2012 - %3, January

Crackpots Do Not Make Good Messengers

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 8:11 PM PST

So then: Ron Paul. Should we lefties be happy he's in the presidential race, giving noninterventionism a voice, even if he has other beliefs we find less agreeable? Should we be happy that his nonmainstream positions are finally getting a public hearing? This is a depressingly common view. For example:

Can we talk? Ron Paul is not a charming oddball with a few peculiar notions. He's not merely "out of the mainstream." Ron Paul is a full-bore crank. In fact he's practically the dictionary definition of a crank: a person who has a single obsessive, all-encompassing idea for how the world should work and is utterly blinded to the value of any competing ideas or competing interests.

This obsessive idea has, at various times in his career, led him to: denounce the Civil Rights Act because it infringed the free-market right of a monolithic white establishment to immiserate blacks; dabble in gold buggery and advocate the elimination of the Federal Reserve, apparently because the global economy worked so well back in the era before central banks; suggest that the border fence is being built to keep Americans from leaving the country; claim that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and should be dismantled; mount repeated warnings that hyperinflation is right around the corner; insist that global warming is a gigantic hoax; hint that maybe the CIA helped to coordinate the 9/11 attacks; oppose government-sponsored flu shots; and allege that the UN wants to confiscate our guns.

This isn't the biography of a person with one or two unusual hobbyhorses. It's not something you can pretend doesn't matter. This is Grade A crankery, and all by itself it's reason enough to want nothing to do with Ron Paul. But of course, that's not all. As we've all known for the past four years, you can layer on top of this Paul's now infamous newsletters, in which he condoned a political strategy consciously designed to appeal to the worst strains of American homophobia, racial paranoia, militia hucksterism, and new-world-order fear-mongering. And on top of that, you can layer on the fact that Paul is plainly lying about these newsletters and his role in them.

Now, balanced against that you have the fact that Paul opposes the War on Drugs and supports a non-interventionist foreign policy. But guess what? Even there, he's a crank. Even if you're a hard-core non-interventionist yourself, you probably think World War II was a war worth fighting. But not Ron Paul. He thinks we should have just minded our own damn business. And even if you're a hardcore opponent of our current drug policy—if you think not just that marijuana should be legalized, not just that hard drugs should be decriminalized, but that all illicit drugs should be fully legalized—I'll bet you still think that maybe we should retain some regulations on a few of the worst drugs. They're pretty dangerous, after all, and no matter how much you hate the War on Drugs you might have a few qualms about a global marketing behemoth like RJ Reynolds having free rein to advertise and sell anything it wants, anywhere it wants, in any way it wants. But not Ron Paul. As near as I can tell, he just wants everything legalized, full stop.

Bottom line: Ron Paul is not merely a "flawed messenger" for these views. He's an absolutely toxic, far-right, crackpot messenger for these views. This is, granted, not Mussolini-made-the-trains-run-on-time levels of toxic, but still: If you truly support civil liberties at home and noninterventionism abroad, you should run, not walk, as fast as you can to keep your distance from Ron Paul. He's not the first or only person opposed to preemptive wars, after all, and his occasional denouncements of interventionism are hardly making this a hot topic of conversation among the masses. In fact, to the extent that his foreign policy views aren't simply being ignored, I'd guess that the only thing he's accomplishing is to make noninterventionism even more of a fringe view in American politics than it already is. Crackpots don't make good messengers.

Now, if you literally think that Ron Paul's views on drugs and national security are so important that they outweigh all of this—multiple decades of unmitigated crackpottery, cynical fear-mongering, and attitudes toward social welfare so retrograde they make Rick Perry look progressive—and if you've somehow convinced yourself that noninterventionism has no other significant voices except Ron Paul—well, if that's the case, then maybe you should be happy to count Paul as an ally. But the truth is that you don't need to. Ron Paul is not a major candidate for president. He's never even been a significant presence as a congressman. In a couple of months he'll disappear back into the obscurity he so richly deserves. So why get in bed with him? All you'll do is wake up in March with a mountain of fleas. Find other allies. Make your arguments without bothering to mention him. And remember: Ron Paul has never once done any of his causes any good. There's a good reason for that.

