2012 - %3, August

Draft GOP Platform Defends Anti-Gay Laws in Africa

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 11:24 AM EDT

An early draft of the Republican platform published by Politico accuses the Obama administration of "attempting to impose" on the "peoples of Africa…legalized abortion and the homosexual rights agenda." Since 2006, with the urging and influence of US conservative Christian groups, several African countries have considered or passed laws outlawing homosexuality. The most infamous of them, proposed in Uganda, would impose the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

As for imposing the ambitious "homosexual rights agenda" of trying to prevent people from being murdered or imprisoned by the state for not being heterosexual, in December of 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech proclaiming that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." Shortly afterward, President Obama issued a memo "directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." Texas Governor Rick Perry, then seeking the Republican nomination for president, said: "This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country," and that "promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money." In some circles, not being imprisoned or executed for your sexual orientation is apparently a "special right."

The United States itself is less than a decade past the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas that struck down laws that criminalized homosexuality. Make no mistake however: The language in this draft of the GOP platform protests the Obama administration's efforts against laws that would levy criminal sanctions, including death, on people simply because of their sexual orientation. 

A related point: The "human rights" section of the GOP platform is one small paragraph, perhaps the tiniest section other than the one devoted to "public diplomacy." There are no harsh words for the administration in areas that have drawn international criticism, such as deaths of civilians in drone strikes. The section is focused on attacking the Obama administration for supposedly not standing up for "religious freedom," and it refers only to the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East and "fanaticism" in "West and East Africa." As far as the GOP is concerned, "religious freedom" doesn't extend to people who do not subscribe to the religious conviction that homosexuality is sinful and should be punished by the state. 

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Romney and His Gang: "They're Comfortable."

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 11:16 AM EDT

In the mostly empty Tampa Bay Times Forum this morning, media professionals, politicos of D and R designations, and pundits are milling about, as the world waits breathlessly for the GOP convention to begin tomorrow. While strolling through the arena, I ran into a top Republican who has not been so keen on Mitt Romney and his campaign tactics over the past year. He believes the Romney campaign has failed to engage voters in a fundamental fashion—regarding either Romney's biography or policy beliefs.

Do you expect anything major to change on the Romney side? I asked.

"No," he said, a tone of sadness in his voice. "I talk to people in the campaign and they tell me they're comfortable where they are now."

Really? I followed up. Given the lousy economy and the polls showing doom-and-gloom among the electorate, shouldn't Romney be ten points ahead of the guy in the White House?

"Yes, but they think they're in a good spot. And when you feel comfortable, you don't change things."

He rolled his eyes and added, "At least the weather is getting better."

University of California Offers Pretty Good Bang for the Buck -- For Now

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 11:15 AM EDT

Several years ago the Washington Monthly decided to start up a new kind of college ranking, this one based on the actual social value of universities across the country. You can read the rationale for the rankings here, but I was struck by Paul Glastris's introduction today:

Only one of U.S. News' top ten schools, Stanford, makes the Washington Monthly's top ten. Yale fails even to crack our top 40....Instead, the University of California - San Diego is our number one national university for the third year in a row, a testament to its commitment to educating an economically diverse student body while supporting world-class research. Six of our top 20 universities hail from the UC system.

This has been true ever since the Monthly started compiling its list, and the UC did especially well this year. And it kills me to read it. Not because the University of California earns such high scores, but because it's doing it by living off its past glory. In the past, the UC was well funded and offered a top notch education that was affordable for practically anyone. The usual way to describe it was as a "jewel." But that was decades ago. These days, it's underfunded, not highly valued either by legislators or voters, less and less competitive at hiring the best faculty, and increasingly expensive. The fact that it still does so well in the Monthly's ranking is a testament both to inertia and to the fact that public higher education is declining in the rest of the country too.

But that won't last forever. The UC is still pretty good, but that's only because it takes a long time for a great institution to crumble. It's just damn sad to watch it.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 27, 2012

Mon Aug. 27, 2012 10:56 AM EDT

U.S. Marines with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion call mortar strikes during night training at a site outside of Yuma, Ariz., Aug. 13, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Rebecca Eller.

Divine Fits' Britt Daniel is "93.5 Percent Rock and Roll"

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 6:06 AM EDT
Britt Daniel, Sam Brown, and Dan Boeckner of Divine Fits.

