2011 - %3, November

Democratic Reps. Rip Romney on Immigration

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 2:30 PM EST
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney

Democratic Reps. Silvestre Reyes and Charlie Gonzalez (both of Texas) ripped presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday for embracing a harsh immigration policy that panders to the Republican Party's right flank.

As Adam Serwer wrote after Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate, Newt Gingrich shocked the world by coming out as a relative moderate on immigration policy. Gingrich argued that the United States should offer an exception for unauthorized immigrants who've lived here for years, and not deport them. Romney, whose front-runner status is under attack by a more-credible-seeming-by-the-day Gingrich, struck back quickly, stating that he would not back a policy that grants amnesty to undocumented immigrants, or one that offers them tuition aid or access to employment opportunities.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Reyes, Gonzalez, and Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt accused Romney of flip-flopping on immigration policy over years. They cited his past support for a proposal from Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2005 that included a pathway to citizenship and beefed up border security. "In today's political climate, he feels the need to oppose any kind of humane policy, no matter how it betrays the legacy of our nation," Reyes said.

Romney has now effectively "placed himself in a camp that is deportation-only," Gonzales said. "We know that is not a workable solution, not practical, not pragmatic. But most of all, it just doesn’t serve the economic interests of this country." That, Gonzalez said, undermines Romney's purported business acumen. "What he's espousing sets us back as a nation," Gonzales continued.

Gonzalez said that he fully expects Romney to come out in support of the harsh, Republican-backed immigration policies enacted in Arizona, Alabama, Utah, and Indiana. "Romney is somebody who once claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform," said the Obama campaign's LaBolt. "Now...he is the most rightwing presidential candidate in recent presidential history on this issue."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Yet More Gloomy News From Europe

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 2:17 PM EST

Hmmm. It looks like I got my eurozone gloom in reverse order today. It wasn't exactly front-page news in most newspapers — hey, who cares if Europe is imploding? — but today brought yet more bad news on the bond auction front. Except this time the bad news wasn't from Greece, or Spain, or Italy, or even from Finland or the Netherlands. It was from the one place where the news was never supposed to get bad, Europe's Rock of Gibraltar. Ryan Avent explains:

Markets were still digesting news of Spain's terrible bond auction yesterday, in which the yield on its 3-month debt more than doubled, from 2.3% to over 5%. That was but an appetizer, however; in an auction of 10-year debt today, Germany failed to place some 40% of the issuance. The lack of appetite for German debt has come as a shock to many, and the language being used to describe matters is increasingly apocalyptic. "It is a complete and utter disaster", Reuters has one strategist saying.

When investors turn up their noses at German bonds, they aren't really saying they think Germany is doomed. They're saying they think the euro itself is doomed and they're getting out until someone steps up to fix things. From the Wall Street Journal: "The auction reflects the deep mistrust [of the] euro project rather than a mistrust [of] German government bonds," said Danske's chief analyst Jens Peter Sorensen. "As some investors say regarding the euro project—if it is broke, then fix it." In a similar vein, Kathleen Brooks of Forex offered an optimistic take on the German auction failure (investors just want higher yields), a pessimistic take (Europe is doomed), and this take:

The bond market is staging a buyers strike, essentially trying to push Germany to take action.... If this crisis isn't dealt with in the near-term then bond investors will ditch all of the Eurozone, even Germany. Thus, the effect of German belligerence in dealing with this crisis is today's failed auction.

Maybe so. Maybe investors are just telling the core eurozone countries to get off their asses and fix things. The problem is that (a) Germany and France and the ECB have so far not shown any kind of willingness to damn the torpedoes and do whatever it takes to rescue the eurozone, and (b) things have now gotten to a point where it's not clear if they could rescue the eurozone even if they did pull out all the stops. Megan McArdle:

Effectively, Germany and France and a handful of other tiny countries have to guarantee both the sovereign debt and the bank liabilities of the whole eurozone. Given the holes that recent events have exposed in these systems, can they credibly do that? Even if the Greeks and Italians don't use that guarantee as a blank check to avoid reform?

....You can view the failed auction as a referendum on the instability of the euro, and hence the German banking system, in which case maybe "fixing" the euro with German guarantees fixes the problem. But you can also view it as a referendum on membership in the euro, full stop. The market may be saying that as long as Germany is tied to these other, troubled, countries, their debt looks more dangerous. In which case, deeper integration doesn't really help.

