2012 - %3, October

Antibiotic-Resistant Bug Shows Up in Wild Animals

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 11:54 AM PDT
Two wild cottontail rabbits tested positive for MRSA.

A deadly, antibiotic-resistant species of bacteria, once seen only among hospital patients but now spreading widely outside healthcare settings, has been detected among wild animals with little or no human contact, according to a new study. The findings raise the ominous prospect that people could face the risk of exposure not only from fellow humans but also from animals they encounter on hikes or other outdoor excursions.

MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, can cause deep skin ulcers. In recent years, it has become something of a poster-bacterium for the alarming problem of antibiotic resistance. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that 18,000 people die annually from MRSA infections, although improved hospital infection control measures in recent years appear to have helped to reduce transmission rates. (A good thing, since a recent study found that drug-resistant infections resulted were significantly more costly to treat than those that respond to antibiotics.) 

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Climate Deniers To Release Rip-Off Report

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 11:36 AM PDT

Back in June 2009, the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released a detailed 188-page report, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," showing how climate change would affect different regions of the country. The USGCRP is at work on its next assessment right now, which is due out in 2013. But this week a climate-change-denying think tank is trying to muddy the water by releasing what it calls an "addendum" to the USGCRP report.

The Cato Institute, a "free-market" minded think-tank based in DC, plans to release its own "Addendum: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" report. In addition to the title, the report's cover looks like the USGCRP report:

The Daily ClimateThe Daily Climate

The Daily Climate flagged the fake report on Monday, noting that the addendum "matches the layout and design of the original, published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program: Cover art, 'key message' sections, table of contents are all virtually identical, down to the chapter heads, fonts and footnotes."

While the real USGCRP report had grim predictions for many regions of the US, the Cato report claims that "observed impacts of climate change have little national significance." A draft version of the Cato report is posted online. It lists noted climate contrarian and Cato senior fellow Pat Michaels as the editor in chief.

Rick Piltz, who was a senior associate with the USGCRP for ten years before leaving amid Bush-era censorship in 2005, also covered the Cato draft on his blog, Climate Science Watch:

Because of its misleading design and layout throughout, the Cato report can be characterized as a counterfeit, having nothing to do with the USGCRP or the authors of the original report. It was not subjected to the extensive review process that characterized the 2009 report, and its key findings are neither consistent with the original assessment nor with the analysis developed by the great majority of qualified scientists.

UPDATE: Eleven members of the Federal Advisory Committee that wrote the 2009 USGCRP report have released a statement condemning the Cato report as "deceptive and misleading."

Quote of the Day: Leave George Bush Alone!

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 11:24 AM PDT

From Jennifer Rubin, in a column insisting that Barack Obama has too apologized for America:

Liberals don't even see that Obama’s excoriating his predecessor is apologizing for this nation, but of course it is. George W. Bush wasn't acting as a private citizen, and whatever he actions he took were done in the name of the United States.

This pretty much mocks itself, doesn't it? In any case, Jimmy Carter will certainly be glad to hear that conservatives plan to stop criticizing all the actions he took in the name of the United States. Better late than never, I guess.

Romney Still Wants to Indict Ahmadinejad for Violating Genocide Convention

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:32 AM PDT

At last night's presidential debate on foreign policy, Mitt Romney repeated one of his signature foreign-policy talking points on Iran:

I'd make sure that [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.

/Flickr ; /FlickrGage Skidmore/Flickr ; Daniella Zalcman/Flickr

Romney has been saying this since at least the end of 2007. As I noted last year when he brought this up several times in the heat of the Republican primaries, Romney is wading into murky, if not downright implausible, territory here. When he talks about indicting Ahmadinejad, Romney is specifically referring to the the Iranian leader's infamous applause line calling for Israel to "be wiped off the map." That rhetoric was widely condemned when he first said it back in the Bush years. But unless a statement can be taken into direct evidence as proving premeditation and intent to perpetrate mass murder, it would be exceedingly difficult to bring charges under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide against a foreign leader, let alone haul him before the International Criminal Court.

Elizabeth Blackney, an anti-genocide activist and author (and Romney supporter), questioned Romney's plan when we talked about this last November: "There are so many layers to [Romney's] argument that need to be explored [before any potential US support for an indictment] because the implications are very serious...US policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty. So is Romney signaling that he would recommend law enforcement under the [statute]... and fundamentally change American policy toward the ICC and the Genocide Convention? [The governor's comment] was not very well thought out."

Reactions following Monday night's debate were similar: "And as the President of the United States, Romney wouldn't have the power on his own to bring anyone up before the International Criminal Court [ICC]. But it's one of those bits of posturing that nobody, not even his own supporters, actually believes," writes The American Prospect's Paul Waldman.

After the debate, Romney campaign aides clarified Romney's comment to TPM's Benjy Sarlin, suggesting that a Romney administration would support the "World Court" arresting and trying the Iranian president. (While the "World Court" is indeed a nickname for the UN's International Court of Justice, campaign officials most likely meant the ICC, which actually prosecutes crimes against humanity and genocide.) Greg Sargent at the Washington Post was quick to point out that members of Romney's own foreign policy advisory team, particularly John Bolton, cringe at the idea of American leadership deferring to international bodies like the ICC.

In his determination to project more toughness on Tehran during the final weeks of the election, Romney might do well to think of another—and less legally muddled—argument than "arraign Ahmadinejad now!"

Serbia, Belarus, Kazakhstan to Monitor US Elections

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:29 AM PDT

Last week, President Hamid Karzai got snippy with reporters about the possibility of Westerners monitoring his country's election process: "Afghanistan is not interfering in their election, and we are hoping they don't interfere in our election," he said. 

Karzai's right that folks from Afghanistan won't be monitoring US elections. But people from Kazakhstan will.

On November 6, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a United Nations affiliate, has already deployed a team of 57 observers from 23 countries, including Serbia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, to monitor voter suppression and learn about election administration, campaign finance, new voting technologies, and even our media environment.

The 1980s Called, and They're Jealous of Mitt Romney's Defense Budget

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:17 AM PDT

During last night's foreign policy debate, Barack Obama shot a hard zinger at Republican challenger Mitt Romney: "The 1980's called; they want their foreign policy back." Throughout the night, the president argued that Romney treats defense spending as if the US were still in a neck-and-neck arms race with Russia. But in fact, Romney's military budget puts Cold War spending to shame: It's the kind of plan that Gen. Buck Turgidson, the ultranationalist hawk in Dr. Strangelove, could only dream about.

"Romney's plan to spend 4 percent of the GDP on defense sends the budget skyrocketing north of Cold War levels. It's amazingly unprecedented," says defense-budget expert Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate aide who now directs the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. Obama doesn't seem to have any new ideas on how to modernize the military, but at least "he's spending the same amount of money," Wheeler says. "If Romney is elected, he'll quickly realize his plan is completely unaffordable."

Wheeler put together the chart below (using sources from the Department of Defense Greenbook, the OMB 2013 budget, and the Romney website as interpreted by Travis Sharp of the Center for New American Security), to show exactly how the Obama and Romney plans compare. The numbers are in billions of dollars, adjusted for 2012 inflation:

    US Military spending: comparing obama, romney and the cold war (in 2012 dollars)

Winslow Wheeler, Straus Military Reform ProjectWinslow Wheeler, Straus Military Reform Project

According to Romney's website, the US should spend freely to update "aging" weapons like tanker aircrafts, strategic bombers, and Navy ships. But instead of proposing new ways to do so, Romney is relying on existing designs. For example, he wants to reopen production of the F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet in human history, even though the plane has faced numerous technical problems. Romney also would continue production of the $120 billion Littoral Combat Ship, which has its own troubles: One version is corroding, has serious equipment failures, and can hardly stay afloat.

"We certainly need to modernize the inventory with affordable, effective airplanes," Wheeler says. "But Romney's alternative is business as usual: throwing more money at the problem without investing in competition and smart contracting."

The Romney plan, Wheeler adds, should keep one election-year constituency happy: "Defense contractors are drooling."  

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Programming Note: Obama Is Expanding His Lead on Romney

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 9:24 AM PDT

Just a quick update. The press mostly seems to be stuck in its post-first-debate groove of insisting that Mitt Romney has all the momentum and is closing fast on President Obama. And maybe so. But that's not what our best forecasters think. Models from both Sam Wang and Nate Silver show the same thing: Romney surged after the first debate, but by October 12 that started to turn around. Since then, the momentum has mostly been Obama's. Just sayin'.

So Much for That "War on Coal"

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 9:05 AM PDT

In September, news broke that the Buchanan Mine in southwestern Virginia, owned by Consol Energy, was temporarily laying off most of the its 620 employees. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and the rest of the GOP were quick to capitalize on the layoffs as evidence of the Obama administration's "ongoing war on coal." Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Virginia GOP, issued a statement a few days after the layoffs were announced citing the mine shut-downs as the result of the Obama administration's "failed leadership and destructive policies." The Republican National Committee has also cited the Buchanan layoffs as more evidence of Obama's coal-killing agenda.

