2012 - %3, July

PHOTOS: Storms and Heat Waves Sweep the Country

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 4:35 PM EDT

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Typo of the Day: Reveille at the Olympics

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 4:21 PM EDT

Today's award goes to the Washington Post. But I wish it weren't an error. I think a battle of the bugles might make for a pretty interesting opening ceremony.

McCain Blasts Bachmann for Her Anti-Muslim McCarthyism

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 2:45 PM EDT

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the floor of the Senate Wednesday to defend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, whom he refers to as a friend, from Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) baseless accusations that Abedin is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization with branches throughout the Middle East. 

McCain absolutely lays into Bachmann and her colleagues (without mentioning them by name), defending Abedin as representing "what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully." Here's an excerpt from his speech:

Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.

McCain's speech is all the more remarkable because it represents a tragically rare instance in which a Republican elected official has chosen to fight the anti-Muslim paranoia in his own party, rather than simply ride the wave. There are a few other examples, including Senator Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) stand during the debate over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," but not many.

Nevertheless, McCain inexplicably also defends Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy, as a "friend" despite the center's role in providing "empirical" support for the absurd conspiracy theory that American Muslims are secretly trying to impose Taliban-style Islamic law on the United States. It's Gaffney's scurrilous reasoning masquerading as policy expertise that lead to Bachmann's smearing of Abedin in the first place. 

ACLU to Obama: You Can't Just Vaporize Americans Without Judicial Process

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 2:30 PM EDT
President Barack Obama meets with his national security team in 2010.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Obama administration over the deaths of three American citizens who were killed by US drone strikes in Yemen last year. Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in the same attack in early September; Awlaki's 16 year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed in a separate strike later that month.

"This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution's most fundamental guarantee, the guarantee of due process," said Jamil Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, on a conference call with reporters. "Ten years ago extrajudicial killing by the United States was exceptional. Now it's routine."

The ACLU's lawsuit isn't about drones, even though drones were used in all three killings in question. Instead, it's about targeted killings more broadly, including those carried out by drone strikes and those performed by elite American military units. The lawsuit contends that the United States government violated the constitutional rights of the three men by killing them without court review outside of an active war zone.

The Obama administration has contended that it has the authority to target suspected members of Al Qaeda outside the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly if a given individual poses what it calls an "imminent threat." Although the US government had tagged Anwar al-Awlaki as a terrorist through controlled disclosures to the public and the media, Khan was merely suspected of being a propagandist, and the government has never alleged that Awlaki's teenage son was involved in terrorism. Moreover, the ACLU argues, the US government has "defined the term 'imminent' so broadly as to negate its meaning."

The ACLU is suing on behalf of two relatives of the men killed in the attacks: Nasser al-Awlaki, who is Anwar al-Awlaki's father and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki's grandfather; and Sarah Khan, who is Samir Khan's mother. This isn't the first time the ACLU has sued on Nasser al-Awlaki's behalf. In 2010, the ACLU sued to prevent Anwar al-Awlaki from being killed. The lawsuit was dismissed by United States District Court Judge John Bates, partially on the grounds that the targeting of suspected terrorists was a "political question" that was inappropriate for a court to evaluate. (Bates also said that Awlaki had chosen not to avail himself of the US justice system, and so his father had no standing to sue on his behalf). The Obama administration has another option to block the ACLU's lawsuit: It could invoke the state secrets doctrine, a sort of "get out of court free" card Obama has used in numerous national security cases despite previously promising to use that power sparingly. Despite numerous public acknowledgments of the targeted killing program, it could once again claim the program is too secret to be discussed in court.

But the ACLU's lawyers believe their chances for getting a hearing are better this time, both because their clients, in losing their loved ones, suffered a concrete injury that can't be denied, and because of the more frank public acknowledgements by administration officials of the targeted killing program's existence. The latter, the ACLU argues, will make it more difficult for the government to contend the matter is a state secret.

"What they would be saying is, that they have the authority not just to kill American citizens who are deemed to be enemies of the state, and not just that they have the authority to kill citizens without explaining why they've done it, but even that they have the authority to kill citizens without even acknowledging their role in it," Jaffer said. "If the previous administration had proposed a policy of that kind, it's inconceivable that we would have accepted it." 

There have also been revelations since Awlaki's death that could bolster the government's assessment of him as a terrorist. Chief among them are the recently released documents from Osama bin Laden's compound, showing communication between Al Qaeda and its Yemeni affiliate over Awlaki's role. But Jaffer says the ACLU takes those accusations seriously—it just wants the government to prove them in court. 

