2010 - %3, August

Treasury's Blogger Meeting

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 3:13 AM PDT

Last week, I attended a meeting at the Treasury with senior administration officials.

The ground rules prohibited direct quotes or identifying the senior administration officials in question. But I can tell you who else was there: Politico's Mike Allen, Huffington Post's Shahien Nasiripour and Richard (RJ) Eskow, the American Prospect's Tim Fernholz, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, Reuters' Felix Salmon, and the Atlantic's Derek Thompson. ThinkProgress' Matt Yglesias was supposed to be there but a Secret Service snafu left him stuck outside for the duration. 

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Does That Nomination Have a Price Tag? [VIDEO]

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Mother Jones' Andy Kroll breaks down the Democratic senatorial and GOP gubernatorial primaries and helps viewers understand Florida voters:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 24, 2010

Tue Aug. 24, 2010 2:00 AM PDT

 

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan—US Army Pfc. Aaron R. Will of Tampa, Fla., a gunner with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bulldog, reloads his automatic grenade launcher during an insurgent attack against his unit's convoy near the village of Tarale in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province, on July 15. Photo via the US Army by Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte.

Fed to Unemployed: Drop Dead

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 10:51 PM PDT

Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal apparently got a detailed briefing about the most recent meeting of the Federal Reserve, and he reports that there was a considerable amount of dissension about even the puny action they ended up taking. The Fed's technical staff had told them that their portfolio of mortgage-backed securities "was about to begin shrinking much more rapidly than anticipated," which would likely have a contractionary effect and should have rung alarm bells given the current parlous state of the economy. But Ben Bernanke's proposal to offset this enough merely to keep the Fed's balance sheet stable — not shrinking and not growing — met with a fair amount of resistance:

Fed governor Kevin Warsh [...] worried that a decision to reinvest mortgage proceeds into Treasurys would confuse investors and lead many to believe the Fed was paving the way to resume major purchases before it had decided to do so....Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Fed, and others expressed a concern that Fed moves might be ineffective, arguing that businesses weren't using already ample, cheap credit to fund investments because they were uncertain about many other problems, including government deficits and new financial regulations.

Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Minneapolis Fed, argued that a large part of today's unemployment problem is caused by issues the Fed can't solve, such as the mismatch between the skills of jobless workers and the skills that employers wanted....The president of the Philadelphia Fed, Charles Plosser, who has had misgivings before about Mr. Bernanke's initiatives, deemed the latest move premature because, though the Fed was lowering 2010 growth estimates, it wasn't significantly ramping down its estimates for growth in 2011 and beyond. Two other frequent dissenters, Thomas Hoenig of Kansas City, and Jeffrey Lacker of Richmond, Va., also objected. Fed governor Betsy Duke, a former commercial banker, also expressed reservations, according to participants.

This doesn't bode well. If Hilsenrath is right, it means that there are no more than two or three Fed governors who are currently in favor of more aggressive action as long as the economy doesn't go completely off the cliff. For the time being, then, we have a Fed that's plainly not going to do anything expansionary on the monetary side and a Republican Party that's hellbent on keeping anything from being done on the fiscal side. Lost decade, here we come.

The View From My Windshield: Heavens to Bessy

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 10:26 PM PDT

She's Really Friendly: Just don't provoke her (Photo: Tim Murphy).She's Really Friendly: Just don't provoke her (Photo: Tim Murphy).New Salem, North Dakota—North Dakota never gets no respect. Even the friends we stayed with in Fargo came up empty when we asked for suggestions on what to do on our drive through the state. South Dakota at least has Rushmore and the Badlands; North Dakota has two cities(ish) on the Minnesota border, and some nuclear silos, if you're into that kind of thing. Even our road map from the state tourism board was running out of suggestions by the time we got to Bismarck.

But if you want to blame someone for the state's emptiness, don't blame North Dakotablame the United States Senate, which brilliantly decided to split the relatively empty Dakota territory into two relatively empty states for political reasons.

Anyways, to compensate for its lack of destinations, North Dakotans have, I think, informally embarked on an elaborate mission to construct the largest sculpture of every animal found on the northern plains. Before we found "New Salem Sue," the world's largest Holstein cow at 38x50 feet, we passed signs for, among others, the world's largest sandhill crane, and the world's largest turtle. It's like Noah's Ark on HGH. And while I'm not suggesting any sort of cause-and-effect, I should also note that North Dakota's the last great place in America to find a job. So it's got that going for it.

