2009 - %3, December

Econundrum: Last Minute Easy DIY Gifts

| Mon Dec. 21, 2009 8:00 AM EST

Part two of MoJo's greener gift guide: Step away from the mall. Here are two easy DIY projects you can do with stuff you might even already have on hand. I spent a nice few hours on Saturday making custom cards, chatting with my roommates, and listening to music all the while. Cheaper than shopping, and much more pleasant.


Project #1: Custom Greeting Cards

You'll need:

Blank cards and envelopes
Wrapping paper, wall paper, old magazines—anything with images you'd like to cut out (I used some old ads for ladies hats that I found at a vintage store).
Glue
Ribbon

Simply cut out images you like and glue them to the cards. You can package the cards and envelopes together in groups of three to five, and tie each bundle with a ribbon.
 
Project #2: Key Hangers

You'll need:

Small picture frames (you can get cheap wooden ones at a craft store)
Wrapping paper or wall paper
Stapler or craft glue
Key hooks (hardware stores sell 'em for cheap)

Wrap the picture frame like a present, creating a smooth surface over the front where the picture would go. Staple or glue the edges to the back. Screw key hooks into the bottom of the frame. Hang like you would a picture.
 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama's Banking Buddies

| Mon Dec. 21, 2009 8:00 AM EST

For all the furor over Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone story on Obama's economic team, you couldn't argue with the basic thesis put forward: At the very least, Obama has surrounded himself with powerful Wall Street-centric thinkers and bankers and leaders who dictate his Wall Street-friendly economic agenda. Instead of using the financial meltdown to implement radical and necessary changes, Taibbi writes, "What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place." In May, Simon Johnson described this very revolving door between Washington and Wall Street in a more articulate and less, well, Taibbian piece for The Atlantic; Johnson called Wall Street's takeover "the Quiet Coup."

In our hard-hitting Wall Street package in the new January/February issue of Mother Jones, I put some names on that image of the Washington-Wall Street revolving door. As you'll see, these aren't all midlevel, pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Some of the Wall Street alums now in Obama's upper ranks include:

  • Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's deputy and his chief of staff;
  • Obama's own chief of staff and chief economic adviser;
  • the head of TARP;
  • and the managing executive of the SEC's enforcement division.

Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. Check out the list of names here, and be sure to check out all of our financial stories as they come out.

Music Monday: 15 Minutes With Fool’s Gold, Afro-Hebrew Sensation

| Mon Dec. 21, 2009 7:30 AM EST

Luke Top went from full-time paralegal to full-time indie rocker practically overnight, crooning his Hebrew lyrics along to the electric guitar melodies and complex African drum beats of Los Angeles-based Fool's Gold. The “Afro-Hebrew” jam-band just concluded their first US tour three months after the release of their debut self-titled album, and have now returned home after securing a place as America's new favorite indie-rock sensation. In September a video of "Surprise Hotel" went viral on YouTube, they played CMJ in New York in October, and publications from the Village Voice to the Los Angeles Times have run raving reviews. The American-African rock-fusion idiom is a musical path blazed many a time before by musicians including Paul Simon and Vampire Weekend. So what makes Fool's Gold worthy of this overnight celebrity?

Perhaps it's the simplicity of their pop structures, the sincerity with which Top sings his exotic Hebrew, the call and response of the drums, guitars, horns, and vocals; or the band's ability to mirror the energy they inspire in their twisting-and-shouting audience, grateful for the opportunity to dance. Though the melding of African and American musical traditions is classic, and the practice of opening up songs into long-winded jams is an old cliché, with Hebrew lyrics complimenting distinctly African and Latin influences, Fool’s Gold’s aesthetic is nothing if not unique.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 21, 2009

Mon Dec. 21, 2009 6:47 AM EST

Morning light streams across a farm field in Fahama, Iraq, as Soldiers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division dismount from their vehicles to search the area for caches of weapons and explosive materials. The BCT is securing rural areas for upcoming elections. (US Army photo by 1st Lt. Joshua Risher.)

