2012 - %3, May

National Review Still Wrong on Civil Rights History

| Thu May 24, 2012 2:39 PM EDT
National Review founder William F. Buckley and his brother in law L. Brent Bozell in 1954.

Jonathan Chait, Jonathan Bernstein and myself have all weighed in on Kevin D. Williamson's rather ahistorical take on conservatives being the real heroes of the civil rights movement in National Review.

Among Williamson's odd omissions was not mentioning the misty eyed defense of white supremacy National Review founder William F. Buckley penned in 1957. (He also ignores Buckley's view that the Civil Rights Act was "artificially deduced from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution or from the 14th Amendment.") That many liberal Republicans supported civil rights, and many racist Democrats didn't, doesn't alter the fact that the modern conservative movement really begins with a man who campaigned on opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Williamson hasn't responded to any of his critics at National Review, but he did offer this up on Twitter:

"WFB's views have been endlessly documented. I have nothing to add."

Williamson has "nothing to add" to the historical evidence that debunks his argument. I supposed I wouldn't have "anything to add" either, but I'm wondering how that conversation went with National Review's editors.

NR Editor: Do you think maybe in this piece about conservatives being awesome at the time we should acknowledge what was actually written in this magazine in the 1950s and 60s?

Williamson: Well what do we have to add?

Williamson did offer a valiant Chewbacca defense of his piece as well:

Chait: "Why not get behind the next civil rights idea (gay marriage) now?" How about an all-African-American national referendum on that?

Man, listen: The expiration date on that "joke" is rapidly approaching

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 24, 2012

Thu May 24, 2012 12:21 PM EDT

US Army Pvt. Richard Mitchell, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, visits with children of a village in northern Qalat on May 16, 2012. The children of the village received humanitarian aid from the PRT during the US and Romanian's visit to assess security and irrigation in the village. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Turner.

Did Obama Just Deliver Marriage Equality in Maryland?

| Thu May 24, 2012 11:55 AM EDT
Obama supporters march in the 2008 Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, California.

Polls taken since President Obama expressed support for same-sex marriage have shown an astonishing shift in black support on marriage equality. The shift in Maryland is so dramatic that the state may become the first state to actually uphold same-marriage rights in a referendum.

Here's the gist, from Public Policy Polling:

57% of Maryland voters say they’re likely to vote for the new marriage law this fall, compared to only 37% who are opposed. That 20 point margin of passage represents a 12 point shift from an identical PPP survey in early March, which found it ahead by a closer 52/44 margin.

The movement over the last two months can be explained almost entirely by a major shift in opinion about same-sex marriage among black voters. Previously 56% said they would vote against the new law with only 39% planning to uphold it. Those numbers have now almost completely flipped, with 55% of African Americans planning to vote for the law and only 36% now opposed.

These numbers are almost incredible, and if they hold up, they mean almost certain defeat for the National Organization for Marriage and the other conservative groups lining up to oppose same-sex marriage rights in Maryland. The Maryland legislature passed an equality bill earlier this year, but Maryland same-sex couples won't been able to marry until after the referendum—and even then only if they win. I'm generally very skeptical of the power of the bully pulpit, but I can't think of any other reason for this significant a shift than Obama's decision to come out in support of same-sex couples getting married. 

Understand that exploiting the divide between socially conservative but religiously liberal minority groups and social liberals was the linchpin of NOM's strategy in Maryland, which is a very blue state with a large black population. NOM simply can't win without winning black voters, and Obama may have made that impossible. Instead of black voters torpedoeing marriage equality in Maryland, as NOM had hoped, they now stand poised to secure it. 

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Mitt Fenced in on Immigration

| Thu May 24, 2012 10:31 AM EDT

When it comes to immigration policy, Mitt Romney has decided that discretion is the better part of valor. In his speech before Latino business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, Romney decided to avoid the whole immigration issue altogether, HuffPo's Elise Foley reports:

Romney's 20-minute speech mentioned higher education, District of Columbia schools and teachers' unions. Even though the address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was specifically for members of the Latino Coalition, he barely discussed Hispanic-specific education issues -- other than a quick mention of former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush's efforts to raise reading scores of Hispanic students -- and entirely skipped undocumented students, whom a majority of Latino voters believe should get U.S. help in gaining legal status.

So what happened? Romney, after trashing his primary opponents from the right on immigration, and endorsing an immigration policy of "attrition through enforcement," attempted an awkward pivot to the center once the primary was over. Romney promised to "study" a plan offered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. That didn't go over well with the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party, most notably Romney adviser Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who helped write many of the nation's harshest state immigration laws. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported, Kobach called the Rubio plan "amnesty," even though it wouldn't actually grant citizenship to anyone.

"I’d absolutely reject any proposal that would give a path to legal status for illegal aliens en masse," Kobach said. "That is what amnesty is. I do not expect [Romney] to propose or embrace amnesty."

Romney spent an awkward few days trying to distance himself from Kobach, demoting him from adviser to "supporter." Kobach nonchalantly told Think Progress that yes, he was still advising Romney on immigration, regardless of what the campaign itself was saying.

Although I'm sure immigration will come up again, the whole saga illustrates that the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party has Romney over a barrel. Romney can't move to the center because he simply cannot defy them, they won't let him.

Although Rubio, who spoke after Romney, mentioned his "DREAMless" Act in his speech Wednesday, an actual legislative proposal has been elusive. Romney's retreat on this issue really opens up an opportunity for the Obama administration, which is reportedly skittish about Rubio's plan. There's really no reason for Obama not to endorse it if and when it comes out. Not only will it make it impossible for Romney to take the opportunity Rubio is offering him, but there's little chance the legislation will pass because the GOP's anti-immigrant base wants to deport every single undocumented immigrant in America, making the Rubio plan a non-starter. Politically, the worst case scenario for the administration is that the proposal passes, and a group of undocumented immigrants who are American in all but name and are here through no fault of their own avoid being kicked out of the country. So it's not just politically smart—it's the right thing to do.

Better yet for the administration, the people who voted for Obama expecting comprehensive immigration reform rather than more than a million deportations would have an actual reason to vote for Obama other than fear of a Republican president. Obama has a large lead over Romney among Latinos, but the ratio of the Latino vote that Obama gets is less important than the number of Latinos who would have voted Obama but stay home out of disappointment with the administration.

I Can Haz Cheezburger Can Haz Anti-Lamar Smith Billboard

| Thu May 24, 2012 9:48 AM EDT
The billboard.

Rep. Lamar Smith needs 50 percent of the vote in next Tuesday's Texas primary to avoid a runoff and all but guarantee a 14th term in the House. He'll probably get it—there's been no indication that far-right gadfly Richard Mack or Austin tech entrepreneur Richard Morgan pose much of a threat at this point.

On Monday, Test PAC, the project of a band of ticked-off Redditors upset at Smith for sponsoring the Stop Online Piracy Act, ran its first television ads in Austin and San Antonio, to go along with a billboard on Interstate 10. It was a small buy—just $10,200—but noteworthy in that it was the first time the online community had entered the campaign finance game. Now another group, Fight for the Future, founded in late 2011 to educate and mobilize Internet users about the perils of SOPA, is up with a billboard of its own. Or two billboards, rather—one of which is just down the street from Smith's San Antonio district office. The kicker: Funding for the project came in part from Ben Huh, CEO and godfather of the I Can Haz Cheezburger empire. It's surprisingly cat-free.

Fight for the Future co-founder Holmes Wilson says the group has no plans to get involved in the primary—but he's hoping sooner or later Smith will get the message. "I guess he's still in DC until the weekend, but hopefully he'll come into work," Wilson says. "Hopefully he'll come into the San Antonio office sometime this weekend and get to see our billboard."

Climate Change Will More Than Triple Annual US Heat-Death Toll

| Thu May 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

In an average summer in the United States, there are 1,332 heat-related deaths. But climate change will make that number rise to 4,608 by the end of the century, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. In total, the US can expect 150,000 deaths due to excessive heat by 2100, the report projects.

