Mojo - August 2012

Mitt Romney's Reading Comprehension Problem

| Thu Aug. 2, 2012 9:53 AM EDT

Next time, Mitt Romney should cite books by dead authors so they can't publicly rebuke him for misinterpreting their books. 

At a fundraiser in Israel, Romney reportedly told a group of donors that economic differences between Palestinians and Israelis are entirely the result of "culture," ignoring external factors like the economic impact of the 45-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Romney initially claimed he didn't say that at all, despite making a similar argument in his 2010 book, before rehashing the same simplistic argument over at National Review. Romney cited two books in support of his argument, Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, and The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes*.

In the New York Times, Guns, Germs and Steel author Jared Diamond expresses confusion, writing that Romney's take on his book was "so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it."

It is not true that my book Guns, Germs and Steel, as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, 'basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.' That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it. My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples."

Diamond also argues Romney has Landes wrong, writing that Landes "would find Mr. Romney’s statement that "culture makes all the difference" dangerously out of date," because Landes "analyzed multiple factors (including climate) in explaining why the industrial revolution first occurred in Europe and not elsewhere."

This also isn't the first time Romney has found himself in the awkward position of being told by the author of a book he cited that he has it all wrong. In June, Romney kept citing Noam Scheiber's book The Escape Artists to argue that "Obamacare would slow down the economic recovery in this country and they knew that before they passed it." Writing at the New Republic, Schreiber explained that his book doesn't actually say that.

New York's Jonathan Chait thinks Romney is simply a very bad book reviewer. Perhaps, but Romney also seems to have formed an entire ideological worldview based on misinterpretation of books he's read. Romney can probably avoid embarrassment by citing dead authors who won't be able to contest his mangling of their ideas, but the larger problem is the erroneous conclusions he draws based on what he thinks he's read, conclusions that will influence his policy choices should he ever become president.  

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly state Romney cited Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. In fact it was The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 2, 2012

Thu Aug. 2, 2012 9:23 AM EDT

US Army Staff Sergeant Elliot Robbins (second from right), 2d Calvary Regiment, tactically approaches a sniper position with his team while going through the React to Sniper Fire lane during the United States Army Europe's Best Warrior Competition in Grafenwoehr, Germany. The winners will be announced during an Aug. 16 award ceremony in Heidelberg, Germany. US Army photo by Staff Sergeant Pablo N. Piedra.

Docs vs. Glocks

| Thu Aug. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Battling the Glock: Doctors could run afoul of Florida's government if they ask patients about firearms.

Less than a month before Florida hosts the Republican National Convention, the state's right-wing governor is pushing for an unusual law that privileges the Second Amendment over the First Amendment. Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that his administration will pursue a court appeal to defend the state's controversial "Docs vs. Glocks" law, which makes it a crime for doctors to ask patients if they own guns.

The 2011 "Firearm Owners' Privacy Act"—one of a series of NRA-backed, aggressive pro-gun laws passed by Florida's conservative Legislature in recent years—aims at keeping physicians from gathering information on patients' weapons while discussing their health risk factors. (Decades of studies have shown that even law-abiding, responsible gun owners and their families have higher risks of death by gunshot when they keep a firearm in the home.)

"Patients don't like being interrogated about whether or not they own guns when they take their child with a sore throat to a pediatrician, nor do they like being interrogated in an emergency room when their Little Leaguer broke his leg sliding into first base," the NRA's gun for hire in Florida, longtime firearms lobbyist Marion Hammer, told the Tampa Tribune last fall.*

Doctors have long been permitted to ask patients about other risk factors, like smoking and drinking (and patients, of course, have long had the freedom to lie about their bad habits). But asking about guns is different, say backers of the law, which could cost offending doctors their medical licenses and a $10,000 fine. Some even argue that federal power makes the law especially important. "Now we've got Obamacare, the government owns our health care," a 58-year-old Floridian told Sunshine State News. "They can coerce the names and habits of gun owners out of doctors' medical records, that's what scares me most. Maybe it won't happen today or tomorrow, but the ability to do it is there."

