2012 - %3, January

GOP Reps. Go After DC Abortions Again

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 2:54 PM EST

Last April, Congress reached a détente on the budget by re-imposing a ban on using local funds to pay for abortions in Washington, DC. Since the capitol city is essentially a ward of the federal government, Congress gets to control what happens here—even when it's DC's own money. Now, an Arizona congressman wants to go a step farther in limiting abortion in the District by imposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Republican Trent Franks introduced his "District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" this week with the approval of anti-abortion groups. National Right to Life, which created the model legislation Franks' bill is based on, has called passing the DC ban one of its top priorities this year.

DC has long been a pawn in the congressional chess game over abortion rights. There was a ban on using local funds for abortions in place from 1988 through 1993 and 1995 through 2009. Then it was repealed again before coming back in 2011. DC women have been treated as "nothing more than a bargaining chip," Val Vilott, the board president of the DC Abortion Fund, a group that helps low-income women in the city pay for abortions, said Thursday at the annual NARAL Pro-Choice America dinner.

Franks' 20-week ban would represent a new level of congressional "oversight" on what happens in DC. "The politicians who say they want local control and smaller government exposed their hypocrisy," Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL, said of the Frank bill on Thursday night. 

A number of states have passed or attempted to pass 20-week abortion bans in the past few years. All these bills are based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation—an argument that is not supported by the bulk of the science on the subject to date. In states that have passed the law, it has created a signifcant barrier to women who need later-term abortions for a variety of reasons. But in those states, the bans came from the state's elected legislature, not from some guy from Arizona whom DC taxpayers have never voted into office.

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It Doesn't Matter if We Make It, Only Whether We Can Trade It

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 2:49 PM EST

Matt Yglesias notes a tension in lefty thought today: the stuff we all support (better healthcare, more teachers, childcare, new infrastructure, etc.) is in the non-manufacturing sector, and yet we all cheer when President Obama calls for increased focus on manufacturing. So which do we want? More people working in manufacturing or more people working in service and construction industries? It's hard to have both, after all.

For the time being, let's put aside the question of whether we should take Obama seriously on this subject (I suspect not) and whether lefties are really all that committed to manufacturing in the first place (ditto). Instead, I'll repeat a point that I think Matt probably agrees with: the real issue isn't manufacturing per se, it's the tradable sector. That is, we really do have a long-term trade deficit problem, and weakening the dollar is unlikely to fix this all on its own. We also need to make stuff that other people want to buy from us, regardless of whether it comes from someone with a manufacturing NAICS code. So whether we like it or not, we really do need to have more workers in the tradable sector. In practice, this probably means more people working in manufacturing, since that accounts for a big chunk of the tradable sector, but maybe not.1

Either way, though, we can't import oil from Saudi Arabia and MacBooks from China forever unless we figure out something to sell back to them. We can't all be MRI techs, home nursing companions, and K-12 teachers.

1And just to get everyone riled up, I'll point out that the content industry (movies, TV shows, books, music, etc.) is one of the most important non-manufacturing components of the tradable sector. It's why every administration ever, both Democratic and Republican, has supported strong international IP protection. This, perhaps, suggests an even bigger tension in lefty thought than whether we really love manufacturing.

Tom's Kitchen: A Spicy-Hot Soup to Crush Your Cold

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 2:37 PM EST

When I come down with a cold, I avoid treating it with pharmaceuticals that mask symptoms. Instead, I try to ramp up my immune system to fight the cold back the hippie way: with herbs and vitamin C and the like.

But there's no doubt that cold symptoms—sore throat, stuffed nose, irritated sinuses, lethargy—really, really suck. For more years than I care to calculate, I've been fighting these vexations with a fiery soup, loosely based on a Mexican specialty called sopa de tortilla. It won't really "crush" your cold, as the headline promises, at least not permanantly, but it will send it packing for the time it takes you to eat a bowl or two and for about 15 minutes after. During that blessed period, your sore throat will vanish, your sinuses will open and allow you to breathe freely, and overall, you'll feel like a million bucks instead of death warmed over. I credit the latter effect to the feel-good endorphins that chile peppers are said to release.

The Florida Debate: There Is No Spoon

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 1:40 PM EST

The last time I covered televised campaign events, four years ago, there was plenty of action outside the frame, even if it was tightly controlled by spinsters. This year, there is not. As Patrick Bateman might say, there is an idea of a Republican Party, some kind of abstraction. The idea has its ciphers, and occasionally they gather together and talk at each other on a screen, and if you like the Republican idea, you have a choice to make between the ciphers. And that's all there is.

On the University of North Florida's campus, site of the state's final, pivotal, critical, do-or-die, nothing-will-ever-be-as-vital-as-the-next-two-hours-of-stage-acting GOP debate, there was little evidence of a pitched battle for the country's soul. The student union and the road that ringed it were dotted sparsely with signage from four groups. The most dominant group was UNF's "spring rush" committee. The second-most was CNN, the keeper of the debate, which had taken pains to brand the campus. Third was Ron Paul. Fourth was "WE BUY HOMES."

