2012 - %3, April

Nugent NRA Video Removed From YouTube

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 1:18 PM EDT
Ted Nugent

A video in which aging right-wing rocker Ted Nugent told the National Rifle Association convention last week that he'll be "dead or in jail" if President Barack Obama is reelected has been removed from YouTube following reports that Nugent had been contacted by the Secret Service.

Right Wing Watch's Josh Glasstetter first noticed that the video had been removed and replaced by a message that states it has "been removed by the user." 

Nugent, who is also a columnist at the Washington Times and whose endorsement was welcomed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, told the NRA in his speech that "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."

Nugent has carved out an over-the-top right wing media persona over the past few years. In 2008 he invited candidate Barack Obama to "suck on his machine gun." Of course, Obama wasn't the president then. 

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Are Americans Cheating on Political Surveys?

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 1:04 PM EDT

Over at the Atlantic, James Warren brings us shocking news from a recent meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association: sometimes people cheat on internet surveys. When they correctly say that John Roberts is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it might only be because they googled it or asked their daughter-in-law:

[Brad Gomez of Florida State University] noted the tendency for a relatively small but apparently rising number of survey respondents to cheat on Internet and mail surveys. When it comes to the Internet, "It's pretty clear people are cheating," especially when they at first don't know an answer. Robert Luskin of the University of Texas referred to "cheating on steroids" when it comes to both Internet and mail surveys, with respondents perhaps googling a response or asking a nearby family member for help. "You're not necessarily getting the respondent who was randomly selected," he said.

Via Jonathan Bernstein, Lynn Vavreck calls a foul. She did a study last year that recruited subjects at the CBS Research Facility in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel. Half were interviewed face-to-face, and half answered questions on a computer connected to the internet:

Of the 505 people who completed the survey on a computer, only 2 people cheated by looking the answers up on-line. That’s less than one-half of one percent of the respondents....Plenty of people had a hard time answering our fact-based questions, and they knew they were on the Internet, yet very few of them took the time to look up the answers — in fact, almost none of them.

....In the spirit of the popular television show Myth Busters, consider this myth busted!

Hmmm. What do you think of this? Vavreck is right that if you want to claim there's cheating going on, you need to produce some evidence. At the same time, I don't find her study very convincing. There's a big difference between a formal setting like hers and the more relaxed confines of your own house and your own computer. I'd expect a whole lot less cheating in her study than in real life. Hell, I'd probably cheat more at home.

Still, I'm curious what evidence Gomez and Luskin have that cheating is on the rise. As near as I can tell, Americans have an abysmal knowledge of just about everything, and it seems to be abysmal on nearly every survey ever done. What's more, most of us don't seem to give a damn enough about this stuff to even bother cheating. Still, I think we could find out for sure. Vavreck could do a study where half the respondents were interviewed in person (or over the phone) and the other half got questionnaires via mail or the internet. As long as all of them were recruited over the internet, and chosen randomly, better scores from the internet half would suggest cheating, wouldn't it?

The "Veep" Vision of Government: Everyone's a Douchey Incompetent

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 12:38 PM EDT

Veep is The West Wing remade as burlesque—wildly funny, mean-spirited burlesque.

The new series, which premieres Sunday, April 22 at 10:00 p.m. EST on HBO, follows Vice President Selina Meyer (played by a tightly wound Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff as they attempt to survive the tedium and intense disloyalty of the DC landscape. Meyer is constantly under siege from special interests and aging senators, all of whom are ready to crucify her at the first hint of a faux pas. Though the show doesn't specify her political allegiance, she operates like a centrist Democrat. During the series' first three episodes, her world is dominated by two pet causes: ramming a filibuster reform bill through Congress and assembling a "clean jobs task force."

The show's dark humor is in documenting the unglamorous and uncivilized path the VP has to travel in order to cobble together some semblance of progress. After Meyer pledges to replace plastic utensils with corn-starch utensils in "most federal buildings by the fall" as part of her green initiative, she incurs the wrath of the all-powerful plastics lobby, which is naturally a powerful offshoot of the oil lobby. ("The utensils are politicized," an aide whispers in panic.) As her team scrambles for damage control, a senator reminds the VP not to "fuck with oil" because "they fuck in a very unpleasant fashion." Suddenly Meyer is on the prowl for an oil lobbyist to install on her enviro task force, and with that, the series French-kisses civic idealism goodbye.

