2009 - %3, July

But Can It Write Blog Posts For Me?

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 12:43 PM EDT

This is, I admit, pretty cool.  It's almost the dictionary definition of a massive abuse of technology, but pretty cool anyway.  If they could make it work for telephone interviews, I might even get one.

Actually, as things stand now, I can't record telephone interviews at all.  A few years ago, for no reason I've ever been able to figure out, my phone line suddenly developed a loud hum.  You can't hear it during an ordinary conversation, though, only when you plug a tape recorder directly into the line or into the Mic jack on the phone.  I've tried a million different combinations to try to figure out what's causing this, but no dice.  The hum is always there, and it's loud enough to drown out actual conversation.  Very annoying.

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Take Back the Beep

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 12:17 PM EDT

Gabbing about Medicare reimbursements rates is all well and good, but on a purely personal level this is the kind of stuff I really love.  It's from David Pogue:

Over the past week, in The New York Times and on my blog, I’ve been ranting about one particularly blatant money-grab by American cellphone carriers: the mandatory 15-second voicemail instructions.

Suppose you call my cell to leave me a message. First you hear my own voice: “Hi, it’s David Pogue. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you” — and THEN you hear a 15-second canned carrier message.

....In 2007, I spoke at an international cellular conference in Italy. The big buzzword was ARPU — Average Revenue Per User. The seminars all had titles like, “Maximizing ARPU In a Digital Age.” And yes, several attendees (cell executives) admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby maximizing ARPU.

Right now, the carriers continue to enjoy their billion-dollar scam only because we’re not organized enough to do anything about it. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to sit there, waiting to leave your message, listening to a speech recorded by a third-grade teacher on Ambien.

Apparently Pogue's campaign to end this ripoff, which he calls "Take Back the Beep," is already having an effect.  It just goes to show that the mainstream media isn't dead yet.  Now if only we can get Lou Dobbs hot and bothered about this.

Having Their Earmarks and Investigating Them Too

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 11:36 AM EDT

It appears members of the House ethics committee want to have it both ways. When it came time to vote yesterday on a series of amendments to strip earmarks from the pork-laden defense appropriations bill, each of the panel's ten members voted "present," declining to support or oppose the measures. Presumably these lawmakers were trying to demonstrate their impartiality, since they are presently investigating earmarks steered  to clients of the PMA Group, the now defunct lobbying firm founded by an ex-aide to Jack Murtha. (Under scrutiny along with Murtha are Democratic Reps. Peter Visclosky of Indiana and James Moran of Virginia, who also had PMA ties.) Yet, at the very same time as these lawmakers were abstaining from these votes, they had their own pet projects tucked into the approps bill. Twenty nine of them, according to the Washington Post, worth $59 million.

Congressional ethics experts said the ethics committee earmarks create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, and some in the public would naturally question how thoroughly the committee might investigate members on the subcommittee that granted their funding wishes.

"At the same time the committee is investigating the ties between lobby shops and earmarks and appropriators, they are actually playing the game themselves," said Steve Ellis, of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It's hard not to see some conflict of interest in that."

Ethics committee chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who has three earmarks in the bill, explained to the Post: "When one is appointed to the ethics committee, one is not relieved of the responsibility to represent one's district." That is, just because she's leading an investigation into the corrupting powers of pork, doesn't mean she's going to stop bringing home the bacon herself. Then why vote "present" on the earmark amendments? Perhaps to avoid news stories questioning whether ethics committee members can truly investigate earmarks, when they themselves rely on them to direct funding to their districts. Too late.

Chart of the Day

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

This comes from a Research 2000 poll commissioned by Daily Kos.  Apparently a majority of Southerners aren't willing to say that Barack Obama was born in the United States.  That's some serious crazy.

Nationwide, 58% of Republicans are unsure that Obama was born in the U.S.  That's some even more serious crazy.

