2009 - %3, September

Bay Area News Project: Serious Money Behind Nonprofit Journalism

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 7:04 PM EDT

Warren Hellman, the patron saint of the Best. Festival. In. San Francisco. Ever. is plunking down $5 million to seed the creation of what's being called the Bay Area News Project, a journalism outfit that'll be linked with KQED public radio and television, UC Berkeley's J-School, and it looks like The New York Times.  Alan Mutter has the best summary of the deal, and Dave Cohn just put up a smart post about what he hopes Hellman's project does. Lots of details still to be worked out, so I think it's way too early to say much more than that I'm really hoping this works out.

Okay, that having been said, I've got a couple more things to say.

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A Lost Decade for America's Housing Market?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

While the broader economy might be showing signs of improvement, the US housing market remains a disaster. And if a recent Moody's analysis holds true, real estate could remain that way for the next decade or more, and even longer in states devastated by the housing meltdown, like California and Florida. "For many reasons, the rebound will be disproportionately small compared to the decline," Moody's analysts said this week. "It will take more than a decade to completely recover from the 40 percent peak-to-trough decline in national home prices." The hardest-hit states, meanwhile, "will only re-gain their pre-bust peak in the early 2030s."

Ouch. This kind of analysis suggests that America's economic recovery will be a protracted one, looking more like a W than a V. Granted, the Moody's projection looks at us returning to housing-bubble peaks, when in fact the housing market needn't—indeed, shouldn't—return to the overinflated prices that preceded the collapse. Its analysis, nonetheless, goes to show that normalcy in the housing market is a long way off—bad news, given that real estate plays such an integral role in our economic health (if this crisis taught us anything, it taught us that).

The G-20 Protests: Taking it to The Tweets

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

While the leaders of the Group of 20 met in Pittsburgh this week to discuss a climate treaty and banking regulations, a few thousand demonstrators hit the streets to speak out on a variety of issues, from Tibet to trade.

The protests paled in comparison to the 1999 WTO melee in Seattle. But they were notable for their use of technology to organize and raise hell. Organizers compiled a list of potential protest spots on Google Maps. The list was comprised mostly of banks and food chains, including 11 Starbucks locations. (Which once again raises the question: What does breaking windows at big-name retailers have to do with sending a message to world leaders?) Protesters also used Twitter to spread the word. The G20pgh feed, run by the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project, has been particularly active. One tweet from last night read, "RIOT POLICE MARCH DOWN FORBES, SENDING STUDENTS SPRINTING TOWARD TOWERS. TEAR GAS SHOT AT CROWD." Another: "POLICE JUST PILED OUT OF BUDGET TRUCKS. SOUND CANNONS BEING FIRED AT CROWD. COPS HAVE GAS MASKS ON." The Resistance Project also boasts more than 750 supporters on Facebook.

Is Copenhagen Dead?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 3:00 PM EDT

Is the Obama administration giving up on reaching a comprehensive international climate change agreement this year? A statement released on Friday by John Podesta, who headed Barack Obama's presidential transition, is a big hint that the White House is looking to dramatically downplay expectations.

In the statement, Podesta, the head of the Center for American Progress, and Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, declare, "The world's leading economic powers remain inactive in preventing an increase in the serious impacts of climate change." The pair do not explicitly criticize the United States and the Obama administration. But their statement suggests that the Obama administration has not succeeded in leading the major global powers toward effective action:

While current impacts of climate change may not have reached alarming proportions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that will happen soon enough if we do not take early action. What is causing increasing concern, as the December UN climate summit in Copenhagen draws ever nearer, is the continuing deadlock in political action to deal with this challenge.

Podesta and Pachauri note that the commitment reached last July by G-8 countries—including the United States—to reduce global greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by 2050 is not sufficient and that the ongoing negotiations in advance of the Copenhagen conference do not "reflect this imperative."

The two paint a bleak picture of the road to Copenhagen:

Chamber of Commerce Takes Another Swing at CFPA

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

As MoJo's Andy Kroll noted yesterday, lawmakers and Obama administration officials have agreed to cut the “plain vanilla” provision from legislation establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), an office that would safeguard consumers by regulating financial products.

But apparently this dilution isn't enough for those set against regulatory reform—in particular the Chamber of Commerce, which earlier this month launched a $2 million ad campaign claiming, among other things, a local butcher couldn’t extend credit to his customers without government interference if the CFPA is created. However, according to CNN, a memo on the CFPA by House Financial Services Committee chair Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) "makes it clear that lawmakers don't want to regulate merchants and retailers who give their customers credit or layaway plans."

Yesterday morning, a small group of the bill's opponents gathered at the Chamber of Commerce's headquarters in Washington DC to try another line of attack. The keynote speaker, Sen. Walter Minnick (D-Idaho) who sits on the committee that will determine the bill’s fate, expressed his dissatisfaction with the creation of an additional regulatory agency. (He also thanked the Chamber for its good behavior at a Senate hearing on the proposal on Thursday: “I was just delighted that none of your members were throwing shoes.”)

Friday Cat Blogging - 25 September 2009

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 2:17 PM EDT

Last night, while I was doing the NYT crossword puzzle, I thought for a while that the answer to one of the clues might be the word for an inability to get to sleep.  But I just couldn't think of the word.  (And the answer turned out to be something else anyway.)  After I was finished, I turned off the light and went to bed — and then tossed and turned for an hour, unable to get to sleep because I was trying to remember the word for being unable to get to sleep.

Finally, I got up and went to lie down in the guest bedroom, thinking vaguely that a change of surrounding might work.  And it did!  I fell right to sleep.  An hour later, though, I woke up totally disoriented.  There was a box of stuff at my feet!  Why did Marian replace Domino with a box of stuff?  And there was no radio next to the bed.  Why did Marian steal my radio?!?  Then, just as I was feeling totally deranged, I shot up and realized where I was.  A diffent room entirely.  One without either a cat or a radio.  Whew.

So I went back to my usual bedroom and fell back asleep.  This morning, I woke up, went out to get the paper, and as I was halfway out to the sidewalk I suddenly thought, "Insomnia!"  Jeebus.  My brain is now officially defective.

This is a totally true story.  It has nothing to do with cats, though, aside from Domino's absence from the guest bedroom.  And the fact that cats never seem to suffer from insomnia.  Not ours, anyway, who are currently doing their best beached whale imitations.  On Wednesday, however, they were out in the garden with us.  On the left, Domino is examining one of our plants.  On the right, Inkblot — who, unlike Domino, likes being held — is being hauled around while Marian searches for tomato worms.  In this picture, I think he's staring at Domino, who has just passed by his field of vision and is obviously up to something he feels he should know more about.

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Cantor on Healthcare

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 1:53 PM EDT

Politico's Glenn Thrush talks to Republican congressman Eric Cantor about the lack of a GOP healthcare plan 100 days after they promised to provide one:

In my sit down with Cantor earlier this week, he pointed to a more nuanced approach — offering a "pretext" rather than a proposal — eschewing the kind of sweeping, vague alternative that earned the party such ridicule when they rolled out their alternative budget in March.

I think Cantor needs to look up "pretext" in the dictionary before he uses it again.  It's actually completely appropriate in this case, but probably not in the way he was hoping to get across.

Amusing cheap shops aside, Cantor's problem is obvious: He can't provide a full-scale Republican plan because it's simply not possible to provide universal coverage without the government taking a big role in things.  So he's stuck.  Ditto for things like climate change, which for some reason I was reminded about by this post from libertarian Matt Welch.  I mean, suppose you accepted that climate change was both real and catastrophic.  What options would you have if you insisted on sticking solely to free market principles?  Beats me.  Hell, it's hard enough to address even if you don't.  But that's where we are these days: an awful lot of our most pressing problems simply can't be solved unless you accept that the government has to be involved.  So conservatives are stuck.

Unless they can offer up a pretext, of course.

New Front Group: "CO2 is Green"

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 1:50 PM EDT

The Washington Post has a piece today on the group behind new anti-climate-bill ads running around the country that are so absurd you might mistake them for parody.

The ads, which have so far targeted the districts of Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), argue that the billions of tons of carbon dioxide we're spewing into the atmosphere are actually good for the planet.

"There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant," say the ads. "In fact higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems."

 

Do Americans Really Watch 8 Hours of TV Daily?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 1:44 PM EDT

It's no surprise that Americans are world-champion couch potatoes, but just how bad are we? According to this chart in the Economist, we watch more than twice as much TV than other countries:
 

TV Watching


More than eight hours of TV a day!? That's disturbing. (So is that kid zoning out to nothing but static.) When a friend posted this graphic on Facebook yesterday, it spurred a mild meltdown in the comment thread. But then, the disbelief was coming from statistical outliers such as me. My family's TV set lives in the closet with a "Kill Your Television" sticker on it. I recently discovered that I'd let yet another digital TV converter coupon expire and missed my final chance to get another one, making me the last American under 75 with a now-useless analog-only TV. (Maybe that kid watching static is unlucky enough to have a parent like me. No wait—parents like me don't let our kids watch TV.) Still, the eight hours a day stat seems nuts. But is it?

Warning: Ominous Messages on Cigarette Packs May be Counterproductive

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 12:03 PM EDT

This story first appeared at the Miller-McCune website.

In June, President Obama signed a law requiring tobacco companies to post large, graphic warnings on cigarette packs. Current cautionary statements such as "Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema" and "Smoking is dangerous to your health" will gradually be replaced with more ominous assertions, including "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease," "Cigarettes cause cancer" and the refreshingly blunt "Smoking can kill you."

But regulators may want to rethink this ashes-to-ashes theme. New research suggests that, for a certain set of smokers, those allusions to death may actually increase the likelihood they'll light up.