Texas Gov. Rick Perry's big break in politics came in 1990, when he won a tight race against incumbent Jim Hightower, a progressive Democrat, to become State Agriculture Commissioner. It might not sound like much, but a statewide office is a statewide office, and Perry, who is now seriously thinking about running for president, won in a pretty rough electoral climate. (He had some help from campaign manager Karl Rove, who zeroed in on ethics lapses by a Hightower subordinate.*)

The gulf between Hightower, an organic-farming booster and later a Ralph Nader supporter, and Perry, an arch-conservative who supports criminalizing gay sex, is pretty wide. How wide? Well, in a 1991 Texas Monthly story, Dana Rubin explains that one Rick Perry's first orders of business was to cancel the agency's subscription to MoJo:

In early January, an employee armed with a video camera swept through the Austin headquarters of the Texas Department of Agriculture, making a record of every office: desks, bookshelves, computers, trash cans. Newly elected commissioner Rick Perry had ordered a top-to-bottom inventory, and his staff wanted to account for every item in the agency. Employees were asked to strip the posters, signs, and comic strips from their doors and hallways. Within days every vestige of the folksy, college dormitory atmosphere cultivated under former commissioner Jim Hightower had vanished. Gone was the rusty old plow from the lobby. Gone were the nostalgic Depression-era photographs from the walls. Gone were the agency's subscriptions to leftist periodicals such as Mother Jones, the Progressive, and the Utne Reader.

Whoa, hey! Governor, the next subscription is on us.

*Note: This section has been edited to clarify that Hightower was not personally implicated in the ethics lapses.

Stieg Larsson is the best-known novelist of the past decade, his Millennium Trilogy read by tens of millions of people worldwide. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two successors are beloved for their thrilling plots and compelling title character. But Larsson also embedded in his novels the abiding cause of his life: his crusade against the far-right movements that he saw as the scourge of Scandinavia and a threat to modern European society. Yet this part of his message never quite got through. Instead, the world stood in shock this weekend as Norway fell victim to precisely the kind of extremist violence Larsson had warned about.

The trilogy that has been met with such an enthusiastic but curiously apolitical response was written by a consummately political man: Raised by a grandfather who had been imprisoned during World War II for his anti-Nazi views, Larsson was in his youth a member of the Communist Workers Party and editor, for a time, of the Swedish Trotskyist journal Fjarde Internationalen. He later became the Scandinavian correspondent of Searchlight, the British anti-fascist and anti-racist magazine, and in 1995, amid an uptick in neo-Nazi violence in Sweden, he founded its Swedish equivalent, Expo—the model for the Millennium magazine featured in his trilogy. In the US, both Expo and Searchlight have maintained ties with another group that tracks the far right, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. As an expert on the neo-Nazi movements, Larsson was once invited to lecture on the subject at Scotland Yard.

As Expo grew, the neo-Nazis in Sweden targeted it, threatening Larsson (who died in 2004) and his partner of 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson. According to Gabrielsson's book, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me, both of them were placed on hit lists and were in enough danger to barricade their apartment doors and arrange for special police protection. "Stieg would receive bullets in the mail, and once someone was waiting for him outside the entrance of the TT building [where he worked]. Warned in time, Stieg slipped out a back door," Gabrielsson writes.

"Our answering machine was set permanently on 'record' to keep evidence of the threats we received," she continues, "and they were always in the same vein: 'Piece of shit, you Jew-fucker…Traitor, we'll tear you apart…and we know where you live.'" At the sign of the slightest provocation on their apartment block, police cars would descend on the street. The danger was undeniably real: Two journalists who once worked for Expo and were later employed by Aftonbladet, one of Sweden's largest newspapers, wrote an expose of the neo-Nazi black-metal music operations. One of them was seriously injured when his car was bombed. A labor union leader who revealed neo-Nazi names was shot dead.

This Saturday, teachers are rallying in Washington, DC. Save Our Schools is being organized by teachers and other public school supporters who view federal policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top as the wrong approach to educational reform, arguing that they rely too heavily on standardized test scores and punitive measures for schools that don't make the grade. Save our Schools' website calls for more equitable funding for schools, and more opportunities for classroom teachers and parents to influence decision-making, from developing lesson plans to shaping national policies.

Matt Damon, who recently narrated The American Teacher documentary, will be speaking. So will Jonathan Kozol, former teacher, civil rights activist, and author of Savage Inequalities and other influential books on economic and racial inequities in American schools. I haven't heard much from Kozol since he published The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America in 2005. So it was interesting to see his thoughts on the state of public education in an interview with Anthony Cody, a former teacher and one of the rally's organizers, on the Education Week site.

Kozol thinks that No Child Left Behind is creating two classes of citizens: Those in low-income schools who are taught to "to spit up predigested answers," and those in affluent schools who are taught to ask insightful questions, demand things, and make decisions. Kozol believes that racial segregation in the nation's schools is worse than when he started advocating against it as an activist in 1968.

Here are a few highlights of his views on the state of education today and the latest efforts to reform it.

Last year, executives for Mylan, the Pittsburgh-based generic drug maker, took the company's two corporate jets on hundreds of flights to vacation hotspots such as Las Vegas, Miami, and the California wine country. The worst offender was CEO Bob Coury, who racked up $535,590 in personal jet flights on the company dime. Of course, Coury's air travel perk pales in comparison to his overall pay package of $23 million, which included a big raise pegged to a 15 percent bump in the company's share price. As long as Mylan rakes in profits, should shareholders care that its execs expense a few fun-filled weekend getaways?

The short answer is yes, according to a new report from GorvernanceMetrics International, a corporate oversight consultancy. Lavish spending on corporate jets rarely theatens to break a company on its own, but "if you're looking for a red flag to provoke a wider look at a company's governance and accounting practices, unusually high corporate jet perks is usually a pretty good one," the report says. Among the Fortune 500 companies that doled out CEO jet perks last year, the top 10 percent of spenders, or 18 companies, all ranked worse than average on one or more measures of shareholder risk or excessive corporate pay.

Mylan, which also makes the EpiPen cure for severe allergic reactions, earned a "very high concern" rating from the Corporate Library executive pay consultancy and an "agressive" rating from Audit Integrity, which flags risks such as SEC violations. Mylan spent six times more on personal flights for its CEO than did larger drugmakers such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Only two other companies, Abercrombie & Fitch and the Wynn Resorts, shelled out more than Mylan on corporate jets last year.

"If a board can't say "no" to a CEO's request that the company pay for his or her vacation, or taxes, or tax advice (to list just a few examples), that board may not be exercising very strong oversight of CEO performance," the report concludes. In other words, corporate directors who can't keep their execs out of the honey pot are liable to get stung. And in Mylan's case, an EpiPen probably won't save them.

Corporate compensation and shareholder risk ratings for the biggest spenders on corporate jet perks:

Source: GovernanceMetrics InternationalSource: GovernanceMetrics International


David Corn and The Huffington Post's Senior Political Editor Howard Fineman joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball Monday night to discuss the ongoing debt ceiling impasse, Republican intransigence, and the two rival debt proposals.

Corn says, "the Democrats...have drawn a line in the sand. The problem is it's inside the Republican tent. It's basically up to the bedroom!"

Watch the video below:

Watch out for the black helicopters.

I had thought Glenn Beck's comparison of the massacred Norwegian children to the "Hitler Youth" was the most horrific response to last Friday's terrorist attack in Oslo. But now, via Right Wing Watch, I see that WorldNetDaily and radio host Michael Savage have upped the ante. They've decided that it's just too far-fetched to think that Anders Breivik, the blue-eyed, blond-haired white guy who admitted to the crimes, could have possibly committed such a barbaric act. So they've decided it's probably a cover-up by the left-wing Norwegian government:

"The official story makes no sense," Savage told WND. "This looks like a classic conspiracy."

"This has all the appearances of a cover-up," Savage told WND. "They created their Reichstag fire. They found their Timothy McVeigh. They created their Jack Ruby. How could one man have blown up the downtown and then raced to the island to kill the teens?

"This is likely a fabrication of the Labour Party, who needs to hold onto power to enforce their multi-culturalist, Muslim-favoring, anti-nationalist views," he continued, "especially in light of the earlier 'credit' for this atrocity claimed by the radical Muslim group whose leader they were threatening to deport.

"The official story defies logic in the following sense as well," he continued, "if this lone right-winger hated Muslims, as the New York Times is reporting, then why did he slaughter his own people and not Muslims?"

So there you have it. I suppose it's about as plausible as Rush Limbaugh's assertion last summer that the BP oil spill was part of a plot by environmentalists to make the oil companies look bad.

Newt On the Couch

In the latest reinvention of reality from the campaign of Newt Gingrich, the flailing presidential contender today argued that the commercial he cut with Nancy Pelosi a few years back about working together on climate change was "misconstrued." He was just doing it to fight the vast left wing conspiracy!

He was asked about the ad for Al Gore's "We Can Solve It" campaign in an appearance on WGIR radio in New Hampshire on Tuesday. His response (via The Hill):

I was trying to make a point that we shouldn't be afraid to debate the left, even on the environment, but obviously it was misconstrued, and it's probably one of those things I wouldn't do again.

