2012 - %3, July

In Defense of Chick-Fil-A

| Thu Jul. 26, 2012 11:19 AM EDT

Dan Cathy, the president of the fast-food franchise Chick-fil-A, doesn't like same-sex marriage. He believes that "we're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." The company has put its money where its mouth is, lavishing anti-gay rights groups with millions of dollars in donations

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a Chicago Alderman named Joe Moreno has pledged to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his ward over Cathy's anti-gay views. Boston Democratic Mayor Thomas Menino is also trying to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant over its president's anti-gay views. 

Menino and Moreno have it wrong. Blocking construction of Chick-fil-A restaurants over Cathy's views is a violation of Cathy's First Amendment rights. Boston and Chicago have no more right to stop construction of Chick-fil-As based on an executive's anti-gay views than New York City would have had the right to block construction of an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero. The government blocking a business from opening based on the owner's political views is a clear threat to everyone's freedom of speech—being unpopular doesn't mean you don't have rights. It's only by protecting the rights of those whose views we find odious that we can hope to secure them for ourselves.

"We think there's a constitutional problem with discriminating against someone based on the content of their speech," says John Knight, director of the LGBT rights project at the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. And Illinois law does not demand that restaurants have anti-discrimination policies in place—"It's a good idea for restaurants to have those policies," Knight says, but the law doesn't require it.

Even so, Illinois and Massachusetts residents are still protected. There are federal laws against discrimination in employment and public accommodation on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin. Federal anti-discrimination law does not yet protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, but Illinois state law does. So does Massachusetts state law.

Chick-fil-A should not be prevented from opening business because of the views of its leaders, or his donations to anti-gay causes. But gays and lesbians in Illinois and Massachusetts have the right to be free from discrimination in employment based on who they are. They also have a right to protest, boycott, and make Chick-fil-A's customers aware that their purchases fund anti-gay activism. If Chick-fil-A discriminates in hiring or refuses to serve customers on the basis of sexual orientation, the local authorities can and should hold him accountable.

Until then, the politicians should get out of the way.

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We Should Have Bailed Out Everyone in 2009

| Thu Jul. 26, 2012 10:44 AM EDT

Matt Yglesias tries to referee a dispute between partisans of Tim Geithner, who say that bank bailouts were a critical part of getting the economy running again, and partisans of Neil Barofsky, who say the Obama administration should have spent more time bailing out underwater homeowners who were crushed by the housing bust:

So who's right? I think this is actually a much more difficult question than partisans on either side are willing to acknowledge. Team Tim has bolstered their argument with the overblown notion that homeowner bailouts "launched the Tea Party" via Rick Santelli and are therefore politically impossible and thus one doesn't even really need to address the merits of the case. On the other hand, Team Neil has never really presented a coherent alternative course of action that takes real account of the consequences of imposing very large losses on the banks.

I say: why choose? Like it or not, Team Tim is right: the banks had to be bailed out, the same way you'd bail out electrical utilities rather than let everyone go without electricity. They're just too important to the rest of the economy. Perhaps the bank bailouts should have been more punitive (that's my view), but frankly, this is nibbling around the edges. Punitive or not, we needed to spend a boatload of money to rescue the banks.

But Team Neil is right too: consumer debt overhang has been hobbling the recovery ever since 2008, and it's outrageous that so little money was spent rescuing consumers right along with the bankers. Obama should have pushed a lot harder for cramdown legislation; Fannie and Freddie should have been enlisted to rewrite mortgages; money should have been airlifted into consumer pockets, either to spend or to pay down debt; and schemes should have been set up for homeowners who were too far gone to save that allowed them to rent their homes back from the banks that foreclosed on them.

This is basically a long way of saying that we didn't do enough and we didn't spend enough money. Yes, the banks had to be rescued. But homeowners should have been rescued too. The stimulus needed to be bigger and longer. And the Fed should have ignored the wailings of the wealthy and temporarily targeted a higher inflation rate. None of this would have stopped the recession, but it would have made it a lot shorter and shallower. It's a crime that millions have suffered needlessly because we didn't have the guts to stand up and do this.

The Creepy Small Lies of the Romney Campaign

| Thu Jul. 26, 2012 9:57 AM EDT

President Obama has gotten at least a little bit of friendly fire from supporters who say that, although Republicans are taking his words wildly out of context, he's a pro and he needs to be a little more careful not to give them ammunition. But does it matter? David Weigel points to the latest bit of over-the-top mendacity from the Romney campaign, this supposed quote from Obama:

Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.

The problem with Obama's claim, of course, is that "our plan" isn't working all that well at the moment, as Jim Geraghty gleefully points out here. Except that it turns out Obama was talking about tax rates during the Clinton era vs. tax rates in the Bush era. And on that score, there's a pretty good case to be made that, in fact, the economy did a whole lot better with "our" tax rates than with theirs.

But look: there's nothing Obama could have done to avoid this. If Republicans are willing to just flat-out lie about what he said, it's impossible to self-edit your remarks enough to avoid it. We've now seen the Romney campaign make hay out of three wild misquotations: 

  • "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose," which turned out to be Obama in 2008 quoting John McCain. "What's sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander," Romney said in his defense.
  • "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," a statement that quite obviously referred to the "roads and bridge" of the previous sentence. This one is so bad that supporters have taken to splicing it together with an earlier part of Obama's speech and simply removing the "roads and bridges" reference entirely.
  • "We tried our plan — and it worked."

As Weigel says, "At this point, getting video clips of Obama from Republican campaigns is like getting an article pitch from Jayson Blair. It might tell a good story, but you need to run down the source and triple-check."

I know I keep asking this, but has any previous campaign ever done this on such a routine basis? I don't mean to suggest that no campaign has ever been as nasty. Obviously Willie Horton and "creating the internet" and the Swiftboating of 2004 were worse. And both sides traffic in distortions and cherry picking all the time. But there's something about the methodical small lies of the Romney campaign that seems quite new. And frankly, just plain creepy.

And you can add to that the fact that virtually no one on the conservative side of the aisle has pushed back against this. Among Democrats there would always be at least a modest faction of fainthearted folks who would insist that we shouldn't descend to this level. But have any Republicans reproached Romney for these obvious lies? Or are they all like Geraghty, eager to jump in with both feet no matter what Romney says?

Subscribing to Mother Jones is Quick and Painless

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 11:49 PM EDT

Hey, you know what you should do if you have a couple of spare minutes and $12 burning a hole in your pocket? Subscribe to Mother Jones! Not only is that just two bucks a copy, but your timing would be good too. I have a pretty good piece scheduled for publication in our November/December issue, and if you subscribe now you'll be just in time to receive it. It'll be worth it, I promise.

The whole process is quick and painless: just a credit card number and your address and you're good to go. And if you still have a couple of minutes left over and another twelve bucks before you hit your credit limit, why not buy a gift subscription for a loved one?

Thanks!

Another Source Says Mitt Romney Had Very Little Contact With Bain After He Left

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 7:10 PM EDT

The Associated Press looks into Mitt Romney's association with Bain Capital after he left to run the Winter Olympics in 1999, and adds one small tidbit to the story:

Several associates now say Romney made repeated trips between Salt Lake City and Boston, where he met at times with his former partners, mostly to discuss his severance from the firm. The Boston Globe reported last week that Romney also met with his Bain partners at a 15th anniversary celebration in Palm Beach, Fla., in early 1999.

"Some were group conversations. Some were one on one," said a legal expert familiar with Romney's discussions with his Bain partners. This person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential business dealings, said that Romney did not relinquish his Bain ownership after taking the Olympics role but that Romney took care to avoid the day-to-day role of a corporate manager.

This is pretty much the same thing Ed Conard told Chris Hayes a week ago, and since Conard can't reasonably be described as a "legal expert," this appears to be independent confirmation of what he said. For the time being, then, it appears that the best evidence supports Romney's story that (a) he held onto his titles in order to maintain leverage during his severance negotiations, and (b) was involved very little with the operation of Bain after he left. He probably wasn't completely disengaged (the AP story says his meetings were "mostly" about severance), but it does sound as though he had only minimal operational contact.

Whether he should be held morally accountable for Bain's actions as long as he held the CEO title is a whole different question. But substantively, probably not.

(Via Greg Sargent.)

CHART: One GOP Super-PAC Has Raised More Money Than Every Democratic Super-PAC Combined

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 3:34 PM EDT

Rarely a day passes without a reminder that, in 2012, Republicans are steamrolling the competition in the dash for super-PAC cash. According to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, GOP-aligned super-PACs have raised $227 million for the 2012 elections, while their Democratic counterparts have raised $77 million—a nearly 3-to-1 advantage.

Not startled? Then consider this: A single Republican super-PAC, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future, has raked in more money this election cycle ($82 million) than all Democratic-aligned super-PACs combined. That's one super-PAC beating hundreds of competitors.

Source: Sunlight Foundation, Center for Responsive PoliticsSource: Sunlight Foundation, Center for Responsive Politics

Restore Our Future's donor list is a who's-who of GOP mega-donors: Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, energy executive Bill Koch, hedge fund gurus John Paulson and Paul Singer, and financier John Childs. The Romney super-PAC is run by the savvy operatives Carl Forti (whom the New York Times recently dubbed "the $400 million man of the 2012 cycle"), attorney Charles Spies, and attack-ad specialist Larry McCarthy.

At this point, it's highly unlikely that Democratic-aligned super-PACs will catch up with the big guns on the other side. Then again, when it comes to the presidential race, Democrats don't need to play catch-up. There's only so much money the candidates' campaigns and outside groups can spend to sway voters, especially those in battleground states, before the money stops having an impact on voters flooded with messaging. Priorities doesn't need to match the GOP money machine dollar for dollar; it needs to hold its own in the states that matter and get its message out while voters are still receptive to what's on their TV or computer.

If Priorities wants to do that, it needs to reach its $100 million fundraising goal (or close). From the look of things, that's a big if.

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BP Sends Gulf Chefs to Olympics on a PR Jaunt

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 3:07 PM EDT

Two years after the capping of BP's blown Macondo well, effects of the vast spill linger in the Gulf of Mexico. In a study released in April, scientists found heightened levels of heavy metals in the shells, gills, and muscle tissue of Gulf oysters, correlated with the spill. Another study found that BP's errant oil accelerated the loss of marshlands along the Gulf—a devastating blow to coastal ecosystems. Yet a third study found drastic changes in the microbiota that live between grains of sand along beaches, which could entail lasting negative impacts at the base of the Gulf's food chain.

In short, through its bungling and short-sightedness, BP delivered a mammoth and enduring insult to the Gulf of Mexico and the communities and ecosystems clustered along it. Our nation's greatest regional culinary culture is not the least among the spill's victims. Rooted in precisely the body of water BP polluted, Gulf cuisine endures in its glory but can ultimately only be as healthy as the ecosystems that sustain it.

Which is why I find this news item unspeakably sad:

Eight Louisiana and Gulf Coast chefs—including John Folse and Galatoire's executive chef Michael Sichel—are on their way to London. BP will send them to the 2012 Olympic Games host city to fill it with a "dash of spice."

In addition to Folse and Sichel, participating chefs include Chris Poplin (Biloxi's IP Casino Resort Spa), Calvin Coleman (Gulfport's Naomi's Catering), Chris Sherrill (from Orange Beach, Alabama's Eat! and catering company Staycations), and Alec Naman (from Mobile's Naman's Catering).

These chefs may think they're leveraging BP's cash to promote their region on a grand stage. "We wanted to feature the Gulf Coast on an international stage," BP director of Gulf coast media communications Ray Melick told the Montgomery Advertiser. "This was a good opportunity to bring these chefs’ seafood flavors to that stage, reminding everyone that the Gulf Coast is alive and well, and that the seafood is the most-tested and best-tasting anywhere." That last bit describes the real message BP is hiring Gulf chefs to convey: Everything's fine in the post-spill Gulf; the 2010 spill and any ill effects from it are dead and gone.

But as Mississippi's most famous novelist once wrote, "The past isn't dead; it's not even past."

Mitt Romney Apparently Plans to Continue Obama's Foreign Policy

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 1:10 PM EDT

After hearing about Mitt Romney's big national security speech yesterday, I finally got curious enough to read the transcript. Obviously he thinks Barack Obama has done everything completely wrong, but that's just blather. I wanted to figure out what actual, concrete proposals he made. As near as I can tell, here they are:

  1. No cuts to the defense budget.
  2. No more national security leaks.
  3. No more criticism of Israel, ever.
  4. A successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
  5. No more cheating by China on trade issues.
  6. "Conditions" will be placed on aid to Egypt
  7. On Iran, "Sanctions must be enforced without exception....Negotiations must secure full and unhindered access for inspections....There must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period."

Hmmm. #1 requires action by Congress, not the president. #2 sounds great, but Romney would be the first president in history to do this. So color me skeptical. #3 I believe, though it probably won't matter much in terms of actual policy. #4 is basically what Obama is already working toward. #5 is pretty vague. #6, ditto. And #7 isn't really very different from Obama's current policy either.

