2009 - %3, February

New Orleans Mardi Gras Offers Mad Stimulus (Plus: a Killer Cocktail Recipe)

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 7:59 PM EST

You really want to stimulate the economy? Quit whining and start partying. Need inspiration in these dark and gloomy economic times? Join the Krewe du Vieux, New Orleans satirical marching organization, as they jump start the Mardi Gras season with floats themes such as the “Salute to Trickle Down Economics” and “Investments in Stocks & Bondage.” The rest are just are just too titillating to mention. The group is known for raunchy floats: think giant sperms and lady parts. Mardi Gras season officially starts with the Krewe du Vieux parade today and climaxes (yes, I said it) February 24.

And keep this in mind: Louisiana is one of three states in the country that recorded job gains, not losses, in December, so they must be doing something right.

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JFK's Press Conference Humor (Video)

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 7:06 PM EST

In honor of Barack Obama's first primetime press conference as president, scheduled for 8 pm tonight, have a look at this collection of John F. Kennedy's press conference quips and one-liners. As Walter Shapiro points out in TNR today, JFK used humor masterfully to disarm the press. Obama's first attempt at emulating him fell flat; we'll see tonight if he can improve.

Quote of the Day, 02.09.09

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 6:51 PM EST
Dean Baker in TPM, via Ben Smith:
Trying to save money on stimulus, is like finding a short cut for your jogging route. We can do it, but it undermines the whole point of the effort.
In the words of Barack Obama, "What do you think a stimulus is? It's spending — that's the whole point! Seriously."

New Green Day Album Set to Push the Boundaries of Pretentiousness

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 5:43 PM EST
Rolling Stone has it on good authority that Bay Area pop-punkers Green Day will be releasing their eighth album, 21st Century Breakdown, this May. If you thought that perhaps they'd realized that despite the commercial success of 2004's American Idiot, it was actually a bit of an overreach, relying on copycat grandiosity, and maybe it's time to get back to basics, you'd be so, so wrong. The new album appears to ratchet the high-concept gobbledygook up to 11, featuring 16 songs separated into three "acts," including "Heroes and Cons," "Charlatans and Saints" and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades." Huh? They also appear to be turning the tables on alleged plagiarizers Coldplay with the reported song title "Viva La Gloria." Or Mrs. Estefan and All Her Friends? The band also showcased their exciting new high-concept hairdos at last night's Grammys (see photo above)—hey guys, ever heard of the Pet Shop Boys? Legendary producer and Garbage-man Butch Vig will be at the controls, which means at least it'll sound pretty. You can pre-order the album already over here. However, the inevitable Dean Gray mashup album will probably be special order only.

Obama Asks Supporters To "Discuss" the Stimulus, Not To Get Down and Dirty

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 1:26 PM EST
Last week, I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs if President Obama would be mobilizing his millions of supporters to apply pressure on Congress to pass the stimulus legislation. Gibbs did not give a direct answer. And it has seemed that Obama and his aides have not been eager to use their list of 13 million supporters to flex their political muscle. This past weekend, Organizing for America, the Obama campaign's spin-off, held house meetings across the country regarding the stimulus package, and it sent a video of Obama to these sessions and to everyone on its mega-mailing list. Here's the full video: The presentation began with Obama saying, "Hi everybody." He then thanked the viewers for all the "hard work" they did during the campaign and for "staying involved in the task of remaking this nation." Referring to recent job loss numbers, he noted that "sometimes Washington is slow to get the news." He touted the stimulus bill moving through Congress and said, "If we fail to pass it promptly, our economy will fall oone trillion dollars short of what it is capable of producing this year." He maintained that the stimulus measure would lead to the upgrading of schools and laboratories, the modernization of the health care system, the development of a smart grid, and the rebuilding of roads and levees. He sold the bill well, noting that there will be plenty of transparency and accountability provisions in the legislation: "This is your democracy. And as I said throughout the campaign, change never begins from the top down. It begins from the bottom up. It begins with each and every one of you." But what did Obama want each and every one his video-viewers to do to bring about this change? Not much, really. He said:

What the Cuts to the Stimulus Mean, In Real Terms

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 10:44 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Mon Feb. 9, 2009 10:44 AM EST

Everyone is still trying to get a handle on what got cut from the stimulus bill as a small group of centrist senators worked toward the compromise bill that will likely be voted on this evening. CNN has a pretty good list supplied by a Democratic staffer, but while some of it is specific ("$1 billion for Head Start/Early Start," "$200 million for National Science Foundation"), some of it is laughably not so ("$100 million for science"). What is clear is that emergency funding for states that are seeing looming budget crises got cut big time, a development that Paul Krugman calls "really, really bad." Krugman estimates that the Senate compromise bill will create 600,000 fewer jobs than the House version. Firedoglake runs the numbers and comes up with their own estimate here. Ryan Grim, writing in the Huffington Post, checks win with a bunch of economists and figures out why the danger of not spending enough is far, far greater than the danger of spending too much.

