Thursday's New York Times had news sure to provoke demographic panic in some of the more unsavory corners of American society: the Census Bureau announced that non-white babies now account for the majority of births in the US. Here's the Times writeup: 

Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.

Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

While over all, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity. "This is an important tipping point," said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a "transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming."

I'm generally skeptical of stuff like this, because the definition of "white" has never been static. White ethnics—Irish, Italians, Jews—were long excluded from whiteness on the grounds that they were racially inferior, but they were integrated into a more inclusive redefinition of whiteness post-World War II. The same is likely to happen in the next generation—people that we don't consider to be white today might identify as such in the future.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

My former colleague Jamelle Bouie's cover story for the American Prospect suggests that if elected, Mitt Romney would be the most conservative president in recent memory:

These aren't idle expectations. If Romney wins the White House, it's a sure bet that Republicans will also win the Senate—Democrats are defending a disproportionately large number of seats this year—and maintain their majority in the House of Representatives. More important, Romney's agenda is almost entirely fiscal: cuts to taxes, cuts to entitlements, and cuts to domestic programs. All of this can be passed through budget reconciliation, which makes it immune to a filibuster. Republicans could force through their ideas without a single Democratic vote.

In terms of figuring out what you're actually voting for, it makes more sense to think about yourself as voting for a party rather than a candidate. That candidate will pursue the party's agenda within whatever objective structural constraints exist, meaning even if Barack Obama were the closet radical so many conservatives think he is, his policy agenda would still have been subject to the whims of Democratic centrists in the Senate.

If Mitt Romney wins, he'll likely be facing fewer of those constraints. The Democratic Party is a coalition of liberals and moderates. The Republican Party is currently dominated by conservatives. Obama had to tailor his policy preferences to appeal Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to beat Republican filibusters, but it's unlikely Democrats will be able to act with the same ideological discipline that Republicans have displayed over the past few years. 

Even so, Romney seems uniquely suited to fitting the "warm body" standard—that all Republicans need is a president ready to rubber-stamp whatever Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) comes up with—that Bouie refers to at the beginning of his piece. The best explanation I've seen for the two Romneys (The moderate Massachussetts governor and the conservative standard-bearer) comes from Reason's Peter Suderman, who compares Romney to a business consultant who views his task as "presenting the customer with a slicker, better packaged, but fundamentally unchanged version of itself." When the client was liberal Massachussetts, Romney was a moderate. As the leader of the post-Tea Party GOP, he will as conservative as his clients need him to be. 

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

On Thursday morning, the New York Times reported that a Republican super-PAC funded by wealthy conservative Joe Ricketts was considering a plan to turn Jeremiah Wright into Obama's running mate in the 2012 election. By early afternoon, the Ending Spending Action Fund was already repudiating "The Ricketts Plan" to defeat Obama. That was fast.

Here's the super-PAC's statement:

Joe Ricketts is a registered independent, a fiscal conservative, and an outspoken critic of the Obama Administration, but he is neither the author nor the funder of the so-called “Ricketts Plan” to defeat Mr. Obama that The New York Times wrote about this morning. Not only was this plan merely a proposal – one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors – but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take. Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a President this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally.

In America today, really overt bigotry is toxic. It just is. If you want to exploit bigotry effectively, you have to do so with some kind of plausible deniability, and in 2012 just getting a "extremely literate conservative African-American" to narrate your racist ad just won't cut it. It's not clear, though, that Ricketts understood this before the Romney campaign started trying to distance itself from the "The Ricketts Plan" on Thursday. The third page of "The Ricketts Plan," presumably referring to the airing of a hypothetical Wright ad during the 2008 election, states "If the nation had seen that ad, they'd never have elected Barack Obama." If the quote is accurate, and Ricketts thought a Wright ad would have changed the outcome of the 2008 election, it's hard to believe he never seriously considered running one this time around.

UPDATE: Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy emails my colleague Nick Baumann with a response to Ricketts' statement:

We have done a post on his statement, and will report further on this.... That said, they're not actually denying anything in our piece. We reported that it was a proposal awaiting final approval. And yes, we certainly stand by our reporting.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

RIP Chuck Brown

Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-go.

Judging by my college experience, for folks outside of the DC area, Go-go music probably conjures images of mod dancers in high boots. Within DC, though, it refers to the city's predominant musical genre, pioneered by the incomparable Chuck Brown, known as the Godfather of Go-go, who died Wednesday. The Root's Natalie Hopkinson, who recently wrote a history of Go-go music, has a great retrospective on the social and cultural trends that birthed Go-go:

In the years that followed the uprising, Chuck would tell the kids more than just that. At a time when urban planners and policymakers ceded authority over inner-city Washington to the hustlers and the pimps, Chuck Brown showed kids how to play music. He showed them how to hype the audience through West African-style call and response, how to slow down ecstatic crowds to groove to the same sultry, slow-boiling conga beat. He showed them how to knit the audience into a community and to train them to come back, night after night, generation after generation.

Chuck taught D.C. natives to take those charred ruins of the civil rights movement in riot-blackened places like U Street and use them to make art. Not the kind of art that crosses over onto pop-music charts or that gets co-opted by multinational entertainment companies or even gets an NEA grant, but, nonetheless, the kind that generations of black Washingtonians have used for fellowship.

Despite the migration of DC residents south, either permanently or to historically black colleges and universities, Go-go never quite managed to make it beyond the DC metro area. Some artists tried—you can hear it's influence in a few nationally released tracks, like Jill Scott's "It's Love," Ludacris' "Pimpin' All Over the World," and of course Wale's "Pretty Girls," but it remains a DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia) thing. There's really nothing on Earth like a go-go, and absent the immediacy of being there, hearing the music, and dancing to it maybe the genre's appeal just can't really be understood. I'll spare MoJo readers an account of my first time at a Go-go, but aside from his profound role in shaping the culture of the city, every semi-awkward dude in DC owes Brown a debt of gratitude for his contributions to a genre of music that tends to be less uh, labor-intensive for men.

Anyway, here's Chuck Brown's Bustin' Loose:

One of the great things about Go-go is bands doing covers of pop songs. This Rare Essence version of Ashlee Simpson's Pieces of Me is one of my favorites, just because it's weird.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

On Wednesday, Obama-appointed(!) Judge Katherine B. Forrest blocked the section of last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that purported to "reaffirm" the 2001 authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda. A group of activists and journalists had argued that the vague wording of the law could subject them to indefinite military detention because their work brings them into contact with people whom the US considers to be terrorists, and in doing so violated their First Amendment rights. 

Forrest agreed with the plaintiffs that the relevant section of the law was "not merely an 'affirmation'" of the 2001 authorization for use of military force (AUMF). "Basic principles of legislative interpretation," she wrote, "require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning"—judges can't simply assume a law does nothing. None of this brings the war on terror to a halt, mind you, because Forrest says there are "a variety of other statutes which can be utilized to detain those engaged in various levels of support of terrorists," so her injunction "does not divest the Government of its many other tools."

Forrest's logic is pretty sound: After all, there would have been no point to "reaffirming" the AUMF if doing so didn't expand the government's powers. Hawks in Congress wanted a "reaffirmation" to ensure groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which didn't exist on 9/11, were covered under the 2001 law. The NDAA states in the "reaffirmation" section that people eligible for detention are those who have "substantially" supported Al Qaeda or any of its associated groups. The plaintiffs argued that section represented an expansion of existing governmental authority that could result in their detention.

Judge Forrest's decision, however, has to be read in the context of what happened in court: When Forrest asked the government lawyer charged with defending the statute whether the journalists, who said their work has brought them into contact with groups like Hamas or the Taliban, could be indefinitely detained, the government's lawyer wouldn't say:

JUDGE: Assume you were just an American citizen and you're reading the statute and you wanted to make sure you do not run afoul of it because you are a diligent U.S. citizen wanting to stay on the right side of [the law], and you read the phrase 'directly supported'. What does that mean to you?

GOVERNMENT: Again it has to be taken in the context of armed conflict informed by the laws of war.

JUDGE: That’s fine. Tell me what that means?

GOVERNMENT: I cannot offer a specific example. I don't have a specific example.

When asked again whether one of the journalists' activities would qualify as "substantial" support for a terrorist group, the government attorney said, "I don't know what she has been up to."

Asked direct questions about what might subject someone who wasn't actively engaging in hostilities to indefinite military detention, the official representative of the government responded with creepy Orwellianisms.

Congress had ample warning that the vagueness of "substantially supported" might make the NDAA vulnerable in court. Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson told the House Armed Services Committee in March that the language related to "substantial support" of terrorist groups "would give us litigation risk, without a doubt."

And what do you know? It did.

Jeremiah Wright at the Press Club in 2008.

