2012 - %3, September

Paul Ryan and the Amazing Disappearing Function 920

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 5:31 PM EDT

I've mentioned before that Paul Ryan's budget plan includes enormous unspecified spending cuts to domestic programs, but I've never actually looked at his budget document to find out where all the cuts are hidden. Thomas Edsall, on the other hand, has more tolerance for pain than ordinary humans like you and me, so he dived into the fine print looking for the answer to one simple question: where's the slush bucket where Ryan hides all the cuts he doesn't want to fess up to in public?

Answer: Function 920. Over the next decade, this magic asterisk line item contains about $100 billion per year in spending cuts that are completely unspecified. So if you claim that Ryan's budget would cut FEMA or veterans benefits or whatever, you can never prove it because the line items for those things don't include any cuts. No matter what you say about his budget, he can say he's not cutting it. He just dumps all the cuts into Function 920 and refuses to say what programs they'll end up affecting.

We already knew all this, of course, but Edsall advances our understanding of the smoke and mirrors behind the Ryan budget by pinpointing the exact location of the slush fund for us. His whole piece is worth a read.

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Even If It Gets Wacky Cold, 2012 Will Still Set Record Heat

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 4:47 PM EDT

Crazy climate events, August 2012: NOAA | National Climate Data CenterCrazy climate events, August 2012: NOAA | National Climate Data Center

The year so far—January to August—now ranks as the warmest on record in the US, says NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

  • The national temperature of 58.7°F was an insane 4.0°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above the previous record warm of 2006.
  • Thirty-three states were record warm Jan-Aug this year and an additional 12 states were top ten warm. Only Washington state had temperatures near average for the period.
  • January-August 2012 was also the 14th driest period on record for the lower 48 states with a precipitation total 1.90 inches below the average of 20.20 inches.
  • Drier-than-average conditions stretched across the country. Ten states had year-to-date precip totals among their ten driest.

The US Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) value for January-August was a record large 47 percent: more than twice the average value. Which beat the previous record of 46 percent set only last year. Extremes in warm daytime temperatures and warm nighttime temperatures contributed to the record high USCEI value.

As Wunderblog's Jeff Masters writes:

Temperatures this year in the US have been so far above the previous record... that even if the remainder of 2012 ranks historically in the coldest one-third of September-Decembers on record, 2012 will beat out 1998 for the warmest year in history. Reliable weather records for the US go back to 1895.

To put this in a global perspective, check out Kate Sheppard's posted video: The Warming World in Less Than 30 Seconds.

First Purebred Bison Calf Born After Disease-Washing Embryo Transfer

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 4:35 PM EDT

This story first appeared on the Scientific American website.

What does a two-month-old bison calf in the Bronx have to do with the future of its species? Quite a lot, it turns out.

After being slaughtered to near extinction in the 19th century, the American plains bison (Bison bison bison) has become a bit of a conservation success story, albeit with a few important caveats. Today as many as half a million bison live in the United States, but most of them are genetically impure due to a misguided attempt to crossbreed bison with domestic cattle in the early 20th century. The crossbred bison, which live exclusively in commercial herds, contain what are referred to as "ancestral cattle genes" representing up to 2 percent of their DNA—a not-so-insignificant amount that makes them essentially useless for conservation purposes. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of the 20,000 or so remaining pure bison living in Yellowstone National Park and a few other government-owned herds have, over the years, been exposed to diseases such as brucellosis, which can cause cattle to abort their pregnancies. Many ranchers and other people fear these diseases could leap into domestic cattle or other species. This concern has to date prevented efforts to expand purebred bison populations into new herds.

The bison calf in the Bronx, which is not only genetically pure but also free of disease, could be the first step in changing that. The calf's parents, which came from the American Prairie Reserve in Montana, were both purebred but carried paratuberculosis, also known as Johne's disease, which can cause diarrhea and wasting in cattle. Reproductive physiologist Jennifer Barfield and her team at Colorado State University removed fertilized embryos from these bison, "washed" them with a special technique to remove the risk of disease, and implanted them into the embryos of surrogate bison that were disease free but carried ancestral cattle genes. One of the implanted embryos took and the pregnant mother and the other 15 members of her herd were transplanted from Colorado to the Bronx Zoo, where the healthy male calf was born on June 20.

The embryo washing technique is a multistep process standardized by the International Embryo Transfer Society that had previously proved effective in cattle but had never been used on bison. "You take the embryo and you move it through a series of drops of fluid that contains a chemical that removes any pathogens from the surface of the embryo," Barfield says. "It's very quick. They're only in these drops of fluid for 10 seconds at a time." The amount of chemicals are reduced each step of the way until the embryo is free of pathogens.

