2011 - %3, November

Will Democrats Declare War on Jan Brewer?

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 5:50 PM EDT
Rep. Steve Israel

Earlier this week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer declared war on the state's Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), a non-partisan entity created in 2000 to remove state lawmakers from the redistricting process. In a special session on Tuesday, Brewer and Republicans in the state Senate forced a vote—which passed, 21-6—to remove the commission's independent chairwoman. 

The IRC's map creates four GOP-friendly districts, two Democrat-friendly ones, and three toss-ups. At first glance, it looks like a pretty good deal for Republicans. Brewer's beef: That the commission drew several voting districts in shapes that "are not geographically compact and contiguous…do not respect communities of interest, and…were not drawn using visible geographic features." Brewer also charges that the IRC's independent chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, violated existing Arizona law by privately negotiating to award a mapping contract to a firm with ties to the Democratic Party.

Those allegations could turn out to be true. But Brewer's decision to nuke the commission before letting legal proceedings take their course suggests that she wants to dismantle it for political—rather than legal—reasons. Brewer is annoyed that the commission's map pits incumbent Republican Congressmen Ben Quayle and David Schwiekert against each other in next year's elections. That's not really a fair complaint: the IRC isn't allowed to use the addresses of incumbents when drawing its maps. 

Democrats, unsurprisingly, see Mathis' removal as a partisan power grab intended to give the GOP the power to make an already Republican-leaning congressional map even redder. On Friday, the Dems sent the strongest signal yet that they're plotting massive retaliation. The Washington Post explains: 

In a briefing with reporters Friday morning, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) responded to the unfolding redistricting war in Arizona by suggesting that residents attempt to impeach Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

"I think Arizonans should consider impeaching Jan Brewer," Israel said today, adding that he knew the situation well because he has family in the state.... "We will push every button, we will use every strategy, we will appeal to any fair court to redress this trampling of a fair and independent process," Israel declared. "Instead of impeaching the highly regarded, truly independent leader of that body, that Republicans and Democrats agreed upon, Gov. Brewer ought to think about impeaching herself."

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Three Recipes for Invasive Plants

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 5:19 PM EDT
A nopal, an invasive plant and delicious ingredient

After hunting for feral pigs with invasivore extraordinaire Jackson Landers, I decided it was time to experiment with weeds. Fellow MoJo staffers Maddie Oatman and Ian Gordon came over to my place to cook up three dishes, each based around a different invasive plant. Herewith, the recipes (and a few pictures from our culinary adventure): 

Purslane salad with roasted root vegetables: Image by Maddie OatmanPurslane salad with roasted root vegetables

 

 

Purslane Salad With Roasted Root Vegetables (serves four)

from Chef Sean Baker of Gather in Berkeley, California

Start with 3 cups of celery root and 3 cups of peeled sunchokes, chopped into 3/4" pieces. Toss with salt and olive oil and roast in a 325-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes until soft, rotating as needed. Cool to room temperature and dump into a big bowl with 3 cups of washed, chopped purslane*. Toss in 3 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme, and 1/2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley. Flavor with a mix of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, grate pecorino cheese on top, and serve.

*Purslane, sometimes called verdolagas, grows wild in many places in the US. If you can't find it in your yard, try a Mexican supermarket.

Herman Cain: "I'm Going to Be President"

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 4:17 PM EDT
2012 GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain

GOP presidential contender Herman Cain didn't sing, but on Friday he ended his difficult week on a high note when he appeared before an adoring crowd at the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) "Defending the American Dream" summit in Washington, DC. There, he proved that even under a cloud of scandal, rival Mitt Romney can't lay a glove on him when it comes to likability. Cain spoke in the cavernous ballroom of the DC convention center, where he was met with ecstatic cries of support. The first words out of his mouth: "Whose teleprompters are these?" It was a major dig at Romney, who'd spoken a few minutes earlier in a stilted, sober, and tepidly received speech delivered responsibly and carefully from the teleprompters. Cain, unprompted, did an admirable job of making Romney look like something of a nerd, highlighting the real obstacles Romney still has in securing the GOP nomination and ultimately winning the White House.

While Romney delivered canned jokes and policy prescriptions that sounded straight out of Al Gore's playbook circa 1996 ("We've got to combine federal agencies!"), Cain demonstrated that he's never more comfortable than in front of a big crowd. He brushed off the week's brew of scandalous allegations that he may have sexually harassed several women who worked for him at the National Restaurant Association, explaining that such dirt-throwing is to be expected "when you are at the top." The crowd went wild. Cain distinguished himself as a businessman, not a politician, emphasizing his outsider status. "Politicians want to propose…stuff," he said. "I want to get things done!"

Cain also took some jabs at the media—a guaranteed conservative crowd-pleaser. Referring to Thursday's New York Times story suggesting close ties between the Koch brothers (oil company magnates whose money was also behind the AFP summit), Cain looked amused at the notion that somehow his relationship with the Kochs was some sort of state secret. "I'm proud to know the Koch brothers," Cain said. "I am the Koch brothers brother from another mother!"

The performance was a far cry from how Cain spent Monday morning, the day after the sexual harassment allegations broke and he was slated to speak at the American Enterprise Institute about his "9-9-9" tax plan. At AEI, Cain looked beleaguered, and the format didn't work to his motivational-speaking strengths. He was pained to provide specific and detailed answers about his tax proposal, even though he was appearing before a room of serious policy wonks. And he seemed artificially insulated by moderator rules that prevented the reporters in the audience from asking Cain any questions about the scandal, a situation that didn't help bolster his credibility on the issue.

The story has unfolded all week, with more details emerging every day about alleged sexual advances he made toward female ex-employees. But Cain seems to have taken a cue from Bill Clinton and bounced back, at least publicly, and his supporters don't seemed to have wavered as a result, if the crowd at the AFP summit was any indication.

Of course, right-wingers love rallying behind any conservative who they see as under siege by the liberal media. But it was hard not to wonder how Romney was going to compete with Cain. The two are now virtually tied in most polls. Romney may have all the money and ground organization and  lots more political experience, but Cain has the fundamental element that Romney lacks: likability. Cain is truly funny, even if you don't agree with him. And he knows how to rally his troops.

I've seen Romney address similar crowds now a handful of times in the past two years, and he never, ever seems to hit the mark and connect with the people in the audience. I used to think it was because the evangelicals didn't like him. Several of his speeches I've watched have been at the Values Voter summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, so the crowd tends to skew heavily religious. But the audience on Friday was more of a fiscal-conservative crowd. They are the people bused in to tea party rallies and anti-health care reform town halls, who care a lot about shrinking the size of government and not quite as much about social issues like abortion. I thought Romney might strike a chord here, even if it was delivered from a teleprompter. But even the AFP crowd couldn't get excited over Romney's speech, not even when he endorsed one of their favorite policy prescriptions: the balanced-budget amendment.

Herman Cain might not have any policy smarts, he doesn't know squat about foreign policy, and there's that whole alleged sexual harassment thing. But compared to Romney in public, he is positively Reaganesque: an eternal optimist who exudes confidence in his abilities, if not necessarily his command of the details. "I'm going to be president," he declared Friday to a raucous crowd that sounded a lot like they really believed him. 

Energy Department: World CO2 Emissions Rising Faster Than Ever

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 3:54 PM EDT

New figures released by the Department of Energy show that the world is emitting carbon dioxide at a rate much faster than scientists had predicted. Global CO2 emissions reached 10 billion tons in 2010, the Oak Ridge National Lab reports, about 564 million tons or 6 percent more than emitted in 2009. It's the biggest annual jump ever recorded thus far:

Oak Ridge National Lab/APOak Ridge National Lab/AP

"It's a big jump," Tom Boden, director of the Oak Ridge's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, told The Associated Press. "From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over."

The new figure also means CO2 is now being emitted at a rate higher than the figure the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used in 2007 to project its worst-case scenario for global temperature increase by the end of the century (depicted by the red line in the graph below):

NASA Earth ObservatoryNASA Earth Observatory

In light of the new DOE report, the question scientists are asking now is whether the world will experience the IPCC's worst case scenario "or something more extreme," Christopher Field, a Stanford University professor and head of one of the IPCC's working groups, said.

