2012 - %3, May

Men Find Vegetables Unmanly

| Wed May 16, 2012 3:43 PM EDT

My mom likes to tell a story about how, after coming over for dinner to our vegetarian household, a woman from the neighborhood earnestly asked her how she had managed to persuade my dad to eat vegetables. Apparently this woman had the worst time interesting her husband in salad. Okay. So, just for fun, let's leave aside the troubling question of why exactly this lady's marriage involved this weird infantilization and turn to the much more hilarious matter: Seriously, why didn't this dude like veggies?

According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, it's probably because men don't consider them manly. For reals:

In a number of experiments that looked at metaphors and certain foods, like meat and milk, the authors found that people rated meat as more masculine than vegetables. They also found that meat generated more masculine words when people discussed it, and that people viewed male meat eaters as being more masculine than non-meat eaters.

Another rad finding was that in most languages that have genders, meat is masculine.

As a solution, the study's authors suggest that "reshaping soy burgers to make them resemble beef or giving them grill marks might help cautious men make the transition." See, ladies with veggie-hating husbands? It's that easy.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Lack of DC Statehood Makes DC Government Worse

| Wed May 16, 2012 3:22 PM EDT

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Harry Thomas Jr., the former Ward 5 City Councilman who relinquished his seat in disgrace after being indicted for corruption, came under public scrutiny in part because of the efforts of relatively liberal Republican Tim Day. But in a city like DC, where the GOP brand is just utterly toxic, even a black, gay, liberal Republican who helps oust corrupt Democrats like Thomas didn't stand much of a chance against the other contenders for Thomas' seat in Tuesday's special election:

With all 18 precincts reporting at 9:30 p.m., [Kenyan] McDuffie took 44.50 percent of the vote. Second-place finisher Delano Hunter only mustered 20 percent, while Frank Wilds took 14.8 percent. Republican contender Tim Day, the man responsible for the investigation that eventually brought down Thomas, only managed 5.3 percent of the vote.

McDuffie wasn't a bad candidate by any means, but Day's poor showing speaks to an ongoing structural problem caused by the city's lack of congressional representation. DC's local shenanigans occasionally prompt critics to argue that the city doesn't deserve representation in Congress, despite having a larger population than Wyoming, which has two Senators and a congressional representative. This gets things exactly backwards: The lack of congressional representation places a ceiling on political ambitions that reduces the incentive for local politicians to behave. DC's best politicians don't have a governorship, House or Senate seat to look forward to. It's a political cul-de-sac. As Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Tuesday night, DC's lack of representation also means Republicans have little reason to invest in a stronger local party whose partisanship might also serve as a check on local corruption. There's also the weirdness of having national parties contest local elections, which makes little sense in the context of local DC politics and burdens candidates like Day who don't have much in common with, say, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Retrocession into Maryland would solve some of these problems, but as a DC partisan I favor the city's right to exist as an independent entity. Unfortunately, given that DC statehood would mean two new Democratic Senators, the constitutional changes necessary for statehood aren't ever likely to happen, despite the fact that the United States was founded to combat the injustice of taxation without representation.

Scott Walker Pulls Ahead in New Recall Poll

| Wed May 16, 2012 3:09 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has stretched his recall election lead over Democrat Tom Barrett to six percentage points, according to a new poll by Marquette University's Law School. Walker leads 50 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, an increase of five points from Marquette's last poll nearly a month ago.

The poll, Marquette's first since the May 8 Democratic primary, finds voter enthusiasm for the recall highest among Republicans, even though it was progressives and Democrats who triggered the recall election. An overwhelming majority—91 percent—of GOPers surveyed said they're "absolutely certain" to vote in the June 5 election; 8 in 10 Democrats and independents said the same. In addition, 6 in 10 GOP respondents said they'd tried to convince another person to vote in the recall, while just over 5 in 10 Democrats said the same. Democrats, however, are more likely to have been contacted by a campaign than Republicans.

