Call The Movers

April 24, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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The New Republic:

In early 2010, Karl Rove convened a group of businessmen for lunch at a private club in Dallas. The guests included some of the richest and most influential people in Texas. T. Boone Pickens, the corporate raider from Amarillo, was there, as was Harlan Crow, the prodigal son of Trammell Crow, the most prominent real estate developer in the country in his day. Some of the men had contributed to Rove’s campaigns for a quarter of a century.

Rove had come to them with a new proposition. He and his partner, former George W. Bush White House counselor Ed Gillespie, were traversing the country to drum up financial support for an organization called American Crossroads. Taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s recent obliteration of limits on corporate campaign contributions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,Rove and Gillespie were building an independent campaign operation with the aim of taking Congress back from the Democrats that November and, two years later, pulling the plug on Barack Obama’s presidency. “All of us,” Rove told the group, according to an account of the meeting in The Wall Street Journal, “are responsible for the kind of country we have.”

After Rove finished, one of the men spoke up. “I’m in,” Harold Simmons said.

Simmons, the billionaire owner of a Dallas-based constellation of companies in industries ranging from sugar-refining to nuclear waste disposal, had been financing Rove’s campaigns since 1986. He had donated $90,000 to Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns and $2.5 million to Bush-allied political organizations during his presidential runs. Gale Norton, Bush’s interior secretary, had previously been a Washington lobbyist for one of Simmons’s companies. When Bush held his first white-tie dinner at the White House in 2007, in honor of Queen Elizabeth, Simmons and his third wife, Annette, were among the guests eating spring lamb off the Lenox china.

Still, nobody knew just how “in” Simmons intended to be until this February, when Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings revealed him to be the single largest contributor in American politics. In late March, the Dallas billionaire told the Journalthat, along with his wife and his holding company, Contran, he had donated $18.7 million to Republican political organizations—not just Crossroads ($14.5 million) but also independent expenditure groups aligned with Mitt Romney ($800,000), Rick Santorum ($1.2 million), Newt Gingrich ($1.1 million), and Rick Perry ($1.1 million)—and that he planned to give nearly twice that much by November.

Simmons’s appearance at the top of the donors list marked the second reordering of the conventional wisdom regarding what the post–Citizens United frontier of campaign finance would look like. At first, doomsayers predicted that groups like Crossroads—the independent-but-not-really organizations known as super PACs—would become de facto fronts for behemoths like Exxon Mobil and Walmart. Then came the South Carolina primary and Gingrich’s unlikely resurrection thanks to a $5 million contribution to the Gingrich-aligned Winning Our Future super PAC from the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Suddenly, it appeared that American politics had been hijacked not by corporations, but by a handful of mildly eccentric plutocrats driven by personal hobbyhorses: Adelson’s Israel hawkishness or the Santorum-backing multimillionaire Foster Friess’s fear of Al Qaeda training camps in Latin America.

And then there was Simmons, a reclusive 80-year-old former corporate raider, who seemed to belong to a different category of donor altogether. In pictures, he appears the very archetype of the shadowy billionaire, his green eyes gone rheumy around the rims, his rangy farm-boy physique buried inside boxy suit coats. Simmons almost never speaks to the press; his interview with the Journal was the first he had granted to a national newspaper in more than a decade, and, in it, he offered only a couple of off-the-rack complaints about “that socialist, Obama” to explain his generosity. For reporters who had been looking forward to a season of cable-friendly oddballs, it was all a little deflating.

Nor was Simmons terribly ideological—a departure from activist billionaires like Charles and David Koch or George Soros. Espousing a bland Chamber of Commerce–style business-friendly conservatism, Simmons described himself as pro-choice, and his philanthropic foundation—administered by a daughter who until recently had an Obama bumper sticker on her car—occasionally funded borderline-liberal social causes, such as legal services for immigrants. Even longtime observers of Texas professed bafflement at Simmons’s newfound prominence. “I have no ready explanation,” Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and an old hand in Texas Republican politics, told me. “I’m plugged in, we’re all plugged in—but this guy, he’s below the radar.”

Simmons declined to be interviewed for this story, and even many of his one-time adversaries were reticent—his legendary litigiousness had left them bound by the settlement terms of past lawsuits or wary of provoking new ones. One former top executive of a major company who tangled with Simmons more than two decades ago spoke with me at length about the episode, but then quickly called back and begged me not to use his name. “I’m serious,” he told me. “I have some money, but nothing compared to what he has.”

If Simmons is a sphinx, however, he’s not an entirely unreadable one. The record of his nearly three decades of political activism—contained in campaign disclosure filings and thousands of pages of court documents in government sub-basements in Dallas and Austin—offers some clues as to why he has decided to spend so lavishly in the political arena. Ultimately Simmons, not his wackier fellow super PAC benefactors, may be the truest bellwether of how the new rules of campaign finance will shape this year’s election and those of years to come. What, exactly, does Harold Simmons expect to get for his money? The best way to answer that question is to look at what he’s gotten for it already.

HAROLD SIMMONS grew up in Golden, an unincorporated East Texas farming town an hour and a half’s drive from Dallas, whose residents, today as in Simmons’s youth, number in the low hundreds. Simmons is far and away the town’s most famous native son and most generous benefactor—a fact that is difficult to forget when you visit, as a plurality of Golden’s public spaces are named after him.

The son of schoolteachers, Simmons left Golden to attend the University of Texas in Austin, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and earned a master’s degree in economics. For several desultory years, Simmons worked as a bank examiner for the federal government and then as a banker, during which time he began to venture into business. According to Golden Boy: The Harold Simmons Story, John J. Nance’s authorized 2003 biography, he made his first deal of any significance in 1956, when he met the owner of a local bank in La Vernia, a small town near San Antonio. The man was looking to retire, and Simmons convinced him to give him the option to purchase the bank with no money down. Simmons proceeded to place a notice in a trade publication offering the property for sale, for $7,000 more than the owner’s asking price. When he found a buyer, Simmons paid the owner and pocketed the difference. With barely a cent to his name, Simmons had sold a bank he didn’t own while clearing enough money on the transaction to buy his first house…

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The New Atlantis:

There is a single ideological current running through a seemingly disparate collection of noxious modern political and scientific movements, ranging from militarism, imperialism, racism, xenophobia, and radical environmentalism, to socialism, Nazism, and totalitarian communism. This is the ideology of antihumanism: the belief that the human race is a horde of vermin whose unconstrained aspirations and appetites endanger the natural order, and that tyrannical measures are necessary to constrain humanity. The founding prophet of modern antihumanism is Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), who offered a pseudoscientific basis for the idea that human reproduction always outruns available resources. Following this pessimistic and inaccurate assessment of the capacity of human ingenuity to develop new resources, Malthus advocated oppressive policies that led to the starvation of millions in India and Ireland.

While Malthus’s argument that human population growth invariably leads to famine and poverty is plainly at odds with the historical evidence, which shows global living standards rising with population growth, it nonetheless persisted and even gained strength among intellectuals and political leaders in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Its most pernicious manifestation in recent decades has been the doctrine of population control, famously advocated by ecologist Paul Ehrlich, whose bestselling 1968 antihumanist tract The Population Bomb has served as the bible of neo-Malthusianism. In this book, Ehrlich warned of overpopulation and advocated that the American government adopt stringent population control measures, both domestically and for the Third World countries that received American foreign aid. (Ehrlich, it should be noted, is the mentor of and frequent collaborator with John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor.)

Until the mid-1960s, American population control programs, both at home and abroad, were largely funded and implemented by private organizations such as the Population Council and Planned Parenthood — groups with deep roots in the eugenics movement. While disposing of millions of dollars provided to them by the Rockefeller, Ford, and Milbank Foundations, among others, the resources available to support their work were meager in comparison with their vast ambitions. This situation changed radically in the mid-1960s, when the U.S. Congress, responding to the agitation of overpopulation  ideologues, finally appropriated federal funds to underwrite first domestic and then foreign population control programs. Suddenly, instead of mere millions, there were hundreds of millions and eventually billions of dollars available to fund global campaigns of mass abortion and forced sterilization. The result would be human catastrophe on a worldwide scale.

