2012 - %3, August

Harry Reid Quintuples Down

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 6:13 PM EDT

Or whatever he's up to now. Via the Huffington Post, here's the latest on the identity of the person who supposedly told Reid that Mitt Romney didn't pay any taxes for ten years:

"This person is an investor in Bain Capital, a Republican also, and somebody who has been dealing with Romney's company for a long, long time and he has direct knowledge of this," said Reid aide Jose Parra, referring to Romney's tax returns.

It's the "direct knowledge" part that's key, of course. It's also the part I find least likely.

In any case, I wonder where this is headed? Reid can't keep playing Twenty Questions forever, can he? At some point he's got to either back off or else produce the guy. Until then, though, this is quite the little Deep Throat he's stringing us along with.

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We Are All Playing Our Assigned Roles Properly

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 5:46 PM EDT

Mark Halperin today:

There has been barely a squawk from any significant and/or loud Democratic voice over Harry Reid’s tax accusations or the new Obama super PAC ad. And yet when Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul makes some stray, random remark about health care, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Erick Erickson go code red in their criticism of Romney and his campaign.

As a snapshot of a key metric — control over their extended teams and keeping people in line — Chicago seems to have a big advantage on this one.

I think Halperin misses the boat here. On both sides, the base will flip out if they feel their candidate is being too meek or too moderate. Likewise, they'll cheer (sometimes publicly, sometimes privately) if their candidate bludgeons the other guy harder or throws out some policy red meat.

Obama bludgeoned the other guy harder, so lefties cheered in private and mostly left him alone in public. Romney seemingly moved a bit toward the center, so righties flipped out. These are two entirely different things, and both sides reacted according to script. It says nothing one way or the other about how well the campaigns are keeping their supporters in line.

Andrew McCarthy's Defense of McCarthyism

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 5:27 PM EDT
Andrew C. McCarthy speaks at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Leading Republicans, including House Majority Leader John Boehner and Sen. John McCain, have rejected Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) and several of her colleagues' claims that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

So with their support crumbling, the Shariah-panic caucus brought out one of their big guns to defend Bachmann's crusade. Andrew C. McCarthy, a National Review columnist and former federal terrorism prosecutor, headlined a Center for Security Policy event in Washington on Wednesday in which he accused the Obama administration of Islamist sympathies. "There is something terribly wrong if members of Congress were not asking questions about Islamist influence in our government," McCarthy told the largely sympathetic audience at the National Press Club. "Islamophobia is a term that was manufactured by the Muslim Brotherhood precisely for the purpose of browbeating people into silence about the activities and threat posed by Islamic supremacism." 

This isn't the first time McCarthy has used the credibility he's earned as a former prosecutor to lend legitimacy to nutty accusations. In September of 2009, McCarthy alleged that "terrorist sympathizers" had "assumed positions throughout the Obama administration." By "terrorist sympathizers," McCarthy meant Obama administration lawyers who had represented Gitmo detainees or challenged Bush-era war on terror policies the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. Many of these lawyers went on to defend policies like targeted killing and indefinite detention, but to McCarthy, they were all foot soldiers in a "Grand Jihad,"—the title of a book in which he argues that the Muslim Brotherhood and the American left have teamed up to destroy America. "What do health care reform and 'the Grand Jihad' have in common?" National Review's Kathryn Jean-Lopez asked McCarthy in a 2010 interview. "They both enjoy support of Islam and the left," McCarthy replied. "In this context, by 'Islam,' I mean the Islamist movement." Great Islamists in history: Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Ted Kennedy.

TV Has Been Improved So Much It Now Sucks

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 4:05 PM EDT

My TV does motion smoothing? Really? Apparently, yes, it does. I had no idea.

Actually, as it turns out after I checked, my TV doesn't. It's too old, I guess. On the other hand, it is set by default to "Vivid" mode, another hellish abomination that I'm supposed to turn off. "Cinema" mode is preferred by the cognoscenti. You learn something new every day.

