Mojo - July 2012

Per Capita, America Had More Good Jobs in the Disco Era

| Tue Jul. 31, 2012 3:18 PM EDT

Center for Economic and Policy ResearchCenter for Economic and Policy ResearchFor the purposes of this graph, the Center for Economic and Policy Research defines a "good job" as one that includes health insurance and retirement benefits and pays at least as much as the median wage, adjusted for inflation, earned by a male worker in 1979. ($12,300 per year back then and $37,000 per year today.) Kind of sad, isn't it?

Note that there is a conspicuous partisan trend in the graph: The number of good jobs fell during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years, rebounded during the Clinton years, and fell again during the administration of George W. Bush. Good jobs haven't made much of a comeback during the Obama administration, but he inherited an economy from his predecessor that's still fighting it's way out of a catastrophic meltdown.

Democrats and Republicans tend to agree that creating more good jobs requires building a more educated workforce. Unfortunately, the fortunes of college-educated workers haven't really improved over the past 30 years either; they've just eroded more slowly:

Center for Economic and Policy ResearchCenter for Economic and Policy ResearchSo what's going on here? As we've often pointed out on Mother Jones, the travails of the American middle class hinge on a variety of interrelated factors, including automation, the decline of labor unions, globalization, and the Federal Reserve's monetary policy, to name a few. The Center for Economic and Policy Research also points out out that the minimum wage today, adjusted for inflation, is 15 percent below what it was in 1979. Who ever thought that the era of bell bottoms and the Bee Gees would be considered the good old days?

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 31, 2012

Tue Jul. 31, 2012 10:21 AM EDT

Airman Chris Pichardo cleans the canopy of an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Vigilantes of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tim D. Godbee.

Obama Administration Ducks for Cover on UN Arms Trade Treaty

| Tue Jul. 31, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Last Friday, the Obama administration ditched negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty, the potential UN deal aimed at tightening regulations on the estimated $60 billion global trade in conventional weapons. The past four weeks of negotiations were focused on stemming the flow of arms and ammo into the hands of regimes and actors responsible for perpetrating mass murder and war crimes.

The breakdown occurred on the eve of the Friday deadline, with several countries with large stakes in the international trade (Russia, China, etc.) raising objections to the working text. But major human rights groups including Oxfam and Amnesty International reserved some of their harshest criticism for the Obama administration. "The White House walked away at a critical moment," Scott Stedjan, Oxfam America's senior policy advisor, wrote in a statement. "In the United States we already have tough regulations governing the trade of weapons—and this Treaty is about leveling the playing field with the many countries around the world that have weak or ineffective regulations, if any at all."

Why did the US bail? As the New York Times reported, political pressure came, unsurprisingly, from the NRA and other gun-rights advocates. They claimed that the UN was trying to dismantle the Second Amendment:

Treaty supporters [and activists] expressed anger at the failure after early bouts of optimism that a draft of the treaty circulated this week would satisfy American concerns, notably its possible infringement on the...right to bear arms — an especially delicate issue during a presidential election year in the United States. The supporters contended the treaty’s language specified that it would have no impact on such rights. But gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association said the treaty remained "seriously flawed."

...

Fifty-one senators had urged the administration not to sign it in a letter sent Thursday. That letter sent an important signal of defeat because ratification requires 67 Senate votes.

There is a long-running, baseless conservative meme that the United Nations is hell-bent on confiscating firearms from unsuspecting, law-abiding Americans. Folks including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the National Association for Gun Rights, and even veteran political analyst Chuck Norris have all fervently warned about the coming "Small Arms Treaty" as a tool of confiscation. (Just for the record, the Small Arms Treaty does not actually exist in any form.) And just recently, the far-right Gun Owners of America pushed the novel theory that the massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colo., was engineered by big-government agents and the UN. (Did they engineer these 55 other massacres too?)

As for the Arms Trade Treaty, diplomats told reporters that negotiations are expected to reboot at some indefinite time in the future, with a UN General Assembly vote hopefully to be held within a few months.

Corn on "Hardball": Romney's "Moonwalking Tour"

Mon Jul. 30, 2012 8:53 PM EDT

Mother Jones' David Corn and the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman join Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" to discuss Mitt Romney's blunders in Israel and what they say about his skills as a foreign diplomat.

