2012 - %3, October

Are High-Fructose Corn Syrup Makers in Denial?

| Thu Nov. 1, 2012 1:31 PM PDT

Whoa! Did the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) seriously just put out a press release using our just-published exposé, "Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies," as a cudgel in its court battle royale with the sugar industry? Why yes, it did. And I quote:

In court documents filed yesterday, attorneys for the U.S. sugar industry tried to deny that The Sugar Association is deceiving consumers into believing that processed table sugar is safer and more healthful than high fructose corn syrup, even as several recent media stories revealed they are funding secretive campaigns to attack HFCS and other sweeteners.

In the newest issue of Mother Jones, the cover story "Sweet Little Lies" chronicles the sugar industry's decades-long use of paid-for allies to mislead the news media, public and regulators through front groups and questionable science. Just weeks ago, a Bloomberg investigative reporter revealed that The Sugar Association has recently paid $300,000 to the phony consumer group, Citizens for Health, to launch petitions and other sponsored activities to stir-up baseless consumer concerns about high fructose corn syrup.

Wow, okay then.

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Scary Climate Change Stories Aren't Working. What's Next?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 11:23 PM PDT

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which he calls "a window into the way ahead," Nick Kristof chides the media and our political class alike for paying too little attention to climate change:

Politicians have dropped the ball, but so have those of us in the news business. The number of articles about climate change fell by 41 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to DailyClimate.org.

HThere are no easy solutions, but we may need to invest in cleaner energy, impose a carbon tax or other curbs on greenhouse gases, and, above all, rethink how we can reduce the toll of a changing climate. For example, we may not want to rebuild in some coastal areas that have been hammered by Sandy.

....Democrats have been AWOL on climate change, but Republicans have been even more recalcitrant. Their failure is odd, because in other areas of national security Republicans pride themselves on their vigilance. Romney doesn’t want to wait until he sees an Iranian nuclear weapon before acting, so why the passivity about climate change?

Let's do something useful here. Yesterday I wrote a discouraged post suggesting that the world was unlikely to seriously respond to climate change in time to prevent catastrophe, so maybe we should spend more time instead thinking about adaptation and geoengineering, the latter as a last-resort option. I got a lot of pushback on this, which I probably deserved, since it sounded like I was giving up entirely on the idea of fighting greenhouse gas emissions. I wasn't, but I was talking out loud about the likelihood that even if we keep up the fight, it probably won't be enough. There are just too many big forces pushing in the opposite direction.

One emailer who pushed back suggested we just needed to keep fighting relentlessly. It worked for Republicans on tax cuts, after all, so it could work for us on climate change. I told him I didn't buy that. Republicans are working with self-interest in the case of taxes. Everyone likes low taxes, so it's easy to convince them that low taxes are worth fighting for because they're also good for the economy. But in the case of climate change, we're working against self-interest. Way against. We have an invisible, far-future bogeyman we want to stop, but to do so requires considerable personal sacrifice right now today. It will cost us money in higher energy prices, force us to do things we don't want (eat less meat, stop using plastic bags, give up our SUVs, etc.), and make us change our habits. Sure, there's low-hanging fruit that's an easier sell, but it's nowhere near enough. There's just no getting around the hard stuff. So I don't think that merely fighting relentlessly will be enough.

But my real gripe, I said, was that the liberal strategy basically amounts to writing scary stories—something I've done my share of. And there's good reason for that: climate change is scary stuff, so merely writing about it accurately is inherently scary. Still, we've been writing these scary stories for more than two decades now, and I think that's long enough to conclude that they don't work very well. So while I agree with Nick Kristof that the press should write more about climate change, that mostly amounts to writing more scary stories. And I just don't think that's going to do the job.

So here's the something useful: if you agree with me that the scary story strategy has proven insufficient, what should we be doing instead? The answer can be either substantive (concentrate more on green R&D, for example) or rhetorical (use something other than scary stories to convince people they should endure a considerable amount of inconvenience in order to fight climate change). In either case, you should assume that Republicans and the fossil fuel industry will continue to fight us tooth and nail. No ponies allowed.

So that's the question: what's next? If scary stories aren't doing the job, what will?