Apparently, you sometimes have to destroy the Constitution in order to save it. A federal judge tossed the "Docs vs. Glocks" law out of her district court last September, ruling that it trampled doctors' right to free speech. The law, Judge Marcia Cooke wrote, "aims to restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient"—information that she said "simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms."

The governor disagrees. "This law was carefully crafted to respect the First Amendment while ensuring a patient's constitutional right to own or possess a firearm without discrimination," Scott said in his statement. "I signed this legislation into law because I believe it is constitutional and I will continue to defend it."

Study: Romney Plan Increases Taxes On 95% Of Americans

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 2:46 PM EDT

Mitt Romney has been on the defensive today over a new study that found his tax plan would most likely increase taxes on the middle class in order to pay for a hefty tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. The study (pdf) by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center scrutinizes Romney's plan to pay for a variety of tax cuts by closing tax loopholes. It concludes that under the most progressive approach possible, Romney's plan would give an $87,000 tax cut to people making more than $1 million a year but require 95 percent of Americans to pay more taxes—on average, $500 more per year.

"He's asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut," Obama said from the campaign trail in Ohio today.

Romney has pushed back against the study, claiming that the Tax Policy Center (a wing of the Brookings Institution) is a "liberal" group. But as ThinkProgress points out, Romney praised the Tax Policy Center's analysis of Gov. Rick Perry's tax plan during the GOP primaries, calling it an "objective, third-party analysis."

Here's TPC's chart illustrating who will win and lose from Romney's tax plan:

Tax Policy Center and Brookings InstitutionTax Policy Center and Brookings Institution

House GOPer Compares Free Birth Control Day to 9/11

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 1:48 PM EDT
This is not the same as affordable birth control.

According to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), today is a day akin to 9/11 and the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. No, really. "I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom," Kelly said at a press conference. "That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates."

Kelly was ranting for the same reason I'm rejoicing—because today is "Free Birth Control Day" in the United States. Today is the day the new mandate requiring health insurers to provide contraception with no co-pay officially goes into effect. And I use the word "free" loosely, since it's not actually free—it's paid for through our premiums, just like other medical services. But once the rule is fully implemented, your out-of-pocket costs for contraception should fall to zero.

Some women won't start benefitting from the new rule until their new plan year begins, which varies by insurer. For me, it kicked in a few months ago, when my insurer agreed to cover the cost of an intrauterine device (IUD) after previously refusing to cover it.

Before the health care law, if I wanted to get an IUD, I would have had to pay about $1,200 upfront for the device and the insertion. I've been through pretty much every other type of contraception out there, and they just weren't working for a variety of reasons—some I am allergic to, some made me a crazy lady, and others came with a steep monthly price. Then there was the fact that I am just not very good at taking a pill every day at the same time, which is crucial if your birth control is going to actually control birth. And I'm not the only American woman who sucks at taking birth control.

Enter the IUD. Like many women, it was the right choice for me. But although it's cheaper in the long term because it's good for up to five years, I didn't really have $1,200 laying around to cover it upfront. This is true for a lot of women, according to Dr. Nancy Stanwood, an obstetrician/gynecologist with the Yale School of Medicine and a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. "I have seen so many women want to choose a method of contraception but have it out of reach financially," Stanwood says. "Instead of women looking at their medical needs and the needs of their family, they had to instead look in their pocketbook."

Here's an infographic from the National Women's Law Center illustrating how I, and many women felt before the birth control mandate:

National Women's Law CenterNational Women's Law Center

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 1, 2012

Wed Aug. 1, 2012 9:41 AM EDT

Marine Corps Military Free Fall Instructors release the ashes of Sgt. Brett Jaffe (1971-2012), a Marine rigger, above Phillips Drop Zone at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz. "It was an honor and privilege to take this Marine on his last jump and give him a proper hail and farewell," said Staff Sgt. Marty Rhett. Marine Corps photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Johnny Gunn.

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The Texas GOP Just Nominated a Gay-Hating Conspiracy Theorist for US Senate

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 9:07 AM EDT
US Senate candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

On Tuesday, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz walloped the state's lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, to ice the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. In a place where Democrats haven't won a statewide election since the 1990s, that all but guarantees Cruz will join the world's most deliberative body next January. The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan calls it "a victory for the tea party and national conservatives who lined up behind Cruz even when a surprise win appeared unlikely." This is mostly true, but there's something else that's worth noting about the GOP's fresh young face: For someone with a reputation as an "intellectual force," he holds some pretty out-there views.

He thinks George Soros wants to ban golf: Like many conservatives, Cruz believes that the United States' sovereignty is under assault from an obscure United Nations agreement called Agenda 21. Although Agenda 21 does not have the force of law, right-wingers believe the treaty's sustainable-development precepts will force Americans to live in "hobbit homes" and forcibly relocate residents from rural areas into densely populated urban cores. "Agenda 21 sounds like absolute crazy conspiracy theory nut stuff, but it's not," explains Glenn Beck. As Cruz puts it on his website:

The originator of this grand scheme is George Soros, who candidly supports socialism and believes that global development must progress through eliminating national sovereignty and private property. He has given millions to this project. But he is not the only one promoting this plan; in fact, the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) now consists of over 600 cities in the United States.

Agenda 21 attempts to abolish "unsustainable" environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads. It hopes to leave mother earth’s surface unscratched by mankind. Everyone wants clean water and clean air, but Agenda 21 dehumanizes individuals by removing the very thing that has defined Americans since the beginning—our freedom.

As Senator, he's pledged to confront the Agenda 21 menace head-on. Here's a video of Cruz discussing the treaty with Beck, in which Cruz concurs that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could become vessels for the mass eviction of rural Americans in the name of sustainable development:

He thinks Shariah is creeping: At a campaign forum in July, Cruz told a questioner that "Shariah law is an enormous problem" in the United States. Although plenty of Texas Republicans have voiced concerns about the slow creep of Islamic law into their state, there's no evidence that that's actually happening.

He believes in nullification: Before the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act once and for all, Cruz argued that Obamacare could simply be nullified by states if they disagreed with it. He believed that if two or more states formed an "interstate compact," they could ignore the law because the compact supersedes federal regulation. He also thinks Medicare is unconstitutional.

He's really, really proud of his executions: The Texas Observer's Anthony Zurcher, who has a very good profile of Cruz, breaks it down:

Cruz claims he's proudest of the 2008 case Medellín v. Texas. He cited the case by name during his closing statement at the January 12 GOP Senate candidates' debate in Austin. It's easy to understand why. The case featured a United Nations court, federal government intrusion on state power and a Texas favorite: the death penalty. The case involved Jose Medellín, a Mexican citizen on death row for the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston, and 50 other similarly situated Mexican nationals who had not been informed of their right to seek legal assistance from the Mexican government following their arrests. Mexico had challenged the convictions before the International Court of Justice, which ruled that the United States had violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and that the cases should be reopened.

The Bush administration attempted to force a recalcitrant Texas appeals court to reconsider Medellín's case in light of the international court’s decision and U.S. treaty obligations. Cruz countered that neither the international tribunal nor the federal government could tell Texas courts what to do.

Medellín was executed in 2011. Cruz was so excited he made it into a campaign ad:

He is afraid of teh gayz: During the primary, Cruz used his opposition to gay rights as a wedge against lesser opponents like former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, noting that his opponent had marched in not one but two pride parades. "When the mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay pride, that's a statement. It's not a statement I believe in":

On his website, he brags about his work nullifying the divorce of two gay men who had gotten married in Vermont, noting that "When a Beaumont state court granted a divorce to two homosexual men who had gotten a civil union in Vermont, Cruz, under the leadership of Attorney General Greg Abbott, intervened in defense of the marriage laws of the State of Texas, which successfully led to the court judgment being vacated." As solicitor general, he fought to protect the Boy Scouts' ban on gay scout leaders. At the Values Voters summit last October, Cruz warned that American politics had been hijacked by the "gay rights agenda." If Cruz is really going to be a 21st-century political star, he'll have to work on the "21st century" part.