Veep gets Washington right in the same way Scrubs got medical professionals right: It doesn't really, but then again, it really does.

Judicial Restraint Pretty Much Obsolete on the Right These Days

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 11:39 AM EDT

In an otherwise tedious case about milk regulation, Appellate Judge Janice Rogers Brown decided to give her inner Randian free rein last week. "Cowboy capitalism" is dead, she moaned, and courts are at fault for not slapping down legislatures both local and national that infringe on economic rights. It was a pretty remarkable performance, all the more so since it really had nothing to do with the case at hand. So what gives? I think Dahlia Lithwick gets it right here:

There’s one other point worth making, before we leave Judge Brown to her open-mic libertarian musings. She is, beyond any doubt, apt to appear on any short list for Mitt Romney’s choice to replace any of the four Supreme Court Justices who are currently in their 70s, some of whom will be 80 by the 2016 elections. In that light, this concurrence looks less like a judicial opinion than a job application.

I have written before how ironic it is that a liberal jurist can be disqualified from a judicial confirmation hearing for expressing a single progressive idea in a law review article, whereas when it comes to conservative judicial nominees extreme and full-throated ideological exhortations are usually an added bonus. For Brown, the choice to write an opinion eviscerating New Deal worker and health protections at precisely the moment these issues are burning up cable television and Tea Party rallies is just smart politics. It’s hard to imagine a liberal shortlister attempting the same and surviving a Supreme Court confirmation bid. Or a confirmation bid of any sort, really.

Yep. Both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan had to practically disavow any settled opinions on anything, and even so got plenty of rabid opposition from gun groups, abortion groups, and other right-wing groups convinced they saw a glimmer of a shadow of a penumbra of liberal thought in some choice of words a dozen years ago or an ambiguous decision handed down that touched on some hot button issue. But Brown? She just lets it rip. Apparently she's not worried that it will hurt her at all with a future President Romney.

I have a feeling this might become a trend. Conservative judges have been feeling less and less restraint over the past few years about expressing their small-government bona fides, and the recent oral arguments over Obamacare were a kind of high court permission to let politics roam freely in judicial proceedings. I suspect a lot more lower court judges are going to take advantage of that.

UPDATE: I've gotten some pushback on this from various quarters, most of it fair. First, everyone in comments is right that Brown is 62, much too old to be a serious contender for a Supreme Court appointment these days. Second, she was kinda sorta under consideration for the Supreme Court in 2005, but was considered too outspoken to get the job. Third, liberal judges have made similar comments in the past — though I think these comments haven't been quite as broad or radical as Rogers'.

So, yeah, most likely Brown knows she's too old for a promotion, which means she's free to say whatever she damn well pleases. That's not necessarily praiseworthy, but it's probably not a job application either.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 19, 2012

Thu Apr. 19, 2012 11:00 AM EDT

Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire a three-round-volley rifle salute, April 18, 2012, during a memorial ceremony to honor Cpl. Derek Kerns and Cpl. Robby Reyes, crew chiefs with VMM-261 (reinforced) who died during a training accident in Morocco, April 11, 2012. The 24th MEU, along with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, is currently deployed as a theater security and crisis response force capable of a variety of missions from full-scale combat to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Photo by 2nd Lt. Joshua Larson.

Romney Punts on Yet Another Bill

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 10:34 AM EDT

Via Steve Benen, here is Mitt Romney's view on the current impasse over extension of the Violence Against Women Act:

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, said in an e-mail, “Gov. Romney supports the Violence Against Women Act and hopes it can be reauthorized without turning it into a political football.” But she declined to specify which version he supported.

Neither presidents nor presidential candidates have to weigh in on the minutiae of every single legislative tiff. But Romney is taking this to cartoonish extremes these days. He's desperate not to anger the tea partiers who still don't fully trust him, but he doesn't want to do himself any further damage with independents either. So he's punting on everything.

How long can he keep this up? This summer the Obama campaign is going to try to portray Romney as a guy who doesn't really believe in anything, and he sure seems to be going out of his way to make it easy on them.

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One Donor Ponied Up 35 Percent of Crossroads GPS's 2011 Haul

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 6:54 AM EDT
Karl Rove.