Riiight. Of course, Gingrich went on to make abolishing the EPA a central issue of his campaign, so there have long been doubts about his sincerity in that particular ad campaign. When the ad was broadcast back in 2008, even some Republicans thought talking about climate change would was cool. Now the right is whole-heartedly devoted to bashing any and all environmental idea/effort.

The change of tune hasn't, however, stopped Gingrich from investing in clean energy technology. As Politico reports today, Gingrich has a sizable investment in renewable energy technologies like solar power and biofuels.

Back in 2009, I wrote a story about how sleazy car dealers prey on young service members. I spent some time in Norfolk, Virginia, where the Navy has one of its largest installations in the country. Not by coincidence, the naval bases were ringed by commercial districts chock full of used car dealerships. These dealers were a scourge on the young enlistees, sometimes even dispatching salesmen to greet them at the airport before they could even get to their first assignments. I found several young men who had literally been kidnapped off the base by car salesmen, who refused to return them to the base unless they bought a crappy, overpriced used car with outrageous loan terms. Military lawyers were struggling to deal with the flood of enlistees whose military careers were being threatened by the bad deals, which often left them heavily in debt long after their cars had died (which often happened just after they were driven off the lot).

Despite pleas from military brass, Congress refused to take action. Car dealers, it turns out, are one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, in large part because they are such hometown players. Car dealers sponsor the local Little League teams, run the Rotary Clubs, and have tremendous sway particularly in smaller House districts. And, of course, they donate a lot of money to lawmakers. They're so influential that they managed to get themselves exempted from oversight by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, leaving them free to continue financing car sales with abusive and overpriced loans.

Two years later, the Federal Trade Commission has finally decided to step in to take a look at the industry and its lending practices. Next week, it will hold the second of a series of roundtable discussions to hear from consumers. This one, held in San Antonio, Texas, will focus on members of the military. Whether or not the roundtables will lead to any real action remains to be seen. But there's no reason to be too optimistic. The last time the FTC attempted to even pass a tepid disclosure rule dealing with used car sales was back in 1981, when it demanded that they post signs on cars indicating all of the known flaws in the vehicle. In a highly unusual move, Congress, literally in the dark of night, vetoed the rule. (Back then, the law allowed Congress to veto rules issued by regulatory agencies, though the power was rarely invoked.)

The veto was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court and found unconstitutional, so the rule was reinstated. But by then, the makeup of the FTC had changed. Before the rule could take effect, the FTC decided to reconsider it. In 1985, the FTC eventually reissued the rule but without the critical requirement to disclose all known defects. That's the last time the FTC went after used car dealers. Nearly 30 years later, the political situation hasn't changed much. If anything, it's gotten worse. So while the FTC's roundtables are certainly commendable, consumers, particularly in the military, probably shouldn't hold their breath waiting for meaningful reform.

US Congresswoman and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

Considering Rep. Michele Bachmann's crusade against government spending and her demand that America live within its means, you wouldn't figure her for a conspicuous spender. But after launching her bid for the White House, Bachmann has broken with her usual frugality and shelled out some serious cash on a stylist in what could be seen as her own John-Edwards'-$400-haircut moment.

According to Bachmann's latest campaign finance filings, her campaign spent nearly $4,700 on hair and makeup in the weeks after she entered the presidential race on June 13. Records show her campaign made three payments of $1,715, $250, and $2,704 to a Maryland-based stylist named Tamara Robertson. Robertson's LinkedIn profile says she works as a makeup artist at Fox News in the DC area. She's also listed in the "Make-up" section of the credits for the Citizens United-produced film A City Upon a Hill, hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich—a pair who've raised eyebrows with their own spending.

Bachmann's hefty hair and makeup tab in recent weeks far surpasses what she's spent in the past. A review of her campaign records shows less than $1,000 in similar spending last year, which includes her 2010 congressional reelection bid. (A Bachmann campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.)

Even when Bachmann's campaign has paid for these kinds of services in the past, the costs have been far more modest. In February, the Minneapolis City Pages quoted a celebrity stylist named Natalie Hale saying that Bachmann paid her $225 for three different makeup sessions during the 2010 campaign. Hale added, however, that Bachmann tried to avoid paying for such services when possible. "I know for a fact if Michele has to pay for makeup she will usually instead do it herself," Hale said.

Not so anymore, it seems. Perhaps the spotlight and nonstop scrutiny of the presidential campaign have convinced Bachmann of the need for pricey stylists. But will Bachmann's $4,700 bill hurt her in the eyes of the fiscal conservative who've taken to heart her message on spare spending?


Unit: 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (photo by Scott Carlton Youmans, 7/21/2011)