Barfield says the same procedure could be used with mothers that have brucellosis. "We're trying to set this up and we will continue the research with animals that have brucellosis to see if we can get around this disease as well with embryo transfer."

The birth of pure, disease-free bison outside of Yellowstone will help efforts to establish new herds and conserve the species. "The animals in Yellowstone are genetically valuable," Barfield says. "But they can't easily be moved into other herds or used to start restoration herds until they've been cleared of the disease." That's a long process that requires frequent testing and extended quarantines. "[Embryo washing] will be another way to get around that disease," she says.

Barfield praises the collaboration between Colorado State University, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the American Prairie Reserve and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo. "A university, a government institution and a nonprofit came together with a common goal and made it work. I think it was a great accomplishment from that perspective."

Barfield and her team are now preparing for their next round of bison embryo transfers, which are currently scheduled for later this month.

Also readAlso read David Samuels on the forces shaping the future of the American Bison's great plains habitats.

GOP Rep. Appears on White Nationalist Radio Show

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 3:43 PM EDT
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)

A North Carolina Republican congressman appeared on a notorious white nationalist radio program on Saturday to talk up legislation he coauthored accusing President Barack Obama of committing impeachable offenses. Rep. Walter Jones, a fiercely anti-war congressman who often breaks with his party on key votes, appeared on the Political Cesspool, a Memphis-based program hosted by ardent white nationalists James Edwards and Eddie Miller. The show has been condemned by groups like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic beliefs. Jones is the first member of Congress to appear on the program.

An avowed white nationalist who says David Duke is "above reproach," Edwards has referred to African Americans as "heathen savages" and "subhuman" and suggested that slavery was "the greatest thing that ever happened" to blacks. The show's mission statement is blunt: "We represent a philosophy that is pro-White and are against political centralization," it declares. It then outlines a series of issues the show exists to promote. "We wish to revive the White birthrate above replacement level fertility and beyond to grow the percentage of Whites in the world relative to other races," reads one plank. Another bullet point endorses the Confederacy: "Secession is a right of all people and individuals. It was successful in 1776 and this show honors those who tried to make it successful in 1865."

Edwards' rhetoric has caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which argues that he has "probably done more than any of his contemporaries on the American radical right to publicly promote neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, raging anti-Semites and other extremists." As the SPLC notes:

"The Political Cesspool" in the past two years has become the primary radio nexus of hate in America. Its sponsors include the CCC and the Institute for Historical Review, a leading Holocaust denial organization. Its guest roster for 2007 reads like a "Who's Who" of the radical racist right. CCC leader Gordon Lee Baum, Holocaust denier Mark Weber, Canadian white supremacist Paul Fromm, American Renaissance editor Jared Taylor, neo-Nazi activist April Gaede, anti-Semitic professor Kevin MacDonald, Stormfront webmaster Jamie Kelso and League of the South president Michael Hill have all been favorably interviewed on the "Political Cesspool" this year, along with former Klan leader and neo-Nazi David Duke, the show's most frequent celebrity racist guest, who has logged three appearances.

Edwards' bigotry runs the spectrum. As Media Matters has documented, Edwards has alleged that Jews "run Washington, Wall Street, and the news and entertainment media" and that they're "using pornography as a subversive tool against" Christians. He defended Mississippi voters who say that interracial marriage should be illegal. (He's called interracial sex "white genocide.") Jones is hardly the first prominent conservative to call into the Cesspool. Paul Babeu, a prominent anti-immigrant sheriff who was forced to step down as Mitt Romney's Arizona co-chair after a gay sex scandal, praised the host in a 2010 appearance on the show. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan has also appeared on the show; Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) had been booked to appear on Edwards' show but canceled at the last minute, citing a scheduling conflict.

Jones, a shoo-in to win a 10th term in November, is an arch-conservative with an independent streak. An early supporter of the Iraq war—he even went so far as to rename French fries in the House cafeteria "freedom fries"—he had a change of heart (as we explained in a 2006 profile), in large part due to the burden shouldered by families in his eastern North Carolina district, which includes Camp Lejeune. (He supported Paul during the GOP presidential primaries.) Edwards, like Jones, is an avowed proponent of "noninterventionism" who, on his website, calls on the federal government to "stop interfering politically, militarily, and socially outside of the borders of the United States of America." On the Cesspool, Jones briefly discussed his bill, HR 107, which states that President Obama's handling of the military intervention in Libya is an impeachable offense.

Jones made a positive impression with his hosts, whom he engaged in friendly banter over the merits of musician Frankie Valli and the musical Jersey Boys. "This is your debut appearance and hopefully the first of many to come," Edwards said.

Multiple calls and emails to Jones' office on Monday were not returned.

Update, 9/11/12, 10:20 a.m.: Erik Anderson, Jones' Democratic challenger, told Mother Jones the congressman needs to clear the air about what happened. "It's unbelievable that a sitting congressman would think that's appropriate," said Anderson, a Marine Corps veteran. "I really would like to hear his reasoning for why he went on there. You just don't go on a radio show like that and not know who you're talking to. I've been on conservative radio shows, but never a white supremacist one." But he has one theory: "I've said [the impeachment resolution] was racially motivated and that's absolutely what it was for because why else would he go on that show if it wasn't?"

VIDEO: The Warming World in Less Than 30 Seconds

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 3:35 PM EDT

This video, put together by NASA using temperature records from 1880 to 2011, shows you the warming world in just 26 terrifying seconds. Blue shows temperatures that are lower than the baseline average between 1951 and 1980, and reds show temperatures above the average. Hat tip to Climate Central for flagging the video.

The NASA video shows temperatures through 2011, which was the ninth warmest year on record at the time. But 2012 is certainly on pace to be just as out-of-the-ordinary. In the US, the summer months were the third hottest on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Monday. And between January and June 2012, the national temperature averaged 52.9°F –which is 4.5°F above the 20th-century average, as Julia Whitty reported in July.

Romney's Afghanistan Screw-Up and My Tweet

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 3:30 PM EDT
Fang Zhe/Xinhua/ZUMAPress

Mitt Romney is still entangled in the mess he created when he failed to reference (let alone thank) the tens of thousands of US soldiers serving in Afghanistan during his speech at the recent Republican convention. His big night in Tampa was mostly overshadowed by Clint Eastwood's improv act, but his Afghanistan oops also contributed to the bad post-convention bounce for the Romney campaign, with Romney trying to explain the oversight in the days afterward. It's been particularly intriguing for me to watch this story unfold, given that, as far as I can tell, I was one of the first, if not the first, journalists to note that Romney had inexplicably short-changed the troops in Afghanistan.

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BP Selling Oil Fields in Gulf of Mexico Ahead of Deepwater Horizon Fines

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 3:05 PM EDT

The oil slick as seen from space by NASA's Terra satellite on May 24, 2010.

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

BP has agreed to sell some of its Gulf of Mexico oil fields for $5.6 billion as it builds up cash reserves ahead of potentially huge fines for 2010's Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The British oil giant is selling its interests in older, smaller fields in the gulf to Plains Exploration & Production of Houston. BP will remain a major operator in the area.

"While these assets no longer fit our business strategy, the Gulf of Mexico remains a key part of BP's global exploration and production portfolio, and we intend to continue investing at least $4 billion there annually over the next decade," chief executive Bob Dudley said in a statement.

"This sale, as with previous divestments, is consistent with our strategy of playing to our strengths as a company and positioning us for long-term growth. In the Gulf of Mexico, that means focusing future investments on our strong set of producing assets and promising exploration prospects."

On completion of the transaction, BP will continue to operate four large production platforms in the region—Thunder Horse, Atlantis, Mad Dog and Na Kika—and hold interests in three non-operated hubs—Mars, Ursa and Great White.

Analysts calculate that BP faces a fine of up to $20 billion under the Clean Water Act for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The blowout killed 11 workers and pumped about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

Transocean, the company that owned Deepwater Horizon, said Monday that it was in discussions with the justice department to pay $1.5 billion to resolve civil and criminal claims related to the US's worst offshore oil spill.

Last week the US Department of Justice launched a withering attack on BP over its handling of the disaster. In court papers government lawyers said BP had made "plainly misleading representations" in its settlement proposals.

"The behavior, words and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall," wrote government lawyers.

The Gulf sale comes as BP looks to raise $38 billion from asset sales by the end of 2013. The company said the divestment was in line with its global strategy "of playing to its strengths, including the development of giant fields and deepwater exploration." BP intends to focus on "producing more high-margin barrels from fewer, larger assets," said the company.

The sale brings the value of BP's disposals since the 2010 spill to more than $32 billion. BP is also looking to sell its Texas City refinery—the site of fatal explosion in 2005 that left 15 dead and 170 injured.