Among the first to be targeted were America’s own Third World population at home — the native American Indians. Starting in 1966, Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall began to make use of newly available Medicaid money to set up sterilization programs at federally funded Indian Health Services (IHS) hospitals. As reported by Angela Franks in her 2005 book Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy:

These sterilizations were frequently performed without adequate informed consent….  Native American physician Constance Redbird Uri estimated that up to one-quarter of Indian women of childbearing age had been sterilized by 1977; in one hospital in Oklahoma, one-fourth of the women admitted (for any reason) left sterilized…. She also gathered evidence that all the pureblood women of the Kaw tribe in Oklahoma were sterilized in the 1970s….

Unfortunately, and amazingly, problems with the Indian Health Service seem to persist … recently [in the early 1990s], in South Dakota, IHS was again accused of not following informed-consent procedures, this time for Norplant, and apparently promoted the long-acting contraceptive to Native American women who should not use it due to contraindicating, preexisting medical conditions. The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center reports that one woman was recently told by her doctors that they would remove the implant only if she would agree to a tubal ligation. The genocidal dreams of bureaucrats still cast their shadow on American soil.

Programs of a comparable character were also set up in clinics funded by the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity in low-income (predominantly black) neighborhoods in the United States. Meanwhile, on the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, a mass sterilization program was instigated by the Draper Fund/Population Crisis Committee and implemented with federal funds from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare through the island’s major hospitals as well as a host of smaller clinics. According to the report of a medical fact-finding mission conducted in 1975, the effort was successful in sterilizing close to one-third of Puerto Rican women of child-bearing age…

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New York Review Of Books:

Last year physicists commemorated the centennial of the discovery of the atomic nucleus. In experiments carried out in Ernest Rutherford’s laboratory at Manchester in 1911, a beam of electrically charged particles from the radioactive decay of radium was directed at a thin gold foil. It was generally believed at the time that the mass of an atom was spread out evenly, like a pudding. In that case, the heavy charged particles from radium should have passed through the gold foil, with very little deflection. To Rutherford’s surprise, some of these particles bounced nearly straight back from the foil, showing that they were being repelled by something small and heavy within gold atoms. Rutherford identified this as the nucleus of the atom, around which electrons revolve like planets around the sun.

This was great science, but not what one would call big science. Rutherford’s experimental team consisted of one postdoc and one undergraduate. Their work was supported by a grant of just £70 from the Royal Society of London. The most expensive thing used in the experiment was the sample of radium, but Rutherford did not have to pay for it—the radium was on loan from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Nuclear physics soon got bigger. The electrically charged particles from radium in Rutherford’s experiment did not have enough energy to penetrate the electrical repulsion of the gold nucleus and get into the nucleus itself. To break into nuclei and learn what they are, physicists in the 1930s invented cyclotrons and other machines that would accelerate charged particles to higher energies. The late Maurice Goldhaber, former director of Brookhaven Laboratory, once reminisced:

The first to disintegrate a nucleus was Rutherford, and there is a picture of him holding the apparatus in his lap. I then always remember the later picture when one of the famous cyclotrons was built at Berkeley, and all of the people were sitting in the lap of the cyclotron.

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After World War II, new accelerators were built, but now with a different purpose. In observations of cosmic rays, physicists had found a few varieties of elementary particles different from any that exist in ordinary atoms. To study this new kind of matter, it was necessary to create these particles artificially in large numbers. For this physicists had to accelerate beams of ordinary particles like protons—the nuclei of hydrogen atoms—to higher energy, so that when the protons hit atoms in a stationary target their energy could be transmuted into the masses of particles of new types. It was not a matter of setting records for the highest-energy accelerators, or even of collecting more and more exotic species of particles, like orchids. The point of building these accelerators was, by creating new kinds of matter, to learn the laws of nature that govern all forms of matter. Though many physicists preferred small-scale experiments in the style of Rutherford, the logic of discovery forced physics to become big.

In 1959 I joined the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley as a postdoc. Berkeley then had the world’s most powerful accelerator, the Bevatron, which occupied the whole of a large building in the hills above the campus. The Bevatron had been built specifically to accelerate protons to energies high enough to create antiprotons, and to no one’s surprise antiprotons were created. What was surprising was that hundreds of types of new, highly unstable particles were also created. There were so many of these new types of particles that they could hardly all be elementary, and we began to doubt whether we even knew what was meant by a particle being elementary. It was all very confusing, and exciting.

