2009 - %3, August

Crash and Burn

| Sat Aug. 22, 2009 6:41 PM EDT

From the Washington Post today:

"Anything with Z seems like there's some slight irreverence about it. So it was as simple as putting Z in front of politics!" explains Republican media consultant John Brabender....With a four-program lineup, Zolitics bills itself as a bipartisan potpourri of "original scripted content, current events with a twist, and reality based shows unlike you have ever seen before."

....It's the place to see, for example, Rick Santorum squire Donna Brazile to a NASCAR race....The NASCAR sojourn is what Santorum has expressed interest in doing for the debut episode of "My America," a show that will pair ideologically divergent bedfellows and allow each to show the other "their America." The show, Zolitics crowed in a press release this week, "just may also become America's favorite buddy story."

....Santorum calls himself "a great fan of Donna's" and looks forward to milling around with the "red-blooded Americans out there" while watching cars go Zoom.

This sounds like possibly the worst idea in the history of western civilization.

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Benefit for Emilio Gutiérrez Soto

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 9:11 PM EDT

Remember Emilio Gutiérrez Soto? He is the Mexican journalist Charles Bowden profiled in "We Bring Fear," the feature story in our July/August drug war issue. The short version is that Emilio was forced to flee the Mexican Army and seek asylum in the U.S., where he was separated from his son and detained by the ICE for 7 months. He literally escaped from the Army by sneaking out the back of a grocery store and hiding out on a friend's farm for 2 days before booking it to the border.

Needless to say, Emilio was unable to bring very much with him and lost nearly all of his possessions. After he was released from the El Paso Processing Center he joined his son in Las Cruces at the home of some kind friends. While he waits for his much-delayed asylum trial he has been unable to sell his home in northern Chihuahua, where the housing market has totally collapsed. To make matters worse he has still not been granted a work permit to legally make money here. This is a talented journalist, a regional bureau chief of the biggest newspaper in Juarez, and he can't even work a menial job to pay for basic necessities like school supplies for his son. He is caught in a limbo between the violence of Mexico and the bureaucratic inhumanity of the U.S.

Molly Molloy, who played a huge part in reporting and translating "We Bring Fear," and other good folks in the Las Cruces community are throwing a fundraising benefit for Emilio tonight. Please think about joining their efforts and sending a check to help alleviate the suffering while Emilio waits for his trial. If you believe in supporting journalism then there is no better way than supporting a journalist in his time of need.

SUGGESTED DONATION: $25

If you cannot attend, but would like to make a donation, please send in care of:
Molly Molloy
New Mexico State University Library
Box 30006 Dept 3475, NMSU
Las Cruces, NM 88003

Debating Fiji Water

Fri Aug. 21, 2009 6:36 PM EDT

To discuss Mother Jones' recent expose of Fiji Water, we gathered the story's muckraking writer, a bottled water industry rep, and an eco-blogger, then turned them loose to debate with readers.

What transpired was a lively discussion about military juntas, the eco-impact of bottled water, censorship, and the bottled water company in the middle of the storm.

Here are a couple exchanges that stood out:

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 August 2009

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 3:06 PM EDT

You can't really see it through the shadows, but Domino is viciously attacking some errant blanket trolls on the left.  You can't perceive them, of course, limited as you are to a measly three spacial dimensions, but they were there just moments before this picture was taken.  Honest.  Inkblot, meanwhile, is enjoying a nice summer day in the garden.  And by "enjoying," of course, I mean "napping."

Half-Pint

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

There's something seriously wrong with America's dairy industry. A thumbnail sketch: California dairy producers committing suicide like rural subsistence farmers in Andrah Pradesh; big-eyed dairy cows packed off to the slaughter house in record numbers; New Yorkers dolling out $6 a gallon, even as raw-milk prices plummet to lows not seen since Jimmy Carter's administration. And in the midst of it all, dairy giant Dean Foods, the country's largest processor of raw milk, is having the best year ever.

What gives? Despite the hold-steady price-per-gallon at Ralph's, wholesale milk prices have plummeted to half of what they were a year ago, and just more than 20 percent what they were at the beginning of 2008. The situation is almost as egregious for consumers as it is for dairy farmers, who continue to abandon the industry or face pumping at a loss.

In New York City—where they have a milk price-gouging hotline!—the price of a gallon ranges from $2.25 to $6 in the same borough, despite traditionally strict, and strictly enforced, retail maximums. Late last year, the agency responsible for capping the price just ...stopped. Meanwhile, California, the country's top dairy-producing state, has completely abandoned its retail price floors for milk.

None of this has helped stanch the flow of dirt cheap raw milk into an already glutted consumer market. Farmers blame the nation's two dairy processing giants, milk co-op Dairy Farmers of America and Dean Foods, which together manage virtually all of the 22.2 billion gallons of milk produced annually in the United States. Dean owns 50 major brands, and farmers who hope to sell under them are obligated to work through the DFA. And, surprise surprise, as milk plunged in value, Dean's profits have soared.

Pharmaceutical Innovation

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 2:41 PM EDT

Right now, it's arguable that government ground rules give pharmaceutical companies too little incentive to innovate.  If FDA regs forced them to demonstrate more than just superiority to a sugar pill, drug company incentives might be aligned a little more strongly toward finding genuinely effective new therapies instead of yet another statin or ED pill or a slightly different heartburn formulation.

Or maybe not.  It's an argument worth having.  But the current system is by no means the free market juggernaut conservatives like to pretend it is.  Changing the ground rules might very well increase innovation, not stifle it.

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Quote of the Day

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 2:11 PM EDT

From James Fallows, after watching Jon Stewart's show last night:

I have been far too soft on Betsy McCaughey.

Yep.  Here's the conversation I had with Marian last night at about 11:10 pm:

M: Do you want to watch the interview?

K: Who is he having on?

M: Um, some former lieutenant governor of New York or something.

K: Oh shit.

I was appalled that Stewart chose to have McCaughey on, and I agree with Fallows that he was unable to handle her.  Partly this was because McCaughey affects a winsome, faux innocent style that makes it hard for Stewart to bully her.  Partly it's because she's ruthlessly devoid of scruples.  Partly it's because she knows she doesn't have to "win" the debate.  She merely has to sew a tiny seed of doubt.

McCaughey is pure poison.  She cares about nothing except making sure that no healthcare reform of any kind is ever adopted in the United States, and in that cause she's willing to say or do anything.  It was a mistake giving her yet another forum to spread her lies.

4 Hopes for Obama's Farmers' Market

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 1:38 PM EDT

You may have read yesterday that President Obama wants to set up a farmer's market at the White House. On first glance, this confirms my suspicions that President Obama is pretty damn cool. In his words:

One of the things that we’re trying to do now is to figure out, can we get a little farmers’ market outside of the White House... I’m not going to have all of you all just tromping around inside, but right outside the White House so that we can, and that is a win-win situation.

It gives suddenly D.C. more access to good, fresh food, but it also is this enormous potential revenue-maker for local farmers in the area. And those kinds of connections can be made all throughout the country, and has to be part of how we think about health.

But coolness aside, if this idea becomes reality, the Obamas should be careful to make it a sustainable market for local farmers rather than a kitschy tourist attraction bogged down by pins and t-shirts that say "Yes We Can Farm" and "Change We Can Grow In." But let's face it, due to the massive security detail the market would require and the overwhelming draw for Washingtonians and tourists alike, the latter is more likely. After all, markets that truly support local, organic farmers have become increasingly rare even as farmers' markets, both organic and kitschy, increased threefold between 1994 and 2008.

So taking the touristy factor as a given, how can Obama make the White House farmers' market most beneficial to farmers and consumers alike? I have four ideas:

How to Win

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 1:03 PM EDT

Does Barack Obama really believe that calm bipartisanship is a successful political strategy in modern Washington DC?  Well, it got him elected, didn't it?  Matt Yglesias takes it from there:

My worry would be that it strikes me as very plausible that a political strategist could overlearn the lessons of his own success. The fact of the matter is that Obama’s margin of victory was more-or-less exactly what you would expect based on fundamentals-driven models of presidential elections. We know that the strategy Obama employed “worked” (he won, after all) but there’s no clear evidence that it was particularly brilliant. But you can easily imagine Obama and David Axelrod and other key players becoming overconvinced by their own success.

Nobody ever, ever, ever believes this.  There's always a narrative behind presidential victories, and there always will be, despite the fact that 90% of them are dead wrong.  Obama ran an excellent primary campaign and a perfectly decent general election campaign, but the latter boiled down to one word: "Change."  That's what most elections boil down to: "Time for a change" vs. "Experience counts."  They both work fine in alternate cycles, but neither is especially brilliant or especially new.  Pericles pioneered them both in his long career, and that was 25 centuries ago.

The post-partisan schtick might yet work.  But even though it was effective during last year's campaign, it's not really what won him the presidency.  A little bit of ruthlessness vs. Hillary Clinton got him through June, and repeating a nice, simple message over and over and over kept him on top throughout the fall.  That's a combination he might want to remember.

Branding 101: What Not to Name Your Hedge Fund

| Fri Aug. 21, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

Branding is everything. So when you're starting up a new hedge fund and are going for something memorable and daring, well, "Ground Zero" probably isn't your best bet. Tell that to this ex-Lehmann brothers exec Edward Fillippe. Quips NY Mag:

Maybe he said to himself, "What can I do to distract people from the fact that I worked at Lehman Brothers, the downtown–New York–based bank that collapsed disastrously and nearly took the entire financial system with it? I know! I'll name it in homage to an even worse collapse, one that actually killed people and precipitated several long and tragic wars! Then everyone will think whatever I am doing is not nearly as bad."

The Ground Zero Strategic Commodities Fund will begin trading by the first quarter of 2010, and they're hiring!