There's a group of Republicans who are convinced that if Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) had simply run Jeremiah Wright ads twenty-four hours a day during the 2008 election, Barack Obama would not be in the White House. This time around, the New York Times reports, (in what sounds suspiciously like a fundraising bid) a Republican Super-PAC called the Ending Spending Fund, bankrolled in part by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, is planning to drive the Wright stake into Obama's vampire heart and leave him out for the sun:

The $10 million plan, one of several being studied by Mr. Ricketts, includes preparations for how to respond to the charges of race-baiting it envisions if it highlights Mr. Obama's former ties to Mr. Wright, who espouses what is known as "black liberation theology."

The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an "extremely literate conservative African-American" who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."

Conservative attempts to deflect charges of race baiting by using minority spokespeople are really obvious, but it's still funny to see this kind of cynicism expressed so frankly. (You can read more on the Ricketts plan from my colleague Tim Murphy.)

The 2012 election was always going to be ugly, with Republicans looking to maximize their share of a shrinking white electorate and the Democrats increasingly dependent on their coalition of young urban whites and minorities. But the idea that, if not for McCain's honorable restraint, Americans would have voted against Obama is mostly a figment of the conservative imagination. A Pew study in 2008 found that a majority of Americans (including 50 percent of Republicans!) felt the media overcovered the Jeremiah Wright story. If that didn't destroy Obama in 2008, when he was still something of a unknown quantity, it won't work after four years of getting to know him. Everyone who could be convinced that Wright is the key to Obama's soul has already been convinced. 

The storyboards for the Wright ad, though, implicitly accept this. Instead of merely highlighting Wright, the ad actually adopts the Rush Limbaugh black revenge fantasy theory of the Obama presidency, namely that America's ongoing economic stagnation is not the result of an incorrect or inadequate response to the recession, but that it was deliberately engineered by Obama as payback against white people. Under this theory, Obama has deliberately nurtered the economic malaise—one that threatens his chances at a second term, led to higher levels of unemployment among non-whites than whites, and resulted in the evaporation of minority wealth gains—just to get back at whitey. Like the idea of Obama being an amalgamation of President Jimmy Carter and the Black Panther Party's Huey Newton, this deranged explanation collapses under the crushing weight of its own contradictions.  

Although the Internet will be forever grateful for the introduction of the term "black metrosexual Abraham Lincoln," the term really says everything about the twisted lens through which this group of Republican strategists understands race and masculinity. Put simply, the group is going to try to convince voters that Obama is the type of black man they cross the street to avoid. That didn't work in 2008, it's hard to see how anyone who wasn't already working from the same distorted understanding of race is going to buy it now. For all of America's lingering problems with race, racism just isn't the silver bullet. 

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin at the Center for American Progress.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) attempt to prevent suspected terrorists captured on US soil from being shunted into indefinite military detention is running into opposition from Senate hawks, including Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.):

"They don't have to exercise it, but I'm not so sure that they want the authority removed to arrest or to capture, because we're talking about war here — somebody who’s declared war against the United States, just because we capture them on U.S. soil," Levin said.

"We can hold them on U.S. soil, but I don't think we want to eliminate the authority of the Executive Branch to hold someone who’s declared war on the United States as an enemy combatant," he said.

Left unexplained is why mandatory military detention is needed at all. Umar Abdulmutallab, who inspired the mandatory military custody provision after he set himself on fire trying to blow up a plane, would not have been granted bail in a federal court. If the evidence is that strong that someone is a terrorist, there's no need to put them in military custody. Levin fails to offer even a single argument for why military custody would be preferable to civilian custody. Instead, his argument is a moral one: We're at war with these people, so we'll treat them like warriors.

In Levin's preferred world, the part of the process where the government proves that suspected terrorists are who the government says they are is no longer a necessary prerequisite to locking them up for the rest of their lives. But this isn't the Civil War, and Union and Confederate soldiers aren't lining up in uniform to fire rifles and cannons across corpse littered battlefields. The reason why due process is so crucial is that identifying who actually is a terrorist isn't a simple matter—but it's also not as though the process is taking place amidst the chaos of an active theater of military combat.

The new defense bill is scheduled for a vote in the House on Thursday, but even if Smith and Amash get their proposal through the lower chamber, there's a bipartisan group of Senators who want to protect the president's authority to imprison American citizens without proving they're guilty of anything at all. Barack Obama, for his part, hasn't weighed in on either side—but given that the president has promised never to attempt to use this power, it's a mystery why he wouldn't vocally oppose it.  If Obama and his advisers believe this kind of indefinite detention is an anathema to due process, why not support a bipartisan effort to ensure that Americans' constitutional rights aren't dependent on the whim of whichever president is in office?

At least the battle lines here are clearly drawn in a way they weren't over last year's defense bill. One group of legislators thinks Americans can be deprived of their liberty in their own home country without a trial. The other thinks the government has to actually prove you're guilty of something first.