Audio: Are the Floods in Pakistan and the Wildfires in Russia Related?

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 3:08 PM PDT

Extreme weather has been grabbing headlines this summer. A major heat wave in Russia and flooding in Pakistan have had devastating effects, including loss of life and livelihood. Russians are plagued with wildfires and smog and the UN estimates that 6 million Pakistanis are in need of emergency aid.

Need to Know's Alison Stewart speaks with Dr. Kevin Trenberth, the head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. He explains the meteorological dynamics at work and speaks of the larger implications of climate change — both problems and possibilities.

This podcast was produced by Need to Know as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

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Red State, Blue State

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 1:26 PM PDT

Mark Krikorian takes a vacation in Michigan and reports back:

Amidst the big-picture stuff, two things at the Ford museum stuck out: The map showing the outcome of the 1976 election had the red and blue states as they’re supposed to be — the Democrats in red and the Republicans in blue. Has anyone tried to dig out which graphic artist or art director at one of the networks decided to change this in 2000? It has to have been a considered decision by a leftie who didn’t think the Democrats should be portrayed as the reds, but I’ve never seen the name(s) of the specific person or persons responsible.

Nah. Nothing so sinister. Here's the answer:1

Since the advent of color TV, there has been a formula to avoid charges of giving any party an advantage by painting it a "better" color. Here is the formula: the color of the incumbent party alternates every 4 years.

In 2000 the formula produced blue for Gore and red for Bush, and shortly after that the famous electoral map showing blue coasts and a vast swath of red everywhere else made its debut. This prompted everyone to start talking about red states and blue states, and ever since then it's stuck. Something tells me this is an explanation that's going to have to be repeated every few years.

1The best answer I've been able to come up with, anyway. However, state colors have varied over the years, and not all networks and print outlets followed this formula perfectly. But it seems to have been pretty common, and in any case it was just a coincidence that Democrats got colored blue in 2000 and that was the election that produced a famous map. Just luck of the draw.

Making Newsroom Diversity a Priority

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 1:24 PM PDT

The AP recently announced the new position of "Race/Ethnicity/Demographics editor," filled by Sonya Ross. In her new position, Ross will "work with AP journalists around the country to produce coverage that captures the changing facets of race and ethnicity in the United States." Ross was formerly an urban affairs reporter for the AP's Washington bureau.

The AP's move to create a position specifically to address ethnicity is a forward-thinking one, and one designed to counteract the overwhelming whiteness of newsrooms. The US population is now more than 20% non-white, but minorities only make up 13% of newsroom staff. As a 2009 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) survey showed, there are 458 newspapers in the US that don't have a single full-time minority employee. Not one. Even the hallowed Washington Post is having a hard time keeping up with demographic changes. The ASNE study reported that although minorities make up 24% of the WaPo's staff, they also make up 43% of the paper's audience. "You can't cover your community unless you look like your community," Bobbi Bowman, a former WaPo reporter told the paper. "If you have a community of basketball players, it's difficult for a newsroom of opera lovers to cover them."

The Palin Proxy War

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 12:36 PM PDT

Does Lisa Murkowski have something to worry about in her primary on Tuesday after all? A few weeks ago, the Tea Party Express was touting new polling numbers that suggested that their candidate of choice, Joe Miller, was gaining on incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's primary race. I couldn't track down the poll they were referring to, but a new one from RT Nielson research late last week shows Miller catching up after some significant spending on ads and a boost from the state's former half-term governor. The Murkowski team's own polling also shows Miller at her heels, despite outspending her challenger by almost 20-to-1.

Polls last month had Murkowski crushing Miller by 32 points. This latest shows Miller now at 35 percent to Murkowski's 47 (though we should definitely note that it was very limited—just 243 people were polled—and it was commissioned by the Tea Party Express). And of course, Murkowski still has a healthy lead. But as we've learned with other big primaries this year where the tea party candidate unexpectedly surged (see: Sharron Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and Mike Lee in Utah), it's perhaps worth it to pay attention to these challengers from the right.

