The normally excellent Jeff Zeleny takes a close look at the 2012 Iowa caucuses and discovers that conservatives care about social issues:
The ailing economy and the Tea Party's demand for smaller government have dominated Republican politics for two years, but a resurgent social conservative movement is shaping the first stage of the presidential nominating contest...
Has the ailing economy and demand for smaller government really "dominated Republican politics for two years"?
Let's recap: The debate against health-care reform featured not only the false claim that the new law would budget taxpayer funding to pay for abortions—one member of Congress even called another member of Congress a "babykiller" on the House floor—but also the false claim that the new law would target senior citizens and people with disabilities for death. Then, the entire month of August, 2010, was spent debating the small government issue of whether a religious group should build a house of worship in Lower Manhattan.
Glenn Beck's case against Barack Obama—which provided the fuel for FOX's amped-up full-team-coverage of 9/12 and tea party rallies over the last two years—has its foundation in the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, rooted in divine principles, and that any effort to alter the Founders' immaculate construction more or less conflicts with the will of God. It's a popular idea, endorsed by grassroots activists and elected officials alike.
Meanwhile, the first order of business for members of the landslide GOP class of 2011 has been to introduce a set of anti-choice legislation at the state and federal level that would redefine rape; defund Planned Parenthood; force women to listen to ultrasounds prior to getting an abortion; omit exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother; and provide funding for organizations that tell women (falsely) that getting an abortion can lead to breast cancer or suicide. You know, small government stuff.
The dominant theme in Republican politics for the last two years hasn't been jobs and small government; it's been opposition to Barack Obama, period. The grassroots conservative critique of the Obama administration stems from a set of social and economic values that are deeply intertwined. The notion that religious conservatives are suddenly resurgent rests on the flawed assumption that they ever really went away.
Campbell Robertson reports that Harold Hill has, at last, been spotted in central Tennessee:
The park, he said, would be called Festival Tennessee, and it would cost around $750 million. On these bucolic 1,500 acres, there would be two resort hotels with 4,000 rooms apiece. There would be 80 restaurants and clubs, as well as one of the largest water parks in the United States. And a stadium. And, with any luck, an NBA franchise. And a television production studio. Also, a charter school.
Mr. Peterson estimated that Festival Tennessee would create 15,000 jobs, maybe even 20,000. And, he said, it would be open in less than two years.
One small hiccup: The company that's supposed to put all of this together just had its license revoked in Nevada, and its president has filed for bankruptcy. Also its treasurer says she's never heard of the company. Also one of Lanley's Peterson's advisers is currently on parole for "child sexually abusive material." Also, a previous plan to get Michael Jackson to narrate an animated film about an orphan "who saves the world with the help of some endangered species" failed (note: we kind of want to see this movie).
Ok, so, maybe not the best investment for Spring Hill, Tennessee. But Festival Tennessee reminded me of another, slightly less scammy but magnificently audacious would-be destination: Excel Communications founder Steve Smith's plan to build a billionaires' resort in Lajitas, Texas. Per John Spong:
His ambition grew ever more glorious by the day: eight hundred residential lots of two acres or less, some selling for as much as $1 million, undeveloped; two championship golf courses, not desert-style, with grass growing only on greens and tees, but with a lush wall-to-wall carpet that would need a million gallons of water a day to stay green in summer months; an RV park with $100,000 slips for $500,000 motor homes; a 36,000-square-foot spa; four fancy restaurants; an amphitheater seating three thousand; an equestrian center; a hunting club...
Hundreds of trees, including pears and plums that had no business being in the desert, were ordered before there was a plan to plant them and then planted before there was a way to water them. They died. Grass that was seeded on the golf course couldn’t survive on the brackish well water. It had to be replaced...A skeet range was put in that had shooters firing over the bike trail.
When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked! I'm not sure there's a larger point here, except to say that America clearly does not always do big things.
Tennesseelawmakers rewrote their anti-Sharia bill to turn it into a material support for terrorism law.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann demonstrated their presidential bona fides by cozying up to Bryan Fischer, a far-right radio host who thinks the First Amendment doesn't apply to Islam. He's also written that "deaths of people and livestock at the hands of savage beasts is a sign that the land is under a curse." That last sentence was about grizzly bears.
As Governor of Minnesota, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlentyoversaw a program that helped Muslims get Sharia-compliant mortgages. No big scandal there—just a state housing agency helping people get houses. But Pawlenty wants you to know that he had nothing to do with it: "As soon as Gov. Pawlenty became aware of the issue, he personally ordered it shut down. Fortunately, only about three people actually used the program before it was terminated at the Governor's direction."
Chupcabras are, apparently, not real. But in their absence, the Rev. Franklin Graham has a new terrifying bogeyman for you: It's called the Muslim Brotherhood.
If you think green energy is a 21st century breakthrough, think again: In 1900, roughly one-third of automobiles were electric; the first megawatt wind turbine was built in 1941; and today's wave-power startups can trace their roots to the Wave-Power Air-Compressing Company, which claimed "one of the greatest inventions of the age"—in 1895 (PDF). In Powering the Dream, Madrigal, The Atlantic's tech editor, delves into alternative energy's past to glean its future. A master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies, he argues that some of them flopped due to lack of funding, while others, like the early '40s wind turbine, were too far ahead of their time (another turbine of its size wouldn't be built for 40 years). As Madrigal smartly shows, tackling the climate crisis takes more than inventing the next killer app: You also have to convince people to use it. —Josh Harkinson
In a dramatic narrative that reads like historical fiction, Mother Jones cofounder Hochschild connects Britain's unraveling during World War I to its divisive struggles over imperialism and women's suffrage. His scenes and characters—labor activists, feminists, writers, even a lion tamer—are mesmerizing, and his depiction of a Western superpower shattered by an ill-conceived overseas war has special resonance. Hochschild sees the conflict's often-forgotten critics as vanguards of the modern antiwar movement, dreamers loyal to a new notion of citizenship. The war resisters' battle "could not be won in 1914-1918," he writes, "but it remained, and still remains, to be fought again—and again." —Adam Weinstein
Everything you thought you knew about Johnny Appleseed is a lie. As this biography tells it, the real Appleseed, née John Chapman, was a land speculator, evangelist, and drifter. He might not have worn a tin pail for a hat, and he probably never planted anything worth eating—although whether that's because he was busy planting apples for hard cider (as Michael Pollan has argued), or just a little careless in his seed-sowing, goes unresolved. Appleseed's vague life story is what makes him so intriguing to everyone from Pollan to the tea partiers, who launched Project Appleseed to teach "heritage and history"—and marksmanship. With such a dearth of hard facts, almost everything about the man is up for interpretation; Appleseed, concludes Means, is "where we go to rediscover American innocence." —Tim Murphy
John Miller is one of the few beekeepers who still makes a living trucking millions of bees back and forth across the country to pollinate fruit trees. Pesticides, parasites, and Colony Collapse Disorder threaten his hives; low honey prices and bee theft mean that he sometimes barely scrapes by. The Beekeeper's Lament examines the wonders of the apian world that keep Miller (a stubborn romantic who douses his food with honey) tied to his trade, from hives' social hierarchies to the alchemy that turns noxious weeds into sought-after honey varietals. Yet by disrupting bees' natural lifecycles, the large-scale fruit farming that sustains modern beekeeping may become its downfall. Nordhaus shows that much more than the sweet stuff is at stake—your almonds and summer fruit depend on these tiny migrant workers. —Maddie Oatman
Courtesy of WallBuildersFormer House Speaker and likely GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich commenced his address at an American Family Association event in Iowa today by lavishing praise on a controversial amateur historian who believes that Jesus opposed the minimum wage and that Islamic extremists have literally infiltrated the Justice Department. "I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things," Gingrich said, while inviting his audience to read the Texans' writings on the Founding Fathers. "It's amazing how much he knows and how consistently he applies that knowledge."
Barton is the founder of WallBuilders, an Evangelical organization devoted to breaking down the barrier between church and state—which Barton believes to be a work of pure fiction. Although his work has been torn apart by professional historians, Barton has fashioned himself as one of the leading experts on the idea that the United States is a Christian nation and that its development has been aided at key junctures by divine intervention. (He does have an honorary PhD. from Pensacola Christian College.)
So, what exactly can you learn by listening to Barton? For one, Barton subscribes to a conspiracy theory that has taken hold on the far right: that the Muslim Brotherhood has infilitrated the highest levels of American law enforcement and is planning to destroy America from within. On his radio show last week, Barton, referring to a former FBI agent named John Guandolo, said, "John used to be the guy who briefed the FBI on terrorism and radical Islamic terrorism and so many Islamic folks worked their way into the FBI, they got him thrown out. They said he keeps speaking bad about Islam, he keeps saying bad things about radical Islam, you need to get rid of him.'"
He added, "you can understand why [Eric] Holder and others in the FBI wouldn't want Guandolo around there. These are the kind of people they are chasing off because you're starting to see the Muslim Brotherhood actually get in to some of our institutions." (Actually, Guandolo was forced to resign because he slept with a witness in a corruption case involving former Rep. William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson.)
While Barton concedes that Islam is protected by the First Amendment, he has previously argued that the Bill of Rights does not afford protections to polytheistic religions (like Hinduism or Wicca), and that atheists should not be allowed to hold office or testify in court. After Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) became the nation's first Muslim congressman in 2007, Barton declared concerns about the lawmaker's faith "understandable."
In addition to cozying up to aspiring Republican politicians and helping the state of Texas draft its much-maligned textbook standards, Barton has previously spoken at conferences alongside proponents of Christian Identity—a white supremacist ideology with ties to white supremacists—as well as Holocaust deniers and militia leader Bo Gritz. Barton says he did not know about his fellow speakers' beliefs. Perhaps Gingrich would say the same regarding Barton. The possible GOP presidential candidate, who two years ago converted to Catholicism, has been trying hard in recent years to win support among evangelical Christians. Should Gingrich officially enter the 2012 presidential race, it might be useful for voters to know just what he has learned from Barton.