We've obviously spun back into a version of the full-bore Clinton Derangement Syndrome that swept the nation in the early 90s.  This kind of thing always starts with a few fringe characters, but there's a difference this time around.  Clinton craziness was initially pushed by the fringe media and then picked up and amplified by the mainstream guys.  This time it started in the mainstream media: Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Andy McCarthy, Sean Hannity, etc. etc.  No middleman required.

Which makes you wonder: what would it be like if Hillary Clinton had been elected?  I think we've suspected this all along, but now we know the answer with scientific precision: it would have been exactly the same.  It was never Clinton Derangement Syndrome in the first place.  It was Conservative Derangement Syndrome.

Inside the Jawad Case: One Hopping Mad Judge

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 10:17 AM EDT

Libby Lewis has a piece for MoJo today explaining the government's climbdown in the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohamed Jawad. One thing I don't think the press coverage has fully captured is just how caustic the presiding judge, Ellen Huvelle, has been towards the government throughout the proceedings. Below the jump are some crackling exchanges from a July 16 hearing that reveal Huvelle's intense frustration at the government's stalling tactics—it sounds more like an episode of Judge Judy than a terrorism case. (There's a particularly great bit where Huvelle really lays into a DOJ lawyer for seeking a delay in order to go on vacation.)  It's well worth reading. Full transcript is here.

 

Max Baucus: God's 2nd-Greatest Gift to Harry Reid

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 7:01 AM EDT

The Lord has been kind to Senate majority leader Harry Reid lately. First, John Ensign, his fellow senator from Nevada and a Republican, got caught having an affair with a staffer. Then it was revealed that Ensign's parents gave the staffer's family nearly $100,000 as part of a "pattern of generosity." That distracted the Nevada media from Reid, who has a tough reelection battle coming up in 2010. Lately, another of Reid's colleagues has been helping him out: Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. With Baucus enraging the left by reaching out to Republicans to put together a deal (or not) on health care reform, liberals have less energy for a once-popular pasttime: slamming Reid. The left used to obsess about getting Reid out of his leadership post. Now all the talk is about dumping Baucus from his chairmanship.

Meanwhile, the White House has been lending Reid a hand by making moves that could delay or cancel the proposed nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain, which is extremely unpopular with Nevadans. Reid has also stayed out of Nate Silver's list of the 10 Senate seats most likely to change hands in the 2010 elections, as prominent Republicans have decided not to run against him. And then there's the not-so-small matter of Reid's war chest. He raised $3.25 million between April and June, has $7.33 million in cash on hand, and aims to have raised $25 million by next November. With the media distracted by Ensign, the White House boosting his cause, Republicans shying away from the race, the blame for the health care mess falling on Baucus, and the coffers filling up, it's been a good month for the majority leader.

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Eco-News Roundup: Friday, July 31

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Happy Friday. Here's what's happening in science, health, and environment news around our blogs:

Just say no to the Blue Dog deal: 57 House dems say they're just not down with Waxman's healthcare proposal.

Better late than never: Obama's bill of insurance rights.

Following the science money: It's been five months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 delivered $21.5 billion in basic research funding. So what's happening with the science money now?

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 31, 2009

Fri Jul. 31, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Soldiers from Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, pause at the end of a patrol near Wynot, Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

Need To Read: July 31, 2009

Fri Jul. 31, 2009 6:55 AM EDT

What you need to read today:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So is my colleague Daniel Schulman.

More Troops in Afghanistan?

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 2:05 AM EDT

The Washington Post reports that the top commander in Afghanistan is preparing recommendations for a new strategic direction:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama's national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.

...."There was a very broad consensus on the part of the assessment team that the effort is under-resourced and will require additional resources to get the job done," a senior military official in Kabul said.

....One senior administration official said some members of Obama's national security team want to see how McChrystal uses the 21,000 additional troops before any more deployments are authorized. "It'll be a tough sell," the official said.

Well, this should be a tough sell.  If McChrystal can make his case, fine. But it better be a damn good one.