Anyway, the linked column is from Scott Tobias, and he recommends this post from Stu Maschwitz if you really want to understand what's going on with your shiny new high-def TV. It was pretty interesting! Personally, though, I'd be happy if I could just get my TV to consistently use the correct aspect ratio all the time — or, in a pinch, at least have enough manual settings that I could always choose one that works. But it doesn't seem to. It's too old, I guess.

Louisiana School Revokes Pregnancy Policy

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 1:50 PM EDT

A Louisiana public charter school drew criticism this week for requiring female students "suspected" of being pregnant to take pregnancy tests—and expelling students who tested positive. But a national outcry has led the school to scrap the rule, according to school offiials.

From the Associated Press:

No one at Delhi Charter School in rural northeast Louisiana realized there was anything wrong with the policy until the American Civil Liberties Union's state chapter threatened to sue, said chairman Albert Christman. The policy has gotten "everybody up in a roar," he said.

The change was prompted by a letter from the ACLU of Louisiana that pointed out that the policy violated federal law and the Constitution. In its response to the change, the ACLU noted that Christman "claimed that the policy was intended to protect students from ridicule and harassment."

"Blaming the victim is never the appropriate response to misconduct," Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in the release. "If students at Delhi are being harassed, the school's responsibility is to protect them while ensuring their education."

Dehli claims that "just a handful" of female students had been affected by the policy since it was instated in 2006. But when students return to school next week, it will no longer be in effect.

Mitt Romney Sure Does Lie a Lot, Doesn't He?

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 12:44 PM EDT

Paul Waldman has done a lot of academic research on political ads. In fact, he says, he has personally watched "every single presidential general election campaign ad ever aired since the first ones in 1952." So what does he think of Mitt Romney's new ad that claims President Obama has a plan for "dropping work requirements" for welfare? "Under Obama's plan," says the narrator, "you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."

I've seen ads that were more inflammatory than this one, and ads that were in various ways more reprehensible than this one (not many, but some). But I cannot recall a single presidential campaign ad in the history of American politics that lied more blatantly than this one.

…Usually candidates deceive voters by taking something their opponent says out of context, or giving a tendentious reading to facts, or distorting the effects of policies. But in this case, Romney and his people looked at a policy of the Obama administration to allow states to pursue alternative means of placing welfare recipients in jobs, and said, "Well, how about if we just say that they're eliminating all work requirements and just sending people checks?" I have no idea if someone in the room said, "We could say that, but it's not even remotely true," and then someone else said, "Who gives a crap?", or if nobody ever suggested in the first place that this might be problematic. But either way, they decided that they don't even have to pretend to be telling the truth anymore.

This is what's so striking about Romney's campaign. As Paul says, it's common to twist and distort and cherry pick. But Romney has flatly claimed that Obama said something that, in fact, a John McCain aide said. He's snipped out sentences from an Obama speech and spliced the two halves back together so nobody could tell what he did. Then he did it again to another Obama speech. And he unequivocally said that Obama plans to drop work requirements for welfare even though he's done nothing of the sort.

This really is a post-truth campaign. It's different. It's one thing to be nasty. All campaigns are nasty. It's one thing to twist and distort and mock. Every campaign does that too. Even the attacks on Al Gore in 2000, as vicious as they were, were mostly media inventions. The Republican campaigns had the distortions handed to them on a platter.

But this is different. This is a presidential candidate just baldly making stuff up on the assumption that nobody will ever know. After all, they figure, who the hell reads Glenn Kessler aside from a bunch of Beltway nerds? And I guess they're right.

But if it works, I wonder what 2016 will look like?

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Report: David Koch Will Be a Romney Delegate

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 12:26 PM EDT

David Koch has helped to raise millions of dollars for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, placing him among Romney's most successful super-fundraisers, known as "bundlers." Now the billionaire industrialist and Koch Industries executive is set to represent Romney as a delegate at the Republican National Convention in late August.

Koch, who with his older brother Charles is marshaling hundreds of millions of dollars for GOP causes in 2012, is listed as one of 34 at-large delegates by the New York Republican Party, according to National Journal. It's unclear if Koch will actually go to Tampa to vote to formally give Romney the GOP nomination, but if he does, you can expect quite a stir given Koch's prominence in conservative circles and demonization by liberals.

Koch helped found Americans for Prosperity, the powerful conservative nonprofit organization headquartered in northern Virginia. AFP is a major player in the 2012 election cycle. It has launched sophisticated voter registration campaigns in battleground states and is expected to unload $25 million on ads urging people to vote President Obama out of the White House. AFP had never before run ads expressly saying "vote for" or "vote against" a particular candidate, AFP president Tim Phillips told reporters this week. But Phillips cited the "disastrous economic policies of this administration" as the driving force behind the anti-Obama ad blitz. (The real reason for AFP's new ad strategy may have more do with this.) The first wave of anti-Obama ads, Phillips added, will cost $6.7 million and run in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

David Koch's personal support for Romney includes a $50,000-a-head fundraiser in July at his oceanfront home in Southampton and another 2010 Hamtpons fundraiser.

Will Bird Flu Research Cause a Bird Flu Outbreak?

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 11:30 AM EDT
Handle with care.

Five simple mutations in two genes were all it took for Ron Fouchier's team at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam to develop a version of the H5N1 virus, commonly known as bird flu, that was airborne transmissible in mammals. In the wild, such a transformation requires more like 40 mutations, which would take years, numerous generations, and plenty of random chance.

In a controversial experiment, Fouchier's research team exposed ten generations of lab ferrets (many of which were euthanized after only a week) to a genetically modified strain of H5N1 that researchers had isolated from an infected human in Indonesia during the 2005 outbreak. (Ferrets have been used as human substitutes in flu research since 1933.) The goal of the experiment, their report states, was to investigate "whether A/H5N1 can aquire mutations that would increase the risk of mamalian transmission." The conclusion was an overwhelming yes—and around the world, the public reacted to the news by demanding an end to the research.

In January, 39 of the world's leading flu scientists announced a voluntary moratorium on avian flu transmission research. "We realize that governments and organizations around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from this work," the group said in a statement. The halt on research was supposed to last 60 days. Eight months later, it has yet to resume.

The "challenges" that stem from research like this are multifold. Initially, as Mother Jones senior editor Mike Mechanic reported, the concern was that publishing papers like Fouchier's (as well as a similar one by Yoshishiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconisn that made H5N1 transmissible in just four mutations) would give any genetic scientist with a taste for bioterrorism the recipe for a global pandemic. H5N1 is deadly: It has wiped out flocks of poultry across Europe and Asia since the first outbreak in 1997, and New Science reports that since 2004, 565 people who were in close proximity to infected birds have caught the virus—and 331 of them have died. The number of human casualities is relatively low because H5N1 was a virus that could only be contracted through contact with infected birds, and would not spread from human to human.

That is, until Fouchier and Kawaoka's teams created strains that would.

Unemployment Claims Continue to be Stubbornly High

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

Steve Benen put up his weekly chart of initial unemployment claims today, and I thought it might be useful to put up a slightly different version of the chart. This one is a 4-week moving average, so it removes a bit of noise from the figures, and it starts in January, so it shows us only how the economy has been doing this year.

Unemployment claims have dropped dramatically since the peak of the recession in 2009, but as you can see, they haven't really budged much since the beginning of the year. They're bouncing up and down around a mean of 370,000 or so, and don't show much sign of getting down into the neighborhood of 320,000, where we'd like them to be. This is hardly surprising news or anything, but it's yet another sign that we should be doing a lot more to shift the economy into a higher gear.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 9, 2012

Thu Aug. 9, 2012 10:54 AM EDT

Two Humvees dangle below a CH-47 Chinook during a sling load demonstration at Campbell Army Airfield on August 7, 2012. This demonstration was a rehearsal for the air assault that will occur on August 11 as part of the Fort Campbell Air Show. Photo via the US Army.