2011 - %3, April

Unemployment Still the Problem, Not Inflation

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 8:02 AM PDT

We had a decent jobs report today, which suggests the economy might be recovering a bit. So does that mean we need to start worrying about inflation? David Leonhardt says no:

The average hourly wage across the economy — including salaried employees — did not grow at all in March. It was $22.87, just as it had been in February. And from January to February, it rose only a single cent.

Over the last year, hourly wages have grown 1.7 percent. That matches the smallest annual increase since the recession began, in late 2007. In the middle of 2009 — when the economy was still shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month — the annual increase was significantly larger: about 2.5 percent.

It’s all but impossible to have an inflationary spiral if wages are not rising rapidly.

Businesses are starting to hire at moderately promising rates, but unemployment is still high, and it's going to stay high unless job growth picks up a lot. And with unemployment high, it's hard to see how any kind of broad-based inflation can stick. Unemployment is still our big problem, not inflation.

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Chart of the Day, Big Government Nanny State Edition

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 7:27 AM PDT

Faced with a choice between cutting farm subsidies and cutting funding for food stamps, House Republicans have overwhelmingly chosen to cut funding for food stamps. Unrelatedly, House Republicans have received a ton of farm subsidies:

Courtesy of the Environmental Working Group

I'd love to see a similar breakdown on how much Republican members of the 112th Congress have benefited from food stamps, since 1995.

h/t Niolca Twilley.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday April 1

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 4:13 AM PDT

News on health and the environment from our other blogs.

Sideways: The new way to regulate abortion? Through taxes.

Unnamed: Democrat gets in trouble for saying "uterus" in the Florida House.

Slash and Burn: A Congressional rep has a plan to slash $1 trillion from Medicaid.

Smear Job: Planned Parenthood is still getting "exposed" by undercover videos.

Feel the Pain: Idaho and Kansas advance abortion restrictions based on fetal pain.

Looking for Trouble: Florida gov. wants to test all welfare recipients for drugs, but it may be unconstitutional.

$ vs. CO2: White House and EPA are working on a budgetary solution.

Baby Steps: A branded, super-expensive drug preventing premature births may get generic-ized.

Need for Energy: Obama's energy proposal was vague and a snoozefest.

Caps in the Ring: Every presidential candidate thus far has endorsed cap-and-trade once.

Beach Balls: There are still tarballs on Louisiana beaches, and BP is still fighting the press.

 

 

House Skeptic Fest Kind of a Let Down for Deniers

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

The House Committee on Science and Technology spent three hours on Thursday debating climate science in the first hearing on the subject since Texas Republican Ralph Hall, a climate skeptic, took the helm of that panel. His first statement about the mission of the panel under his control talked about how they have to deal with "the global warming or global freezing," which gave a good sense of where things were heading this year.

It's worth noting that the majority of the witnesses they called on yesterday weren't actually climate scientists. The Republicans' witness list included a lawyer, an economist, and marketing professor. There was one actual climate scientist called by the Republicans, John Christy of the University of Alabama, though his beliefs on climate change are notably outside of the mainstream of climate science in that he contests the idea that greenhouse gases are the primary driver of warming. The panel also included Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Richard Muller, a physicist who is currently leading the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, an attempt to reexamine global temperature records (more on that in a minute). MIT's Kerry Emanuel was the witness called by Democrats on the committee and charged with defending the mainstream climate science views.

For more on the meat of the hearing, see the great live-blog that Science ran that featured scientists and reporter Eli Kintisch, or the real-time commentary that the Project on Climate Science organized, also with actual climate scientists. There was a lot of repetition of the same old denier talking points from representatives in the hearing, backed up by the panelists that were largely selected to reinforce those views. At one point, J. Scott Armstrong, the University of Pennsylvania marketing professor, actually responded to a question on the science, "I actually try not to learn a lot about climate change."

