2010 - %3, October

Germans Not Hot on Tea Party's Hitler References

Germans don't take their Hitler references lightly, and neither should the tea party.

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 6:30 PM EDT

Tea partiers do not shy away from comparing Obama to Hitler, but a recent op-ed in Germany's Der Spiegel shows that on the other side of the Atlantic, comparing anyone to one of the most prolific mass murderers in history is not to be taken lightly. Tea partiers not only diminish the true horror of the holocaust when they compare Obama to Hitler, they also make "it easier for people to say 'maybe it wasn't all that bad.'" From Der Spiegel

Back in June Glenn Beck said that children singing for Barack Obama was "out of the playbook … of the Third Reich ….This is Hitler Youth." One can assume that not all of Beck's listeners and viewers know what the Hitler Youth was. Beck himself, an astute, if cynical, student of history, certainly does. The Hitler Youth was the ideological training grounds designed to prepare German boys for a glorious career in the SS murdering anyone who stood in the way of the Führer's dream of a vast and racially pure German Reich. It was not a dictator's private children's choir.

One can forgive those like Glenn Beck and his Tea Party followers for hating Barack Obama... But it is hard to imagine even the most hard-bitten Tea Party activist sincerely believing that President Barack Obama wants to systematically murder over 6 million people like Adolf Hitler did. And that is necessarily the implication.

In 2002 a German politician was forced to resign for simply comparing George W. Bush's political tactics to Der Fuhrer's. One can only imagine the German response if one of their political candidates dressed as a Nazi for fun.

 

 

 

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Sexiest, and Sexist-ist, Costumes from Target

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 3:04 PM EDT

I was browsing the costume selection at Target.com, and didn't realize that more than half of the girls' costumes are miniskirts (Brrr! Plus, can you say sexualization of children?). Here's a selection of the sexiest, and most sexist, costumes I found for kids. They actually weren't as bad as I was expecting, and there were some adorable costumes as well, but something about the ensembles below just rubs me the wrong way. 

 

Soldier Sweetie

Women now make up 14% of the US Army. Isn't there room for a soldier outfit that doesn't involve this top?

 

 

 

 

Kimono Kutie

This outfit is a bizarre mix of the Japanese kimono, Chinese qipao, and San Francisco massage parlor. There's actually not that much wrong with it, other than bastardization of culture which happens to everyone (Native Americans, Arabs, pirates etc) during the holiday. I'm just glad they found an excuse to use the Asian kid, 'cause she's adorable.

 

Referee Girl

With the knee-socks, the hat, and the short skirt, this costume looks more Britney Spears than sporty. But hey, they gave her a whistle.

 

 

 

 

Doctor Scrubs

Target uses only boys to model the green and blue surgeon's kid's scrubs. The pink vet's scrubs are shown on a girl. There is one set of unisex ER scrubs for older kids, but they're listed in the boy's section.

 

 

 

Madame Butterfly

I don't know about the soundness of making a costume for pre-teens based on someone who gets married at 15, has a child, is abandoned, and then commits suicide. Pretty colors, though. This costume is listed under "Occupation."

 

 

 

Wizard Wanda

This is offensive. Not because of the sexy schoolgirl. It's just an obvious Harry Potter rip-off. It's worth noting there are regular Hogwarts, I mean, wizard robes at Target: they're just not listed as "girl" costumes.

 

 

 

Cuddly Lion

This is one of the very few times Target.com uses an African-American girl as a costume model. It's not exactly sexist, maybe just a little insensitive.

 

 

 

Johanns Challenges Clinton on Keystone Pipeline

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 3:02 PM EDT

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to indicate that the State Department will give its blessing to the massive, 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries in Texas. On Thursday, Mike Johanns, the junior senator from Nebraska, pushed back

The huge pipeline hasn't been officially green-lighted yet, and a decision isn't expected until early 2011. But Clinton's recent remarks made it sound like a done deal. The project has been especially controversial in Nebraska, where Johanns and Republican Gov. Dave Heineman have expressed concern about its environmental impacts.

Clinton's comment, Johanns wrote, is "premature" and "appears to prejudge the outcome as a foregone conclusion." He continued:

I do not object to oil pipelines in Nebraska, but there is heightened environmental sensitivity when a pipeline traverses an irreplaceable natural resource, the Ogallala Aquifer, with little examination of potentially preferable alternatives. Furthermore, your Department's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) fails to assess in a substantial manner the porous soil along the proposed route, which may make the aquifer especially susceptible to a potential spill. At stake is the essential source of 78 percent of Nebraska's drinking water, yet the DEIS and your comments lead me to believe it is this Administration's intention to simply accept the pipeline route as proposed.

There are probably plenty of folks in the Obama administration who also weren't particularly happy about Clinton's remark. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the State Department's initial assessment of the pipeline's potential impact a failing grade, stating that the evaluation "does not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public." The agency suggested a need for closer scrutiny of the pipeline's implications for air pollution, public safety, and public health, and called for further evaluation of the capacity for spill response.

Additional study is still pending, but Clinton's remarks suggest that they might not affect the ultimate outcome.

UPDATE: Nebraska's senior senator, Democrat Ben Nelson, also sent Clinton a letter on the subject on Thursday afternoon."I am deeply concerned by your remarks last week to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California, regarding the U.S. Department of State's approval process for pipeline projects," wrote Nelson. "These comments strike me, and many of my fellow Nebraskans, as an indication that a decision has been reached on the Keystone XL pipeline before your agency has done a thorough study of the environmental impacts which the pipeline will have on Nebraska's Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer."

Could Barbecues Help Fight Climate Change?

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 2:43 PM EDT

This post first appeared on the Guardian website.

Barbecues that remove CO2 from the air could play a role in the fight against climate change according to Durwood Zaelke, a leading expert on rapid responses to global warming.

This year's outdoor cooking season might be over, but Zaelke suggested at last week's 10:10 talk that from next summer consumers should start demanding barbecues that do their bit for the planet by generating rather than consuming charcoal—or biochar.

Zaelke's idea is based on a stove designed for use in the developing world by Rob Flanagan. The stove creates heat by turning wood or other biomass into charcoal, a process that releases combustible gases.

Once the cooking is over, most of the carbon from the fuel remains in the stove in the form of charcoal. This can then be mixed in with soil, a process that sequesters the carbon for thousands of years and boosts crop productivity.

Climate Change Folly

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 2:36 PM EDT

Politico reports that the EPA is about to propose modest greenhouse gas emission limits for heavy trucks and buses. Stephen Spruiell comments:

It’s going to be very, very difficult for Congress or industry to get the EPA to stop doing this. I’m fairly sure that the president can veto or ignore any law or resolution aimed at curtailing the EPA’s power on this front, and we know where the Court stands. My concern is that even if the GOP takes the White House in 2012, the EPA will have set so much of this process in motion that it will be difficult or possibly pointless to undo.

Obviously Spruiell is unhappy about this, though I'm pretty sure these regs are only superficially related to climate change anyway. Basically, they're just an extension of the usual CAFE mileage standards, but ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA was required to regulate greenhouse gases CAFE has become a joint DOT/EPA effort. That's a pretty thin veneer, though. Improving mileage automatically reduces carbon emissions, so EPA's involvement really has very little practical effect.

Still, Spruiell is right in general: EPA is going to start regulating greenhouse gases, and they're going to do it because congressional conservatives unanimously rejected a climate bill that would have preempted EPA action and set up a better, more predictable1 framework for reducing carbon emissions. So now we're going to start getting piecemeal EPA regulations that even liberals don't really want. Conservative compromise could have produced a bill that, literally, would have been better than the status quo by everyone's yardstick. The business community would have liked it better than EPA regs, liberals would have liked it better, and conservatives would have liked it better. But compromise is death with the tea party breathing down your neck, so instead we end up with the worst of all possible worlds. Nice work.

1Yes, more predictable. Ironically, for all the yammering that conservatives are currently doing about businesses cowering in fear because of the jackboot of Barack Obama's regulatory dystopia, they rejected a bill that would have removed EPA uncertainty and replaced it with known, reasonably measurable rules.

UN Peacekeeper to Photographer: Shoot Me and I'll Shoot You

The guy on the left is an unarmed journalist. The guy pointing a gun at him is a UN soldier.

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 2:21 PM EDT

When I showed this amazing picture to my friend, after she registered what she was looking at, her eyes went huge while she exclaimed, "Oh my god!" with her hand over her mouth. The scene is a protest last week in Port-au-Prince. The guy on the left is a clearly unarmed and videotaping journalist from Texas named Ansel Herz, whom I happened to work with when I was in Haiti last month. The uniformed fellow pointing a gun directly at his face is a United Nations peacekeeper.

I didn't meet many (okay, any) Haitian fans of MINUSTAH, the UN stabilization force that's been in the country since 2004. I have, for the record, met some MINUSTAH who are definitely good guys and have, for example, helped a woman in labor get to the hospital, and helped stop a man who was trying to kill his wife for refusing to have sex with him. But the force has also shot civilians. It's had to have meetings about how not to sexually abuse the Haitian population. In fact, last week's protest erupted after the UN officially renewed MINUSTAH's mandate. Some of the protesters' complaints, which echo those I heard while in-country, are that MINUSTAH doesn't actually do anything to protect civilians living in filthy, violent, rape-infested displacement camps, and that the money could be better spent dealing with those issues.

I asked Ansel how he ended up on the business end of a UN gun, just in case there was any kind of conflict or missing context surrounding this photo. Not so much, he says: "Maybe they felt threatened by my camera." 

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Base Desires in Afghanistan

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 2:10 PM EDT

As we know from a single April 19, 2003 New York Times piece, the Pentagon arrived in Saddam Hussein's Iraq preparing for a long stay. They already had at least four mega-military bases on the drawing boards as they entered the country (all subsequently built). "Enduring camps" they decided to call them, rather than the dicier "permanent bases." In the end, hundreds of bases were constructed in Iraq, from the tiniest combat outposts to monster installations, to the tune of untold billions of dollars. In the end, hundreds are now being left behind to be stripped, looted, or occupied by the Iraqi military.

From Baghdad, the British Guardian's correspondent Martin Chulov recently reported that part of the price Nouri al-Maliki seems to have negotiated (in Tehran, not Washington) to retain his prime ministership may involve not letting the Pentagon keep even a single monster base in Iraq after 2011. This was evidently demanded by former US nemesis, rebel cleric, and now "kingmaker" Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement controls more than 10% of the votes in Iraq's new parliament. That can't make the Pentagon, or the US high command, happy—and the Obama administration is already kicking.

However this ends for Washington, barely based or baseless in Iraq, surely this was not the way it was supposed to happen, not when it was still "mission accomplished" time and it seemed so self-evident that American military power, obviously unchallengeable, would be deeply entrenched on either side of Iran until "regime change" occurred there.

If you want a measure of how far the US has "fallen" in Iraq, it now has only 21 "burn pits" there—places at US bases where waste of all sorts is incinerated, regularly spewing smoke filled with toxic emissions into the air to the detriment of American soldiers (and undoubtedly local Iraqis as well). On the other hand, according to a Government Accountability Office report, there are now 221 such pits in Afghanistan and "more coming." Put another way, even as America's baseworld in Iraq dwindles, there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. As Nick Turse suggests in his most recent TomDispatch report, in Afghanistan we seem to be heading down the Iraq path on bases with a special ardor. More than nine years after our "successful" invasion, billions of US taxpayer dollars are still flowing into constructing and upgrading the massive base structure in that country—and yet, there are never enough of them.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece on an unexpected surge of Taliban successes in northern Afghanistan, Army Colonel Bill Burleson, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, among the relatively modest US forces in the northern part of that country, is quoted as saying somewhat desperately of Taliban gains in the region: "In order to deny that terrain to the enemy you'd have to have people all over Afghanistan in combat outposts." Good point, Colonel. Why stop now?

The Foreclosure Mill Scandal

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 1:14 PM EDT

A few weeks ago, after Ally Financial halted all its foreclosure proceedings because it had discovered "important but technical defects" in its paperwork, all hell broke loose. Home foreclosures, it turned out, were routinely based on documentation that was sloppy at best and fraudulent at worst, and the stories since then have just kept getting worse and worse.

But those stories all started with an expose of "foreclosure mills" that was written last August by our own Andy Kroll. His look at this shadowy industry begins with the case of Ariane and Tom Ice, who were investigating foreclosures by one of Florida's biggest mills, run by multimillionaire attorney David J. Stern:

A Florida notary's stamp is valid for four years, and its expiration date is visible on the imprint. But here in front of Ice were dozens of assignments notarized with stamps that hadn't even existed until months—in some cases nearly a year — after the foreclosures were filed. Which meant Stern's people were foreclosing first and doing their legal paperwork later. In effect, it also meant they were lying to the court — an act that could get a lawyer disbarred or even prosecuted. "There's no question that it's pervasive," says Tom Ice of the backdated documents — nearly two dozen of which were verified by Mother Jones. "We've found tons of them."

...The Ices had uncovered what looked like a pattern, so Tom booked a deposition with Stern's top deputy, Cheryl Samons, and confronted her with the backdated documents—including two from cases her firm had filed against Ice Legal's clients. Samons insisted that the filings were just a mistake, so the Ices moved to depose the notaries and other Stern employees. On the eve of those depositions, however, the firm dropped foreclosure proceedings against the Ices' clients.

It was a bittersweet victory: The Ices had won their cases, but Stern's practices remained under wraps. "This was done to cover up fraud," Tom fumes. "It was done precisely so they could try to hit a reset button and keep us from getting the real goods."

If you want to know where it all started, read the whole thing. When you're done, you'll no longer wonder how all of this could have happened. It was baked into the cake from the start.

Sarah's World

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

I suppose I'm going to have to cave in and start blogging more about the midterm campaigns. If I don't, I'm just not going to have much of anything to write about. So here's the latest on "Hurricane Sarah," who apparently is creating quite a reputation for leaving chaos in her wake wherever she goes. For example:

Late last Friday afternoon, Palin’s political aide, Andy Davis, contacted officials with a competitive House campaign. The former governor would be available Tuesday, Davis said. As with Grassley, the reaction of the House campaign was to have Palin do a fundraiser. “What [the candidate] needs more than anything else is money,” said a GOP source familiar with the situation.

No-go, replied Davis, indicating that not only did she not want to raise money, but she also didn’t want to do a rally. The preference was for something “low-key,” so Davis suggested visiting a factory or going door to door. But in doing so, the candidate would have to limit the exposure of the event. They could bring only one “trusted local reporter” along, Davis said, according to a source familiar with the exchange.

Without much media attention, such a grass-roots event would have done next to nothing for the candidate, said the source close to the situation. But the campaign — a lean operation, like those of most House candidates — scrambled to put together another plan that would accommodate Palin. They sent it to Davis on Saturday.

The campaign didn’t get word until Monday morning, the day before the event was to take place, that Palin’s schedule had changed. She couldn’t come. Palin offered no reason for the no-show. After the experience, the campaign, filled with conservatives who thought well of Palin, began referring to her as “Princess Sarah,” said the source close to the situation.

That's from Jonathan Martin, who reports that Palin is "kind and courteous" when she actually shows up, but is demanding and erratic when it comes to deciding when, where, and how she'll show up in the first place. Martin's conclusion from all this is that it's a bad sign for a potential presidential run, since she's pissing off important people and demonstrating an inability to do logistics that no presidential campaign can afford. Maybe so. But Sarah always writes her own rules, and maybe the lesson of 2012 is going to be that logistics don't matter anymore. Maybe star power is everything.

Living Near Fumes

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 12:04 PM EDT

How dangerous is it to live near areas of heavy traffic congestion? Janet Currie and Reed Walker of Columbia University have done a clever study to try to get a handle on this. They took a look at the incidence of low birthweight in babies born to mothers who lived near busy toll plazas before and after E-ZPass was introduced. Their idea was that E-ZPass reduced congestion, and therefore mothers living near toll plazas ought to benefit from it. And they did:

We find that reductions in traffic congestion generated by E-ZPass reduced the incidence of prematurity and low birth weight among mothers within 2km of a toll plaza by 6.7-9.1% and 8.5-11.3% respectively, with larger effects for African-Americans, smokers, and those very close to toll plazas....The results suggest that traffic congestion is a significant contributor to poor 
health in affected infants.

As you can see from the chart, E-ZPass reduced the incidence of low birthweights by half for mothers who lived within a couple hundred yards of a toll plaza. The effect decreased with distance, and at about a kilometer out the effect went away, presumably washed out by the ordinary background traffic congestion in the area. Results are similar for premature births. The public policy conclusions are a little unclear here, aside from the fact that E-ZPass is good and breathing auto fumes is bad, but it's useful to put a number to this stuff.

(Via Austin Frakt, by email.)