2012 - %3, February

Energy Reboot

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 2:36 PM EST

 

 

A cute British appeal to get off dirty energy and dump their big six energy companies. (Although here in the US—for me at least—the video also evokes memories of other falling towers.)

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CPAC: Attack of the Anti-Multiculturalists!

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 2:33 PM EST

The hottest piece of swag at the Conservative Political Action Conference in DC is the beer koozie. You can pick up upwards of a dozen varieties wandering through the massive exhibit hall in the basement of the Marriott Wardman Park. You can even get a koozie from the anti-multiculturalist student group, Youth For Western Civilization. But it wasn't the knick-knacks that drew me over to the group's table in the basement exhibit hall, though—it was their logo, a black-and-white image of a flexed arm grasping some medieval piece of weaponry.

It looks like a battle axe, but I'm quickly corrected—it's actually a war hammer. "It's supposed to represent Charles Martel," a volunteer tells me. That's a reference to the eighth-century French leader and father of Charlemagne who turned back the Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours. Martel is something of a hero to the group because they believe the same thing is happening today—American civilization (Western Civilization) is slowly being watered down into something unrecognizable. We don't just need less illegal immigration; we need a lot less immigration, period.

"Mitt Romney is a soulless automaton with no principles—which is why he's good," says Kevin DeAnna, the American University graduate who founded the organization, suggesting that the GOP front-runner's malleable core values might make him easily persuadable. "He's not a closet leftist like George W. Bush." No group benefits more from immigration than the 1-percent, another volunteer chips in, and Kevin quickly agrees. "When Occupiers come up to us—and I'm sure you can imagine they do—this is what we say to them," he says. The 99-percent should be vehemently opposed to illegal immigration—as proof, he cites the early 20th-century labor organizer Samuel Gompers, who called for limits to immigration out of concern for the domestic workforce. Of course, Youth for Western Civilization's alliance with the Occupy Wall Street crowd is probably short-lived; the same group has also posted articles on its website denouncing Nelson Mandela as a "bloodthirsty terrorist" who should have been hanged in the 1980s. (DeAnna tells me he wishes the Occupiers weren't so caught up in political correctness.)

After wandering through the exhibit hall, I dashed upstairs, where an overflow crowd was gathered for a breakout session called "The Failure of Multi-Culturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening American Diversity." As one speaker put it, "Europeans and their trans-Atlantic cousins are literally an endangered species." Another speaker, Rosalie Porter, chairwoman of the anti-bilingualism group ProEnglish, lamented that the Civil Rights Act had ushered in an era of multiculturalism, in which Americans were distinguished by made-up terms like "Hispanic."

Which isn't to say that the entire conference is dominated by White Nationalists. But in a year in which the CPAC's organizers blocked the LGBT group GOProud from co-sponsoring the event, their inclusion is a jarring reminder of the deep-seated biases preventing the conservative movement from actually becoming the Big Tent Republicans say they want.

House Dems Blast Gitmo "Reengagement" Report

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 2:00 PM EST
Service members go jogging at Guantanamo Bay in 2010.

House Democrats blasted their Republican colleagues on the armed services committee Wednesday, following the release of a report criticizing the Obama and Bush administrations over their transfer of detainees out of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. 

"Rarely in the history of the House Armed Services Committee has so much time and money been spent with so little result," said Rep. Jim Cooper, a conservative Tennessee Democrat in a statement. Cooper said the quality of the report was a direct result of Republicans on the committee attempting to exploit fears of terrorism for political gain in November. "Reports on terrorism should not further the terrorists’ goal of spreading fear." 

None of the Democrats on the committee signed onto the report, which was the result of an 11-month investigation by the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that began last March. Instead, they released an eight page dissent

The chief point of contention is the report's conclusion that 27 percent of the about 600 former Gitmo detainees who have been transferred "were confirmed or suspected to be presently or previously reengaged in terrorist activities." The report pegs the "reengagement" rate under the Obama administration at 7.5 percent, but like the 27 percent figure, this combines detainees who are "confirmed or suspected" of "reengaging." This is problematic measurement since it not only assumes the detainees were guilty in the first place, but it assumes that those who are merely "suspected" of "reengaging" have actually done so. Of the five detainees released under Obama who are on the "confirmed or suspected list," two were ordered released by the courts. The Democrats argue that the actual "reengagement rate" under Obama is three percent, not 7.5 percent. A Defense Intelligence Agency report published by McClatchy last year identified the rate for detainees transferred or released during the Bush administration at almost 15 percent. The report asks the administration to produce its own report on "rengagement" and calls for restrictions on transfers of detainees out of Gitmo to remain in place. 

While the administration took on a comprehensive evaluation of all the remaining detainees at Gitmo when Obama took office, the Republican majority is critical of the task force that reviewed their cases on the basis that they were predisposed towards the president's goal of closing the facility. Despite the lesser "reengagement rate" under Obama, however, the report concludes that "the threat of reengagement may not be lessened in the long term" by more robust review procedures adopted during the Obama administration. 

