Blogs

The National Debt Clock Ran Out of Digits

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 4:01 PM EDT

According to CNN:

The National Debt Clock in New York City has run out of digits to record the growing figure.

As a short-term fix, the digital dollar sign on the billboard-style clock near Times Square has been switched to a figure—the "1" in $10 trillion. It's marking the federal government's current debt at about $10.2 trillion.

The Durst Organization says it plans to update the sign next year by adding two digits. That will make it capable of tracking debt up to a quadrillion dollars.

The late Manhattan real estate developer Seymour Durst put the sign up in 1989 to call attention to what was then a $2.7 trillion debt.

I was in the former Yugoslavia in the late 80's/early 90s, just as they'd had to devalue their currency. My then-boyfriend and I were mystified whenever locals tried to explain to us that we needed to add three zeroes or subtract them, who knew which, from whatever was on the bill. Either our disgusting room cost us $10 or $100, we were never quite sure. Everywhere we went, guys with unibrows and "Natasha-and-Boris" accents were pssst-ing at us and going "change mon-ye? change mon-ye?"

You see, back in those long gone days, US currency was the bomb. Now it's just a bomb, I guess. Will we eventually become the slightly scary guys desperately trying to get foreigners to change their good money for our lousy stuff?

I'll have to check with the ex-boyfriend; maybe that was Hungary. Either way, we seem to be going the same way. Backwards.

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The Long Saga of John McCain and the NRA

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 3:19 PM EDT

mccain_nra250x200.jpg Opinions change in Washington. Before the National Rifle Association loved John McCain — it favored McCain with its endorsement Thursday — it had some very sharp disagreements with the Arizona Senator. In 2000, McCain said of the gun lobby, "I don't think they help the Republican Party at all." A year later, the NRA shot back by calling McCain "one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment."

There were two reason for the NRA's hostility toward McCain: campaign finance and a bill McCain co-sponsored with Joe Lieberman to close the so-called "gun show loophole." The NRA put McCain on the cover of its newsletter, called "America's 1st Freedom," in July 2001. Next to him were the words, "John McCain, What Are You Thinking?" An article inside explains that earlier that year McCain and Lieberman had teamed up to champion legislation to eliminate the loophole, which the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence explains this way:

Under federal law, anyone who wants to engage in the business of selling firearms must obtain a federal firearms license. The Brady Law requires that when a federal firearms licensee (FFL) wants to sell a firearm, they must contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to ensure that the purchaser is not prohibited from possessing firearms. FFLs must comply with these laws whether they are selling firearms from a gun store or at a gun show.
The Brady Law, however, does not apply to the sale of firearms by non-licensees. Every year, there are thousands of gun sales without background checks by vendors claiming not to need a federal license because they are merely selling from their "personal collection" of guns. Many of these sales take place at gun shows and the problem has become known as the "gun show loophole."

Rednecks for Obama

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

If you've seen this and this (careful about the language in that last one), you'll probably need this little story to restore some faith.

Update: Here's another one of these videos. This is getting ugly.

Gay Marriage Ban Succeeding in California

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 2:27 PM EDT

I'm really unhappy that my home state looks like it will pass a gay marriage ban next month. (California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, is ahead in the polls.) This serves as a reminder that no matter how badly Barack Obama beats John McCain and no matter how many Senate seats the Democrats pick up, this is not a fundamentally progressive country. This is a country fed up with Republicans. I mean for christ's sake, this is California, the one place you would think voters would embrace gay marriage!

The success of Prop 8 supports a theory I have and that I'm sure many share: electing a black man named Barack Hussein Obama was only possible because of just how screwed we are as a country. Let's keep in mind, during the post-election pats on the back we're all going award ourselves because we elected the nation's first black president, that in a test of our tolerance conducted in a vacuum, one of our most progressive states failed.

(Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe I'm overly-pessimistic. Whatever. I'm in a bad mood about this.)

Sarah's Airplane

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 1:57 PM EDT

SARAH'S AIRPLANE....Alaska's First Dude has finally been forced to give testimony in the Troopergate scandal, and apparently getting ex-brother-in-law Mike Wooten fired from his job as a state trooper became a serious Ahab-like obsession with him:

Todd Palin talked with over a dozen state officials, many of them repeatedly, in his crusade to get a state trooper fired whom he considered to be a bad cop, a dishonest person and a threat to the Palin family, according to his sworn statement given Wednesday to a legislative investigator....Todd Palin's efforts started before his wife became governor and accelerated during the first 19 months of her administration.