Talk about a mega-donor. Of the $28.4 million in donations banked in 2011 by Republican outside money group Crossroads GPS, a whopping $10 million of it came from just one donor. That's 35 percent. From one person, or one corporation.

Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, is the brainchild of GOP political mastermind Karl Rove. Founded in 2010, the group is technically a tax-exempt non-profit, known as a 501(c)(4), that can spend money on political advocacy so long as politicking isn't the majority of what it does. To comply with federal tax law, Crossroads must focus most of its work on issues, not candidates; otherwise, the group would have to file as a political action committee and reveal its funders. Crossroads' critics say the group does far too much political advocacy, and that the IRS should not grant the group permanent (c)(4) status. "The continued refusal by the IRS to reign in scofflaws abusing a privileged tax status has only encouraged even more blatant disregard for the law by these groups and their anonymous funders," Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement Tuesday.

Crossroads has repeatedly insisted its activities are perfectly legal, and the IRS has not given any clear indication that it is investigating the group.

Here's more on Crossroads' money from Bloomberg:

Crossroads said it took in $77 million from June 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011. It also received a single contribution of $10.1 million before June 1, 2011, as well as donations of $5 million, $4.5 million and $4 million.

The group shared its largesse with other Republican-leaning nonprofits. Crossroads contributed $500,000 to the American Action Network, headed by former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, which spent more than $19 million on ads to elect Republicans in 2010; and $50,000 to the 60 Plus Association, which supports privatizing Social Security and spent more than $7 million on ads on behalf of Republican congressional candidates in 2010.

In addition, Crossroads gave $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, which is suing to overturn President Barack Obama’s health-care law that expands coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. NFIB reported spending more than $1 million on ads to help elect Republicans in 2010, as well as another $1.5 million that it kept hidden and said was exempt from requirements that it disclose campaign spending.

 

There Are More Protected Places on Earth Now Than Ever Before

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Credit: Tiago Fioreze via Wikimedia Commons.Credit: Tiago Fioreze via Wikimedia Commons.

 

In case it sometimes feels like we've never done anything good for the wild parts of our planet, take a look at these stats from the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA).

My piece, "Can One Incredibly Stubborn Person Save a Species?" is about one conservation success story: Mexican biologist Enriqueta Velarde, who has singlehandedly brought two bird species back from the brink of extinction on an Island off the coast of Mexico. Happily, Velarde's story is part of a larger trend. Since 1872 we've take a once radical idea—preserving nature—and scaled it up globally with amazing speed.

 

Credit: World Database on Protected AreasCredit: World Database on Protected Areas

 

According to the WDPA: 

  • As of 2008 there are >120,000 protected areas covering a total of about 8 million square miles (~21 million square kilometers) of land and sea
  • That's an area more than twice the size of Canada
  • Terrestrial protected areas cover 12.2 percent of the Earth's land area
  • Marine protected areas cover 5.9% of Earth's territorial seas and 0.5% of extraterritorial seas 
     

 

Credit: World Database on Protected AreasCredit: World Database on Protected Areas

 

There's still much variation from nation to nation:

  • Only 45 percent of 236 assessed countries and territories have >10 percent of their terrestrial areas protected
  • Only 14 percent of 236 assessed nations have >10 percent of their marine areas protected 

And there's still a long way to go to meet targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity:

  • By 2009 only half the world's 821 ecoregions were >10 percent protected
  • Less than 20 percent of the world's 232 marine ecoregions were >10 percent protected
  • While nearly 10 recent of land ecoregions had <1 percent protected
  • And more than 50 percent of marine ecoregions had <1 percent protected

Yet the trend remains positive. Ecoregions deemed most important for preserving biodiversity increased in total protection from 19-25 percent in 1990 to 26-35 percent in 2007. 

 

 Credit: World Bank, Development Education Program

Credit: World Bank, Development Education ProgramAnd when you set this exponential trend towards protection against the exponential growth in our population since the Industrial Age—with all its exponentially increasing pressures to exploit not protect—then this revolutionary advance in human thinking becomes all the more impressive.

Each one of these hard-won protections for the natural world sustains us more than it costs us.

Credit: ProtectedPlanet.net/World Database on Protected AreasCredit: ProtectedPlanet.net/World Database on Protected Areas

The World Database of Protected Areas has created an interactive website where you can see what's protected where. 

And check out their ProtectedPlanetOcean to interact with the marine waters granted some measure of preservation.

