2013 - %3, February

Marijuana Legalization May Be Unstoppable

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:31 AM EST

On Tuesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder told America to expect a decision "soon" on how he'll respond to the recent legalization of pot by Colorado and Washington state. To which the rest of the country has basically said, "Whatever, dude." The same day, legislative committees in New Mexico and Hawaii approved bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and Oregon lawmakers introduced a legalization bill. Yesterday, Rhode Island legislators held a hearing on a bill to—surprise!—legalize and tax marijuana.

In California, where Holder's Justice Department has spent months trying to shut down respected medical-pot dispensaries, a Field Poll (PDF) released yesterday showed that 67 percent of state voters oppose the move. A 54 to 43 percent majority now backs fully legalizing the sale of cannabis and regulating and taxing it like alcohol.

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VIDEO: On the Ground at the BP Gulf Oil Spill Hearings

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:07 AM EST

This week marked the start of the the civil trial against BP over its role in the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men and caused the worst spill in US history. District judge Carl Barbier warned of a lengthy trial, one that could last up to 3 months if a deal isn't reached earlier, and if the first three days of the trial are anything to go by, BP is in for a battery of tough questions about its safety record and procedures. As much as $17.5 billion in damages is hinged on the legal question of whether the company was "grossly negligent" in causing the deaths and the subsequent spill. Climate Desk caught up with Dominic Rushe at partner publication, the Guardian, who has been covering the trial as it unfolds.

Top 4 Reasons the US Still Doesn't Have a Single Offshore Wind Turbine

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:07 AM EST

"Jack-up" ships like this are needed to drive massive offshore wind turbines into the seafloor. There's not a single one in the US.

Despite massive growth of the offshore wind industry in Europe, a blossoming array of land-based wind turbines stateside, and plenty of wind to spare, the United States has yet to sink even one turbine in the ocean. Not exactly the kind of leadership on renewables President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address.

Light is just beginning to flicker at the end of the tunnel: On Tuesday, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a gathering of offshore industry leaders he was optimistic the long-embattled Cape Wind project would break ground before year's end. And in early January industry advocates managed to convince Congress to extend a critical tax incentive for another year.

But America's small-yet-dedicated entrepreneurial corps of offshore developers are still chasing "wet steel," as they call it, while their European and Asian colleagues forge ahead on making offshore wind a basic component of their energy plans. So what's the holdup? Here's a look at the top reasons that offshore wind remains elusive in the United States:

Why Aren't Conservatives Interested in Healthcare?

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 6:40 PM EST

Here's something new. CPAC, the right wing's big annual gabfest, has come in for a lot of criticism recently for being too hidebound and insular to give Chris Christie a speaking slot at their conference in March. Today, though, Philip Klein takes them on for the opposite sin: giving up on conservatism by not holding an Obamacare panel this year. However, he admits this is less a CPAC problem than simply a problem with conservatism itself:

Conservative activists often disregard health care as a liberal issue [...] and only become engaged when liberals attempt to advance big government solutions.

In 1993 and 1994, for instance, when the Clintons were pushing their national health care plan, the conservative movement rose up to successfully defeat it. But then, instead of taking advantage of the intervening 15 years to advance market-based solutions to health care, conservative activists largely ignored the issue.

....A few scholars such as Sally Pipes, John Goodman, Grace-Marie Turner, David Hogberg and Greg Scandlen were consistently writing about how to foster the creation of a consumer-based medical system. But health care just didn't generate any passion at the grassroots level until Obama began his health care push....In hindsight, the interest in health care policy on the Right is looking more like a fad built around opposition to Obamacare.

There's a pretty obvious conclusion to be drawn here: conservatives actually don't care much about healthcare. Just like they don't care much about income inequality or particulate poisoning. These just aren't hot button issues on the right, and the truth is that the grass roots isn't much interested in egghead ideas about consumer-directed healthcare.

In other words, the recent blooming of interest in healthcare policy really was just a fad built around opposition to Obamacare. Nobody in the conservative movement ever had the slightest intention of following through on the "replace" part of "repeal and replace."

So Klein is right about that. But he doesn't take the next step: asking why conservatives have no real interest in healthcare policy. If there really are some conservative scholars working in this area, why haven't their proposals sparked any interest among the rank-and-file? From my liberal perspective, the answer seems obvious, but I'd be curious to hear what Klein thinks. He's got the symptom right, but what about a diagnosis?

Chart: Generational Attitudes on Sushi and Gay Marriage Correlate Almost Perfectly

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 4:56 PM EST

The younger you are, the more likely you are to support gay marriage. But what if there's another dimension to this generational shift—the sushi gap? Raw data from a new survey of Americans' food preferences shows that age-based unwillingness to put delicious uncooked fish in your mouth correlates nearly perfectly with existing data about who disapproves of marriage equality.

Sushi vs. gay marriage

Corn on MSNBC: The Republican Party's Broken Budget Rhetoric

Wed Feb. 27, 2013 4:45 PM EST

In the midst of Washington's latest budget battle, some Republicans are returning to their election-year rhetoric of "takers" and "makers." DC bureau chief David Corn breaks down the Republican talking points on the sequester with Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation:

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

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It Looks Like Pre-Clearance Is Doomed

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 4:08 PM EST

The 1965 Voting Rights Act requires certain states with histories of racial discrimination to pre-clear any election changes with the Department of Justice. Conservatives have been arguing for years that this provision of the VRA is antiquated and should be struck down. The Supreme Court heard yet another argument on this subject today, and this time it looks like opponents are finally going to win. Here's election law expert Rick Hasen:

A few years ago, I would have had a smidgen of sympathy for the opponents of pre-clearance. Maybe half a century is long enough. But given the rash of racially charged voter suppression efforts of the past three years—photo ID laws, early voting shenanigans, voter purges, etc.—this sure seems like a wildly inopportune time to pretend that we've overcome the demons of our past. Personally, I think I'd vote to expand pre-clearance at this point. Republicans like to claim that the VRA is unfair because it's not just the South that does this stuff, and their point is well taken. The solution just happens to be the opposite of the one they've proposed.

More here from Adam Serwer on Chief Justice John Roberts and his long war against the VRA.

UPDATE: Hasen's site is back up, and his full post is here.

Why Does the Capitol Still Whitewash White Supremacists?

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 2:49 PM EST
Former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and civil rights icon Rosa Parks are both represented in Statuary Hall.

On Wednesday, congressional leaders unveiled a new statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks at the Capitol's Statuary Hall. Parks is the first African American woman to be represented in the room, which is a fairly understandable consequence of the fact that, for most of the nation's history, only white dudes were allowed to participate in politics. Notwithstanding the near-total sausage fest, Parks is in some good company—Helen Keller is there; so is Dwight D. Eisenhower.

She's also in some really bad company. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, is there. So is Alexander Stephens, the man Davis tapped as second-in-command of the Confederacy. Here's how the office of the Architect of the Capitol, which oversees Statuary Hall (and every other statue-related corridor of the Capitol), describes Stephens' life's work:

Always in frail health, Stephens was nonetheless a dedicated statesman, an effective leader, and a powerful orator, always seeking moderation and peace. Abraham Lincoln, serving in Congress with Stephens, admired and befriended him; John Quincy Adams wrote a poem in his honor. Although opposed to secession and differing with Jefferson Davis over states rights and nullification, Stephens served as the Confederacy's vice president.

Stephens was so adamantly anti-secession that he only agreed to support the principle when he was asked politely.

He was also, the bio noted, "a powerful orator."

No kidding. Stephens is most famous for a speech he delivered in Savannah, Georgia, in 1861, shortly after agreeing to help the Southern states wage an armed conflict in defense of keeping black people enslaved in perpetuity. It was called the "Cornerstone Speech," on account of its simple premise—that the single foundational principle behind the Confederacy was the belief that not all men are created equal:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity.

Alexander Stephens was a terrible person who aided and abetted an armed rebellion in the name of white supremacy that left—conservative estimate, here—600,000 people dead. That he was, as the bio helpfully notes, "orphaned and penniless at age 15" simply demeans the good name of destitute teenage orphans. All of which raises the question of why there's still a statue of him in Statuary Hall—and why his official bio whitewashes his singular legacy.

It's no small irony that Parks joins Stephens as one of six Statuary Hall honorees who are sitting down. Maybe he could've given up his seat.

Skip the Rules, Let's Just Allow Smart People to Stay in the United States

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 2:16 PM EST

Felix Salmon is enthusiastic about the latest version of the Startup Act, sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators. In particular, he likes the idea of creating an "immigrant-entrepreneur visa":

The immigrant-entrepreneur visa is pretty simple. You create a pool of 75,000 such things, available to anybody who’s here already on an H1-B or F-1 visa. When those people switch from their old visa to their new one, they have to start a new company; employ at least two full-time, non-family member employees “at a rate comparable to the median income of employees in the region”, and invest or raise at least $100,000. After that, they have to continue adding employees at a rate of one per year, so that after three years, there must be at least five employees. At the end of three years, you graduate to a green card, and with it the standard path to citizenship.

The new visa would create an employer exit strategy for H1-Bs, allowing workers to leave companies which pay too little or offer too few opportunities, and instead strike out on their own. And of course — by definition — it would create jobs.

Hold on a second. This is based on a Kauffman Foundation report, and as near as I can tell, the authors didn't even make a nod to dynamic effects. Would this create new jobs on net? Or would job creation simply shift from one group to another? They don't say.

In a way, of course, I don't care. This whole thing sounds like almost a parody of bureaucracy to me, practically designed to encourage cheating and game playing among these budding new entrepreneurs. It would be much better to simply let them do whatever they want without any special rules. If they want to employ their nephews and nieces, let them. If they only have four employees after three years, but still believe in their businesses and want to keep trying to make a go of it, that's fine with me. If they can only raise $50,000, who cares? If their company fails, let 'em start up a new one or take a different job.

Now, my guess is that Felix agrees. To the best of my knowledge, we don't really have a shortage of STEM workers, so that's a lousy excuse for a visa program. The reason we should let people like this into the country is because they're smart and educated, and we should let them switch jobs freely. Or start up a company. Or whatever they want to do. On average, I don't doubt for a second that this would be enormously beneficial without a bunch of dumb rules that try to shoehorn all these visa holders into specific careers.

Unfortunately, there are too many interest groups opposed to this. So instead we end up with rule-laden proposals like this. It's a shame.

Maybe It's Time to Cut Back on the C-List Outrages

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 1:10 PM EST

Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Sessions waved around a new GAO report that proved Obamacare was all based on a big fat lie. "The report reveals the dramatic falsehoods that were used to push it to passage," Sessions said. "The big-government crowd in Washington manipulated the numbers to get the financial score they wanted."

I shrugged my shoulders when I heard it. It was pretty obviously some kind of fever swamp nonsense, and I didn't really look forward to diving into a GAO report to figure out what Sessions was up to. Luckily for me, Aaron Carroll took a look and described the actual conclusions of the report:

Let’s be clear about what this report says. It’s a worst-case-scenario. They looked at what would happen to the deficit if (1) we left in all the spending, (2) all of the cost control measures utterly failed, and (3) we removed all of the revenue streams/taxes. If you do that, then the bill raises the deficit $6.2 trillion over 75 years.

This is what Sessions asked the GAO to do. He wanted a report describing what would happen if all the costs of Obamacare stayed intact but all the revenues and savings measures didn't. To the surprise of no one, under those conditions the deficit would go up. You could pretty much plug any government program into a scenario like that and get the same result.

I don't get it. This is so obviously moronic that no one with a room-temperature IQ will pay attention to it. So what's in it for Sessions? He gets to wave around a report and hustle the rubes at CPAC, maybe, but what's the point of that? They already hate Obamacare anyway.

Are conservatives starting to notice that this kind of half-baked outrage-mongering is a waste of time? Matt Yglesias points today to a post from RedState's uberconservative leader Erick Erickson, who seems to have figured this out:

Conservatives are trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial, we have forgotten the basics of reporting....The “Obamaphone” is a great example of this. Conservatives laughed out loud at the video of the lady saying Barack Obama had given her a phone. Conservatives used it as an example of all that was wrong with the expansion of the welfare state under Barack Obama. What many conservatives missed was that the program was a pre-existing program. In fact, the “Obamaphone” idea goes back to the Reagan Administration, but the present program was implemented in 2008 when George W. Bush was President. Government funds are not even used directly.

Focus on the Obamaphone by conservatives missed a number of key points and, in not covering the basic facts, sent conservative activists down rabbit holes. It would have been helpful if conservative reporters spent more time laying out the basic who, what, where, when, why, and how of the issue before exploring the necessity of the program and the fact that there are Americans who credit Barack Obama with giving them that phone.

....There are scandals to uncover and there are outrageous stories to be outraged over, but I would submit conservatives are spending a lot more time trying to find things to be outraged over than reporting the news and basic facts online from a conservative perspective....Conservatives must start telling stories, not just producing white papers and peddling daily outrage.

On a bigger scale, this also applies to Solyndra, Fast & Furious, and Benghazi!, but these kinds of things will always be part of the political world because they really do have the potential to produce genuine scandals if determined digging eventually uncovers something. Conservatives may have overplayed their hands on all of them, but in a way that's just an occupational hazard.

But even if the big-ticket items are here to stay, conservatives could still do themselves some good by spending less time on manufactured C-list outrages that are (a) transparently dumb and (b) do little except produce grist for scammers and hucksters. The GAO report that Sessions commissioned is a good example. After all, there are plenty of reasons already to dislike Obamacare if you're so inclined. It's self-destructive to waste time on things that just make you look dumb and don't really help your cause anyway. Smarter conservatives, please.