2012 - %3, August

Republicans are Responsible for our Soaring National Debt

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 6:12 PM EDT

There's no special reason to display this graphic yet again — except maybe for the fact that (a) Jeb Bush is once more begging us to stop blaming stuff on his brother, (b) the Republican Party is about to embark on yet another nonstop yakathon about how the budget deficit is going to doom us all, and (c) the doom-monger in chief, Paul Ryan, will be speaking in prime time tomorrow.

Plus Ezra Klein reminded me of this today. Click the link if you want more detail, but I think the chart pretty much speaks for itself. Nearly every single thing driving the current increase in public debt — tax cuts, wars, the recession, and measures to fight the recession — was a result of Bush-era policies that were enthusiastically supported by nearly every single Republican currently hanging out in Tampa. They only got religion after a Democrat won the White House and had to clean up the mess they left behind.

Their success at convincing half the country that Barack Obama is responsible for our soaring debt is surely one of the greatest political propaganda victories of all time.

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At Anti-Abortion Bash, Todd Akin Is a Hero

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 4:10 PM EDT
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) speaks at a news conference in Chesterfield, Missouri, where he announced his plans to stay in the race for the Senate.

Social-conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly turned 88 two weeks ago, which, for the hundred or so anti-abortion activists gathered inside the front entrance of the Florida Aquarium on Tuesday, means it's time to celebrate with some treats—a five-foot-tall cake, a wall of vanilla cupcakes with chocolate bars on top, and a heaping platter of red meat.

Hosted by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, the event in Schlafly's honor featured a cattle call of conservative luminaries—former Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman famous for introducing the world to concept of "terror babies." Outside, Linda Pickering, a volunteer for a Florida-based group called All Pro Pastors, handed out "precious feet"—gold pins that purportedly replicate "the size and shape of a 10-week unborn baby's feet." Rep. Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate rape"  have thrown a wrench into the GOP's plan to win the Senate and earned stern rebukes from folks like RNC chair Reince Priebus. But at the aquarium, Akin's underwater campaign is nothing to be ashamed of.

"He's repeatedly apologized for it," said Gary Bauer, a longtime social-conservative activist and former GOP presidential candidate. "But I think if somebody's looking for extremism on the abortion issue, it's not an ill-chosen sentence in Missouri, it's the policies being promoted by the Democrats and the president, who favor all abortions with no regulations under any circumstance. That's the extremist position on abortion."

 

William Morgan, a delegate from Franklin, Tennessee, told me he'd seen a number of attendees proudly wearing Akin stickers on their jackets—"and none of them were from Missouri." As he understood it, Akin's comments were "dumb," but his main sin was being inarticulate. "By legitimate rape he meant rapes that are really rape," Morgan says, suggesting that women frequently make false accusations. "This was one dumb statement a politician that's been a congressman for 12 years," Morgan said. (Editor's note: Akin has said many dumb things in 12 years.) 

Precious feet."Precious Feet."

"The best statement I heard was one fellow who called into a radio show the other day and he said, 'I realized that the state motto of Missouri, we're the Show Me State. And Todd Akin has shown the voters of Missouri for 12 years he's the real conservative.'"

Still, even among the most ardent of pro-lifers, there's room for dissent. As the event was emptying out, I ran into Judy Wilson, a volunteer who was admiring a pamphlet declaring sonograms to be the "big guns" of the pro-life movement. Wilson thinks sonograms are tops; she works at an outpatient diagnostic center in the Tampa area and says in her 20 years there she's seen women break down and cry when they see the ultrasound. But she draws the line at Akin. "I don't think he speaks for very many people," Wilson said. "I consider myself pro-life, big-time pro-life, but I've got a window. And so my friends on the other side say I'm pro-choice, because I do have a window where I pick the lesser of two evils."

Guy in Charge of Electing GOP Senators Hasn't Been Following Pennsylvania Senate Race

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 2:46 PM EDT

It seems that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) doesn't read much news.

On Tuesday afternoon at the Republican National Convention, I asked Cornyn what he thought of the controversy surrounding Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, who compared being an unwed mother to being raped. I was wondering whether Cornyn thought Smith's comments (which drew national headlines before his spokeswoman walked them back) might reduce the GOP's chances of winning the seat. Cornyn is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which is charged with electing GOP senators, but he told me he "honestly hadn't followed" the Smith controversy.

There are only a few possible explanations for this. Assuming Cornyn was telling the truth, and the NRSC is remotely competent, it suggests that the NRSC doesn't think Smith has much of a chance of unseating Democratic incumbent Robert Casey Jr., who leads in the polls. If NRSC staff thought the race was competitive, they would have been monitoring it and would have alerted their boss when the GOP candidate made a deeply damaging, headline-grabbing gaffe. The fact that Cornyn seemed not to have heard of the controversy suggests his staff may think it doesn't matter.

US Cars Creeping Toward Decent MPG Standard

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 2:25 PM EDT

I've been looking to buy a car for more than a year now, an adventure I've chronicled here before. I still don't have one, largely because it's really hard to find something that meets both my high miles-per-gallon and low cost standards. But thanks to a new rule that the Obama administration finalized on Tuesday, an ideal car for me might be available … in 2025.

The EPA and the Department of Transportation announced that they had finalized rules that will require new cars and light trucks to hit a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration estimates that the increase will eliminate the need for 12 billion barrels of oil and save drivers $1.7 trillion in gas costs.

Enviros cheered the final rule, even though just a few months ago they were begging the administration to raise the number to 60 miles per gallon. How high to set the target has been a long-standing debate between automakers, enviros, and the Obama administration.

The new rules are pretty tough, particularly when you look at what's on the market right now. The best hybrids currently available are only getting in the 40s when it comes to miles-per-gallon. There are electric cars that get 99 miles-per-gallon-equivalent right now, but those are still pretty rare and expensive, not to mention hard to figure out where to charge them. Meanwhile, there are a lot of cars that are waaaaay down at the bottom when it comes to fuel economy, getting 14 miles-to-the-gallon. The new rules are significant because they will bring the numbers up on the top end, but on the bottom end as well.

These latest rules follow the previous requirement that automakers reach 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That target was the first increase in fuel efficiency since 1990, so it was long overdue. It just might help us catch up with our foreign colleagues, as the European Union already averages 43.3 miles per gallon and Japan averages 42.6.

Televising Ann Romney

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 2:19 PM EDT

Over the weekend, the broadcast networks made it clear that they were going to air only three hours of live convention coverage. That meant skipping Ann Romney's speech on Monday, a decision that produced some backlash. Alyssa Rosenberg pushes back:

Is it really so terrible that, in covering a highly staged event, the networks would exercise some level of discretion over what's newsworthy? If the news divisions think that Ann Romney's speech will merely recapitulate well-worn talking points and retell oft-relayed stories, they're perfectly justified in cutting her. In fact, that should be their job.

....Predictability is what makes it entirely justifiable to not air Ann Romney's speech. It's hard to imagine that Mrs. Romney is going to attempt to sell audiences on a significantly revised portrait of her husband, or make any news. Given that the conventions are staged campaign events rather than places where events are actually decided, it makes sense that the networks (and the rest of the media, for that matter) should exert judgment.

I don't think this holds water. All of the speeches are predictable and staged. Ann Romney's is no more predictable than anyone else's. Do you seriously think that Paul Ryan is going to mount the stage and say something that any of us will find surprising?

More to the point, I think we political junkie types misjudge these things. Ann Romney has no policymaking authority, so we're uninterested in her. Bring on the wonks! I used to feel that way too. But then I got married and discovered that my wife is intensely interested in getting a look at candidates' wives. Not because they're going to say anything about policy, but just because. She wants to get a sense of what kind of people they are, and how they present themselves.

I no longer doubt for a second that there are millions more who feel exactly the same way. The truth, I now think, is exactly the opposite of what Rosenberg suggests. The other convention speeches are all from folks we've seen a thousand times before. We know exactly what they're like and what they'll say. But Ann Romney? She may not make any news on the policy front, but for millions of people this is going to be their first extended look at her, and they may find themselves surprised at what they see. In that sense, she's the least predictable person who will take the stage all week.

Butterball Turkey Employee Admits to Animal Abuse

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 1:50 PM EDT

Back in February, the nonprofit animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals posted a video documenting workers at a North Carolina Butterball turkey facility abusing the birds. (Warning: The video is extremely graphic.)

On Tuesday, reports Mercy For Animals, one of the workers caught on tape, Brian Douglas, pled guilty to felony cruelty to animals. His sentence, according to MFA:

Douglas will serve a sentence of 30 days imprisonment, followed by 6 months intensive probation and 36 months of supervised probation. Douglas was also ordered to pay $550 in fees and fines, and provide a DNA sample to the state, and will be subject to warrantless searches. Four other Butterball employees were also charged with cruelty to animals. Their cases are still pending.

The video shows Douglas and other workers kicking and throwing turkeys and hitting them with metal rods. Pretty hard to imagine, especially if you've ever hung out with turkeys. My hens were some of the most endearing animals I've ever known. Read about my turkey adventures here.

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GOP Platform Calls for Nuking What's Left of McCain-Feingold Law

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 1:16 PM EDT

At this time during the last presidential campaign, the Republican Party's campaign finance law opponents were in something of a pickle. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was their nominee; the tough law banning so-called soft money bore his name; and so, during the 2008 election, the GOP platform couldn't take a rhetorical buzzsaw to the laws curbing the flow of campaign cash into elections.

There's no such problem for Republicans at the 2012 GOP convention. James Bopp, Jr., an influential lawyer who's made a career out of demolishing campaign finance laws, said in a recent interview with the Indianapolis Star that the GOP's 2012 platform will call for gutting what's left of the McCain-Feingold law—namely, the ban on unlimited, unregulated, soft money given to political parties.

The platform, Bopp suggests, will read like a wish list for haters of campaign finance restriction:

Four years ago, he watched with distaste as his party nominated Sen. John McCain as its presidential nominee. With McCain leading the ticket, Bopp said, "we couldn't write in (the platform) that we opposed McCain-Feingold. And we sure as hell couldn't endorse it, so we didn't say anything about campaign finance."

This time, he said, the platform calls for the repeal of the last vestiges of the McCain-Feingold law and opposes passage of the so-called "Disclose Act" in Congress. It would require advocacy groups making more than $10,000 in campaign-related expenditures to disclose contributors who had donated more than $10,000.

What Democrats call basic good government, Bopp sees as an attempt to stifle advocacy groups by making them report donors for ads that run as far as 18 months before an election.

Josh Orton, political director at Progressives United, the nonprofit founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) to fight the influence of corporations in politics, blasted the GOP's campaign finance plank. "McCain-Feingold closed the door on a corrupting system of unlimited money," Orton says. "By advocating its repeal, Republicans are proving that they don't just tolerate corruption in politics, they actually embrace it."

Do Americans Care About Civilian Deaths in Drone Attacks?

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 12:46 PM EDT

Over at the Monkey Cage, James Igoe Walsh has an interesting post about American support for drone attacks overseas. Walsh is interested in what kinds of things might reduce that support.

To figure this out, he performed an internet survey split into four groups. The first group was given a simple description of a drone attack. The other three groups got the same description but with one change:

  • Group 1: Drone attack is described as unlikely to succeed.
  • Group 2: Drone attack will produce about 25 American casualties.
  • Group 3: Drone attack will cause civilian deaths.

The startling results are on the right: the prospect of civilian deaths reduced support more than the prospect of American casualties. "This is a real surprise," Walsh says, "since it means that respondents attach as much or more value on the lives of foreign civilians as they do on US military personnel."

There's a huge caveat to this survey: it's an internet panel, not a random sample. And, of course, it's only one survey anyway. The results might be highly sensitive to question wording and external events. But it certainly suggests that further research on this subject could be fruitful. If it's really true that civilian casualties substantially reduce support for drone strikes, it would certainly explain why the Obama administration is so determined to insist that anyone killed by drones is, almost by definition, not a civilian.

Herman Cain Goes Off (Video): "There are No Racial Implications" to Romney Welfare Ad

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 12:02 PM EDT

 

Herman Cain doesn't see what the big deal is about a roundly debunked Republican claim about President Obama and welfare. The charge, parroted in GOP talking points and a new Romney campaign ad (which a Romney strategist said Tuesday was the campaign's most effective one yet), is that President Obama issued an exemption allowing states to water-down the work requirements to receive welfare benefits. (The exemption, requested by Republican governors, actually did the opposite. It allowed states to adjust their work requirements, giving them the ability to make it harder to receive welfare benefits.)