Charles Franklin, Marquette Law School's poll director, said in a statement that a key takeaway is that Republicans hold the crucial edge in voter enthusiasm with the June 5 election weeks away. "In a close election with so few undecided voters," he said, "enthusiasm, turnout, and campaign contact with voters may make the difference."

The poll also found that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were deadlocked in Wisconsin, 46-46. Last month, Obama held a four point lead over Romney, 49-45.

The Marquette poll surveyed 704 registered voters in Wisconsin. The margin of error for the survey was about 4 percent.

Virginia GOP Tries To Explain Why Vote Against Gay Judge Wasn't Bigotry

| Wed May 16, 2012 3:06 PM EDT

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Richmond prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland, a former Navy fighter pilot, had his nomination to a state judgeship in Virginia rejected early Tuesday morning. Democrats say it's because he's gay; Republicans say it's complicated:

"He holds himself out as being married," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who is running for U.S. Senate. Noting that gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, he said that Thorne-Begland's "life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution."

[...]

Marshall, the Family Foundation of Virginia and others who raised concerns about Thorne-Begland's nomination said they did not object to him because he is gay, but because of his outspokenness on the subject of gay rights.

Thorne-Begland also supported the repeal of the military's discriminatory Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. So it's not, strictly speaking, correct to say Thorne-Begland was rejected because he was gay. He was rejected because he believes being gay entitles him to the same rights as people who aren't. If Thorne-Begland had lived a life of closeted celibacy and talked like Tony Perkins, Marshall would have thought he was qualified to serve as a judge. This is coming from a guy who tried to install a state-level DADT policy for the Virginia National Guard because "If I needed a blood transfusion and the guy next to me had committed sodomy 14 times in the last month, I'd be worried." 

Virginia Republicans didn't reject Thorne-Begland because he's gay, but because he supports gay rights. The closet magically eliminates sexually transmitted diseases, which are never contracted by heterosexuals. Some voters in Virginia apparently find this kind of logic compelling enough to keep Marshall in office.

The Obama Administration Wants To Keep its Gitmo at Sea to Itself

| Wed May 16, 2012 12:16 PM EDT
The USS Carl Vinson arrives at Pearl Harbor.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Last year the Obama administration secretly imprisoned Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an alleged member of the Somali militant group Al Shabab, on an aircraft carrier and interrogated him for two months before bringing him to the US and indicting him. No one was very happy about that decision. It made Republicans in Congress mad because they want Obama to add more prisoners to Gitmo and keep Muslims accused of terrorism out of civilian courts, and it frustrated civil libertarians and human rights groups who argued the administration had detained Warsame illegally.

Republicans, worried that Obama might prosecute more suspected terrorists in civilian court, crafted the latest defense authorization bill to ensure they're notified within five days the next time someone is detained on a Navy ship for months. The administration has threatened to veto the defense bill over that provision, saying it would "unnecessarily complicate and potentially compromise military operations and detention practices."

This is basically where civil liberties are in the Obama era: legislators are only interested in forcing detention policy to the right, and occasionally the Obama administration's desire to avoid restrictions on executive power results in more favorable (but far from ideal) outcomes for people accused of terrorism. Obama's veto threats are notoriously insincere, and preventing the administration from using the "Gitmo at Sea" option seems likely to result in more legally questionable proxy detentions of American citizens by foreign security forces with reputations for abusing those they detain

It's not much of a choice, and it probably won't get any better if the White House changes hands in November. Republicans will lose their newfound interest in keeping an eye on whatever the executive branch is doing, and the Democrats will have largely squandered whatever credibility they have to oversee a Republican president by acquiescing to the Obama administration's continuity with much of the Bush platform on national security. 