After a decade of work at the Bevatron, it became clear that to make sense of what was being discovered, a new generation of higher-energy accelerators would be needed. These new accelerators would be too big to fit into a laboratory in the Berkeley hills. Many of them would also be too big as institutions to be run by any single university. But if this was a crisis for Berkeley, it wasn’t a crisis for physics. New accelerators were built, at Fermilab outside Chicago, at CERN near Geneva, and at other laboratories in the US and Europe. They were too large to fit into buildings, but had now become features of the landscape. The new accelerator at Fermilab was four miles in circumference, and was accompanied by a herd of bison, grazing on the restored Illinois prairie.

By the mid-1970s the work of experimentalists at these laboratories, and of theorists using the data that were gathered, had led us to a comprehensive and now well-verified theory of particles and forces, called the Standard Model. In this theory, there are several kinds of elementary particles. There are strongly interacting quarks, which make up the protons and neutrons inside atomic nuclei as well as most of the new particles discovered in the 1950s and 1960s. There are more weakly interacting particles called leptons, of which the prototype is the electron.

There are also “force carrier” particles that move between quarks and leptons to produce various forces. These include (1) photons, the particles of light responsible for electromagnetic forces; (2) closely related particles called W and Z bosons that are responsible for the weak nuclear forces that allow quarks or leptons of one species to change into a different species—for instance, allowing negatively charged “down quarks” to turn into positively charged “up quarks” when carbon-14 decays into nitrogen-14 (it is this gradual decay that enables carbon dating); and (3) massless gluons that produce the strong nuclear forces that hold quarks together inside protons and neutrons.

Successful as the Standard Model has been, it is clearly not the end of the story. For one thing, the masses of the quarks and leptons in this theory have so far had to be derived from experiment, rather than deduced from some fundamental principle. We have been looking at the list of these masses for decades now, feeling that we ought to understand them, but without making any sense of them. It has been as if we were trying to read an inscription in a forgotten language, like Linear A. Also, some important things are not included in the Standard Model, such as gravitation and the dark matter that astronomers tell us makes up five sixths of the matter of the universe.

So now we are waiting for results from a new accelerator at CERN that we hope will let us make the next step beyond the Standard Model. This is the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. It is an underground ring seventeen miles in circumference crossing the border between Switzerland and France. In it two beams of protons are accelerated in opposite directions to energies that will eventually reach 7 TeV in each beam, that is, about 7,500 times the energy in the mass of a proton. The beams are made to collide at several stations around the ring, where detectors with the mass of World War II cruisers sort out the various particles created in these collisions.

Some of the new things to be discovered at the LHC have long been expected. The part of the Standard Model that unites the weak and electromagnetic forces, presented in 1967–1968, is based on an exact symmetry between these forces. The W and Z particles that carry the weak nuclear forces and the photons that carry electromagnetic forces all appear in the equations of the theory as massless particles. But while photons really are massless, the W and Z are actually quite heavy. Therefore, it was necessary to suppose that this symmetry between the electromagnetic and weak interactions is “broken”—that is, though an exact property of the equations of the theory, it is not apparent in observed particles and forces.

The original and still the simplest theory of how the electroweak symmetry is broken, the one proposed in 1967–1968, involves four new fields that pervade the universe. A bundle of the energy of one of these fields would show up in nature as a massive, unstable, electrically neutral particle that came to be called the Higgs boson.1 All the properties of the Higgs boson except its mass are predicted by the 1967–1968 electroweak theory, but so far the particle has not been observed. This is why the LHC is looking for the Higgs—if found, it would confirm the simplest version of the electroweak theory. In December 2011 two groups reported hints that the Higgs boson has been created at the LHC, with a mass 133 times the mass of the proton, and signs of a Higgs boson with this mass have since then turned up in an analysis of older data from Fermilab. We will know by the end of 2012 whether the Higgs boson has really been seen.

The discovery of the Higgs boson would be a gratifying verification of present theory, but it will not point the way to a more comprehensive future theory. We can hope, as was the case with the Bevatron, that the most exciting thing to be discovered at the LHC will be something quite unexpected. Whatever it is, it’s hard to see how it could take us all the way to a final theory, including gravitation. So in the next decade, physicists are probably going to ask their governments for support for whatever new and more powerful accelerator we then think will be needed…

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Kitchen Table Politics

April 24, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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