2011 - %3, April

Rep. Allen West: American Men are Being Neutered

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 12:09 PM EDT

Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has been known to say some pretty outlandish things from time to time. He's told constituents that "Islam is not a religion," called the President of the United States a "low-level socialist agitator," and asked supporters to "grab your muskets!" Now, he's outdone himself. Late last week, West spoke to the conservative group Women Impacting the Nation, and after West alleged that 33 percent of the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood, the discussion wandered—as discussions usually do!—to the subject of the increasing sissification of America's men. No, really, that's what West talked about. Via Tanya Somander:

We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side—these Planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness—to let them know what we are not going to have our men become subservient. That's what we need you to do. Because if you don't, then the debt will continue to grow.

That line about the debt sort of comes out of nowhere, right? Anyway, West, who has been floated as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012, went on to compare the nation's current set of crises to those faced by the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, as well as those faced by the samurai in the Tom Cruise movie, The Last Samurai. I would just note that the Spartans all died at Thermopylae. Here's the full(ish) video:

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Why Not Tax Carbon?

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 11:55 AM EDT

If the price elasticity of oil is low, then people will cut back only modestly if the price goes up. Ryan Avent argues that (a) even a modest cut is better than nothing, and (b) higher oil prices are also a good way to spur development of alternative energy technologies. Jim Manzi isn't impressed:

Now to evaluate Avent’s argument that taxing fossil fuels is a good way to induce new technology, consider an analogy. Suppose that there is a chemotherapy drug that increases five-year survival rate for a specialized type of cancer from 10 percent to 60 percent, but with horrible side-effects. Some scientists in a couple of university labs have had some promising results with basic compounds that might or might not ultimately be precursors to a new drug that could get better increases in survival rates, and without many of the awful side effects. If you believed that improving treatment for this disease should be a major public priority, would your preferred approach be to add a large tax to chemotherapy? This is, in effect, what Avent is proposing as way to encourage the development of alternative energy technologies. I’d fund NIH research into the new alternative drug.

I don't think this analogy holds water. In the case of the drug, you have something that, even though it's imperfect, is better than nothing. In the absence of alternatives, most of us would prefer to make the bad drug as widely available as possible even if it does have horrible side effects. After all, those side effects affect only the patient, and we all assume that she can make her own decision about whether they're worth it.

That's not true when it comes to energy policy. At least, it's not true for anyone who accepts the science of global warming. For us, fossil fuel use is something that we'd like to see cut back as a positive good all by itself. This is, to restate the obvious, because the side effects of fossil fuels don't affect only the person driving his car to work. They affect everyone.

Now, it's true that carbon taxes have only a modest effect on fossil fuel use. If the IMF's estimates are correct, this is partly because even the long-term elasticity of oil is fairly low, and partly because when we cut back on oil in rich countries it immediately gets snarfed up by developing economies eager for growth. But this is why no serious environmentalist thinks of carbon taxes as anything other than one piece of a broader plan to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions — sort of like providing a tail wind for everything else that you're doing. And I think that's the best way of thinking about it. You want to fund research into alternative energy sources? Me too! But that means you need funding, and what better way to fund energy research than with a carbon tax? It not only provides the money you'll need anyway, but also helps push public demand in the direction of the very alternatives you're subsidizing.

Given that we're quite obviously going to need new taxes in the future, I have a hard time seeing the downside of a carbon tax. I mean, what would you rather tax instead? Labor? Capital? Consumption? No matter what your political preferences are, surely taxing carbon is a better bet than any of those three?

Donald Trump's South Carolina Problem

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 11:49 AM EDT

In a Winthrop poll out today, presidential hopeful Donald Trump drops from his frontrunner status to third out of 12 potential GOP hopefuls, trailing Mike Huckabee by nearly 8 percent and Romney by five. Of course, Trump did beat out right-wing stars including Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul. But when it comes to primaries, third place won't do much to help you win the party nomination.

Here's how the GOP contenders stacked up in the poll:

Mike Huckabee 19.1 percent
Mitt Romney 16.6 percent
Donald Trump 11.3 percent
Newt Gingrich 8.1 percent
Sarah Palin 7.9 percent
Chris Christie 6.2 percent
Michele Bachmann 3.7 percent
Tim Pawlenty 2.1 percent
Ron Paul 2.1 percent
Herman Cain 2.1 percent
Haley Barbour 2.0 percent
Rick Santorum 1.8 percent
Not Sure 13.6 percent

Joshua Green at The Atlantic spoke with Winthrop polling guru Scott Huffmon, who had this to say about Trump's standing in South Carolina:

He's saying a lot of things that a lot of conservatives want to hear, but he's saying it in a very heavy New York accent. A lot of South Carolina Republicans, I'm guessing, want to hear it in a different accent. Trump says a lot that I think people are enjoying hearing, but people liked the sound of Rudy Giuliani, too, and he was unable to gain traction in South Carolina. But Trump did best Sarah Palin by a little bit. So his name recognition alone is getting him somewhere.

The Winthrop poll comes hot on the heels of the Draft Trump 2012 operation's hiring of Scott Royce, an attorney, as its South Carolina coordinator. According to the press release, "Royce has kept a keen eye on Republican politics since the mid-eighties when he worked as a political field director in New Hampshire for Jack Kemp's presidential run in 1988," among a few other stints in politics. Hmm, hardly seems like the guy to help The Donald win the South Carolina primary.

No Gay Judges, Please

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 11:27 AM EDT

The anti-gay dead-enders in California continue to argue that it's unpossible for a gay judge to rule objectively in a case about gay marriage:

Attorneys for ProtectMarriage, the group that sponsored the 2008 ballot initiative, said in a legal motion that Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who retired from the San Francisco-based district court earlier this year, had a duty to disclose his relationship and step down before deciding whether a ban on same-sex marriage violated the federal Constitution.

"Judge Walker's ten-year-long same-sex relationship creates the unavoidable impression that he was not the impartial judge the law requires," said Andy Pugno, a lawyer for ProtectMarriage. "He was obligated to either recuse himself or provide full disclosure of this relationship at the outset of the case. These circumstances demand setting aside his decision."

Roger that. Clearly the only possible unbiased ruling in this case would have been handed down by a straight judge upholding the sanctity of straight marriage. Because everyone knows that straight judges can keep their personal feelings in check but gay judges can't.

Tennessee Shariah Bill Too Extreme For Tea Partiers (Updated)

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 9:30 AM EDT

Today in Nashville lawmakers will hold hearings on SB 1028, a bill that makes it a felony in Tennessee to provide material support for terrorism. That's already a federal crime, of course, but that's hardly the point: The bill, introduced by State Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Judd Matheny, both Republicans, is the most radical of the more than two-dozen proposals nationwide to block the implementation of Islamic Shariah law on the unsuspecting citizenry. Now Ketron and Matheny are facing opposition from an unlikely source: the tea party.

According to William Coley, a member of the Knoxville Tea Party and a Muslim-American, his group will formally condemn the legislation at a press conference this morning, warning that the bill expands the powers of the police state while doing nothing to make Tennesseans any safer.

(Update: I've got a copy of the statement; it's not a condemnation, but it's hardly an endorsement either. Here's the crux of it: "While the Knoxville Tea Party truly appreciates the sincere intentions behind SB1028, we do not feel that peaceful gatherings by ourselves, our friends, or neighbors is the problem, nor do we feel that increased surveillance by the State of Tennessee and intrusion into its citizens' lives is the answer. The federal government already does far too much of that.")

Last week, Coley says, he was thrown out of Rep. Matheny's office, along with a coalition of Tennessee Muslim leaders, after a contentious exchange over the legislation. In his version of events, Coley told Matheny he and the Knoxville Tea Party would work to defeat the legislation. Matheny told him that if that happened, he'd simply introduce the bill again next year. That was too much for Coley: "I was just like, 'Look, Bro, if you're going to propose this bill again next year, this is just a waste of our time.' This guy has forgotten he's an elected official.' I got up to leave and I said, 'You don't have job security and you will not be back again next year.'" (Coley does not live in Matheny's district.)

According to Coley, Matheny was supported in the meeting by a representative of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, the local chapter of Phyllis Schlafly's right-wing organization. It was the Eagle Forum that pushed for the Tennessee legislation originally, enlisting Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi's help in drafting the bill. But Matheny's argument that he has strong grassroots backing is misleading, Coley says, because the tea party is not fully on board. "Not the way Matheny is trying to make it look. Basically, when I told Matheny that, he told me he didn't believe me. I told him 'You can believe what you want; I've got the Knoxville Tea Party on speed dial—you can call them. I didn't threaten him with bodily harm, I threatened him with removal from office."

"First Pro-Choice Terrorist" Ted Shulman Indicted for Alleged Death Threats

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

For years, opponents of abortion rights have complained to local, state, and federal law enforcement that Theodore "Ted" Shulman, a radical abortion-rights activist, was harrassing and threatening them. Nothing ever came of it until late February, when the anti-abortion rights blogosphere lit up with rumors that Shulman had finally been arrested.

"This is a huge relief to us that Ted Shulman is behind bars where he belongs," Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue, the controversial Kansas-based anti-abortion group, said in a post on the group's blog. But Politics Daily's David Gibson, the only reporter to cover the story back in February, could not confirm any charges against Shulman, and could not reach the FBI for comment. (Sullenger claimed the indictment had been filed under seal.) Now Mother Jones can confirm that Shulman, the 49-year-old son of famed feminist author and activist Alix Kates Shulman, faces a six-count federal indictment for allegedly threatening two unnamed anti-abortion activists. The charges, which each carry a maximum five-year-sentence, could land Shulman in prison for decades if he's convicted on all counts. Shulman pleaded not guilty.

Neither the FBI agent nor the assistant US attorney handling the case responded to requests for comment. A call and email to Shulman's lawyer went unreturned. It's not unheard of for extreme anti-abortion activists to face legal consequences when they cross the line. But Shulman is by far the most prominent alleged harrasser of abortion foes, and one of the first—perhaps the first—to be prosecuted under federal laws that forbid threatening others across state lines. He seemed to see himself as a kind of pioneer—according to Gibson, he liked to refer to himself as the "first pro-choice terrorist."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 26, 2011

Tue Apr. 26, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army soldiers with 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Focused Targeting Force, board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Khowst province, Afghanistan, on March 29, 2011. DoD photo by Pfc. Donald Watkins, U.S. Army. (Released)

Krugman Then and Now

| Tue Apr. 26, 2011 1:16 AM EDT

Ben Wallace-Wells has a nice profile of Paul Krugman in New York magazine this month, and it's worth a read. For some reason, though, it prompted me to reread my interview of Krugman from back in 2003. Here's a snippet of our conversation that picks up at a point where we were talking about long-term economic woes and the Republican desire to slash entitlement programs:

I don't think politically you can cut those programs.

Train wreck is a way overused metaphor, but we're headed for some kind of collision, and there are three things that can happen. Just by the arithmetic, you can either have big tax increases, roll back the whole Bush program plus some; or you can sharply cut Medicare and Social Security, because that's where the money is; or the U.S. just tootles along until we actually have a financial crisis where the marginal buyer of U.S. treasury bills, which is actually the Reserve Bank of China, says, we don't trust these guys anymore — and we turn into Argentina. All three of those are clearly impossible, and yet one of them has to happen, so, your choice. Which one?

Well, how about your choice? What's your best guess?

I think financial crisis, and then how it falls out is 50-50, either New New Deal or back to McKinley, and I think it's anybody's guess which one of those it is....I don't see any noncatastrophic solution to this, I don't see an incremental stepwise resolution. I think something drastic is really going to happen.

....What happens if [] foreign countries stop buying U.S. bonds? Is this a real concern, or a tinfoil hat kind of thing?

Oh, I don't think China is going to do it to pressure us. You can just barely conceive of a situation where they're mad at us because we're keeping them from invading Taiwan or something, but more likely they just start to wonder if this is really a good place to be putting their money.

So what happens is a plunge in the dollar when they decide to stop buying and start cashing in, and a spike in U.S. interest rates. But you might also get in a situation where the interest rates the government has to pay to roll over its debt become so high that you get an accelerating problem, which is what happened in Argentina. What happened was that suddenly no one would buy Argentine debt unless they paid a twenty something percent interest rate, and everybody says, but if they have to roll over their debt at a twenty percent interest rate, there's no way they can pay that back. So the whole thing grinds to a halt and the cash flow just dries up.

....If you were king of the economy, what's the Krugman plan?

A phased elimination of all the Bush tax cuts, plus some additional taxes. I'd probably look first at some way to make the corporate profits tax actually effective again — the nominal rate is 35% but the effective rate is only 15% or so. Look at some cuts, maybe you start to talk about retirement age, and possibly some means testing of Medicare, and that's enough to bring the budget under control.

Obviously the financial crisis of 2008 has intervened since then, but I wonder how much of this still represents Krugman's current thinking?

Today in 'Are You Effing Kidding Me?"

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 6:10 PM EDT

There is just too much crap on the web that is making my jaw drop today. Here's a quick link-n-run.

A lawyer in a New York rape case compares a woman's bruised lady parts to a Venus Flytrap. Did I mention, she was (reportedly) raped while unconscious? By NYPD police officers?

A transwoman was brutally beaten in a Maryland McDonald's by two people while employees looked on, filmed it, and laughed. One finally intervened.

A Mexican environmentalist was shot dead. He had been objecting to Mexican mafia illegally clearing forests to grow opium poppies.

The FBI's definition of rape is 82-years-old. And it only applies to women. Grrr.

A flight was delayed nearly 3 hours after a passenger said fellow fliers were acting suspiciously. Their offense? Taking pictures.

Apple says it "must have" location-specific data gleaned from your iPhone to "better serve" you. Uh huh.

There is a baby that laughs when her dog chases soap bubbles. It's really cute.

A little girl went to the MoMA and was pissed there were no dinosaur bones. I will second that.

 

 

Tokyo Dims Lights, Still Pretty Bright

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 4:39 PM EDT

Tokyoites, like residents of many big cities, are used to bright nights. In the wake of the failure of the Fukushima nuclear plant and power station, Tokyo is trying to save electricity. For example, in subway tunnels, only one of every three ceiling lights is being lit, and the huge, bustling Shinjuku area of downtown Tokyo has many signs left dark. But despite these cuts, one news station shows that even at current levels, Tokyo is just as bright as London. In general, Tokyoites are used to much brighter (and more) lights than Londoners.

Above, you can see a NASA map of Japan and London from space at night. Despite having comparable populations of around 12 million, London and Tokyo look different from space. Tokyo looks brighter, though that could be because of Japan's overall higher population density. The people in Tokyo interviewed in the video say that they're okay with things being a little darker than before, and Londoners seem fine with their slightly darker city. So perhaps going forward, Japan could consider reducing its non-essential electricity use. This could be particularly true in the case of hot, humid, Tokyo summers, when overall energy use increases as residents turn to air conditioning and fans to cool down. Some Tokyoites, stuck after the earthquake disrupted train service, have already switched to non-electric forms of transportation like bicycles that would remain unaffected by rolling blackouts.

As a side note, I remain encouraged that the situation in Japan will improve and later this year (with any luck) Tokyoites will have a life that more closely resembles normal. If anything, at least when a Japanese company like Tepco suffers a huge disaster, they cut executive pay rather than give them bonuses for "the best year in safety performance in our company's history" like Transocean did after the BP spill. 

h/t JapanProbe

 


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