The most interesting thing to me, though, is that when asked directly, not one of the actual scientists disputed the fact that the planet is warming and that greenhouse gases are a notable factor. Even Christy said in the hearing that yes, greenhouse gas emissions "do exert a warming influence on the planet." And then there was Muller, who has raised questions about climate data and whose project at Berkeley has drawn criticism for, among other things, its funding from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The evaluation of global temperature records that his group is undertaking is still forthcoming, but in his testimony he made it clear that, despite what the critics of climate science have argued, their own evaluation has so far affirmed those from NASA, the Climatic Research Unit in the UK, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups," he stated in his written testimony. Over at Dot Earth, Andy Revkin has more on how his testimony must have been a let-down for those hoping to debunk the premise that the planet is warming. Here's the graphic Muller showed, which indicates that BEST's study, in black, is basically the same as the ones that skeptics have been attacking for years:

While he was vastly outnumbered in the hearing, Emanuel did a solid job of communicating the central tenents of climate science, why it's a cause for concern, and why the disinformers are wrong. Here's a segment from his testimony that was particularly adept:

In soliciting advice, we should be highly skeptical of any expert who claims to be certain of the outcome. I include especially those scientists who express great confidence that the outcome will be benign; the evidence before us simply does not warrant such confidence. Likewise, beware those who deride predictive science in its entirety, for they are also making a prediction: that we have nothing to worry about.

Chris Mooney has more on his testimony over at Discover, where he also reminds us that Emanuel is a Republican—which you would think might make the House majority pay at least a little bit of attention.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 1, 2011

Fri Apr. 1, 2011 2:30 AM PDT

Michael Pannone, a former Marine and U.S. Army Retired Special Operations Force soldier and now a professional firearms and tactics trainer, teaches a class to scouts with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team March 21-24, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Pannone, who is donating a week of his time to train several dozen paratroopers, emphasizes knowing the capabilities of one’s tools, knowing the desired end-state, and modifying generic solutions one has learned to create a dynamic solution that best fits the situation. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Obama, Libya, and Me

| Fri Apr. 1, 2011 12:01 AM PDT

One of the reasons to vote for someone for president — perhaps the key reason, in fact — is good judgment. Hillary Clinton may have taken a lot of flack for her "3 am phone call" ad during the Democratic primaries in 2008, but she was basically right: ideologically, there wasn't that much distance between Obama and Clinton, which meant that a big part of any liberal's decision that year was figuring which candidate had the better judgment. We knew how both of them felt about healthcare reform and climate change and education policy, but what would they do when something came up that no one could predict? How would they handle a Katrina or a 9/11?

I was one of many who ended up voting for Obama on the grounds that his judgment seemed a bit sounder. Maybe not as toughminded as Hillary, but just as smart and, in foreign affairs, seemingly a little more willing to look at the world with fresh eyes and resist the siren call of intervention at every turn.

So how's that working out for me?

It's being pretty sorely tested, that's for sure. Obama has been a disappointment on civil liberties and national security issues, but since I frankly don't think any modern president can buck the national security establishment in any significant way, I haven't held that too deeply against him. The escalation in Afghanistan has been unfortunate too, but he did warn us about that. The scope of both his conventional escalation and his soaring use of drone attacks in the AfPak region have been disheartening, but it's hard to complain when he made it so clear during the campaign that he intended to do exactly that.

But now we have Libya. As usual, Obama's reasons for intervening seem sober, grounded, and judicious. It's a limited operation. It was in response to an imminent massacre in Benghazi. It had the support of the Arab League and the UN Security Council. European allies took the lead in pressing for action, even if the U.S. has subsequently provided most of the actual firepower. It's not Vietnam 2.0. It's not Iraq 2.0. And it doesn't represent the unveiling of a new Obama Doctrine — unless it's a doctrine to publicly claim that you have no doctrine and that military interventions all have to be judged on a pragmatic, case-by-case basis.

Still, this is the first time Obama has been seriously tested on intervention. There was never a chance that any president, liberal or otherwise, was going to intervene in Iran or in Egypt. Nor were interventions in places like the Congo or the Ivory Coast ever genuinely a possibility. Libya has been Obama's first real opportunity to make a decision on a new overseas military operation, and within days of making his choice it's already started to spiral. First he resisted intervention. Then he agreed to a no-fly zone. The no-fly zone turned into a Kosovo-style air campaign in support of the rebels. On Wednesday we learned that the CIA has advisors on the ground. And the administration has made it clear that providing arms to the rebels is under serious consideration too. Given that Muammar Qaddafi appears quite capable of holding out, or even outright winning, against even this, how likely is it that Obama will accept a stalemate or a loss and not escalate even further? Not very, I'd say.

So what should I think about this? If it had been my call, I wouldn't have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust his judgment, and I still do.

For now, anyway. But I wouldn't have intervened in Libya and he did. I sure hope his judgment really does turn out to have been better than mine.

UPDATE: More here. Short version: "any doubt at all" was written in haste. It should have been something like "enough doubt to make me unsure of myself."