The racial overtones of the welfare charge are not especially subtle (Newt Gingrich was accused of treading into equally racially-tinged terrain by calling Obama a "food stamp president" during the primary). With that in mind, I asked one of the GOP's most prominent African-American voices, former presidential front-runner Herman Cain, if he was troubled by the welfare ad. Answer: Hell no. Cain's aide said he was in a hurry to get inside the Tampa convention center, but when he heard my question he told his handlers to stop:

There are no racial implications! This is fabricated on the part of the Democrats. Man, I'm just sick of all this so-called racial implications. It is a fair ad that Governor Romney put out about welfare. And for the Democrats to continue to talk about racial implications, they are just trying to deceive people! I'm sick of it! There is only one color that matters in the American dream and that's green! And by the way, there are poor black people and poor white people, and poor Hispanics, so there are no racial implications. Thank you, I had to stop for that.

2016: Not As Scary As You Might Think

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 11:50 AM EDT

Yesterday I did some field research on the modern conservative movement by taking the afternoon off and seeing the right-wing horror flick, 2016: Obama's America. This is what I do for you people. I hope you appreciate it.

The audience was huge for a weekday matinee: probably a couple hundred people. Most were elderly, but that may be just because the theater I went to was near a big retirement community around here. Luckily for research purposes, elderly moviegoers tend to chat with each other fairly loudly during movies, so I can report that it was pretty well received — no surprise, I suppose, since you don't go see a movie like this unless you're pretty receptive to its message in the first place.

So what did I think? Obviously I was never going to buy the film's central premise that Obama hates America because he inherited a raging sense of anti-colonialism from his father, but I was still surprised at how thin it was. I figured it would at least be good agit-prop, but it didn't strike me as all that effective. True believers will lap it up, I suppose, but it's unlikely anyone else will.

The film stars Dinesh D'Souza and is based on his book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage. But it's weirdly unconvincing. D'Souza travels to Indonesia, Hawaii, and Kenya, but doesn't have much luck getting damning quotes from his handful of interview subjects. There's footage of D'Souza on a bus; there's footage of D'Souza on a plane; there's footage of D'Souza on a motorcycle; and there's footage of D'Souza on a boat. And there's lots and lots of footage of Obama's father's grave in Kenya. But there's not much footage that tells us anything about Obama. There's an interview with a professor who worked with Obama's mother, but D'Souza only manages to get her to agree with a leading question about how maybe Obama was taught that his father was a great man. There's an interview with George Obama, who stubbornly refuses to blame Obama for not helping him out. There's an attempted interview with Obama's grandmother, but D'Souza gets kicked out before the interview goes anywhere. There's an interview with a random guy who once knew Obama's father and thinks President Obama is a lot like him. There's an interview with a psychologist who says that a child would normally rebel against the worldview of an absent father, but then kinda sorta agrees that maybe it could happen the other way around too. I can only imagine D'Souza and his co-director banging their heads against the wall in frustration when they got home, wondering how they were going to splice all these dry wells into a gusher of anti-Obama fearmongering.

The only interviews that go well are the ones with committed conservatives who are obviously willing to go along with D'Souza's fantasies in the first place. These include Paul Kengor, who confirms that one of Obama's childhood mentors was a committed communist, and Daniel Pipes, who thinks Obama hangs out with Israel-haters and would show his true anti-Zionist colors if he were reelected.

Beyond that, it's just the usual conspiracy theory melange of Bill Ayers/Edward Said/Jeremiah Wright/etc., paired up with a scary-looking map in which all the Muslim countries are painted green and (somehow) become the United States of Islam. This is Glenn Beck's "caliphate" obsession rewritten for the big screen, but with the added fillip that Obama will make us defenseless against this threat by getting rid of all our nuclear weapons. (Seriously.) The end of the film finally brings the big payoff: D'Souza explains a series of supposedly inexplicable Obama decisions in light of what we now know about his hatred of America. None of it makes sense if you're paying even minimal attention, and Dave Weigel does a good job taking them down here.

So: The film's interviews were mostly weak; the conspiracy mongering was unconvincing; and it's full of non sequiturs, where D'Souza makes bald assertions that aren't backed up by anything that came before. D'Souza himself slouches through the film, looking out of place almost everywhere he goes, and his innocent abroad act really doesn't work.

But that's just little old coastal liberal elite me. The lady sitting next to me, on the other hand, turned to her neighbor after the film was over and said "That's scary." She was convinced. And the audience, tentatively at first but then with gusto, applauded while the credits were running. For true believers, I guess the film works just fine.