2009 - %3, April

The Kitchen Sink

| Tue Apr. 7, 2009 2:02 AM EDT
Nick Baumann summarizes all the platforms Robert Gates proposes gutting in next year's Pentagon budget:

In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

And don't forget the C-17!  That's a lot of platforms.  Question: is going after so many programs at once (a) brilliant or (b) insane?  I can make a case for either, but I can't quite convince myself which one it is.

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Going Crazy Over North Korea--and Obama

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 10:35 PM EDT

The North Koreans launch a missile that fails to place a satellite into orbit and what does former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, Jr. say? That this episodes indicates that the evildoers of North Korea could be planning to hit the United States with a super-duper secret electromagnetic pulse weapon that would throw America back into the Stone Age, that the U.S. ought to hit Kim Jong Il hard before such a catastrophe happens (whether an attack on North Korea triggers a major war in Asia or not), and that President Barack Obama is planning to "submit" to the Taliban and Muslim nations. Yes, that's what Gaffney said when he and I discussed--is that the right word?--the North Korean missile launch on Hardball on Monday night. What's the connection between an EMP sneak attack from North Korea and Obama surrendering to the Taliban? I'm not sure. But it's easier to show than to explain:

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Revenge of the Kids

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 9:43 PM EDT
The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement is out!  Are you excited yet?

The graph on the right comes from Charles Franklin and shows the turnout rate by age for the past three elections.  2008 is in red, and turnout among 18-29 year-olds is up by about two percentage points from 2004, which in turn was up by about eight points from 2000.  Turnout rates for all other age groups were down slightly compared to 2004.

More data is here, compiled by Michael McDonald.  Highlights: youth turnout might have been up in 2008, but it was still more than ten points below the turnout rate of every other age group.  The turnout rate was down for whites and up for every other ethnic group.  And early voting increased from 20% of voters to 30% of voters.  In fact, early voting has more than quadrupled since the early 90s.

Organic Kicks Monoculture Ass

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 7:54 PM EDT

Guess what? Those endless fields of corn, soybeans, or alfalfa are not the thriftiest way to farm. Not in dollar terms. Not in environmental terms. So why are continuous and no-till farming still such staples in American agriculture? Because you & I subsidize them with our tax dollars. Farm welfare for the corporate farm.

A 13-year study out of the University of Wisconsin assessed pastures planted with multiple crop species, as well as organic fields, and compared them to conventional alfalfa and corn farms at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

The simple conclusion: Diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping and organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn, no-till soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.

Even adding risk premiums into the equation did not give monoculture the edge expected by the researchers. Bottom line: monoculture is riskier and less profitable than organic and rotational farming.

The authors' advice: Government support of monoculture is outdated and should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.

When that happens—you know what?—we'll all be able to afford food that is better for us and better for the planet. Let's go, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, hailing from Iowa, land of the newly progressive. Lead the way.

Trophy Wives Beware: Sugar Daddy's Dipstick May Be Defective

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 6:08 PM EDT

According to Lisa Belkin, "Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. Data they analyzed from more than 33,000 American children showed that the older the man when a child is conceived, the lower a child's score is likely to be on tests of concentration, memory, reasoning and reading skills, at least through age 7."

It gets worse: higher risk of autism, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Not good news, but it does sort of even the cultural score in which past-their-prime women are understood to be the greatest risk to the children they bear 'late' in life. Damaged goods. Darwin makes them chase younger women to bear their healthy children, not mid-life crises. But what if younger women start looking at that "distinguished" guy driving the red 'vette and thinking like Belkin?

The push and pull between timetables and dreams, between our bodies and our babies, is at the core of many women's worldview, which also means it is at the core of relationships between the sexes. This tension feeds the stereotype of woman as eager to settle down and men as reluctant, and it's the crux of why we see women as "old" and men as "distinguished."
If those underlying assumptions were to change, would all that follows from them change as well? A world in which each man heard his clock tick even a fraction as urgently as each woman could be a very different world indeed. All those silver-haired sex symbols, and balding sugar daddies, and average-Joe divorced guys who are on their second families because they can be while their exes are raising their first set of kids—what if all of them became, in women's eyes, too darned old?
What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age? What if men, as the years passed, began to look with new eyes at Ms. Almost Right? Would men of all ages come to understand—firsthand, not just from the sidelines—the fear that the very passage of time will put your not-yet-conceived baby at risk?
Welcome to the club boys.

Flogged Pakistani Girl Denies It

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 5:15 PM EDT

Whoever it was (and in all likelihood it was her), a young woman somewhere in Pakistan got her ass literally whipped. Only question is who. The answer to 'why' will never satisfy those of us living in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, next door in Afghanistan, the powers that be just threw their women to the few wolves they were safe from by legalizing marital rape and a severe curtailment of female liberty.

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Gates Kills the F-22. Will Congress Revive it?

