2011 - %3, November

Tom's Kitchen: A Little Pork, a Lot of Flavor

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 1:28 PM EDT
A little pork goes a long way with fall collard greens.

Some of my friends are trying to eat less meat, figuring it will improve their health, bolster their bank accounts, and shrink their ecological footprints in one swoop. Another friend, a longtime vegetarian, wants to diversify her diet by including meat—but just a little. This edition of Tom's Kitchen is for both camps.

The basic concept here is to take a highly flavored meat product—smoked pork sausage—and use small quantities of it to flavor two meals built around fall's classic vegetables. It's been a chilly, wet fall here in western North Carolina, but we're still harvesting collard greens and cabbage, both of which go delightfully with pork. In fact, right now is the best time of year to eat collards, because morning frosts followed by relatively warm days gives them a sweetness and depth of flavor you won't find any other time of year.

I haven't been using just any old smoked pork sausage, either. I was recently in New Orleans, where I visited Cochon Butcher, my favorite sandwich shop on earth and also a great place to get all manner of house-cured meats. I picked up a foot-long chunk of Cochon's andouille, an iconic Cajun sausage. Using Spanish-style cured chorizo (as opposed to the Mexican-style fresh version) would also work.

Beans, Greens, Andouille, and Rice

Serves two, with leftovers
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 hot red chile pepper, chopped (optional but encouraged)
1 four-inch chunk of andouille or other cured pork sausage, casing peeled away, and cut into chunks
1 bunch collared greens, stemmed and sliced thin crosswise
1 cup cooked white beans, with a bit of their water
1 cup brown rice, cooked
Red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Coat a cast iron or other heavy skillet with olive oil, and turn heat to medium. When oil is shimmering, add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent. Add garlic and, if using, chile pepper. Cook, stirring, another minute and add sausage. Cook, stirring another minute, and add collards along with a pinch of salt. Stir well to coast the collards, add a dash of water, and cover. Turn heat down to low, cover, and let the collards cook, stirring occasionally, until they're tender. When they're done, stir in the beans and rice, season with salt, pepper, and a dash of vinegar, and serve.
Pasta/cabbage variation: Substitute a medium-sized head of cabbage, chopped, for the collards; 1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti, cooked, for the rice; and 1/2 cup frshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or other hard cheese) for the beans.

 

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Europe Sneezes, We Catch a Cold

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 12:55 PM EDT

Real Time Economics reports on the latest forecast for Europe's economy:

J.P.Morgan was among the first European banks to forecast a euro zone recession, meaning two-straight quarter of economic contraction, back in September. It was supposed to be a modest one, with GDP falling just 0.8% from its peak.

It now looks like things will get even worse. “We now believe that the recession will be deeper and longer lasting, and we are making forecast changes to show a peak to trough move in the level of GDP of just over 1%, with the recession lasting through the third quarter of next year. The risks around this forecast are for a deeper and even longer lasting contraction,” the bank said in its latest research note.

Urk. I'm not even sure what kind of comment to offer on this. But it strikes me as unrealistic to think that Europe can fall into a recession — possibly a deep one — and the United States won't be seriously affected. I know we have an overhang of demand for cars and houses, and that's going to spur more spending, but a recession in Europe is going to affect jobs in America, which affects incomes in America, which means there's no money for cars and houses no matter how much overhang there is.

On the other hand, maybe there's a cheerier scenario (for America, not Europe). It's possible, I suppose, that a recession in Europe will drive down demand for oil, which in turn will lower the price of gasoline, which in turn might stimulate the U.S. economy more than Europe's recession hurts it. Somebody somewhere must have modeled this, right?

The Cost of Tribalism

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 12:12 PM EDT

Will Wilkinson takes on the conventional wisdom that conservatives think people are responsible for themselves, while liberals think that luck and social forces play a big role in people's fates:

I agree that many people are in dire straits and suffering for absolutely no fault of their own, and that policies ought to be in place to provide meaningful material assistance. Still, I find I want an ethos of effort and individual responsibility to prevail....And this is why I have a hard time seeing eye to eye with some progressives. Progressives are sincerely inclined to impersonal, socio-cultural explanations of success and failure, but I think they're also generally of the opinion that an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility will impede the political will to offer assistance to those who ought to get it. I'm not sure that they're wrong. After all, those who tend to oppose progressive transfers tend to do so partly on the basis of their disbelief in the faultlessness of the needy. In any case, it seems to me progressives' deep-seated opposition to victim-blaming and by-the-bootstraps perorations helps keep a lot of suffering people from getting the other, non-material part of what they really need: encouragement to meet the social expectation that they will continue supplying effort on their own behalf, even if that hasn't worked out well so far.

Obviously there are lots of different kinds of lefties, and they have lots of different beliefs. And I don't have an argument with the notion that lefties place more emphasis on the role of luck and social conditions in life outcomes than conservatives do. But seriously: is there really a sizeable chunk of the left that believes an "ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility" is an actively bad thing?

I don't think so. It's possible, of course, that the segment of the left that believes this is small but loud, but I don't even really believe that either. If anything, the leftiest precincts of the left are mostly shut out of mainstream discourse. They certainly don't dominate it.

Anyway, two comments on this. First, I think this kind of post suggests the dangers of spending too much time on the web, where the loudest and most extreme voices actually do have a disproportionate influence sometimes. That can lead you to believe that their beliefs are far more widespread in the real world than they really are. Second, as Will suggests, to the extent that he's correct it's because of the almost insane levels of partisanship and tribalism that we see in politics today. Speaking just for myself, there are very definitely times when my preferred policy position is some kind of melding of left and right (i.e., social forces are important and an ethos of personal responsibility is important), but I'm not really willing to say so because the American right has become so insane that it simply won't lead to anything constructive. It will just be viewed as a preemptive compromise that's immediately seized upon to move the conversation even further to the right. Supporting compromise positions only makes sense when that might actually lead to both sides compromising.  

Anytime a dominant narrative becomes hardnosed and extreme — as American conservativism has — it starts to feel like even the notion of a competing narrative has been lost. When that happens, those who believe in that competing narrative feel like the best use of their time is not to provide some kind of nuanced argument, but simply to take whatever chance they have to get a bit of airtime for their side. I think that's what the last decade has done to a lot of center lefties, especially on economic issues. Very few of us, I think, have any problem with an ethos of personal responsibility. But the dominant narrative in the post-Reagan era has so thoroughly turned a blind eye to the power of malign social and economic forces that we feel like we simply have to take every opportunity to make them part of the conversation again. What's ironic, of course, is that those malign forces really are both economic (emphasized by the left) and social (emphasized by the right), which means that in a lot of ways conservatives lose out from this dynamic just as much as liberals. Tribalism makes fools of us all.

CIA to Be More Careful With Its Deadly Flying Robots

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 11:54 AM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the CIA is reining in the use of its drone program in Pakistan following objections from other agencies, particularly the State Department. 

Among the changes: The State Department won greater sway in strike decisions; Pakistani leaders got advance notice about more operations; and the CIA agreed to suspend operations when Pakistani officials visit the US.

Drones are a delicate political issue in Pakistan, where the Pakistani government has long denied (and still denies) that US drone strikes are carried out with its permission. As Marc Ambinder and Jeffrey Goldberg write, US relations with Pakistan have deteriorated even further since the raid on the Pakistani city of Abbotabad in which Osama bin Laden was killed, and Pakistani citizens have grown even angrier about the fact that the US can bomb their country any time it wants. US officials, on the other hand, see the strikes as one of their only options for dealing with militants striking in Afghanistan from across the border, some of whom retain support from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency. 

There are basically two kinds of strikes the CIA carries out—strikes on specific targets and "signature strikes," which target groups of individuals the government suspects are militants. How does it know they're actually militants? It "tracks their movements and activities for hours or days before striking them." Which is to say, the CIA thinks it's getting the right people, but it doesn't always know for sure. And when asked, the government claims that the CIA almost never makes mistakes. White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan said in June that there hadn't been "a single collateral death" from the drone program in almost a year.

Third-party evaluations of the drone program say otherwise. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism concluded in a report released in August that "at least 392 civilians" were among the estimated nearly 2,500 people killed in drone strikes since 2004. Then there's the first-hand experiences of Pakistanis who have lost family members as a result of drone strikes. 

This isn't the first time the State Department has sought to rein in the vastly expanded use of drones against suspected terrorists since Obama took office. In September Charlie Savage reported that State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh was embroiled in a dispute with Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson over the standards for targeted killing in places like Somalia and Yemen, far away from the active zone of military combat in Afghanistan. 

In its dispute with the CIA, though, State seems to have had a key ally in its argument that the drone program was harming the US' ability to convince Pakistan to help the US wind down the war in Afghanistan. According to the Wall Street Journal, the new head of the CIA, David Petraeus, "voiced caution against strikes on large groups of fighters."

Vegas Nightclub to Offer Machine Gun Shootin'!

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 11:45 AM EDT

Sometimes, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is just an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. And sometimes, it's the inspiration for a sexy Las Vegas nightclub. Come December 16, Sin City's strip will get its latest gentlemen's club (website: vegasonfullauto.com), where the "champagne room" is a shooting gallery and the go-go dancers are NRA-trained range safety officers. According to the UK's Daily Mail:

The brainchild of Genghis Cohen, the impresario behind Tabu, an infamous club at the city's MGM Grand Hotel, Machine Guns Vegas is set to open on December 15.

Situated just behind the Mirage Hotel near the city's central Strip, Las Vegas's first "ultra gun lounge" will glamourise the use of firearms.

Guests will be taught how to fire weapons by 'stunning gun girls'.

"The world is now ready for a 'Gun Lounge,'" Mr Cohen says. "Stunning 'Gun-Girls' trained in gun-handling [will] look after VIP guests."

Now, in order to comply with a host of laws (yes, they have those in Vegas), Machine Guns Vegas won't serve alcoholic libations. (No word on whether it will turn away already-intoxicated partiers at the front door.) And presumably it's got a Federal Firearms License, a pesky requirement for people who want to possess full-automatic guns and other military-style arms. But, Cohen assures the Mail, "Louis Vuitton and Prada accessories for your guns and ammunition are available for purchase," along with paper shooting targets with likenesses of Osama bin Laden. The phallic firepower will obviously be provided to patrons on a rental basis, but you'll have to bring your own Viagra, gents. Sorry!

The Mystery of the Rich

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 10:59 AM EDT

From Brad DeLong:

The 1% have an interest in full employment, high capacity utilization, and general prosperity just as the rest of us do....The 1% have a strong material interest in the passage of the American Jobs Act. In acting to block it, the Republicans — and Senator Nelson — are betraying the interests of their contributors in the top 1% as much as they are betraying the interests of their constituents.

But here's the thing: this has been true all along. Hell, it's been true for the past decade. Sure, the rich want low taxes for themselves and they want income inequality to rise so they get most of the returns to economic growth. That's in their own self-interest. But they also want — or should want — an end to the recession and a thriving economy, and they should be pressing both Congress and the Fed to do everything possible to make that happen. But they aren't.

Is it just pure blinkered ideology? Ignorance and stupidity? Or do they really not care as long as the brightwork on their yachts stays polished? It is a mystery.

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Ohio Anti-Union PAC Gets Boost from Koch-Backed Group

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 10:40 AM EDT

Building a Better Ohio, the political group created to defend GOP Gov. John Kasich's anti-union bill and staffed by at least three Kasich administration staffers, released its donor list to the public on October 27. By law, BBO didn't have to disclose anything about the individuals and companies who pumped $7.6 million into its coffers (it still hasn't said how much each donor contributed), and it made a show out of telling the public who gave it money. But largely overlooked and unmentioned is a slew of contributions to BBO from the Koch-funded, free market advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.

AFP, which boasts of having 1.8 million activists in the US and 34 state-level chapters and affiliates, contributed more than $28,000 directly to Building a Better Ohio's political action committee between September 1 and October 19, state campaign finance records show. Those contributions came in the form of in-kind donations that paid for phone banks, radio ads, consulting fees, robo calls, and office space—all key ingredients for getting out the vote and urging Ohioans to vote yes on Issue 2, the November 8 ballot referendum that will decide the fate of Kasich's SB 5 bill that would curb collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers.

AFP's Ohio chapter has also been active in the Issue 2 fight. It has hosted 13 "Taxpayer Town Hall" events to sell Ohioans on the benefits of Kasich's bill, enlisting the head of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy think tank, part of a national network of conservative think tanks, to talk up the benefits of SB 5.

This isn't AFP's first foray into high-stakes politics. The group was a key player growing the tea party movement and fueling the 2010 wave of Republican victories in Congress. It also ran ads in Wisconsin during that state's union fight this winter. David Koch, one-half of the billionaire Koch brothers duo, used a chunk of his fortune to create the group in 2004; his charity has given $1 million to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the group's 501(c)(3) offshoot, according to charitable filings compiled by the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America.

Texas Legislator: "Don't Try to Jew Them Down"

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 10:04 AM EDT
Texas State Rep. Larry Taylor (speaking) and Gov. Rick Perry.

Lest you think that the last lingering prejudices in American politics consist of Democrats trying to demonize black conservatives, Texas State Rep. Larry Taylor (R) offered a pretty compelling counter-point on Thursday. Via Harvey Kronberg:

During a hearing of the Joint Legislative Committee on Windstorm Insurance this afternoon, Chairman Larry Taylor was discussing delivery of quick and fair payments for windstorm victims. Unfortunately, to make his point he said, "Don't nitpick, don't try to Jew them down."

Without pausing he added, "That's probably a bad term" and then resumed his remarks. 

Probably! Texas Republicans, you'll remember, have a bit of a history when it comes to this kind of thing. Last December, conservatives activists, with a few allies in the legislature, attempted to replace Republican Speaker of the House Phil Strauss, who is Jewish, with an Evangelical Christian. As one one such activist told the Texas Observer, "[Jews are] some of my best friends. I'm not bigoted at all; I'm not racist." But—and this is a big hang-up, really—"I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office."

Kasich Allies Spend Big on Last-Ditch Ohio Ad Blitz

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 9:44 AM EDT
Screenshot from a pro-Issue 2 ad by Building a Better Ohio.

If the polls are right, labor unions stand on the brink of arguably their biggest victory of 2011 if they succeed in repealing Ohio Gov. John Kasich's anti-union bill, known as SB 5. The bill would outlaw strikes, make the state's 350,000 public workers pay more for their pensions and health care, and sharply curb collective bargaining rights.

But Kasich's allies are gritting their teeth and fighting like hell in the final days before the November 8 vote. As Greg Sargent reports, pro-SB 5 groups, led by Building a Better Ohio, are readying a multimillion-dollar ad blitz to defend SB 5.

Sargent breaks down the last-ditch TV barrage:

  • Building a Better Ohio—the leading conservative group in the Ohio battle that is partly bankrolled by private sector interests—has booked a total of $1.8 million in Ohio broadcast and cable time from November 2-8.

  • Restoring America—a shadowy group which is reported to have been funded by a single donor during a recent battle in Kentucky—has booked $448,000 in Ohio broadcast and cable time from November 3-8.

  • Citizens United, the well-known conservative group, has booked a total of $101,070 in Ohio broadcast and cable time from November 4-8. (A group spokesman confirmed the figure.)

That's a total of over $2.2 million. Meanwhile, a source close to labor's We Are Ohio says the pro union forces have booked around $1.8 million in air time, which means they may get outspent by at least half a million in the final stretch.

Those figures don't include spending by Mary Cheney's Alliance for America's Future, a shadowy political group based in Virginia that vowed to spend "over seven figures" backing SB 5. Cheney's group has been dumping misleading mailers into Ohio, which I reported on here. Also unmentioned: Make Ohio Great, an outside spending group bankrolled by the Republican Governors Association, and the advocacy groups FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, all of which are pumping money into Ohio to make up for the cash and organizational advantage of We Are Ohio, the labor-backed group trying to repeal Kasich's bill. We Are Ohio has outspent its primary opponent, Building a Better Ohio, by more than a four-to-one margin. BBO's late cash blitz won't really close that spending gap—but it comes at a time when such ads pack the most punch and can reshape opinions before voters head to polls.

Chuck Grassley, Defender of Truth: DOJ Edition

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 9:20 AM EDT
Sen. Charles Grassley, being vicious.

The Department of Justice has withdrawn its support for a rule that would allow it to lie about the existence of certain sensitive national security records. For the most part.

Last week, a coalition of civil liberties groups wrote to the Justice Department, raising concerns over the rule. Its basic parameters allow the agency to pretend that select records don't exist if they are requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was first proposed in 1987 by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese, as a way of helping the Justice Department avoid unintentionally acknowledging any ongoing investigations.

But the Obama administration hoped to codify that regulation into law. In their letter protesting the rule, the American Civil Liberties Union, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and OpenTheGovernment.org wrote that it would undermine the government's integrity since, well, it makes it okay to lie. The groups weren't even asking for the DOJ to make more records available—only that it not pretend that these records don’t exist.

On Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a stern letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, arguing that the rule change would lead to an increase in FOIA-related litigation and seriously undermine the public's trust in the government. Grassley also pointed out that the government can already withhold information by invoking things like the Glomar rule, which allows the government to neither confirm nor deny the existence of the records under request.

Apparently, Grassley, long the scourge of the Justice Department, still has some major pull. In response to his letter, the DOJ asserted—kind of passive aggressively—that it will axe the rule in question:

[T]he Department has taken a number of steps to become more transparent in its handling of records that are, by statute, excluded from the FOIA. Having now received a number of comments on the Department's proposed regulations in this area, the Department is actively considering those comments and is reexamining whether there are other approaches to applying exclusions that protect the vital law enforcement and national security concerns that motivated Congress to exclude certain records from the FOIA and do so in the most transparent manner possible. If the proposed regulations can be improved in these respects, we will work to improve them. We believe that Section 16.6(f)(2) of the proposed regulations falls short by those measures, and we will not include that provision when the Department issues final regulations...

These practices laid out in Attorney General Meese's memo have governed Department practice for more than 20 years.

While the approach has never involved "lying," as some have suggested, the Department believes that past practice could be made more transparent. Accordingly, as part of an effort to update its FOIA regulations and other aspects of its Open Government initiative, the Department took a number of steps designed to bring its handling of exclusions in line with Attorney General Holder's commitment to open government.

The Justice Department also promised to exclude certain documents from FOIA only when "absolutely necessary," to keep track of how often it does so, and, generally, keep the public better informed about these exclusions.