2012 - %3, August

Feds Greenlight Shell to Begin Arctic Drilling Prep

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 3:16 PM PDT

The Department of Interior greenlighted a plan Thursday to let Shell make drilling preparations in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, before some of the final approvals to drill in the sea are in place. The news riled enviros, who argue that the company has not demonstrated it is ready to deal with an accident in the freezing waters of the Arctic.

In a call with reporters on Thursday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the approval is limited to "certain, limited preparatory activities." The company will be allowed to dig mud line cellars, which are holes dug about 40 feet into the sea floor in which a blow-out preventer will be placed once oil drilling actually begins. (Readers will recall that a "blowout preventer" is that thing that failed to prevent a blowout during the BP spill down in the Gulf of Mexico.) The company will also be allowed to drill down 1,400 to 1,500 feet in preparation for the two casing strings.

Salazar and other Interior officials said that they do not believe that the preparatory work will tap into any oil wells, so the company can proceed before their emergency response equipment is ready. "We are confident it can be done safely and without risk to the environment," he said.

Shell has been given most of the approvals to begin drilling in the Chukchi, but does not yet have its oil spill response barge, the Arctic Challenger, ready to begin work up in Alaska. The company has had problems with the boat, including citations for illegal discharges of hydraulic fluids earlier this month. Shell has asked for an extension of the drilling season so it can get more time up there after the barge's delay. The exploration plan Interior approved says Shell will drill until September 24, but the company wants an 18-day extension.

Enviros are not fans of the entire idea of drilling in the Arctic. It's remote, and the area is frozen over for six months out of the year, making spill cleanups extremely complicated. It's also treacherous, with heavy winds and frequent storms, and it's really dark much of the year. Allowing Shell to start work up there without having its emergency response ship in place "seems at best irresponsible," said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. Margaret Williams, managing director of World Wildlife Fund's Arctic Program, was even more critical of the entire operation: "To drill in our Arctic Ocean is to gamble with its future."

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Corn on MSNBC: Ryan Speech Stokes Passion Among GOP, Fact-Checkers

Thu Aug. 30, 2012 3:01 PM PDT

David Corn joined an MSNBC panel moderated by host Martin Bashir to discuss the lies and distortions in Paul Ryan's Wednesday night speech at the 2012 Republican national convention.

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

When You Have No Hardship to Boast About, What Can You Do Instead?

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 2:37 PM PDT

Chris Hayes tweets:

Amazed that the entire RNC theme is a sustain whine from successful people that the Pres hasn't given them enough credit for their success....And also this bizarre appropriation of the labor of previous generations. My grandfather owned a small business. He worked really hard. And?

I noticed that too. But I sympathize. I'd have the same problem dredging up a personal story of hardship if I were running for office. In fact, looking back on my entire life for instances of hardship, I find....nothing. Great parents. Neither of them died. Ordinary middle-class upbringing. Ordinary public education. No serious illnesses. Graduated from college without ever putting in a lot of effort. Had to spend a few years running a Radio Shack store during the Reagan recession (I graduated in 1981), but after that I steadily climbed the corporate ladder: tech writer, product manager, got married, director of marketing, VP of marketing, general manager, money from an IPO, and finally a job as paid blogger through no effort of mine whatsoever. One day I got an email from Nick Confessore asking if he could call me, and a few weeks later I was working for the Washington Monthly.

How about my father? Nothing there either. His parents were pretty well-to-do. My mother? We're getting closer: things were a little tight for her growing up during the Great Depression. Nothing serious, though. So now we're back to grandparents.

And now we're talking. One grandfather grew up in a small town in Illinois, couldn't go to college because his family couldn't afford it, moved out West to make his fortune, watched as his wife became seriously mentally ill, remarried, and then started up an advertising agency that made him a prosperous man. My other grandfather grew up in New Jersey, couldn't go to college because his family couldn't afford it, joined the Navy because they'd teach him to be an electrician, asked to be discharged in California, and then worked for Western Union his whole life.

So yeah, if I needed to find some tale of inspiring hardship in my family, I'd have to go back a couple of generations too. Of course, I draw a rather different conclusion from this than folks like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan seem to draw, but I guess that's politics for you. If you were born on third base, you still have to pretend that you hit a home run when you slide across the plate.

Alternatively, we could all grow up and not insist that our presidents have to come from log cabins and 20-mile treks through the snow each day. But I guess that's not very likely.

Billionaire Heiress: Poors Should Work Harder

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 2:19 PM PDT
Gina Rinehart, whose inheritance increases by $618 every second.

Note to American exceptionalists: Other countries have insensitive rich people, too. Australian Gina Rinehart, reportedly the world's wealthiest woman, has a message for you poor people. "In her latest column in Australian Resources and Investment magazine," Yahoo reports, "Rinehart rails against class warfare and says the non-rich should stop attacking the rich and go to work":

"There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire," she writes. "If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself—spend less time drinking, or smoking and socializing and more time working."

Pray, what does Rinehart do for a living? She is a "mining heiress," according to the piece.

But she would like you to know that her grandfathers "started at the bottom and worked their way to the top."

Indeed, Rinehart's wealth is derived from a family trust and an executive position in a mining company she inherited from her father after his death in 1992. Since then, she's kept very busy—pouring her wealth into conservative causes and political front groups she helped set up, not unlike the scions of the oil-enriched Koch family here in the states. She recently tried to import cheap visa workers after unionized Australian miners asked for a competitive wage, and in 2011 she sponsored an Australian tour by Lord Christopher Monckton, a noted climate-change skeptic.

Rinehart's fortune reportedly increases by $52 million Australian dollars a day. In US dollars, that works out to be about $618 every second. And she'd really like you to get off your lazy ass and pull your weight, please.

In recent weeks, Mother Jones has explored the phenomenon of mansplaining, when males patronizingly (and often incorrectly) explain things to ladies as if the latter were ignorant children. I'd like to coin a new term for bloviating lectures of the sort Rinehart gave, wherein a rich person confidently tells the non-rich what's wrong with them. While discussing this with the MoJo staff, my colleague Adam Serwer thought of libertarian hero Ayn Rand, who popularized the notion of the super rich being naturally moral. He hit on a good portmanteau: randsplaining. I rather like that. Internets, go do your thing.

Meet the Right-Wing Historian Who Helped Draft the GOP Platform

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 1:23 PM PDT

The official Republican party platform has some pretty extreme stuff. It condemns President Obama for standing up to the persecution of gay people in certain parts of Africa. It takes aim at the the creeping threat of Islamic Shariah law. It calls a nationwide ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape. So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that Texas was represented on the platform-drafting committee by none other than David Barton, the the right-wing historian whose work has influenced everyone from Newt Gingrich to the Texas State Board of Education.

Barton's brand of history is creative. His driving idea is that the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired to found a nation based on Christian principals. As a consequence, he believes that the theory of evolution is antithetical to the Constitution, the Seventh Amendment bans abortion, Jesus would've opposed the minimum wage, and the federal government is controlled by demons. On Wednesday, he told Glenn Beck's television station that of the 71 amendments he'd introduced to the platform, 70 had passed. But Barton's prominence at the RNC comes even as his own work is facing increasing scrutiny from his longtime allies in the Evangelical community. They say many of his claims are unsbustantiated. Earlier this month, Barton's publishing house, Thomas Nelson, pulled his new book, The Jefferson Lies.

When I ran into him outside the front security checkpoint in downtown Tampa, though, (he was easy to pick out, in his trademark cowboy hat and Texas-flag t-shirt), Barton wasn't backing down.

David Barton.David Barton waits outside a Rick Santorum rally in Tampa."See we've got all the documentation," he said. "They've never asked for the documentation. So we're doing a response that comes back out that produces tons more than they've got and it makes them look shoddy. The response is it's the old thing of the rite of confrontation: One side sounds good until you've heard the other." 

Barton promises to shame his critics with new troves of information and testimony from experts. "We have cartons of documentation," he said. "We've taken groups of PhDs through it since the attack came out and they've all agreed, it's documented. The other guys may not like it."

But could Barton provide the names of the professionally trained historians he's said are on his side?

"There are several."

And who are they?

"They'll come out with their own thing. There's a group that will come out with it and stand on it."

In other words, it's a secret. Still, even as his reputation continues to erode among Evangelical scholars, Barton said the kerfuffle over his record hasn't done much to hurt his business. Since he's found a new publisher, "the sales have been through the roof."

"Lawless": Prohibition-Era Gangsters Go Full-On Western

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 11:50 AM PDT

Lawless
The Weinstein Company
110 minutes

There's a movie out in theaters right now that stars Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. Tom Hardy puts on a funny accent. There's lots of killing throughout, and a quest for revenge and redemption.

It's not The Dark Knight Rises.

The film is called Lawless. It competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and is co-produced by Sean "Diddy/P. Diddy/Puff Daddy" Combs' new company, Revolt Films. It's also a bruisingly gorgeous gangster flick, with unexpected tenderness and shoot-'em-up verve.