As for that cut in state funding, I want to make sure everyone knows what it means in concrete terms. Here is the LA Times:

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Plant/Krauss, Coldplay Big Winners at Grammys

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 12:20 AM EST
Oh, the many ironies of life on the West Coast: we're mocked as hippies even though we all have cars, people imagine us frolicking on the beach when it's actually 45 degrees and raining, and awards ceremonies, even though they're taking place in our time zone, are tape-delayed three hours for us, so we can finish our dinners. This does mean that we can look on the interwebs and see the winners before they even start, though, which is nice. Of course, it turns out that my predictions were pretty much wrong: I apparently had a brief moment of naïve optimism that the Grammys would suddenly start honoring what are truly the best songs of the year, and not whatever artist has the greatest name recognition amongst a bunch of 60-year-olds. Silly me. While I held out 50% of my hope that M.I.A. might pull out an upset in the record of the year category, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss won for "Please Read the Letter." Live-blogging the ceremony, the New York Times' Jon Caramanica had an amusing observation: perhaps, in 30 years, Animal Collective might arouse the same nostalgic feelings that Led Zeppelin do now, but somehow I doubt it. Krauss and Plant also picked up album of the year, over my pick of Radiohead—I guess my thinking was that Grammy voters would acknowledge both In Rainbows' sheer musical triumph and its status as an industry-changing event, but nope, they did not.

Tax Cuts

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:59 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Sat Feb. 7, 2009 6:54 PM EST

TAX CUTS....Matt Yglesias on the stimulus bill:

It strikes me as indefensible that a stimulus package featuring hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts doesn’t include any FICA provisions. Payroll tax cuts wouldn’t be my first choice of stimulus measures, but there’s a strong case for including some tax-side measures in the package and they’d probably be my first choice of tax cuts to include.

Agreed, but isn't the $500/$1000 refundable tax credit in the current package essentially the same thing? Technically it's a credit against income tax, but in practice, since it's refundable, it's a flat tax rebate for everyone who's employed, which makes it roughly the same as a temporary payroll tax cut. The only real difference is that a flat tax credit is relatively more generous to the working poor than a payroll tax cut — which is a good thing — and internally it gets charged to the general fund rather than the Social Security trust fund — which doesn't matter one way or the other. What's not to like?

Bush USA Watch

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:56 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Sat Feb. 7, 2009 5:28 PM EST

BUSH USA WATCH....From a Washington Post story today about campaign finance allegations lodged against Michael Steele:

The claim about the payment, one of several allegations by Alan B. Fabian, is outlined in a confidential court document....The U.S. attorney's office inadvertently sent the confidential document, a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, to The Washington Post after the newspaper requested the prosecution's sentencing memorandum.

Over at The Corner, Steve Hayward snarks:

Inadvertently sent what was supposed to be a sealed document to the Post? Yeah, sure, and the Post will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge real cheap, too.

Is anyone in the U.S. Attorney's office going to lose their job over this? Will the Obama DOJ launch an investigation to make sure this wasn't politically motivated? What would the Post and others have said if this had happened to, say, Howard Dean, during the Bush administration?

Well, considering that U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein was appointed by George Bush, my guess is that he will indeed lose his job pretty soon. Just like all the rest of Bush's USAs. As for an investigation, that seems like it would be a petty and vindictive partisan attack on a Bush appointee who's going to be out of office soon anyway, but I guess it's OK with me if conservatives insist.

Mindless Cuts

| Sun Feb. 8, 2009 1:53 AM EST | Scheduled to publish Sat Feb. 7, 2009 12:30 PM EST

MINDLESS CUTS....The nickel version of what's happened to the stimulus bill so far is that it started out at around $800 billion, a bunch of stuff got added that increased the tab to $900 billion, and then a centrist group of senators took out a machete and pared it back to around $800 billion. Assuming it passes the Senate on Tuesday, it will then go to conference, where there will probably be some more horsetrading before it reaches its final form.

In other words, this is lawmaking as usual, and I can't say that I'm especially outraged by it. Yes, the cuts were fairly random, but then, the original bill was a pretty scattershot collection of programs too. That's inevitable in legislation this size. Besides, some of this stuff will probably get a second life later in the year — and in any case, I have just enough residual doubt about the wisdom of stimulating consumption when we all know that eventually consumption needs to fall that I'm not especially unhappy about keeping the price tag to $800 billion.

That said, the primary target of the cuts is pretty hard to defend:

The biggest cut, roughly $40 billion in aid to states, was likely to spur a fierce fight in negotiations with the House over the final bill....In addition to the large cut in state aid, the Senate agreement would cut nearly $20 billion proposed for school construction; $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings and make them more energy efficient; $1 billion for the early childhood program Head Start; and $2 billion from a plan to expand broadband data networks in rural and underserved areas.

State aid was cut? That's crazy. Even many of the conservatives I read agree that preventing huge state cutbacks is one of the quickest and most efficient forms of fiscal stimulus. And most of the rest of the spending on this list is infrastructure spending, exactly the thing that conservatives were complaining there was too little of.

Granted, neither laws nor sausages bear close scrutiny, but trading this stuff for a bunch of idiotic car and homebuying subsidies strikes me as unusually mindless, even by U.S. Senate standards. This is not exactly centrism's finest hour.