This might just be a bump on the road. That's certainly the official response from German officials and the ECB (the auction failed "for technical reasons," explained ECB Vice President Vítor Manuel Ribeiro Constâncio). Alternatively, it might be the beginning of the end, as the great delevering really kicks in and Hyun Song Shin's vicious circle of a banking crisis feeding into a sovereign debt crisis takes off in earnest. In any case, I assume your seat belts are already fastened, so I won't tell you to fasten them. But at least keep them fastened, OK?

Thanksgiving Music Top 12

Wed Nov. 23, 2011 2:10 PM EST

We asked Mother Jones staffers to take a break from the hard news for a minute to reflect on what artists, songs, albums, videos, etc. they feel thankful for in 2011. Here, in no particular order, are an even dozen things they came up with.

1. I’m thankful for the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra for bringing Fela Anikulapo Kuti back to the people. (Few artists fought more ferociously for the 99%.)

2. Still reeling from Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats' apeshit performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. (And yeah, we get it, Mos Def: swag.)

3. Lisa Hannigan's Tiny Desk Concert in October ("Knots", "Little Bird", "Passenger"), because even if you're not really a folkie, her transcendent vocals will totally light you up.

4. Johnny Flynn live at the Independent with the Sussex Wit was a night I never wanted to end.

5. The Current, Minnesota Public Radio's 24-hour music station, because at least one node on the FM dial has to play something other than Pitbull and Kei$ha all day. 

6. Portishead, "It Could Be Sweet," Because when they finally toured North America in 2011 after 13 years, it totally was.

7. Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" video, because the world needs more moonwalking, gyrating Swedes.

8. Rebecca Black's "Friday," because we desperately needed her soulful explication of social problems—like the front-seat-back-seat convertible dilemma.

9. The tUnE-yArDs' "Gangsta," a much-needed antidote to wannabe rappers and thugs—but points deducted for annoying punctuation.

10. Oh Land's "Wolf and I," because you can never have enough love triangles between the sun, the moon, and a wolf, howled with silky harmonies and a sexy Danish accent.

11. SuperHeavy's "Miracle Worker," because Mick Jagger's Mick Jagger. (And he somehow pulls off this pink suit splendidly.)

12. Frank Turner's England Keep My Bones, because who'd have thought, that after all, something as simple as rock and roll would save us all.


 

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Quote of the Day: Jon Kyl's Scorched Earth Politics

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 1:36 PM EST

From Dana Milbank, describing how Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl amost single-handedly torpedoed any chance of a compromise agreement in the supercommittee:

“Walking napalm” is how one Democratic aide involved in the supercommittee described Kyl this week. And if the senator makes some mistakes as he burns down the village — well, that’s just a cost of doing business.

This pretty much describes Kyl's entire career. He's been a cold-blooded front man for the interests of the tanned and wealthy since the day he showed up on Capitol Hill, and nothing has changed in 25 years. He's leaving exactly the way he arrived, most likely tickled pink at this latest description of his scorched-earth legislative style. It'll probably end up inscribed on his post-Senate business cards.

Team Romney: The Media Adored Our Dishonest Attack Ad

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 12:59 PM EST
Mitt Romney.

In a bizarre press release titled "WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT'S TELEVISION AD 'BELIEVE IN AMERICA,'" Mitt Romney's staffers pat themselves on the back for the campaign's latest commercial, claiming the pundits and the press swooned over the clarity and cleverness of their new attack ad:

Senator John McCain: "Good @MittRomney Ad – Reminder Of The President's Broken Promises." (Sen. John McCain, Twitter, 11/22/11)

The New York Times: "Moving the campaign into a more combative phase, Mitt Romney is set to show his first television commercial of the campaign on Tuesday in New Hampshire, attacking President Obama over his economic leadership on the same day the president will visit the state to discuss his plans for turning around the economy. … By focusing his message on the president, Mr. Romney is trying to show Republicans that he can take on Mr. Obama aggressively, an attribute that conservatives are seeking in a nominee.” (The New York Times, 11/21/11) ...

The Associated Press: "Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is turning President Barack Obama's own words against him in the Republican hopeful's TV first ad of his 2012 White House bid. … [Romney] said the commercial would compare Obama's message as a candidate with Romney's credentials as a businessman. 'The contrast between what he said and what he did is so stark, people will recognize we really do need to have someone new lead this country,' Romney said in an interview with Fox News Channel." (The Associated Press, 11/21/11) ...

