2011 - %3, November

Cain Thinks the Taliban Are Taking Over in Libya

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 6:35 PM EST

You'd think that after flubbing a question on Libya earlier this week in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Herman Cain might have done himself a favor by reading a newspaper article or two on the subject, or maybe even just the Wikipedia summary. Instead, Cain went on CNN this afternoon and warned that "the Taliban" might take over the country now that former Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi is dead:

Do I agree with siding with the opposition? Do I agree with saying that [Qaddafi] should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you've got Taliban and Al Qaeda that's going to be part of the government? Do I agree with not knowing the government was going to—which part was he asking me about? I was trying to get him to be specific and he wouldn't be specific.

Now look, it's fair to worry about how Libya's transitional government will handle issues like the large number of armed militias or human rights and the rule of law. But this answer reflects particularly poorly on Cain, and not just because there is no Taliban in Libya, and no evidence that Al Qaeda is "going to be part of the government." It's because the only thing he was able to muster after minutes of hemming and hawwing during his disastrous meeting earlier this week was that he "would have done a better job" than Obama "of determining who the opposition is."

Now how exactly is anyone supposed to believe that, as president, Cain would have done a better job of finding out who the opposition is when he can't even be bothered to know who they are now?

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Image-of-the-Week: Forecast: Weird

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 5:52 PM EST

Credit: Scotto Bear via Wikimedia Commons.Credit: Scotto Bear via Wikimedia Commons.If the weather's seemed bizarre lately, the future's likely to get really strange. This according to the latest IPCC summary report (pdf), released today, which predicts all kinds of additional weather weirdness in the years ahead: heavier rains, more extreme high temperatures, fewer low temperature extremes, longer-lasting heat waves, stronger hurricanes and typhoons, intensifying droughts, and extreme sea levels. The report summarizes trends in disaster costs in recent decades as: way more expensive in dollars for the developed world; way more expensive in lost lives in the developing world.

Today's report reflects more accurately the true level of scientific uncertainty ahead—more hurricanes or just stronger hurricanes? more rain plus more floods?—and notes that many ares of the globe are still data impoverished. Nature News points out the gap between today's release of the summary and the release of the full report due in February—it's: '"unfortunate," says Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean and climate researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. "Governments have in the past considerably weakened the language of IPCC summaries for policymakers... As long as the full report is not available it is hard to say if, and to what extent, this may have happened again."'

Freakonomics Blog: Still Wrong on Local Food

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 5:27 PM EST
Greens grow in a heavily irrigated California field.

When we last checked in with him, Freakonomics blogger Steven Sexton was ludicrously blaming the "local food movement" for a listeria outbreak that sickened people over a swath of the nation stretching from New York to Alabama to Oregon.

Now Sexton is back with an even broader indictment of local food. This one starts off on shaky ground, and then plunges into an abyss of self-assured and deeply flawed analysis. Honestly, I would not spend time engaging with it if I didn't know that serious people, some of whom wield real political power, automatically regard the Freakonomics brand with credulity. So here goes.

Group That Blamed Gays for Penn State Scandal Sponsoring GOP Debate

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 4:37 PM EST

On Saturday, the GOP presidential field—sans Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman—will gather at the First Federated Church in Des Moines for what's being billed as the "first of its kind" Thanksgiving Family Forum. It's a chance for the candidates to make their pitch to the state's social conservative caucus voters. Frank Luntz, the pollster and Fox News personality who's moderating the event, promises there will be "no gotcha questions by the panel. No spin by the politicians. Just an authentic discussion among the people who seek to lead this great nation." Well, he's probably right about the gotcha questions.

The absence of Romney and Huntsman is notable because they are both Mormon—a serious issue at the most recent social conservative confab. But in light of recent events, perhaps the bigger story is this: The event is being co-sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM!), which just this week promoted an op-ed arguing that gays were responsible for the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.

Per Equality Matters, NOM's site excerpted a piece from anti-gay activist Michael Brown. The column went after Rush Limbaugh, of all people, for not having the courage to publicly link what happened at Penn State to the gay agenda:

He takes on the president, the Congress, and the media (not to mention his derisive attacks on foreign leaders and even radical Muslims), but there's one group he won't take on, one subject he won't touch.

What is it that, in his words, could end his career? What is it about the Penn State scandal that is "glaring; it's right in front of everybody," and yet "nobody has the guts to actually give the explanation for what was going on and why there was trepidation in reporting it"?

Could it be that the sex abuse scandal involved a man allegedly abusing boys, meaning that the acts were homosexual in nature? And could it be that even Rush Limbaugh didn't have the guts to address this?

Huntsman, who not coincidentally has failed to gain traction in the polls, has been the GOP's voice of reason on social issues. Asked about his support for civil unions at a July debate in Iowa, Huntsman stated: "I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to equality." Earlier this year, Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed NOM's marriage pledge, commiting to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and to "appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters." You can watch the forum, Saturday at 5 p.m., here.

Friday Cat Blogging - 18 November 2011

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 4:10 PM EST

Do you know what Inkblot and Domino are telling you in these pictures? They're telling you to buy a subscription to Mother Jones! In fact, when Inkblot becomes president, he plans to propose an individual mandate for MoJo subscriptions, so why not get a jump on things and just do it now?

Seriously, it's a great magazine and it only costs $12 a year for six issues. Click here to subscribe. And don't forget that the holidays are quickly approaching. What could be better than a gift subscription for someone who needs either (a) confirmation of a bit of sanity in the world or (b) a bit of progressive enlightenment? Click here to buy gift subscriptions for all your family and friends. Inkblot will consider you a pal for life if you do.

The World is Fast Approaching Peak Gingrich

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 3:55 PM EST

We've all heard of Peak Oil. But M. King Hubbert's original paper also covered Peak Coal and Peak Uranium. It turns out there are peaks in pretty much everything that we dig out from under rocks.

And speaking of that, it turns out that Hubbert's insight also applies to this year's crop of Republican presidential candidates. What's more, we can put this all in handy chart format — and thanks to modern technology we can do it much more colorfully than Hubbert could. Using RCP's poll average as a foundation, all the various GOP peaks are documented below. Based on this, I project that Newt Gingrich has about two weeks left before his excessive verbal extraction rate depletes his reserves of grandiose nonsense and his moment in the sun is over.

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Wisconsin Lawmaker Introduces Yet Another "Personhood" Measure

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 3:42 PM EST

An Assembly member in Wisconsin is the latest anti-abortion lawmaker to introduce a "personhood" measure, which would define human life as beginning at the unification of a sperm and egg.

Assembly Joint Resolution 77, introduced on Thursday, amends the state constitution to strike the word "born" from the line of the constitution declaring that "All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The measure also adds the line, "As applied to the right to life, the terms 'people' and 'person' shall apply to every human being at any stage of development."

Even though Mississippi voters overwhelmingly rejected this kind of measure last week, anti-abortion lawmakers in Georgia and a number of other states want to try passing it as well.

The bill's lead sponsor is Republican Andre Jacque. Abortion is a top issue for Jacque, and something he was active on as president of the Pro-Life Action League as a student at the University of Wisconsin in the early 2000s. In the Assembly, he's also championed a measure to honor so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" and defund Planned Parenthood in the state. He lists previous memberships in Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life on his official bio.

"It's actually a flaw in our current constitution where you have to be born in order to access inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Jacque argues.

Behind the Barney Frank-Newt Gingrich Hate Fest

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 3:16 PM EST
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich thinks Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) should be thrown in jail. The feeling's mutual.

To date, the one-liner of the 2012 presidential campaign belongs to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who in an interview with Chris Matthews on Thursday, said of Newt Gingrich's consulting company, "'Frankly, I thought the 'Gingrich Group' were his wives." (Gingrich has been married three times—zing!)

Frank rarely needs an excuse to pop off, and Gingrich has given him plenty in recent months. At a debate in October, for instance, the former House speaker called for Frank and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to be thrown in jail for their ties to the mortgage industry, which is not the kind of charge you just casually throw out.

So, what's at the root of the Gingrich-Frank hate-fest? 

It depends on who you ask. Frank's explanation speaks to an underlying criticism of the former Speaker: "I despise Gingrich because of the negative effect he has had on American politics." As he told Mother Jones in 1995, he thinks Gingrich is a phony intellectual driven only by a lust for power: "That's why he says so many wrong things: He doesn't know a lot about substance. He half-reads some future-oriented books and out of that comes a gabble that's not terribly coherent." Boom.

Henry Kissinger Vents About "Self-Serving" Jewish "Bastards"

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 2:55 PM EST
Henry Kissinger.

Basically, here's Henry Kissinger doing his best Larry David.

The AP reports, based on recently released State Department documents from late 1972:

The White House...sought to assure the American Jews that Nixon was very concerned about the plight of Soviet Jews, had taken up the issue with Soviet leaders directly...A White House official, Leonard Garment, saying he was flooded with letters and phone calls with Jewish appeals, asked Kissinger for help and guidance...According to transcripts released by the State Department, Kissinger...said to Garment: "Is there a more self-serving group of people than the Jewish community?" Kissinger is Jewish.

Garment, also Jewish, replied: "None in the world."

At this point, Kissinger was quoted as saying "What the hell do they think they are accomplishing?...You can't even tell bastards anything in confidence because they'll leak it." But Kissinger said he would take up the issue with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and also meet again with Jewish leaders. "They ought to remember what this administration has done," he said.

Let's take a second to review the historical context: Following Israel's decisive victory in the Six-Day War, there was a massive uptick in the emigration of Soviet Jewry from the USSR to the Jewish homeland. The desire to resettle was also fueled by the fact that anti-Semitism—in media, the education system, the work force, and so on—was, at the time, pervasive in the Soviet Union. Due to the USSR's mangled, biased emigration process, many Jewish leaders, including then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, sought the influence of the Nixon White House to secure safe travel for thousands of Russian and Eastern Bloc Jews.

There you have it: the bastard-ly, self-serving (and apparently loose-lipped) impulse of the Jew to escape mass persecution and cultural eradication.

Given some of Kissinger's other Nixon-era remarks about Jews, these latest revelations aren't particularly shocking. In December 2010, the New York Times reported that in the freshest batch of audio tapes released by the Nixon Library—which also include the former president making "disparaging remarks about Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans in a series of extended conversations with top aides and his personal secretary"—then-National Security Advisor Kissinger was recorded saying the following, after Golda Meir's visit to the White House in March 1973:

The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.

So really, the latest Kissinger news is just more of the grotesque, unsettling same.

The Death of Middle-Class Neighborhoods

| Fri Nov. 18, 2011 2:51 PM EST

The New York Times has a preview today of a new report showing that a declining number of people live in middle-income neighborhoods. Partly this is because the ranks of the middle class have declined, but it's also because of self-sorting:

The study also found that there is more residential sorting by income, with the rich flocking together in new exurbs and gentrifying pockets where lower- and middle-income families cannot afford to live.

Andrew Sprung relates this to his wife's suburban neighborhood when she was growing up in the '60s:

Mr. Grimm was a bricklayer. Mr. Wojick was a foreman at the Ford plant. Mr. Majewski worked in a bronze casting factory, as did one other neighbor. Mr. Cobb worked in product safety at Fisher-Price. Mr. Frank was a stockbroker. Tombari sold insurance. Panetta was a meat wholesaler. White was a concrete contractor working mainly on bridges. Carlotti was a dentist (and my father-in-law, an oral surgeon). The Murphys, husband and wife, were teachers, and so were the Stones. Burger was a roofer…[Today,] there are fewer factory workers, natch. And I suspect that the dentists and stockbrokers probably live elsewhere.

It was similar in my neighborhood. My father was a university professor. Our neighbor on one side worked at a local factory. Our neighbor on the other side owned a machine shop that made airplane parts. Our neighbor across the street was career Navy. My best friend's father was a Caltrans engineer.

You don't see that kind of thing as much anymore. Today the middle- and working-class folks have stayed or perhaps moved down, while the dentists and stockbrokers and professors and engineers all live together in upper-middle-class neighborhoods with great schools and great services. And this self-segregation works in other ways too. I remember reading once that if you have a college degree, the odds are that virtually all your friends do too. So I tested that once. At a party with about 20 of our friends, I mentally went around the room and ticked off each person. Sure enough, all but one of them had a college degree, and about a third had advanced degrees of one kind or another. Given all this, it's hardly surprising that the report finds that 65 percent of families lived in middle-income neighborhoods in 1970 and today only 44 percent do:

Sean F. Reardon, an author of the study and a sociologist at Stanford, argued that the shifts had far-reaching implications for the next generation. Children in mostly poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to high-quality schools, child care and preschool, as well as to support networks or educated and economically stable neighbors who might serve as role models.

The isolation of the prosperous, he said, means less interaction with people from other income groups and a greater risk to their support for policies and investments that benefit the broader public—like schools, parks and public transportation systems. About 14 percent of families lived in affluent neighborhoods in 2007, up from 7 percent in 1970, the study found.

This isn't a new observation. We've been fretting for a long time about the rise of gated communities, the abandonment of public schools by prosperous city residents, and the booming market in McMansions. And more and more, this kind of segregation doesn't apply only to the truly rich. Increasingly, even the merely well off hardly have any social interaction outside their own class: They live in different neighborhoods, eat in different restaurants, send their kids to different schools and different sports leagues, and vacation in different places. As this gets worse, it's reflected in the increased insistence of the rich and the upper middle class that their taxes are far too burdensome and, in any case, are just wasted anyway. And that's true, if a big part of your tax dollars is going to middle- and low-income workers who all live elsewhere and barely even seem like real people. It's a toxic trend, and it's one that's increasingly reflected not just in our social lives, but in our economic lives and our political lives too. It's not clear what, if anything, can slow it down.