Human rights and civil liberties groups are also critical of the report, which ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Zachary Katznelson called a "rehash of old allegations, long on accusations, short on facts." 

The number of former detainees who have committed terrorist acts post-release or transfer has been a point of controversy since Obama took office, having promised to close the Gitmo detention facility within a year. But Congress balked, and beginning in Decemeber 2010, Congress has maintained restrictions on transferring detainees out of Gitmo that, according to the Pentagon, are nearly impossible to satisfy. Public opinion has shifted markedly, with seventy percent of Americans in favor of keeping Gitmo open, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. In 2009, a majority of Americans wanted Gitmo closed. So the report is unlikely to make the effort to close Gitmo any deader than it already is, or lessen the already abysmal chances that the dozens of detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release will taste freedom anytime soon.

Pentagon to Let Women in Combat, Kinda Sorta

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 1:30 PM EST

Female Marines on foot patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan: Marine Corps PhotoFemale Marines on foot patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan: Marine Corps PhotoThe Department of Defense is expected to release a report on Thursday urging Congress to let women serve in more frontline combat-related jobs, signaling a possible death knell for male-only military units.

The recommendations are part of a department-wide "Women in Service" review that was scheduled to be released last April but has been held up for nearly a year by DOD officials. Military representatives will hold a Pentagon press conference Thursday afternoon to announce the changes.

Although the new rules aren't expected to allow women into all combat roles currently held by men, such as infantry, artillery, and special operations, they will certainly boost the case for full equality in the ranks. According to DOD officials who have briefed journalists on the report, it will recommend that women be allowed to fill essential non-combat roles—medics, cops, intelligence and communications specialists—in small, frontline combat units where they were previously forbidden.

Chart of the Day: Unleaded Gasoline and Teen Pregnancy

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:52 PM EST

Charles Murray is concerned about the moral collapse of the white working class and ascribes it to the breakdown of traditional values that began in the 60s. But Paul Krugman hauls out a couple of charts showing that violent crime and teen pregnancy have been dropping over the past few decades and makes a pointed observation: "So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine."

Maybe! But then again, maybe both Murray and Krugman are missing the boat. I've written before about Rick Nevin's research showing the startlingly strong correlation between the drop in childhood lead exposure (mostly thanks to the introduction of unleaded gasoline) and the drop in violent crime, but I've never mentioned the actual title of the original paper he wrote. Here it is:

How Lead Exposure Relates to Temporal Changes in IQ, Violent Crime, and Unwed Pregnancy

Guess what? The reduction in blood lead levels over the past few decades seems to be a very strong predictor of the drop in teen pregnancy levels. Here's Nevin:

Although other social trends and government policies are often cited to explain the rise and fall in unwed pregnancy and crime rates over recent decades, the role of childhood lead exposure seems to be especially apparent in the best-fit lag structures for gasoline lead regressions. In the case of the unwed pregnancy regressions, the best-fit lag for each bracket is consistent with changes in lead exposure in the first years of life....The fit between the temporal patterns, with lags consistent with the known risks of lead exposure in the first years of life, provide striking visual support for the association between lead exposure and undesirable social behaviors.

His "striking visual support" is below. Make of this what you will. Just keep in mind that sometimes neither "traditional moral values" nor economic stagnation provides all the answers. Sometimes you ought to be looking elsewhere.

Second White Nationalist Appearing At CPAC

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:25 PM EST

Though gay conservatives aren't welcome at the Conservative Political Action Confrence this year, at least two white nationalists are appearing at the yearly conservative confab. 

One is Peter Brimelow*, founder of the nativist site VDARE which publishes the works of white nationalists like Jared Taylor, and the other is Robert Vandervoort, who runs a group called ProEnglish and according to the Institute for Research on Education and Human Rights, "was also the organizer of the white nationalist group, Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance," which is affiliated with Taylor.

They'll be appearing on a panel titled "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American Identity" alongside National Review's John Derbyshire, who believes "that racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races," differences that are "facts in the natural world, like the orbits of the planets." I'm not sure whether there's really any daylight between Derbyshire, who is a long-time writer at American conservatism's flagship magazine, and the two other men he's appearing with. 

*An earlier version of this post wrongly identified "Peter Brimelow" as "Jay Brimelow."

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Catholic Bishops Want Entire Birth Control Rule Repealed, Not Just the Religious Exemption

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:11 PM EST
"Now close your eyes and think of Rome."

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national political lobby for the Catholic Church in America, has been waging war on President Barack Obama's new rule requiring health insurers to cover birth control at no cost to women. The religious exemption in the Obama rule allows churches an exemption to birth control coverage, but still requires religiously affiliated schools and hospitals to provide insurance to their employees that includes contraception without a co-payment.

The bishops claim that exemption is too narrow. But they don't just want the religious exemption widened. They want the whole policy repealed. (Never mind that most employers have been required to cover birth control for years.) This USA Today story sort of buries this fact, but at least it acknowledges it:  

The White House is "all talk, no action" on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular," Picarello said. "We're not going to do anything until this is fixed."

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for "good Catholic business people who can't in good conscience cooperate with this."

"If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate," Picarello said.

So in short, the bishops want your Catholic boss to be able to decide whether or not you have to pay full freight for your birth control. Not coincidentally, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a bill that would do just that.

The problem with this argument is that if taken to its logical extreme, your boss could claim religious exemptions for all sorts of health care issues, whether you worked at Catholic Charities, Taco Bell, or anywhere else. Christian Scientists generally don't believe that people need pharmaceutical medicine at all. Scientologists don't believe in psychiatry. If individual employers are allowed exemptions to the birth control coverage mandate, the law could quickly be rendered meaningless.

Yet Another Last-Minute Step Away From the Cliff in Europe

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 11:59 AM EST

The financial situation in Europe keeps looking dodgier and dodgier, and yet I continue to persevere in my belief that, at the very last moment, European leaders will end up doing more or less the right thing. ("Right thing" being very broadly defined, mind you, to be anything that prevents collapse and a euro crackup.) That seems to have happened yet again today:

After days of dramatic talks, Greek political leaders reached a deal on Thursday to support a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece’s financial backers in return for the country’s latest bailout.

The deal is expected to unlock the €130 billion, or $172 billion, in new loans and save Greece from a potentially disastrous default.

Not everything is coming up roses, of course. The deal still has to be approved by a variety of folks in Greece, and there's always a chance of some last-minute theatrics. It's also true that the austerity measures agreed to will make Greece's economy spiral ever downward, so while the final implosion of the euro area has been delayed, it hasn't necessarily been prevented. That's going to depend a lot on Angela Merkel, the patience of the German populace, and the future actions of the European Central Bank.

But for now, collapse has been averted at the last minute. As usual. Whatever happens in the future, I think we can expect that this is when collapse is always going to be averted.

DeMint at CPAC: Compromise Is the Enemy

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 11:18 AM EST

The first major speaker at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of right-wing advocates, grassroots activists, and politicians (including 2012 contenders), was Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who had a fundamental message for the base: compromise sucks.

GOPers on Capitol Hill should not be looking to work with Democrats to develop common solutions to the nation's woes, he proclaimed. Not at all. Not ever. And DeMint, with an I'm-so-clever smile, offered what he obviously thought was a killer analogy: the Super Bowl.

Referring to last Sunday's game, he said, "I can guarantee you that coach Tom Coughlin did not tell his Giants to go out on the field and work with those other guys....They weren't cooperating with Tom Brady."

DeMint explained that the New York Giants and the New England Patriots had "different goals." Consequently, compromise would not work. Continuing with this trenchant observation, DeMint noted that "compromise works well in this world when you have shared goals." You can compromise with a wife or with a business colleague. But not with Democrats: "We don't have shared goals with the Democrats."

DeMint, of course, is ignoring the efforts of other conservative Republicans to forge agreements with the other side, most notably the Gang of Six in the Senate. This band of Republican and Democratic senators put together a deficit-reduction framework that drew signs of support from about 40 Democratic and Republican members of the upper chamber last summer. But this compromise failed. Why? Not because Democrats were unwilling to work toward a shared goal with the GOPers. It collapsed because Tea Party-whipped Republicans (such as House Speaker John Boehner) could not accept any increase in tax revenues—and this package included about $1.5 trillion in boosted revenues over ten years.

The problem was not that the shared goal of deficit reduction could not yield a bipartisan compromise. The Gang of Six showed that it could. The issue was that Republican extremists would not accept even an agreement devised by fellow Republicans. They just wouldn't play ball—and that's hardly a course of action that Tom Coughlin would advise his players.

Al Qaeda and The Whales

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 8:57 AM EST
Be nice to whales. Or this will happen to you, your friends, and all your loved ones.

Did whales benefit from the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Turns out that question isn't as boneheaded as it sounds.

In July 2001, scientists from the New England Aquarium began a study of right whales in the Bay of Fundy in the Gulf of Maine, testing whale excrement for "hormone-related chemicals" that indicated the animals' stress levels. And when the September 11 attacks happened, a window of opportunity was suddenly open for examining whether sound pollution was a major cause of stress for these whales.

AFP has the story:

The steady drone of motors along busy commercial shipping lanes not only alters whale behaviour but can affect the giant sea mammals physically by causing chronic stress, a study published Wednesday has reported for the first time.

The findings were made possible, researchers said, by an event that at first glance seems far removed from the plight of cetaceans: the attacks on New York's Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Only a catastrophe of that magnitude, they explained, could have caused maritime traffic to suddenly drop off, making it possible to measure the impact of varying levels of sound pollution in the sea.

Over the last 50 years noise caused by cargo and military vessels, along with high-decibel sonars used for oil exploration, has gradually increased in intensity and scope. Baleen whales communicate at the same low-frequency wavelengths emitted by these ships, in the range of 20 to 200 hertz (Hz), and some species have adapted by emitting louder and more frequent acoustic signals.

Fascinating stuff.