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12 Protesters Busted at Democrats' Iowa War Room

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 2:31 PM PST
Occupy Iowa Caucus protester Perry Graham, of Eugene, Oregon, is led out of the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel by police on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, 12 Occupy Iowa Caucus protesters were arrested after staging a die-in at a Des Moines hotel where the Democratic National Committee has set up a communications "war room" in preparation for Tuesday's caucuses. The move came after protesters delivered an invitation on Sunday asking the DNC chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, to hear their complaints in person. According to the occupiers, Schultz declined the offer, saying she would be out of town Monday.

In a press release, protesters claimed that DNC officials "hid in a second floor room, locked the doors, and called police" to avoid speaking with them after they returned to the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel on Monday. But no one was in the war room immediately before protesters arrived. A hotel staffer said the officials had left the building before the protesters arrived and planned to come back later in the day.

About 40 people, marching silently to the beat of a drum, had arrived at the hotel, where they criticized Democrats for the party's ties to Wall Street and Barack Obama's support of the National Defense Authorization Act. Two dozen protesters then lay on a lobby floor near a staircase to which the hotel's general manager, Rick Gaede, had blocked access. Across the lobby, two disinterested businessmen in suits ate lunch at a hotel restaurant. A hotel staffer called police, who told reporters and protesters that anyone (other than hotel guests and staff) who stayed in the building would face arrest.

Organic Tomatoes in January: Sucking Mexico Dry

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 2:18 PM PST

Walk into a fancy grocery store today and you'll see them: stacks of pristine, glistening organic tomatoes. But what does it take to generate a bounty of organic tomatoes in January?

According to a great New York Times story by Elizabeth Rosenthal, the bulk of organic tomatoes now gracing the produce aisles of US supermarkets hail from Mexico's Baja Peninsula—a desert. Rosenthal reports that Baja's production of US-bound organic tomatoes has expanded dramatically in recent years. And growing large monocrops in a desert, organic or not, requires lots and lots of water. Here's Rosenthal:

The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops.

That's a pretty brutal tradeoff: A luxury product for export—fresh winter tomatoes—squeezes out people who are trying to feed themselves from their own land. And lest anyone argue that the arrangement is somehow building wealth and pulling people out of poverty in this part of Mexico, Rosenthal notes that the going wage for working in these mercilessly hot fields is $10 per day—twice the local minimum wage, but not enough to pull anyone out of poverty and certainly not sufficient compensation for drawing down the water table and snuffing out other forms of agriculture.

Rick Santorum's Secret Weapon: The Duggars

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 11:22 AM PST

I have no idea what Rick Santorum told the crowd at Reising Sun Cafe in Polk City, Iowa, this morning. My guess is the former Pennsylvania senator's message was a lot like the one he's brought to Iowa's other 98 counties—he's a consistent social conservative, architect of the partial-birth abortion ban, Iran's worst nightmare, and a culture war veteran with the scars to prove it. But the diner was impossibly small, and so I was left standing outside in the Arctic chill with about 50 supporters and undecided voters, and maybe half as many press. Santorum was just a side-show in Polk City, though. That's because the Duggars showed up.

That would be the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting fame, a conservative Christian family from Arkansas. Twelve of the 19 Duggar children are with their dad Jim Bob in Iowa campaigning for Santorum, all dressed in their Sunday best—the girls in ankle-length skirts and the boys with shirts-and-ties. Everyone knows who Jim Bob Duggar is, but he introduces himself to everyone who walks up to him nonetheless: "I'm Jim Bob Duggar, and we have a show called 19 Kids and Counting." The Duggars duck into a boutique shop next door to the Santorum event and the whole gang takes turns posing for photos with Santorum volunteers and fans. "There's Josiah, he's got a gray jacket!" a woman says, pointing at one of the older Duggar boys. "I watch that show all the time. They're really strong Christians. I love them," says another.

