2010 - %3, December

Regulations for All!

| Thu Dec. 30, 2010 10:10 AM PST

Despite all the attention it received in the blogosphere during this slow holiday week, I've read about libertarians thoroughly enough already that I couldn't sustain the interest to read Chris Beam's recent take in New York magazine all the way through. Some libertarians are weirdo Randites, some are capital-L types with the usual pathologies of most small capital letter political sects, and some are just ordinary folks with a non-insane tendency in the direction of strong individual rights and minimal economic regulation. Meh. But speaking of that, here's a tiny excerpt from a Dave Weigel post about how libertarian thought is doing these days:

Voters like low taxes, and they hate regulation and policies that take away choices. Libertarians are winning on all of that.

This is a common misconception. Actually, regulations are like lawyers: everybody hates them until they need one. Then your lawyer is suddenly a shining beacon of truth and justice fighting against a slavering horde of corrupt and greedy corporate snakes. Likewise, everyone hates regulations that restrict them from doing something that might harm other people, but they generally love regulations that prevent other people from doing stuff that might harm them. It all depends on whose ox is being gored and how different people define "harm."

But then, definining "harm" is the central problem of much of libertarian thought, so this is no surprise. In any case, the bottom line is that although you can whip up a fair amount of resentment against "gummint regulation" in the abstract, specific regulations are actually a lot more popular than most libertarians and conservatives would like to believe.

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Why Liberals Compromise

| Thu Dec. 30, 2010 9:12 AM PST

Erica Grieder wonders why Republicans always support their most conservative policies and political candidates with vigor, while Democrats generally shy away from full-throated support of their most liberal policies and candidates:

There seems to be a certain temperamental difference between conservatives and Republicans on the one hand and liberals and the Democrats on the other. In broad strokes, Republicans, especially of the tea-party stripe, are typically proud, at least unapologetic, and sometimes belligerent about their beliefs. Democrats, in contrast, seem to adopt the defensive position by default.

....Why are Democrats more anemic? One thought comes from the liberal journalist Thomas Frank. Writing in Harper's, Mr Frank argues that while Republicans respond to their base, Democrats have a misbegotten faith in a "Magic Middle" of centrist ideas that are tolerable, at least, to most Americans.

....I'm not sure whether Mr Frank intends this as an ideological explanation: Democrats see an intrinsic value in bipartisanship and are therefore disposed to its promotion, even if it requires some concessions from the liberal side. If so, I'm not sure I entirely believe it.

Nope, there's no reason to believe this. The real explanation, at least for the past few decades, is much simpler: about 40% of the American population self-IDs as conservative, compared to only 20% who self-ID as liberal. You can argue all day long about what people really mean when they tell pollsters they're conservative, and you can argue all day long that liberals need to do something to change this instead of simply accepting it, but for any politician running for national office in the here and now, this is just the lay of the land. A hardcore conservative with hardcore conservative beliefs can count on a pretty big base of support right from the start, while a hardcore liberal candidate can count on bupkis. Conservative Republicans can win. Liberal Democrats generally can't unless they're running in very liberal congressional districts. If you're looking for a reason why liberal politicians tend to compromise more, you really don't have to look much further than this.

The Year in Racism

| Thu Dec. 30, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Obama's election was heralded as the beginning of a new era of "post-racial" American politics—a notion that seems to have been scuttled as quickly as the idea that his presidency would end partisan bickering. The backlash against Obama and his Democratic allies has sped the rise of a right-wing fringe deeply suspicious of immigrants and minorities. While immigration reform stayed on Capitol Hill's backburner, Arizona's punitive immigration law set off a political firestorm that spilled over into the 2010 elections—with some decidedly ugly outcomes.

Acknowledging its image problem, the Republican Party recruited minority (and female) candidates in droves and managed to achieve some historic, ceiling-shattering victories in the midterms—electing the nation's first female Hispanic governor, the first female Indian governor, and South Carolina's first black Republican member of Congess, among other accomplishments. But even the party's own suffered some withering race-based attacks on the 2010 campaign trail. As the next election approaches, the GOP could face even more of a conundrum when it comes to race, immigration, and identity politics—squeezed between a right-wing fringe that's taken hold of its conservative base and a growing minority electorate.

10 Great MoJo Long Reads

Thu Dec. 30, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Conventional wisdom is that people don't read long magazine stories online, but Mother Jones readers regularly prove otherwise. Every time we run a compelling, multipage article on our website, we find that many of you read all the way to the end...and comment, tweet, Facebook, and Tumble enthusiastically about details deep into the story. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over a long weekend (including you lucky ones with new iPads)? Below, a selection of our (and our readers') best-loved MoJo long reads from 2010.

What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?
A nighttime raid. A reality TV crew. A sleeping seven-year-old. What one tragedy can teach us about the unraveling of America's middle class.
By Charlie LeDuff

Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason
Glenn Beck loves them. Tea Partiers court them. Congressmen listen to them. Meet the fast-growing "patriot" group that's recruiting soldiers to resist the Obama administration.
By Justine Sharrock

The Ongoing Mysteries of the Elizabeth Smart Case
The verdict is in. But questions—about polygamy, prophecy, and insanity—remain.
By Scott Carrier

The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials
When you risk life and limb to help test a drug, are you helping science—or Big Pharma? One patient's tragic, and telling, story.
By Carl Elliott

Glenn Beck's Golden Fleece
How Beck and other right-wing talkers turned paranoia into a pitch for Goldline, the gold dealer one congressman says is conspiring to "cheat consumers."
By Stephanie Mencimer

What's Killing the Babies of Kettleman City?
Maybe it's the toxic waste dump. Maybe the pesticides, or the diesel fumes, or the arsenic. How a small-town mystery could change the way we look at pollution.
By Jacques Leslie

The Juan Doe Problem: One Woman's Search for Dead Migrants' Roots
How do you identify a dead border crosser when all that remains is a pile of teeth and bones?
By Andi McDaniel 

For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question
Living with the crazy, fearless young men who risk life and limb to document Burma's genocide.
By Mac McClelland

Fannie and Freddie's Foreclosure Barons
How fishy foreclosures earned millions for lawyers like David J. Stern—and made the housing crisis even worse.
By Andy Kroll 

The BP Cover-Up
BP and the government say the spill is fast disappearing—but dramatic new science reveals that its worst effects may be yet to come.
By Julia Whitty

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 30, 2010

Thu Dec. 30, 2010 3:30 AM PST

Army Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Brooks talks with residents of Khwazi village, Afghanistan, about the site of a well, Dec. 14. Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul visited the village to survey a site for a future well project. PRT Zabul is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout the province. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)

Israel's Fundamentalist Future

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 9:17 PM PST

Jeffrey Goldberg on Israel's increasingly bleak future:

I've had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I'm speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees: The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister and leader of the "Israel is Our Home" party.

Even as someone who's observed Israel only from an impersonal distance — it's never been one of my hot button issues — I've watched the growing prominence of its extremist religious factions over the past decade with mounting apprehension. It's telling that an ardent Israeli sympathizer like Goldberg feels the same way, and even more telling that a full-blown Israeli zealot like Marty Peretz now apparently finds only a tiny part of the country truly agreeable:

The part of Israel that remains perfect to Martin Peretz is vanishingly small. But it does still exist, tangibly enough that you could trace its perimeter on a map of Tel Aviv: the ethnically mixed neighborhoods of Jaffa, the impeccably preserved Bauhaus downtown, the symphony halls and dance theaters, the intersections that still hold traffic, tense and honking, at 2:30 in the morning, the cosmopolitan sidewalk cafés that make real the old liberal dream. Peretz, the longtime owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has been living here since October, and he reported recently that he has seen performances by the progressive dance company Pilobolus, the Cape Town Opera, and a Malian jazz group, which drew “a very hip crowd.” The sections of Tel Aviv he inhabits are so secular, Peretz says with relish, that in his first six weeks he saw exactly “eleven guys with Orthodox clothes. That’s it.”

....When he visits Jerusalem—“a very poor city”—he notices ultra-Orthodox boys running everywhere, and he disdains the sanctimony of the very religious and the “superpatriotism” of the Russian immigrants.

It's very hard to see how this ends well. Ten years ago peace might still have been possible, but it remained tantalizingly out of reach — maybe because of Yasser Arafat's intransigence, maybe because Bill Clinton just wasn't able to broker quite a good enough deal. Who knows? But it hardly matters anymore. There's no one left on the Palestinian side with the influence and clout to conclude a deal, and within a few years — assuming it's not true already — the growing religious fundamentalism of Israeli culture and politics will make any deal impossible. Israel will finish its transformation into a Jewish Saudi Arabia and even the chimera of peace will disappear. Whether Tel Aviv survives as sort of a semi-tolerated Dubai-like entertainment zone in the middle of a grim and relentless theocracy is anyone's guess. It's all very, very sad, and I only wish that I had something more profound to say about it. Unfortunately I don't. It's increasingly hard to see even the prospect of any kind of reconciliation anymore.

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After 16 Years Behind Bars for an $11 Robbery, the Scott Sisters Will Be Free at Last

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 8:32 PM PST

The following announcement was issued today by Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi, regarding Jamie and Gladys Scott. Mother Jones was among the first non-local media sources to report on the Scott sisters case, back in March. (The story was later covered by the AP, New York Times, and others.) The full story of their arrest and incarceration, and Jamie Scott's struggle to stay alive in prison, can be found here, with follow-ups here and here.

Dec. 29, 2010

GOV. BARBOUR’S STATEMENT REGARDING RELEASE OF SCOTT SISTERS

"Today, I have issued two orders indefinitely suspending the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott.  In 1994, a Scott County jury convicted the sisters of armed robbery and imposed two life sentences for the crime.  Their convictions and their sentences were affirmed by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 1996. 

"To date, the sisters have served 16 years of their sentences and are eligible for parole in 2014.  Jamie Scott requires regular dialysis, and her sister has offered to donate one of her kidneys to her.  The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society.  Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.     

"The Mississippi Parole Board reviewed the sisters' request for a pardon and recommended that I neither pardon them, nor commute their sentence.  At my request, the Parole Board subsequently reviewed whether the sisters should be granted an indefinite suspension of sentence, which is tantamount to parole, and have concurred with my decision to suspend their sentences indefinitely.   

"Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister, a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency. The release date for Jamie and Gladys Scott is a matter for the Department of Corrections.

"I would like to thank Representative George Flaggs, Senator John Horne, Senator Willie Simmons, and Representative Credell Calhoun for their leadership on this issue.  These legislators, along with former Mayor Charles Evers, have been in regular contact with me and my staff while the sisters' petition has been under review."

Re-Stimulating the Stimulus

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 1:00 PM PST

When President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package went into effect, the idea was simple: finance short-term, "shovel-ready" infrastructural facelifts around the country to put people back on payrolls. But that logic rested on the assumption that the states and cities receiving federal money would spend it quickly.

For Los Angeles and other cities around the country, that's been easier said than done.

Quote of the Day: BP's Blossom

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 12:37 PM PST

From Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.), incoming chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, on the BP oil spill:

As we saw that thing bubbling out, blossoming out — all that energy, every minute of every hour of every day of every week — that was tremendous to me. That we could deliver that kind of energy out there — even on an explosion.

Words fail me.

Yet More Whiny Bankers

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 11:30 AM PST

Yesterday Politico ran the 28th in a series of articles about how much the business community hates Barack Obama (stats courtesy of TNR's James Downie). Tuesday's piece was specifically about Wall Street and how deeply hurt they are that Obama has very occasionally said some not very nice things about them. It's mighty sad. About halfway down, though, we get to the real nub of their discontent:

"You have to understand, it is very personal. He raised money from us," one executive at a top bank said. "Then he started calling us bad people. So forgive us for not wanting to buy him a drink after getting punched in the eye."

....Christopher Whalen, investment banker, author and cofounder of Institutional Risk Analytics, said the distaste isn't policy-related, it's personal. Wall Street disdains Obama," Whalen said. "Hate is too strong a term. Obama is publicly disrespectful, thus Wall Street complains."

....Brad Hintz, former Lehman Brothers chief financial officer and now an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said [...] "the 2009 vilification of the entire financial-services industry by the political powers went beyond the pale and struck at the self-image of the leaders of Wall Street."

"Remember, Wall Street is dominated by Ivy-League-educated bankers who studied liberal arts at good schools, read the right papers and magazines, donated to good causes, advised their employees to perform community service, counseled their partners to live understated lifestyles, voted for the 'right' candidates and who live in populist suburbs of liberal blue states. It's not the oil industry."

Italics mine. No matter how many times I read pieces like this, I just can't get over how thin-skinned these guys are. Random bloggers get more criticism in a day than Wall Street has gotten in two years from the Obama administration, and of course even that mild criticism came along with enormous truckloads of concrete support for the banking industry. They got TARP, they got their bonds paid off at 100%, they got cramdown defeated, they got away with essentially no compensation limits, and they got a very industry friendly financial reform bill from the White House (which was only slightly tightened up by Congress). No banks were broken up, Chuck Schumer has made sure that the carried interest rule is still the law of the land, low interest rates have given banks an almost literal license to print money, Fannie and Freddie continue to prop up the housing market, and Wall Street profits are at all-time highs only two years after an epic global meltdown that was largely their fault. But they're still upset because Obama called them fat cats once and hasn't spent enough time on the phone stroking their egos and telling them how much the United States depends on their rock jawed stewardship of the capital markets.

Jesus Christ. Wall Street would be a smoking crater if it weren't for the fundamentally pro-banking orientation of the Obama administration. But that's not enough. I guess money isn't everything after all, even if you have lots of it.