2008 - %3, January

How High Gas Prices Are Making Us Safer. Seriously.

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 2:37 PM EST

traffic-jam.jpgGas prices, thanks to the Global War on Terror and Hurricane Katrina, are now the highest in the nation's history. Gas easily tops $3 per gallon in San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, and other cities across the nation, making driving an expensive way to get around. For reference, gas prices have increased roughly 100% since 9/11.

What's the upside? That ridiculously expensive petroleum is prompting people to drive more slowly on highways, drive less often, buy more fuel-efficient cars, and take mass transit more often. A recent Congressional Budget Office report found that based on statistics from 2003 to 2006, a theoretical 15-year, 10% increase in gas prices would reduce consumption by 4% as consumers replaced their gas-guzzlers with more fuel-efficient cars.

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This Is the Iraq Recession

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 2:03 PM EST

Think Progress reminds us that before the Iraq War, economists were predicting that a prolonged occupation could lead to a recession here at home and around the world. Witness:

"A war against Iraq could cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars, play havoc with an already depressed domestic economy and tip the world into recession because of the adverse effect on oil prices, inflation and interest rates, an academic study [by William Nordhaus, Sterling professor of economics at Yale University] has warned." [Independent, 11/16/02]
"If war with Iraq drags on longer than the few weeks or months most are predicting, corporate revenues will be flat for the coming year and will put the U.S. economy at risk of recession, according to a poll of chief financial officers." [CBS MarketWatch, 3/20/03]
"If the conflict wears on or, worse, spreads, the economic consequences become very serious. Late last year, George Perry at the Brookings Institution ran some simulations and found that after taking into account a reasonable use of oil reserves, a cut in world oil production of just 6.5 percent a year would send the United States and the world into recession." [Robert Shapiro, former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, 10/2/02]

And lo and behold...

What a Peaceful Palestinian Crossing Means for Egypt, Israel, and Hamas

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 1:29 PM EST

gaza.jpg At 2am on Wednesday morning, the iron fence between Gaza and Egypt came down. Residents of Gaza, lacking basic supplies since Israel imposed a blockade nearly a week ago, have been crossing as quickly as they can and bringing back all that they can carry.

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's decision not to beat back the surge so far has not backfired on him, not least because of how little violence has accompanied the crossing. One news report described the scene as a bazaar; another called it a carnival. Though Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed that the breach of the fence was rife with opportunities for terrorist activity, so far it seems that the Palestinians have sought mostly to bring food and staple goods across the border. Though both Egypt and Hamas have sent police to the site, they are mostly directing traffic, and on the Israeli border, not a single rocket has been fired all day.

If this potentially volatile situation continues to unfold calmly, it will be as difficult for Israel to justify a renewed crackdown as it will for Hamas and Fatah to continue their refusal to work together. The citizens of Gaza can't meet their basic needs, and right now it seems that the government most friendly to their plight is that of Egypt, though that country too is walking a fine line. If the next few days continue peacefully, perhaps tensions will dissipate enough for the governments to at least begin to reassess.

—Casey Miner


More From the Church Newsletter

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 12:31 PM EST

If you're the New York Times and you need a new columnist who'll cover foreign policy, you obviously want William Kristol. After all, he's the guy who said just before the war began, "we'll be vindicated when we find the weapons of mass destruction and liberate the people of Iraq."

Likewise, if you're the Washington Post and need a long piece for last Sunday's paper about the onrushing economic crunch, you obviously want Kevin Hassett. After all, he wrote Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market.

I think the NY Times and Washington Post are much more comprehensible if you just think of them as the church newsletters for a peculiar religion. Of course the church elders choose writers who believe in transubstantiation.

My, What Rotten Teeth Poor People Have: The Hidden Health Care Crisis and The Dems

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 12:03 PM EST

On my deathbed, I will contend that the Clintons got a bad rap on their failed 1994 attempt at health care reform. An excellent piece in The American Prospect (hat tip: Washington Monthly) agrees and argues that this time, the Dems can pull it off. Here's (partially) why:

Help Save Manassas (Some Cash to Expel "Illegals")

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 12:00 PM EST

outfront-southern-inhospitality-320x259.jpg

In the November/December issue of Mother Jones, I wrote of how Virginia political blogger Greg Letiecq and Help Save Manassas, a grassroots anti-immigration organization he founded to combat the presence of "illegals" in Virginia's Prince William County, had helped to draft a series of nativist measures targeting the growing multitudes of illegal day laborers that have followed in the wake of the region's building boom. Having passed a vague motion last July to curtail "public benefits" to illegal immigrants, the county's Republican-led Board of Supervisors waited until October to detail the services that would be denied: substance-abuse counseling, homeless assistance, and elderly care programs. The proposed measures also provided local police with expanded powers to check immigration status during traffic stops.

But now that it's time for the county to put its money where its mouth is, problems are beginning to surface. A new report by the Board of Supervisors' staff has found that implementing the anti-immigration measures may be more expensive than simply allowing things to continue as they are. For one, state rules may prohibit the county from denying certain public services. For another, so few people use the services under consideration that auditing them would only increase their expense.

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Another Solid Example of Campaign Journalism: BHO vs. HRC on Voting Records

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 11:47 AM EST

clinton_obama_130_140.gif Continuing our effort to encourage good campaign journalism by praising those who take the time to do it well (don't worry—we slam those who do it poorly), we point you to the Guardian, which has done an excellent job of parsing the very small differences between Clinton's and Obama's voting records. To give you a sample...

Obama voted to ban cluster bombs, "which explode and scatter thousands of tiny weapons over a vast area." Perhaps because cluster bombs were used unapologetically by Israel in its short war with Lebanon, and perhaps because banning such bombs would limit a commander's options, Clinton voted to keep them.

Obama voted to rewrite the immigration law banning supporters of terrorism from gaining entry into the United States, in order to ensure that legitimate refugees were not being kept out. Clinton opposed such a rewrite.

Clinton voted for a measure that would allow law enforcement officials to seize citizens' firearms if they saw fit after a national emergency. Obama voted to let people keep their guns. It was Obama's single "pro-gun" vote in the Senate.

Clinton voted against the confirmation of Bush's interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who had a 1% lifetime score on environmental policy from the League of Conservation Voters. Obama voted for confirmation.

There are some others as well. As you can see, these are minor differences. They are overshadowed by many, many more moments of agreement, which tells you that either the two candidates are very similar ideologically, or that they are simply party-line Democrats most of the time. I continue to argue that it is entirely legitimate for the press to report on how the candidates' experiences, character, and approach to government differ, even though such reporting would not be "on the issues."

The MSM Trying to get in Obama's Head

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 11:43 AM EST

Greg Sargent, over at TPM, catches the MSM red-handed not only reducing our most important decision to mere a mere horserace, but also trying to slip roid-rage drugs into it. (Sargent also apologizes for buying it at first when the piece ran yesterday and piling on).

Seems a reporter kept trying to bait Obama into going off on Bill Clinton ("Is he getting in your head? Why don't you answer the question?," etc.). When Joe Cool kept his cool and ABC didn't get the news it was trying to create, they created it anyway, National Enquirer-style. Check out their use of words like "the Senator shot back," "said angrily," and so on, and then check out the video of the actual encounter at TPM.

Right about now would be a good time for a reporter—oh say that one—to get fired. It's shameful. And, man, does Obama have class.

A New Twist in the Wall Street Panic

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 11:35 AM EST

There's another disaster just over the horizon in the panicked financial markets. It concerns monoline insurance companies, which guarantee bonds for municipalities. (In other words, they will pay interest on the bonds if towns or cities default.) At the turn of this century, these companies expanded into providing insurance for certain other types of debt instruments, including CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), which can include subprime mortgages.

"Of the $2.4-trillion worth of insurance coverage these companies provide, approximately $125-billion is tied to the faltering home market, according to industry estimates," reports the Globe and Mail. Since the big banks including Citigroup and Merrill Lynch try to shield themselves against subprime exposure through this type of insurance, the financial community is suddenly beginning to think monolines could turn out to be time bombs. As it stands, the banks themselves have written down $100 billion tied to CDOs. Under this kind of pressure, can the monolines hold up? Financial credit analyst Nigel Myer told the paper that even yesterday's rate cut by the Federal Reserve won't "get us out of the mortgage mess" or "solve the monoline problem." And earlier this week, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's chief executive, told the Financial Times: "If one of these entities doesn't make it...the secondary effect...I think could be pretty terrible."

Schwarzkopf Endorses McCain: Let's Forget About the Iraq War

| Wed Jan. 23, 2008 10:30 AM EST

A press release from McCain HQ:

ARLINGTON, VA — Today, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. Army (Ret.) issued the following statement endorsing John McCain for President of the United States:
"Senator John McCain has served our country with honor in war and in peace. He has demonstrated the type of courageous leadership our country sorely needs at this time. For that reason, he has my complete support."

A January 28, 2003 article from The Washington Post:

TAMPA — Norman Schwarzkopf wants to give peace a chance.
The general who commanded U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War says he hasn't seen enough evidence to convince him that his old comrades Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz are correct in moving toward a new war now. He thinks U.N. inspections are still the proper course to follow. He's worried about the cockiness of the U.S. war plan, and even more by the potential human and financial costs of occupying Iraq....