I remember the first time I saw Spoon. I was 15 years-old and standing—well, somewhere between sandwiched and flailing—in the front row at their show in my hometown. Britt Daniel, with his Texas drawl, throaty wails, and lanky rock-and-roll radiance had, in that moment, become a god. "I was making eye contact with Britt Daniel," I boasted to my friend after the set. "Oh yeah? So was I," she said, her face flushed and proud.

I wanted to kill her.

Part of it was, sure, being 15. But the other memorable factor, the one that stuck, was experiencing that classic front man element, the Jaggeresque confidence and swagger that few can pull off. Daniel, iconic for turning out cache after cache of howling, infectious Spoon songs since the mid-'90s, can pull it off, and does so with finesse—as does guitarist and vocalist Dan Boeckner, formerly known as one of the main songwriters behind Canada's Wolf Parade and, more recently, the Handsome Furs. So when Daniel and Boeckner announced that they were forming a band called Divine Fits with New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown earlier this year, it was no surprise that the blogosphere immediately blessed them with "supergroup" status.

On the eve of the release of their debut album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, I spoke with Daniel about the band names they rejected, that one Pixies show that's stuck with him since college, and how this lineup liberates him as a musician.

Mother Jones: Dan once said in an interview that you became a fan of his after watching the Handsome Furs' "Dumb Animals" video. Why that video? And why'd you want to start a band with him?

Britt Daniel: For some reason it reminded me of something off of those dark Cure records—like records two, three, or four. So when I actually did meet him, I was just blown away by how friendly a guy he is. He's real outgoing, and came right up to me, and we just got along real well.

MJ: What do you guys bond over, other than music?

BD: [Laughs.] We both really like margaritas, and...okay, other than music, we both seem to really like Middle Eastern food. Okay, other than food and drink: tight pants.

Men Defining Rape: A History

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
In 2 Samuel 13:1-22, Amnon rapes his half sister Tamar. Nothing happens to him.

Men have been in the business of deciding when it is okay and when it is not okay to rape women for thousands of years. If Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's claim that women's bodies magically fend off rapist sperm or the GOP's meditation on what's really rape sound medieval to you, that's because they are. Check out our timeline of the male notions and common-law statutes that have defined rape over time, and see for yourself which eras the GOP's views on rape line up with:

Property theft: The Code of Hammurabi, one of the first sets of written laws, which dates to about 1780 BC (and contains the old "eye for an eye"), defines rape of a virgin as property damage against her father. If you were married, sorry lady: You were an adulteress. Punishment? You get thrown in the river.

Translation: Girl, you're screwed.  Batigolix/FotopediaTranslation: Girl, you're screwed. Batigolix/FotopediaGod is a dude: Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says if you rape a virgin, you have to give her dad 50 shekels and take her to the altar.

Et tu, Roma? The Latin root raptus referred to the abduction of a woman against the will of whatever male controlled her life. What the abductor did with her was secondary.

Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giuseppe Cesari.  Dirk Huijssoon/FotopediaRape of the Sabine Women, by Giuseppe Cesari. Dirk Huijssoon/FotopediaTodd Akin, 1.0: As the Guardian recently pointed out, one of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, which was written around 1290, laid the foundation for Akin's notion that if you get preggers, you weren't raped: "Without a woman's consent she could not conceive."

(Mississippi and) The Middle Ages: During the 13th century, the severity of punishment under Saxon law varied according to the type of woman raped—whether she was a virgin, a wife, a widow, a nun, or a whore. That's appropriately medieval. But in the United States, well into the '90s (yes, the nineteen-nineties) some states still had laws that held statutory rape wasn't rape if the woman was "impure". Mississippi was the last state to ditch such a law—in 1998. King Edward I and his wife Eleanor.   From an early 14th century manuscript/WikipediaKing Edward I and his wife Eleanor. From an early 14th century manuscript/Wikipedia

Pre-wave feminism: King Edward I of England was a forward-thinking chap. He enacted the landmark Statutes of Westminster at the end of the 13th century. They redefined rape as a public wrong, not just a private property battle. The legislation also cut out the virgin distinction and made consent irrelevant for girls under 12, laying the basis for the modern principle of statutory rape.

"The wife hath given up herself": In a treatise on capital crime and punishment from around 1670, English judge and lawyer Sir Matthew Hale wrote this little gem: "[T]he husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract." The law had quite a bit of traction. A man could legally rape his wife in North Carolina until 1993.

If you were brown: It didn't count, whether you were a slave or a "savage." And after abolition, the white legal establishment pretty much ignored rape against black women.

Rape to prove rape: Men in common law courts in the 18th and 19th centuries had a bit of trouble agreeing on how much proof a woman had to give to show she wasn't lying. Some said the hymen had to be broken. Some said she had to provide evidence of semen. Virginity test, anyone?

Egyptian women protest the ruling military council's "virginity tests" in December 2011.  Ayman Mose/ZUMA PressEgyptian women protest the ruling military council's "virginity tests" in December 2011. Ayman Mose/ZUMA Press"Absolute rape," kind of like "legitimate rape": English physician Samuel Farr was pretty certain women couldn't get pregnant without an orgasm. The Guardian quotes the mansplanation from his 1814 Elements of Medical Jurisprudence: "For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant."

You can't thread a moving needle: Or: If you don't squirm a lot, it's not rape. Dr. Lawson Tait, an eminent 19th century gynecologist and medical officer who helped police with criminal investigations, was "perfectly satisfied that no man can effect a felonious purpose on a woman in possession of her sense without her consent." Said he: "You cannot thread a moving needle."

Irina Misevic/ShutterstockIrina Misevic/Shutterstock

The FBI calls rape by its name: As the Post's Gerhart explains, the federal government used the "rather prim euphemism, 'indecent assault,' a phrase that seems as linguistically tortured as 'legitimate rape,' from the 17th century until 1929, when the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program renamed it like this: "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." That definition was still totally 17th century, btw.

Lady rules: Feminists had been fighting to raise the statutory rape age in states since the 1890s (in response, some legislators proposed raising the age of consent to 81). Nonwhite feminists had been fighting for equal treatment under the law. Second wavers gave the movement another push, demanding a range of other expansions to make the definition of rape gender neutral, include date rape, and scrap medieval marital exceptions and virginity requirements.

Sue Lyon in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 Lolita.  Zellaby/FotopediaSue Lyon in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 Lolita. Zellaby/Fotopedia83 years later: January of 2012: that's when the FBI decided to update its definition of forcible rape. As Kate Sheppard pointed out last year, the year 1929 "was quite a while ago—before the Great Depression, before Mickey Mouse, and before the Empire State Building, to name a few. It was also before roofies had been invented and before date or partner rape were even concepts." The new, expanded definition includes other forms of sexual assault, other genders, and instances where the "victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age."

Backward, ho!: Last year, House Republicans pushed to limit taxpayer funding of abortions by excluding non-"forcible" rapes from federal abortion funding. Their plan failed. But the Republican war on women was just starting to heat up.

Johnny Andrews/ZUMA PressJohnny Andrews/ZUMA Press"Legitimate rape": "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Or, as Urban Dictionary puts it: "Rape between one man and one woman who are not married or even acquainted; the only rape sanctioned by the Republican Party."

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Review: "Come Back" by Teen

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

TRACK 2

"Come Back"

From Teen's In Limbo

CARPARK

Liner notes: "I've held too many hands/I've drawn too many blinds," murmurs Teeny Lieberson, as jittery beats and backing voices reveal growing anxiety on this garage rock-electronica hybrid.

Behind the music: This Brooklyn foursome is led by former Here We Go Magic keyboardist Lieberson and includes her sisters, Lizzie and Katherine, who recorded this haunting debut in a rural Connecticut barn with producer Pete Kember (Panda Bear, MGMT), a.k.a. Sonic Boom.

Check it out if you like: Frankie Rose and the Outs, Grimes, and Suicide.


Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Making Sense of the Great Apple vs. Samsung Patent Battle

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 12:26 AM EDT

What exactly was covered in the great Patent Trial of the Century between Apple and Samsung? I've had a surprisingly hard time figuring this out. However, after reading the verdict, the patents themselves, and a bunch of news summaries, it seems to me that there may be less than meets the eye here. As near as I can tell, the jury found Samsung guilty of violating the following Apple patents:

  • Patent 381, which covers inertial scrolling (the faster you move your finger, the faster a list scrolls) and the "bounce," or "rubber band" effect when you reach the end of a list.
  • Patent 163, which covers tap-to-zoom (on an iPhone, if you double tap a document, that section of the document is zoomed and centered).
  • Patent 915, which covers a programming interface for responding to finger scrolls and gestures.
  • Several design patents that cover the exact physical look of the iPhone and iPad (rounded corners etc.) and the exact look and feel of the icon layout on the home page.

That's it. The design patents (generically known as "trade dress") actually seem the least important here, since even Apple admits that many other manufacturers of touch devices have both physical and home page designs that don't infringe Apple's patents. Apple's complaint against Samsung was more about the totality of Samsung's designs than about specific individual infringements, and it's possible that Samsung really did go too far in slavishly copying Apple's look and feel. Still, even if they did, that doesn't affect the rest of the world much. 

As for the others (generically known as "utility patents"), they're pretty limited. It's not clear if Samsung violated patents for both inertial scrolling and scroll bounce (the jury verdict just says Samsung violated a particular listed claim that includes both), but I doubt that inertial scrolling is off limits to the rest of the world now. It's just too obvious to patent. As for the bounce effect, this story suggests that Steve Jobs thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I suspect we'll all survive just fine even if no one else is allowed to use it.

Tap-to-zoom is a nice feature, and it would be unfortunate if Apple truly owns something like this. At the same time, it's not that big a deal if other manufacturers have to figure out a different way to zoom and center things.

Finally, the API patent just puzzles me. I guess I'm not smart enough to figure out what it really covers. My reading of Claim 8, which is the one covered by the verdict, is that it's nothing more than a generic description of how an API works. It does suggest that the operating system should respond differently to single-finger and multi-finger inputs, and that multi-finger gestures can be used for scaling. Does this mean that Apple now has a patent on using two fingers to zoom in and out or to rotate a document? I can't quite tell.

On that last point, I would very much like to read something really authoritative. But I haven't quite found anything. Jon Brodkin's coverage of the trial doesn't seem to mention anything about pinch-to-zoom or rotation, but that's not dispositive. If anyone can point me to a truly expert analysis, I'd appreciate it.

The Great YouTube Blackout Spreads

| Sun Aug. 26, 2012 12:20 PM EDT

I was over at my mother's house for our family's annual Summer Turkey Day, and it turns out that she can no longer play YouTube videos on her computer. This is the damnedest problem. It's the exact same thing that happened to me a few weeks ago. In my case, I can't play them on Opera, so I have to open Firefox whenever I want to watch a YouTube video. In her case, she can't play them on Firefox, so she has to open IE to watch them. I reinstalled Flash and updated Firefox while I was over, but it didn't do any good — just as it didn't do me any good when I did the same thing on my machine.

I just can't figure this out. Is it some kind of weird malware? But that doesn't even make sense. What kind of malware would dick around with YouTube, but only on your primary browser? Is it possibly related to antivirus software? I'm completely stumped. Has anyone else encountered the same thing? Or is this literally a problem restricted to members of the Drum family?

No, Obama Didn't Steal Money From the Medicare Trust Fund

| Sat Aug. 25, 2012 5:39 PM EDT

Bob Somerby says I've failed him. Yesterday I wrote about Mitt Romney's claim that Obamacare had cut Medicare spending by $716 billion over the next decade, but I failed to answer these two questions:

  1. Did Obama steal, rob, siphon, take or remove $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund?
  2. After stealing that money, did he spend it on Obamacare?

Question #1 is pretty easy: No he didn't. Mitt Romney has been peddling this wacky charge for the past week, and it's a strikingly ignorant claim.

Slightly longer answer: Money that's paid into the Medicare system — which comes mainly from payroll taxes, premiums, and general revenue — goes into Medicare's two trust funds. Money that's paid out to doctors and hospitals comes out of the trust funds. So there are only two ways you could "rob" money from the trust funds: you could reduce taxes going in or you could increase money being paid out. Obamacare does neither of these things. In fact, it reduces reimbursement rates to hospitals, which means that it improves the financial health of the trust funds because less money is flowing out. In particular, after Obamacare was signed into law in 2010, the Medicare trustees estimated that it had extended the life of the HI trust fund by 12 years.

So why is Romney saying this? Beats me. I guess his team decided that "taking money from the Medicare trust fund" sounded more heinous than "reducing spending on Medicare." The latter actually has the virtue of being true, but that doesn't count for much these days.

Question #2 is actually a little trickier. It's unquestionably true that Obamacare reduces spending on Medicare, which allows us to spend more on Obamacare without changing our overall budget level. But does that mean we're taking money from Medicare to spend on Obamacare?

Here's an analogy. Suppose I have income of $100 per month, and I normally spend $50 on rent and $50 on food. Then I negotiate a lower rent with my landlord. Now I spend $45 on rent and $55 on food. Did I take money from the rent to spend on food?

I'd say no: I still have the same apartment, after all, and it's not as if I'm going to be short when the rent comes due this month. On the other hand, I'm definitely not using my newfound savings on my apartment. I'm using it to buy bananas and ham sandwiches. I guess you can make up your own mind what you'd call that.