Texas, Iowa Threaten to Arrest Election Observers

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 3:42 PM PDT

When news broke last week that the United Nations-affiliated Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was dispatching election observers from 23 nations to the United States, conservative groups went up in arms, claiming that liberal activists had sought international assistance to fight Republican-led voting reform efforts. Soon afterward, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatening the observers with arrest if they got within 100 feet of a polling place and complaining that OSCE officials had met with a group formerly affiliated with ACORN. Yesterday, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who has made voter fraud a central theme of his time in office, followed suit, saying that there would be "no exception" made for OSCE members to enter polling stations.

As a member of the OSCE, the United States has invited outside observers into the country since 2002 without incident. The State Department dismissed Abbott's complaint, saying that the election observers are simply observers (and would be eligible for immunity if they are arrested). "[T]he mandate of the OSCE is designed to be absolutely and completely impartial, and that's what we plan on when we participate and that's what we'd expect here," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the Washington Examiner. The OSCE expressed willingness to meet with both liberal and conservative voter groups and has acknowledged the controversy over GOP-led voter ID efforts in a report released earlier this month.

In any case, any role the OSCE plays on November 6 will probably be minimal. A list of election observers uploaded by conservative attorney J. Christian Adams suggests that only two observers will be in Texas, both in Austin; two others are scheduled to be in Des Moines, Iowa. But the OSCE, which sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Abbott's threat of arrest "unacceptable," also responded to Abbott, saying that it plans to follow state laws and wouldn't need to enter polling places in order to observe the election. In addition to monitoring potential voter suppression, the OSCE also plans to research campaign finance, new voting technology, and the media. Meanwhile, many more American election monitors will be at polling stations, ranging from impartial observers to labor union members and recruits from a tea party group.

The Case Against the Case Against Obama

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 2:57 PM PDT

Jon Chait practically reads my mind today:

I decided to support Barack Obama pretty early in the Democratic primary, around spring of 2007. But unlike so many of his supporters, I never experienced a kind of emotional response to his candidacy. I never felt his election would change everything about American politics or government, that it would lead us out of the darkness. Nothing Obama did or said ever made me well up with tears.

Possibly for that same reason, I have never felt even a bit of the crushing sense of disappointment that at various times has enveloped so many Obama voters. I supported Obama because I judged him to have a keen analytical mind, grasping both the possibilities and the limits of activist government, and possessed of excellent communicative talents. I thought he would nudge government policy in an incrementally better direction. I consider his presidency an overwhelming success.

It took me longer than Jon to decide between Obama and Hillary Clinton, but otherwise this mirrors my reaction precisely. In a way, though, all it shows is that both Jon and I missed something in 2008. I simply never took seriously any of Obama's high-flown rhetoric—Hope and change, Yes we can! You are the solution, etc.—dismissing it as nothing more than typical campaign windiness. From the first day, I saw Obama as a sober, cautious, analytic, mainstream Democrat: a little to the left of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but fundamentally right smack in the middle of American liberalism. He'd get a bunch of good stuff done, but on other stuff he'd either never support a progressive position in the first place (Afghanistan, cramdown, etc.) or else he'd support it but fail to get his program through Congress (Guantanamo, cap-and-trade).

Apparently, though, a lot of lefties really did buy the hype. Or so it seems. To this day, however, I wonder just how many of the people who are disappointed in Obama are liberals who took the campaign oratory seriously vs. moderates who are simply worn down by the long economic downturn and hesitant to give Obama another four years. Somebody ought to do a poll....

Not a Polar Bear in Sight: Arctic Ocean Diaries No. 11

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 2:19 PM PDT

Polar bear diorama at Anchorage airport: Julia WhittyPolar bear diorama at Anchorage airport: Julia WhittyI'm home from my cruise aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and its science mission to study the effects of a changing climate on the Arctic Ocean. When I set out a month ago I never imagined that we'd never encounter any sea ice (I wrote more on that here). And that the only polar bears I'd see were these stuffed specimens on display at the Anchorage airport. Naturally I'm disappointed.

But for the bears who couldn't find any sea ice within 500 miles of Alaska, and for the seals who need sea ice to haul out onto for pupping, and for the Arctic foxes who make a living following polar bears across the ice, and for the ivory gulls who do the same, and for the people of the Western Arctic who rely on subsistence hunting, the situation may well have been desperate this year.

