2012 - %3, November

American Diplomats Should Not Work in Fortresses

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 2:06 PM EST

Dan Drezner laments the increasing tendency for American diplomats in dangerous places to be cut off from the residents of their host countries. And he's afraid that the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi is just going to make it worse:

If U.S. diplomats have to do the bulk of their work behind fortresses, then pretty soon there will be no difference between their worldview and those of the four-star generals....Rather than the simple mantra of "never again" when reacting to the death of Ambassador Stevens, the life and mission he desired should be valorized a bit more. Stevens knew that the best way to advance U.S. interests in Libya was to be on the ground. Doing that from embassies that resemble Orwell's Ministry of Truth is a difficult task.

There is a tradeoff between protecting U.S. officials overseas and promoting their ability to advance the national interest. I fear the pendulum has swung way too far towards the protection side, and Stevens' death will only exacerbate that shift. The cruel irony is that Stevens, of all people, would have abhorred that shift. Better that we openly acknowledge the risk that foreign service officers face in overseas postings, recognize the bravery and loyalty that their service entails, and let them do their f***king jobs.

Roger that. And although not too many people want to reopen this conversation, it's still worth asking some hard questions about why we need these fortress embassies in the first place. The answer, obviously, is that a helluva lot of people, especially in the Middle East, hate us. Why? Well, just in the past couple of decades we've launched military operations against Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya—just to name the half-dozen most direct and overt cases. Sure, it's possible that residents of the Middle East don't really care much about this, but hate us for our freedoms instead, but what are the odds?

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Should Obama Call the Republican Bluff on Taxes?

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 1:20 PM EST

President Obama wants to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, which would allow top marginal tax rates to increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Andrew Sullivan isn't sure this is a hill for Obama to die on:

My overall view is that the most important thing is to increase revenues, not rates necessarily. I can understand why Obama wants to get the top rate back to Clinton levels — and it would require much deeper inroads against deductions than the GOP has previously accepted. But [] I'd give on this if I were Obama — in order to see if the GOP could come up with removal of tax deductions for those earning over $250,000 that would bring in the same amount of revenue. If they don't want a rate increase, ask them how to get the same amount of money from the same group of people by ending deductions. Call their bluff — and show you are not wedded to redistribution that could even theoretically impede growth and entrepreneurialism.

I concede that this would be interesting. Mitt Romney spent an entire campaign insisting that he could close enough loopholes and deductions to make up for his proposed 7 percent rate cut on the wealthy. Democrats scoffed, but Republicans all insisted that Romney's plan was eminently feasible and that details would be forthcoming during tax negotiations after the election. Well, the election is over, tax negotiations have started, and their goal is considerably easier since they only have to make up for the 4.6 percent rate cut that keeping the high-end Bush tax cuts entails.

There are two upsides to working with Republicans on this. First, Obama gets to look sweetly reasonable. You want to close deductions instead of letting the higher rates expire? Let's reason together, my friends. Show me your plan.

Second, I think a big part of Obama's strategy here is to break the Grover Norquist stranglehold—and the Norquist blood oath isn't about never voting for a rate increase, it's about never voting for a net revenue increase, no matter how you get there. Obama wants Republicans on record voting for something that breaks that oath, and closing a bunch of deductions works as well as a rate increase.

If I were part of the Republican leadership, though, I wouldn't take the deal. Their problem is the mirror image. First, if they're going to break the oath, it doesn't matter how they do it. Closing deductions doesn't buy them anything. Second, closing a bunch of deductions is something that will be forgotten very quickly, leaving a low top rate in place that will be an easy target for Democrats who want to soak the rich even further. Frankly, Republicans would be better off just agreeing to the higher top rates now, leaving them an easier job of protecting the rich in the next round of tax reform.

Mitt Romney Is Now Officially the Most Hated Man in America

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 12:21 PM EST

To start off this short week, I'd like to add my voice to the many on the left who are endlessly amused at how thoroughly Mitt Romney is being thrown under the bus by the right for the heinous crime of....saying nothing more than what most of them have believed for a long time. He thinks Obama won by promising lots of goodies to poor people and minorities, and unless I've misunderstood several decades worth of conservative complaints, that's a pretty mainstream view on the right. "We are reaching the tipping point where the majority of Americans are recipients of government programs," said uber-mainstream conservative George Will earlier this year. "The tactic of the Democratic Party is to run up the dependency ratio in this country until you get 50-60 percent of Americans dependent on the government [...] at which point they figure the party of government will always win." A few weeks after Will made his comment, Mother Jones released the infamous 47 percent video, which prompted Ron Brownstein to write:

Far from a gaffe, Romney’s remarks reflected both a long-standing belief among conservatives that the nation faces a “tipping point” in which growing dependency will create an insurmountable electoral majority for big government — and Democratic candidates. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney’s running mate, has delivered similar arguments for years. “We risk hitting [a] tipping point in our society where we have more takers than makers,” he said recently. “President Obama’s policies are feverishly putting more people into the column of being takers than makers ... being more dependent.”

The conservative Heritage Foundation, in the latest edition of its “Index of Dependence on Government” likewise concluded earlier this year: “Perhaps the greatest danger is that the swelling ranks of Americans who enjoy government services and benefits for which they pay few or no taxes will lead to a spreading sense of entitlement that is simply incompatible with self-government.”

Conservatives believe that liberals are intent on creating a welfare state that saps initiative, leads to moral decay, makes voters more dependent on government, and helps cement the Democratic Party's hold on power. They've been saying this forever. But when Mitt Romney says it in slightly blunter terms than we're used to, they practically barrel over each other running for the exits.

Poor Mitt. Conservatives never liked him in the first place, so he tried hard to say all the things they wanted him to say. But once he lost, he was an instant pariah. He was saying the stuff they wanted him to say during a campaign, not realizing that the rules had changed. Once the campaign was over, that exact same stuff was a rather too blunt admission of what conservatives believe. He was betraying the cause, not helping it. The price he'll pay is a banishment from the conservative movement even more thorough than George Bush's. Conservatives are not kind to their losers.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 19, 2012

Mon Nov. 19, 2012 11:39 AM EST

A U.S. Marine CH-56E Super Stallion crew chief assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, makes his way to the ramp while flying over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2012. HMH-361 is deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena.

Quote of the Day: Marco Rubio Is Not a Scientist

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 11:22 AM EST
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Here is one of the presumed contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, in an interview with GQ's Michael Hainey:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.

Should be a fun four years.

E.D. Sedgwick is Sick of Wearing a Dress All the Time

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 7:03 AM EST

Full disclosure: I hate music reviews. I'm a musician, and something about distilling music into esoteric words from a Thesaurus makes me nauseous. It's like taking your favorite song, scraping out the feeling, and replacing it with cold, slimy, sock vomit. That said, the Washington, DC-based dance-punkish band E.D. Sedgwick has a new album out that I'd like you to know about. So to solve my moral conundrum, I won't tell you what to think. You can do that for yourself. I believe in you! Start by streaming the track, "It Wasn't Me," here, and listen as you read.

E.D. Sedgwick is the project of Justin Moyer, a musician and journalist for The Washington Post. (He doesn't like writing music reviews, either.) Founded in 1999, it has in the past consisted mainly of just Moyer, with or without the backing of guest musicians. Now there are three other official members—Jess Matthews (drums), Kristina Buddenhagen (bass, vocals), and JosaFeen Wells (vocals)—giving the group a refreshing gender ratio amid today's Indie-rock brodeo. The band releases its albums on Dischord, the seminal DIY label founded by DC punk legend Ian MacKaye, best known for his groundbreaking bands Minor Threat and Fugazi. Moyer has been involved with Dischord for more than a decade via both E.D. Sedgwick and his previous bands, El Guapo and Antelope.

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Music Review: "Que Beleza" by Tim Maia

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 7:03 AM EST

TRACK 1

"Que Beleza"

From Tim Maia's Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia

LUAKA BOP

Liner notes: Leading a mellow orchestra of tropical brass, sexy percussion, and smoking funk guitar, Maia celebrates beauty and joy on this '74 gem.

Behind the music: The notoriously eccentric Maia (1942-1998) brought deep R&B to Brazil's fertile '70s scene, sparking the Black Rio movement that fused African and local sounds. An acid enthusiast, he spent two years in the UFO-obsessed Racional Energy cult.

Check it out if you like: Eclectic innovators like Funkadelic, Os Mutantes, and the Isley Brothers.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Music Review: "The Hill" by Ty Segall

| Mon Nov. 19, 2012 7:03 AM EST

TRACK 4

"The Hill"

From Ty Segall's Twins

DRAG CITY

Liner notes: Prepare to duck as Segall unleashes a fabulous squall of window-shattering garage rock.

Behind the music: The absurdly prolific Bay Area local—Twins is his third album this year—recorded with Epsilons and Party Fowl before releasing his first solo effort back in 2008.

Check it out if you like: Superior noisemongers such as the Stooges, Screaming Females, and the White Stripes.

This review originally appeared in our November/December issue of Mother Jones.

The 2012 Election is Finally Over! So Who Won the Forecasting Contest?

| Sun Nov. 18, 2012 6:01 PM EST

Ron Barber won the AZ-2 House race today, and with that I believe the 2012 election is over. Final results:

  • President: Obama 332, Romney 206
  • House: 201 D, 234 R
  • Senate: 55 D/I, 45 R

So how did Sam Wang, our resident expert do? Answer: pretty well. A month before the election, he called the presidential race dead on and missed the Senate race by only one seat. His House prediction was off by 16 seats, but in fairness, he was in the middle of incorporating redistricting/incumbency effects when I asked him for his forecast on October 6, and he warned me that this might change things. His later forecast was considerably more accurate.

Still, the rules were best forecast a month ahead of the election. So who won? Here are all the commenters who got the presidential split correct:

Jeff Gauvin

  • President: Obama 332, Romney 206
  • House: 215 D, 220 R
  • Senate: 52 D/I, 48 R

Ziggy

  • President: Obama 332, Romney 206
  • House: 215 D, 220 R
  • Senate: 54 D/I, 46 R

Jason Broccardo

  • President: Obama 332, Romney 206
  • House: 215 D, 220 R
  • Senate: 56 D/I, 44 R

jharp

  • President: Obama 332, Romney 206
  • House: 215 D, 220 R
  • Senate: 55 D/I, 45 R

Oddly, all four predicted an identical House split, so the winner is jharp, who got the Senate split dead on. However, there's an honorable mention co-winner too:

Kadzimiel

  • President: Obama 303, Romney 235
  • House: 202 D, 233 R
  • Senate: 55 D/I, 45 R

Kadzimiel was almost dead-on for both the House and Senate, and missed the presidential split only by Florida, which was a genuine nail-biter that could have gone either way.

So that's that. The 2012 election is in the books. Kadzimiel and jharp are co-winners of the forecasting contest, and if you guys will send me your email addresses I'll try to persuade the powers-that-be to sign you up for a free MoJo subscription for 2013. Congratulations!

Worst. Advice. Ever.

| Sun Nov. 18, 2012 12:37 PM EST

Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of people have had a lot of advice for the Republican Party. Compromise more. Compromise less. Appeal to Hispanics. Stick to conservative fundamentals. Nominate better candidates. Improve your ground game. Etc. Some of this advice is good, and some of it is probably not so good.

But I'd like to congratulate Charlotte Allen for possibly the worst advice ever offered to a party in defeat. This is truly — um, hold on. Sorry. Revise and extend. What I meant was that this is the best advice ever offered to a party in defeat. I totally think she's onto something here. Republicans should absolutely do this.