Miller has benefited from several high-profile endorsements in the past weeks. He's got the support of Sarah Palin (and Todd, who has held a fundraiser for Miller), as well as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Palin wrote a lengthy Facebook screed in support of Miller on Friday, a last-minute push to raise $30,000 for the candidate. He's also got the support of conservative media figures Mark Levin, Lars Larson, and Laura Ingraham.

The Miller camp paints Murkowski as too "liberal" for Alaska. Miller's a relative unknown in the race, an attorney whose only other major bid for elected office was a failed run for the state house in 2004. A rundown of his basic positions: Government spending is bad, abortion should be illegal, health care legislation is unconstitutional, and so is cutting planet-warming emissions. According to Miller, the "science supporting manmade climate change is inconclusive" anyway. (Murkowski, on the other hand, has been one of only a small handful of Republicans who has acknowledged that global warming is a problem, though she's also arguably one of the most effective politicians operating today to undermine action on that front.)

Perhaps the most intriguing element of this race is the revival of the Palin-Murkowski grudge match. Lisa Murkowski's father, Frank, tapped her to fill the Senate seat he vacated in 2002 to become governor of the state. The senior Murkowski later lost his reelection bid to Palin in 2006. Murkowski has said there's no "blood war" between the Murkowskis and the Palins, two of the most powerful political families in the state. But Palin, on the other hand, has been happy to throw punches. This week she recorded a robocall for Miller ripping Murkowski's record (and erroneously claiming that Murkowski co-sponsored cap and trade), and her Facebook post called Murkowski "part of the big government problem in Washington."

Murkowski is expected to win on Tuesday, and barring some sort of miraculous Miller surge, she probably will. What that says about Palin's efficacy as a champion for candidates even in her own state might well prove the most interesting part of Tuesday's primary.

VIDEO: Iran, Mel Brooks Parodies, and GOP Pandering

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 12:20 PM PDT

Like most people named Weinstein, I was born into a (secular) Jewish family. Whether or not you stay in the faith, being born or raised Jewish imbues you with a host of idiosyncrasies. For example, like me, you're probably pretty sensitive to anti-Semitism, and you love Mel Brooks.

Which is what makes this political ad so hard to swallow:

Mattie Fein is running against incumbent Jane Harman for Congress. Fein was a strategist for the Moonie-owned conservative magazine Insight, which is credited with coining the term "Islamophobia" and spreading the unsubstantiated rumor in 2007 that Barack Obama attended a Muslim madrassa.

Fein is also reportedly a GOP political communications consultant. But notwithstanding the fact that she got me to repost this thing, she's not very politically astute. Beating up on Iran's nuclear ambitions with a Brooks-ian parody is meant as a not-so-subtle signal that she's a friend of the tribe. Yet Fein doesn't know her punim from a pupik. To wit:

  • The scene parodied here also happens to be the movie's most sympathetic moment toward Frau Blucher, the Jane Harman character. ("He...vas...my...BOYFRIEND!") Anybody who knows anything about Young Frankenstein knows that. Fein does not know anything about Young Frankenstein.
  • Mel Brooks is funny most of the time. But even when he's not, he's ridiculous, especially when it comes to politics. (Brooksian analogy: American racism : flatulence :: torture of Jews : variety gameshow.) Point is, he typifies a type of Jewish humor that goes for the absurd joke, not the biting political critique, paradoxically delivering both. Fein delivers neither.
  • Black and white political ads nowadays are typically reserved for very serious messages. Makes sense if you think about it. Young Frankenstein was in black and white to poke fun at the camp of old horror flicks: It's funny because they were silly films with corny premises that took themselves oh so seriously. Somewhere in all this, Fein's message gets lost. Does this please anyone that actually takes the Iranian nuclear threat seriously, or does it just show the bedrock silliness of turning Ahmadinejad into America's Next Top Dictator©?

Here's the real problem with this ad, though: A token nod to anti-Iranian fears and Jewish film comedy...A total misunderstanding of both, to serve a conservative end...This isn't a pro-Jewish gag so much as a cynical pander, and in not giving viewers much credit for intelligence or humor, it hits me as anti-Semitism of a low order. I have a feeling I know where Fein's next campaign ad is going to go, since her name is a homophone for one of the most cynical "funny" Jewish stereotypes in American sitcom history.

Fein would have you believe that she's lighting a candle for American security and the Chosen People of California's 36th District. But maybe she should stick to the voting issues and put the candle back.