"Everyone say 'Pick Rick!'": Tim Murphy"Everyone say 'Pick Rick!'": Tim MurphyMeanwhile, Jim Bob holds court. "Rick Santorum is someone with a proven track record to stand up for what's right, for lower taxes, less government intervention in our lives. He's always been an advocate for the unborn. He's somebody that he authored the bill that banned partial birth abortion. That's something that nobody else can say. Whereas Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he set up a Romneycare program, and included a program where any girl could go in and get an abortion for $50." (Full context here.)

In 2008, he and the family (there were only 17 kids then) traveled to Iowa ito volunteer for Mike Huckabee and, truth be told, Jim Bob would have preferred the Arkansas Governor run again. "We begged Huckabee to run this time, but he felt that this was not the time for him to run," he says. "So we've been looking for a candidate that has our values, and somebody that's articulate, that has energy, that has a proven track record to do what's right—and Rick Santorum's the man." They plan on checking out a few more events, and then hitting the phone lines on Santorum's behalf. Jim Bob's oldest son, Josh, a car dealer, came up with the idea to rechristen the family bus the "Santourin' Express," and the thing looks so official—the candidate's website is splashed in big letters on both sides—that a few voters walked up to it expecting to meet the candidate.

In finail days before the Iowa caucuses, campaigns have dispatched their surrogates to Iowa in droves. Chris Christie parachuted in for Mitt Romney. Rand Paul's stumping for his dad. Rick Perry's campaign dispatched Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. They're effective in their own way, but the Duggars represent a unique form of micro-targeting that's perfect in Iowa. Like Santorums—and a disproportionately high number of Iowa conservatives—the Duggars home-school their kids in order to provide them with an education based on Christian principles. (Of the Santorum supporters I spoke with in Polk City, Michele Bachmann, another home-schooler, was the overwhelming second choice.) Home-schoolers helped push Huckabee over the top in 2008; if Santorum pulls an the upset on Tuesday, he'll have folks like Jim Bob to thank.

Peak Crazy and the Republican Base

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 11:20 AM PST

A few weeks ago, after Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain had successively peaked and then plummeted in the Republican primary race, the conventional wisdom was simple: Newt Gingrich was the last man standing. Whether by luck or by native shrewdness, he had peaked late enough in the game that there wasn't time for Republican voters to get tired of him before the Iowa caucuses.

Hah! Turns out that three weeks plus a gazillion dollars of brutal negative advertising was plenty of time. Gingrich began his fall to earth almost immediately, as the RCP poll-of-polls below shows. Because RCP is a poll average, it actually understates Gingrich's collapse, which has him barely breaking double digits in the latest Iowa polls. Instead, we're now seeing mini-boomlets for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

This is all amazing enough on its face, but if you ask me, it's even more amazing than that. It's not just that Republican voters can't make up their minds. And it's not just that they're really, really resisting their eventual doom of pretending to be enthusiastic about a Mitt Romney candidacy. What's really amazing is how fast every single candidate has fallen to earth after their initial surge. It turns out that even the Republican base got disillusioned with them after only a brief moment in the spotlight. The Republican base! These are people who believe the earth is cooling and Barack Obama was probably born in Kenya, and even they only needed a few weeks to realize that Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich were nutcakes who probably shouldn't be allowed to take a White House tour, let alone occupy the Oval Office for four years.

Alternatively, of course, you might think just the opposite: what really happened was that the Republican base needed only a few weeks to decide that these folks weren't quite batshit crazy enough for their taste. Maybe so. But that's such a glass-half-empty point of view, isn't it?

Your Daily Newt: A Terrorist Attack Now And Then...

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 9:31 AM PST

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Asked in 2008 about the Bush administration's efforts in the war in terror, Gingrich expressed his frustration that the public wasn't sufficiently concerned about terrorists on a day to day basis. As he explained: "The better they've done at making sure there isn't going to be an attack, the easier it is to say there was never going to be an attack anyway. It's almost like they should every once in a while have allowed an attack to go through just to remind us":

Gingrich was joking—sort of. He really did think serious changes needed to be made to the nation's law enforcement framework at the expense of civil liberties. That's why he'd create a new agency, separate from the traditional domestic crime-fighting FBI (which would still be forced to comply with the Bill of Rights). "I would have a small, but very aggressive anti-terrorist agency. And I would give them extraordinary ability to eavesdrop. And my first advice to civil libertarians would be simple: Don't plot with terrorists." To quote Jefferson. Or was it Jay?

