2011 - %3, December

Newt Gingrich Is Sad That Politics Has Gotten So Nasty

| Sun Dec. 4, 2011 10:21 PM PST

National Review's Katrina Trinko attended one of Newt Gingrich's town hall meetings for local tea partiers today:

One thing that struck me was his earnestness in pushing bipartisanship, not a typical theme at Tea Party events....He spoke about having to attract Democratic votes to stay in Congress during his early years as House member in Georgia, and referred to working to get Democratic votes in the '80s to pass Reagan’s initiatives. "I grew up in politics learning a lot about how you build bipartisan coalitions," Gingrich observed.

…"There are a thousand small things that create bipartisanship even if you disagree about big things," Gingrich said. "And it's really important to remember that, all the little human things that a good leader can do to get the city of Washington to work again. Tragically, none of them are being done by the current team."

I read that with my mouth agape. If there's a single person in the country more responsible than Newt for the poisonous state of partisan politics in America today, I don't know who it is. Remember these gems down through the years?

1978, speaking to a group of College Republicans: "I think that one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty."

1989, speaking about the Democratic leadership in Congress: "These people are sick…They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending."

2011, speaking about the current Democratic president: "Obama is the most serious radical threat to traditional America ever to occupy the White House."

There's no cherry picking here. These are all workaday themes for the GOP's self-proclaimed philosopher king, one of the nastiest, most malignant pieces of work ever to grace American politics. Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of bipartisanship is like Hannibal Lecter promoting the value of good nutrition.

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Reporter Remembers the Most Awkward Mitt Romney Interview of All Time

| Sun Dec. 4, 2011 8:52 AM PST

This clip of then-Senate candidate Mitt Romney being interviewed by Medfield (Mass.) Cable 8 back in 1994 has been making the rounds. It's classic Romney, right down to his preferences for music: "I like music of almost any kind, including this." Boy, aren't bass lines great? I love tempo.

Take a look:

If you're wondering, "What ever happened to that Ken Cole kid?" we can report that he seems to have recovered completely from the awkwardness of this interview, as well as the supreme boredom of growing up in Medfield (incidentally, also my hometown). His first directing credit, Tornado Glory, tracked the antics of two Midwestern twister chasers for PBS, and he just completed his second project, a Bourne Supremacy-style mockumentary about IT workers. I sent him the clip; here's his reaction:

Quote of the Day: Why Europe is Still a Mess

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 10:18 PM PST

From Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, explaining why it's so hard to fix the euromess:

We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get reelected once we have done it.

That's from Jared Bernstein. More at the link.

UPDATE: This quote is actually from 2005 and has nothing to do with the current crisis. I'm not sure why Jared made it sound like Juncker said it last week, but in any case, I suppose it never hurts to recycle a good quote.

Herman Cain Suspends Presidential Campaign, Finally

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 12:15 PM PST
Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.

So that happened.

Former restaurant industry lobbyist, talk-show host, motivational speaker, and Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain dropped out of the GOP presidential race at a rally in Atlanta on Saturday, citing "false" attacks on his character that prevented him from getting his message out. Cain, in a noticeably less caffeinated speech than has been his custom, alleged that "elites" and political reporters had conspired to take down his reputation. Cain's not exiting politics, though; he's moving on to what he repeatedly referred to as "Plan B"—a new website devoted to sharing his solutions for fixing America. 

The site, "Cain Solutions," is currently empty.

In the end, despite demonstrating a total lack of interest in the rest of the world, the intricacies of politics, or basic Constitutional principles, Cain was undone not by ignorance or even a parade of sexual harassment complaints, but by alleged infidelity. For many, the main question wasn't whether Cain would drop out today, but whether Gloria Cain would stand by her husband's side when he did it—she did, taking the stage to chants of "Gloria! Gloria!" from the crowd.

After spending much of his address chiding the political establishment for not taking him seriously, Cain closed the speech with an extended quote from the theme song to the Pokemon movie: "Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me." Sometimes you just can't catch 'em all.

