2009 - %3, March

News Flash: Americans (Still) Love Obama

| Tue Mar. 31, 2009 7:36 AM PDT

I've long believed that there is a fundamental disconnect between Washington's pundit class and the American people as a whole. It's not a fault of the pundits' -- their life and work experiences don't put them in touch with anyone from roughly 45 of the 50 American states, and those people that they do meet tend to work in a small set of professions and industries. (Their only sin is not acknowledging the limits of their expertise and predictive abilities.) It is because of that disconnect that you can have TV commentators, journalists, and bloggers debating whether Obama's honeymoon is over when numbers like this suggest it is not a question open for debate:

The percentage of Americans in the new poll who said the country is on the right track still stands at just 42 percent, but that is the highest percentage saying so in five years and marks a sharp turnabout from last fall, when as many as nine in 10 said the country was heading in the wrong direction....

Overall perceptions about the country parallel a rapid increase in the percentage of Americans who say the economy is improving. For the first time since late 2004, the gap between the numbers saying the economy is getting better and those saying it's getting worse is in the single digits (27 percent to 36 percent).

Two-thirds of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the country's top job, and six in 10 give him good marks on issue No. 1, the flagging economy.

And this suggests that Democrats, independents, and likely some moderate Republicans reject the GOP's back-to-the-future "tax and spend" trope:

At the same time, 62 percent see Obama as a "new-style," fiscally responsible Democrat; fewer, about a third, label him an "old-style" Democrat oriented toward taxing and spending.

Time to get some new rhetoric, Karl Rove.

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Public Service Announcement

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 10:51 PM PDT
I'm home, but it's too late to do anything except plow through a weekend's worth of email right now.  Normal blogging will resume Tuesday.

In the meantime, though, a reminder: I like comments!  The more the better.  And if you want to comment hassle free, it's easy: at the top right of the screen click on "Sign In," choose "Create New Account" and then enter your name and email address.  You can use either a handle or your real name, whichever you like.  Your email won't be displayed, and we won't use it send you spam or anything.  That's it!  It takes 30 seconds, and after a few minutes you'll get a confirmation email.  Click the link, choose a password for your account, and you're done.

You can also personalize your account if you want to, but that's optional.  If all you want to do is comment, just choose a name and password and you can comment away without ever having to encounter the annoying captcha prompt again.

Easy Fixes: Fish Oil Curtails Cow Farts

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 4:21 PM PDT
Adding 2-percent fish oil in the diet of cattle reduces the amount of methane emissions out their back ends. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are legendary and probably inflated but in this case the effect seems positively deflationary.

According to Lorraine Lillis, speaking at the Society for General Microbiology in the UK: "The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow's gut, leading to reduced emissions. Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals."

Target away, Doctor Lillis.

Cattle, sheep, and goats fart and burp about 900 billion tons of methane a year, more than a third of total global emissions. The problem comes from the methanogen bacteria inside the guts of ruminants. These helpful bacteria enable cows and the like to digest what is essentially indigestible (cellulose). But in the process they off-gas all that methane, which is 20 times more powerful by volume than carbon dioxide at trapping solar energy.

We could attempt to cap the number of flatulent ruminants in farm production as a means to cool global warming. This approach offers many fresh benefits—especially since meat and dairy are so insanely energy intensive, even without the farting. But if reduction never happens, we could still lower methane emissions via fish oil.

Or, better yet, flaxseed oil... can Doctor Lillis look into its omega-3 powers? If flaxseed works, then we don't have to rape the seas to feed the cows who eat the grain grown with fossil-fuel technologies only to fart the methane just so we can eat the cows and fart the methane from our meat-clogged digestive tracts... then maybe  we'll all live happily ever after.

(Burp.)

Backing Tracks: Still Controversial!