"We want the government to introduce whatever evidence relied on to a court, and a court can decide whether that evidence was sufficient to justify the government's actions," Jaffer said. "That's all really our clients are asking for. They're asking for what they see as accountability." 

Chart: 6 Walmart Heirs Hold More Wealth Than 42% of Americans Combined

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 12:50 PM EDT

The recession has devastated the finances of many Americans, but it has been very good to the Walton family. Since 2007, Walmart stores have been flooded with millions of folks who've lost their shirts in the housing bust, stock market crash, and stalled job market—people who can no longer afford to buy anything that isn't made in China and sold by someone making close to minimum wage. Using newly released data from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances (listed as "SCF" below), labor economist Sylvia Allegretto has put together this chart on the diverging fortunes of the Waltons and their customers:

As Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Insitute points out, the six Walmart heirs now have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, up from 30 percent in 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, the collective wealth of the six richest Waltons rose from $73 billion to $90 billion, while the wealth of the average American declined from $126,000 to $77,000 (13 million Americans have negative net worth). Here's a chart of how many average Americans it has taken over time to equal the wealth of the Waltons:

It may be no accident that rising income inequality in America since the 1970s has coincided with Walmart's meteoric expansion:

For more on how insanely big Walmart has become, see our entire series of Walmart infographics.

And also this:

Medicaid Expansion May Turn Out to Be an Offer States Can't Refuse

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 12:32 PM EDT

Should states sign up for Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, even though the Supreme Court says they don't have to? The answer depends a lot on how much it will cost them. On the downside, states would have to pay part of the cost of covering new enrollees. On the upside, they'd save some money because Medicaid would start covering some indigent medical expenses that states are currently on the hook for. This is all pretty obvious, but it's also pretty vague. We need hard numbers. Will new costs outweigh new expenses? Or vice versa?

This requires a more detailed accounting, and we don't have that yet. Today, though, Sarah Kliff reports that Arkansas has taken a first cut at estimating both the costs and savings of signing up for the expansion. They figure that in 2015 the new law would cost them $42 million and save them $131 million. So it's a clear winner. But that's because the federal government picks up 100% of the tab for expansion during the first three years. That declines to 90% by 2020, and Arkansas figures that by 2021 the expansion of Medicaid would cost them $3.4 million per year.

Now, that's $3.4 million out of a $4 billion Medicaid budget, of which Arkansas pays $750 million. So it's not a lot of money, especially considering the number of people it would help.

Politically, though, it sets up an interesting dynamic. A lot of states, especially in the South, are resisting the Medicaid expansion. It's going to be tough for them to stick to their guns, however, because there are a lot of interest groups (for example, hospitals who are losing funding for indigent care and desperately need the new Medicaid dollars) who are going to be pushing hard to accept the expansion. But if the Arkansas analysis turns out to be broadly true for other states, it's going to be even harder to resist than we think. How many legislatures will turn down a badly-needed federal funding windfall during tough times if the only downside is a minuscule cost six years down the road? Some, I suppose, but probably not too many.

Arkansas may be a special case, since its share of Medicaid expenses is one of the lowest in the nation (only Mississippi and West Virginia pay a smaller percentage of their Medicaid bills). States with higher expense levels might not do as well. It's also worth keeping in mind that this is just a first-cut estimate. Things might change in either direction as we get a better handle on all the details. So take it all with a grain of salt.

Still, it's encouraging. If other Southern states, most of which also pay a very small share of their Medicaid expenses, come to the same conclusion, Obamacare's Medicaid expansion may turn out to be an offer they can't refuse after all.

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Climategate Investigation Closed—With No Closure

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 11:20 AM EDT

The police in Norfolk, England, announced on Wednesday that they have ended their investigation into the theft of a bunch of emails from climate scientists at the Climate Research Centre at the University of East Anglia in 2009—with no actual conclusion. That means we might never know who was behind what led to Climategate, an ongoing smear campaign against climate science and scientists.

The Norfolk Constabulary said in a statement that it is approaching the statutory deadline on criminal proceedings in the United Kingdom and has not determined who took more than a thousand emails from a server in November 2009 and posted them on the internet. All that they have been able to determine, the police said, is that it was a "sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU's data files, carried out remotely via the internet." They also said that the thief used "methods common in unlawful internet activity to obstruct enquiries."

Read also: the truth about Climategate.Read also: the truth about Climategate.

In the statement, Detective Chief Superintendant Julian Gregory, the senior investigating officer in the case, said:

Despite detailed and comprehensive enquiries, supported by experts in this field, the complex nature of this investigation means that we do not have a realistic prospect of identifying the offender or offenders and launching criminal proceedings within the time constraints imposed by law.
The international dimension of investigating the World Wide Web especially has proved extremely challenging.