...."I had hundreds of conversations and communications about Trooper Wooten over the last several years with my family, with friends, with colleagues, and with just about everyone I could — including government officials," Palin said.

Hundreds! But that's actually not the most interesting part of the story. Todd Palin continues to insist that his anti-Wooten jihad had nothing to do with Sarah Palin's eventual firing of public safety commissioner Walt Monegan, which he says was motivated by an entirely different kind of bad blood: her difficulty getting Monegan to provide her with a plane for official trips:

On the trooper airplane, "It seemed that whenever Sarah needed this plane, it was unavailable," Todd Palin said. "We were concerned that the Department of Public Safety was retaliating against Sarah for selling the Murkowski jet that Department of Public Safety officials enjoyed using." In 2007, the governor sold a jet her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, bought in a controversial defiance of the Legislature.

Please, please, can we hear more about this tussle over airplane use? Apparently Todd Palin thinks that's an entirely proper reason for firing Monegan, and I'm eager to hear Sarah's take on that. Please?

Sarah Palin's Foreign Policy Cred

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 1:16 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN'S FOREIGN POLICY CRED....Interested in learning about Sarah Palin's real foreign policy experience? David Corn has her official calendar for 2007-08 and spills the beans. Bottom line: she's spent an average of 37 minutes per month on foreign-ish activity during her tenure as governor. There were no meetings with Russian officials of any kind, but her schedule did include 30 minutes at a reception held by the Italian embassy, a meeting with foreign exchange students, and a speech at the Eighth Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians. Plus several miscellaneous meetings with Canadians. Exciting stuff!

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McCain's Rescue Plan

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 12:56 PM EDT

McCAIN'S RESCUE PLAN....It's now clear that John McCain's $300 billion homeowner rescue plan really does envision paying mortgage lenders full face value for their subprime loans, even though they've all cratered badly during the housing bust. How do we know? Because his website originally said that mortgage lenders would be required to write down their loans, but that language was removed on Wednesday. It was "a simple mistake," the campaign said.

But here's what I don't get: why? This was plainly a middle class pander, and not one that McCain would have been obligated to follow through on. This kind of stuff changes at the detail level all the time. So why include such a blatant giveaway for Wall Street? Even if you have some technical reason for thinking it's a good idea, it doesn't make any political sense at all. What's going on?

...And Some Growing Increasingly Sane

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 12:36 PM EDT

While some conservatives grow increasingly batty, some are growing increasingly sane. And by "increasingly sane," I mean increasingly cognizant of some of the Republican Party's troubling undercurrents that have brought it to this point. Here's David Brooks.

Here's the relevant excerpt transcribed:

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. . … Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

(Via Think Progress)

On Right-Wingers Going Crazy...

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 12:14 PM EDT

Two notes on Kevin's observation that right wing writers are descending into hilarious self-caricature as Obama pulls ahead in the polls.

(1) Kevin notes that the right wing blog The Corner is now posting about "Obama being a secret Maoist." He's not kidding. Here's an actual quote, written with high seriousness: "[Obama] fits comfortably with Ayers, who (especially now) is more Maoist than Stalinist." And, no, they aren't kidding. It makes me wonder: as someone who now wants the federal government to own America's bad mortgages, what kind of communist is John McCain?

(2) The right wing isn't just becoming more and more divorced from reality as their electoral prospects worsen. It's also becoming more racist and more susceptible to crazy conspiracy theories. One of them is actually claiming, sans evidence, that Bill Ayers ghost wrote Dreams of My Father.

Like I said yesterday, this is going to get hilarious before it's over.

Are You Hot or Not?

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 12:05 PM EDT

Researchers in Israel have come up with a mathematical formula to answer the question. Using a computer program called the "beautification engine," you can basically feed a picture of yourself into the machine, and it will pop out the new and improved you. (I, for one, would rather not know how much better I could look. I can't see that being any help to my self confidence. But I digress...) The formula is based on 68 responses from men and women in Germany and Israel who were asked to rate the beauty of a set of facial images. Now, this is not the kind of science that will win anyone a Nobel Prize, but at least one revelation seems to have come out of it: James Franco is apparently the most perfect male specimen on the planet. His agent must be busy this morning...