea-party backed Republican candidate for senator finally admitted that he'd been suspended from his part-time job as an attorney with the Fairbanks North Star Borough for three days in 2008 for violating the borough's ethics policy. But the story didn't end there. Earlier this month, several Alaska media outlets sued for access to Miller's employment records. They won on Tuesday, after a judge ordered the release of Miller's employment files. What those documents reveal about Miller isn't pretty.

According to those records, Miller used multiple government computers to vote against state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich (a position he wanted for himself) in an online poll. He then cleared out the caches on the computers to cover his tracks and lied about the whole episode, multiple times. It was the lying that earned Miller a three-day suspension and a six month probationary period.

Included in the documents released Tuesday is a letter Miller wrote to his supervisor in which he describes what happened:

Over the lunch hour this past Wednesday, I got on three computers (not belonging to me) in the office. All of them were on and none of them were locked. I accessed my personal website, for political purposes (participated in a poll), and then cleared the cache on each computer. I did the same thing on my computer. Jill asked the office what happened. I lied about accessing all of the computers. I then admitted about accessing the computers, but lied about what I was doing. Finally, I admitted what I did.

"I acknowledge that my access to others' computers was wrong, participating in the poll was wrong, lying was wrong, and there is absolutely no excuse for any of it," Miller continued.

So now we know that Miller lied. But do Alaskans care? Or, at least, do they care enough swing the race, which currently shows Miller and Murkowski tied, with Democrat Scott McAdams gaining on them? The Alaska Dispatch ponders this question, but the answer is far from clear at this point.