2012 - %3, July

Independence Day Cat Blogging

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 11:31 AM EDT

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Pakistan Opens Supply Routes, Mitt Romney Licks His Chops

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 11:18 AM EDT

Today's news from the front lines:

The U.S. and Pakistan resolved a bitter seven-month standoff when Washington apologized for killing two dozen Pakistani soldiers in errant airstrikes and, in return, Islamabad agreed to reopen crucial supply routes for American and coalition military forces in Afghanistan.

....Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton phoned Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and said she was sorry for the deaths caused when U.S. combat helicopters and fighter jets mistakenly attacked two Pakistani border posts Nov. 26.

I'm not knocking Clinton for doing this. It was a sensible resolution to a damaging standoff. But I suppose it means we now need to brace ourselves for several more weeks of "apology tour" nonsense from the Fox News set. Sigh.

No Taxation Without Representation! A Field Guide to Voter Suppression

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 10:35 AM EDT

Looking for some reading to keep you busy before it's time to fire up the grill today? Well, we've got your "no taxation without representation" package right here.

Happy Fourth of July!

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 4, 2012

Wed Jul. 4, 2012 10:04 AM EDT

 

US Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Judy holds position on a beach with the Polish vessel ORP Krakow in the background during a Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2012 amphibious operation exercise in Palanga, Lithuania. BALTOPS is a joint and combined exercise designed to enhance multinational maritime capabilities and interoperability between the U.S. and European nations in the Baltic region. Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeff Troutman.

America's Most Patriotic Super-PACs

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

If there's one thing to count on in this election year, it's vaguely named groups cynically tapping into our patriotism with shameless appeals to the endangered values bestowed by our founders. Many of the 644 super-PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission have taken advantage of this approach. You've no doubt heard about some of them, like the pro-Rick Santorum Red, White & Blue Fund, the failed attempt to Make Us Great Again with Rick Perry, or the ongoing effort to Restore Our Future via Mitt Romney.

In honor of the Fourth of July, a salute to the most patriotic among their lesser-known counterparts:

Article II Super PAC
Here's a super-PAC so patriotic, it's named after part of the Constitution. Article II, whose name alludes to the birther theory that President Obama is not a natural-born citizen and is therefore ineligible to be president, is "a small group of fellow Americans, who are sole proprieters of blogs." That's important, because "Americans cannot rely on the mainstream media to report on candidates [sic] constitutional eligibility status. Therefore, the responsibility falls on those of us who turned off the news long ago and tuned into the blogosphere—the real American news frontier." So far, these vanguards of American blogdom have spent $0 against our Kenyan-born usurper.

Restore Our America PAC
If you're skeptical that the Constitution really says what Article II Super PAC claims, never fear: Just sign up to volunteer for Restore Our America PAC and you'll receive a free pocket-sized copy to reference for yourself. On the conservative super-PAC's bald eagle-and-George Washington-adorned website, a cautionary quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads, "He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing." Which could explain why Restore Our America has only raised $21,000.

Restoring America Project
Maybe super-PACs ought to leave all the restoring to Restore Our Future. The Restoring America Project sells itself as an "aggressive new type of 'Super PAC' called a 'Hybrid PAC'" that "has launched to challenge the party establishment and the political status quo," but so far it's raised just $1,700. On the plus side, the group has thrown its support behind quintessential American Joe the Plumber (a.k.a. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher). Its website features a campaign ad of Joe telling a jobless Occupy hippie what's what.

Freedom Path Action Network
With a name like Freedom Path, what else do you need to know? If your answer is "nothing," that's good, because this super-PAC's website is comprised of little more than a splash screen with a logo of a red path leading toward a bright light—presumably Ronald Reagan's "shining city upon a hill." It's not clear what the Freedom Path Action Network has spent its $100,000 budget on, but its sister organization is the dark-money 501(c)(4) Freedom Path, which spent about $300,000 to help Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) fend off a primary challenger last month.

Super PAC for America
Speaking of Ronald Reagan, his image is just about the only thing to see on the website of Super PAC for America. Bill Clinton advisor-turned-Fox News commentator Dick Morris is the chief strategist of the super-PAC, which was "founded to advocate for a Congress that supports limited government, less taxes, free enterprise, a strong national defense and positive American values." Super PAC for America has raised, and spent, about $800,000 this election, the majority of which was donated by the conservative League of American Voters.

USA Super PAC
This super-PAC isn't just for America—it is America. So far, it's spent all of its cash on Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock, funneling $134,000 into his successful effort to knock off incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in a May primary despite Mourdock's opposition to a constitutional amendment against flag burning.

Let Freedom Ring America PAC
Let Freedom Ring, "formed to counter the attacks of anti-conservative groups on patriotic candidates," is about as pro-America as it gets. According to its mission statement, the group promotes limited constitutional government, economic freedom, and traditional values. More importantly, the super-PAC has obtained exclusive footage of Uncle Sam, seen wandering forlornly through a mall and tent city as he begs for change, shedding a tear for the American Dream.

