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Ships Spew Killer Pollution

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 11:45 PM EST
In fact ships pollute nearly half as much as all the world’s cars. We're talking smog-type pollution. The kind that causes premature deaths from heart disease and asthma. A new study [pdf] estimates the total contribution of commercial maritime shipping and it adds up to about 2.2 million pounds of particle pollution a year.

Since more than 70 percent of shipping traffic takes place within 250 miles of the coastline, ship spew is a serious health issue for nearly half the people of the world—the number who live near the coast [pdf]

The problem starts with sulfates, the same gunk emitted by diesel engines on land. Sulfates already have some measure of regulations attached to them. But more than half of shipping pollution comes from organic pollutants and sooty black carbon. These aren't targeted by today’s regulations.

When you consider that our world is a giant fluid dynamics experiment, then it makes sense that what happens at sea flows ashore. And vice versa. There are all kinds of ways to address this problem. Kevin Drum talks cap and trade and that could work for shipping too. But keep in mind that one upside to the global downturn in the economy is decreased shipping and therefore cleaner air. So why not recast the recession as a long-overdue refreshment for our weary planet?

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Kenneth the Page's Response to Bobby Jindal's Response to Obama

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 10:29 PM EST

He doesn't get what all the fuss is about.

Palin's Media Bash-a-thon Continues

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 7:32 PM EST
Recently, clips of an interview Sarah Palin gave to conservative filmmaker John Ziegler caused a stir because of Palin's comment that the media was on a mission to "seek" and "destroy" her vice presidential candidacy. At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, Ziegler was on hand to show the full, unedited interview he did with Palin on January 5th in the governor's Wasilla, Alaska, home. Lasting roughly 40 minutes, the interview is full of fusillades launched at the mainstream media, many of most of which have already become public but some of which have not. Below are some moments from Palin – she calls the scandal surrounding the birth of her son Trig "the epitome of stupidity," defends her interview with Charlie Gibson, and says that she would do it all over again.

Tattoo Removal

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 6:54 PM EST
Greg Sargent watches wingnut TV so you don't have to:

Conservatives are hammering the House’s new $410 billion spending bill because it contains $200,000 for what they’re derisively referring to as “tattoo removal.” Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Drudge, and at least one GOP official on MSNBC, among others, have been all over this today.

....The tattoo pork story kicked off in earnest when the New York Post flagged the “tattoo removal” pork in a story this morning. It was subsequently pushed by Drudge with the headline: “Congress: Big Bucks To Canoes And Tattoos.”

I hardly need to tell you that this is yet another crock to go along with volcano monitoring, field mouse protection, and the train to Las Vegas.  Read Greg for the whole story.  But I suppose resistance is futile.  Nothing is going to stop conservatives from combing through this bill forever looking for minusucle items to fan up some faux outrage over.  They're a tired bunch these days, and this is pretty much all they've got left.

Raining Money

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 5:49 PM EST
James Kwak explains why the latest Treasury rescue plan is great for Wall Street, not so great for the rest of us:

There is nothing inherently wrong with convertible preferred stock. In Silicon Valley, for example, venture capitalists almost always invest by buying convertible preferred. The idea is that in the case of a bad outcome, the VCs are protected, because their shares have priority over the common shares held by the founders and employees....However, in a good outcome, the VCs can exchange their preferred shares one-for-one for common. So if the company gets sold for $100 million, the VCs convert, and they now own 50% of the common stock, so they get $50 million.

....The key in the Silicon Valley example is that the VCs have the option to convert or not. The Treasury Department's new Capital Assistance Program has this precisely backwards....The bank, AT ITS OPTION, can choose to convert the preferred shares into common, at 90% of the average closing share price during the 20 days ending on February 9.

....What's wrong with this? Well, nothing, if your goal is to give banks money. What you've just done is stick the government with the downside risk — we could get paid back in worthless stock — while the bank shareholders get all the upside potential. You've done this by giving the bank, for free, an option that has value. Back of the envelope, Peter [Boone] thinks this option is worth about 65 cents per dollar of money invested. (It's worth so much because bank stocks are so volatile these days.) Put another way, for every $10 billion of capital we invest this way, we are giving away another $6.5 billion.

