2010 - %3, July

Bell Update

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 11:51 AM EDT

I know you want to keep up with the latest news from the fabulous city of Bell, so here it is: 

[City manager Robert] Rizzo, whose forced-resignation could come as early as Thursday, would be entitled to a pension of at least $600,000 a year for the rest of his life, according to retirement calculations made by The Times and reviewed by pension experts....Not far behind would be Randy Adams, the man Rizzo hired as Bell police chief last July. If Adams steps down, his pension would be worth an estimated $411,300.

....Cristina Garcia, who grew up in Bell and is part of a newly formed citizen's group, said fat pensions are another insult to city residents. "It's unethical and immoral, that's obvious," she said. "What's amazing is that it is all legal."

Legal, baby, legal! Pensions, of course, depend heavily on just a small number of your highest paid years in the system, and Adams's pension, which was about $200,000 after serving in Glendale for 37 years, has doubled in just the single year he's been at Bell.

The Bell city council, which presumably set these salaries in the first place, and which pays itself outrageous salaries as well, will meet tonight in closed session to figure out what to do about this. Something tells me we can all guess the outcome.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

How the Economy is Affecting Us

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 11:21 AM EDT

Via Jon Cohn, a group of scholars at the Rockefeller Center, led by Jacob Hacker, have created a new measure called the Economic Security Index to complement the more traditional measures of poverty. Basically, it measures the number of people who have experienced a major loss in income (25% or more) — either due to a decline in income or large out-of-pocket medical expenses or both — and who lack adequate financial wealth to buffer the drop. By their projection, the number of Americans in this category is now over 20%, far higher than in any previous recession.

If you go to the ESI site, you can also play around with the index. How many people have lost a third of their income? Half? How are high school dropouts doing? How are different age groups doing? Different ethnic groups? It's grim reading.

Journolist and Me

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 10:58 AM EDT

I was going to write about the "scandal" surrounding Journolist, a private email listserv for wonks, academics, and liberal journalists on Tuesday. Instead, I went to an event at the National Press Club featuring the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg, the dean of the Guantanamo Bay press corps. (She's been there more times than pretty much any other journo.)

Rosenberg was at the press club to talk about the restrictions that media face covering the most important civil liberties story of our times; in May, she and three other reporters were banned from the prison camp after they reported the name of an interrogator who had already outed himself to the media years before. During the event, Rosenberg's lawyer, David Schulz, said that the Miami Herald and the other major news outlets he represents are close to suing the Pentagon and the Obama administration over the draconian rules and press restrictions at Gitmo. That was an actually important media story; the Journolist flap is ultimately inside baseball DC b-s that doesn't matter.

Unfortunately, this morning I awoke to find an email in my inbox from a friend. "I had no idea that you brought down Sarah Palin," he wrote. Indeed. I am the latest person to be "outed" as a member of the hated Journolist, and something I wrote on the list in 2008—that McCain's pick of Palin was "classic GOP tokenism"—is the banner headline at the website covering the "controversy" right now. So I guess I feel somewhat obligated to respond. The funny part, of course, is that anyone who read my work knows that I think the Palin pick was tokenism. I wrote a blog post at the time saying just that:

The selection of Palin smacks of tokenism. Every four years, the Republican party trots out its few non-white, non-male leaders for the Republican National Convention. Many get prime speaking spots. Apparently Sarah Palin gets the Vice-Presidential nomination. The pick is clearly partly directed at disaffected Hillary voters with the idea that simply putting a woman on the ticket will win their votes. This is obviously wrong, as Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro will tell you. But the GOP and their mouthpieces don't get it: on Fox this morning, an anchor said: "It looks like the glass ceiling hasn't been broken by Hillary Clinton, but by Senator McCain." There is just so much wrong with that sentence, but for starters: it's obvious that this pick is more about John McCain than Sarah Palin. It's not about women succeeding on their own; it's about them being given something by a man. Frankly, the comparison to Hillary Clinton is just insulting.

No one should be shocked that liberal bloggers have liberal views. (See David Corn's take of the Journolist flap here.)

My Congress Is So Unpopular...

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 10:28 AM EDT

...that even "Big Business"—think Wall Street, corporations, big-box retailers, the payday lenders—is more trusted by the American public than the 111th United States Congress. That's just one punchline for this sad, unfunny joke. Want another? Trying swapping out big business for, say, the criminal justice system. Yes, that broken criminal justice—the one that imprisons 1 in every 100 Americans, that sentences petty marijuana users to life behind bars without parole, that currently imprisons more black men than were enslaved in 1850, that each year eats away the anemic budgets of states like Michigan and California—is more popular than Congress.

At least that's what a new Gallup public confidence poll shows. Right now, the public's confidence in our federal legislative body, Gallup finds, is a meager 11 percent; the president fares somewhat better, with 36 percent of the public's confidence, tied with the US Supreme Court. Only three groups have more than 50 percent of the public's confidence: the police (59), small businesses (66), and the military (76). 

Here are the results from the Gallup poll:

BP Cleanup Workers Gone Wild

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

I hear about the race riot at Daddy's Money almost as soon as I arrive on Grand Isle, Louisiana. My friend and I are going to the bar tonight to catch the "female oil wrestling" oil-spill cleanup workers have been packing in to see on Saturday nights. When we stop by the office of the island's biggest seafood distributor, he tells us that two days ago a bunch of black guys and a bunch of white guys got into a big fight at the bar. It spilled out all over the street and had to be broken up by a ton of cops.