The paper is based on research recently published in the journal Weather, Climate and Society that looked at the impact that hotter days and nights would have on heat-related deaths. Scientists expect temperatures to rise 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century due to human-induced climate change, and the number of days where the temperature presents a health threat will tick upward. That will be felt most in cities, where all that asphalt and glass amplify the heat and the dense population leaves more people vulnerable. Thirty-seven of 40 cities studied will see increases in heat-related deaths, they predict.

The hardest hit will be Louisville, Detroit, and Cleveland, researchers found. The average number of deaths in Louisville was 39 per summer from 1975 to 2004. That figure is expected to grow to 257 per summer by mid-century and to 376 by 2100. That's a total of 18,988 more deaths than would occur without climate change. Detroit can expect 17,877 additional deaths over the rest of this century, and Cleveland 16,625.  Many of the most affected cities are in the Midwest and Northeast, where the weather is more variable and where populations aren't as adapted to extreme heat. By comparison, Miami currently averages zero heat-related deaths, which researchers expect will continue because the temperature, while hot, is relatively stable and air conditioning is widely available.

"As temperatures continue to rise and climate variability continues to increase, we're going to have some real problems," said Larry Kalkstein, one of the paper's authors and a senior professor of geography and regional studies at the University of Miami. These heat deaths are "a silent killer," he added. It's not like a tornado, where destruction and the death tolls are readily apparent, so the public often doesn't notice escalating body counts.

And those figures might be conservative, according to NRDC's program director for climate, Dan Lashof, because they don't take into account projections on population growth in those cities, or anticipated growth in the number of sick or elderly people, who are often hit hardest in heat waves. Kalkstein also noted that it's often difficult for medical examiners to determine that a death was definitively due to heat, since it often exacerbates preexisting heart or respiratory issues. That means the baseline figures for cities could already be low. (See Mother Jones' interview with climatologist Matthew Huber for more dystopian projections.)

"This is a real wake up call," said NRDC's Lashof. "Carbon pollution has real life or death consequences."

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Corn on "Hardball": Romney's Campaign of Falsehoods Against President Obama

Wed May 23, 2012 8:56 PM EDT

David Corn and Salon's Joan Walsh joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Mitt Romney's campaign of falsehoods against the President. Romney claims that President Obama has increased federal spending, raised taxes, and appeased Al Qaeda.

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

Colin Powell Evolves on Same-Sex Marriage

| Wed May 23, 2012 6:15 PM EDT
Colin Powell.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells CNN he's in favor of same-sex marriage, "either at the state or federal level":

"I respect the fact that many denominations have different points of view with respect to gay marriage and they can hold that in the sanctity in the place of their religion and not bless them or solemnize them," he said.

He said he has "a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is and they raise children. And so I don't see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married under the laws of their state or the laws of the country."

Powell's remarks hint at the importance of the closet in forestalling acceptance of gays and lesbians—as they became more visible as people, either on screen or in Americans' personal lives, the rationale for restricting their individual rights becomes more and more inscrutable (few people have written on this as eloquently as Andrew Sullivan). That's why preventing the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell was so important to the anti-gay rights cause: It's hard enough to maintain opposition to marriage equality when you know someone who is gay, but it's even harder when it means people possibly losing their lives in combat and leaving behind families the law arbitrarily fails to recognize as legitimate.

In 1993, during the first fight over DADT, Powell argued that discriminating against gays and lesbians in uniform was entirely unlike discrimination on the basis of race. Powell called skin color a "benign, nonbehavioral characteristic," that wasn't comparable to sexual orientation. When President Harry Truman desegregated the military, of course, many Americans felt being black was neither 'benign" nor "nonbehavioral"—they felt being black came along with a set of immutable character deficiencies that would harm the military. Years later, many Americans felt the same way about gays and lesbians.

Powell famously changed his mind about DADT and desegregation during the debate over repeal. In just ten years, Powell went from arguing that servicemembers should stay in the closet to supporting the rights of same-sex couples to marry. That evolution is in some ways even more dramatic than President Obama's, given that many conservatives and liberals regarded the president's opposition to marriage equality as insincere. Powell's evolution also looks much more like the one the country itself is going through—an evolution that seems more inevitable every day.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Dem Poll Shows Walker and Barrett Tied in Recall

| Wed May 23, 2012 5:55 PM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin Democrats and union officials have a message for the recall doomsayers: Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are still locked in a dead heat.

After the last three public polls showed Walker with a 4 to 9 percentage point lead over Barrett, Democrats released an internal poll suggesting the race remains up for grabs. In a survey of 472 recall voters by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Walker was ahead of Barrett by 3 points, 50-47. That's within the survey's 4-point margin of error. And in an encouraging sign for Democrats, Barrett leads Walker 50-44 among independent voters in Wisconsin.

Barrett backers say the new survey shows Walker hasn't locked up the June 5 recall election. "This race remains a dead heat, with Barrett solidifying and even building on his lead amongst independents, and Democrats' turnout operation in full gear as early voting and GOTV begin in earnest," Kelly Steele, the spokesman for the labor-backed outside political group We Are Wisconsin, wrote in a memo released to the press.

Steele also took aim at the recent flurry of polls, saying they were "flawed" because Republicans were overrepresented in their samples. The race will remain a "dead heat" until election day, Steele argued, and turnout will decide who triumphs on June 5. "On Election Day, it's that very turnout that will determine the outcome, and we remain confident in our trajectory and continue to execute our program as planned."

Read Steele's memo:

 

Dear SCOTUS: We ❤ Citizens United!

| Wed May 23, 2012 5:10 PM EDT

Since the US Supreme Court stayed a Citizens-United-defying ruling by Montana's Supreme Court in February, politicians and advocacy groups have lined up to take sides, filing amicus briefs urging the high court to let stand, reverse, or review the decision. The majority of the briefs, like the one submitted by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), come from petitioners upset by the unlimited outside spending triggered by Citizens United.

Yet those calling on the Supreme Court to let the Montana ruling stand (including one group with a rather unorthodox argument) or use it as an opportunity to roll back Citizens United face an uphill battle. The court's conservative majority is likely to be more sympathetic to those friends of the court calling upon it to summarily reverse (i.e., overturn without hearing) the Montana ruling. Their main arguments:

Why mess with a good thing?
In his amicus brief, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argues (PDF) that the Montana Supreme Court's decision to uphold the state's strict campaign finance laws should be summarily reversed since it contradicts Citizens United. "Nothing that has occurred since that ruling warrants its reconsideration," his brief reads. It goes further, noting that the majority of super-PAC contributions come from individuals, not corporations, and therefore concerns about the ruling are greatly exaggerated. The brief also approvingly cites a column in the New York Post by Reason's Jacob Sullum that claims that "independent groups, funded mainly by wealthy individuals, have increased competitiveness, which is usually considered good for democracy."

Corruption? Sorry, can't hear you.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which has spent upwards of $3 million against Democrats in this election cycle and has vowed not to disclose its donors, argues (PDF) that in light of Citizens United "it is settled law that independent expenditures do not create the appearance of corruption" because they aren't donated directly to candidates. As Lee Fang notes, it's pretty clear that evidence of actual corruption does exist, pointing to a multitude of evidence filed by a judge in McConnell v. FEC, the 2003 case that upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance limits (which Citizens United partly reversed). Nevertheless, the Chamber says that even if such evidence of corruption should come to light, the Supreme Court should not use "empirical data" to reconsider its previous ruling.

Don't know much about history…
Citizens United, the group behind the case of the same name, has also weighed in. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock argued that his state's unique history of political corruption, dating back to the political stranglehold held by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in the late 1800s, was reason enough to disprove the Supreme Court's contention that independent expenditures "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." However, Citizens United says that the Montana ruling violates a 2009 Supreme Court decision, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, in which "this Court confirmed that history alone is an insufficient ground for sustaining a constitutionally suspect statute."

CU's brief also argues that Citizens United is not a "factbound" ruling and that any claims otherwise are disingenuous efforts to create an unconstitutional state-level exemption to free-speech rights. Meanwhile, Montana AG Bullock may have inadvertently strengthened his argument against Citizens United: After leaving his seat open to run for governor, an unprecedented amount of money has been poured into the Republican primary for attorney general, much of it from out-of-state PACs.