The dream is dead. But what a journey it's been. Here's a guide to some of Cain's greatest (or not) hits:

Suspense Over Herman Cain Builds to Fever Pitch!

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 10:34 AM PST

According to the Washington Post copy desk, "Republican campaigns pause as Herman Cain announcement looms." Really? The entire clown show is in suspended animation while it waits with bated breath for Herman Cain to tell us if he's planning to pull out of the presidential race? I guess stranger things have happened.

Anyway, since Cain was never remotely likely to win the nomination, I don't really care what he decides to do. The only thing I'm curious about is who he blames. There are several obvious choices:

  1. The lamestream media, which was determined from the start to tear down President Obama's biggest threat.
  2. The Democrat machine, which is terrified of facing a strong, conservative black man in November.
  3. Republican elites, who don't want an outsider breaking up their cocktail parties and power lunches.
  4. Our hypersensitive liberal culture, which always interprets "You want a job, right?" in the worst possible light.
  5. Gloria Cain, who continues to support him without reservation but would like Herman to spend more time with his family.

Vote in comments! Or add your own guess to the list. Personally, I'm voting for all five.

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No, Republicans Are Still Not Willing to Raise Taxes

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 10:08 AM PST

For reasons that escape me, the latest craze in conservative pundit circles is to claim that Republicans aren't, in fact, unalterably opposed to tax hikes on the rich. Charles Krauthammer made this case last week, and Reihan Salam has since picked up the ball and taken a run up the gut with it a few times recently. For example, here he is objecting to Ron Brownstein's latest column:

[Brownstein] suggests that the GOP is aiming for “a deficit plan that relies solely on spending reductions (particularly in entitlements) while preserving tax cuts for the affluent.” As Keith Hennessey has explained, congressional Republicans have made a strategic shift on taxes. Opposition to any net tax increase was a way to secure leverage in negotiations over the long-run fiscal trajectory. But leading Republicans have demonstrated an openness to net tax increases, and in particular to an increase in the average tax rates paid by the most affluent households, provided it is part of a package that secures structural, architectural Medicare reform.

This is just flatly untrue, and I'm a little surprised at how flagrantly it's been bandied about lately. The Toomey proposal in the supercommittee did indeed include about $300 billion in new taxes, some of which would have fallen on high-income earners. But Toomey's proposal explicitly tied this to a demand for permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich (those are the red bars on the right, the ones that fall exclusively on those earning more than $200,000). Unlike the other Bush tax cuts, these cuts are very much a matter of contention between the parties, so Toomey's proposal, in plain English, was this:

  • Republicans will agree to raise taxes on the rich by $300 billion
  • If and only if Democrats agree to permanently extend $700 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

Conservatives try to handwave this away by claiming it's "just a baseline game" or some such, but if it were just a game they wouldn't care about it. In fact, as they know quite well, we're talking about actual tax dollars paid by actual people that affect the actual budget deficit. Compared to the law as it stands now, Toomey's deal explicitly demanded that net taxes on the rich go down by about $400 billion after 2013. That was the only deal ever on the table.

If you want to claim that it's a breakthrough merely for Republicans to propose a reduction in the net size of the Bush tax cuts, that's fine. But a net increase? They've never even come close to offering that.

WATCH: Military Spending Doesn't Create Jobs—It Costs Them

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Now that the budget supercommittee has failed in its mission to produce a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan, the Department of Defense must automatically cut $600 billion from its budget within the next decade. As expected, the US defense industry is not happy about this, and its lobbyists have been scrambling for ways to convince Congress that the impending cuts are untenable.

So far, one major theme has emerged: Cut spending in our industry, and you cut hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Marion Blakey, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, announced that "the cuts in the aerospace and defense portion alone could result in the loss of over 1 million American jobs."