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 1:57 PM PDT

Back in April, I posted about an enjoyable live performance by The Ting Tings where the UK duo used some form of backing track or sequencer for extra harmonies, bass and percussion. It got me to thinking about what the boundary is between "live" and "not live" music in a performance setting, and why audiences are willing to accept certain amounts of prerecorded material in some live shows, but not in others. I even drew a little graph in an attempt to define what we call "live." Of course, as an electronic music enthusiast and DJ, I wasn't passing judgment, just trying to describe the phenomenon, but commenters (always a charming bunch) went on the attack, saying I didn't understand anything about live music and insulting me in vivid enough terms they got their comments deleted. Crazy! Well, today the folks at NPR's All Songs Considered blog waded into the topic, and I hope they get nicer comments. They noticed backing tracks a-plenty at the recent SXSW music festival in Austin:

Exclusive: Rachel Maddow's Anxiety Dream (and More Video Highlights From Her MoJo Gala)

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 12:42 PM PDT

Talk about MoJo rising! Rachel Maddow did us a huge solid and came to San Francisco to appear at a jam- and star-packed fundraiser for Mother Jones on Saturday, March 28. Before a sold-out crowd at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, she talked with Monika and me about everything from why women are closeted about being smart, to her impending interview with Colin Powell, what she'd ask Dick Cheney, Tweeting vs. blogging, her David Petraeus work anxiety dream, and why America needs to do more to ensure the future of serious investigative reporting and editing. Special props to Rachel for recognizing how newscasters depend on print reporting for the building blocks of their shows; "without the [MoJo DC bureau chief] David Corns of the world, there's no show. David Corn can do his job without me, but I can't do my job without him."

And if all that weren't fun and ego boosting enough, it was officially "Mother Jones Day" in San Francisco on Saturday (see proclamation after the jump)—whereby, according to SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty and California State Senator Mark Leno, nobody on staff could get arrested. Good thing, because at a reception before the big show, local mixologist extraordinaire Thad Vogler was making a killer signature cocktail, "The Maddow," and even those of us who had to get on stage and talk serious policy had a hard time saying no.

Rachel mixed it up with her adoring fans after the show, and everybody had an awesome time. Check out our exclusive videos, and (after the jump) the recipe to The Maddow and the Mother Jones Day proclamation.

10 Video Clips of Rachel Maddow in Conversation With MoJo Editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein

1) The Venn diagram of Rachel: Entertainer, journalist, self-indulgent dork.

2) The show on Afghanistan, ratings be damned.

3) The reason America needs full time reporters and editors, not hobbyists.

4) Why she's not closeted about being smart.

5) The lowdown on Tweeting vs. blogging.

6) The David Petraeus work anxiety dream.

7) The drink she would have fixed Lincoln.

8) The reporters she trusts on the bailout.

9) The state of the 4th Estate.

10) The reason she's optimistic about the country's future.

Click Here to Launch a Photo Slideshow of the Evening.

Then mix yourself a Maddow* and go watch Rachel's show tonight.

My Super Awesome Maddow Pre-Show Playlist

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 12:26 PM PDT
If you missed it, then I hate to rub it in, but Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was totally the place to be here in San Francisco on Saturday night, as Mother Jones' dynamic editorial duo of Clara Jeffrey and Monika Bauerlein shared the stage with everybody's favorite MSNBC host Rachel Maddow at an event packed with enthusiastic supporters of good journalism. In addition to having the most enviable cowboy shirt this side of Jack White, Maddow was also charming and informative, although I'm still troubled that this TV star doesn't actually watch any TV. Not even Aqua Teen?! Anyhoo, those of you who showed up early to get a good seat may have noticed a delightful little music mix playing over the loudspeakers. And who, pray tell, could have put together such an awe-inspiring CD? Why, your idiotically-named DJ and contributor, of course. Organizers asked me to come up with an hour of tunes to entertain the early arrivals, so I took it upon myself to find tracks that were not only diverse and entertaining, but also had (perhaps wryly) appropriate lyrics. Unfortunately, when I showed up at 7:45, the CD was just starting, so I don't know if the whole thing got played or not. But if you're curious about what you heard (or what you were supposed to hear), look after the jump for the full list of tunes. And yes, I totally included "The Bleeding Heart Show."