As Jeremy Mathis, chemical oceanographer at University of Alaska Fairbanks and one of the principle investigators aboard my Healy cruise, told me: "We fell off a cliff in 2007 when Arctic sea ice extent hit a record low. And we fell of another this year."

2012 Arctic sea ice minimum (top). 1984 Arctic sea ice minimum (bottom): NASA Earth ObservatoryThe 2012 Arctic sea ice minimum (top) compared to the 1984 Arctic sea ice minimum (bottom): NASA Earth ObservatoryThings are changing so rapidly in the Arctic. Yet we have few baseline data with which to understand these changes. Aboard Healy I watched every scientist working as hard as humanly possible just to try and catch up with events racing away from us.

It reminds me of another monumental story I covered: disastrous change, few data, poor understanding, and the need to learn faster than we've ever learned before. That was BP's Deepwater Horizon oil debacle in the Gulf of Mexico.

Deploying a mooring buoy from UCGC icebreaker Healy, Arctic Ocean, October 2012: Julia WhittyScience and Coast Guard crew work to deploy a mooring buoy from USCG icebreaker Healy in the Arctic Ocean, October 2012: Julia WhittyWhat I found most hopeful aboard USCGC Healy was the impressive cooperation between US military personnel—the hardworking Coast Guard crew—and scientists from around the world. They worked different aspects of this science mission. But it was clear they were working the same mission and shared many of the same concerns.

I'll be writing more about this cruise in the coming months, what the data are revealing, and what that might mean for our collective future as Earth's climate continues to warm.

Jeremy Mathis' research aboard Healy is supported by the National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs. My personal thanks go out to Jeremy Mathis, to Bob Pickart at WHOI, Principle Investigator aboard, to Captain Beverly Havlik, Commanding Officer of Healy, and to all the science and Coast Guard crew who worked the Healy 1203 mission.

Montana Dems: Denny Rehberg Is Such a Drunk

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 2:09 PM PDT

The all-important Montana Senate race has gotten pretty nasty. How nasty? The Montana Democratic party is now attacking Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg as a drunk. Here's the video, which was tweeted out by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's communications director, Aaron Murphy, and the MDP ("@DennyRehberg trick or treats early—for vodka") on Wednesday:

The context here is important: Democrats have made a concerted effort to paint Rehberg as, well, a bit of a boozer. As evidence, they cite the Rehberg's 2004 congressional delegation to Kazakhstan, where he fell off a horse after downing six shots of vodka. (Allegations that he had consumed an additional 14 shots, and mocked his hosts by making "meep meep" noises a la Coneheads were unsubstantiated.) And in 2009, Rehberg broke his ankle in a boat crash on Montana's Flathead Lake. (Both he and his the boat's pilot had been drinking.) Tester, who won his seat by less than 3,000 votes in 2006, trails Rehberg by 0.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics average, in a race Republicans desperately need to win if they have any hope of recapturing the Senate.

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One of Romney's Final Campaign Rallies Is at a Stimulus-Funded Ohio Company

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 1:55 PM PDT

On Friday, Mitt Romney will hold one of the final rallies of his 2012 presidential campaign at Screen Machine Industries, a heavy machinery manufacturer in central Ohio. The company also happens to be the recipient of nearly $220,000 in federal stimulus funds.

Romney and his Republican allies have blasted the president's stimulus program on the campaign trail and in TV ads. Romney says the stimulus hasn't created jobs, quipping that "the only thing President Obama's stimulus has produced is a series of broken promises." The powerful nonprofit group Crossroads GPS, cofounded by Karl Rove, calls the stimulus "wasteful"; another conservative nonprofit, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, said in one ad that the stimulus "failed to save and create jobs." (Economists say that, in fact, the stimulus created or preserved up to 3.3 million jobs.)

Screen Machine's president, Steve Cohen, is no stranger to the Romney campaign. He hosted a Romney rally at his company in July, and spoke at the Republican National Convention the next month. "We need a Romney administration," he said then, "to ensure our country's competitiveness and give our companies the opportunity to expand and hire again." He, along with two other speakers at the RNC's "We Built It"-themed bash, received big chunks of government money to grow or maintain their businesses.

Screen Machine Industries received its stimulus money via four federal contracts awarded through the Department of Veterans Affairs in the fall of 2009. Cohen told the Associated Press in September 2011 that it would "irresponsible for an American manufacturer not to go after their fair share." He added, "The question is whether it was a wise investment. That's for someone else to answer."

This isn't the first time Romney held a campaign event at a stimulus-backed business. In August, Romney held a rally at the Watson Truck and Supply company in New Mexico, which received $400,000 in stimulus funds. And for an economic speech Romney gave last week in Iowa, Romney's campaign chose a construction company that'd received a $1.25 million Small Business Administration loan as part of the stimulus.

Watch: Clinton Calls Romney's Bluff on Climate Change

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 1:48 PM PDT

Any doubt about where Mitt Romney stands on climate change was infamously laid to rest at his GOP convention speech in August, when he drew guffaws from the audience with a gibe at President Obama for wanting to "slow the rise of the oceans" and to "heal the planet," while, in contrast, Romney would "help you and your family."

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that rhetoric makes less sense than ever, as families reel from devastation wrought by "the rise of the oceans." So on Tuesday in Minneapolis, as East Coasters were just assessing the damage, Bill Clinton found an opportunity to call Romney's bluff: "In my part of America we would have liked it if someone could have done that yesterday."

Chris Christie Probably Really Doesn't Give a Damn About Presidential Politics Right Now

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 12:06 PM PDT

Why has Chris Christie suddenly embraced President Obama as a long-lost brother in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy? This joins many other great questions of the universe. Who is John Galt? Who promoted Peress? Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? What did he know and when did he know it? What is the meaning of life?1 But today Dan Amira takes a crack at it anyway:

Some might conclude that Christie is looking out for his own political future (again?), either as a Republican governor running for reelection in a blue state or as a straight-talking Republican presidential candidate hoping to win the support of independents. Or it may be that Christie, as he told Fox & Friends this morning, just doesn't "give a damn about presidential politics" right now. But Romney surely still does, and he probably wouldn't mind if Christie toned it down a bit.

I find this oddly fascinating. I sort of give Christie the benefit of the doubt here. Partly this is because he does seem to be a genuinely emotional guy and may simply be reacting to the moment. But the other reason is that I find it hard to believe that Christie truly thinks he has a chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2016 regardless of what he does. We've been through this all before, but he's (a) kinda sorta pro-choice, (b) thinks climate change is real, (c) is in favor of gun control, and (d) when someone asked him about tea-partyish concerns over Sharia law he famously said, "It's just crazy. And I'm tired of dealing with the crazies." I know people can convince themselves of all sorts of things, but you'd really have to be living in la-la land to think the Republican Party is going to nominate anyone like that sometime soon.

But regardless of whether I'm right or wrong, Christie's comments have been over-the-top enough that I doubt they're solely a product of being overcome by emotion. Christie, I'd guess, has pretty much given up on the prospect of Romney winning next week. I wonder if he knows something the rest of us don't?

1In case you're actually interested: (1) a pissed-off genius inventor, (2) bureaucratic inertia, (3) it depends, (4) probably quite a bit and rather a long time ago, and (5) 42.

Video of Small, Crying Child Truly Epitomizes the Mood of the 2012 Election

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 10:52 AM PDT

This little girl speaks for a weary nation:

RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

Abigael Evans (daughter): [uncontrollable sobbing] "Just because…I'm tired…I'm tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney."

Elizabeth Evans (mother): "That's why you're crying?

AE: [sad nods of acknowledgement]

EE: "Ohhhh, it'll be over soon, Abby, okay? The election will be over soon, okay?"

AE: [a sad nod of acknowledgement] "K!"

EE: "Ohhh."

(No word yet on where she stands on Gary Johnson or Virgil Goode.)

Abigael, 4, resides in Fort Collins, the most populous city in Larimer County, Colorado. Larimer has been blanketed with campaign ads, and is one of the six counties in the swing state of Colorado that could actually decide the election. No wonder she's overwhelmed.

The fact that Abigael's weeping is nonpartisan is in itself a surprise, given that until now Mitt Romney has held the monopoly on making tiny children cry during the 2012 election:

Via theVia Evan Vucci at the Associated PressVersus this from June 2011:

Up until today, the president has held a statistically significant 6-point advantage in the polls among children who can't vote, including those living in swing states like Colorado, Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. But perhaps Abigael Evans' condemnation of both campaigns will tighten the contest. We'll be keeping a close watch on how how this plays out between now and Election Day.