2008 - %3, June

What If the Stimulus Bankrupts the Government?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 3:52 PM EDT

Dear IRS,

I am writing to ask whether I may return my 2007 stimulus payment of $89.43. I read today that this payment has contributed to a record-breaking federal budget deficit for the month of May—a whopping $166 billion—and feel that it is my patriotic duty to return my windfall to keep the bankers in Dubai from foreclosing on major American landmarks. I can survive without it, and certainly wouldn't feel good about spending the extra money knowing that my kids will still be paying interest on it well into their old age. Besides, eighty bucks won't do much for this rotten economy so you might as well keep it where it could do some good. Maybe you can use it to catch some tax cheats.

Thanks.

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McCain on Whether Cheney Could Serve in His Administration: "Hell, Yeah"

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 12:41 PM EDT

john-mccain-dick-cheney-250x200.jpg John McCain has been on both sides of a lot of issues. He hated social conservatives leaders; then he embraced them. He opposed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy; now he supports them. He said Roe v. Wade shouldn't be overturned; now he says it should.

So it's not surprising that McCain has had a diversity of views about Dick Cheney. In early 2007, when he was gearing up his presidential run, McCain was critical of Cheney, saying, "The president listened too much to the Vice President... Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the Vice President and, most of all, the Secretary of Defense."

But in 2004, when McCain was campaigning for the Bush-Cheney ticket, McCain said Cheney is "one of the most capable, experienced, intelligent and steady vice presidents this country has ever had."

And most disturbingly, McCain told a Cheney biographer in 2006 that he would want Cheney serving in his administration, should he be elected president:

"I will strongly assert to you that he has been of enormous help to this president of the United States... I don't know if I would want him as vice president. He and I have the same strengths. But to serve in other capacities? Hell, yeah."

If the Democrats are smart, this will be in every advertisement from now until November. (H/T TP)

Will the Iraqi Government Destroy Half of McCain's Campaign?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 11:53 AM EDT

John McCain and George W. Bush argue that maintaining high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq is essential for the security of Iraq, the region, the world, and, of course, the Untied States. But that does not seem to be the position of Baghdad.

In recent days, there has been a spate of news reports on the troubled negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government concerning the under-construction agreement that will govern the presence of U.S. troops and military bases in Iraq. The Washington Post reports on the front page:

Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.
"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"

See the disconnect? McCain and Bush insist that we have no choice but to keep a large number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But Iraqi pols allied with the government look at U.S. troops presence as something that is optional. If these Iraqis can have the Americans there on their own terms, it's fine. If not, their position is, bye-bye.

It's within the Iraqis' rights to set whatever terms they desire. Iraq supposedly is a sovereign nation. (This week, Maliki visited Iran.) But the Iraqis' approach to the negotiations undermine McCain and Bush's defense of the current policy. McCain says it's crucial that the United States remains in Iraq and wins the war. Iraqi leaders are indicating that it ain't so crucial that the U.S. troops stay. (This morning on a conference call with reporters arranged by the Barack Obama campaign, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig noted an "irony": the Iraqi parliament is deeply immersed in the negotiation of this agreement, yet the Bush White House refuses to involve directly Congress in the agreement.)

So what might happen to the McCain candidacy if the talks--which are supposed to lead to an agreement by the end of July--fail and Iraq gives Bush the boot? McCain won't have a war to promote any longer. And he won't be able to depict Barack Obama as a defeatist surrender-monkey who will yank out troops precipitously and endanger every single family in the United States. In other words, half of McCain's campaign will be gone. (On the Today Show this morning, McCain said that "General Petraeus is going to tell us" when U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Iraq. McCain seemed oblivious to this recent news and the possibility that Iraqis may tell the United States when to withdraw.)

If the talks do collapse, one possibility would be a year-long extension of the current U.N. mandate covering the U.S. troops presence in Iraq. That could keep the status quo in place. Yet if it comes to that, the signal from the Iraqi government will still be, we don't want you here in the way you want to be here. Such a development will not help the war-is-all candidate.

McCain Before: 100 Years; McCain Now: Whatever

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 10:52 AM EDT

McCain has wised up. When asked when troops could come home from Iraq by Matt Lauer on the Today Show, McCain elected not to say "100 years" or "a thousand years." Instead he said, "that's not too important." Here's the video, with the context of his statement in full:

McCain's statement is both callous and out of touch: the troops certainly want to know if the war they are fighting will be over at some point, and the American people overwhelmingly want the troops home within the next two years. There is a hunger, I think, to know that are some point this failed adventure in the Middle East will be behind us and America can reset its priorities.

No Wacky Father-Son Congressional Match Up in NY; Political Humorists Cry a Single Tear

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 9:46 AM EDT

What a shame. This wonderful little GOP disaster has reportedly been diverted. Seriously, if you don't know what I'm talking about, click the link just for the picture.