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Tuesday's Other Election

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 8:00 AM PST
An Egyptian man shows his ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in Giza district near Cairo in the run-off of the second round of legislative election marred by deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

Tuesday is shaping up to be a big day in the world of politics. In Iowa, Republican caucus-goers officially kick off the 2012 presidential election cycle at 1,774 precincts across the state. In Egypt, voters in nine of the country’s 27 governorates head to the polls in the third and final round of elections for the first People's Assembly to convene since last winter’s revolution.

At first glance, the contests couldn’t be more different. Egyptian voters will cast their ballots against a backdrop of continuing political instability and a volatile security environment. In Iowa’s gymnasiums, libraries, and churches, the greatest disruptions might well come from a handful of rowdy Ron Paul supporters.

But dig a little deeper, and one finds some uncanny parallels. If democracy really is God's gift to the world, He’s infused it everywhere with His own quirky sense of humor. Here are a few to look out for as the first voting of the new year gets underway.

Obama Signs Controversial Defense Bill On New Year's Eve

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 5:04 AM PST

Following a long tradition of tactical White House holiday news dumps, President Barack Obama quietly signed the National Defense Authorization Act Saturday. Obama released a signing statement that pledged to avoid, disregard, and in some cases grudgingly accept new restrictions imposed by Congress.

Detention of American citizens. This was the most controversial section, of the bill, and the most misreported. A Senate compromise amendment to the bill leaves open the question of whether the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks authorizes the president to detain American citizens suspected of terrorism who are captured on American soil. This matter may never be settled, as the risk of getting smacked down by the courts may dissuade presidents with even more expansive views of executive power than Obama from ever trying it.

In his statement, Obama says he wants "to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens." He continues: "Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation." Note what the president does not say: that indefinitely detaining an American suspected of terrorism would be unconstitutional or illegal. Obama's signing statement seems to suggest he already believe he has the authority to indefinitely detain Americans—he just never intends to use it. (In the context of hot battlefields the courts have confirmed he does indeed have that power.) Left unsaid, perhaps deliberately, is the distinction that has dominated the debate over the defense bill: the difference between detaining an American captured domestically or abroad. This is why ACLU Director Anthony Romero released a statement shortly after Obama's arguing the authority in the defense bill could "be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield."

Newt Gingrich's War on the War on Dust

| Mon Jan. 2, 2012 4:00 AM PST

Newt Gingrich's biggest applause in Atlantic, Iowa, on Saturday wasn't his condemnation of President Barack Obama as a "Saul Alinsky radical." It wasn't his pledge to destroy Obamacare. It certainly wasn't his name-drop of consulting pioneers Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker. It was his promise to bring the troops home, declare defeat, and end major combat operations in the War on Dust.

Referring to the Environmental Protection Agency as a "job-killing dictatorial bureaucracy," Gingrich invoked the name of one of the state's leading Republicans to make his case. "Many of you have probably followed Sen. Grassley’s fight for the dust regulations," Gingrich says. "The EPA technically has the ability to regulate 'particulate matter,' as part of the Clean Air Bill, which I don’t think any congressman thought of as 'dust.' But of course it’s now interpreted to include dust. If you were to plow on a windy day, and some of the dirt was carried by the wind into your neighbor’s field, you would be polluting your neighbor's field with your dirt. Now, since your neighbor's field is exactly the same geologic dirt as your field, it’s implausible that you would actually be hurting it."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 2, 2012

Mon Jan. 2, 2012 3:57 AM PST

PFC Christopher Sauber, 24, of Athens, OH pets Sgt. 1st Class Zeke at brigade headquarters located in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Zeke is part of the 113th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control and offers support to soldiers from Task Force Arctic Wolves from Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. Photo by JR Ancheta/ZUMA Press.