Sherman Alexie TONIGHT in SF

Sherman Alexie, everybody's favorite Native American author/poet/YA revolutionary and banned book super-star, not to mention this issue's MoJo interview subject  will be reading from his new short story collection War Dances at the Women's Building in San Francisco. After hearing him speak at last year's New Yorker Festival, I can't recommend this reading highly enough. If you're within 100 miles and still on the fence, I'd invite you to reread the excellent title story which ran in the New Yorker this August. Still not sold? What if I told you that tickets were just $8?

That's a heck of a lot less than it costs to buy on Amazon (though, apparently on his insistence, it's not even available for the Kindle). Not in SF? Check out Alexie in your city

Fixing the World's Problems

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief, obviously didn't know that Barack Obama was about to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when he wrote his op-ed about Afghanistan in this morning's Washington Post, but he sure sets out some Nobel-worthy goals in his piece.  Here are two of his six bullets:

  • Fix the Durand Line. As long as this border drawn by the British is not fixed, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be at loggerheads and always suspicious of one another. A joint development project for the border area, announced by both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and supported by the United States and the world community, will direct people's eyes to the future rather than the past.
  • Push India and Pakistan to fix Kashmir. That is doable, once both countries see a determined effort by the United States in that direction. Both countries are beholden to the United States -- Pakistan for the military and financial support it receives and India for the nuclear energy agreement it has signed with Washington.

OK then!  Just fix two problems that are among the oldest, most intractable border disputes on the planet.  And then in his second term Obama will be freed up to negotiate that long-awaited peace treaty with Mars.

Snark aside, I guess it would be interesting to hear from some area experts on this.  In the case of Kashmir, a treaty seems at least theoretically doable since the objective issues at stake are quite solvable.  Sure, it's politically impossible — and neither side seems to have the slightest interest in U.S. involvement — but at least it's possible to conceive of solutions.

But the Durand Line?  I don't even know what a solution would look like in theory.  Neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan will ever agree to move the line substantially enough to unite the Pashtun areas in dispute, and without that there's hardly any point.  Obama would have to literally be a miracle worker to make any progress on this front.

On the bright side, by including these two bullets, al-Faisal makes his other four goals seem like cakewalks.  Maybe that was the point?

Mystery Guest Cat: Turkish

It's Laura again. We're running a little late getting you Kevin and David's regular week-in-review podcast today, but don't worry, it's coming. In the meantime, a little light reading from the rest of the MoJo crew:

1) Conservative Muslims don't think so, but the technology behind synthetic hymens really is kind of cool.

2) Too bad virginity isn't the only thing being reclaimed these days: Medicare's repo men could be coming soon to a nursing home near you.

3) And speaking of shameless commerce: Did the Chamber break its own rules when it adopted a hard-line climate policy that scared off Nike?

Last, congrats to Turkish, a.k.a. Mystery Guest Cat #2, appearing naked as Levi Johnston in Kevin's Drum Beat newsletter today. [For Kevin's newsletter-exclusive weekly bonus post and mystery cat news, sign up here.]

From reader Patrick O'Grady: Turkish is two-and-a-half years old, unemployed, and fears losing his litter box to bankruptcy should that black spot on his nose turn out to be more than a simple beauty mark. Miss Mia Sopaipilla, being some six months younger, is certain that she will live forever and spends her days peering out the window, keeping a lookout for socialists bent on killing her granny. Turkish and Mia live in a tiny blue carbuncle on the fat red ass of Colorado Springs, Colorado, with their staffers Patrick and Shannon O'Grady. When not serving their feline overlords, Patrick dabbles in freelance cycling journalism; Shannon works for the Colorado Library Consortium.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer, editor, and sometime geek for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

Ex-Lobbyist Confirmed to CFTC

Meet the newest addition to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If you've been reading Mother Jones recently, then you already know quite a bit about Scott O'Malia. Like the fact that he once worked as a top in-house lobbyist for an energy company, Mirant, that manipulated California's market Enron-style. Or that, while on this company's payroll, he lobbied against a bill to expand the CFTC's authority to police derivatives. Or that the Senate Agriculture Committee, which reviewed his nomination, declined to ask him any specific questions about his pro-deregulation lobbying on not one but two occasions.

O'Malia and two other nominees were unanimously confirmed late Thursday. He will fill the seat vacated by Walter Lukken earlier this year, serving a five-year term that expires in April 2015. O'Malia's tenure on the 5-member commission comes at a time when the Obama administration is pushing an ambitious financial reform overhaul, which, among other things, includes strengthening the historically toothless CFTC. During his recent confirmation hearing, O'Malia expressed [PDF] his commitment to bolstering oversight and said he would work to "ensure the CFTC uses all of its legal authorities to curb excessing speculation and prevent abusive trading practices, including fraud and manipulation." Given his track record, there's reason to be dubious. An energy analyst recently raised the theory that O'Malia's nomination caused a rally in the oil market, with investors betting he'd reduce "the risk" the commission will take an aggressive stand on speculation.