Need To Read: December 21, 2009

Mon Dec. 21, 2009 6:42 AM EST

Today's must reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow Mother Jones on twitter! You can check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

The 60-Vote Conundrum

| Sun Dec. 20, 2009 7:30 PM EST

James Fallows wants more public awareness about the modern-day corruption of the filibuster:

In a discussion with Guy Raz this afternoon on Weekend All Things Considered [...] we touched on a point that I think needs to be elevated from a background/insider's issue to absolutely first-tier consideration in mainstream political discourse. It has to do with the distorting and destructive effect of the Senate's modern "60 votes to get anything done" system of operation.

As Fallows notes, this is a topic that's well known among bloggers and political types, but almost completely unknown among the general public.  They still think of filibusters as occasional dramatic events from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or the civil rights era, not as an institutionalized 60-vote supermajority required for all legislation.

If you want to read more details about this, click the link.  But I assume most of you already know the basic story. So instead, think about this: is it possible to elevate the filibuster into the public discourse?  If so, how?

In one sense, it should be easy: most people don't know about the 60-vote requirement and would instinctively be offended by the idea that you can no longer pass routine legislation with a simple majority.  On the other hand, most people also don't really care.  Plus, one party or the other is always out of power at any given time, so there's always a substantial minority of partisans who are motivated to argue that keeping the majority from running roughshod over everything we hold dear is a sacred principle of the Republic.

So what would it take to get people to care? One answer: a high-profile supporter.  If Sarah Palin suddenly tweeted that the filibuster is a threat to democracy, for example, everyone would start talking about it.  But who else is a plausible candidate for this?  The president, of course, but he's not going to.  Anyone else?

Another answer: a popular, high-profile issue that gets blocked repeatedly by a 40-vote minority. Unfortunately, genuinely popular, high-profile issues generally don't get filibustered.  That's why Supreme Court vacancies are filled pretty quickly but appellate court vacancies aren't.  So it's not clear what issue would fit the bill here.

And a third answer: some kind of fabulously effective grass roots campaign.  That seems pretty unlikely to me, though.  Any other thoughts?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

All Hail Pat Toomey

| Sun Dec. 20, 2009 6:29 PM EST

Paul Krugman:

I haven’t seen anyone point this out; but it occurs to me that we all owe thanks to the Club for Growth. If they hadn’t targeted Arlen Specter, he wouldn’t have switched parties, the Democrats wouldn’t have 60 seats, and the world might look very different.

C'mon Paul, you gotta get on the Twitter bandwagon!

Why 2014?

| Sun Dec. 20, 2009 6:11 PM EST

Josh Marshall mentions something about the healthcare bill that bugs me too: why wait to implement it until 2014?

2010 doesn't worry me that much....But why go into 2012 without many of the benefits of the legislation actually going into effect? I tend to think that even a resurgent GOP will probably have a harder time repealing this stuff than people might think. But you could certainly have health care reform repealed in 2013 before much of it even goes into effect.

....I know stuff like this can't just be done on a few months notice. Health care is a huge part of the nation's economy. And you need frameworks of predictability, planning and transition to put such big changes into place. But four or five years seems way, waaay too long.

My impression is that some of the delays are there because it makes the budgetary accounting work better in terms of deficit neutrality. And I know the Dems would likely lose critical support without being able to show that the overall bill actually lowers the deficit. But if that's the main reason, I suspect the legislative authors may be too clever by half since they may be slitting the bill's and perhaps their own throats in the process.

I'm pretty sure the 2014 date is mostly due to budget finagling.  This stuff can't be done overnight, but I'll bet most of it could be implemented within 12 months, and it could certainly be implemented within 24.

So how big a problem is it that nothing is going to happen until 2014 instead?  My first order guess is: not much.  In fact, I think everyone will be surprised at just how fast healthcare reform fades from the public discourse once it's passed.  Climate legislation will takes its place as conservative enemy #1, new celebrity scandals will distract the apolitical, and within a few months everyone not intimately associated with it will barely even remember it happened.  After all, the plain fact is that as important as it is, healthcare reform affects a pretty small chunk of the population either for good (better coverage) or ill (higher taxes).  Around 15-20% tops.