Who's Afraid of a Little Inflation?

| Thu Apr. 19, 2012 12:21 AM EDT

In a much-cited blog post, Steve Randy Waldman says that our fiscal and monetary response to the Great Recession was weak because, as it turns out, economic growth isn't really our highest priority. We might say it is, but our actions speak louder than our words:

The preferences of developed, aging polities — first Japan, now the United States and Europe — are obvious to a dispassionate observer. Their overwhelming priority is to protect the purchasing power of incumbent creditors....These preferences are reflected in what the polities do, how they behave. They swoop in with incredible speed and force to bail out the financial sectors in which creditors are invested, trampling over prior norms and laws as necessary....They do not pursue monetary policy with sufficient force to ensure expenditure growth even at risk of inflation.

....This preference is not at all difficult to understand. The ailing developed economies are plutocratic democracies. “The people” do have power, but influence is weighted in a manner correlated with wealth. The median influencer in these economies is not a billionaire, but an older citizen of some affluence who has mostly endowed her own future consumption. She would like to be richer, of course. But she is content with her present wealth, and is panicked by the prospect of becoming poorer. For such a person, the depression status quo is unfortunate but tolerable. The risks associated with expansionary policy, on the other hand, are absolutely terrifying.

I have a hard time buying this. The bailout of the banks was way overdetermined. Everyone agreed that a banking collapse would be catastrophic and had to be avoided at all costs. You can argue that we went about it the wrong way, that maybe temporary receivership would have been a better policy for some of the big banks, but it's hard to argue that the mere decision to rescue the banking system favored one particular constituency.

And Steve's "median influencer" is problematic too. I'm willing to buy the idea that the upper middle class in general is the single biggest influence on our political system, but that's not the same thing as "an older citizen of some affluence." It's in a similar ballpark, but it's not the same thing. And the wealthy and the broad middle class are significant influences too.

But put that aside for the moment. It's not the biggest problem here. Rather, it's Steve's claim that the median influencer — whoever it is — "is panicked by the prospect of becoming poorer," which explains our financial system's rabid opposition to inflation higher than 2%. This claim might have made sense 50 years ago, when many of the affluent elderly were coupon clippers. But today it doesn't make sense even for them, and it certainly doesn't make sense for anyone else. Hardly anybody literally lives on a fixed income these days. The elderly middle class lives on Social Security, which is indexed to inflation. The broad middle class has its retirement savings invested in 401(k) funds, which do better when the economy does better. The wealthy have their money invested in a variety of sophisticated vehicles, all of which are hedged against inflation in one way or another. We simply don't live in a world of fixed returns anymore. Unless you're a hedge fund quant making some specific kind of inflation play, there are very few people today who have any reason to fear higher inflation, especially of the moderate, temporary sort that the Paul Krugmans and Scott Sumners of the world advocate.

So....I'm having trouble with this. There's no question that our financial elites are pretty fiercely anti-inflation. And there are certainly a few constituencies who rationally fear inflation: holders of fixed-rate mortgages, small savers limited to the interest rates at their local credit union, and (possibly) those who are heavily invested in low-yielding corporate bonds or muni bonds. But are those really the people influencing Fed policy? I'm not seeing it.

In the end, I guess this is really a request for Steve to write in more detail about this. It's worth figuring out who exactly is influencing Fed policy, as well as central bank policy everywhere else in the world. But central banks have always been pretty rabidly anti-inflation, so I'm not sure you can pin the blame on something specific to the "developed, aging polities" of today. After all, William McChesney Martin didn't much like inflation 50 years ago, and Chinese central bankers don't much like it now. But why?

Corn on Hardball: Why Hasn't the Right Condemned Ted Nugent and Allen West's Comments?

Wed Apr. 18, 2012 8:17 PM EDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn and the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the controversy over incendiary remarks made against the Democrat party by US Rep. Allen West and right-wing rocker Ted Nugent. At a town hall meeting in Florida last week, Rep. West told voters that somewhere between 78 to 81 Democratic congressional members are Communists. He refuses to apologize for his claims.

Elsewhere, Nugent is in hot water for statements he made at a National Rifle Association convention. "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year," Nugent said. The Secret Service confirmed today it will question Nugent over his statements. So far, the right has not condemned Rep. West or Nugent for their comments.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.