2012 - %3, February

Newt: Killing Bin Laden Doesn't Count!

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 8:36 PM PST

Another Republican debate, another opportunity to call out Barack Obama's alleged softness on national security.

Toward the end of Wednesday night's presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, when the conversation shifted to foreign policy, newly minted back-runner Newt Gingrich tossed out some tried-and-true applause bait:

As long as you're America's enemy, you're safe.

Gingrich was talking about the president's supposed proclivity for appeasing the United States' enemies abroad. Mitt Romney readily concurred.

That's one thought. Here's another:

Here are a few more:

Kim Jong Il didn't do so well during the Obama years, either, but we'll be fair and chalk that one up to coincidence.

So there you have it: A whole bunch of America's enemies, now in a terminal state of not being safe.

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Rick Santorum Misleads on Obama and Iran's Green Revolution

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 7:55 PM PST
Rick Santorum.

At CNN's Arizona debate Wednesday night, surging GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum blasted President Obama and his administration for standing idly by during the 2009 popular uprisings in Iran, better known as the Green Revolution.

Santorum, the former US senator from Pennsylvania, accused Obama of cutting funding for Iranian dissidents and failing to step in to support the revolution, which was sparked by widespread accusations of fraud in Iran's 2009 presidential election. "We did absolutely nothing to help" the protesters and activists fueling the Green Revolution, Santorum argued. That echoed earlier attacks when Santorum said Obama "turned his back" on Iranian protesters.

Santorum's off the mark here.

As FactCheck.org has pointed out, President Obama repeatedly supported the right of Iranians to protest what appeared to be widespread voting irregularities in an election that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claim 62 percent of the vote. "I think it's important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views," Obama said three days after the election.

Days later, Obama railed against the Iranian government's "violent and unjust actions against its own people." The US, he said, "stands with all who…exercise" the "universal rights to assembly and free speech." And there were more supporting statements like these from the administration.

It's true that Obama didn't dive headlong into supporting the Green Revolution as some might have hoped, but for good reason: the president insisted he did not want to give a Ahmadinejad a "tool" to undermine the revolution. Even then, as FactCheck.org puts it, "The fact is Obama treated both cases similarly: condemning the governments’ use of violence against their own citizens and supporting the protesters right to protest."

GOP Candidates Pander to Sheriff Joe

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 7:28 PM PST
Maricopa Counta, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Presidential debates have never been particularly fertile ground for nuanced policy debates. So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that at Wednesday's GOP presidential debate in Arizona—a state with an ever-increasing Latino population—the discussion of immigration consisted mostly of a back-and-forth on how long and how many layers the border fence should be.

Part of that blame, though, falls on the moderator, CNN's John King, who asked the candidates what they would do to satisfy Arizona's most famous sheriff, Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio, who was sitting in the audience. Mitt Romney responded by telling King, "You know, I think you see a model in Arizona." 

Rick Santorum took it a step further, singling out the sheriff by name: "I think what we need to do is to give law enforcement the opportunity to do what they're doing here in Arizona and what Sheriff Arpaio was doing before he ran into some issues with the federal government, which is to allow folks to enforce the law here in this country, to allow people who are breaking the law or suspicious of breaking the law to be able to be detained and deported if they're found here in this country illegally, as well as those who are trying to seek employment."

Arpaio is a power player in Republican politics; he endorsed Rick Perry before the Iowa caucuses and met with Santorum for 20 minutes on Tuesday. He's also using the power of his office to investigate whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States (spoiler: he was). He'll release those results on March 1, and told reporters on Tuesday that he briefed Santorum on the details on the inquiry.

As my colleague Adam Serwer reported, a Justice Department investigation in December found that Arpaio's department had consistently violated the civil rights of Latino citizens with no regard for their immigration status:

"We did not begin this investigation with any preconceived notions," said Civil Rights Division Head Thomas E. Perez at a press conference in Arizona Thursday. "We peeled the onion to its core." The conclusion? Arpaio's office "engages in a a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections."

...

The report issued by the Justice Department says Arpaio's office undertook "discriminatory policing practices" through racial profiling, including "unlawfully stop[ping], detain[ing] and arrest[ing] Latinos." Perez also said that Arpaio's office unlawfully retaliated against critics of the Maricopa County Sheriff's office by arresting or suing them, and punished Latino jail inmates for being unable to speak English by denying them basic services. The report also describes the Sheriff's Office as responding to reports of people with "dark skin" or people who "spoke Spanish" rather than people actually committing crimes, and says officials exchanged racist jokes over email. Detention officers in Maricopa jails are described in the report as referring to Latinos as "wetbacks" and "Mexican bitches." The report says Arpaio's office "implemented practices that treat Latinos as if they are all undocumented, regardless of whether a legitimate factual basis exists to suspect that a person is undocumented." 

Chart of the Day: Interstate Highways as a Subway Map

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 6:13 PM PST

Here's a cool infographic. It shows (most of) the U.S. interstate highway system in the style of a London tube map. Click to enlarge. Click here to see the original version, which allows an even closer look.

Book Review: "The United States of Fear"

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 4:58 PM PST

Tom Engelhardt, who founded and runs the popular website TomDispatch, is a politician's worst nightmare. In his new book, The United States of Fear, Engelhardt criticizes the right and the left in equal measure, challenging both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama for the wars they have engaged in and the costs associated with those wars. Engelhardt's popular columns are republished on websites like ours, and his own site was borne out of the post-9/11 haze. That's according to Engelhardt himself, who told fellow TomDispatch writer Nick Turse in 2006: "It was more an endless moment—those couple of months after 9/11 when, for a guy who was supposedly politically sophisticated, my reactions were naive as hell. I had this feeling that the horror of the event might somehow open us up to the world. It was dismaying to discover that, with the Bush administration's help, we shut the world out instead."

Engelhardt takes a hard look at what he calls the decline of the "American empire." He draws a comparison between the path that the United States has taken over the past two decades and that which led the former Soviet Union to destruction: "In a far wealthier country, another set of leaders, having watched the Soviet Union implode, decisively embarked on the Soviet path to disaster." He describes how the United States of today and the former Soviet Union share one key characteristic: an unreasonably massive military budget. Engelhardt traces the US path from the '90s, when he says the United States turned into a "self-intoxicated" country, intent on solving the world's problems even if bleeding itself in the process.

Mitt Romney Releases Exciting Smoke and Mirrors Tax Plan

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 4:17 PM PST

Mitt Romney has released his new tax plan, and it calls for a 20 percent across-the-board reduction in income tax rates, elimination of the estate tax, repeal of the AMT, and a 30 percent cut in the corporate tax rate. Not to worry, though. It's designed to be revenue neutral because…it's going to…um…something. I really don't know how you get revenue neutral out of all this. I suppose by claiming that lower taxes will supercharge the economy and pay for themselves. That's the usual wheeze, anyway.

Okay, so rich people will pay a lot less in taxes. But how about spending? Well, Romney says he plans to reduce spending by $500 billion in 2016. However, he doesn't want to cut defense. He thinks that Medicare and Social Security reform should only affect "younger generations," so he doesn't plan to cut either of those either, at least not in the medium term. And interest on the debt is obviously outside his control.

So what's left? Domestic discretionary spending. But Romney has no actual proposals here. He wants to repeal Obamacare, but Obamacare is fully funded and repealing it won't save any money. He wants to block grant Medicaid, but that won't save any money either. It's just a different funding mechanism. And he wants government to operate more efficiently. Roger that.

So that still leaves us with $500 billion to cut out of the $1.7 trillion currently projected in domestic spending for 2016. How do you do that? Either with a 30 percent across-the-board cut or with smaller cuts to some programs and larger cuts to others. But which ones? Those are pretty big reductions. I wish guys like Romney had the guts to actually tell us where they want these cuts to fall, but they never do.

So this all seems like so much smoke and mirrors. But on the bright side, his plan for corporate taxes actually has some promise. In theory, anyway. He wants to lower the statutory rate, which would be okay if it's done along with broadening the base. He wants to make the R&D tax credit permanent, which is a good idea. And he wants to shift to a territorial taxation system, where corporations are taxed only on the income they earn in the United States. With proper regulation, this is a perfectly fine idea too.

Now, in practice, Romney says he wants to broaden the corporate tax base but doesn't say how, nor does he suggest any interest in the kind of rules it takes to make a territorial system work. But you never know. Those are potential negotiating points. It's not impossible that Romney's corporate tax plan could end up on the positive side of the ledger.

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Human Superbug Started On Farms

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 3:37 PM PST
Pigs in a factory farm.

It's long been suspected that administering large amounts of antibiotics to livestock promotes antibiotic resistance.

Now a new paper in mBio describes how a particularly nasty strain of MRSA—the CC398 strain found primarily in pigs but also in cattle and poultry—likely did that. 

Sequencing the genomes of 88 closely-related strains of S. aureus, the researchers found the CC398 strain likely originated as a harmless bacterium living in humans, which acquired antibiotic resistance only after it migrated into livestock. From there it migrated back to humans, where it now causes skin infections and sepsis, mostly in farm workers.

So far the strain has not evolved the ability to transmit between humans.

From the paper:

The CC398 strain of MRSA, which appeared in 2003, is now commonplace in US livestock. 

Modern food animal production is characterized by densely concentrated animals and routine antibiotic use, which may facilitate the emergence of novel antibiotic-resistant zoonotic pathogens. Our findings strongly support the idea that livestock-associated MRSA CC398 originated as MSSA in humans. The jump of CC398 from humans to livestock was accompanied by the loss of phage-carried human virulence genes, which likely attenuated its zoonotic potential, but it was also accompanied by the acquisition of tetracycline and methicillin resistance. Our findings exemplify a bidirectional zoonotic exchange and underscore the potential public health risks of widespread antibiotic use in food animal production.

Last month the FDA announced new restrictions on antibiotics in livestock. But New Scientists reports these rules cover only 0.2 percent of antibiotics used on farms in the US.