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

Judge Upholds Arizona's Extreme Abortion Law

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 4:11 PM EDT

UPDATE: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the request for an emergency stay on Wednesday, blocking the law from going into effect for at least two months.

ORIGINAL POST: A judge in Arizona rejected a challenge to the state's new law banning abortions after the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy on Monday. The ruling is a setback for abortion rights groups who argued that the law was the most extreme new limit on women's access to abortion in the United States.

Over the past two years, eight states, including Arizona, have passed similar laws banning abortions after 20 weeks. But Arizona's law was the first that big, national reproductive rights groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU challenged in court. The groups argued on behalf of three Arizona doctors that the law stands counter to the previous US Supreme Court rulings that found that abortion should be legal until viability, which is typically sometime around 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Lawyers for the groups also pointed out that the Arizona law includes a very narrow exception, only allowing an abortion if the mother's life is in immediate danger.

The judge in the case, James Teilborg, argued that the law is not an outright ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, since it includes some exceptions. Teilborg ruled that the plaintiffs could not challenge the 20-week ban before it takes effect, but did not rule out a future challenge based on how the law ends up affecting specific women or doctors.

The plaintiffs say waiting until after the law in being enforced would essentially put the courts in charge of determining what medical care is necessary, rather than women or their doctors. "We will do everything we can to stop this law from going into effect," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told Mother Jones. The groups said they will file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and seek an emergency stay to prevent the law from taking effect on August 2.

Afghan War Games: Computer Scientists Accurately Predict Attacks

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 3:35 PM EDT
A soldier wounded by a roadside bomb is evacuated from the Kandahar province

A military analyst hunches over a laptop. His screen flashes with real-time data of the war unfolding on the sands outside his base. The machine hums and then quickly spits out a color-coded map forecasting impending violence. Eyeing the contours, he radios a caravan of humvees and informs the soldiers that, according to the calculations, they will be ambushed in roughly twelve hours. The unit veers onto a bushwhacked road, lies in wait, and at the crack of dawn captures its would-be attackers without taking any injuries.

A sci-fi writer's napkin scribblings? Or a peek at the future? Well, according to research published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, such a scene might not be far off.

Drawing from the 77,000 confidential US military logs released in Wikileaks' Afghan War Diary, researchers compiled data tracking the activity of armed opposition groups (AOG) in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009. They then used "spatiotemporal" statistics to model the intensity and location of future violence, down to the provincial level, through the end of 2010 (a year after the leaked data ends). A comparison of the results with safety reports from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office showed that their predictions were strikingly accurate:    

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"Personhood" Group Wants SCOTUS to Approve Oklahoma Ballot Measure

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 2:25 PM EDT

Personhood USA, the group behind multiple state-level measures to define life as beginning at conception, tried earlier this year to get a measure on the Oklahoma ballot that would grant fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans. In April, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the measure as "clearly unconstitutional." Now Personhood USA is asking the US Supreme Court to step in and allow its measure to appear on the ballot this November.

Keith Mason, President of Personhood USA, announced on Monday that his group is appealing to the Supreme Court. The group is "fighting for the rights of preborn children," said Mason, and believes that the Oklahoma Supreme Court unjustly denied their attempt to get a measure on the ballot.

So-called "personhood" measures are the most extreme form of anti-abortion legislation, as they would outlaw abortion at any point in a pregnancy for any reason and potentially ban the use of in-vitro fertilization and many types of contraception. "Personhood" measures failed in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, and in Mississippi last November. But the group has been busy working to get similar measures on the ballot in a number of other states around the country.

In its decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the personhood ballot measure unconstitutional because it would deprive women of access to abortions the Supreme Court had previously found to be protected by the Constitution. The court sided with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU, which had challenged the ballot measure. But Steve Crampton, the general counsel for Liberty Counsel, which is representing Personhood USA in their appeal, argued in a call with reporters on Monday that the Oklahoma court ruled prematurely. He believes the justices should not have weighed in on the constitutionality of such a measure until after it passed. By blocking the ballot measure, the court denied the people of Oklahoma the right "to decide what the laws in their state should be," Crampton said.

