2012 - %3, October

Watch: Gary Taubes Reveals the Sugar Industry's Secrets

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 3:03 AM PDT

Mother Jones multimedia producer Brett Brownell and senior editor Michael Mechanic paid a visit to the home of science journalist and best-selling author Gary Taubes to talk about his new article "Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies." In the piece, Taubes and coauthor Cristen Kearns Couzens use a trove of internal documents to show how the sugar industry set out to counter scientific evidence suggesting that their product may play a role in deadly chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The documents also reveal how the industry influenced agencies such as the FDA and the USDA—whose advisory panels included industry-friendly scientists, and whose conclusions about the safety of sugar leaned heavily on industry-funded studies. Click on the screen prompts in the video to view key documents and read the piece, which is featured in our November/December print issue. (A quick footnote: One question in the video about sugar consumption references the USDA's speculative new figures, while the chart you'll see shows the older "availability" figures, hence the difference.)

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VIDEO: Breezy Point, Queens, Reels From Hurricane-Caused Inferno

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 8:27 PM PDT

"I think we all can agree we're seeing complete and utter devastation," Brendan Gallagher says, standing in front of the charred remains of his childhood home.

Just a short drive from New York City's famous Rockaway beaches, Breezy Point, Queens, is a quaint seaside hamlet where many cops and firefighters come to retire. It's a place known for charming historic bungalows and sweeping ocean views, but on Monday night it quickly became the setting for some of Hurricane Sandy's most terrifying damage.

As a massive storm surge swept in with the gale-force winds, an as-yet-unknown source sparked a fire that, according to New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, ultimately leveled more than 100 homes—luckily, most residents heeded early evacuation warnings and no one was killed. Today, locals waded back in through still-receding flood waters to assess the damage while firefighters—some off-duty, picking through the wreckage of friends' and neighbors' homes—tamped down the smoldering ruins.

Corn on MSNBC: Mother Jones' New Romney Tape

Tue Oct. 30, 2012 5:44 PM PDT

On Monday, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn revealed a new Romney tape, in which Mitt says Obama regards businesspeople as "a necessary evil," and Ann Romney implies Obama isn't a "grown up." Corn joins MSNBC's PoliticsNation host Al Sharpton, and Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, to discuss the latest malarky.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

A Case Study of Republicans vs. Democrats on FEMA

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 2:35 PM PDT

Mitt Romney apparently still thinks that downsizing and privatizing the functions of FEMA is a good idea. After all, everyone knows that federal bureaucracies are cesspools of incompetence.

Except....it turns out that they're only cesspools of incompetence during certain eras. See if you can spot the trend here:

George H.W. Bush: Appoints Wallace Stickney, head of New Hampshire's Department of Transportation, as head of FEMA. Stickney is a hapless choice and the agency is rapidly driven into the ditch: "Because FEMA had 10 times the proportion of political appointees of most other government agencies, the poorly chosen Bush appointees had a profound effect on the performance of the agency."

Bill Clinton: Appoints James Lee Witt, former head of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services, as head of FEMA. The agency is reborn as a professional operation: "As amazing as it sounds, Witt was the first FEMA head who came to the position with direct experience in emergency management....On Witt's recommendation, Clinton filled most of the FEMA jobs reserved for political appointees with persons who had previous experience in natural disasters and intergovernmental relations."

George W. Bush: Appoints Joe Allbaugh, his 2000 campaign manager, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh explains that his role is to downsize FEMA and privatize its functions: "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level. We must restore the predominant role of State and local response to most disasters." Once again, the agency goes downhill: "[Allbaugh] showed little interest in its work or in the missions pursued by the departed Witt....Those of us in the business of dealing with emergencies find ourselves with no national leadership and no mentors. We are being forced to fend for ourselves."

Allbaugh quits after only two years and George W. Bush downgrades FEMA from a cabinet-level agency and appoints Allbaugh's deputy, Michael Brown, former Commissioner of Judges and Stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, as FEMA's head. A former employer, Stephen Jones, is gobsmacked when he hears about it: "Brown was pleasant enough, if a bit opportunistic, Jones said, but he did not put enough time and energy into his job. 'He would have been better suited to be a small city or county lawyer,' he said."

Barack Obama: Appoints Craig Fugate, Florida's state emergency management director, as head of FEMA. Fugate immediately revives FEMA, receiving widespread praise for the agency's handling of the devastating tornadoes that ripped across seven Southern states last year: "Under Fugate's leadership, an unimaginable natural disaster literally has paved the way for a textbook lesson in FEMA crisis management....Once the laughingstock of the federal bureaucracy after the bumbling, dithering tenure of director Michael Brown, FEMA under Fugate prepares for the worst and hopes for the best rather than the other way around."

The lesson here is simple. At a deep ideological level, Republicans believe that federal bureaucracies are inherently inept, so when Republicans occupy the White House they have no interest in making the federal bureaucracy work. And it doesn't. Democrats, by contrast, take government services seriously and appoint people whose job is to make sure the federal bureaucracy does work. And it does.

More on this subject from Jon Cohn here and Ed Kilgore here.

Michael Brown Should Really Just Go Away

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 2:08 PM PDT

Michael Brown, the Bush-era FEMA director who resigned in disgrace after the agency's handling of Hurricane Katrina, has a lot of nerve. "Heckuva Job Brownie" probably should have retreated to the shadows and returned to regulating horse shows. Instead, Brown has made a point of continuing to speak to the press, including going on tour last year to sell his awful book. Now he's back, and he's criticizing the Obama administration for acting too "quickly" in response to Hurricane Sandy.

As ThinkProgress notes, Brown gave an interview to a local Denver paper in which he combined criticism of Obama's response to Sandy with criticism of the president's response to the deaths in Benghazi last month:

"One thing he's gonna be asked is, why did he jump on this so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in...Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas?" Brown says. "Why was this so quick?... At some point, somebody's going to ask that question.... This is like the inverse of Benghazi."

It's obviously terrible for Brown, whose failures in Katrina are at least partially responsible for 1,833 deaths and untold human suffering, to accuse the Obama administration of acting too "quickly" in response to a major storm. It's even more embarrassing that he's doing it in the service of hammering home a bogus right-wing talking point about Benghazi. One has to wonder why Brown even bothers. He would be better off if he just stayed quiet and stopped reminding everyone of his past.

Romney Doubles Down on Deceitful Jeep Ad in Ohio

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 11:00 AM PDT

Earlier this morning I said I was skeptical that being called a liar by a bunch of Ohio newspapers outweighed the benefits of running deceitful ads aimed at scaring Ohio autoworkers about their jobs getting shipped to China. Obviously the Romney campaign agrees with me, because they're now gleefully expanding their ad buy:

A Dem source familiar with ad buy info tells me that the Romney campaign has now put a version of the spot on the radio in Toledo, Ohio — the site of a Jeep plant. The buy is roughly $100,000, the source says.

The move seems to confirm that the Romney campaign is making the Jeep-to-China falsehood central to its final push to turn things around in the state. The Romney campaign has explicitly said in the past that it will not let fact checking constrain its messaging, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it appears to be expanding an ad campaign based on a claim that has been widely pilloried by fact checkers.

In 2004, Ohio was ground zero for the Swift Boat smear campaign. In 2008 Ohio was ground zero for all things related to Joe the Plumber. In 2012 it's already been ground zero for Mitt Romney's fraudulent welfare ad and is now ground zero for a flatly dishonest ad about Jeep assembly being moved to China. At some point, you'd think that Ohio voters would get tired of Republicans treating them like chumps. Maybe this is the year.

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Is It Time to Start Adapting to Climate Change?

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Andy Sabl has kinda sorta given up on the prospect of collective action to head off climate change:

A few minutes ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a press conference (no video or transcript yet, but I’ll be happy to provide it later if I can find it) again gave a version of the line I’ve been hearing from him since last night: “We have a new reality, in terms of weather patterns, but we have an old infrastructure....I don’t think anyone can sit back any more and say, ‘well, I’m shocked by that weather pattern.’”

....The governor has said he’ll keep pushing this. I hope he does. Against my inclination, I’m starting to side with Matt [Kahn] on this: given how far climate change has already gone, and how many interests stand against quick action, we can’t assume a climate future that resembles the past. But the reward to acknowledging climate reality will be (where local politicians aren’t climate deniers, and only there) urban areas that are far better designed to accommodate the new reality than they have been up to now.

If you were teaching a graduate seminar in public policy and challenged your students to come up with the most difficult possible problem to solve, they'd come up with something very much like climate change. It's slow-acting. It's essentially invisible. It's expensive to address. It has a huge number of very rich special interests arrayed against doing anything about it. It requires international action that pits rich countries against poor ones. And it has a lot of momentum: you have to take action now, before its effects are serious, because today's greenhouse gases will cause climate change tomorrow no matter what we do in thirty years.

I have to confess that I find myself feeling the same way Andy does more and more often these days. It's really hard to envision any way that we're going to seriously cut back on greenhouse gas emissions until the effects of climate change become obvious, and by then it will be too late. I recognize how defeatist this is, and perhaps the proliferation of extreme weather events like Sandy will help turn the tide. But it hasn't so far, and given the unlikelihood of large-scale global action on climate change, adaptation seems more appealing all the time. For the same reason, so does continued research into geoengineering as a last-resort backup plan.

I'd like someone to persuade me I'm wrong, though.

Obama Dares to Say It: Romney Lies

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 9:46 AM PDT

Within the nation's rough-and-tumble political discourse—whether it be on the floor of the House or Senate, on the campaign trail, or in the newsrooms and editorial offices of mainstream media outlets—there is often a disinclination to use a certain word: "lie." It is a serious charge to render, and conventional pols, pundits, reporters, and media bigshots often shy away from it, resorting to other means of discussing a falsehood from an official or candidate. Common cop-outs include: "that's stretching the truth," "those facts are not correct," and "the experts dispute that." As the author of The Lies of George W. Bush, I certainly know that in many quarters calling a politician or officeholder a liar is considered a step too far, given that such an accusation is a judgment of motive and intent and, thus, an assault on character. (Remember the famous line from Seinfeld: "It's not a lie if you believe it.") In recent years, MSM factcheckers have found creative ways to dub a lie a lie. Politifact.com awards a "pants on fire" rating to egregiously false statements; the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler assigns Pinocchios to untrue assertions. Yet deploying the l-word is unusual.

Obama dared to cross that line with a new campaign ad. Entitled "Collapse," the spot targets Mitt Romney's over-the-top and recklessly untrue claim that as a consequence of Obama bailing-out the auto industry, Chrysler is moving Jeep production jobs from the United States to China. Romney, as I've reported, invested heavily in firms that outsourced (or exploited outsourcing) to China when he was leading Bain Capital. (See here and here.) Yet in the closing days of the 2012 campaign, Romney has been trying to turn Obama's strength (he saved Detroit) into a liability by making a phony charge about Jeep jobs. Numerous media accounts have noted that Romney is dead wrong, and Chrysler itself has declared this is a false claim. Romney, as is his practice, has refused to apologize.

So in this ad, the Obama campaign notes, "after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney's lie." It's a bit of a glancing blow. The ad, which also highlights Romney's past opposition to Obama's auto industry rescue, does not use the other l-word: "liar." Yet at the end, it nearly says that: "Mitt Romney: wrong then; dishonest now."

In 1996, when conservative New York Times columnist William Safire called Hillary Clinton a "congenital liar," he sparked a media firestorm. (President Bill Clinton's press secretary, Mike McCurry, said at the time, "the president, if he were not the president, would have delivered a more forceful response to that on the bridge of Mr. Safire's nose.") Since then, there have been few high-profile deployments of the l-bomb in Washington circles (except, of course, during the Clinton impeachment). Yet the reluctance to call a lie a lie (or a liar a liar) works to the advantage of politicians who do fib, prevaricate, and out-right lie. It is easier for them to get away with mugging the truth, if others are hesitant to use plain language in response. Obama's lie-charging ad might work because Romney has developed (at least among some voters) a reputation for shiftiness. But if Obama should not triumph next Tuesday, the real question may be whether he waited too long to wage this fundamental attack on his opponent's character.

Supreme Court Might Deliver a Tiny Victory for Common Sense

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 8:53 AM PDT

The FISA surveillance act had its day in court yesterday, but the subject was solely whether the act would ever have a real day in court. Adam Serwer explains:

Here's what the civil libertarians and human rights activists are upset about: The FISA Amendments Act authorized the warrantless surveillance aimed at targets abroad, including correspondence where one of the points of contact is within the United States. That means the government could spy on American citizens without a warrant or probable cause. Surveillance in cases targeting suspected foreign agents previously had to be approved by a special court. The FISA Amendments Act allowed the government broad latitude to spy without ever needing to ask a judge's permission, even if that means picking up Americans' emails and phone calls.

The arguments before the Supreme Court on Monday weren't about whether this kind of surveillance violates Americans' constitutional rights. Instead, the justices are deciding whether or not the lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists involved in the case can sue at all. To move forward with their case, the plaintiffs need to prove they have what lawyers call "standing"—they have to prove that the law will affect them. That's hard because who the government spies on is by definition a secret.

David Savage tells us how things went:

Supreme Court justices were surprisingly skeptical Monday about arguments by a top Justice Department lawyer who in a hearing sought to squelch an anti-wiretapping lawsuit brought by lawyers, journalists and activists.

....[Elena] Kagan said lawyers who represent foreign clients accused of terrorism-related offenses cannot speak to them on the phone. They said they had to fly overseas to speak to them in person. That suggests these plaintiffs have suffered some harm because of the prospect of their calls being overheard, she said....Kennedy said he too found it hard to believe that the NSA is not engaged in broad monitoring of international calls.

"The government has obtained this extraordinarily wide-reaching power," he said. "It is hard for me to think the government isn't using all of the powers at its command under the law."

This is obviously a tiny victory, but it's a victory nonetheless. The government has been playing this card for over a decade, claiming that literally no one has standing to sue over its secret surveillance programs because no one can prove they've been surveilled. It's an absurd Catch-22, and the court is right to be skeptical of it. One way or another, there should always be somebody who has standing to challenge a law in court. Even if the Supreme Court eventually rules that FISA and its amendments are all constitutional, it would be nice to at least get a ruling that no law is entirely unassailable merely due to technicalities of standing.

Romney Super-PAC Blasts Obama With $20 Million in Attack Ads

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 8:05 AM PDT

On Tuesday, the super-PAC devoted to electing Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, unveiled its biggest-ever ad assault on President Obama. The group will spend $20.1 million on anti-Obama ads between Tuesday and Election Day, an amount that is believed to be the largest single-race ad buy by a super-PAC.

The ads accuse Obama of having "flatlined" the American economy in his first term in office, and tell voters the president will do the same with a second term. "If you don't jump-start America's economy now, your economy stays dead four more years," the narrator says. "Demand better." (View that ad above.) Restore Our Future's new blitz comes after the super-PAC dropped $17.7 million on ads in the past week, bringing its spending to nearly $40 million in the last two weeks of the presidential race.

Here's the transcript for "Flatline":

If you saw this line in the ER, you'd be panicked.

Well, this flatline is Barack Obama's economy.

23 million looking for full-time work. Middle-class incomes falling. Spending and debt exploding.

And Obama's second term agenda is the same as the first.

If you don't jump-start America's economy now, your economy stays dead four more years.

Demand better.

Restore Our Future is responsible for the content of this message.

Restore Our Future's new ads will run in battleground states (with maybe one exception, Michigan), and nationally. Here's the breakdown: Colorado ($880,000), Iowa ($1.4 million), Maine's 2nd congressional district ($490,000), Michigan ($2.2 million), Nevada ($1.3 million), Ohio ($2.4 million), Pennsylvania ($2.1 million), Virginia ($2.8 million), and Wisconsin ($1.6 million). Five million more in ads will run nationally, the super-PAC says in a press release.

Restore Our Future is the king of super-PACs. The group has raised $132 million for the 2012 elections, more than any other super-PAC; its top donors include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, Texas energy executive Harold Simmons, and Oxbow Carbon CEO Bill Koch, the brother of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.