The paper:

  • Price LB, et al. 2012. Staphylococcus aureus CC398: host adaptation and emergence of methicillin resistance in livestock. mBio 3(1):e00305-11. doi:10.1128/mBio.00305-11.

Heartland Docs Indicate It Paid Gov't Scientist for Work

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 2:50 PM PST

According to one of the documents that came out in last week's scandal, the Heartland Institute plans to pay a federal scientist for his contributions to an annual climate-denial report. The proposed 2012 budget for the institute is one of the more interesting things to come out of the Heartland documents that were passed around the internet, as it includes a $1,000-per-month payment to a Department of Interior employee.

Posted on DeSmogBlog last week, the budget includes a monthly stipend for Indur Goklany, who serves as a senior adviser in the office of policy analysis at the Department of Interior. The document indicates that the money is compensation for authoring a chapter on "economics and policy" for the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change," an annual paper that Heartland and other climate deniers release in response to the reports from the actual, United Nations-sanctioned scientific panel known as the IPCC.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, on Wednesday requested a Natural Resources Committee hearing to investigate whether this payment violates ethics rules at the DOI. Greenpeace also requested an investigation into this in a letter sent to DOI Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday. In it, the group notes that the ethics guidelines for federal employees state that they "generally may not receive pay for teaching, speaking and writing that relates to [their] official duties."

The Heartland funding wouldn't be the first time Goklany has worked with free-market think-tanks. According to his website, Goklany has also authored three books published by the Cato Institute and has written for the Reason Foundation and the Fraser Institute, three libertarian think-tanks.

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for DOI, told Mother Jones that the department is reviewing the matter.

Your Daily Newt: We the Popsicles

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 2:23 PM PST
Newt Gingrich demonstrates how to properly hold a popsicle with his right hand.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out. Daily Newt is back from a two-day sabbatical staring at the tree sloths.

Newt Gingrich's 1995 college course, "Renewing American Civilization," was a blank canvas on which the speaker of the house painted grand portraits of mountain people, forest people, and an idyllic age of family-friendly prime-time entertainment. It also gave him a chance to spin his students on the works of his favorite management consultants—among them, Daryl Connor and his theory of freezing-unfreezing-refreezing. It only sounds like a dance move:

He talks about being frozen, thawing, and refreezing. Now, this is at the heart of how you make the transition, and we'll come back later to his book Managing at the Speed of Change, which I recommend. It's a very, very useful framework for looking at this and having some sense of how you— how resilient managers succeed and prosper where others fail, and he talks about this.

Now, here's his concept. Normally you're frozen. You get up in the morning, you have a habit. The habit's fixed. Then things begin to change, and it's almost like watching—you can think about this with a popsicle. It's almost like watching—or with an ice cube. It begins to thaw, and you're changing and pieces fall apart, and it doesn't feel right. It's what Drucker means by a discontinuity. See, as long as you're frozen, it's predictable. Now it starts to change. Then you begin to figure out the future and you begin to refreeze, because people normally have to have stable conditions of effectiveness...

Okay? Everybody understand this concept of frozen, beginning to thaw out, and then refreezing? This is at the heart of thinking about how you manage change. And it allows you to now see the thawing without going, "Oh, my god, we're all going to collapse." No, we're going to find a new, more powerful, more appropriate way to refreeze.

If any of that was confusing to you, we think the film below highlights this concept quite well:

Rick Santorum Shining a Much-Needed Light On Movement Conservatism

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 1:38 PM PST

One of the interesting things about the rise of Rick Santorum is that it's giving a lot of people their first up-close-and-personal look at some of the more — what to call them? — unorthodox beliefs that animate American movement conservatives. They really do believe that we liberals support prenatal testing because it's a good way of ensuring that Down's Syndrome kids are all aborted. They really do believe that widespread contraceptive use has led directly to dissolution and cultural decay. They really do believe that "freedom of worship" is a dog whistle used by President Obama to indicate his contempt for religious liberties. They really do believe that global warming is just a hoax designed to allow lefty elites to seize control of the means of production.

And they believe that Europe is a post-socialist hellhole run by Godless bureaucrats and doomed to disintegrate. For example, here is Rick Santorum peddling a common myth:

In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized — ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — half of those people are enthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness.

This Soylent Green version of life in the Netherlands attracted my attention because I ran across it a while back and took the time to look into it. I'm not going to bother digging up all the references a second time, but basically this is totally untrue. The bracelets don't exist. Euthanasia accounts for only about 2% of all deaths in the Netherlands. And Dutch safeguards are, in fact, quite effective. No system is perfect, but virtually no one in the Netherlands is euthanized without explicit, repeated requests — and the tiny number of violations of the rules are mostly technical. No one is allowed to die who doesn't want to.

But the Dutch myth persists, and Santorum is doing nothing more than repeating something that's a commonplace in movement conservative circles. Glenn Kessler, whose family is originally Dutch, provides all the facts here. Not that it will make any difference. These myths simply never die, and the movement conservative machine has already produced dozens of defenses of Santorum's statement. They want to believe in the secular annihilation of everything traditional and decent, so they're going to believe whether it's actually true or not.