2012 - %3, June

Road Tripping Nuns Take on the Ryan Budget

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 4:54 PM EDT
Photo courtesy of Nuns on the Bus

Back in April, Congressman Paul Ryan trotted out his Catholicism to justify a budget plan that carves deeply into social welfare programs. Then the Vatican slammed nuns for spending too much time fighting poverty (instead of hating on gays). Rather than cave to the Pope's agenda, a bunch of Sisters in the US decided to affirm their commitment to the poor through a two-week-long, nine state bus tour meant to highlight how federal budget cuts hurt those on the margins.

The campaign kicked off in Ames, Iowa with a "rotating cast" of 14 nuns from all over the country, and will conclude in Washington, DC on July 2. The group's big blue rig, emblazoned with "Nuns on the Bus," is making stops at the district offices of Ryan and other GOP lawmakers to speak out against Ryan's Ayn Randian budget proposal, which would slash food stamps, Medicare, and other social programs, while cutting taxes for the rich. They'll also be visiting Catholic social service agencies to speak with the poor. 

Mother Jones caught up with the sassy, exuberant Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, the Washington, DC-based Catholic social justice lobby that is sponsoring the trip, as the bus headed to Chicago. Campbell talks about the nuns' rock star reception in Iowa and Wisconsin, "friend-raising," the "pull-up-the-drawbridge" mentality, and the secret American hunger for solidarity.

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Scalia Cites Slavery-Era Laws in Immigration Dissent

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 2:59 PM EDT

Justice Antonin Scalia's angry dissent in the case over Arizona's harsh immigration law is filled to the brim with partisan bile and dismissive rhetoric directed at his colleagues on the court. Scalia directly criticizes Obama's immigration policy of deferring deportation for potential DREAM Act beneficiaries and describes Arizonans as being "under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy." Scalia also suggests that "we should cease referring to [Arizona] as a sovereign State."

But even among these eyebrow-raising passage is one section that stood out from the rest. Explaining why he would have let the Arizona law stand in its entirety, rather than invalidating most of its provisions as the court majority ultimately did, Scalia runs through some of the history of immigration law in the US and cites slavery-era statutes meant to restrict the movement of free blacks across state lines.

Notwithstanding "[t]he myth of an era of unrestricted immigration" in the first 100 years of the Republic, the States enacted numerous laws restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted crimi­nals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks. State laws not only pro­vided for the removal of unwanted immigrants but also imposed penalties on unlawfully present aliens and those who aided their immigration.

While this might seem like an odd way to support his argument, Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law, warns against reading too much into it. "I think what he's getting at is that there was a time when states had authority over this issue," Winkler says, "but that was when Congress hadn't enacted significant regulation on immigration." 

With the exception of one provision, which Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion implied could be invalidated in the future, the high court agreed that the states don't get to legislate where the federal government has already set immigration policy. Or as Winkler appropriately puts it, given the Obama administration's record of aggressive enforcement of immigration law, "the federal government is the only one authorized to make life miserable for undocumented immigrants."

Chart of the Day: September Best Month to Put Your Money Under a Mattress

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 2:16 PM EDT

UPDATE: It turns out there's nothing to this after all. Joshua Hedlund has the whole story here.


Here's the weirdest chart you're likely to come across today. It comes from a paper by Luc Laeven and Fabián Valencia and shows the starting month of all modern banking crises (i.e., those after 1970). By a huge margin, banking crises mostly start in the second half of the year, and the overwhelmingly most dangerous month is September.

Greg Ip tentatively suggests this might have something to do with the fact that October 30th marks the fiscal year-end for American mutual funds, but he's not really convinced, and I don't think I am either. Perhaps we could get a better answer if we grouped crises not by month, but by astrological sign. Are all those September crises in Virgo or Libra? Inquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE: I suppose there are lots of other things that show a similar pattern and thus might be related, but a reader sends along this one, which is sort of interesting. Maybe it's all about the oil!

Save the Planet: Tint Your Car Windows

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 12:36 PM EDT

I'm feeling a little under the weather today—don't ask, you don't want to know—though on the bright side Kaiser Permanente tells me that I passed my recent stress echo with flying colors. So I guess my heart will continue beating properly for another few years anyway. Still, I'm afraid I just can't spend the entire day blogging about the Supreme Court. Can't. Do. It. So instead, here's a bit of trivia from Climate Progress:

On this first day of summer, many car owners are likely to experience the following scenario: enter your car to leave work for the day and the temperature is sweltering—much hotter than outside. The ignition, steering wheel, and seat surface are almost too hot to touch. You roll down your windows or turn on the air conditioner (or both) to get some air moving to quickly mitigate the sauna-like conditions…This is more than just a nuisance on hot days. Of the oil consumed by U.S. passenger vehicles, 5.5 percent is used for air conditioning.

The article goes on to talk about a bunch of high-tech/low-energy ways to keep cars cooler, but they missed my favorite one: window tinting. Here's my story.

Last year, Marian decided to buy a Prius. This was, unfortunately, right after the earthquake in Japan, and Priuses were in short supply, making it a seller's market. Not only were no discounts available, but dealers were charging well above list price. However, because Toyota doesn't allow dealers to just baldly mark up their cars above list, they instead loaded a bunch of accessories onto every car on the lot and then charged highway robbery prices for them. So here's the way car shopping worked: Instead of going to several dealers and dickering over price, we went to several dealers and compared the crap that they added to the car. At one dealer it was LoJack and a chassis "undercoating." I practically laughed at that one. I didn't realize anyone still had the balls to try selling undercoatings anymore, especially in Southern California. At another dealer, it was a (supposedly) super-duper GPS and a few other doodads. Then, finally, we found a dealer who had added only one thing to their cars: window tinting. And they were only charging about twice what it was worth, which really wasn't bad under the circumstances. So we bought one of their cars.

All I can say is that I was mightily impressed. This wasn't dark tinting like celebrities get so you can't see into their cars, it was just a modest gray tint. But it lowers the temperature of the car by a good 5 or 10 degrees when it's sitting out in the sun. It's really a big difference, much bigger than I would have guessed. I'll never get another car without it. And if I'm helping save the planet at the same time, that's a pretty nice bonus.

Front page image: ronfromyork/Shutterstock

Review: Sonny Smith Goes a Little Bit Country

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 12:30 PM EDT

Sonny & the Sunsets
Longtime Companion
Polyvinyl

Breakups inspire change. For some people, that means a haircut. For Sonny Smith, the prolific Bay Area-based troubadour and playwright behind infectious folk-pop outfit Sonny & the Sunsets, it was a country album.

Before Longtime Companion, the Sunsets enjoyed a reputation for easily digestible quirk and ineffably satisfying pop songs. Their last full-length album, Hit After Hit, gathered praise within the critical indie bubble for the sweet, unadorned straightforwardness at which Smith is a seasoned pro. In addition to a decade of creative residencies, work on short films, and musical collaborations with the likes of Miranda July, Neko Case, Jolie Holland, and Wilco's Leroy Bach, one of Smith's most ambitious projects was to create 100 fictional bands and 100 fictional 7" records—for which he then wrote the music. All 200 songs ended up on a jukebox at the gallery show displaying the 100 works of album art. 

When Smith emailed the Sunsets' old record label with a pained country album that he had written over the end of a decade-long relationship, however, the label said "no, thanks."

A Hodgepodge From the Supreme Court

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 11:09 AM EDT

So we have three Supreme Court rulings today. In a nutshell:

  • The court mostly overturned Arizona's immigration law, but let stand the provision allowing police to ask for immigration papers if they have a "reasonable suspicion" someone is in the country illegally.
  • The court stuck down a Montana campaign spending law, essentially reaffirming Citizens United.
  • The court banned sentences of life without parole for minors.

Can we read any tea leaves here? Probably not. The immigration ruling was a patchwork compromise. The campaign spending ruling is conservative but unsurprising. The sentencing ruling is basically liberal, but also unsurprising given past rulings. There's not much insight here into how they might rule on Obamacare. But we'll know soon enough anyway.

UPDATE: More on the Montana campaign finance law here from Andy Kroll.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 25, 2012

Mon Jun. 25, 2012 10:46 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. James Broome references an electronic technical order for an F-16C Fighting Falcon during Red Flag-Alaska 12-2 at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska on June 18. Red Flag-Alaska is a series of Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercises for U.S. forces, providing joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large-force employment training in a simulated combat environment. Broome is a crew chief assigned to the 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron out of Osan Air Base in South Korea. US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth.

The Future of Cyberwarfare

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 10:40 AM EDT

Tyler Cowen has a question:

Didn’t it just come out in The Washington Post that the United States helped attack Iran with Flame, Stuxnet and related programs? If they did this to us, wouldn’t we consider it an act of war? Didn’t we just take a major step toward militarizing the internet? Doesn’t it seem plausible to you that the cyber-assault is not yet over and thus we face immediate questions looking forward? Won’t somebody fairly soon try to do it to us? Won’t it encourage substitution into more dangerous biological weapons?

I do understand that these are fairly superficial questions and that I do not have the expertise to write a detailed and insightful blog post on these topics. Still, it seems odd not to mention them at all. While I read in limited circles, I do not see many writers devoting much attention to the matter. Shouldn’t this have set off a large-scale national debate?

My take is this: we've all but declared war on Iran already, and everyone knows it. We've assassinated their scientists, imposed crippling sanctions, and essentially declared that we're ready to mount a massive air strike against them in the near future. Under those circumstances, a bit of cyberwarfare hardly seems like a huge escalation.

What's more, we all assume that other countries, China especially, are already hard at work on digital weapons. Our intelligence services have been warning about a "cyber Pearl Harbor" since before 9/11. It's not a taboo area. So when the open secret that we're working on this stuff becomes an even more open secret, hardly anybody really cares about this non-news.

They probably should, though.

GOP Candidate Says Tammy Baldwin's Philosophy "Has Its Roots" in Communism

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 9:40 AM EDT
Wisconsin Sen. Robert La Follette, Sr. making a radio speech. He was a progressive, not a communist. There's a difference.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) is running for Senate in Wisconsin, where she will probably end up facing former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson. But Thompson faces a challenge from the right—Eric Hovde, a wealthy former CNBC talking head, who has apparently decided that the best way to win a Republican primary these days is to suggest the Democratic candidate is a communist. Here's Hovde:

"I fundamentally disagree with Tammy on almost everything. She has a more liberal voting record than almost anybody in Congress," he told The Hill in a recent interview. "Her philosophy has its roots in Marxism, communism, socialism, extreme liberalism—she calls it progressivism—versus mine, which is rooted in free-market conservatism."

Needless to say Baldwin, who does not support government ownership of the means of production, is not a Marxist, a socialist, or a communist. And it's especially sad to see a Republican candidate equating progressivism with communism in Wisconsin, a birthplace and longtime stronghold of the progressive movement. Robert La Follette, a leading progressive Republican, was Wisconsin's governor from 1901 to 1906 and one of its senators from 1906 until 1925. LaFollette was succeeded in the Senate by his son, "Young Bob," who served until 1946, when he lost a GOP primary to the infamous red-hunter Joseph McCarthy. Here's a nice explanation of progressivism from the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Progressive Republicans... believed that the business of government was to serve the people. They sought to restrict the power of corporations when it interfered with the needs of individual citizens. The Progressive Movement appealed to citizens who wanted honest government and moderate economic reforms that would expand democracy and improve public morality... In Wisconsin, La Follette developed the techniques and ideas that made him a nationwide symbol of Progressive reform and made the state an emblem of progressive experimentation. The Wisconsin Idea, as it came to be called, was that efficient government required control of institutions by the voters rather than special interests, and that the involvement of specialists in law, economics, and social and natural sciences would produce the most effective government.

The state historical society's site has lots more on progressivism and Wisconsin history, including many primary source documents. Perhaps Hovde should familiarize himself with it.

Rock Out With Your Vagina Out (Happy B-Day, Title IX!)

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Aretha Franklin belts it out at President Obama's inauguration.

As of Saturday, Title IX, the anti-discrimination law that isn't just about sports, is officially over the hill. Over the past 40 years, women have surpassed men in college degrees. Women's participation in college athletics (check out these cool charts) has more than septupled (!); world-class boxers like Marlen Esparza, Claressa Shields, and Queen Underwood (check out these great photos) will be competing for Olympic gold this summer; and boob bounce has sharply diminished thanks to two women runners and a pair of jimmied-up jockstraps. Sure, disparities of all stripes still exist—here's the most recent Sports Illustrated with a woman on the cover—but no one ever said equal opportunity would be easy.

To celebrate four decades of government-mandated gender equality in schools and yes, federally funded sports—no matter what the asshats on TV say about women's athletics—we put together this roundup of eviscerating "grrl" power anthems, hair-whippin' dance jams, and breathless ballads. So this one's for you, girls. Whether you're a diva, rebel girl, or teenage whore, bossy, nasty, or just wannabe, shake yer dix, put a ring on it, and call memaybe?