GOP Strategist Ed Rogers: "In the Romney campaign, we may be witnessing a truly well-designed and well-executed campaign. … This ad represents more of the same from the Romney campaign. … The ad opens with grainy images of Obama, and it uses Obama's own words to highlight his administration's economic failures. … It touches all the right buttons and has all of the right images." (The Washington Post’s "The Insiders," 11/22/11)

Back in the real world, the media's actual response to Romney's ad wasn't characterized by praise. To the contrary: descriptions of the deceptive commercial ranged from "misleading" to "entirely a lie," and PolitiFact gave the TV spot its not-so-coveted "Pants On Fire" grading.

Just to recap, here's Romney's "Believe In America" ad that attempts to trap Obama using the president's "own words against him":

The offending soundbite—"if we keep talking about the economy we're going to lose"—was taken from a clip of then-Senator Barack Obama quoting a McCain campaign aide in 2008, not President Obama bemoaning the state of the economy in 2011. So, basically, what the Romney campaign did this week can be summed up accurately in the following clip...

h/t Matt Tomlinson

Cliff Diving in Europe

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 12:44 PM EST

Worried about Europe? You should be! Via Stuart Staniford, here's the latest bad news from the eurozone: In September, as the chart below shows, industrial orders plunged 6.4% in the euro area (pink line) and 2.3% in the broader EU (black line). Here's Stuart:

There have been indicators suggesting mild contraction for a while — eg retail trade. But this is the first indicator I've seen that looks like the kind of sharp non-linear contraction characteristic of an out-and-out recession. I guess there's always the possibility that October will be better. However, given the financial news flow in the last six weeks, it's hard to imagine too many European executives getting all giddy and excited in approving new projects.

He's got more bad news at the link, if you have the stomach for it.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Problem With Electric Cars

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 12:08 PM EST

Electric cars are having a tough time finding buyers. Brad Plumer takes a crack at explaining what the problem is:

GM is struggling to meet this year’s sales target for the Chevy Volt, and Nissan has sold just 8,000 all-electric Leafs. Part of that might be due to the recession and the steep price tag: Like any new technology, the cars are pricey (the Volt goes for $40,000, though buyers can qualify for a $7,500 federal tax rebate). But a recent NPR report by Sonari Glinton highlighted another reason sales might be flagging — the fact that early models can’t go very far before needing a recharge, which gives would-be buyers “range anxiety.”

Electric-car advocates have occasionally dismissed range anxiety as irrational. After all, the vast majority of Americans commute less than 40 miles a day. So even a Nissan Leaf, which, realistically, gets about 65 miles on a single charge, should satisfy most of our daily needs. But what about slightly longer trips? Consumers really do worry about getting stranded on the road with a dead battery. Plus, as an executive at Better Place once told me, drivers don’t like feeling hemmed in. “Our research shows that people want to feel like they can get into their car and drive across the country at if they have to,” he said. “It might sound silly, but it’s real.”

At the moment, car companies are racking their brains for ways to allay these fears.

Wait a second. What am I missing here? Of course consumers are worried about getting stranded with a dead battery. That can't possibly be a revelation to the car industry, can it? It's the obvious #1 problem with electric cars: even if I normally drive 20 miles a day, occasionally I'm going to want to visit grandma in San Diego and I need a car that can do it. Who on earth thinks this sounds silly?

Besides, the Chevy Volt has a gasoline engine as well as a battery, so its range is the same as an ordinary car. Range anxiety can't be the problem there unless Chevy has been monumentally incompetent in its marketing campaign. (Always a possibility, of course.)

Surely the answer here is obvious. For pure electric cars like the Leaf, the issue is indeed range. Obviously. For the Volt, the issue is its fantastically high price tag. It's a Chevy Cruze (yours for $15K or so) that costs more than $30,000. That's my guess, anyway. Mickey Kaus has a different take:

I recently rented a Nissan Leaf all-electric car. No gas engine, just silent, battery propulsion. It worked fine. It did everything it was supposed to do. It was just incredibly boring.  Not just “doesn’t corner well” type of boring — though it doesn’t corner well — but boring in some corrosive, fundamental, existential way.

I don't think the Leaf is meant for car guys who want the thrill of a V-8 powering them through tight corners. It's meant for people who like boring cars. You know, Camry owners. So I'm skeptical that this is an issue either. But then again, I've never driven one.