Happy 175th Birthday, Mother Jones!

| Wed Aug. 1, 2012 7:08 AM EDT
Mother Jones died at the age of 93, but often exaggerated her age

It's safe to say that most people have never heard of this magazine's namesake, whom Teddy Roosevelt once called "the most dangerous woman in America." If you've worked at Mother Jones long enough, however, you've likely had a Mother Jones moment. Mine came two years ago inside a trailer home in the Appalachians of West Virginia, where I was interviewing an injured coal miner. "I remember that name from that video," the miner's son told me, referring to a class he'd taken to become a mining apprentice. "Mother Jones speaking before all the men." He went on to regale me with the tale of her involvement, at the age of 84, in the Battle of Blair Mountain, a pitched fight between unionists and strike breakers in 1921 that remains the nation's largest armed conflict since the Civil War.

A labor organizer about whom relatively little was known even at the height of her considerable fame, Mary Harris Jones is thought to have been born on roughly this day 175 years ago in Cork, Ireland. The town of Cork is honoring her this week with the first-ever Cork Mother Jones Festival, a three-day event featuring concerts, a mass at the cathedral where she was baptized, a commemorative plaque, and a day-long bus tour of her childhood stomping grounds. At the age of 10, Jones and her family of tenant farmers fled Ireland to escape the potato famine, relocating to Toronto, Canada and, in Jones' case, later the United States.

As Jones' biographer Elliott J. Gorn wrote in this magazine, her image as a badass grandma has roots in personal tragedy. An 1867 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee killed Jones' husband and her four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business—only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. She went on to toil in obscurity for two decades until suddenly inventing the persona of Mother Jones. "Or, to put it more precisely," Gorn writes, "she began to play a role that she and her followers made up as they went along. By 1900, no one called her Mary, but always Mother; she wore antique black dresses in public, and she began exaggerating her age.

The new role freed Mary Jones. Most American women of that era led quiet, homebound lives devoted to their families. Women, especially elderly ones, were not supposed to have opinions; if they had them, they were not to voice them publicly—and certainly not in the fiery tones of a street orator.

Yet by casting herself as the mother of downtrodden people everywhere, Mary Jones went where she pleased, spoke out on the great issues of her day, and did so with sharp irreverence (she referred to John D. Rockefeller as "Oily John" and Governor William Glasscock of West Virginia as "Crystal Peter"). Paradoxically, by embracing the very role of family matriarch that restricted most women, Mother Jones shattered the limits that confined her.

For a quarter of a century, she roamed America, the Johnny Appleseed of activists. She literally had no permanent residence. "My address is like my shoes," she told a congressional committee. "It travels with me wherever I go."

By today's standards, some of Jones' rhetoric would be considered over-the-top, such as her threat to West Virginia's governor that there could soon be "one hell of a lot of bloodletting." And neither was she uniformly progressive—even by the benchmarks of her time. She considered women's suffrage a distraction from labor organizing and thought most women should stay out of the workplace.

Yet Mother Jones' greatest weakness was also her strength: She saw the world's problems primarily through the lens of class. And in a weird way, maybe her myopia can bring some clarity to our own times. After quietly widening for decades, the economic chasm between the rich and everyone else has finally become an electoral issue, the grounds for a generation-defining political fight. Mother Jones would be busy right now—if she wasn't in jail. "I asked a man in prison once how he he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes," she once said. "I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator."

Corn on MSNBC: Yet Another Gaffe on Romney's Foreign Tour

Wed Aug. 1, 2012 2:10 AM EDT

David Corn joined guest host Michael Eric Dyson on MSNBC's the Ed Show to discuss Mitt Romney's disastrous foreign tour—what Corn is calling Romney's "moonwalking tour" since he's had to spend so much time walking back gaffes and misunderstandings.

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