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin started his A Song of Ice And Fire series in 1996, and it isn't anywhere close to finished. Some fans are so obsessed with the series, however, that they've taken to constantly berating him for working on other projects instead. Some fans openly worry Martin, like fellow fantasy author Robert Jordan, will die before finishing his flagship series. In a recent blog post, Martin mocks his trolls:

Reading. I just finished THE KING'S BLOOD, the second volume of Daniel Abraham's "Dagger and Coin" series. Books like this remind me why I love epic fantasy. Yes, I'm prejudiced, Daniel is a friend and sometime collaborator... but damn, that was a good book. Great world, great characters, thoroughly engrossing story. The only problem was, it ended too soon. I want more. I want to know what happens to Cithrin, and Marcus, and Geder, and Clara. And I want to know NOW. God damn you, Daniel Abraham. I know for a fact that you are writing more Expanse books with Ty, and more urban fantasies as M.L.N. Hanover, and doing short stories for some hack anthologist, and scripting some goddamn COMIC BOOK, and even sleeping with your wife and playing with your daughter. STOP ALL THAT AT ONCE, and get to writing on the next Dagger and Coin. I refuse to wait.

Well played. Also, I like the series too, but give the guy a break. Tide yourself over with the HBO series in the meantime.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Harry Thomas Jr., the former Ward 5 City Councilman who relinquished his seat in disgrace after being indicted for corruption, came under public scrutiny in part because of the efforts of relatively liberal Republican Tim Day. But in a city like DC, where the GOP brand is just utterly toxic, even a black, gay, liberal Republican who helps oust corrupt Democrats like Thomas didn't stand much of a chance against the other contenders for Thomas' seat in Tuesday's special election:

With all 18 precincts reporting at 9:30 p.m., [Kenyan] McDuffie took 44.50 percent of the vote. Second-place finisher Delano Hunter only mustered 20 percent, while Frank Wilds took 14.8 percent. Republican contender Tim Day, the man responsible for the investigation that eventually brought down Thomas, only managed 5.3 percent of the vote.

McDuffie wasn't a bad candidate by any means, but Day's poor showing speaks to an ongoing structural problem caused by the city's lack of congressional representation. DC's local shenanigans occasionally prompt critics to argue that the city doesn't deserve representation in Congress, despite having a larger population than Wyoming, which has two Senators and a congressional representative. This gets things exactly backwards: The lack of congressional representation places a ceiling on political ambitions that reduces the incentive for local politicians to behave. DC's best politicians don't have a governorship, House or Senate seat to look forward to. It's a political cul-de-sac. As Jonathan Bernstein pointed out Tuesday night, DC's lack of representation also means Republicans have little reason to invest in a stronger local party whose partisanship might also serve as a check on local corruption. There's also the weirdness of having national parties contest local elections, which makes little sense in the context of local DC politics and burdens candidates like Day who don't have much in common with, say, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Retrocession into Maryland would solve some of these problems, but as a DC partisan I favor the city's right to exist as an independent entity. Unfortunately, given that DC statehood would mean two new Democratic Senators, the constitutional changes necessary for statehood aren't ever likely to happen, despite the fact that the United States was founded to combat the injustice of taxation without representation.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Richmond prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland, a former Navy fighter pilot, had his nomination to a state judgeship in Virginia rejected early Tuesday morning. Democrats say it's because he's gay; Republicans say it's complicated:

"He holds himself out as being married," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who is running for U.S. Senate. Noting that gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, he said that Thorne-Begland's "life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the constitution."

[...]

Marshall, the Family Foundation of Virginia and others who raised concerns about Thorne-Begland's nomination said they did not object to him because he is gay, but because of his outspokenness on the subject of gay rights.

Thorne-Begland also supported the repeal of the military's discriminatory Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. So it's not, strictly speaking, correct to say Thorne-Begland was rejected because he was gay. He was rejected because he believes being gay entitles him to the same rights as people who aren't. If Thorne-Begland had lived a life of closeted celibacy and talked like Tony Perkins, Marshall would have thought he was qualified to serve as a judge. This is coming from a guy who tried to install a state-level DADT policy for the Virginia National Guard because "If I needed a blood transfusion and the guy next to me had committed sodomy 14 times in the last month, I'd be worried." 

Virginia Republicans didn't reject Thorne-Begland because he's gay, but because he supports gay rights. The closet magically eliminates sexually transmitted diseases, which are never contracted by heterosexuals. Some voters in Virginia apparently find this kind of logic compelling enough to keep Marshall in office.