It's always possible that in the years following his stint at Mirant, O'Malia shifted his views on regulation and oversight. It's possible that he'll work to strengthen the rules his former company worked to undo. But if not, the Obama administration has succeeded in undermining its own agenda.

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.

Obama Nobel: Affirmative Action?

After finding out that Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the American Prospect's Adam Serwer asked, "I wonder who's going to be the first righty to complain about affirmative action?" RedState's Erick Erickson won the prize:

I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news.

Stay classy!

Nobel Decision

Jeez-Louise, what's with all the catcalls against the Nobel Committee's decision to award this year's Peace Prize to President Obama -- particularly the ones coming from progressives?

Me, I agree with and applaud the committee's decision.

I admit, though, that my first reaction on hearing the news was, "Yeah, but what has he actually done to deserve this award?"

Exciting Trade Deficit News

This is genuinely good news:

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly narrowed for the first time in four months in August, with exports rising to their highest level of the year and imports easing despite higher oil prices.

....The decline, the first since May, was a surprise on Wall Street. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a further widening in the deficit to $33.6 billion.

The recent resurgence of oil prices had been pushing the trade deficit back up, after a brief dip earlier in the year when the recession sapped demand for imports. However, exports have enjoyed a five-month uptrend, which bodes well for the economic outlook.

As with a lot of other hopeful indicators, there's no telling if this one will last.  But it's essential that it does.  Despite what Sarah Palin may think, the U.S. desperately needs a weaker dollar, lower consumption, and an end to the permanent current account deficit.  This news probably won't get a lot of attention, but it should.

Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard said she came home one day last February to find her teenage son painting a giant mural of Barack Obama on his bedroom wall. The painting, she said, should be a symbol for Americans of just how much hope the new president has instilled in the rest of the world.

"How many years is it since you had an American president that a new youth generation, not only in Denmark, not only in Europe, in Asia, in Africa ... who through his presidency has allowed hope in the United States?" said Hedegaard. "It's fantastic that a new generation of youth worldwide sees this new hope in American leadership."

"I know all the troubles back home on your domestic scene," she continued. "But those of us who love the US, it is a fantastic and unique possibility of reinventing the American strong position in the world."

Hedegaard noted this in a meeting with a small group of American reporters here in Copenhagen on Friday, just minutes after word hit the press that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Denmark, like the rest of the world, is abuzz about the award. Like many Americans, I'm befuddled by the choice. While I hope that he may some day earn such a prize, I'm not sure that he's done anything in his barely nine months in office that would merit this honor.

On climate change in particular, I'm rather surprised by the credit he's getting. The prize committee stated, among other reasons, that, "Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting." Hedegaard, Danish leaders, and the average Danish citizens I've met here also seem to be giving him quite a bit more credit than is deserved on this issue.

Morning Roundup

Hey, good morning.  Anything new going on today?  Let's see.....NASA crashed a probe into the moon....a car bomb killed 49 people in Pakistan....Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace prize....

Wait a second.  Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?  What for?  Says here it's in recognition of "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

I'm going to head out into the blogosphere and see what people think of this.  But before I do, I just want to say that this is ridiculous.  I mean, I'm all in favor of making wingnut heads explode, but the guy's been in office for slightly less than nine months.  That's barely enough time to make a baby, let alone bring world peace.  Shouldn't the luminaries in Oslo have waited until he had done something more significant than making nice with his former primary opponent before declaring him a man for the ages?

Oh well.  Sometimes people do dumb things.  At least we get to see wingnut heads explode.

UPDATE: OK, I've now spent a few minutes taking in reaction from all corners.  Is there anyone who's defending this choice?  Couldn't they have just given it to Bono instead?  At least then maybe we'd get some nice music at the awards ceremony.

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Win: Instant Analysis

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and, more important, twitter, you can quickly get all possible reactions to a story. Here's a sample of some of the most interesting and amusing tweets responding to Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win:

  • AdamSerwer Just woke up and heard aboyt rhe nobel. The right is going to go berzerk today.
  • AdamSerwer No joke obama should turn the nobel peace prize down until he's finished with his two wars.
  • lehmannchris: Biden now convinced he has a shot at the Chemistry prize.
  • basseyworld: Mr. Pres., I'm happy for you and I'm gonna let you finish but Nelson Mandela was the best Peace Prize winner of all time.
  • chrislhayes Kind of happy I'm headed out of the country just when we're about the achieve post-Nobel peak wingnut.