How to Make Farm Subsidy Reform a Reality

Make sure to check out Grist's long take on this NYT article on the Obama Administration's botched attempt to reform farm subsidies. Basically, the issue is this: the parts of Congress that oversee food and farm policy are completely beholden to large farm producers (aka Big Agribusiness). Big Ag gets rich off the current system and fights any reform. Obama didn't make a big deal about overhauling farm policy -- he simply slipped a couple key farm subsidy reforms into the budget bill from earlier this month. Naturally, they were spiked by Congress, which, though craven on a number of issues, is particularly craven on this issue. There was no reason to expect otherwise.

(For all the reasons why farm policy in this country sucks, see here and here.)

I know the Obama White House doesn't have the bandwidth for this right now, but the only thing that is going to really change America's food policy -- so that it benefits small farmers, eaters, and the environment, instead of big agricultural producers -- is an organized campaign with grassroots support behind it. It will take commitment, money, and energy on a scale that is close to what Obama and his allies are soon going to put into universal health care and comprehensive climate change legislation. This is unlikely for a number of reasons, not least that the public is largely unaware of the problems with food and farm policy. But it's hard to see how anything short of that is going to be effective. Does Obama have the political courage and the political capital to make that happen? Doubtful. Would any president?

One last note -- if you haven't already, check out Grist's hot new site.

Gay Marriage Leads To Mass Murder?

Is there a connection between same-sex marriage and mass murder?

That's what one religious right outfit is suggesting. This week, Morality in Media disseminated a statement noting that the Iowa Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage on the same day that a gunman murdered 13 people in Binghamton, New York. The headline on the release: "Connecting the Dots: The Line Between Gay Marriage and Mass Murders." The group's president, Bob Peters, notes that the "underlying problem is that increasingly we live in a 'post-Christian' society, where Judeo-Christian faith and values have less and less influence." And, he continues, this "secular value system is also reflected in the 'sexual revolution,' which is the driving force behind the push for 'gay marriage.'"

Here's the punch line:

It most certainly is not my intention to blame the epidemic of mass murders on the gay rights movement! It is my intention to point out that the success of the sexual revolution is inversely proportional to the decline in morality; and it is the decline of morality (and the faith that so often under girds it) that is the underlying cause of our modern day epidemic of mass murders. 

That is, he's not saying that gay rights activists are directly responsible for the murderous actions of gun-toting madmen. But Peters maintains that those who champion gay rights are undermining the moral fiber of society and that this assault on traditional values creates an environment in which killing sprees can more easily occur. These acts of gun violence, he insists, are the poisoned fruit of the push for gay marriage.

Talk about exploiting tragedy to advance an agenda. It might be tempting to dismiss Peters and Morality in Media as marginal, but this group did receive federal funding from 2005 through 2007. The money supported a Morality in Media project, ObscenityCrimes.org, which paid two retired law enforcement officers to review citizen complaints about obscenity on the Internet and to forward the best leads to the US Justice Department for possible prosecution. A total of $300,000 was provided to Morality in Media through two earmarks Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) placed into spending bills, according to Peters. And a portion of that money went to cover Peters' salary. As The New York Times reported in 2007, no obscenity prosecutions had resulted from the Morality in Media's obscenity-tracking work.

Peters tells me that since 2007--thanks to the fuss about earmarks--he has received no more funds from the US government. After the earmarked grants ran out in 2007, he did apply directly to the Justice Department and was turned down. Since then, he has raised private funds to keep ObscenityCrimes.org going. That may be for the best--particularly for Morality in Media. Peters has recently attacked President Barack Obama's pick for deputy attorney general, David Ogden, as an "ACLU-minded" sort who would "likely weaken" government efforts "to curb sexual trafficking and sexual exploitation of children." It would be difficult--or, at least, awkward--for Peters to blast a Justice Department that was funding his own work.

In his statement on gay marriage and mass murder, Peters notes that Christianity and Judaism teach "that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and to forgive others." But on the subject of gay marriage, he does seem to have a rather unforgiving approach.

Tradecraft Update

A new entry in the annals of epic fails:

Bob Quick, Britain's most senior counterterrorism officer, was forced to stand down today after an embarrassing security leak resulted in a major anti-terror operation, designed to foil an alleged al-Qaida plot to bomb Britain, being rushed forward.

....Police were forced to carry out raids on addresses in the north-west of England in broad daylight yesterday, earlier than planned, after Quick, the Metropolitan police's assistant commissioner, was photographed carrying sensitive documents as he arrived for a meeting in Downing Street.

A white document marked "secret", which carried details of the operation being planned by MI5 and several police forces, was clearly visible to press photographers equipped with telephoto lenses.

The Guardian helpfully reproduces an enlarged, rotated, redacted version of the document here.

Tweet!

Tom Lee is unhappy about journo-twittering:

As a cheap and fun SMS interface for media outlets I have no beef with it; as a means of personal marketing for journalists, the pretense and lack of honesty is dismaying....I'd say the median journotweet is something like "getting ready to sit down for an i/v w @spalin. the lady is a tough cookie!" when in fact it should be closer to "complaining abt blogs in line to pick up kids @ sidwell frnds. no poor people around!"