Still, sooner would be better.  It's easier to demagogue healthcare reform as long as the supposed disasters to come are still speculative, and it's easier to keep around the longer it's had to work.  I'm more interested in 2016 than I am in 2010 or 2012, and it would be nice if healthcare reform had had a nice long time by then to start working and really become part of the legislative fabric.  Three years is a short enough time that it could still be in some danger of repeal (or semi-repeal) when1 Republicans regain control of the presidency in 2016.

Overall, though, it's probably not too big a worry.  Conservatives are right about one thing: entitlement programs virtually never get eliminated once they've become law. Plus the last paragraph of this post is pretty compelling.  I'd prefer 2012 to 2014, but I imagine that healthcare reform is pretty safe regardless.2

1Yes, I think they'll win in 2016.

2Assuming it actually passes in the first place, of course.

UPDATE: More here from Austin Frakt on the potential pitfalls awaiting healthcare reform after it passes.

Embracing Twitter

| Sun Dec. 20, 2009 2:30 PM EST

So: Twitter.  I've decided to take a second crack at it.  I've had an account for quite a while, but the problem is that most of the time I forgot all about it and never wrote any updates.  However, being the dork that I am, I concluded that if technology was the problem, then technology could be the answer too.  So I downloaded a copy of TweetDeck and set it up.  It works pretty well and offers some nice convenience features (multiple columns, real-time link shortening, easy replying/retweeting/etc.), but the main thing it does is pop up a little box on my screen whenever a new tweet arrives.  Benefit: I always remember Twitter is around.  Drawback: little boxes are constantly popping up on my screen.

I dunno.  Is this how it feels to be eighteen in 21st century America?  With a screen constantly full of things demanding attention: email, Twitter, Facebook, IM, etc.?  (Except no one uses email anymore, do they?  Instead they use the unbelievably primitive messaging functions built into apps like Facebook and Twitter, which feels to me like going back to the days of dial-up.)  Maybe.  I imagine I'm just getting a small taste of it, though.

Still, so far, so good.  TweetDeck forces me to pay attention to Twitter, and this inspires me to tweet more often.  Whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen, but it doesn't really seem to be interrupting my concentration or anything.  And it was pretty handy for following the chaos of the final day of the Copenhagen conference.  Plus there's another bonus: Twitter seems to be generally friendlier than the blogosphere.  You really can't get a good rant going in 140 characters, so you mostly get snark and wittiness instead.  That's actually kind of a nice break.

Next step: build up the list of people I follow, which is currently a ramshackle of random names. Next step after that: get a new picture.

Warming That Gives You the Chills

| Sun Dec. 20, 2009 4:25 AM EST

Late Friday night, after the word had come down that the climate talks had ended in a five-way non-binding, unfair, and breathtakingly unambitious agreement between the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, a crowd of demonstrators from around the world gathered at the Metro station outside the Bella Center. It was 1 a.m., and it was bitter cold, in several ways.

These were not angry anarchists. These were young people who had spent the last few years of their lives working hard to make this process work. They came from groups like Greenpeace and Avaaz and Energy Action and 350.org. They all had credentials to the conference, but almost none had been inside for days, ever since the UN decided to stop letting more than a token few NGOs into the hall. They had written position papers, advised small nations, organized email blasts, and now—at least for the moment—it had all come to an end, an end far worse than most had imagined.

Inside, the less important nations of the world were still “negotiating,” trying to decide whether to sign on to the text that the powers that be had left behind. It was an empty and impotent debate, resembling in its power more the “model UNs” that high schoolers conduct in civics classes across the U.S. It was also brave—an effort to say that the process of trying to solve the world’s problems will continue.

It’s unclear what that process will look like, or what role global civil society will play in a world where the power balance is now more nakedly obvious than it was before yesterday. China and the US have taken it upon themselves to solve the biggest problem we face, but both have set out profoundly unambitious plans for doing so. The best guess from the modelers at Climate Interactive was that the proposals various countries were making might yield a world 6 or 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and with a carbon concentration of 770 ppm. That’s hot, and it’s why it felt cold down by that Metro station.