Sarah Palin Touts Union Cred—Then Stumps for John Kasich's Anti-Union Bill

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 3:25 PM EDT

With defenders of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's anti-union bill trailing in the polls and getting badly outspent by labor-allied groups, they've enlisted the help of one of the biggest names in conservative politics: Sarah Palin.

Palin's voice can be heard on a new robo-call urging Ohioans to vote yes this Tuesday on Issue 2, which would uphold Kasich's anti-union bill, better known as SB 5. Kevin Holtsberry of Columbus, Ohio, tweeted that he'd received a Palin robo-call on Friday afternoon. In the call, Holtsberry told Mother Jones, Palin accused President Obama of bankrupting the country and claiming Issue 2 would control spending in Ohio. Three others tweeted that they'd received robo-calls Friday afternoon featuring Palin.

Palin also stumped for Kasich's bill on her wildly popular Facebook page, which boasts more than 3.5 million fans. Palin burnishes her cred as "a proud former union member and the wife, daughter, and sister of union members," and then tells Ohioans to back Kasich's bill to ban public-worker strikes and curb collective bargaining for 350,000 public workers, among other reforms.

Here's her full statement:

OHIO'S ISSUE 2

As a proud former union member and the wife, daughter, and sister of union members, I’m encouraging you to learn the facts about Issue 2 in Ohio. To the hard working, patriotic, selfless union brothers and sisters in Ohio and throughout our country: I believe that Issue 2 is needed reform. It will help restore fairness to Ohio taxpayers and help balance the budget.

As a former card-carrying IBEW sister married to a proud former Laborers, IBEW, and later USW member, I'm encouraging Ohioans to vote YES on Issue 2. Get the facts at www.BetterOhio.org.

Palin is only the latest celebrity, political or otherwise, to wade into Ohio's union fight. Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have said they're supporting voting yes on Issue 2, and former astronaut and US Sen. John Glenn appears in a recent ad for We Are Ohio, the union-funded group opposing Issue 2, urging Ohioans to vote no and repeal Kasich's bill.

Friday iCat Blogging - 4 November 2011

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 3:02 PM EDT

Today is a very special day of catblogging: these are the first pictures taken with my shiny new iPhone 4s. It's true: I've given in to the dark side. I don't actually have any real use for a smartphone, but a little while back Marian decided she wanted an iPhone, and when we got to the store I somehow got talked into getting one too. That's just the kind of sheep I am.

So, anyway, I've been busy trying to figure out how to use the thing. Setup was a pain in the ass, not really due to anything inherent in the iPhone, but because I could only transfer the contacts from my old phone by downloading a free Verizon app. Unfortunately, even free apps require an App Store account, and setting that up Did. Not. Go. Well. Eventually, after a fair amount of swearing, I gave up and slunk back to my computer to do some work, where I discovered a waiting email telling me to click a link to verify my account. Naturally, the account creation process hadn't told me to expect this, and since email wasn't set up on the phone I didn't know anything was waiting for me. Once I clicked the link, though, my account was activated, I downloaded the app, and I was up and running. Hooray! So far everything seems to be functioning fine except for the battery, which sucks. But I understand that Apple is aware of this problem and has promised a fix real soon now.

Oh — and Siri. It doesn't work quite as well as the commercials lead you to believe, does it? This was my first conversation with Siri:

Call Marian.
I don't see Mariam in your address book.
Call Marian.
I don't see Mariott in your address book.
Call Marian.
I don't see Mary in your address book.
Call Marian.
I don't see Mariana in your address book.
Call Marian.
Which Marian? Marian Drum Work or Marian Drum Cell?
Marian Drum Work.
I don't see Mary and Drum Work in your address book.  

So even on the fifth try, when it finally recognized the word "Marian" and there were only two options for my response, it still translated my sounds literally instead of figuring out which address book entry they were closest to. And later, when I told it to "Call Marc," it told me that it couldn't find "Mark" in my address book. So this is going to take some work. (On the bright side, when I asked it for the weather in San Francisco, it popped right up.)

Anyway, that's that. Now it's time to figure out what nifty apps I should download. So far, all I have is a flashlight app, a barcode reading app, the Opera mini-browser, a Twitter reader, the New York Times, and the Economist. What else should I play with?

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Mitt Romney Has a Medicare Plan

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 2:53 PM EDT

Sarah Kliff reports that Mitt Romney has provided us with a bit more detail about how he'd reform Medicare:

The plan has two major things in common with the Medicare reforms that House budget chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed earlier this year. First, it would provide seniors with a specified amount of money to purchase health benefits. The level of benefits would depend on the recipient’s income, as those with lower incomes would get more money to spend on Medicare. Second, it would allow private carriers into the Medicare space with two key requirements: They would have to provide a set of benefits comparable to the entitlement program and offer coverage to any senior who applied. The argument is that prices would drop as Medicare plans compete for business.

But there’s one big difference between the Ryan and Romney plans: While Ryan would have phased out traditional Medicare completely, Romney would leave it as an option for seniors. “We’d allows providers to compete to provide the best care at lowest cost,” a Romney campaign official told reporters Friday. “One of the choices will be to remain in traditional Medicare.”

Hmmm. That sure sounds a lot like a combination of traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. In other words, exactly what we have today. Romney apparently hasn't decided how he'd set premium support for the private plans,1 but that hardly matters if you keep the traditional program around. Premiums either keep up enough to compete with traditional Medicare, or else everyone eventually migrates to traditional Medicare and the private plans go out of business. So I guess I don't really get this.

Romney also wants to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. This would be extremely unpopular and it wouldn't really do much to lower Medicare costs. So I think we can safely consider that a nonstarter.

Other than that, Romney's plan sounds great.

1The big criticism of Paul Ryan's premium support plan was that the size of the voucher grew so slowly that within a couple of decades seniors would be paying huge amounts out of pocket for medical care. So as wonky as it sounds, the precise mechanism by which premium supports are calculated each year is really, really important.

Image-of-the-Week: Fish Futures

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 2:21 PM EDT

Anemonefish protecting its eggs.: Credit: Silke Baron via Wikimedia Commons.Anemonefish protecting its eggs. Credit: Silke Baron via Wikimedia Commons.

Coral reef dwellers, like this anemonefish guarding its eggs, may be at greater risk from climate change than species on the land. A new paper in Science reports that while while the land has warmed faster than the ocean over the past 50 years, the rates of temperature shifts in the sea are greater than on land. Drawing on five decades of global temperature data from the UK's Hadley Centre, the authors tracked the velocity of oceanic climate change in two ways: 1) geographical shifts in temperature bands (isotherms) and, 2) seasonal changes in temperature. They found that geographic shifts in isotherms have outpaced changes on land. Which means marine life must adapt rapidly to keep pace with big habitat changes in the ocean. Recent changes along the California coast—increases in abundance of tropical Humboldt squid and decreases in abundance of salmon—are in keeping with their findings.

The paper:

Report: America's Pakistan Problem Is Worse Than You Think

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 2:15 PM EDT
The aftermath of a recent militant attack on a NATO oil tanker.

Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder drop a number of Pakistan-related bombs in a joint Atlantic/National Journal story.

Among them: Pakistani military officials have long feared that Americans have designs on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal—a suspicion exacerbated by the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. So Pakistan's nuclear watchdogs took action, making some strategic tweaks to how it transports its weapons:

[I]nstead of moving nuclear material in armored, well-defended convoys [Pakistan] prefers to move material by subterfuge, in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic. According to both Pakistani and American sources, vans with a modest security profile are sometimes the preferred conveyance. And according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the Pakistanis have begun using this low-security method to transfer not merely the "de-mated" component nuclear parts but "mated" nuclear weapons...

Pakistani and American sources say that since the raid on Abbottabad, the Pakistanis have provoked anxiety inside the Pentagon by increasing the pace of these movements. In other words, the Pakistani government is willing to make its nuclear weapons more vulnerable to theft by jihadists simply to hide them from the United States, the country that funds much of its military budget.