Peter Suderman concurs that journo-tweeting is "almost universally vapid and uninforming."  No argument from me on that score, but I suppose there's nothing really all that wrong with journalistic self-promotion either.  Having watched their demographics grow ever more AARP-ish for years, and having missed several boats already to get younger readers/viewers interested in their product, I suppose the news industry really, really doesn't want to miss yet another one.  They probably figure that Twitter is helping them capture the news consumers of the future.

Plus there's the fact that every once in a great while, a reporter puts something useful up.  And even if it happens only once in a thousand tweets, that still means you'd better be participating so you don't miss out.  There's nothing worse in DC than having someone ask "Have you heard about ______?" and being forced to admit that you haven't.  Especially if the reason you haven't heard it is simply because you're too neanderthal and out of touch to have the right technology.  Thus are boomlets born.

(But is Twitter a bubble?  For those of you who think bubbles are easy to spot while they're happening, you need to answer Right Now.  And show your work, please.  In a couple of years we'll find out which of you was right.)

How Bad Was That Turkish News Anchor in Blackface Report?

omf'ing God!

Turkish anchor reports on Obama's Turkish visit in BLACKFACE!

I am without words. But Young Turk Cenk Ugyur has a few.

On Locking Up Teens

From CNN: It began as horseplay, with two teenage stepbrothers chasing each other with blow guns and darts. But it soon escalated when one of the boys grabbed a knife.

The older teen, Michael Barton, 17, was dead by the time he reached the hospital. The younger boy, Quantel Lotts, 14, would eventually become one of Missouri's youngest lifers...Lotts is one of at least 73 U.S. inmates—most of them minorities—who were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for crimes committed when they were 13 or 14, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization in Alabama that defends indigent defendants and prisoners."
The 73 are just a fraction of the more than 2,000 offenders serving life sentences for crimes they committed as minors under the age of 18.

Now that you've had some time to understandably fart, a la Life of Brian, in "[Lotts'] general direction," let's take a moment to remember who we are as the people we proclaim to the world we are. You remember 'us'? The people who believe in the rule of law.

Bad as it is that most of these kids are minorities, worse is that some of them are serving life without parole for non-murder, however horrific their crimes were.

I've been the victim of violent crime and had family members actually maimed for life and murdered, so it's not that I'm soft on crime. But I am soft on double standards. Trying kids as adults, as a category in itself, I find horribly unjust. Either you're a kid or you're not. No matter how mature a kid is, we don't let them vote til they're 18, drive til they're 16, drink, see dirty movies or marry until they're whatever that age is in your state. In law school, I was taught that this is your basic 'one way ratchet' and, by definition, to be viewed with suspicion.

Even a Stopped Watch...

Cal Thomas, writing in WorldMag, (via Andrew Sullivan) manages to be both terribly wrong, then terribly right about gay marriage and civil rights in general:

"As Iowa and other courts continue to dismantle the foundations of our nation without the approval of its citizens (each time the public gets an opportunity to vote on marriage, it votes to uphold the male-female version), they have an obligation to say where they intend to take us. What is the new standard for human relationships? Or do we make this up as we go, bowing to whatever pressure group makes the most noise?"

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Bill Murray summed this up best in GhostBusters: "Dogs and cats! Living together!" And humans marrying dogs and cats, or one human marrying 'leventy-seven humans, all to-be-expected when gays, gasp, are allowed to marry.

Connecting the Taliban

The Washington Post reports on the propensity of Islamic extremist groups to host their internet presence on American servers:

The Taliban's account was pulled last week when a blogger noticed the connection and called attention to it. But the odd pairing of violently anti-American extremists and U.S. technology companies continues elsewhere and appears to be growing. Intelligence officials and private experts cite dozens of instances in which Islamist militants sought out U.S. Internet firms — known for their reliable service and easy terms that allow virtual anonymity — and used them to incite attacks on Americans.

"The relatively cheap expense and high quality of U.S. servers seems to attract jihadists," said Rita Katz, co-founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private company that monitors the communications of Muslim extremist groups. Even al-Qaeda has sometimes paid American companies to serve as conduits for its hate-filled messages, said Katz, who has tracked such activity since 2003.

We may be infidels, but at least we're technically adept infidels.

GOP Trying to Regain Its Sanity, Failing

From HuffPo:

A self-identified Republican called in to tell Rush Limbaugh he was a "brainwashed Nazi." Here's a juicy excerpt: "We're not supposed to be torturing these people. This is not Nazi Germany, Red China, or North Korea." He then added, "I hate to say it...but I think you're a brainwashed Nazi." This did not go over well. Limbaugh shot back with a brainwashing accusation of his own, and blamed Charles and people like him for Obama winning the election. "I didn't vote for him," Charles protested, "I voted for McCain. I voted Republican." No matter. Rush signed off by saying, "Charles, Barack Obama is president of the United States today because of stupid, ignorant people who think like you do. You pose—you and your ignorance are the most expensive commodity this country has."

Must be heard to be fully appreciated.

Again with the HuffPo, Rachel Maddow has fun with right wing videos "proving" that Obama is a satanist. Sad when the GOP becomes a pajama party of teenagers shining flashlights in their own faces and playing stuff backwards. Now Fox anchors have joined in to support a newborn Tea Party movement. These guys aren't mad at the banks that spent all our wealth on magic beans, they're mad at the Prez who's fixing their mess. No wonder even David Horowitz had to tell the GOP to get a grip on itself.

Sugar Tariffs and the Bible

What can Passover teach us about international relations?  Dan Drezner explains.