An attempt to pass a personhood measure through the Oklahoma legislature failed in April. But anti-abortion lawmakers in the state are hoping that the public will be more enthusiastic about personhood—assuming they can get it on the ballot. "It's shocking the court would rule this way, and in particular because of the importance of protecting unborn children," Republican Rep. Mike Reynolds told reporters on Monday's conference call. "We believe children were created by God and they should have the opportunity to be born into a healthy, safe environment. That's what we intend on pursuing in Oklahoma."

Why Hasn't Romney Moved More to the Center?

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 11:16 AM EDT

It's an old story. Republican presidential candidates move rightward to win the GOP primary (and Democrats move left). After securing the nomination, both Republicans and Democrats move back towards the center to appeal to the broader electorate. "Everything changes" in the general election, Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Romney adviser, said in March. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again." Yet so far, Romney's actual policy ideas haven't changed much at all. Sure, he's softened his tone on immigration. But he hasn't edged away from his previous proposals.

Perhaps the reason it seems that Romney hasn't moved more to the center is that he hasn't been particularly specific about what he would do as president. It's hard to be seen as changing your position if no one knows what your position is. But on some issues, at least, there seems to be some potential for Romney to pick up votes by moving towards the center. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling found that picking Condoleeza Rice, who has a reputation as a moderate on domestic policy and has described herself as "mildly pro-choice," as his running mate would be a "huge game changer," creating a tie in Pennsylvania and dramatically narrowing President Barack Obama's lead in Michigan. But Romney has run away from his moderate, pro-abortion rights, pro-health care reform record as governor of Massachusetts, and there is not yet a single significant domestic policy position that Romney has staked out in the general election that is significantly more centrist than the proposals he advocated in the Republican primary. How can that be?

There's no doubt that Romney has a reputation as someone who radically shifts his positions based on the political climate. His campaign may be wagering that tacking center will only reinforce that image. They also probably want to illustrate as large of a contrast with Obama as they can. But money might have something to do with it, too. Never before has a presidential candidate been so indebted to just a few major donors. Just seven families gave the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future $15 million of the $21 million it raised in June. Gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson has already given eight figures to pro-Romney groups. Conservative millionaires and billionaires certainly want Romney to win, but they also want to keep him on the straight and narrow. Presidential nominees have always had to answer to party machers and big money donors. But campaign donations on this huge, post-Citizens United scale carries even larger obligations.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 30, 2012

Mon Jul. 30, 2012 10:30 AM EDT

Canadian Army Warrant Officer Robby Fraser, a platoon warrant officer with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, directs machine gun fire at a support by fire position during a platoon-size live-fire assault as part of Rim of the Pacific 2012. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Robert Bush.

Expert: Conservatives' Favorite Study on Same-Sex Parents Is "Bullshit"

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 8:55 AM EDT

Marriage equality opponents were overjoyed by a study released in June that purported to show that the children of same-sex parents end up worse off than those of straight parents.

Anti-gay rights conservatives claimed the study, which was funded by anti-gay rights groups and conducted by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, offered scientific backing for their argument that the government has a valid non-religious reason to prevent gays and lesbians from getting married. But Darren E. Sherkat, the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale sociology professor who audited the study on behalf of the academic journal Social Science Research, has bad news for marriage equality foes: The UT study is "bullshit." From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems with a controversial and widely publicized study that seemed to raise doubts about the parenting abilities of gay couples, according to an internal audit scheduled to appear in the November issue of the journal, Social Science Research, that published the study.

The highly critical audit, a draft of which was provided to The Chronicle by the journal’s editor, also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, and states that "scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process."

Among the significant problems cited in the Chronicle: "[O]nly two respondents lived with a lesbian couple for their entire childhoods, and most did not live with lesbian or gay parents for long periods, if at all." This flimsy methodology was the basis on which Regnerus concluded, defying decades of social science to the contrary, that being gay or lesbian makes you a worse parent. 

The UT study was never going to be a silver bullet anyway, since it would not be constitutional to say, ban marriage among poor people just because a study showed that they turned out less successful than the children of rich parents. But opponents of marriage equality who were hoping this study might provide a stong, non-religious argument against same-sex marriage ought to realize it doesn't.