Rep. Joe Pitts Thinks Arafat and Sharon Need To Get to Work

| Wed May 16, 2012 11:54 AM EDT

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) seems like he hasn't checked in on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in a while:

"With the global war against terrorism, it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat to clamp down on Palestinian extremists that have perpetuated violence and to restart a peace process that has collapsed," wrote Pitts in a recent, rather outdated response letter to a constituent.

Arafat has been dead for eight years and Sharon has been in a coma for six. Sadly, "dead" and "comatose" are two adjectives people might use to describe the peace process itself.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Hot Scoop: "Obama Didn't Write His Own Love Letters"

| Wed May 16, 2012 11:53 AM EDT

President Barack Obama does pushups, for some reason.

On the vast list of right-wing conspiracy theories about President Obama—he's Malcolm X's illegitimate son; he was photoshopped into the iconic Situation Room photo; his memoir was ghost-written by Bill Ayers; he's people!—this new bit of muckraking from conspiracy cauldron WorldNetDaily deserves a place of honor on the mantle.

According to Jack Cashill, "an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue," President Obama didn't simply have Bill Ayers ghost-write his memoir—he had someone ghost-write love letters to his college girlfriend too:

In a recent Vanity Fair excerpt, [David] Maraniss reprints two extended excerpts from one of those letters. I believe that these letters were volunteered to Maraniss to impress the kind of people who read the New York Times.

If so, the Times took the bait. Reporter Adam Hirsch gushes over the young Obama's "literary sensibility" and his "ironic, literary mind." Although regretting that Obama’s “authenticity” has not made him a transformative figure, Hirsch remains "certain" that Obama “has it in him to produce the best post-presidential memoir ever – if he is willing to let that unguarded early voice speak again."

What Hirsch refuses to question is whether that "unguarded early voice" is Obama's own.

Among other things, Cashill wonders why Maraniss hasn't produced original copies of the love letters: "In 1982-1983, when the Vanity Fair letters were written, college students did not use word processors. If they typed, they did so on a typewriter. The odds are that this letter, if an original, was not typed." And why, he asks, were Obama's letters so erudite and coherent when his other writing reveal him to be a bumbling nincompoop?

Nowhere in "Dreams" is there any mention of T.S. Eliot, Münzer or Yeats, or any of the themes in this letter that so excited Adam Hirsch. As Obama tells it, he and his pals "discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy." This I can believe.

Totally missing from "Dreams," too, are the more exotic words in the letter to McNear: ecstatic, mechanistic, asexual, stoical, moribund, reactionary, fertility, dichotomy, irreconcilable, ambivalence, plus "hazard" and "counter" used as verbs, as in "I will hazard these statements" and "Counter him with Yeats and Pound."

Cashill's argument is, of course, foolproof. One small quibble, though: If Dreams from my Father was—as WorldNetDaily has already established—ghost-written, we can hardly use that as an example of Obama's sub-par writing standards. The plot thickens.

Report: MEK to Be Taken off US Terror List

| Wed May 16, 2012 11:39 AM EDT
MEK supporters rally in front of the US State Department on August 26, 2011.

Months of lobbying by prominent Democrats and Republicans and an assist from a high-powered lobbying firm that specializes in sanitizing the records of dictators seem to have paid off for Mujahideen-e-Khalq. The Obama administration is preparing to remove the Iranian exile group from the State Department's official list of terrorist organizations, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday:

The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department's terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington's relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program.

The exile organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK, was originally named as a terrorist entity 15 years ago for its alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein against Tehran.

De-listing MEK comes at an opportune time for several high-profile public officials. A number of former officials who allegedly recieved money in exchange for advocating for MEK are reportedly the targets of a federal inquiry into whether they violated US anti-terrorism laws, which forbid even non-violent advocacy on behalf of listed terrorist groups. MEK has American blood on its hands, but today the group is reportedly a huge help to Israel in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists—perhaps part of the reason it is being delisted. Memo to terror groups: If you want to get off the US terrorism list, make sure you kill the "right" civilians and offer generous speaking fees. 

