2012 - %3, March

Newt Gingrich is a Real Piece of Work

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 10:23 PM EST

According to Newt Gingrich, (a) we "discovered" fracking by drilling for it, (b) biofuels made from algae are ridiculous, (c) we can solve our oil problem by drilling for natural gas, (d) we can totally get gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon, and (e) if Iran screws with the Strait of Hormuz we should invade their country. Or possibly just nuke them. He wasn't real specific about that. And that was after calling Barack Obama "incoherent."

Also: this was just in the three or four minutes of his speech that I listened to. Holy cow.

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Live-Tweeting the Super Tuesday Results

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 8:20 PM EST

Check back later for Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief David Corn's zombie-themed take on the Super Tuesday results. We're not kidding about the zombies.


(Note: Tweets are in reverse chronological order.)

Still waiting on Ohio:

While we wait on Ohio, don't sleep on the delegate race in Georgia:

With the candidates done giving speeches, all eyes turn to Ohio:

Romney takes his turn at speech giving:

Santorum takes the stage in Ohio:

Newt Gingrich delivers an epic speech:

Santorum winning award for weirdest election night event:

His old haunt of Massachusetts goes to Mitt, but he's hardly dominating the night:

Ron Paul winning the stoner, protest votes:

Santorum scores a few early wins:

The Ohio picture begins to come into focus:

Gingrich takes his home state:

The Mittster strikes first:

And we're off:

Rush Lashes Out at Another Accomplished Young Woman

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 7:17 PM EST
Tracie McMillan

Undaunted by the fiasco of his misogynist diatribe against Sandra Fluke, Rush Limbaugh has aimed his rhetorical bile at another accomplished young woman (via Lindsay Beyerstein). This time his target is an acquaintance of mine: Tracie McMillan, author of the new book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebees, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table.

By Limbaughian standards, the anti-McMillan tirade was tepid and banal; he didn't use the word "slut" or demand sex tapes. Yet it drips with the woman-hating idiocy that has become central to the Limbaugh brand. From the the show's transcript, here's the money bit (the rest is running commentary on the recent New York Times review of MacMillan's book, in which a barely coherent Rush seems to be waxing paranoid about an impending government takeover of the food system):

What is it with all of these young single white women, overeducated—doesn’t mean intelligent. For example, Tracie McMillan, the author of this book, seems to be just out of college and already she has been showered with awards, including the 2006 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Social justice journalism. This woman who wrote the book on food inequality, food justice, got an award for social justice journalism. She has a B.A. from New York University in political science. She's a political scientist. She's a journalist. She has received awards for social justice journalism, and she has a book out on food justice.

The Roar of Japan's 9.0 Quake

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 6:29 PM EST

 

 

This sound is terrifying even a year later. It's the voice of Japan's 9.0 temblor and its aftershocks. Zhigang Peng at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences converted the quake's seismic waves into sped-up audio files that we can hear. 

The clip above was taken near the coastline of Japan between the nuclear reactor at Fukushima Daiichi and Tokyo. The initial blast is the 9.0 mainshock. Following that you can hear aftershocks, popping sounds, as the earth's plates slip into new positions. 

 

 

Here's Peng's recording of the 2011 Japanese earthquake taken from seismic measurements thousands of miles away in California. The quake created subtle movements deep in the San Andreas Fault known as distant triggering.

You can hear the initial noise, which sounds like thunder and corresponds with the Japanese mainshock. Afterwards a continuous high-pitch sound, like rain turning on and off, reflects continuing tremor activity at the fault, as heard from afar in California.

Quote of the Day: War Is Not a Game

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 5:57 PM EST

From Barack Obama, on the casual bellicosity toward Iran that's overtaken the Republican Party:

This is not a game...If some of these folks think we should launch a war, let them say so, and explain to the American people.

On a related note, Paul Waldman has a question: "When Do Reporters Start Calling Mitt Romney a Liar?" It's a poser, all right. Romney has repeatedly said that Obama doesn't support sanctions against Iran; that Obama refuses to leave military options open; and that Obama hasn't clearly said that it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. This isn't a matter of exaggeration or interpretation. These are exactly the things Obama has done. Romney is just flat-out lying.

On the other hand, Obama has also made it clear that he thinks war is a last resort, not a first. Romney could truthfully say that about him. But as Obama says, if that's his position, maybe he ought to step up to the plate and let everyone know.

Iran War Watch: Netanyahu Gives Obama a Badass Biblical Scroll

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 3:35 PM EST
Spoiler Alert: The Jews win.

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, the rhetoric.

The following will sound a lot like a scene from Kung Fu Panda. It happened during the high-profile meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday.

Bloomberg's Jonathan Ferziger has the story:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave President Barack Obama a Purim Megillah scroll, which tells the story of how Jews prevailed over a plot to kill them in ancient Persia, which is present-day Iran.

Netanyahu gave Obama the gift...during a White House meeting, two days before the Jewish holiday of Purim begins.

In case you're not familiar with the details of said Hebrew scroll: The Megillah, commonly known as the Book of Esther, is the part of the Hebrew Bible that tells the story of how a hard-partying Persian king was convinced by an evil adviser that it'd be fun to decimate the Jewish minority population in his dominion. He declares a government holiday in the month of Adar during which his subjects are given carte blanche to murder Jews and steal their property. Long-story-short, the Jews do a fantastic job of defending themselves against the state-sponsored onslaught, and then proceed to commit a hugely successful counter-slaughter of the Persians. (This bit of Biblical spin has long since found a home in the annals of fascist and far-right propaganda.)

Flash forward a couple dozen centuries, and the Jews now have something of a home-plate advantage over Persian foes: They are the regional superpower. They have backing of the only global superpower. The track record of the Israeli military—and special ops forces—has achieved a Hollywood-level of renown. Oh, and one other thing: They have nuclear bombs.

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Oft-Cited Study Linking Mental Health Problems to Abortion Debunked

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 3:33 PM EST

The latest issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research includes a scathing critique of a 2009 study it published linking abortion to a variety of mental health problems. Via the New York Times blog Motherlode, the article states that the data the authors of the study relied on doesn't actually support their "assertions that abortions led to psychopathology."

That 2009 study linked conditions like panic disorder, panic attacks, PTSD, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, mania, major depression, and alcohol and drug abuse to women who have had abortions. The paper, from lead author Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University, has been touted by anti-abortion groups and deployed to support state laws requiring doctors to warn women of potential health problems before they can have an abortion in places like South Dakota.

But the results just don't hold up, according to a critique from Julia Steinberg, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer, the director of domestic research with the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group. For one thing, they report, the paper failed to factor in whether the women included in the study had exhibited those mental health problems before having an abortion. Steinberg and Finer reevaluated the data Coleman and her colleagues relied on and found that the conclusions in the paper were not supported by the data. "These deficiencies are fundamental analytical errors that were incorrectly presented in the original paper," they write, "… not a scholarly difference of opinion."

Mitt Romney Hates Mandates, But He Loves Mandates

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 2:16 PM EST

This is yesterday's news, but I just now got around to reading Mitt Romney's USA Today op-ed from 2009 in which he criticized the way healthcare reform was being designed and recommended that Obama look instead to Romney's healthcare reform in Massachusetts:

With more than 1,300 health insurance companies, a federal government insurance company isn’t necessary. It would inevitably lead to massive taxpayer subsidies, to lobbyist-inspired coverage mandates [etc.]....Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn’t have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages “free riders” to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.

So Romney's advice is to (a) avoid mandates and instead (b) use tax penalties to encourage the uninsured to buy insurance. And he's specifically recommending this as a model for national legislation.

But this is, of course, exactly what PPACA does. If you don't have insurance, you have to pay a tax penalty. That's how the mandate is enforced. And it's what Romney recommended Obama do.

At this point I guess it doesn't matter. Everyone knows perfectly well that Romney shepherded through a healthcare reform bill in Massachusetts that included a mandate, and everyone knows that he used to point to it as a model for the whole country. And either you care about this, or else you've already decided to shrug your shoulders and just accept Romney's obfuscations on the subject. Still, it's pretty remarkable that he's getting away with it. As recently as two years ago, he thought that a mandate enforced by a tax penalty was aces. Today he thinks it's the gravest threat to the country since Pearl Harbor. Go figure.

Iranian Sanctions Look Like They're Biting Hard

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 1:29 PM EST

So how are those Iranian oil sanctions going? Stuart Staniford took a crack at figuring it out yesterday, but luckily for me I got busy with other stuff and didn't link to his post. "Luckily" because he's now spent several hours obsessing even more over Iranian production data and has what he thinks is a more reliable look at how much oil Iran is producing. The chart is below. Stuart's conclusion:

My interpretation of the [data] is that Iran used to be able to produce about 4mbd of oil. They voluntarily reduced production following the 2001 recession (in line with the behavior of other OPEC nations at the time). However, while the reduction at the end of 2008 may also have been voluntary, the fact that they've made no increase in production in 2011 — the opposite in fact — suggests they've lost the capacity to produce (or at least export) that much oil. I assume this is due to western sanctions.

Whether the sanctions are "working" depends on whether you think we ought to be pressuring Iran over its nuclear program. But that's certainly what the Obama administration wants to do, and judged on their own terms it looks like the sanctions are working. If Iran really has been forced to reduce production by 400,000 bbd, that comes to about $40 million per day, or $14 billion per year. Depending on how you count, that amounts to about 2-3% of GDP.

UPDATE: But even if oil production is down, isn't that more than made up for by higher prices caused by the sanctions in the first place? Maybe. It depends on how much oil Iran sells on the spot market and how much is tied up in long-term contracts. I'm not sure if anyone really knows that, and I don't know what the terms of Iran's long-term contracts are anyway. So this is, admittedly, a bit of a crapshoot. Either way, though, Iran certainly seems to be selling less than they could if the sanctions didn't exist.

Flowchart: Are You a Slut?

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 1:20 PM EST

Are you a slut? It's a question that, to be perfectly honest, we would have felt more than a little uncomfortable asking as recently as a few weeks ago. For one, there's the word itself—as misogynistic an insult as you could conjure. And there wasn't much of a peg, what with the rest of the world focused on more pressing issues, like Israel's threats of conflict with Iran, and jokes about Mitt Romney's dog (this is a particularly good one).

But then conservative icon Rush Limbaugh—who was once caught trying to bring 29 100 mg Viagra pills with him to the Dominican Republic—spent three days ripping into Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke (rhymes with "look"), calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying before Congress about birth control, and suggesting that he'd like her to send him a sex tape. The #iamnotaslut Twitter campaign went viral; Limbaugh began losing sponsors (20, at last count). And now we can't seem to talk about anything else but "sluts." Seriously, just take a look at this chart from BuzzFeed.

The national conversation about sluts of 2012 hasn't really given us much clarity—but it has given a variety of commentators a platform from which to disseminate their definition of "slut." Which, it turns out, is really, really broad. Fluke—who noted in her testimony about contraception access that she has a friend who uses the pill out of medical necessity—has been maligned for oversharing about her sex life, which she didn't even discuss on the Hill. One Georgetown law school classmate of Fluke's quoted in the National Review put it worst: "When did Georgetown Law start admitting Kardashians?"

So back to that question: Are you a slut? It's a head-scratcher, so we've put together this handy flowchart to help you out:

 

Here it is in chart form, for the clicking-impaired: