2012 - %3, August

Mitt Romney is the Only Conservative Left Who Likes Romneycare

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 11:28 AM EDT

The conservative blathering class went bananas yesterday when Mitt Romney's press secretary pushed back against an ad implying that Romney was responsible for the death of a woman whose husband was laid off from a company that went bankrupt under Bain Capital. Nobody minded the pushback. What they minded was Andrea Saul's suggestion that everything would have been OK if this had happened in Massachusetts, which passed Romneycare six years ago. Noam Scheiber comments:

As we await the Romney campaign’s decision about Saul’s fate, it’s worth reflecting on one under-reported aspect of this latest conservative blow-up: Saul was saying precisely what her superiors in the Romney campaign believe, not least of them Mitt Romney.

I spent a lot of time talking to Romney campaign officials while reporting my recent profile of Stuart Stevens, his chief strategist. The unmistakable impression I got from them is that, to this day, Romney remains extremely proud of having passed health care reform in Massachusetts.

....Unfortunately for Saul and Romney, the whole episode confirms the main conclusion of my piece, which is that the campaign has massively underestimated the fever on the right from the very beginning, and that this underestimation continues to complicate their lives in all sorts of ways.

Yeah, that's a bitch, isn't it? But Romney long ago decided that pandering to the fever swamp was his ticket to Pennsylvania Avenue, so it's a little late to abandon them now. He has grabbed the wolf by the ear and can neither hold him nor safely let him go.

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Kevin Drum Smackdown Watch: I Was Wrong About the Olympics

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 10:46 AM EDT

Given my earlier whining about the whiners who don't like NBC's tape-delayed coverage of the Olympics, Matt Bruenig tweets that I should be interested in a new Gallup poll on this subject. And I am! But maybe not for the reason he thinks. Here are the results:

First of all: why do people who aren't watching the Olympics at all even give a damn? And second: why wouldn't you want everything broadcast both live and on tape delay? Granted these aren't big numbers, but why do about a quarter of Americans actively prefer that they be broadcast only one way or the other?

Beats me. However, there's more to this, which should interest anyone eager to see me proven wrong about something. I chastised NBC's critics for being a bunch of overeducated elitists who can afford to watch TV during the day. "Try an 8-to-5 factory job that gets you home at 6 and done with dinner by 7," I said. "Then tell me if you still think it's ridiculous that the Olympics are tape delayed."

Well, Gallup did just that. And it turns out that among college grads, only 9% want events televised live. Among high school grads, 22% want live coverage. You see the same split among high and low-income viewers. Needless to say, it's possible that this is an artifact of high unemployment (and underemployment) among high school grads during the recession. It's also possible that college grads are just smarter, and realized there was no downside to wanting both. Either way, though, my theory is in tatters. I hereby apologize to all my fellow overprivileged couch potatoes.

UPDATE: Hold on a second. NBC Olympics honcho Dick Ebersol says I'm not so wrong after all:

As for the tape-delay controversy, Ebersol offers another example: In Beijing, in one of the more remarkable negotiations in sports television, he convinced the IOC to schedule the swimming finals for the morning. This was a Herculean achievement, and with the time difference it put live swimming on smack in the middle of prime time in the U.S. And, of course, this wasn’t just any swimming competition, this was Michael Phelps going for eight gold medals, and it included one of the closest finishes in Olympic history and one of the greatest relay comebacks.

These London Olympics — with the swimming all on tape delay — beat the ratings for Beijing on every single one of the first seven days.

“It amazes me that we are still talking about this,” Ebersol says. “If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. That’s a very small percentage of people. We’ve done study after study where we ask people when they want to watch the Olympics. They say ‘after dinner.’ Every study, I’ve never seen it less than 80 percent, and it’s usually a lot higher than that.

So there you have it.

Mitt Romney's Dad Got Corporate Handouts: Free McDonald's For Life

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 10:18 AM EDT

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is too often accused of being stiff, awkward, soulless, hardly the type of guy you'd want to drink a beer with. (Romney, like most Mormons, doesn't drink alcohol, anyway.)

And so it's news when Romney offers up a new detail, however minor, about his personal life or childhood, as he did Wednesday with a group of donors in Chicago. At a fundraiser, ABC News reported, Romney recounted how, as a kid, he used to rifle through a sock drawer belonging to his dad, former Michigan governor George Romney, and how little Mitt once struck gold in that drawer:

You know how boys liked to go through their dad's top drawer, just to sort of see what he has in there, maybe find an old coin he might not miss or whatever.

I found a little paper card, a little pink card, and it said this entitles George W. Romney to a lifetime of a hamburger, a shake, and French fries at McDonald's. It was signed by the hand of [former McDonald's executive] Ray Kroc. My dad had done a little training lesson or whatever for McDonald's when there was just a handful of restaurants and I saw this thing and was like, 'This is a gold mine, Dad! What are you doing?' So I had it laminated. My dad, as you know, would go almost every day to a McDonald's restaurant and get either a hamburger or a fish filet sandwich. And he would present this little card and of course the person behind the counter would look and say, 'Well, what is that?' They'd never seen something like that, but he said it was never turned down. They always honored it.

George Romney's love of McDonald's hamburgers and fish filets doesn't seem to have worn off on his youngest son. Mitt's preferred fast-food joint apparently is Carl's Jr.

Medical Journal Blasts Komen for Overselling Mammograms

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced a major shake-up on Wednesday, with CEO Nancy Brinker stepping down and President Liz Thompson leaving the organization in September. Brinker will move to a new role as the chairwoman of the board executive committee, the group announced. Two board members are also departing.

The announcement comes the same week as a new paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) takes aim at Komen for promoting early detection as the key to cancer survival. A recent ad campaign for the group features a smiling woman with the message, "Get screened now." 

"Early detection saves lives," the ads state, adding that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent when it's caught early and only 23 percent when it's not. But Steven Woloshin of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Lisa M. Schwartz of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice point out in their BMJ article that the ads "dramatically overstate the benefit of screening" and neglect to mention that screenings aren't always good for women.

The figure Komen's ad uses is bogus, the pair writes, because the short-term survival rate would most certainly be improved by spotting the cancer earlier. The five years is from the date of diagnosis, meaning screened women would have a longer lead time. Without screening, the cancer isn't caught until it's much farther along. "Comparing survival between screened and unscreened women is hopelessly biased," they write. And the stat says little about longer-term survival rates, which are far more important. They explain:

To see how much lead time can distort five year survival data, imagine a group of 100 women who received diagnoses of breast cancer because they felt a breast lump at age 67, all of whom die at age 70. Five year survival for this group is 0%. Now imagine the women were screened, given their diagnosis three years earlier, at age 64, but still die at age 70. Five year survival is now 100%, even though no one lived a second longer.

Meanwhile, the ads don't mention some of the problems caused by too much screening. Between 20 and 50 percent of women screened every year for ten years will experience at least one "false alarm," which could result in over-diagnosis (which also distorts survival rate figures). For every life saved by an early mammogram, 2 to 10 women are misdiagnosed and undergo unnecessary medical treatment, they write. This is why the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women wait until they're 50 to start getting mammograms, and then only get them every two years.

It's been a rough year for Komen, the ubiquitous cancer charity known for pink ribbons and walkathons. The group drew fire in February after it stopped its grants for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen later reversed course, but the controversy did serious damage to their brand

The Great HFC-23 Scam

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 8:44 PM EDT

A few years ago, Congress passed a tax credit for companies that agree to mix some kind of alternative fuel into their fossil fuels. In theory, this reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is good for the environment. But the paper industry found a loophole: they already use an alternative fuel called black liquor in their plants, so they mixed in some fossil fuels in order to qualify for the tax credit. That's not what Congress had in mind, but hey — a mixture is a mixture. The result was a boom in papermaking because the tax credit was so lucrative.

Today, the New York Times tells us about an international version of this. The UN has a program that provides carbon credits for reducing greenhouse gases, with especially dangerous gases earning more credits. Coolant manufacturers spied an opportunity:

They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.

That incentive has driven plants in the developing world not only to increase production of the coolant gas but also to keep it high....Since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less-damaging alternative gases. That means, critics say, that United Nations subsidies intended to improve the environment are instead creating their own damage.

As it happens, this has been a known problem for about five years (see here and here for more). So why hasn't anything been done about it yet? Blackmail, basically:

The manufacturers have grown accustomed to an income stream that in some years accounted for half their profits. The windfall has enhanced their power and influence....And each plant expects to be paid. Some Chinese producers have said that if the payments were to end, they would vent gas skyward. Such releases are illegal in most developed countries, but still permissible in China and India.

Nice atmosphere you got there, pal. Be a shame if anything happened to it. If you want to know why global warming is going to be so hard to address effectively, this is the answer in a nutshell.  James Inhofe is a pussycat compared to these guys.

Snooki Reads Mother Jones

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 6:29 PM EDT

What does the cast of Jersey Shore do when they're not going to the gym, tanning, and doing laundry? Read Mother Jones, of course:

MTV filmed the skit to promote Power Of 12, its effort to get out the youth vote this November. Jason Rzepka, MTV's vice-president of public affairs, told me that its producers wanted Snooki to be reading a political magazine, and their choice of Mother Jones "reflects the impact of your brand and reporting." (It could also reflect the fact that Snooki is soon to be a mother).

Whether Mother Jones actually appeals to Snooki is less clear. Last month she told Newt Gingrich: "I'm trying to be like you," but then, she might have just been making fun of his efforts to cash in on his celebrity. Whatever Snooki's political affiliations, we're happy for the endorsement. Snooki fans can sign up for a subscription here

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Mitt Romney Suddenly Decides to Support Universal Healthcare

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 5:19 PM EDT

The latest attack ad from the Priorities USA Action, the biggest Obama-linked Super PAC, is basically a 60-second sequel to "King of Bain," the mini-documentary that Newt Gringrich unloaded against Romney during the Republican primaries. In a nutshell, Bain bought a company called GST Steel, loaded it up with debt, then declared bankruptcy and laid off all its workers. One of those workers was Joe Soptic, who lost his health insurance when he was laid off. A couple of years later his wife got laid off from her job, and then a few years after that she was diagnosed with cancer and died. "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone," Soptic says at the end of the ad as a blighted industrial landscape rolls by. "And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned."

That's pretty rough, and the Romney campaign could have attacked back in a number of ways. But oddly enough, they chose this line:

A Mitt Romney spokesperson offered an unusual counterattack Wednesday to an ad in which a laid-off steelworker blames the presumptive GOP nominee for his family losing health care: If that family had lived in Massachusetts, it would have been covered by the former governor's universal health care law.

"To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care," Andrea Saul, Romney's campaign press secretary, said during an appearance on Fox News.

Say what? Their response is, basically, that shit happens, but Soptic and his wife would have been OK if only Missouri had offered universal healthcare to its residents? This from a guy who's all but renounced the universal healthcare he introduced in Massachusetts because the tea party hates it? I feel like I've suddenly been transported into some alternate universe where Mitt Romney thinks every state should offer subsidized healthcare to everyone. I'd sure like to hear more about this.

POSTSCRIPT: On a related note, I continue to be surprised that Romney doesn't seem to have a very effective answer to these kinds of attacks. After all, they've been used against him in every campaign he's ever been in. It's odd. Maybe there's just no good response.

Romney Spokeswoman Promoted Climate Change Denial on Behalf of Exxon

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 3:53 PM EDT

Andrea Saul is the press secretary and chief spokesperson for Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. But before Romney hired her, Saul worked for a DC-based public affairs and lobbying firm that worked to undermine climate science on behalf of corporations like ExxonMobil, according to a detailed new report from Greenpeace's Polluter Watch project.

While working for DCI Group, Saul worked on anti-climate-science campaigns on behalf of Exxon. That included creating the faux news site Tech Central Station, which was used to promote columns from climate deniers like Willie Soon and Pat Michaels. Saul is listed as the contact person on the archived version of the Tech Central page. 

She was also listed as the point person on a press release claiming that there is "no link between increased storm activity and a massive change in global climate" that was released in 2006, several months after Hurricane Katrina. DCI Group also created a video news release downplaying the climate-storm connection, though it's not clear which DCI client paid for that work.

In late 2006, Saul also handled press for group of 17 climate skeptics who were trying to get the American Meteorological Society to weaken its statement on climate change by adding terms like "data uncertainty issues," "natural variability," and "imperfect climate models."

DCI Group also hosted a "strategic discussion on the Clean Air Act" in 2006 that featured a climate skeptics from right-wing think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute as well as a number of Exxon employees, according to a guest list that Greenpeace obtained.

As Greenpeace notes, Saul's "role in shaping Romney's climate and science policy is not known." Romney has always been a bit squishy on climate change, but has only gotten more so over the course of his past two presidential runs. Given Saul's past, it's no surprise the Romney campaign's most mealy-mouthed statements on climate—including "CO2 is a naturally occurring gas" and "he believes it's occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn't know to what extent"—have come directly from her.

Tea Party Shoots Itself in Foot Again

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 1:57 PM EDT

Missouri senator Claire McCaskill has long seemed like a goner: Missouri is getting redder all the time and even McCaskill's brand of centrist liberalism is just too far to the left for her to win reelection. But last night brought her some good news: the winner of the Republican primary was the wingnuttiest of the three wingnuts in the race. Steve Benen summarizes:

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was running third in the three-way primary up until fairly recently, but McCaskill started running ads intended to boost the right-wing congressman with the GOP base in advance of his Senate primary. As the dust settled last night, the scheme worked surprisingly well: Akin won a surprise victory, winning by six points over his next closest challenger.

....What is it, exactly, about Akin that makes him so unappealing to the voting mainstream? The congressman believes the very existence of the federal student-loan program is a "stage-three cancer of socialism." He's also eager to eliminate the minimum wage, believes liberalism is based on "a hatred of God," believes the Bible should be a "blueprint" for American government; and wants to impeach President Obama because, in his mind, the president is "a complete menace to our civilization."

Akin also has a highly attackable voting record, which Greg Sargent documents here.

In the last election cycle, the tea party nearly kept the GOP from winning control of the Senate by nominating unelectable ideologues like Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Christine O'Donnell. They might be doing the same thing this year. Every seat is likely to count, and McCaskill was probably a sure loser against anyone relatively normal. But she has a chance to beat Akin. Three cheers for the tea party!

UPDATE: Andy Kroll has a great review of the Missouri Senate race today and the role that tidal waves of secret money are playing in it. "Dark Money's Top Target," it turns out, is Claire McCaskill.

How Not to Lose Every Shred of Online Data You Own

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 12:49 PM EDT

Mat Honan describes how hackers managed to destroy his entire online life:

Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

There's much, much more to the story, and it contains all sorts of valuable lessons for both users and corporate storehouses. At a minimum, follow James Fallows' advice: (a) use Google's 2-step verification system, (b) use different passwords for all your accounts, and (c) always keep your cloud-based data backed up locally (or, possibly, on a second, separate cloud).

Personally, I've chosen not to use Gmail and not to use the cloud extensively, partly because of security concerns. (Other reasons too, though.) But I religiously follow (b). It's a pain, but if you owned an apartment building you wouldn't use the same key for every apartment, would you?