Lawless is the second collaboration between Aussie director John Hillcoat (The Road) and equally Aussie screenwriter Nick Cave (yes, that Nick Cave), the first being 2005's excellent The Proposition. Just as The Proposition transposed the more unforgiving aspects of the American Western to the colonial Australian outback, Lawless filters the genre's style and aesthetic through Prohibition-era gangland.

Cave's script is deftly adapted from Matt Bondurant's The Wettest County in the World, a novel inspired by the true story of the Bondurant family's bootlegger brothers in rural Franklin County, Virginia. Forrest (Hardy) is the tough-as-nails ringleader. Howard (Jason Clarke) is the brawn-over-brains enforcer. And Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest of the trio—the one with the least experience in killing and maiming, and the most to prove. The boys are legendary around town for the rumors and myth of their "invincibility."

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Mood Lighting at Fast Food Joints Makes You Less Fat

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 11:45 AM PDT

Soft lighting and smooth jazz not only add romance to your fast-food dining experience, they also make you less likely to overeat, says a new study by Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. Researchers transformed part of a Hardee's in Champaign, Illinois into a swanky fine-dining establishment. They left the rest of the restaurant as it was. The (very breathlessly reported) results:

Researchers hypothesized that participants in the fine-dining part would consume more as the relaxed atmosphere would cause them to linger longer and order more food than those in the fast food environment. Interestingly results showed that even though participants in the fine-dining area ate for longer than those in the main eating area they actually consumed less food! Those in the fine dining area were also no more likely to order extra food. Another surprising result is that even though participants in the fine-dining part ate less food they actually rated the food as more enjoyable, so changing the atmosphere can change food consumption and food satisfaction!

The fancy-pants diners consumed 18 percent less food than their casual counterparts. Classy!

Will Mitt Romney Back Down Tonight on His Welfare Attacks?

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 11:40 AM PDT

Anybody want to offer odds on whether Mitt Romney will repeat his dishonest welfare attack during his big prime time speech tonight? If he does, will he go the cowardly route and soften it up so that it's marginally defensible? Or will he have the guts to dive straight into the gutter and repeat his bald advertising claims that Obama is "dropping work requirements" and "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check"?

My prediction: Door #1. He'll repeat the claims, but in front of a big audience, with the press hanging on his every word, he won't have the courage to repeat the specific claims he's already made 6,000 times so far in his TV ads. With the whole nation watching, he'll pretend that the ads don't exist and instead offer up something just hazy enough that only the page A12 fact checkers will bother dissecting it. That's how Mitt usually plays things, after all.

Texas Voter ID Law Goes Down in Flames—For Now

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 10:54 AM PDT

A three-judge federal court has just ruled that Texas's new voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. Rick Hasen explains the decision (I've reformatted his explanation for ease of reading):

This is a careful, unanimous opinion from a three-judge court which rejects most of the social science evidence submitted by both sides on whether Texas’s voter id law imposes greater burdens on minority voters. Instead, the court bases its analysis on three basically uncontested facts:

  1. Minority voters are at least proportionately as likely as white voters in Texas to lack the documents needed for Texas’s new id law (which the Court calls perhaps the most "stringent" in the nation
  2. The new i.d. law will put high burdens on poor people who lack id (many of whom would have to travel up to 200 or 250 miles at their own expense to get the i.d. as well as pay at least $22 for the documents needed to get the i.d.
  3. Minority voters in Texas are more likely to be poor. Using this simple structure, the court concludes that Texas, which bears the burden of proof in a section 5 case, cannot prove its law won’t make the position of protected minorities worse off. And the court suggests this was a problem of its own making: Texas could have made the i.d. law less onerous (as in Georgia, which the court suggests DOJ was probably right to preclear) and Texas could have done more to produce evidence supporting its side at trial, but it engaged in bad trial tactics.

So for now, the Texas law is toast. However, it will almost certainly be appealed, with Texas asking for an emergency injunction allowing the new voter ID law to be used in the November election. "Given the closeness to the election," says Rick, "it is not clear to me that even if the Supreme Court disagrees on some of the analysis with the district court that it would grant such emergency relief. This is a big unknown." Stay tuned.

WATCH: Cutest Kid Ever Talks About Martin Van Buren at the RNC

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 10:40 AM PDT

 

One of our policies at MoJo is that when we stumble across a pair of pint-sized political junkies being quizzed about Martin Van Buren by a flock of eager Young Republicans, we have to stop, grab a minute of video, and relay it to our readers. So here you go. The best stuff comes about 32 seconds in, when Miniature Political Whiz #2 begins talking about Martin Van Buren. The two brothers were at the convention as guests of the Ellen DeGeneres Show.