Gregory also said that they found "no evidence to suggest that anyone working at or associated with the University of East Anglia was involved in the crime." While frustrating that this greatly diminishes the chance that the UK police will ever bust the perps, it does go a long way toward quashing the rumors that the emails were leaked by some angry UEA employee, which is what many in the climate-skeptic community have long alleged.

UEA issued its own response on Wednesday, expressing disappointment that the investigation didn't go anywhere. "Clearly the perpetrators were highly sophisticated and covered their tracks extremely carefully," said Edward Acton, vice chancellor of UEA. "The misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating following the publication of the stolen emails—including the theory that the hacker was a disgruntled UEA employee—did real harm to public perceptions about the dangers of climate change."

The conclusion is a boon for would-be international computer criminals, since the police all but said in the statement that there's not much they can do about this kind of crime. The investigation involved the Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, the Met's Counter Terrorism Command, National Domestic Extremism Team, and the Police Central e-crime Unit, and still couldn't manage to turn up much. The Norfolk assistant chief noted that online crime is a "global issue," and that while police are trying to develop adequate responses, "it falls upon individuals and organizations to be alert to this and take steps to mitigate risk as far as is practicable."

Operation "Piss Off Mitt" Seems to be Working

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 10:46 AM EDT

McKay Coppins:

"[Romney] has said Obama's a nice fellow, he's just in over his head," the adviser said. "But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he's really disappointed. He believes it's time to vet the president. He really hasn't been vetted; McCain didn't do it."

Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney's finances and business record, the Republican's campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston's pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a "liar" — very little will be off-limits, from the president's youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

We can probably dispense with the notion that Obama has never been "vetted." It's been a favorite among the conspiracy-minded right ever since 2008, but it mostly just consists of fantasies about Jeremiah Wright, missing college transcripts, anti-colonialism, secret socialist ties, etc. etc. Romney's team knows perfectly well that it's largely the province of nutcases.

Still, the "vetting" pretense gives them cover to say lots of nasty things about Obama in hopes that eventually some of it will stick. I sort of doubt that it will, since Obama's been in office for four years and most people outside of the hardcore right already have a pretty settled view of him as a cautious, sober-minded, mainstream Democrat. But I guess you never know.

It's dangerous, though. If Coppins is right, Romney is under the peculiar impression that Obama's attacks on his business background are wildly ruthless and out of bounds. This is odd since Romney has been attacked for his business background repeatedly in the past. If it seems more intense this time, it's only because this kind of thing is always more intense in a presidential race.

Obama is unquestionably running a tough campaign, but if Romney is losing his cool over questions about his taxes and his stewardship of Bain Capital, he's just showing he's not ready for the big leagues. Wild countercharges about Obama's teenage drug use will only confirm that. It's obvious that Obama is hoping to get under Romney's skin and provoke him into doing something stupid, and right now it looks like Romney may be about to take the bait.

Keeping an Eye on the "Cooch"

| Wed Jul. 18, 2012 10:38 AM EDT
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

As we reported yesterday, Virginia's GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has refused to certify new regulations that would allow existing abortion clinics in the state to stay open.

A regulation approved by the state Board of Health last month created strict new standards for offices providing abortion services, but said the new rules shouldn't apply to existing facilities. Cuccinelli wants the rules to apply to all clinics, and is trying to overrule the Board of Health's decision, throwing into question whether clinics in Virginia will be able to continue offering abortions. This has prompted protests in the state, including the organization of a new group: CoochWatch.

And yes, the double entendre is intentional. "Cooch" is both a nickname assigned to the crusading AG and slang for "That very special place on a woman that men spend their lives striving to visit over and over and over again," according to Urban Dictionary (and that's the nicest definition I could find there). "It's just too perfect to pass up," CoochWatch founder Stephanie Arnold told Mother Jones.

The group and other critics of the AG's action staged a protest on Tuesday night outside Freeman High School in Richmond, Va., where Cuccinelli was speaking to meeting of the Tea Party Patriots.

Arnold, 25, is a medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk and a former staffer at a Richmond abortion clinic. CoochWatch was formed to encourage people in the state to confront the AG about abortion access at every opportunity: "The Cooch has been keeping an eye on your vagina, so now we're going to keep an eye on him."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 18, 2012

Wed Jul. 18, 2012 9:51 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Bryan Robbins, platoon sergeant for 3rd plt., Company G., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, calls for mortar support during a live-fire exercise. Following the conclusion of Exercise Hamel 2012, the Marines of Co. G. engaged in movement to contact drills, using what they learned from living in a woodland environment for the past three weeks. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan Wright.