Snoop Dogg Endorses Obama With Profanity-Laced Tirade

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 2:34 PM EDT

Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. (more commonly known by his stage name Snoop Dogg and/or Snoop Lion) has joined the chorus of celebrities throwing their support behind President Obama. The veteran gangsta rapper offered a spirited political endorsement:

[George W. Bush] fucked up for eight years so you at least gotta give [Barack Obama] eight years. He cleaned up half the shit in four years realistically. It ain't like you gave him a clean house. Y'all gave him a house with a TV that didn't work, the toilet was stuffed up; everything was wrong with the house. [The American people] need to give Obama four more years.

If any of that sounds familiar, it's probably because Bill Clinton basically said the exact same thing at the Democratic convention last week:

No president—not me or any of my predecessors—could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving and if you'll renew the President's contract you will feel it...[President Obama] inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, [and] began the long hard road to recovery...[W]e have to re-elect President Barack Obama!

Snoop Dogg/Lion—who insists that he is the reincarnation of Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley—has come a long way since 2008, when he accused then Sen. Obama of accepting money from the Ku Klux Klan. (Although Dogg/Lion also emphasized back then that "that muthafucker [Obama's] gonna be the president cuz McCain can't fuck with him. Hillary can't fuck with him. He's winning over white people, white ladies.")

Earlier this year, the rap icon publicly offered to start hitting the bong with Obama. He and the president have some strong, longstanding disagreements regarding the drug war. But that hasn't proved a deal breaker:

And the two go way back: Here's footage from 2008 of Barack Obama dancing to a recording of Snoop Dogg's hit single "Drop It Like It's Hot":

It Sure Looks Like Obama is Getting a Convention Bounce

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 12:39 PM EDT

I was planning to be a good boy and avoid all discussion of convention bounces until at least the middle of the week, but I've decided to cave in. Is this irresponsible? Sure. But what good is a blog if you can't be irresponsible once in a while?

Anyway, apparently all the tracking polls are suggesting that Obama got a convention bounce, and this morning Sam Wang posted his latest campaign meta-analysis, the first that incorporates post-DNC polls. (I've added the labels in red, so don't blame Sam for that stuff. It's just my interpretation.) It looks to me like Romney did indeed get an anti-bounce from his convention. I put Obama's baseline at 300 EV before the convention and 309 EV after the convention. That's an anti-bounce of -9 EV for Romney. Conversely, Obama has jumped from 309 before the DNC to 320 as of Monday morning. By the end of the week the dust should have cleared and we'll have a better idea of whether this holds up and what the new baseline is. But early returns sure suggest that the RNC was a bust and the DNC was a hit. Either that or the press corps and the electorate are finally waking up to just how comically deceptive and calculatedly nebulous the Romney/Ryan campaign is. I guess it could be either one.

Rick Scott Rejects Health Care Funds That Would Keep Disabled Kids Out of Nursing Homes

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 12:01 PM EDT

Florida's Republican governor Rick Scott loathes Obamacare so much that he turned down $40 million in federal health care funds that would keep hundreds of disabled kids at home with their parents, rather than warehoused in nursing homes. So says the Department of Justice, whose civil rights division recently investigated the situation in Florida.

ABC News reported this weekend that, in a letter to Florida's attorney general, the Justice Department cited the case of a "5-year-old child, a quadriplegic after a car accident, who had been living in a state facility for three years. The mother wants to bring the child home but has been told the waiting list for community and home-based services was five to ten years. 'I cry all the time thinking of [my child]… There should be something out there to help children come home,' the mother told Justice Department investigators, according to the letter." If Florida doesn't move to remedy the situation, the Justice Department may bring suit against the state on behalf of the kids.

The Justice Department knocked the state for cutting millions from services for the disabled, refusing the federal money earmarked for transitioning people out of nursing homes, and for giving nursing homes a bonus for taking in kids, rather than making it possible for them to go home to their parents. It's hardly the first time that Scott has rejected federal money. In 2011, he turned down $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail projects. And, all told, he's rejected more than $50 million in federal health care funding. Think Progress tallied up the numbers in June and found that Scott had rebuffed, among other things:

– Part of a $40 million federal program to promote wellness, including helping those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, manage their health.

– $8 million for construction of community-health centers.

– $3.4 million for in-home visitations with at-risk families.

– $2.1 million to set up a consumer-assistance office to educate Floridians about health insurance and assist them in appeals when insurers deny treatment.

– $2 million for hospice care for children.

– $2 million to $650,000 to help low-income seniors pay their Medicare premiums and buy prescription drugs.

Scott has followed the tea party agenda to the letter, but it doesn't seem to be winning him many fans outside of those small circles. His approval rating, around 29 percent, is so low that Mitt Romney doesn't want to hang out with him in this contested swing state.