2011 - %3, May

Venn Diagram: Rape vs. Flat Tire

| Tue May 24, 2011 2:45 PM EDT

Outrage followed after Kansas state Rep. Pete DeGraaf compared being raped to getting a flat tire. During a House discussion of a bill that will ban insurance companies from covering abortion insurance under general healthcare plans, DeGraaf said women needed to "plan ahead" for being raped and possibly impregnated against their will. From the Associated Press

And Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports abortion rights, questioned whether women would buy abortion-only policies long before they have crisis or unwanted pregnancies or are rape victims.

During the House's debate, Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who supports the bill, told her: "We do need to plan ahead, don't we, in life?"

Bollier asked him, "And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with a pregnancy?"

DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, "I have spare tire on my car."

"I also have life insurance," he added. "I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for."

As many have pointed out, preparing to get a flat tire is not the same as preparing to be raped. You won't get HIV from a flat tire, for example. Nor will you get pregnant. To help Rep. DeGraaf understand the many differences between rape and a flat tire, I've made the Venn diagram below. But I can't help but think it's not that he doesn't know the difference: it's just that he doesn't care.

 

 

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Hasta la Vista, Arnie: Can the Climate Movement Afford to Lose Arnold Schwarzenegger?

| Tue May 24, 2011 1:46 PM EDT

The most prominent Republican voice for climate action is now in the (hound)doghouse. Turns out the Sperminator has been pumping more than iron.

If you're as revolted as I am, you might be tempted to toss the bum permanently overboard—but can we afford to?

At a time when every Republican presidential contender is arguing against climate action, when more than half of the Republicans in Congress question whether climate change is even happening, let alone whether we should do anything about it, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been consistently leading the charge against climate change and for clean energy.

He has long since lost favor with the GOP base—if he ever had it—but Schwarzenegger still commands a huge audience and is much more likely to reach Joe and Jane Six-Pack than are the pip-squeaks holding climate-denying hearings in the House or the milquetoast Democrats opposing them.

While governor of California, Schwarzenegger signed the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (aka AB 32), laying the groundwork for the nation's first mandatory, statewide cap-and-trade system to go into effect in 2012. Last year, he pushed hard to defeat the oil-industry-funded initiative, Prop 23, that would have repealed that climate law. He fought automakers and the Bush administration for the right to impose tough vehicle emissions standards in California, paving the way for the Obama administration to adopt tougher standards nationally.

Along the way, he's been effective at communicating climate concerns to the masses—not in terms of parts of million, but in terms of macho climate heroes versus girlie-men deniers. Sure, he did dumb stuff like keep a fleet of Hummers and fly daily between L.A. and Sacramento, but all in all, the Governator was a force for green.

The Failure of Cynicism

| Tue May 24, 2011 12:56 PM EDT

Welcome to the United States of America:

It’s been less than three years since the fall of Lehman. The financial crisis remains lodged in our minds, and in our jobless rate. And yet, as ProPublica’s Jesse Eisinger has pointed out, the Federal Reserve lacks a vice chairman for banking supervision. There’s no one officially in charge of the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research. The seat marked “insurance” on Financial Stability Oversight Council is empty. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a leader but not a director. No one has been confirmed to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And Republicans are still saying Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond is underqualified to serve on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.

Meanwhile, the House GOP is fighting to starve financial regulators of the resources they need to do their work. Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission needed extra money to scale up to their expanded roles under the Dodd-Frank law, but the Republicans’ 2011 budget proposal whacked them with sharp cuts — and then their 2012 proposal repealed most of Dodd-Frank, with no vision for what should go in its place. The irony? All this is being pursued under the guise of deficit reduction. And why do we have such a gaping deficit? The . . . financial crisis.

That's Ezra Klein. And yes, this is stunning almost beyond belief. It's this, more than anything else, that has convinced me over the past couple of years that America's wealthy class is simply morally bankrupt and that the leadership of the Republican Party is politically bankrupt. Five years ago I would have been embarrassed to write a blog post suggesting that this might be the reaction of the moneyed class to an economic collapse. Then we had one and this was the reaction. Once again, events have outrun my best efforts to be cynical.

French Justice, American Justice

| Tue May 24, 2011 12:32 PM EDT

Sophie Meunier reports that after an initial stage of anger and America-bashing, French reaction to the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has started to turn:

With a few days hindsight, however, what is most surprising about the fallout of the DSK scandal in France is not how much, but rather how little displays of anti-Americanism it has provoked. To the contrary, the scandal is now turning into a teachable moment....What if the American justice system actually had some features that could be replicated, such as the equality of treatment? A flurry of accusatory articles popped up in the French press denouncing how a defendant of DSK's stature would never have gone through the same legal troubles in France -unlike a random "Benoit" or "Karim." As socialist and DSK friend Manuel Valls publicly confessed, criticizing the American justice system also puts the spotlight on the weaknesses of French justice. This realization that perhaps the Americans might have components in their justice system that should be replicated in France might have left many with the depressing thought — "maybe we are not as wonderful and superior as we thought: so what is now our place in the world?"

Many analysts, mostly women but not only, seized on the scandal to praise an American society where it is easy (read, easier than in France) to denounce sex crimes and violence against women.

As for the French media, they, too, quickly went into soul-searching mode. By refusing to report beyond the "bedroom door", had they been complicit? Why doesn't France have a tradition of investigative journalism? Should French reporters be importing best practices from their American counterparts? Ahhhh, acceptance.

I'd actually like to read an article about how DSK would likely have been treated in France if the accusations had been made there by a French housekeeper. Reading pieces like this one, I've gotten the consistent impression that the French judicial system would have treated him with kid gloves. But what exactly does that mean? Inquiring minds would like to know. Perhaps some enterprising French journalist could do us all a service and sketch out the way this would probably have unfolded if it had happened in Paris instead of New York.

Micronesia Challenges Europe's Dirty Energy

| Tue May 24, 2011 12:00 PM EDT
The Prunéřov Power Station in Bohemia, Czech Republic

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), an island nation scattered across the Pacific north of New Guinea, has already had to confront the tides of climate change, which have eaten away at its coasts and left its food and water security in shambles. When leaders in FSM heard that the Czech Republic planned to extend the license on its biggest polluter, the Prunéřov power station, they decided that a coal plant halfway across the world had everything to do with their fragile island country's health. In January of 2010, FSM legally intervened in the extension of the plant by calling for a Transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment, which required the Czech government to take into account the environmental impact upon another territory when deciding whether to approve the project.

Biology and Liberalism

| Tue May 24, 2011 11:06 AM EDT

Karl Smith explains part of the way his views have changed over the years:

15 years ago I was a hardcore Tabula Rasa supporter. There was no way I could imagined myself waking up, believing anything different.

Today, I frequently say: crime and poverty in the first world are biological diseases and one day they will have a biological cure. Our purpose right now is to ease the pain of all those afflicted. Ironically, I think liberals tend to be less accepting of biological determinism, but it was my acceptance of it that led me to be increasingly in favor of efforts to help the first world poor.

I've never been either a hardcore blank slater or a hardcore biological determinist, but there's no question that I have a pretty healthy belief in the power of genes and biology. As Karl says, this belief tends to be associated with conservatives more than liberals, but that's really very odd. After all, it's pretty easy to fool ourselves into dismissing the benefits of being raised in a rich, stable culture and assuming that everything we've accomplished has actually been the result of hard work and personal rectitude. But what if you believe, say, that (a) IQ has a strong biological component and (b) high IQ is really important for getting ahead in the world? If you believe this and also happen to be blessed with a high IQ, how can you possibly convince yourself that this is anything other than the blind luck of the genetic lottery?

Well, I suppose people can convince themselves of just about anything. And certainly a smart person who works hard is likely to do better than a smart person who sits on the couch all day playing videogames. Still, to the extent that you really do believe that cognitive abilities are (a) important, and (b) strongly biologically determined, shouldn't you also believe that the poor are more unlucky than anything else, and haven't done anything to deserve hunger, lousy housing, poor medical care, or crappy educations? If genetic luck plays a big role in making us who we are, then support for income redistribution from the rich to the poor is almost a logical necessity for anyone with a moral sense more highly developed than a five-year-old's.

Long story short, belief in biological determinism should make you into a liberal. And yet, here in the real world it mostly does just the opposite. Go figure.

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Run, Paul, Run!

| Tue May 24, 2011 10:43 AM EDT

Writing in the LA Times today, Jonah Goldberg is unhappy that none of the big-name GOP presidential candidates are full-throated defenders of Paul Ryan's budget plan:

So the question many are asking is, should Ryan ride to the rescue? If the election is going to be a referendum on his plan, maybe the one guy who can sell it should get in the race. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called for Ryan to get in the race, saying, "Paul's about real leadership."

If Ryan ran, he would probably drive the other candidates further away from his own plan while forcing them to come up with serious alternatives of their own. If he got the nomination, many think he would clean Obama's clock in the debates.

It's a lot to ask. He has three young kids and would have to get organized and funded from a cold start for a long-shot run. But politics is about moments, and this one is calling him. Unless someone suddenly rises to the challenge, the cries of "Help us, Paul Ryan, you're our only hope!" will only get louder.

Let me get this straight. The Ryan plan is wildly unpopular and is ripping the Republican Party apart. In fact, it's so unpopular that even Newt Gingrich won't endorse it. So the answer is for Ryan to run because somehow the great man himself will make gutting Medicare into a national movement. And Ryan's vision of vouchers for all, tax cuts for the rich, and reducing defense and domestic spending to 3% of GDP is so compelling that President Obama will be like putty in his hands when debate time rolls around. Hell, maybe Obama will be so scared he'll simply refuse to debate at all.

Well, I'm all for it. I mean, if Michele Bachmann were to run and lose, there's always the chance that the true believers would just chalk it up to inexperience or bad organization or backstabbing or some kind of campaign meltdown (there's bound to be one). But if Ryan runs and loses, maybe Republicans really would have to face up to reality. Maybe Paul Ryan really is our only hope.

Lead is Bad for You

| Tue May 24, 2011 9:57 AM EDT

Crime continues to drop:

The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.

....Criminology experts said they were surprised and impressed by the national numbers, issued on Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and based on data from more than 13,000 law-enforcement agencies....“Striking,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, because it came “at a time when everyone anticipated it could be going up because of the recession.”

Actually, my recollection of the evidence is that recessions have a mixed effect on crime rates. On the other hand, the cohort effects from lead abatement efforts and the introduction of unleaded gasoline probably continue to make themselves felt, so this might not be as mysterious as it seems. More here and here. And while you're at it, this too.

The GOP's Medicare Defectors

| Tue May 24, 2011 9:54 AM EDT

Welcome to Medicarepalooza! The political brawl surrounding the entitlement program will come to a new head this week, as Republicans face a series of tough challenges to Paul Ryan's proposal to "end Medicare as we know it," as the Democrats are fond of saying.

The Senate is likely to hold a vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget in the upcoming days. The measure is all but assured to fail, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has insisted on the symbolic vote to hold the GOP accountable for the plan, which the GOP-controlled House passed in April. All Senate Democrats are expected to vote against it, but a small handful of Republicans could defect as well, primarily because of the Ryan plan's Medicare overhaul.

Up to five Senate Republicans could end up voting against the Ryan plan this week, according to Politico's latest count. The Senate GOP's tiny moderate wing would account for most of the defections. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) have pledged to vote against the budget, citing concerns with the Medicare proposal. Similarly, both Olympia Snowe* (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (I-Alaska.) are both "leaning no" on the budget. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), another more moderate GOPer, is "leaning yes" but hasn't fully committed yet.

Finally, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has put himself on the opposite end of the spectrum, vowing to vote against the budget for failing to go far enough. Paul has demanded that any proposal conform to his balanced budget amendment and has also insisted on major cuts to Social Security, which the Ryan budget doesn't touch.

The Republican defections are likely to embolden Democrats, some of whom are already predicting that Medicare will be the defining issue of the 2012 elections. Both parties will also be anxiously awaiting the results of Tuesday's special congressional election in upstate New York's 26th district. The race has boiled down to a referendum on the Ryan Medicare plan, and the Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, is currently leading by 4 to 6 points. If the Democrats manage to recapture the seat—previously held by disgraced GOPer Chris Lee—they'll be feeling especially bullish about their ability to use Medicare as a political cudgel in 2012.

*Update: Snowe told a local paper on Tuesday that she would vote no on the Ryan budget. She explains: "I am going to vote no on the budget because I have deep and abiding concerns about the approach on Medicare, which is essentially to privatize it."

Is Rudy Giuliani Really Gonna Run for President?

| Tue May 24, 2011 9:41 AM EDT

The GOP presidential field looks like it's starting to gel, but, via Byron York, Rep. Peter King (R–N.Y.) says we might see one more familiar face:

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose presidential campaign fizzled in 2008, is leaning toward another race for the White House, according to a close associate. New York Republican Rep. Peter King, who has known Giuliani for more than 40 years, says the former mayor "is very close to saying he's going to run."

"If he were to make the decision today, he would run," says King.

Giuliani wouldn't be the most perplexing name floated for the GOP presidential nomination. That honor belongs to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who you'll probably have to Wikipedia, or perhaps King himself, who told supporters he would consider running if he thought it would be good for the Nassau County Republican Party.

But I'd be pretty skeptical of the latest Rudy rumor (there have been rumblings for a while), for the very simple reason that there doesn't seem to be any conceivable way Giuliani, thrice-married and previously supportive of abortion and gay rights, would win the Republican nomination. If anything, his odds in 2012 might be even worse than his chances in 2008, when he flopped fantastically. Since then, he's launched a second career consulting for South American police forces and lobbied for an Iranian dissident group that's considered a terrorist group by the State Department (which at least one law professor has suggested would count as material support for terrorism). Meanwhile, his signature issue—his handling of 9/11—almost certainly lost any vestigal relevance when Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last month. Oh, and then there's this guy.

Kind of an uphill struggle, in other words.