This whole affair hints at a double standard in enforcement: High profile politicians can advocate for listed terror groups without fear, but someone like Tarek Mehanna, the Bostonian who was convicted of material support for terrorism in part for posting Al Qaeda propaganda on the Internet, can look forward to long prison terms.

Dark Money Deluge: Crossroads GPS Unveils $25 Million Ad Campaign

| Wed May 16, 2012 10:55 AM EDT
Crossroads GPS' new ad hammering President Barack Obama.

Crossroads GPS, the deep-pocketed nonprofit created by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, announced Wednesday that it plans to pump $25 million into a new ad campaign running in ten battleground states including Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The group's announcement is a direct response to the Obama campaign's pledge earlier this month to spend $25 million on ads this month. 

The first phase of Crossroads' blitz will be a two-week run of the ad "Obama's Promise," which slams the president for supposedly failing to fulfill promises to help struggling homeowners, cut the deficit, and not raise taxes on working and middle class families. Crossroads says it will spend an initial $8 million on this push.

Here's the ad:

To the average viewer, this spot resembles an open attack on President Obama. No one watching it would consider it anything but a call to vote for Obama's opponent. But there's a catch. Because the ad doesn't tell viewers to "vote for Mitt Romney" or oppose Obama in the November election, it is not considered an overtly political ad. It is instead known as "issue advocacy."

Here's why that distinction matters. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Crossroads GPS can engage in politicking, but that can't be the majority of what it does. Its focus, the law says, must be on promoting "social welfare" by discussing issues like debt, taxes, military spending, etc. And so when Crossroads runs so-called "issue" ads like "Obama's Promise," it allows them to bash Obama while staying on the right side of the law. Crossroads' tax status also allows the group to keep secret its donors.

Make no mistake: this sort of dark money double-whammy is something you'll see much, much more of between now and November.

The Chamber of Commerce's Dark Money Days May Be Over

| Wed May 16, 2012 8:24 AM EDT

In the annals of loopholes, one that the Federal Election Commission, the nation's election watchdog, created in 2008 could rank as one of the most absurd. The FEC's Republican commissioners decided that shadowy nonprofits running political ads (think: the US Chamber of Commerce) could hide the identities of people who donate more than $1,000, as long as those donors didn't earmark their money for a specific ad. So, for instance, a donor couldn't say, "I want you to run an ad attacking Nancy Pelosi next Monday at 7 p.m. on NBC." Donors and political operatives are not idiots, of course, and figured out how to capitalize on the loophole by just giving that money without specific requests, allowing groups like the Chamber to keep more and more donations in the dark.

But those days could be over. In March, a district judge ruled that the FEC's loophole broke the law, and on Monday night, the Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit rejected a request to stay the ruling. It goes into effect now. The decision deals a blow to dark-money politics, while delivering reformers and transparency lovers a big win. "The American people have a right to know who is bankrolling the ads that are designed to influence their votes," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the lead plaintiff in the case challenging the loophole, said in a statement. "In its decision to deny the stay of the lower Court's ruling, the Court of Appeals has signaled that the public interest is best served by increased donor disclosure."

The appeals court's decision on Monday could impact a slew of powerful political nonprofits spending big bucks in the 2012 elections. That includes Crossroads GPS, the brainchild of Karl Rove; Americans for Prosperity, which receives funding from the Koch brothers; and the Chamber of Commerce, which spent $32.9 million on the 2010 elections.

Dragging dark money into the sunlight is no small matter, either. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, conservative nonprofits such as Rove's Crossroads GPS have already spent $121 million in the 2012 cycle without naming who funded the ads. Overall campaign spending by dark money groups has spiked from 1 percent to 47 percent since the 2006 midterm elections. And in the 2010 elections, 72 percent of political ad buys by independent groups came from sources that had been banned from spending any money at all back in 2006. A recent UPI headline summed up the state of things before Monday's ruling quite nicely: "2012 election drowning in secret money."