That was all. No protesters, no supportive crowds. Occupy Jacksonville was otherwise occupied, and the tea party was over. Finding no "color" to cover, scores of journalists, from The New Yorker to the Tampa Bay Times, checked in with CNN. We were not permitted in the ballroom where the GOP's four candidates and cherry-picked crowd gathered for the pageant. Instead we queued through a metal detector and were whisked to a top-floor "filing room" in the student union, a wifi cavern with tables full of plastic sandwiches and wall screens that would project the debate as it occurred elsewhere. We could have been watching TV at home, or shadows on a cave wall.

Climate Change Goes Back to Square Zero

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 1:15 PM EST

The Wall Street Journal has apparently tapped into the tea party id today and written the ur-text of modern-day climate denial we've all been waiting for. Ed Kilgore, from his new perch at my old perch, reads it so I don't have to:

In these turgid lines can be found a treasure trove of prevarications. You've got your impressive-sounding list of scientists agreeing with the Journal (with no corresponding list of those who disagree; the newsprint or bandwith necessary to publish those would bankrupt even the WSJ). You've got your quote marks around the term global warming. You've got your allusions to the silly "Climategate" kerfuffle. And you've got your unsubstantiated allegations of "persecution" of the brave "heretics" who dare stand with poor, puny Industry against the awesome power of academics.

Originally, climate denial went through three stages:

  1. The world isn't warming.
  2. OK, it's warming, but it's not man-made. It's just natural climate variability.
  3. Fine, people are responsible. But it's not economically worth it to do anything about it.

But conservatives have more recently backpedaled not just a single step in this process, but all the way back to the paleolithic era they're so fond of pretending to know more about than the folks who actually study it:

  1. Global warming is the biggest hoax ever put over on the American public.

This all fits in with the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing of the conservative base these days, which is pretty much identical to the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing of the far right since at least the 1930s. Climate change isn't merely wrong — that would be boring — it's an immense conspiracy being waged by a group of nerdy scientists (who want funding) and tree huggers (who are desperate to control everyone else's lives). And it's a damn successful conspiracy, too. Despite the fact that it requires thousands and thousands of participants from nearly every country in the world, with new collaborators earning PhDs every month, not a single one of them has broken the climate omerta yet and blown the whole thing open. But someone will, any day now. Just you wait.

"The Grey": So Much More Than Liam Neeson Brutalizing Wolves

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 12:27 PM EST
Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson.

The Grey

Open Road Films

117 minutes

There's no easier way to get a movie made in Hollywood than to walk into a room full of studio executives and say these 16 magic words: "Two straight hours of Liam Neeson fighting wild animals to the death with his bare hands."

And if you've seen any of the trailers for The Grey, chances are good that's exactly what you thought the movie was going to be about. The plot is refreshingly without frills: Neeson stars as Ottway, a brooding, poetry-quoting middle-aged man who works on an Alaskan oil rig. His profession? Killing wolves with his rifle all day—something he describes as a "job at the end of the world." One day, a plane he's riding on crashes into a pitiless Alaskan snowscape. Ottway and six other survivors are stranded and terrified, with only a handful of useful supplies. And you can bet all the money in your pockets that the local wolves—very pissed-off wolves—have zero intention of leaving them be.

Understandably, animal rights advocates aren't too thrilled about this movie. Even though writer/director Joe Carnahan has repeatedly claimed that the film has an environmental message at its core, some animal rights and conservation groups are pushing for a boycott of the film.

"Carnahan's irrational fear [of wolves] will further drive the 21st-century extermination campaign on wolves," Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection director for WildEarth Guardians, told Mother Jones. "In the last few months alone, hundreds have been slaughtered in Idaho and Montana because of displaced fears by fanatics, who wrongly believe that wolves compete with or pose a threat to them…Just watching the trailer is too anxiety-producing for me. It's so brutally wrongheaded."


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The Bane of Animal Rescue Shelters

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 12:04 PM EST

Emily Yoffe writes today about the Soup Nazi approach that modern animal rescue groups take toward deciding who is and who isn't fit to adopt one of their pets. As she says, this isn't just a dog thing:

You might think adopting a cat would be easier than getting a dog. After all, the solitary, self-sufficient feline is the perfect pet for the working person. But I heard from people who were turned down because of the curse of full-time employment—the cat may ignore you, but you should be home all day anyway. Others were told they need to accept a pair of cats or get nothing. And don’t even think about telling the rescue people your cat might go outside occasionally. Lisa wrote to say that she rescues strays that live in her house but are allowed outdoors. When she was looking for another cat and explained this to the person at the shelter, they turned her away.