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Cars vs. Cash

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 11:48 AM PDT
In one sense, I was surprised and impressed by Barack Obama's auto bailout announcement this morning.  He was, appropriately I think, fairly tough.  From GM, he insisted that they fire their CEO and submit a tougher restructuring plan.  From Chrysler, he insisted that they consummate a deal with Fiat and said flatly that they'd be allowed to go under if they didn't.  This is appropriate: a private investor wouldn't treat Chrysler and GM identically, and there's no reason the federal government should either.

Still, it's hard not to do a double take at his actual words:

"We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish. . . . It is a pillar of our economy that has held up the dreams of millions of our people. But we also cannot continue to excuse poor decisions. And we cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars. These companies — and this industry — must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state."

In the same way that GM is different from Chrysler, the banking industry is different from the auto industry.  Still and all, don't you wish that Obama were willing to treat bankers the same way he's treating the carmakers?  It's pretty much impossible not to compare his tough words this morning with the conciliatory tone and even more conciliatory actions he's taken with the financial industry.

As for the news that the stock market plunged on the news, spare me.  Investors are idiots if they think this is bad news.  A tougher restructuring plan is better in the long run for everyone but the auto industry's bondholders, and I'll bet that even most of them have either hedged their positions or else sold off their holdings at 70 cents on the dollar to speculators.  Save your tears for someone else.

Wall Street, Above All Else

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 11:23 AM PDT

Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, writing in the Atlantic Monthly (via Open Left):

Top investment bankers and government officials like to lay the blame for the current crisis on the lowering of U.S. interest rates after the dotcom bust or, even better—in a "buck stops somewhere else" sort of way—on the flow of savings out of China. Some on the right like to complain about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or even about longer-standing efforts to promote broader homeownership. And, of course, it is axiomatic to everyone that the regulators responsible for "safety and soundness" were fast asleep at the wheel.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector....

From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent. Pay rose just as dramatically. From 1948 to 1982, average compensation in the financial sector ranged between 99 percent and 108 percent of the average for all domestic private industries. From 1983, it shot upward, reaching 181 percent in 2007.

The great wealth that the financial sector created and concentrated gave bankers enormous political weight—a weight not seen in the U.S. since the era of J.P. Morgan (the man).

You should read the whole thing.

The Blog Bubble

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 11:01 AM PDT
Responding to a reader who suggests that a 95% tax rate on very high incomes would be like legally capping the number of words a blogger is allowed to write, Matt Yglesias says he'd welcome such a thing:

Personally, I would love a legal cap on the number of words a blogger is allowed to produce per day. I’m privileged to have a job that I really enjoy. But at the same time, I would prefer to write somewhat less — this pace is stressful and doesn’t leave me as much time to pursue other projects and interests. But though I would prefer to write somewhat less, I have a stronger second-order preference to produce a blog that’s competitive with other major offerings on the internet. And over the years competition between bloggers has led to escalating word-counts. The resulting situation isn’t terrible, there are lots of people you should cry for before you get to me, but basically we bloggers are engaged in a red queen's race where we all need to keep trying harder and harder just to maintain our positions. A cap would be helpful.

This is the mentality of the bubble.  Or cable news.  Or something.  Whatever it is, though, it's bad.  We already have plenty of news mediums that reward instant, unthinking reaction, and the last thing the world needs is another one.  The blogosphere would  be a better place if everyone took a deep breath and decided that quality was more important than boosting traffic by simply having a post — any post — on every news event of the day.  Slow down and think instead!

And as long as I'm in Andy Rooney mode, will all you kids get off my lawn?  Thanks.

Travel Day Today....

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 9:24 AM PDT
....so light blogging from me.  In fact, probably no blogging unless I have some time at the airport later this afternoon.  Otherwise, I'll be be back on the job tonight, and regular blogging will resume on Tuesday.