The Real Remaining Question of "Climategate"

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 10:36 AM EST
Where's Sherlock Holmes when you need him?

The release of a new round of pilfered emails from climate scientists has so far drawn much less attention than the first iteration of "Climategate" in 2009. But one interesting thread that's reemerged is the question I set out to answer earlier this year: who's behind the hack?

It's a mystery that has remained unanswered for two years. Staff and others close to the University of East Anglia are adamant that it was not an internal leak, and that an outside party breached the server to obtain the emails. This latest batch of 5,000 emails appears to be more from those obtained in 2009, rather than a new hack. Climate skeptics keep insisting, with no proof, that this has been an inside job orchestrated by a sympathetic staffer or grad student.

The Norfolk Constabulary, the local police department responsible for the official ongoing investigation, has been mum on the whole deal. In reporting on Climategate for this magazine, the most I could get out of the police were assurances that the department was still working the case. "Due to the sensitivity of the investigation it has not been possible to share details of enquiries with the media and the public and it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further at this time," said a less-than-helpful police spokesperson via email last year.

Turns out that the coppers have been doing almost nothing about the original hack. As the BBC's Richard Black writes on the latest release (via DeSmogBlog):

The Norfolk Police clearly see it as a criminal act too, a spokesman telling me that "the contents [of the new release] will be of interest to our investigation which is ongoing."
Groups like [the Union of Concerned Scientists] are, however, beginning to ask where that investigation has got to.
I have been passed information stemming from an FoI request to Norfolk Police showing that over the past 12 months, they have spent precisely £5,649.09 on the investigation.
All of that was disbursed back in February; and all but £80.05 went on "invoices for work in the last six months."
Of all the figures surrounding the current story, that is perhaps the one that most merits further interrogation.

That's about $8,843.64 when you convert it to US currency. That hardly seems consistent with a vigorous, let's-get-to-the-bottom-of-this probe. Will this new release of hacked emails prompt a real investigation?

Infographics: How Arctic Sea Ice is Changing

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 9:15 AM EST

This post courtesy BBC Earth's Race to the South Pole series. For more wildlife news, find BBC Earth on Facebook and Posterous.

In early 2010, BBC Earth took a behind-the-lens look at some of the scientific information used to help make the BBC's Frozen Planet series. Producers at the network's Natural History Unit in Bristol led us to the findings of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, where sea ice scientists have been carefully analyzing the conditions of the Arctic's frozen wilderness. We collaborated with designer Rupert Burton to bring this data to life. The two infographics below illustrate how the sea ice's age and extent have fluctuated over the past 20 years, influenced by changes in weather, winds, and currents.

The Age of Arctic Sea Ice (1984-2011): Data source: NSIDCThe Age of Arctic Sea Ice (1984-2011): Data source: NSIDC 2011

Average of Arctic Sea Ice Extent (1979-2011): Data source: NSIDC 2011Average of Arctic Sea Ice Extent (1979-2011): Data source: NSIDC 2011

To learn more, visit the Icelights website, where you can read what sea ice scientists are currently talking about and ask them your own questions.

Newt Gingrich Goes to the Congo

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 6:00 AM EST

Newt Gingrich isn't ashamed to tout his background as a historian, but few Americans probably know that he received his history PhD for a dissertation about the Belgian Congo. Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating has read Gingrich's 1971 dissertation, "Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960," and reports that he found the young Gingrich's attitude toward colonialism to be "remarkably benign, often drifting into 'White Man's Burden' territory." Morehouse poli-sci professor and Congo expert Laura Seay drew a similar conclusion after she read the thesis, which Gingrich appears to have written without setting foot in the former Belgian colony (then Zaire).

Hearing of Gingrich's paper reminded me of another apology for colonial Congo: Tintin au Congo (Tintin in the Congo), a notoriously racist comic book starring the beloved Belgian boy reporter. First published in the early '30s, it was later mildly revised but went unpublished in English for decades. It remains a stain on the career of its creator, Hergé, as well as that of his soon to be even more famous protagonist. (A Belgian court recently rejected an attempt to have it banned for being racist.)

Anyway, that got me thinking, what would happen if boy historian Newt "Gingin" Gingrich ventured into Tintin's world? (All substantial quotes in the mashup below are from Gingrich's dissertation.)