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 4:33 PM EDT

On Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally announced his long-planned cuts to big-ticket programs, including the F-22 Raptor and the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter. (Mother Jones  previewed the cuts—and military spending opponents' reactions—last month.) In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

In March, President Barack Obama said he recognized "the real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich." The proposals Gates revealed today are supposed to reflect that tradeoff. It's no surprise, then, that defense contractors are rebelling against the proposed changes. The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman details the gathering storm:

In January, Lockheed Martin unveiled a website called Preserve Raptor Jobs, arguing that the F-22 fighter jet it produces for the Air Force was a jobs engine during trying economic times. A spokesman for Lockheed told TWI last month that the site was merely intended to “provide information” primarily to the jet’s “supplier base,” but lawmakers from F-22-producing states warned Gates against cutting funding for the jet — which costs approximately $143 million per plane, of which there are currently 183 — using talking points that sounded much like text on the site. Similarly, defenders of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program for tech-enabled land warfare — the target of a Government Accountability Office report this week that criticized its “staggering” cost-overruns of $300 million — have argued in recent days that the program is crucial to soldier safety against insurgent attacks, even though it has yet to be deployed in full. The Politico reported this week that Boeing has deployed 100 lobbyists to Washington to push back against potential cuts.

Lobbyists for defense contractors don't get paid to sit on their hands, so you can bet that there's a whole gaggle of them on Capitol Hill right now telling members of Congress and their aides how important x piece of Cold War-era weaponry is to national security and, naturally, jobs in members' districts. That's the kind of hard work that got the V-22 Osprey (now operational) revived four separate times by Congress after Dick Cheney—Dick Cheney!—tried unsuccessfully to kill it. You can bet that Lockheed Martin will try to ensure the F-22 enjoys a similar resurrection. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), for one, doesn't seem to be over the moon about Gates' proposals. Skelton, the chair of the House armed services committee, released a statement this afternoon calling the proposal "a good faith effort" but emphasizing that "the buck stops with Congress," which will "decide whether to support these proposals."

Torture Memo Followup

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 2:08 PM EDT
A few days ago Michael Isikoff reported that the White House had backed off on plans to release some Bush-era torture memos thanks to mounting internal pushback: "U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. 'Holy hell has broken loose over this,' said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities."

Today, Scott Horton suggests that there's more than just pushback involved:

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public....A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

These memos must be real time bombs.  So much material has been released already, both officially and otherwise, that I've long assumed we already knew everything the Bush administraton had done — in broad terms, anyway.  But apparently not.  If these memos just confirmed our use of things like stress positions and black sites, it's hard to imagine they'd prompt such ferocious opposition.  There must be some truly new — and truly gruesome — disclosures in them.

Lessig on Giannoulias' Forgoing Lobbyist and PAC Money in Illinois Senate Race

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:36 PM EDT

Last week, Alexi Giannoulias, who is considering a run for the Illinois senate seat currently held by Roland Burris, announced he would forgo taking money from federal lobbyists and corporate PACs if he does run in 2010. Giannoulias, who is currently the state treasurer of Illinois, narrowly led in a March poll that pitted him against state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Burris. I asked Lawrence Lessig, the publicly funded elections advocate I interviewed last year, about Giannoulias' decision. Lessig writes in an email:

It is an important and valuable statement. But more important is to build a coalition of support for a more fundamental reform—citizen funded elections—as many simply have no such opportunity, and many more will follow this example only to be defeated because of the enormous power of this money.

It's a crucial point. While Giannoulias has garnered praise for his decision, real change won't happen without congressional action. That's why passing the Fair Elections Now Act is so important for good government campaigners. Lessig's organization, Change Congress, has a tool that allows you to track the bill's supporters and how much money they've lost from Change Congress' donor strike. You can even "whip" votes. Check it out.

Empire State Building Cutting Energy Use by 40 Percent

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:28 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:28 PM EDT

The owners of the Empire State Building announced Monday they will invest $20 million in the 80-year-old skyscraper as part of a plan to cut the building's overall energy use by 40 percent.

Projections from the Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls, Inc., and the Rocky Mountain Institute showed the building will save $4.4 million a year—and qualify the building for a LEED Gold certification—after the project is complete in a few years.

The thing I like most about this project is how they're going to save that energy and cut their carbon output: They'll be retrofitting windows and radiators, and installing new lighting and ventilation systems—all in the name of efficiency.

The Rocky Mountain Institute and its founder, Amory Lovins, have been promoting energy efficiency for more than two decades now. As Lovins told Mother Jones last May, it's one of the cheapest and best ways to save money and cut carbon.

MJ: If you had $1 million to invest in the energy sector, where would you put it?

AL: Efficient use. I want to do the cheapest things first to get the most climate protection and other benefits per dollar. Buying micropower and “negawatts” [Lovins' term for efficiency measures] instead of nuclear gives you about 2 to 11 times more carbon reduction per dollar, and you get it much faster.

In other words, owners of older buildings don't have to wait around for cleaner energy—and a smart grid to supply it—to proliferate before they can cut carbon output and energy use. And Lovins thinks the this project in particular could "help inform and inspire [similar] initiatives." In a building so iconic, the project certainly sets an example. If the cost-saving projections hold, it should turn into a trend.