But that's misleading, according to the Brave New Media Foundation. While the defense industry would lose some opportunities, military spending in fact amounts to a net loss of jobs when compared with government investment in other industries, according to the group's research. Pumping money into the green energy sector and education field creates far more jobs than defense spending does—in the case of education, twice as many.

Watch:

My Favorite Cookbooks of 2011

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Part of me swore off cookbooks years ago. I used to dive into them, creating feasts that started with huge shopping lists and ended in towers of dirty dishes. No regrets—it was a great way to learn to cook and get some tangible, edible education about the culture of faraway lands.

I actually still love that sort of thing. But I don't have time for it anymore; my cooking has become streamlined and simple, driven not by some vision of, say, authentic Moroccan cuisine, but rather by what's coming off the farm, what basics—grains, beans, oils, spices, etc.—are in the pantry, and what meat I can get from neighboring farmers for the occasional splurge.

If I have largely turned away from cookbooks, though, they have not done me the same favor. One of the perks of writing about a topic is receiving via mail a steady stream of "review copies" of books on the subject. One kind of food book is the cookbook—and once a month or so, unsolicited new ones arrive, usually hotly promoting some aspect of "green" or "sustainable" cooking. I confess that until recently, most of those books, worthy as they are, bored me. I don't need to "green my kitchen," or be harangued to buy local and eat lower on the food chain.

But this year, I started receiving what I consider a new genre of cookbooks, put out by inspired writer-cooks whose lives are deeply embedded in their own foodsheds—a condition they take as a given, without hitting you over the head with it—and who share my fixation on simple, seasonal, high-flavor cooking. I learned they can can teach me new tricks without wrecking the kitchen or sending me scurrying to the grocery store for special ingredients. For the first time in years, I found myself digging into cookbooks for ideas and inspiration—and falling in love with them all over again.

In addition to being highly practical and in tune with the way I cook now, these new-wave cookbooks are all lovingly put-together artifacts—things you want to hold, pore over, and return to, in a way that no website or app can simulate. Here, in no particular order, are the cookbooks that have won me over this year, in spite of myself.

River Cottage Everyday
By Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall

Fearnley-Whitingstall, who runs the runs River Cottage farm/restaurant in the UK, made his authorial rep with a celebrated tome on meat (which I confess I've never cracked). In this one, vegetables take center plate, giving meat just a single (okay, quite brilliant) chapter. As suggested by the title, what Fearnley-Whitingstall is doing here is laying out a blueprint for fitting home cooking into a busy life. So we get chapters like "Making breakfast," "Weekday lunch (box)," and "Thrifty meat." Thrift, indeed, is a theme running throughout—for a superb fish soup, for example, he has you "buy an inexpensive fresh fish, get the fishmonger to fillet it for you, and use the head, fish, and bones to make a flavorful stock."

But the mood is whimsical, not earnest, brightened by the delightful photography of Simon Wheeler and Fearnley-Whitingstall's droll prose. And every recipe I've tried—from "Roast carrots with butter, cumin, and orange" to "Easy rich chocolate cake"—has been both dead simple and a winner. It is, in short, the most charming and irresistible cookbook I've come across in ages.

Killer dish: "Beet and walnut hummus" (my favorite discovery of 2011)
Dish I'm dying to try: "Neck of lamb with lemon and barley"

Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch
By Nigel Slater

Here we have another charming and useful book by a British writer, this one from the veteran Observer food columnist Nigel Slater. Slater's shtick—and it's a good one—is that he intensively gardens the 40-by-20-foot lot behind his London townhouse. Somehow, he has managed to write an entire thick book about his rarefied urban-homesteader lifestyle without sounding the least bit self-satisfied or snobbish. Again, the photography is gorgeous—in the elegantly written introduction, don't miss the bird's eye shots of Slater's garden as it progresses from early spring to the dead of winter. Even more so than Fearnley-Whitingstall's, this book is a valentine to produce—meat turns up in some of the recipes, but each one highlights a specific vegetable. And Slater's focus isn't on just the cooking, but also the growing. The chapters take us alphabetically from asparagus to zucchini, with wise and hard-won tips on growing each, followed by a dozen or so recipes, all of them quite practical. The cooking style is Anglo-Mediterranean, in the proud, unfussy tradition of the great postwar UK food writer Elizabeth David. Not long after the book arrived, I caught my roommate, Maverick Farms director Hillary Wilson, leafing through it with a frown. I asked her what was the matter. "This is the book I wanted to write," she said. "Damn it." I suspect a lot of cooking-obsessed growers will feel the same.

Killer dish: "Carrot and cilantro fritters"
Dish I'm dying to try: "A soup of broccoli and bacon"

Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes
By Andrea Reusing

If Slater's book is a love letter to fresh produce, Andrea Reusing has written one to her food shed: North Carolina's highly fertile Piedmont region, with its gently sloping hills that separate the state's mountainous western region (where I live) from the sandy lowlands to the east. Her home base is Chapel Hill/Carrboro, the epicenter of one of the nation's most vibrant small-farm scenes: talented youngsters, back-to-the-landers from the '70s, and traditional smallholders all producing top-flight produce from the region's rich soil and warm climate. In her restaurant Lantern, Reusing takes those raw materials and transforms them into correct and elaborate pan-Asian fare: just the kind of stuff I love to eat in restaurants but am too time-strapped to attempt at home these days. (Full disclosure: Andrea is a friend, and I've had many terrific meals at Lantern). In this book, though, Andrea sheds her chef's toque and shows us how she cooks those same staple ingredients at home with her family: dishes that are simple, fast, and full of flavor. The book is structured seasonally, each chapter containing a mini-profile of a local producer, written in prose as friendly and precise as her cooking. My favorite vignette is the one about her clandestine source for raw milk (which can be legally sold in North Carolina only as animal feed, wink, wink). The story climaxes with a showdown between a food processor and a stand-up mixer over which can turn fresh cream into butter faster and better. Again, the photography is a delight.

Killer dish: "Spinach with melted leeks and cardamom"
Dish I'm dying to try: "Hard-cider braised pork shoulder" (Andrea is an artist of pork)

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts
By Frédéric Morin, David McMillan, and Meredith Erickson

This bizarre and spectacular book isn't like the other on my list—but then again, it's not much like any other book I know of, cooking-related or otherwise. "What the fuck is Joe Beef?," the great New York chef David Chang asks in the book's introduction. He notes that the name evokes "images of Sloppy Joe's, of ground meat in ketchup, and of hairnets." What Joe Beef is, by all accounts, is one of the best restaurants in North America, crammed into a tiny space in an unfashionable Montreal neighborhood. (The restaurant takes its name from a colorful tavern keeper who kept Montreal's working stiffs well-fed and -lubricated a century ago.) The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is a kind of artist's statement for an idiosyncratic and unlikely restaurant. It doesn't follow seasons or ingredients or meal genres, but rather the quirks and obsessions of the Joe Beef's founders. A cookbook only "of sorts," it offers chapters on the history of eating in Montreal, on nostalgia for trains, on booze (sample sentence: "I love red Burgundy wine so much I want to pour it in my eyes"), on building and mastering your own smoker, and on transforming a crack den into a garden worthy of Nigel Slater. Interrupting the Gonzo-style essays and dazzling photos are recipes for straight-ahead, unfussy French food—a little chefy and rarefied-ingredients-based for my current cooking habits, but deeply appealing. I want to try them all. Even more, I want to make my debut at the bar of Joe Beef.

Killer dish: "Cider turnips" (so far, it's the only recipe I've had everything on hand to try)
Dish I'm dying to try: Every single one, but if I had to choose: "Scallops with pulled pork"

WATCH: Andy Kroll Explains Why Obama Is on a Fundraising Blitz

Fri Dec. 2, 2011 3:48 PM PST

Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll appeared on MSNBC to discuss his report on Obama's blistering fundraising pace, and why it reflects the changing landscape of money in American politics.