The rest is a little complicated but worth reading anyway.  "There are some very clever people in Treasury these days," Kwak says, and they're expending a lot of brainpower figuring out ever more elegant ways to spend taxpayer dollars in ways that won't offend the delicate sensibilities of the folks getting the checks.

Obama's Budget: $3.5 Trillion Well Spent?

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 5:37 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 26, 2009 5:37 PM EST

President Obama outlined his $3.55 trillion budget (PDF) for fiscal year 2010 Thursday. Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans almost immediately began wrangling over the spending plan: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor called it "misguided" and dangerous," and while Nancy Pelosi applauded the end of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, she said she'd prefer to see them ended sooner.

But at least one economist thinks it's money well spent. Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, was almost effusive in his praise of Obama's budget:

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Feeding at the Federal Trough

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 3:56 PM EST
Gail Collins on Bobby Jindal's response to Obama's speech on Tuesday:

Louisiana has gotten $130 billion in post-Katrina aid. How is it that the stars of the Republican austerity movement come from the states that suck up the most federal money? Taxpayers in New York send way more to Washington than they get back so more can go to places like Alaska and Louisiana. Which is fine, as long as we don’t have to hear their governors bragging about how the folks who elected them want to keep their tax money to themselves. Of course they do! That’s because they’re living off ours.

They are indeed.  Wonky details here.

A Global Meltdown

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 3:26 PM EST
I wrote a little post yesterday rounding up some of the bad economic news from around the world (exports plummeting in Japan, Italy rescuing its banks, Eastern Europe turning into a basket case, Russian GDP down 8%, etc. etc.), but then my browser crashed and I didn't feel like reconstructing it after I was back up and running.  But the bottom line was simple: there's a world of economic pain out there, and economic pain frequently turns into political and national security pain too.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the White House is worried about the same thing, and has asked the CIA to begin preparing a daily report on the global economic crisis:

The CIA's role in producing the report underscores the level of anxiety within the administration over how rapidly the economic downturn is spreading, as well as its potential to hobble foreign governments and trigger instability overseas.

The report, called the Economic Intelligence Brief, was launched at the request of the White House and delivered for the first time Wednesday.

[CIA Director Leon] Panetta said the document would survey major economic developments internationally and focus on how plunging markets and credit pressures are driving the decisions in nations including Russia and China.

The report covers "economic, political, leadership developments" in other countries as well as "the implications of those developments in terms of the U.S. economy," Panetta said.

We're not going to see pitchforks and torches in the United States, but we might in a few other countries before this is all over.  This is a smart move by Obama.

UPDATE: Along these lines, Cernig directs our attention to the recent armed mutiny among the 42,000 members of the Bangladesh Border Guards over lack of pay.  Global warming is implicated too.

Michael Klare has a much more detailed piece on this general subject over at Salon:

If you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations — none as yet in the United States — your map would already look aflame with activity.

Obama's new briefing is going to be a busy one.

Federal Pay

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:58 PM EST
Federal employees are sharing the pain in Obama's FY2010 budget:

Civilian employees of the federal government will be limited to a 2 percent pay increase in 2010 under the proposed budget released this morning by the Obama administration.

...."It's a modest increase, but it certainly is prudent," said Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees...."While it's certainly a modest pay increase, federal employees recognize the severity of the economic situation, and we're viewing it from that context."

Over the past 12 months the Consumer Price Index has gone up 0.4%, so a 2 percent raise isn't exactly iron-fisted.  No wonder the union guy is taking this so serenely.

The $1 Trillion Carbon Cap GDP Boost

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:00 PM EST

The consensus among economists these days is that the economic cost of curbing climate change in the short-term will run between 0.5 and one percent of U.S. GDP—about $143 billion if we use 2008's GDP as a reference.

But Grist's Gar Lipow doesn't think curbing climate change will cost the GDP a dime: