2012 - %3, August

Bostonians Freak Out About Mural Because..SHARIAHH!

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

On August 1, Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art unveiled this new mural on the side of a building on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway:

Courtesy of Os GemeosCourtesy of Os GemeosThe mural depicts a boy in a pajamas with what looks like a jacket tied around his head. It accompanies a new exhibit by a Brazilian duo known as Os Gemeos. Maybe you see where this is going?

A vivid mural on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in Dewey Square is the subject of some controversy after Fox 25 aired a piece in which passersby told a reporter that the painting resembles a terrorist. The TV station then posted an image of the cartoonish figure on its Facebook page and invited people to comment on it. Several dozen people responded, many of them saying it looks like a Muslim terrorist and urging it be removed.

Or as another critic put it, "I don't care what it is 'supposed to be' or who the 'artist' is, it looks like a kid in his pajamas trying to look like an Al Quieda operative."

The city offers a helpful explanation of the mural, noting that Os Gemeos' characters "inhabit fantastical, dream-like landscapes of joy and color; other times we see them in more everyday situations—riding the subway, sitting at home with their families or, in the case of the figure on the Greenway mural, just peering at the busy city life unfolding below." Likewise, "The figures are frequently shown wearing whimsical hats, colorful hoods or scarves—another hallmark feature of the artists' work."

So, you know, this is a totally normal mural and everyone should take a deep breath and go back to freaking out about the Red Sox.

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Tax Pandering Reaches Olympic Heights

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 11:50 AM EDT

Matt Yglesias tells me something I didn't know today:

If they gave out awards for dumb new policy ideas, President Obama and Republican rising star Sen. Marco Rubio would both be medaling this week. Their achievements? Rubio’s completely pointless bill offering a tax break to recipients of Olympic medals and—even worse—the president’s decision to hop on the bandwagon rather than show the country he has a firmer grasp on the issues than his adversaries do.

....With the president now on board, there’s a good chance Rubio’s idea will become law. In fiscal terms, the change will be minuscule. In terms of fairness, it seems like a strange slight to winners of other kinds of prizes. Are Olympic medalists worthier than winners of the Nobel or Pulitzer prizes? And of course exempting all prize income from income tax could merely encourage all kinds of people to restructure their income as prizes. The J.P. Morgan Memorial Prize for Achievement in Investment Banking, anyone?

I knew about Rubio's ridiculously panderific bill, but I didn't know Obama had endorsed it. Aren't election years great? And what luck for (summer) Olympians that they're getting saturation TV coverage precisely 90 days ahead of an election framed largely around tax rates! The Nobel prize winners aren't so lucky, but who knows? October isn't so bad either. Maybe they can whomp up a nice PR campaign right around the time of the presidential debates. After all, Nobel prize winners have a much stronger claim to being "job creators" than a bunch of jocks.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 8, 2012

Wed Aug. 8, 2012 11:47 AM EDT

US Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Daniel Nelson, a Security Force member of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, provides security during a key leader engagement at Malaa Lay Maiwand School in Farah City, Farah province, Afghanistan, on August 1, 2012. The PRT members are engaging local school officials to assess the condition of city schools and encourage student participation. PRT Farah's Security Force is made up of National Guard infantrymen out of Alaska who are responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone assigned to PRT Farah. Photo by the US Army.

Our Hobbesian Future

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 11:17 AM EDT

Jonathan Zasloff thinks I'm wrong. He thinks Harry Reid really does have a credible source for his claim that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for ten years. I find this implausible in the extreme, but if Jonathan really does believe this, then it's fine to defend Reid. Unfortunately, he then goes on to make another point:

Second, let’s think for a moment: what if Reid actually were making up this source? So what? As I pointed out beforehand, Romney has the evidence that Reid or his supposed source is wrong, and it is totally reasonable to ask Romney to release his taxes as have all candidates for the last 40 years.

....What precisely is contemptible? That Reid is using a more specific claim to get Romney to do something that every candidate for the last 40 years has done? That he has made his claim more specific? That instead of saying “I bet Romney paid no taxes” he is saying “someone credible told me that Romney paid no taxes”? When Romney himself could disprove it easily by simply adhering to the same rules of conduct that everyone else does? That is what is so contemptible? In an election being waged over the attempt to create permanent plutocratic/theocratic domination of the country?

This is bad stuff. If we're at the point where both sides publicly hold that it's defensible to simply make stuff up because the stakes are so high, we've abandoned all pretense of caring about the truth. Nor is the idea that it's defensible to make up any charge as long as it's somehow rebuttable much better.

I'm not even sure how to react to my critics anymore. When a bare minimal standard of decency (no flatly invented stories) is widely mocked as pearl clutching and fainting couch-y, there aren't really any standards left aside from "whatever works." All I know is that I want no part of that.

By the way, it's really not true that every candidate for the past 40 years has released all their relevant tax information. John McCain released only a couple of years of returns, and released none of his wife's returns even though that's where the vast majority of his family's wealth lies. Likewise, John Kerry never released his wife's returns, which accounted for the vast majority of his family's wealth. I agree that Romney should release more of his tax returns, and I think it's fine for Democrats to beat him up about it. But let's keep our facts straight.

Tom's Kitchen: Raw Kale Salad, With Hat Tips to Brooklyn and Caesar

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
A table, hippies and hipsters alike!

Raw kale salad is a perplexing dish.

On the one hand, it's what the French (or, at least, certain Parisians) call “très Brooklyn," a term, according to a notorious recent New York Times trend piece, that "signifies a particularly cool combination of informality, creativity and quality." I was introduced to raw kale salad years ago in the kitchen of an excellent Brooklyn hipster home cook and recently sampled a stellar version at Al di La, the groundbreaking Italian restaurant in Park Slope. Très Brooklyn Manhattan restaurants Back 40 and Northern Spy also feature it to great effect.

On the other hand, it's hippie food straight out of a backwoods '70s commune. I mean it's raw ... kale. Just the words strung together conjure images of nutritional yeast and Bragg's Amino Acids and wheat germ.

US Climate Envoy Pooh-Poohs 2 Degree Goal

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

US climate envoy Todd Stern is stirring up some international debate after suggesting that the world should drop the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F).

To recap, back during the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the US and other countries reached a non-binding political agreement that, among other things, stated that they would aim to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. (And that goal was contentious, as many of the most-impacted and least-developed countries wanted a goal of 1.5 degrees.) Two years later, in Durban, negotiators outlined a path forward for a legal agreement, stating that they would try to negotiate a deal by 2015 that would take effect in 2020.

So, when Stern suggested ditching that goal in recent remarks at Dartmouth College (via Climate Progress), other countries were none too happy. Here's what Stern said:

This kind of flexible, evolving legal agreement cannot guarantee that we meet a 2 degree goal, but insisting on a structure that would guarantee such a goal will only lead to deadlock. It is more important to start now with a regime that can get us going in the right direction and that is built in a way maximally conducive to raising ambition, spurring innovation, and building political will.

The European Union and small island states are understandably upset about the remark. It's worth noting that the world is on path right now to blow right past 2 degrees and head right to 4 degrees warming. But setting a goal of 2 degrees is one of the only things that countries have actually committed to over the past few years of tepid, wishy-washy half-agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It's one of the few remotely ambitious commitments out there. And one of, if not the main, reasons that the commitments lack ambition has been the US, which keeps arguing for "flexible, evolving" agreements rather than a binding legal treaty.

UPDATE 8/8/12, 1:26 PM EDT:  Stern released a statement Wednesday claiming that his remarks were misinterpreted, while still saying that an approach that would "guarantee such a goal" would likely fail:

There have been some incorrect reports about comments I made in a recent speech relating to our global climate goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Of course, the US continues to support this goal; we have not changed our policy. My point in the speech was that insisting on an approach that would purport to guarantee such a goal—essentially by dividing up carbon rights to the atmosphere—will only lead to stalemate given the very different views countries would have on how such apportionment should be made. My view is that a more flexible approach will give us a better chance to actually conclude an effective new agreement and meet the goal we all share.

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Superinsects Are Thriving in This Summer's Drought

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
A western corn rootworm hunts for a corn root.

This summer, a severe drought and genetically modified crops are delivering a one-two punch to US crops.

Across the farm country, years of reliance on Monsanto's Roundup Ready corn and soy seeds—engineered for resistance to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide—have given rise to a veritable plague of Roundup-resistant weeds. Meanwhile, Monsanto's other blockbuster genetically modified trait—the toxic gene of the pesticidal bacteria Bt—is also beginning to lose effectiveness, imperiling crops even as they're already bedeviled by drought. Last year, I reported on Bt-resistant western rootworms munching on Bt-engineered corn in isolated counties in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. 

This summer, resistant rootworms are back like the next installment of a superhero blockbuster movie franchise. In a July 30 post, University of Minnesota extension agents Ken Ostlie and Bruce Potter report they've seen a "major [geographical] expansion" of rootworm damage throughout southern Minnesota, where Monsanto's corn is common. The severe drought, they add, has "masked" the problem, because rainstorms typically make rootworm-damaged corn plants fall over, and rainstorms haven't come this year.

People Just Don't Like Mitt Romney, Part 34

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 1:16 AM EDT

According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, Mitt Romney still isn't doing well in the "connecting with other humans" department:

Mitt Romney is laboring under the lowest personal popularity ratings for a presumptive presidential nominee in midsummer election-year polls back to 1984....Forty percent of Americans overall view Romney favorably, 49 percent unfavorably....A new high of 30 percent now see him “strongly” unfavorably, nearly double his strongly favorable score

Romney got a nice bounce upward after the primary battles ended in April, but he's started to slide back down over the past few weeks. The only good news for the Romney camp is that although Obama is far better liked than Romney among the general population, the gap is only seven percentage points among registered voters. So there's that to cling to.

Mitt Romney and His Mysterious $102 Million IRA

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 12:18 AM EDT

This morning I blasted Harry Reid for inventing a story about a mysterious informant who told him that Mitt Romney hadn't paid any income taxes for the past ten years. One reason for thinking that Reid invented this is the sheer implausibility of Romney avoiding taxes for an entire decade. One year, maybe. Two years, still a possibility. But not ten.

I'm sticking to my guns on this, but there's now a sliver of doubt. Today, for the first time that I know of, someone has produced a reasonable-sounding scenario that explains how Romney might have paid either zero or close to zero in income taxes for eight years. It's related to Romney's $102 million IRA, something that's been tantalizing us ever since it showed up in his 2010 tax return. You can read it here.

Quote of the Day: The Upside of Looming Nuclear Annihilation

| Tue Aug. 7, 2012 9:29 PM EDT

From Will Wilkinson, on being bored with the news over the past week or two:

Say what you will about the looming risk of total nuclear annihilation, it kept the Olympics interesting.

Will just moved to Houston, so the rest of the post is about the Houston media's frenzied coverage of the Chick-fil-A controversy.