According to the Census, 1,541 people live in this slow Southern resort town. An estimated 3 percent of them are black. That was before the spill. The seafood guy gestures in the direction of the floating barracks being built on barges in the bay to house the lower-skilled cleanup workers, and says that people think the barracks will keep those workers—who are mostly black—from "jumping off" onto dry land and causing trouble.

That night, dozens of men in race-segregated packs crowd around to watch strippers dance around and then tussle inside the bouncy inflatable ring set up inside Daddy's Money. Female oil wrestlers need, obviously, to be oiled. Plastic cups full of baby oil are being auctioned off, along with the right to rub their contents all over one of the thong-bikinied gals. "I hope there's no dispersant in that oil!" someone quips. The bidding before the first match starts at $10; it ends pretty quickly when some kid offers $100.

"He outbid me!" the guy next to me yells. His name is Cortez. He bid $80. He has dollar bills tucked all the way around under the brim of his hat, and piles of them in his fist. He has spent $200 of his $1,000 paycheck already tonight. "I am coming here every Saturday from now on," he says. He gestures expansively at the scene—writhing women; hollering, money-throwing men. "Sponsored by BP!" he yells, laughing, then throws his arms around me and grabs my ass.

Upstairs, on the open-air deck, the supervisors and professional contractors drink. One comes over to talk; he calls me a Yankee when I don't get that when he says "animals" he means black guys. Another tells us about the crime-prone "monkeys." I have already stopped counting how many times I've heard the n-word on Grand Isle today.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 22, 2010

Thu Jul. 22, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

A US Army Soldier maneuvers onto some piled up logs in order to look for anything suspicious during a reconnaisance mission near the village of Lagar Jay Kalha, Jaghato District, Wardak province, Afghanistan, on July 14. Photo via the US Army.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Gloomy Wednesday

| Wed Jul. 21, 2010 11:39 PM EDT

Scott Sumner is evidently in about the same mood as me today, but his motivation for doom and gloom isn't the apparently final collapse of the Enlightenment project after a pretty good run. No, his concerns are a little more prosaic: he's gobsmacked that Ben Bernanke continues to fiddle while the economy burns. After noting that current monetary policy is quite likely contractionary even with near-zero interest rates — and that Bernanke seems none too concerned about it — he surveys the Fed's possible responses:

There are three things the Fed could do with minimal price risk; lower the interest rate on reserves, set a price level target, and do several trillion in QE [quantitative easing] with T-bills and short term T-notes.

....Here’s how to tell if the Fed is serious, if and when it moves. If they take one of those three steps, it will merely be a desultory action aimed at mollifying the markets. If they are serious, and really want to turn around market sentiment, then they will use the multi-pronged approach I recommended last year; eliminate interest on reserves, major QE, and some sort of quasi-inflation targeting language. As Bernanke indicated, the best we could probably hope for regarding inflation targeting is a vague mention that rates would be left low until some collection of macro indicators rise much more substantially — i.e. no early exit. Those three steps might not be enough for a fast recovery, but it would almost certainly get things moving again.

....Today fills me with gloom. It will be interesting to hear what you commenters think. How about it JimP? Did Bernanke exhibit the sort of “Rooseveltian Resolve” that (in 1998) he insisted the Japanese needed in order to get out of their Great Recession? Did he show the “yes we can” spirit? The Rooseveltian/Kennedyesque/Reaganesque determination that we won’t put up with high unemployment for as far as the eye can see? Or did he blink? 

I dunno. I wish I had something smart to say, but it's all been said a thousand times before. The economy is in the doldrums; it's not likely to get out of the doldrums any time soon; there's a marked risk that an economy in the doldrums might fall back into recession; millions of people are going to suffer needlessly because of this; and an unholy alliance of partisan Republicans, cowardly Democrats, and Fed members in hock to ancient superstitions is preventing us from doing anything about it. So I'm full of gloom too.

Corn on "Countdown": What Went Wrong with the Sherrod Case?

Wed Jul. 21, 2010 11:34 PM EDT

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss the right-wing media's fabricated accusations against Shirley Sherrod and the Department of Agriculture's pitiful reaction to them.

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

How To Make Energy Programs Work Better (for Free!)

| Wed Jul. 21, 2010 7:21 PM EDT

I've written before (more than once) that energy reformers should pay more attention to behavior. Instead there is an almost universal obsession with technology and economic cost, narrowly construed. If you think of people as rational interest maximizers, as per reigning economic folk theory, price is all that matters. You want to change behavior, you change prices. Want to change prices, make technology better. Thus the techno-obsessed American energy discussion.

No one behaves in their day-to-day life as though they or those around them are rational interest maximizers. We all recognize one another as flawed and complex, but for some reason when we talk economics or policy, we assume greedy robots. It's baffling.

Last Call for Home Star

| Wed Jul. 21, 2010 6:32 PM EDT

Dave Roberts says not to call it "cash for caulkers," so I won't. It's officially Home Star, and it provides incentives for home energy retrofits. It's a great idea, providing jobs and stimulus dollars and providing them in the right place. Unfortunately, it's in trouble:

The House passed the bill back in May and it's been sitting in the Senate ever since. Homeowners are putting off retrofits, waiting to see if it will pass. Construction trades are holding off on hiring, waiting to see if it will pass. Members of the Home Star coalition now populate all 50 states and they are holding their breath, waiting.

Now the bill's on the knife's edge. There's been talk of including Home Star in the Small Business Jobs Bill that's pending in the Senate Finance Committee. A final decision about whether to do so will be made on Wednesday.

....This bill is as close to a no-brainer as will ever grace Capitol Hill, supported by left and right and of benefit to every single Congressional district. Surely if the Senate can do anything any more, it can do this.

If you have a senator — and most of us have two — give 'em a call. A little extra push might make the difference here.