Climate Change Is Already Shrinking Crop Yields

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

For years now, people have wondered how climate change will affect farming. How will humanity feed itself during a time of rising temperatures and recurring drought?

Here in the US, we're starting to get a taste of things to come—and it's bitter. Brutal heat is now roiling the main growing regions for corn, soy, and wheat, the biggest US crops. According to Bloomberg News, 71 percent of the Midwest is experiencing "drier-than-normal conditions," and temperatures are projected to be above 90 degrees in large swaths of key corn/soy-growing states Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana through July 7 if not longer.

As a result, Goldman Sachs projects that this year's corn yields will come in 7.5 percent below the USDA's projection of 166 bushels an acre. (Why is a Wall Street behemoth like Goldman Sachs fussing over corn yields? That's another story, altogether, and an interesting one). Accordingly, crop prices are rising steeply, Bloomberg reports.

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Short Takes: "The Queen of Versailles"

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The Queen of Versailles

MAGNOLIA PICTURES

101 minutes

The queen is Jacqueline Siegel, an IBM engineer cum Mrs. Florida. Her decades-older husband is America's "timeshare king." Together they're building a 90,000-square-foot mansion dubbed Versailles. The film starts out as a better-than-fiction peek at the foibles of the 0.01 percent, but as the subprime crisis hits, it becomes a meditation on the collapse of a lifestyle built on debt. The Siegels struggle to save their kingdom, but just when you start feeling for them, Jackie opens another tin of caviar, and the title becomes all too apt.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones. 

Tom's Kitchen: Grilled Pork Tacos With Peach Salsa and Charred-Tomato Gazpacho

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

In the Austin summer, the phrase "outdoor cooking" sounds as much like a weather report as it does a culinary activity. Last year, temperatures in Austin exceeded 100 degrees no fewer than 90 times—shattering the previous record of 69 days set in 1925. Just last week ago, the temperature hit 109 degrees—an all-time record for June.

But under a big shade tree in the early evening, when the sun has waned and the temperature has dropped to, oh, 95 degrees, firing up the grill remains an appealing option. It gets you out of the house—and frees you from heating up the house with a bunch of cooking.

That's exactly what I did recently, and in classic Tom's Kitchen style, I kept it really simple. I got hold of a few pasture-raised pork loins, plus some tomatoes and peaches, all grown here in central Texas. I looked south to Mexico for inspiration.

Grilled Pork Tacos With Peach Salsa and Spicy Gazpacho
Serves 4

For Pork
2 pounds pasture-raised pork loin (4 loins)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo, from a can
The grated zest of one lime
Herbs such as a bit of fresh or dried oregano and/or thyme (optional—I didn't have any on hand)
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

For Salsa
4 ripe peaches
1 small clove of garlic
1-2 fresh hot chile peppers, such as serranos
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
The lime you zested for the pork marinade

For gazpacho
6 medium, ripe tomatoes
A few thick slices of red onion
1 clove of garlic, crushed and peeled
1-2 serrano peppers
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

To serve
13 corn tortillas
8-10 lime slices

First, make the marinade—at least 2 hours in advance of cooking, and preferably, the night before. Put the garlic, chipotle peppers, lime zest, a generous pinch of salt, and a vigorous grind of black pepper in a food processor or blender. With the machine whirring, add a thin stream of olive oil to the mix, blending until you have a smooth emulsion. You may have to stop and scrape down the sides of the blender or processor, and puree again, to get everything smooth. Taste the marinade. It should be good and salty—the salt will help carry the flavors inside the meat. Adjust accordingly.

Place the pork loins in a sturdy plastic bag large enough to hold them—or if you don't have one big enough, divide them into two smaller ones—and dump the marinade on top, dividing it over the two if necessary. Seal the bag(s), rinse them, wash your hands, and then massage the pork gently through the plastic, distributing the marinade as evenly as possible. Place the bag(s) in a bowl in the fridge until about an hour before you're ready to cook.

Next, on the same day as you're grilling, make the peach salsa. Peel the peaches, remove the flesh from the stone, chop it coarsely, and add it to a serving bowl. Mince the garlic and one off the two serrano chiles very fine, adding a pinch of salt to them as you mince to break them down as much as possible into a paste. Add them to the bowl with the peaches. Add a glug of olive oil and a good squeeze of lime, and then stir to combine. Taste. If you want more of a kick, break down the other chile like you did the first one, and add half of it. Taste. Adjust for seasoning, adding more salt, chile, or lime if necessary, and set aside.

Now prepare your grill. I use a simple Weber model with one of those chimney charcoal starters, stocked with  lump hardwood charcoal. When the coals are white hot, I make a hot side and a cool side by mounding most of the coals on one side of the grill pit and spreading just a few out across the other. When I've placed the grill atop the carefully arranged coals, I wipe it with a clean rag dipped in cooking oil, and give it a few minutes to get hot.

Lay the loins, close together but not touching, on the hot side of the grill. They should sizzle when they hit the surface. Let them sear until they're good and brown on all sides, and then move them to the cool side.

Now the grill the tomatoes and red-onion slices for the gazpacho—add them to the newly empty hot side of the grill. Cover it. The loins will now cook slowly on the cool side and pick up some smoke. Check after a few minutes—flip the tomatoes when they're good and charred, and remove the loins when they're cooked through but still slightly pink in the middle. Remove the loins to a cutting board when they're done. Let them rest for a few minutes.

Move the tomatoes and onion slices to a blender when they're charred all over. (Don't worry about coring them.)

Station one person at the grill, and have him or her grill tortillas on the hot side, flipping them once and lightly toasting them on both sides. As they're done, swaddle them in a clean kitchen towel to keep them warm.

Put someone else in charge of the gazpacho. To the charred tomatoes and onion, add the chile(s), the garlic, a pinch of salt, and a generous grind of pepper, a few ice cubes, and one of those grilled tortillas, torn in half. Blend until everything is smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

To serve, cut the pork into thin slices, at an angle, and place on a serving plate. Divide the gazpacho into four bowls, adding an ice cube to each to chill it down a bit, and garnish each with a drizzle of olive oil. Let everyone assemble his or her own tacos, garnishing with peach salsa. Have someone else make a side dish—my friend made a lovely one of thinly sliced summer squash and zucchini, lightly baked and finished with shaved hard cheese.

Janet Napolitano Connects Wildfires to Climate Change

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Obama administration official Janet Napolitano discusses climate change at a press conference in Colorado Springs.

After President Obama declared Colorado an official disaster area, making federal aid available to two counties suffering the devastating aftermath of the High Park and Waldo Canyon blazes, members of his cabinet, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, visited Colorado Springs yesterday to assess the wreckage—and answer this lingering question from Climate Desk reporter James West:

Is this recent onslaught of extreme weather indicative of climate change?

"It could be a lot of different things," Napolitano said at a press conference at Coronado High School. "You have to look at climate change over a period of years, not just one summer. You can always have one abnormal summer. But when you see one after another after another then you can see, yeah, there's a pattern here."

Here's a video of Napolitano speaking to James at yesterday's press conference.

Obamacare's Taxes, Round 2

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 1:43 AM EDT

When I wrote a post a couple of days ago about the size of Obamacare's tax increase, I thought I was bending over backward to be fair. I could have estimated the average size of the increase over ten years — which would have included all the early low-tax years — but even though that's fairly standard for budgetary purposes I thought it would be cherry picking. Likewise, I didn't use Jerry Tempalski's estimate of the four-year cost of the bill — a very modest 0.18% of GDP — even though that's the standard he used for all the other tax increases he analyzed. Technically, this would have been an apples-to-apples comparison and it would have made Obamacare's taxes look very small, but again, it seemed like cherry picking.

So instead I used the figure that PolitiFact calculated for the end of the initial ten-year period, the largest possible figure you could reasonably use, and compared it to Tempalski's four-year estimates for the other bills. Even at that, Obamacare still came in as only the tenth largest tax increase since 1950.

But it turns out this isn't good enough for Sen. Jim DeMint. He insists on a different standard, based on a single sentence in a CBO long-term budget outlook from 2010:

Under the extended-baseline scenario, the impact of the legislation on the revenue share of GDP would rise over time, CBO estimates, boosting revenues by about 1.2 percent of GDP in 2035.....

That would be a pretty sizeable tax increase, but are you wondering why DeMint used a CBO estimate from 2010? That's because CBO's 2012 estimate clocks in at only 0.8 percent of GDP, something I imagine DeMint knows perfectly well.

That's pretty hackish, but the larger problem here, which DeMint also knows, is that he's inventing a brand new standard for comparing tax legislation out of thin air. Nobody knows how a tax law is going to play out over 25 years.1 Nobody knows what the economy is going to look like a quarter of a century from now. Nobody can estimate the cumulative size of incentive effects between now and 2035. There's nothing wrong with CBO taking its best shot at a long-term estimate, but for all these reasons and more, a 25-year time horizon has never been a standard for comparing tax bills. DeMint knows this, just like he knows that CBO's most recent estimate is a lot lower than the outdated 2010 estimate he tried to put over on us.

Crikey.

1That's especially true in this case, since CBO's revenue estimate is based largely on the effect of Obamacare's Cadillac tax on healthcare plans. This tax is extremely sensitive to assumptions about the rise of healthcare costs and to the response of both corporations and consumers to the tax.