For any species, the outside world is full of dangers, even potentially deadly ones. Maybe we all should stay inside (and avoid bathtubs and stairs). I have one cat I can’t budge off the couch with a forklift. But the other bolts from between our legs when the front door opens and would be miserable contained in the house. I’ve had successive sets of cats for more than 30 years and have concluded the risk of them going outside is worth their happiness—and they’ve lived to ripe ages. Is it really sensible to keep rescued cats out of loving homes from which they may take an occasional stroll? 

I was immensely pissed off at the rescue shelter that we last tried to adopt a cat from, though judging from what Yoffe says, they were pussycats (so to speak) compared to lots of others. I'm appalled that so many of these groups apparently prefer to keep hundreds of cats caged up and obviously unhappy forever rather than adopt them out to someone who they feel is, perhaps, ever so slightly unsuitable in some obscure way. "Perhaps you should try a kill shelter," we were finally told after two hours of cat surveying and form filling out, in a tone of voice normally reserved for child molesters and rapists.

In the end, we did go to our local municipal shelter, the same one that we adoped Inkblot from, and took home Domino. So I guess it all worked out in the end. But it left a sour taste in my mouth that I don't think I'll ever get rid of.

Newt's Moon Base: Not as Illegal as You Think

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 11:38 AM EST
A polling station in the early primary state of Mars, circa 2132

On Thursday, Zeke Miller did the galaxy a public service and pulled up Newt Gingrich's 1981 bill to establish a system by which space colonies could be admitted to the Union as states. Today, he reports that not only was Gingrich's bill—which Newt cited again in his speech on Wednesday—kind of nutty, but it also would have violated international law had it passed (and had anyone tried to colonize the moon in the name of the US of A). That's because the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which the US has ratified, banned any nation from laying claim to a particular piece of the intergalactic pie (or cheese).

All well and damning. But that doesn't mean Newt's space dreams are ruined. The former speaker, who conceded this week that the statehood-in-space idea was "the weirdest thing I've ever done," has previously proposed a slightly different settlement path that would be totally legal. In his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity, Gingrich proposed creating a permanent international research base on the moon, not unlike those currently in existence on Antarctica. It would be open to the "Free World" and the "United Free World Alliance," and would be viewed as a path to global stability and world peace:

[We] should do something in concert with al the other free people of the world to show that our joint commitment to freedom rises above nationalism; we should do something which celebrates the power of high technology that will remind us and everyone else that the greatest single factor in the rising standard of living over the last millennium was not our politicians and academic intellectuals, but rather our inventors and business entrepreneurs; we should do something which holds out an improving future to the entire Third World so that everyone can realize that our path, rather than Castro's dictatorship, is the wave of the future; finally, we should do something which is peaceful and knowledge-oriented as a first step toward creating a Human Peace in the next millennium. The most appropriate single millennium project would be the opening in January 1, 2000 of a lunar research base for the whole free world.

Such a project, international in scope and governed in accordance with international space law as opposed to the Constitution, would be permitted by the Outer Space Treaty. Nothing about it would be all that different from the policy Gingrich proposed in Florida this week, except there would be no path to statehood—at least until President Gingrich pushes the "Everything on the Moon Belongs to America Treaty" through the United Nations.

Quote of the Day: "Ron Paul is a Shrewd Businessman"

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 11:33 AM EST

From Renae Hathway, Ron Paul's former secretary, on his famously racist and loony newsletters:

It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it.

This should surprise exactly no one, but it's still good to get it on the record. And there's more:

A person involved in Paul’s businesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid criticizing a former employer, said Paul and his associates decided in the late 1980s to try to increase sales by making the newsletters more provocative. They discussed adding controversial material, including racial statements, to help the business, the person said.

“It was playing on a growing racial tension, economic tension, fear of government,’’ said the person, who supports Paul’s economic policies but is not backing him for president. “I’m not saying Ron believed this stuff. It was good copy. Ron Paul is a shrewd businessman.’’

What a creep. All things considered, though, I guess I'm glad this came out today, not yesterday. Paul deserves all the grief he's gotten over this, and I'm delighted to see his phony teddy bear image permanently tossed in the dustbin of history where it belongs. Still, I'm not sorry that we didn't waste debate time on this nonsense. It might have taken valuable attention away from Newt's plan to turn the moon into the 51st state.

Your Questions Answered: Are the Debates Hurting Mitt Romney?

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 11:19 AM EST

No one asked me, but I just want to briefly weigh in on the question of whether the increasingly brutal primary process will hurt Mitt Romney in the general election. No. It won't. Voters will forget the debates even happened about ten seconds after the last genuine competitor (i.e., everyone except Ron Paul) drops out. Intra-party feuding will stop about ten seconds after that, when everyone remembers that Barack Obama is Hitler. And the Obama campaign itself, though I'm sure they're enjoying the bloodletting, probably had better versions of all the anti-Romney attacks already prepped and ready to go before the first GOP primary even got started.

Any other questions?