2012 - %3, August

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 24, 2012

Fri Aug. 24, 2012 11:41 AM EDT

U.S. Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), replace their targets after conducting a multiple target, live-fire range on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7, at an undisclosed location, Aug. 19, 2012.) DoD photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl, U.S. Marine Corps.

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Iranian Oil Sanctions Still Biting

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 10:51 AM EDT

Via Stuart Staniford, here is a chart of Iranian oil production. It dropped in 2008, probably due to the Great Recession, then plateaued for a while, and then began a steep plunge in the middle of last year. "So the sanctions are definitely biting," Stuart says, and "revenue will likely have dropped much more than production (since only a fraction of production is exported and prices paid will have dropped as Iran's few remaining customers use their leverage to extract price concessions)."

Nonetheless, Iran has shown no signs so far of bowing to international pressure to abandon its uranium enrichment facilities. On the contrary, it's speeding things up. This leads Charles Krauthammer to endorse Anthony Cordesman's proposal for dealing with Iran: establish clear red lines, offer generous terms for giving up their uranium enrichment, and then make it crystal clear that we will use military action to destroy their enrichment facilities if they continue to hold out. This is an alternative that I suspect will gain an increasing number of fans as the Iran stalemate goes on. There are even occasional moments when I'm one of them, though this isn't one of them. This is, unfortunately, not a problem with any good solutions.

Podcast: "A Movie & An Argument"—Tony Scott Memorial Edition

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 9:05 AM EDT

This marks the second episode of our new podcast: A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa and Swin.

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Below, you'll find the audio for this week's episode, in which we discuss:

  • The life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott and trailblazing comedienne Phyllis Diller, both of whom died earlier this week (my joint obituary can be found here, and Alyssa's obit for Scott is here).
  • The phone-sex-related comedy For a Good Time, Call... (a film Alyssa thoroughly endorses), which stars Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Seth Rogen, Justin Long, and Nia Vardalos. It gets a limited release on August 31.
  • The monstrously awful Dax Shepard movie Hit and Run, which I say is currently running neck-and-neck with That's My Boy for title of Lousiest Film of 2012. (It also features perhaps the lamest prison-rape joke ever captured on camera.)
  • That new movie coming out in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides a bicycle for an hour-and-a-half.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thanks for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To hear or download more episodes of this podcast, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

quote of the week

"He's not going to get grassroots support from individuals; I don't think he’ll get organized support by the party or 501(c)(4)s and I don’t know how you survive without that kind of support."
—Republican operative Bradley Blakeman, expressing skepticism about Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) chances at unseating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill after his comment that victims of "legitimate rape" aren't likely to become pregnant. Groups including Karl Rove's dark-money Crossroads GPS have pulled their ads from the race (for now).

 

attack ad of the week

The liberal nonprofit Patriot Majority USA dropped $500,000 on an ad campaign targeting Charles and David Koch for attempting to "buy this year's elections and advance their agenda." But two can play the dark-money game: The web of groups collectively referred to as Patriot Majority has disclosed its mostly union and Democratic bigwig donors since 2006, but Patriot Majority USA doesn't plan to.

 

stat of the week

7 percent: The amount of television stations' revenues that may come from political ads, thanks to super-PACs and nonprofit groups, according to Moody's. TV stations are required to give discounted rates to campaigns, but those rules don't apply for outside spending groups. "It's like Christmas in September for broadcasters. And October," David Keating, head of the pro-Citizens United group Center for Competitive Politics, told Politico.

 

chart of the week

Between 2011 and this July, conservative super-PACs have spent $137.1 million, four times the $33.1 million spent by their liberal counterparts. The Center for Responsive Politics charted this year's numbers:

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Super-PAC Cash Still Favors GOP: Conservative super-PACs continue to dominate their liberal rivals in the latest round of fundraising.
GOP Money Machine Choking Off Support For Rep. Todd Akin: Both Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the GOP's main Senate committee are ending ad support for Akin.
Lefty Dark-Money Group Drops $500K Attacking The Koch Brothers: Patriot Majority, a liberal nonprofit group, says its new ads are the opening shots of a sustained anti-Koch campaign.
 

more must-reads

• An exhaustive account of how nonprofits claiming to be social welfare groups are pouring millions of dollars into the 2012 election. ProPublica
• No one seems to be taking the rule banning campaigns from coordinating with outside spending groups too seriously. Politico
• While his brothers were off playing the dark-money game, Bill Koch built himself a private Old West town. Denver Post

Republicans Attempt to Ax Program Monitoring Carcinogens

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, publishes the biannual Report on Carcinogens, which is one of the primary sources of up-to-date public information about chemicals that are known or suspected causes of cancer. The report has been published since 1980, in response to a directive from Congress. But if Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) gets his way, soon we might lose this detailed information about the chemicals putting us at risk.

Rehberg's proposed Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill for 2013 would eliminate the budget for the Report on Carcinogens (RoC) until the agency follows through with an additional follow up to its 2011 report. (Rehberg's proposal contains a number of highly political cuts, including all funding for President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, and family planning.)

As a bit of background, the 2011 RoC report listed formaldehyde as a "known carcinogen" and styrene an "anticipated carcinogen" for the first time. This, as one might imagine, caused the industries that use those chemicals to freak out.

A few months later, the industry's Republican allies in Congress appended a conference report to the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act directing the Health and Human Services to contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct a review of the RoC's determinations on those two chemicals. As NIH has already affirmed, the Report on Carcinogens is both peer-reviewed itself and drawn from independent, previously peer-reviewed literature. 

HHS is in the process of contracting with NAS to complete that review, but apparently it's not happening fast enough for Rehberg. He and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the appropriations committee, wrote a letter to Sec. Kathleen Sebelius earlier this month asking her to expedite the process. A spokesperson for HHS told Mother Jones the agency is "reviewing the letter and will respond in timely manner."

Meanwhile the budget bill Rehberg and Rogers drafted for next year would bar the National Toxicology Program from doing any work on the next Report on Carcinogens, due out next year, until 30 days after that NAS report is complete.

If included in the final funding bill, this could mean no new RoC report for years to come. NAS reports tend to be long and detailed; a spokesman for NAS told Mother Jones that reports can take anywhere from three months to five years. If the National Toxicological Program has to wait until the NAS evaluation is complete to do anymore work, it would be hard to say when the next RoC would be ready.

Delaying the report would make industry groups, who have made it clear they don't like the RoC process very much, happy. Trade groups like the American Chemistry Council argue that the RoC causes "economic consequences, confusion, and unwarranted fear." And this is just a list—it's not even an attempt to actually regulate those chemicals. (The fact that we don't regulate many known carcinogens is a separate and even more deeply screwed up issue.)

Environmental health advocates are watching the Rehberg bill with concern. "Make no mistake. This isn't an effort to get a more accurate, scientifically-based answer on whether these chemicals are carcinogens," said Jason Rano, director of government affairs with the Environmental Working Group. "This is an effort to get a favorable outcome for industry's bottom line." The American Sustainable Business Council is also asking Congress to protect the report

Cancer has become a big issue in Rehberg's Senate race, with the congressman trading jabs with incumbent Democrat Jon Tester about support for cancer screenings. Rehberg's campaign touts him as a "strong supporter of funding for cancer research, control and prevention." But when it comes to the things that might cause cancer, he seems to be less enthusiastic.

Do These Antibiotics Make Me Look Fat?

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Factory-scale meat producers have a voracious appetite for antibiotics. They use them both to keep animals from falling ill in cramped, filthy conditions; and to make them grow as fast as possible. The mechanism behind that second use is obscure—scientists have known since the '50s that regular exposure to low levels of antibiotics makes animals grow faster, but have never been quite sure why.

A team of researchers led by New York University microbiologist Martin Blaser might have solved the mystery. Their results suggest that it's all about how the drugs affect the' "gut biome"—the billions of bacteria that live inside animals' digestive tracts (including those of that beast, Man). Antibiotics, of course, are designed to target the pathogenic microbes—the ones that make us and animals sick. But they also attack the beneficial ones—the ones that keep us healthy. The gut biome, also known as the "microbiome"—until recently a very little-studied part of our bodies—is emerging as a major topic of research on human health and immunity to disease.

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23 Numbers to Know About the 2012 Republican and Democratic Conventions

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Summer is on its way out. The class of 2016 is shipping out, all the good summer movies seem a distant memory, and the NFL is only in preseason. At this point, you might even be gearing up to live-tweet and intensely hate-watch media coverage of the 2012 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

While you're waiting, here's a rundown of some numbers to know for the nominating conventions in Tampa and Charlotte: 

50,000: The number of people (media, delegates, attendees, merchants, etc.) expected to take part in the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, between August 27 and 30. (Around thirty-two percent of attendees will be journalists; 4.6 percent will be actual delegates.)

35,000: The number of people expected to take part in the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, between September 4 and 6. (Forty-three percent journalists, 16 percent delegates.)

670,000: The number of square feet that make up the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the convention site where Mitt Romney will be delivering his acceptance speech.

The Tampa Bay Times Forum WikiThe Tampa Bay Times Forum Christopher Hollis/Wdwic Pictures/Wikimedia Commons1,600,000: The number of square feet that make up Bank of America Stadium (a.k.a., "Panthers Stadium," on the night the president is speaking), where Barack Obama will be delivering his acceptance speech.

Bank of America Stadium WikiBank of America Stadium UCinternational/Wikimedia Commons

346,037: The population of Tampa.

751,087: The population of Charlotte.

$2,000,000: The amount spent by the Tampa Police Department on 60 new surveillance cameras, all of which are installed downtown.

$765,795: The amount spent by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on security software and a "command center upgrade."

15,000: The number of protesters expected to show up at the Tampa convention site.

10,000: The number of protesters expected to show up at the Charlotte convention site.

$136,000,000: The total amount of cash the two parties have received in public funding for convention security and other expenses.

$175,000,000: Amount of money projected to flow into the local Tampa economy as a result of the four-day-long Republican convention.

$150,000,000: Amount of money projected flow into the local Charlotte economy as a result of the three-day-long Democratic convention.

$55,000,000: The fundraising dollars the Republican host committee expects to haul in during the four days in Tampa.

$36,600,000: The fundraising dollars the Democratic host committee hopes to achieve in the three days in Charlotte. (They likely won't.)

$0: The convention funds Democrats have raised from corporate donors. (This isn't a #fail, per se; it's intentional.) 

33: The percentage of registered voters who identify as Republicans in Hillsborough County, where the city of Tampa is located.

45.2: The percentage of registered voters who identify as Democrats in Mecklenburg County, where the city of Charlotte is located.

Via Ruth's List FloridaVia Ruth's List Florida

49: The age of the Republican keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, at the time of the 2012 convention.

Wikimedia CommonsDavid Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons37: The age of the Democratic keynote speaker, San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, at the time of the 2012 convention.

WikiJamesgatz/Wikimedia Commons20: The number of strip clubs in Tampa.

12: The number of strip clubs in Charlotte.
 

A CAGILLION BAGILLION: The estimated number of highly predictable stories published by various news outlets over the past three months on what the Republican and Democratic national conventions mean for their respective host town's stripper revenue.

The Consumerist/FlickrThe Consumerist/Flickr

What Ever Became of George W. Bush?

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

This may seem like an odd question, but the other day I found myself wondering what had become of George W. Bush. The answer, of course, is nothing. He lives in Dallas with Laura and…that's about it. For all practical purposes, he's disappeared. You'd hardly know that for eight years he was one of the most polarizing presidents in recent memory.

Why? Partly, it's because Bush himself has chosen to keep such a low profile. He makes motivational speeches now and again, and shows up for the odd dedication or funeral, but otherwise keeps to himself. Even his 2010 memoir barely made a splash.

But the real reason is deeper. Bush may have seemed larger than life for eight years, but he left a surprisingly thin legacy. Take his legislative agenda. No Child Left Behind is now widely unpopular among both liberals and conservatives—so unpopular that Congress has spent the past five years assiduously avoiding a vote to reauthorize it. His tax cuts expired in 2010 and are now little more than a political football. His own party wants to repeal key provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley. The Supreme Court has effectively gutted campaign finance reform. On the foreign policy front, his wars are widely viewed as expensive failures. And he was never able to get so much as a vote on Social Security privatization or immigration reform.

That doesn't leave much. Pretty much all that's left is the PATRIOT Act and the Medicare prescription drug bill. That's not much for eight years.

Beyond that, neither party wants anything to do with him. It's not surprising that Democrats still think of him as the Frat Boy President, one of the worst of all time, but what is surprising is that Republicans largely agree. A guy who was hailed in 2000 as the first real conservative since Reagan, and in 2004 as the second coming of Winston Churchill, was all but dead to the GOP by 2008. He was just another big spender who led the economy into a tailspin and then seemed to have no idea what to do about it. By the time his second term finally petered out, his reputation was toxic on both sides of the aisle.

Finally, there's Bush's curious lack of any intellectual legacy. The cynical will suggest that this is because Bush didn't have much of an intellect in the first place, but that's just a cheap shot. Nobody ever accused FDR or Truman of being intellectual giants, but everyone knows what the Truman Doctrine is. Ditto for most other presidents, even if they don't have a capital-D doctrine to their name. By contrast, Bush actually did have a capital-D doctrine to his name, but when Sarah Palin was asked in 2008 whether she supported the Bush Doctrine, she just stared blankly at interviewer Charlie Gibson. Palin took a lot of heat for that, but I actually felt a little bad for her. When I first heard that interview, I remember wracking my brain too, trying to figure just what Gibson was talking about. Is "Bring 'em on" a doctrine?

I'm not sure what to make of all this. I don't even really have a point. It's just sort of astonishing that a guy who was president only three years ago, and who loomed so large for both liberals and conservatives, has disappeared down the memory hole so completely. In the end, for all his swagger, he was a mile wide and an inch deep. Once he left the White House, it was as if his entire presidency had just been a bad dream.

Hence my question: Has any president in the last century disappeared so completely and so quickly from the national consciousness? I don't think so. In that respect, George W. Bush really did turn out to be the world historical figure he always wanted to be.

From the Annals of Jackassery

| Thu Aug. 23, 2012 11:28 PM EDT

If you would like to read the stupidest story of the day, click here. No, I'm not going to give you a hint first. 

The Backlash to the Todd Akin Backlash Starts to Take Form

| Thu Aug. 23, 2012 6:39 PM EDT

The Todd Akin affair is the affair that just keeps on giving. The entire mainstream of the Republican Party may have excommunicated Akin, but Mike Huckabee is having none of it:

In a Party that supposedly stands for life, it was tragic to see the carefully orchestrated and systematic attack on a fellow Republican. Not for a moral failure or corruption or a criminal act, but for a misstatement which he contritely and utterly repudiated. I was shocked by GOP leaders and elected officials who rushed so quickly to end the political life of a candidate over a mistaken comment in an interview.

....Who ordered this “Code Red” on Akin? There were talking point memos sent from the National Republican Senatorial Committee suggesting language to urge Akin to drop out. Political consultants were ordered to stay away from Akin or lose future business with GOP committees. Operatives were recruited to set up a network of pastors to call Akin to urge him to get out. Money has changed hands to push him off the plank. It is disgraceful.

Etc. etc.

So what happens next? My prediction from the start has been this:

  • Akin, figuring that he just has to gut it out until the storm passes, will doggedly insist on staying in the race.
  • Faced with this cold, hard fact, conservatives will eventually invent some reason that liberal criticism of Akin has gone beyond the pale, and will start to rally around him.
  • He will beat Claire McCaskill in November. Not by a lot, perhaps, but he'll still beat her.

I'm going to stick with this. The backlash from the social conservative base has already begun, and I suspect that eventually the mainstream of the GOP will cave in. They'll cave in quietly, but cave in they will. When it becomes clear that (a) Akin is staying in the race and is therefore still key to winning back control of the Senate, and (b) they risk a civil war within the party if they continue to blackball Akin, money and support will begin flowing his way again. It will happen behind the scenes at first, and then more openly as the controversy fades away and the election gets closer.

There are other possibilities, of course. I figure the top three contenders are these:

  1. The pressure gets too intense and Akin bows out.
  2. Party leaders stick to their guns and incite a civil war with social conservatives.
  3. Party leaders eventually cave in and quietly support Akin.

I actually think the open civil war scenario would be a lot more fun and a lot more satisfying, but I'm skeptical that party leaders will let it come to that. I'm sticking with scenario #3. You can cast your vote in comments.