2009 - %3, January

Conservatives Angry Because Obama's Team Is Too Far Left? Not Really

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 12:19 PM EST

Hmm. New story out today in the Washington Post about how conservatives are supposedly worried that Obama's appointees and transition team are too far to the left. That's a wild departure from all previous grumbling, which came from progressives worried Obama's people are too far to the right.

You could easily take this as an example of two grand truths: (1) Presidents, especially new presidents, just can't win. Washington simply has too many people with too many different agendas. Every time a new man or woman takes the White House, his or her moves are bound to disappoint somebody. (2) If you look hard enough when you are writing a newspaper article, you can always find someone willing to complain. This is true on almost any topic.

But before we use this as a teachable moment, let's take a closer look at the Post article. Only one conservative is on the record as complaining about Obama's confidantes being too liberal, a man named Roger Clegg. The executive director of the Northwest Mining Association does pop up briefly at the end to whine about a former Clinton staffer who is on the transition team advising Obama on Interior, but that same mining official is said to be "comforted" by the fact that Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado with friends in the oil and mining industries, was picked by Obama to head Interior. Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth here, folks. You've got the big fish on your side and you're complaining about the little fish? (Two animal metaphors in two sentences = bonus points.)

The article mentions just four people close to Obama who raise the ire of conservatives (or would possibly draw the ire of conservatives, if anyone had bothered to go on the record). All four are advising the transition team; not one has been appointed to anything. No complaints are made by anyone, named or unnamed, about Obama's actual appointees. A Harvard professor is cited in the article as believing "an ultra-left takeover by Obama advisers and nominees are manufactured hyperbole." That seems about right. And this Post article fits that bill.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

To the Moon!

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 12:17 PM EST

TO THE MOON!....Bloomberg reports that the space race may be heating back up. Only the players have changed:

President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.'s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.

....The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China's space ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense satellites, the lofty battlefield eyes of the military.

I'm not sure which is worse: that this suggests Obama is buying into an arms race with China, or that Obama is buying into the zillion-dollar manned moon landing boondoggle. If this report is true, I guess the only question left is which strained excuse he'll use for continuing the moon program. Helium-3 mining? Staging site for mission to Mars? The Chinese will throw rocks at us if we let them colonize the place? Or will he use the excuse du jour: it's great stimulus for our broken economy? Feh.

Study: Great Barrier Reef Sees Worst Growth Rate in 400 Years

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 12:11 PM EST

340741348_b5b10bd512.jpg

Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science report that the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system (visible from space), is facing historic peril. Not that this is news. Mother Jones has reported extensively on the subject. But new research published in the journal Science includes the largest study to date about environmental damage to Australia's reefs.

The reef is experiencing is slowest growth rate in nearly 400 years, and gone unchecked, could lead to zero growth by 2050, says Glenn De'ath, the study's co-author. "When you disturb an ecosystem in this way, you get a cascading effect. You then get a chain reaction -- the fish habitat is lost."

What's to blame? The usual suspect: global warming. Rising sea temperatures are causing coral bleaching, in which corals release the algae which nourish them. The effect is grimly obvious underwater, where previously vibrantly colored reefs come appear like piles of bones. Without algae, corals eventually die. Says De'ath, "We may have seriously underestimated the rate of climate change and this should compel us to drastic steps to decarbonise Australian and global economic systems."


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Leonard Low.

Make 'Em Sweat

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 11:13 AM EST

MAKE 'EM SWEAT....The Washington Post reports that Barack Obama's upcoming inauguration has struck terror into the hearts of corporate wrongdoers:

The Justice Department has reached more than a dozen business-related settlements since the presidential election, with more in the pipeline for January, prompting lawyers and interest groups to assert that companies are seeking more favorable terms before the new administration arrives.

....A review of 15 agreements involving corporations since early November suggests that much of the alleged misconduct dates back five years or more, provoking questions about why the cases took so long to mature and why resolutions are coming with only weeks left in President Bush's term.

"What they obviously are trying to do is take advantage of an administration that's deemed to be more friendly to business," said Cono R. Namorato, a Washington defense lawyer who ran the Internal Revenue Service's office of professional responsibility earlier in the Bush administration. "I know of no tax reason for doing it now."

This is good news. It means that real corporations, with real money at stake, think that Obama's unity talk isn't worth banking on. When push comes to shove, they really do think he's going to drive a harder bargain than the Bush administration when it comes to dealing with charges of corruption, pollution, and overcharging.

Good.

Fight On

| Thu Jan. 1, 2009 2:34 PM EST

FIGHT ON....Today is for football, not blogging, so how about some football blogging to combine the two? Consider this an open thread.

I'll be cheering for USC in the Rose Bowl, of course, and for those of you who wonder why I'm a Trojan fan even though I never attended school there, the answer is on the right. A couple of months ago my mother dropped off a few baby pages from one of her scrapbooks, and my USC junior alumni card was right there. So as you can see, I've been a fan literally my entire life. As for the game today, Penn State has a decent team but I'll take Pete Carroll's crew by three touchdowns, wrapping up a 5-0 bowl record for the Pac-10. Not a bad finish for a conference that otherwise had such a dismal season.

UPDATE: Well, it would have been three touchdowns if USC hadn't played like a bunch of guys afraid to beat the point spread in the second half. But I'll take it anyway. Congratulations, Trojans!

*Nanny State Update

| Thu Jan. 1, 2009 12:28 PM EST

NANNY STATE UPDATE....Attention California readers: just in case Will Smith's recent 2-hour PSA on the subject didn't convince you to stop, it is now illegal to text while driving here in the Golden State. Oddly enough, however, it's still legal to text while bicycling. Also, it's legal to send a text message to a company or other non-human entity while driving. It's only illegal to text a person. This sounds like a traffic court nightmare in the making to me, but there you have it. Details here.

In other legal news, cyber-bullying is now illegal; it's a crime to counterfeit carpool stickers; penalties have been increased for nitwits who call 911 for nonemergencies; the Office of Emergency Services and the Office of Homeland Security have been merged, probably because this worked so great on the federal level; it's now illegal to use radio waves to read another person's identifying information, so no scanning of other people's RFID-equipped passports; and safety rules have been stepped up for operators of wave pools at amusement parks. More details here.

Remember: ignorance of the law is no excuse. Unless you're Scooter Libby.