In other words, Romney will talk tougher than Obama, but not really do anything very different. At least, that's my takeaway from the actual policy content of his speech. Anybody else have a different take?

Conservative Bloggers' Campaign Against "the Jerry Sandusky of Climate Science"

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 12:45 PM EDT

In a July 13 blog post, a writer for the The Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog wrote a post that was ostensibly about the child sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University and the school's complicity in covering it up. But the blogger, Peter Wood, didn't stop there. He went on in the piece to compare it to how the school has handled the work of one of its climate scientists.

He refers in the piece to the work of Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, who has been on the receiving end of a variety of attacks over the years, including the smear campaign resulting from emails that were stolen and put online in the fake scandal known as "Climategate." Wood uses the fact that a university investigation into "Climategate" (not to mention at least six other investigations on the subject conducted by outside institutions) exonerated Mann from allegations that he'd falsified data or hidden information as proof that there is "a culture of evasion" at the school. "Penn State has a history of treading softly with its star players," Wood writes. "Paterno wasn't the only beneficiary."

In case that wasn't clear, Wood is comparing how the university has responded to the research of a well-regarded climate scientist whose work is well within the mainstream to the university's effort to cover up a serial child rapist. He does make a point of saying that his other examples have "no direct connection to the Sandusky scandal" before going on to compare them just the same.

Wood has previously made it clear that he doesn't agree with mainstream climate science, scientists, or people who defend them; see here and here. But this seems to take things a bit farther.

Of course, it is an opinion blog, and writers are entitled to write about their opinions. But The Chronicle's editors have previously stated that they do still hold opinion bloggers to certain standards—standards that one might assume don't allow a blogger to compare a scientist to a child rapist. A few months ago, The Chronicle drew fire after blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley posted a piece suggesting that universities get rid of black studies and saying all kinds of not-very-nice things about people's dissertations based on their titles. At first editors at the paper stood by it, but after a week, the Chronicle published a mea culpa stating that the post "did not meet The Chronicles basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles" and the writer had been fired.

Wood had already hedged his bets on this sort of issue, posting a blog shortly after the Naomi Schaefer Riley incident explicitly that he feared her dismissal might mean that the same could happen if "someone mounts a campaign of vilification against me" based on his writing on a "controversial topic."

I asked The Chronicle's editors about the post. Here's what editor Liz McMillen wrote in response:

We don't think Peter Wood's post "equates" the sexual assault of children to the investigation of Michael Mann. Wood is describing what he sees as the culture of secrecy and cover up at Penn State during Graham Spanier’s years as university president. The consequences of that culture were most apparent and terrible regarding Jerry Sandusky, but in Wood's view, "The underlying culture that made this heedlessness possible among the senior officials extends to quite a few topics that have no direct connection to the Sandusky scandal." Wood also cites changes in the university policy on academic freedom and Spanier’s attempts, at a public university, not to disclose his and Paterno’s salaries as evidence of that culture.
And it should be pointed out that this is Wood's opinion; as we clearly state, posting on a blog does imply any endorsement of these views by The Chronicle.

Others in the climate science community have responded to what they call a "smear" in a "highly respected venue" like The Chronicle. You can read Wood's original post and decide for yourself.

UPDATE: Looks like bloggers from both the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the National Review Online have also jumped on board this meme, calling Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science." Mann's lawyer has asked NRO to retract the blog post and apologize.

Today's Outrage: Anglo-Saxon-gate

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 12:44 PM EDT

Here is the left's outrage of the day, courtesy of the Telegraph:

In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”

I dunno, folks. That first paragraph was pure editorializing by the Telegraph reporter. Only the second paragraph comes from the Romney advisor. So why did he use the term "Anglo-Saxon"? At a guess, because he was talking off the cuff, wanted some kind of phrase that suggested the U.S. and Britain have a shared history — which we obviously do — and that's what popped out. It was a mistake, but it's the kind of trivial mistake that happens when you're talking without notes.

As for the swelling tide of suggestions that this was a racial dog whistle, color me dubious. Does anyone seriously think that the Romney campaign decided that the best way to send a message to Southern whites was via a quote to a London newspaper? That's a tough sell.

I guess it's nonetheless tempting to say that this is no more than Romney deserves, given his campaign's continuing grim-faced mendacity over "you didn't build that." And in some cosmic sense, that's true. But in every other sense it isn't. This was, very slightly, a poor choice of words. Unless the Romneybots repeat it, that's all it is.