The Most Serious Antiwar Candidate in '08

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 10:10 PM EDT

Is it former Republican Congressman and current Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr? Here's what Barr said today at an event sponsored by the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran, where he was joined by lefty California Reps. Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey (via Reason):

"Neither Sen. McCain nor Sen. Obama can be trusted to keep the peace," says Barr.
The potential consequences of war, Barr explains, "include attacks on our troops stationed in Iraq, threats to the Gulf oil trade, terrorist attacks around the world, subversion of friendly Arab and Muslim governments, destruction of the democracy movement within Iran, and enduring hostility towards America throughout much of the world." To risk paying such a price without attempting to deal directly with the Iranian regime "would be counterproductive, costly, and dangerous. Even as our hand-picked and supported Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq talks with Iranian leaders, and even as the Olmert government in Israel talks with the Assad regime in Syria, the Bush Administration refuses to engage one of the largest and most important countries in that part of the world – Iran. This makes no sense."
Moreover, notes Barr, a former House member, "the power to declare war on Iran lies with the Congress, not the president." Unfortunately, presidents have routinely abused their role as commander-in-chief of the military. "The president is to direct any war, but the Constitution vests the power to decide if there will be a war in the legislative branch," emphasizes Barr.

Can anyone imagine Barack Obama talking like this, especially now that we're into the general?

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New Pyramid Scheme Traps Wastes & Tourists

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 9:49 PM EDT

800px-All_Gizah_Pyramids.jpg Here's a whacky idea you gotta love. A Dutch engineer suggests solidifying toxic wastes into concretelike slabs and building urban pyramids that trap wastes and tourists alike. Schuiling rightly suggests that it's dangerous and unsustainable to simply bury solid toxic waste in lined deposits underground, the current best practice. He says such waste should first be immobilized by mixing with a cement and immobilizing additives to reduce the possibility of toxic materials leaching into the earth and ground water. Cities could vie for the best ways to display their neutered toxins:

Great and award-winning works of art have been made from the most outlandish of materials from Chris Ofili's depiction of the Holy Virgin Mary encrusted with elephant dung and Damien Hirst's pickled tiger shark representing life and death to the unmade bed of Tracey Emin and the unspeakable bodily fluids of avant garde duo Gilbert & George. But all of these works will pale into insignificance if a plan to dispose of solid domestic and even toxic industrial waste by building solid monuments to waste is undertaken.

Brings to mind those municipal "art" projects (cows on parade, party animals), where many of the same blank sculptures are decorated by different stoners, er, artists. Think of it. Pyramids jauntily decorated with skull-and-crossbones, international biohazard symbols, warning signs, or logos of corporate polluters. Although if you really want to trap tourists, giant halftone images of fallen celebrities, or laser light show screens.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

European CO2 Cuts Working

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 8:23 PM EDT

eu_Img.jpg Listen up, slacker senators. The EU's "cap-and-trade" system for carbon dioxide is working well and has had little or no negative impact on the overall EU economy. This according to an analysis for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change by MIT researchers. They conclude that although the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (pdf) was fast-tracked 3 years ago to criticism of its wobbly start, it quickly worked out its own kinks. A. Denny Ellerman, senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management, suggests the system doesn't need to be in perfect working order before start up. "Obviously you're better off having things all settled and worked out before it gets started," he said. "But that certainly wasn't the case in Europe, and yet a transparent and widely accepted price for CO2 emission allowances emerged rapidly, as did a functioning market and the infrastructure to support it. This important public policy experiment is not perfect, but it is far more than any other nation or set of nations has done to control greenhouse-gas emissions—and it works surprisingly well."

Okay, if I believed in the Imaginary Friend I might be inclined to say God Bless Europe. Instead, how about, thanks, and may our next president and our next Congress look to the Old World now and again for better ways to build a new one.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Study: Canadian Musicians Would Like You to Pick Up the Tab

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 7:45 PM EDT

mojo-photo-canadaguitar.jpg

The average Canadian musician makes only $16,500 ($16,000 US) per year from their craft and is largely against free file sharing, according to a survey of 700 musicians conducted by Pollara, a Toronto-based research firm. The survey was released as part of a new report on the Canadian music sector conducted by Dr. Douglas Hyatt of the Rotman School of Business in Toronto. The survey found that with retail sales of music declining, Canadian musicians typically make around $25,000 ($24,555 US), but pay $8,300 in expenses.

- Billboard

The study also found that, when broken down into categories, "expenses" included the following:

-- Molson's: $5700
-- Donuts at Tim Horton's: $1200
-- Trying to keep warm by burning crumpled bills: $650
-- Replacing antique bar lamp after getting a little excited during guitar solo at a gig in Edmonton: $350
-- Poutine: $250
-- Rush box set: $130
-- Arcade Fire T-shirt: $20
-- Health care: FREE!

So, do your Vancouver guitarist buddy a solid and give him 99 cents for an mp3 today. That's only 97 cents US!

Vishnu Ad Death Threats? An Onion Editor Responds.

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 7:39 PM EDT

onion%20vishnu%20150x300.jpgThe Onion's website recently featured a four-armed, blue-hued Vishnu incarnated as a serenely multitasking Indian call center operator. Thank Allah that Onion editors had enough sense not to exploit images of the prophet Muhammad instead to hawk its latest hardback collection of ironic misinformation.

But although there are no bombed embassies to speak of, the Onion ad has sparked controversy among Indian journalists.

"Instead of finding something that we could all laugh along with, the Onion seems content in giving us something sufficiently exotic that some of us can laugh at," writes one commenter on the South Asian Journalists Association's online forum.

"Perhaps some of us have gotten too comfortable here in the US to truly understand what is happening back home and instead respond with the cliche "offended minority" reaction," writes another.

I asked Onion editorial manager Chet Clem if he received any death threats in response to the Vishnu house ad. His response: