2012 - %3, March

Fight to Save Paper Dollar Hits DC Subway System

| Thu Mar. 22, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Tourists riding the subway in Washington this week are likely to see more than just the new cherry blossom stickers newly affixed to the turnstiles. They'll also be getting schooled in one of the more obscure fights going on in Congress right now: whether to replace the dollar bill with a coin.

Opponents of a proposed bill that would replace the paper dollar have bought a raft of advertising in DC Metro stations, including virtually every available billboard at the system's hub at Metro Center, to rally Americans to save the paper dollar. Posters sponsored by "Americans for George" (as in George Washington) cover tunnel walls, imploring people to save the iconoclastic emblem of American heritage.

A quick look at the website for Americans for George suggest that the ads are the joint product of a bunch of laundromats, bowling alleys, vending machine companies and some bars, including one Scalawags Fish & Chips restaurant. But the average laundromat does not have the sort of deep pockets to cover Metro Center in slick ads. Instead, the deep pockets behind the George campaign are those of the Crane paper company, which is best known for making swanky wedding invitations but also manufactures the paper that US currency is printed on.

Crane, which is based in Massachusetts, is an American institution. According to the company, Paul Revere engraved banknotes for the Colony of Massachusetts Bay on Crane paper to help finance the American Revolution. Crane obviously has a big stake in the elimination of the dollar bill, and so it's taken to the streets (or rather, the subway tunnels) to gin up opposition to the proposed law. The company's got a pretty good case to make. For decades, Americans have firmly resisted any efforts to introduce dollar coins into circulation, and new polling data that the Americans for George commissioned from pollster Frank Luntz and others confirms that Americans really hate the dollar coin.

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"We Are All Trayvon Martin": Photos and Video from the Million Hoodie March

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 10:24 PM PDT

Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York City Wednesday for the "Million Hoodie March," a memorial of sorts for Trayvon Martin—the teenager gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer in the Orlando, Florida suburb of Sanford. Some carried Skittles and iced tea, as Martin did that night. "My son is your son," Martin's mother, Sabrina Fulton, told the crowd. "This is not about black and white—this is about right and wrong." Tim McDonnell and James West were on the scene, and Josh Harkinson joined the march later on, after it merged with an Occupy Wall Street contingent. Here's what they saw, in video, photos, and tweets.

James' photos of the Million Hoodie March:

 The crowd filled Times Square, chanting and mic-checking.

 Nysheva Starr after leading the crowd in a passionate speech (see video).

The march made its way down Broadway, a large police contingent always nearby.

Most protesters wore hoodies, the garment that neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman said made him suspicious of Martin.

Among the chants: "We Are All Trayvon Martin." 

 Later in the evening, the march headed toward Union Square, where a contingent of Occupy Wall Street protesters had already settled in. Josh Harkinson explains: 

Mitt Romney's Dog is 2012's Earth Tones

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 9:15 PM PDT

As you know if you haven't been vacationing on Mars over the past year, in 1983 the Romney family took a car trip to Canada with the family dog, Seamus, riding in a pet carrier on the roof. Romney planned out the trip and made only a limited number of stops, but at some point on the trip Seamus became incontinent, forcing Romney to take an unscheduled break to hose Seamus down.

Walter Shapiro writes today that he sees "no larger presidential significance in Romney's actual treatment of Seamus." And yet:

What gives the Seamus story legs (four) is the inadvertent glimpse it offers of Romney's rigidity. For all the natural parental annoyance with the constant are-we-there-yet demands and the bodily needs of five boys on the trek to Canada, it is a rare father who would so zealously limit bathroom and food stops. Remember: The Romneys were not exactly desperate refugees racing to get across the Canadian border before they were stopped by the authorities. They were an affluent American family on vacation, but with all the spontaneous joy of an automotive assembly line. Seamus was collateral damage. What matters is the suck-it-up discipline that Mitt Romney tried to impose on his family.

People are not cyborgs—they have human needs, including a propensity for rest stops and, in politics, healthy egos. But an awareness of these personal factors does not seem to be part of the Romney repertoire.

Give me a break. I would guess that nearly every family that's ever taken a long road trip has tried to stick to a schedule and keep stops to a minimum. Was Romney a little stricter than average? Maybe. Does this offer a glimpse of Romney's "rigidity"? Please. The Seamus story came from Tagg Romney, and he doesn't suggest that any of the Romney kids felt especially downtrodden during the ride. Romney was just an ordinary guy trying to cram a 12-hour trip into a single day and he didn't want it to turn into a 14-hour trip. Shapiro had it right when he said this story has "no larger presidential significance." He should have stopped right there.

I wish we could give stuff like this a rest. I know we won't, but I can dream, can't I?

Quote of the Day: Romney Gaffe Demonstrates That Romney is Unbeatable

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 4:20 PM PDT

From Erik Fehrnstrom, a top aide to Mitt Romney, on whether his guy has tacked too far to the right to beat Obama in November:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch — you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.

Here's the interesting thing about this comment. It's provoked loads of mockery from liberals. It's provoked a bunch of attacks from the other candidates. But among the conservative commentariat, it's mostly just been sighs. I haven't seen much outrage along the lines of "This just goes to show what a fake Romney is." It's mostly been disbelief that Fehrnstrom could say something so dumb; wan defenses that he wasn't really saying anything we didn't know already; and explanations that obviously Fehrnstrom was talking about campaign mechanics, not issues.

Conclusion: we are finally at the point where nobody on the right really wants to say anything bad about Romney. He's got the nomination sewn up, and it's time to start circling the wagons.

In other words: It's over, Rick. Time to pack it up.

The NRA Wants the Law Protecting Trayvon Martin's Killer in All 50 States

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:27 PM PDT

The National Rifle Association continues to press more states to adopt Florida-style "stand your ground" laws like the one that's made it difficult to prosecute George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in late February. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense despite the fact that Martin was unarmed. Since "stand your ground" laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force—even if they have an opportunity, as Zimmerman did, to safely avoid a confrontation—Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged. (If you haven't heard about the Martin case, get the full rundown in our explainer.)

The proliferation of these laws is part of a deliberate lobbying campaign by the NRA. In 2005, at the NRA's urging, Florida became the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law. Before that, most states required you to retreat from a confrontation unless you were inside your own home. Now 25 states have these "stand your ground" laws, which critics call "shoot first" laws (Gawker's pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko" calls the laws "a great, legally roving murder bubble") because they authorize citizens to use deadly force even if the person who makes them feel threatened is, like Martin, unarmed. Here's a map of the current situation:

Prosecutors hate "stand your ground" laws because they make it much harder to successfully prosecute people who claim self-defense. In Florida, a defendant doesn't have to actually prove he acted in self-defense—the prosecution has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he didn't do so, a very high bar to clear. The upshot? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Times reported that "justifiable homicides"—i.e., killings that were deemed legitimate—have skyrocketed in Florida over several years since the "stand your ground" law went into effect:

That's how you end up with stories with headlines like "How to Get Away With Murder." But the NRA continues to forge ahead, pushing to expand the legislation to even more states.

On March 1, just days after Martin was killed, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action posted a blog post urging Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to sign a bill bringing a Florida-style law to his state. Dayton vetoed the bill, noting that law enforcement officials had complained it would make it harder for them to do their jobs. Over at Media Matters, Matt Gertz notes several other examples of the NRA pushing these laws in recent weeks:

  • On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on "NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement." According to NRA-ILA, the bill would "remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present." The group urged supporters to contact state senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they "left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills" on February 29.
  • On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed "important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be." NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5March 8, and February 29

The Massachusetts legislature's joint committee on the judiciary held a hearing on yet another similar law in February.

How to Get More MoJo on Google News

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 1:07 PM PDT

Calling all Google News users! Mother Jones' tireless editors have started curating a daily handpicked collection of MotherJones.com's latest and best news, interactive features, and blog posts. It's a nifty feature called Editors' Picks, and you can access it from your Google News page when you're logged into your Google account.

But first, you have to personalize your news stream by adding Mother Jones' Editors' Picks to your Google News page. Lucky for you, this is easy to do. And to make it easier, we've created a step-by-step video that shows you exactly how to get more MoJo in your life:

1. Start by making sure you're logged into your Google account. Then go to Google News

2. Click the "Personalize your news" button near the top right of the page. (It has a pencil icon.)

3. A sidebar will open right under the "Personalize your news" button. Find the "Adjust sources" field, and type "Mother Jones."

4. Click the "+" button.

5. Then click the "Save" button.

6. And you're done! You now have access to a daily selection of the best content on MotherJones.com.

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WATCH: David Corn Talking "Showdown" on MSNBC's Morning Joe

Wed Mar. 21, 2012 12:52 PM PDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday morning to discuss his new book, Showdown, which gives an inside account of President Obama's battles with the GOP, beginning with the game-changing 2010 midterm elections and ending with the beginning of the 2012 campaign season. Corn was joined on the panel by Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, to discuss the lame duck session, the failed Grand Bargain, the Tea Party, and more.

We've published two excerpts from Showdown: one about the tense night at the White House during the bin Laden raid and another about Obama's plan to win reelection.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter.

Beck's Website Calls Trayvon Martin "The Aggressor"

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 12:51 PM PDT
An undated photo of Trayvon Martin.

The right-wing reaction to the shooting of of Trayvon Martin has been mercifully muted. George Zimmerman, who followed Martin through the streets of an Orlando suburb believing he "was up to no good," claims he was acting in self-defense. But the evidence suggest that Zimmerman provoked a confrontation with the unarmed Martin, who was out to grab a snack while watching the NBA All-Star game.  

As my colleague Kevin Drum notes, Fox News has almost completely avoided the story, doing one segment between Martin's death and March 19. National Review published a thoughtful piece this morning by Robert VerBruggen calling for Florida's self-defense laws to be altered so they protect individuals genuinely acting in self-defense rather than vigilantes. 

Yet The Blaze, the website started by former Fox News host Glenn Beck, has lived up to its founder's penchant for reactionary racial paranoia. One post attacking Al Sharpton for criticizing local police for not arresting Zimmerman posits that Martin was once suspended from school for being tardy. The post then speculates that Martin could really have been suspended for any number of reasons, and offers a list that includes "armed robbery," "arson," "kidnapping" or "sexual battery" among others. (Perhaps even for Beck's audience a black kid being late to school may not be enough to justify summary execution.) While Zimmerman stated at the very beginning of his call to the police that Martin "looks black," the Blaze post interprets this to mean that "the audio weakens the racism charge, as it shows that Zimmerman was already suspicious of the teen before he could tell what race he was." The post goes to excruciating lengths to rationalize away the possible racial elements at play, while groping for some implicit justification for Martin's death.

The post's original URL (tawana-brawley-2-0-al-sharpton-sides-with-aggressor-in-self-defense-case) refers to Martin as the "aggressor," despite the fact that the police call establishes that Zimmerman chased down Martin rather than the other way around. The post also compares the situation to the 1987 Tawana Brawley case, which involved a young black woman who falsely accused several white men of rape—the incident that first brought Sharpton to national prominence. The comparison implies that the outrage over Martin's death exists solely to substantiate a groundless charge of racism against white people who are, let's face it, the real victims here. 

That doesn't mean The Blaze doesn't take racism seriously. After all, it does offer a lengthy post, complete with photographs, on the threat by the New Black Liberation Militia (no, I haven't heard of them before, either) to take Zimmerman into custody and turn him over to federal authorities. Buried down towards the bottom of the post, following several slideshows of black people in uniforms holding guns, is the recognition that "Martin may have been attacked, rather than the reverse." It's a matter of priorities—acknowledging the possibility that a teenager might have been murdered because he was black just doesn't warrant the kind of urgency that mocking Al Sharpton or highlighting a publicity-seeking black militia does. 

The black militia story is only the third most popular story on The Blaze at the moment, however. Ahead of it are two stories on Malia Obama's trip to Mexico.

Can We Please Stop Making Excuses for Paul Ryan?

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 12:14 PM PDT

Ezra Klein writes this today about Paul Ryan's budget roadmap:

I don't think Paul Ryan intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. Similarly, I don't think Mitt Romney intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. But there's a reason their budgets turned out so similar…

Really, let's just stop right there. Ryan's budget didn't spring forth immaculately from the forehead of Zeus. It's pretty much the same as his 2011 budget. Which in turn is pretty much the same as his 2010 budget. Which in turn is just a nicely formatted version of everything he's been saying for the past decade.

I'm so tired of Paul Ryan I could scream. Every year we get a slightly different version of the same old thing, and every year we have to waste entire man-years of analysis in order to make the same exact points about it. And the biggest point is that his budget would force enormous, swinging cuts in virtually every domestic program, especially those for the poor. If this bothers Ryan, he's had plenty of time to revise his budget roadmap to address it.

But he hasn't. He knows perfectly well that his budget concentrates its cuts on the poorest Americans. It's been pointed out hundreds of times, after all. If he found that troublesome he'd change it. Since he hasn't, the only reasonable conclusion is that this is exactly what he intends. Let's stop pretending otherwise.

Jhumpa Lahiri Was Abandoned by Her Editor

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 11:08 AM PDT

In an essay exploring her love of sentences in last Sunday's New York Times, the great writer Jhumpa Lahiri put together some awful sentences. I say "put together" intentionally: The sentences themselves were mostly fine, at turns even terrific, but in several places they were assembled quite awfully. This surprised me in light of Lahiri's literary talent and the reputable publication to which she was contributing. Where the heck was her editor? 

A few paragraphs into the piece (inaugurating a Times series called, ahem, "Draft"), Lahiri explained how artful sentences are essential to great literature—that they "remain the test, whether or not to read something." The rest of the paragraph was a demonstration of a writer allowing her impulse for metaphor to spring off the page, wrestle her to the floor, tie her to the desk, and run out to the corner store for a six-pack and a lottery ticket. She continued:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.

This seems to taste like chicken, but is dissatisfying because you know it's not chicken. Chew on it again, this time with a brief annotation of its tangled metaphorical sinews:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. [chemistry, temperature] In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. [visual art, and possibly mechanics or magic] But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. [meaning what? tree roots? worms? gophers?] The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. [now they are human] Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. [with human traits and behaviors] But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates. [or objects possibly carrying electricity]

I decided to keep reading even though there was additional metaphorical muck to wade through. ("Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel." A nice harmonic touch there with "mortar" and "motor," but say what?) I'm an admirer of Lahiri's work; her first collection of short stories, the exquisite Interpreter of Maladies, was a touchstone for me as a MFA student and resides in my cherished-books section at home. Even here, with her very next paragraph, Lahiri takes your hand and pulls you close, sharing her enthusiasm for reading in a foreign language and what that can teach the true lover of language. It’s the same length as the prior paragraph but uses only one metaphor.

Maybe I’m being a little unfair here—after all, the piece was in a newspaper, not one of the Pulitzer prize-winning author's books. And Lahiri did include a few lines I found memorable: "The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life." Now that’s an impulse I can relate to.

If anything, Lahiri’s essay underscores a truth that most of us who spend our days crafting sentences know: Unless you were born the equivalent of Mozart or Michael Jordan, you not only appreciate but also demand having a good editor to back you up. Even if the only one available is, well, you.