Are the Pakistanis just crazy-ass paranoid? Perhaps not: For years now, as Goldberg and Ambinder report, Delta Force, Seal Team Six, and Joint Special Operations Command operatives have been refining a plan to secure and "render safe" any live nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

As for recent claims by Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the "Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency":

A 2008 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the ISI was providing "intelligence and financial support to insurgent groups—especially the Jalaluddin Haqqani network out of Miram Shah, North Waziristan—to conduct attacks against Afghan government, [International Security Assistance Force], and Indian targets." By late 2006, according to the intelligence historian Matthew Aid…the U.S. had reliable intelligence indicating that Jalaluddin Haqqani and another pro-Taliban Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, were being given financial assistance by the ISI (which of course receives substantial financial assistance from the United States).

Goldberg and Ambinder also report that Mullen was particularly aggrieved by reports that the Pakistani government was involved in the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad:

Sources we spoke with say the order was passed directly to General Pasha, the head of the ISI. According to one of the sources, an official with knowledge of the intelligence, Pasha was told to "deal with it" and "take care of the problem." According to this source, Mullen was horrified that his Pakistani interlocutors of many years had been involved in orchestrating the killing of a journalist. "It struck a visceral chord with him,” the source told The Atlantic, recalling that Mullen had slammed his desk and said, "This is old school."

Could the Fed Have Saved Us All?

| Fri Nov. 4, 2011 1:47 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias:

I really liked Ezra Klein’s review of Ron Suskind’s book in the NYRB for its wholesome focus on monetary policy errors as the most plausible way the Obama administration could have made things better. Nobody was stopping them from replacing Ben Bernanke with someone more committed to full employment, and it seems likely that they could have filled two existing Board of Governors vacancies with people more committed to full employment. If the chairman and those two empty seats all felt the way Charles Evans feels, we’d be in much better shape today. None of that is to deny that fiscal policy could have been better, but as Klein says the key blocking points on fiscal policy were in Congress.

I liked Ezra's review too, but I'm not sure its focus on monetary policy was really such a strong point. I was opposed to the reappointment of Bernanke from the start, but even so, I really have to ask how likely it is that Obama could have seriously affected Fed policy if he'd only tried harder. A more activist chairman certainly would have helped, and a couple of additional activist board members would have helped too. But even assuming that the Senate would have approved those hypothetically activist Fed members, that's still only three out of 12 members of the FOMC, the committee that sets monetary policy. What's more, the three board members Obama has appointed (and gotten confirmed) haven't exactly been champing at the bit to launch money-laden helicopters over the heartland.

In other words, it strikes me that there were several problems here. The first really is Obama himself: he just isn't inclined to nominate outspoken expansionists to the Fed board. The second is the reality of the applicant pool: there's a limited supply of the kind of person who can plausibly serve on the Fed, and most of them tend to fall within a fairly narrow band of mainstream economic thinking from center left to center right. Third, Congress is still a bottleneck. The Senate will approve moderately liberal folks like Janet Yellen and Daniel Tarullo, but not anyone much further to the left. And fourth, even if Obama had miraculously managed to stack the board with more activist lefties, you still have the five regional bank presidents on the FOMC to contend with. And they tend to be pretty conservative on average.

Maybe I'm protesting too much here, since I'm on board with the need for better Fed governors and I'm on board with the importance of monetary policy. But I think there's always a tendency to be too idealistic when you think about counterfactuals. Even if Obama had been on the side of the angels here, a lot of things would have had to go precisely right for us to end up with a significantly more expansionist Fed than the one we have. And I'm not sure why this would have been more likely to go precisely right than any of the other things that actually did happen and ran into the buzzsaw of real-world politics.

POSTSCRIPT: One caveat: supposedly, it's traditional for the entire board of governors plus the New York Fed president to vote with the chairman. In other words, the chairman always has eight votes out of 12 and carries the day. If this is true — and knowledgeable feedback would be welcome on this — then nothing mattered except appointing a better Fed chairman than Bernanke. That's a far more feasible thing for Obama to have done.