But last week, Pittsburgh-based Consol issued a press release indicating that it is reopening the Buchanan mine. The mine will reopen during the week of the election.

The announcement has gotten little coverage outside of this story in the local newspaper. Consol's own press release says the temporary shut-down of the mine was in response to "weak markets" for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel, and that the company was "voluntarily curtailing production." Despite the idling of this mine as well as another in West Virginia, Consol still expects to produce 13.4 to 13.8 million tons of coal in the third quarter. So much for the "war on coal."

Meanwhile, Consol has long been a big backer of Republicans and a few coal-friendly Democrats. The company was a major donor to Rick Santorum when he was in the Senate, and then paid him handsomely for his work a "consultant" after leaving Congress. Consol's political action committee has donated $62,500 to Mitt Romney's campaign this year, according to Open Secrets. The PAC has also given $15,000 to Griffith, the congressman who was quoted last month blaming the Buchanan layoffs on President Obama. 

UPDATE: Consol spokeswoman Lynn Seay notes that while the Buchanan mine will restart, it will be operating at full capacity:

One hundred ninety production and maintenance employees will not return to Buchanan Mine and the company is currently working to reassign those employees, as well as some salaried employees, to other CONSOL Energy mines. Buchanan Mine typically produces approximately 400,000 tons per month on a seven day week schedule; the company anticipates that monthly production will be approximately 293,000 tons per month on the reduced schedule.

The Triumphant Return of the Hack Gap

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 8:43 AM PDT

Speaking of the hack gap, can I take a little victory lap on this? Think about what we saw last night: Mitt Romney dispassionately marched through the entire oeuvre of conservative obsessions on foreign policy and rejected virtually every single one of them. He's getting out of Afghanistan with no conditions; he's happy we helped get rid of Hosni Mubarak; he'll take no serious action against Syria; he wants to indict Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the World Court; he didn't even mention Benghazi; and he refused to say straight-up that he'd support Israel if they bombed Iran. It's the kind of performance that should have had a guy like Charles Krauthammer tearing his hair out, but instead we got this:

I think it's unequivocal: Romney won. And he didn't just win tactically, but strategically.

Was there any rending of garments anywhere else? Not for a second. Conservatives just reveled in the fact that Romney apparently made himself acceptable to undecided voters. Yuval Levin: "Romney clearly achieved his aim." Ramesh Ponnuru: "Advantage Romney." Rich Lowry: "Romney executed what must have been his strategy nearly flawlessly." Bill Kristol: "Tonight, Romney seems as fully capable as—probably more capable than—Barack Obama of being the next president." Stanley Kurtz: "Romney has now decisively established himself as a credible alternative to Obama." Erick Erickson: "Mitt Romney won this debate."

On a substantive level, Romney's performance from a conservative point of view was worse than Obama's in the first debate. It was pure rope-a-dope, with Romney abandoning virtually every foreign policy position the right holds dear while utterly refusing to attack President Obama as the weak-kneed appeaser they believe him to be. And yet....no one seemed to mind. As far as the right is concerned, two weeks before an election is no time to get too worried over principle.

Romney Super-PAC Will Carpet-Bomb Swing States With Biggest Blitz Yet

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 8:32 AM PDT

Paging all TV-watching swing state voters: The campaign ad blitz clogging up your airwaves is about to get worse.

The pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future on Tuesday launched a $17.7 million ad campaign targeting 10 swing states around the country—the super-PAC's single largest buy yet. Restore Our Future's latest campaign will consist of two ads: one featuring a wounded Iraq veteran hailing Mitt Romney as a man who "cares deeply about people who are struggling"; and another spot slamming President Obama for high unemployment, "crushing debt," and declining incomes.

The two ads will run throughout the next week in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Restore Our Future's pro-Romney ad can be viewed above. Here's the anti-Obama ad:

Restore Our Future—run by former Romney aides Carl Forti, Charles Spies, and Larry McCarthy—is arguably the king of the super-PACs. Restore Our Future's sole purpose is to help Romney win the presidency, and the super-PAC has raised a staggering $111.5 million to do that. The super-PAC's donors include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, and Oxbow Carbon, the energy company run by Bill Koch, brother to Charles and David Koch.