Blogs

Joe!

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:50 PM EST

JOE!....Via Atrios, our friends at Pajamas Media have landed an exclusive:

Joe The Plumber is putting down his wrenches and picking up a reporter's notebook. The Ohio man who became a household name during the presidential campaign says he is heading to Israel as a war correspondent for the conservative Web site pjtv.com.

Another triumph for citizen journalism. Maybe Sarah Palin will join him for a surprise appearance at a bomb crater somewhere.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Curious Case of the Curious Case of Benjamin Button

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:39 PM EST

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON....Apropos of nothing in particular, I decided to read Fitzgerald's short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" after seeing the movie, and it's curious indeed. Aside from not being a very good story (working in the dark ages before the rise of sf, Fitzgerald pretty clearly had no idea what to do with the concept), it's notable that the film doesn't contain even one single element from the story. Not one. Aside from the title, the only thing they have in common is the basic idea of a man aging backward, and even that's treated entirely differently in the film than in the story.

Now, I don't have any problem with this. Screenwriters should write whatever screenplay they want. But what I'm curious about is why the filmmakers even bothered to pretend their movie was based on the Fitzgerald story. If it were, say, I, Robot, I'd get it: the association with Isaac Asimov would be considered good for the box office. Ditto for all the bestsellers made into movies. But the association with Fitzgerald wasn't really played up much in the publicity for the movie, and Fitzgerald is hardly a huge draw for modern audiences anyway. So why bother? Oscar bait of some kind? Or what?

Snubbing Obama?

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:00 PM EST

SNUBBING OBAMA?....Last month, Barack Obama asked the White House if he could move into Blair House a couple of weeks early so that his daughters Malia and Sasha could start school. They turned him down, saying there were guests already booked to stay there, and at the time I assumed this was legitimate. George Bush is many things, but turning down the request just out of personal pettiness didn't seem like his style.

But as so often happens, whenever I give Bush the benefit of the doubt, I turn out to be wrong. ThinkProgress has the dope. It's still possible that bureaucratic bungling or miscommunication might be the culprit here, but it doesn't really look like it.

Quote of the Day - 01.07.09

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 12:31 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Megan McArdle:

I recently realized that over the past few weeks, without really noticing, I've slipped quite naturally into referring to the current crisis as "the Depression". I also realized that no one I've spoken to has challenged that description.

It's sort of stunning to step back from the daily minutiae once in a while and realize just how bad this economic crisis is. As near as I can tell, the underlying shock really is as intense as the one that kicked off the Great Depression, and the only thing preventing soup lines these days is that we've learned a helluva lot since the 1930s. Retirees all continue to have purchasing power and healthcare thanks to Social Security and Medicare. The unemployed are receiving unemployment insurance. Deposit insurance is preventing bank runs. The Fed has lowered interest rates to zero and is prepared to intervene massively to prop up the money supply. Barack Obama is readying a massive federal spending stimulus package. The Treasury is pumping capital into the banking system to prevent a complete collapse of the credit markets. Aside from tinkering around the edges, most countries have agreed (so far!) not to ratchet up protectionist tariffs and trade barriers. We aren't hobbled by reliance on the gold standard.

Take that stuff away today and unemployment might already be in double digits and still heading up. Put this stuff in place in 1929 and we probably never would have had the original Depression (or World War II). So thanks, FDR! Thanks, modern mixed economy! Thanks, countercyclical policy measures! I sure hope it's enough.

Black Women Are Getting Shorter. Really.

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 12:26 PM EST

From WaPo:

On average, black American women are getting shorter.

That's the conclusion reached by John Komlos, an economist who researches the relationship between standards of living and human health and body size. His study, which has not yet been published, analyzes data recently released by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the article to find out why height is such a crucial component of overall health. This is a very disturbing finding, especially since researchers aren't sure why/how it's happening. Until we know that, we can't reverse the trend, and something tells me research bucks are going to be increasingly difficult to score.

On "Middle Class Values"

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 12:19 PM EST

I'm wondering why Naomi Riley wrote this short piece in the City Journal. She served (pretty diligently it seems) as a Big Sister to an inner city girl living in a chaotic environment, and found that some people are opposed to mentors consciously trying to instill "middle class values" in their charges. Are we still playing these word games? Call them middle class values, call them "get yourself together" values, call them the road to success if you like—if someone's mired in disadvantage and likely to repeat the patterns they've grown up with, surely something needs to change.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Gupta vs. Moore

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 11:51 AM EST

GUPTA vs. MOORE....Barack Obama has nominated celebrity doctor Sanjay Gupta to be Surgeon General, and over at his place Ezra Klein has a full rundown of the smackdown between Michael Moore and Gupta after Sicko came out a couple of years ago. I remember being annoyed by this at the time, primarily by Gupta's idiotic insistence that, no, America doesn't spend $7,000 per person on healthcare, it spends only $6,000. Wham! Take that, Moore!

This seemed even more egregious than Gupta's other errors, since it was a purely technical disagreement and Gupta knew perfectly well that (a) there was nothing wrong with Moore's number and (b) it was a trivial difference anyway. Moore's point was that we spend way more money than other countries without getting better results, and that's beyond argument. In the end, though, I wrote it off not so much to mainstream dislike of Moore as to mainstream insistence that if you're going to fact check something, then by God you'd better find some errors even if there aren't any.

Gupta had a few other issues with Moore that Ezra didn't comment on (is national healthcare "free"?, do other countries have longer waiting times than the U.S.?), and he didn't do much better on those. Still, I guess in the end I agree with Ezra that this has been blown out of proportion:

But it's not, as some of the e-mail has suggested, evidence that Gupa is either conservative or an opponent of universal health care. He's read Obama's plan. He's coming on in a largely communications capacity. And that'll be his role. Krugman says that the problem with Gupta's performance was that it was another example of elites engaging in "Village" behavior. He's right about that. But at the end of the day, if the villagers support Obama's heath reform plan, it has a far better shot than if they don't. That's why Gupta's hire is good for health reform, even if it's not good for pundit accountability.

Surgeon General just isn't that big a deal. Gupta will be an effective public face for healthcare, but it's not likely he'll have any major input into the policy end of Obama's primary healthcare plan. It's not worth getting too excited about.

UPDATE: Over at Kos, DrSteveB writes the brief for the opposition. The main problem is that Gupta has a long string of connections with various pharma and healthcare companies. I'm not sure how unusual this is, and I'll wait to hear more about it before saying more. But it's certainly something that needs to be addressed.

UPDATE 2: Oops. Turns out the long string of connections belongs to a different Sanjay Gupta. DrSteve has updated accordingly. Obviously the usual vetting is still in order, but there's no evidence that Gupta has any inappropriate industry ties.

CIA Insider: Panetta's A Good Pick for CIA Chief

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 10:32 AM EST

The front page of The Washington Post screams, "Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection." The article notes that "current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama's choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director." CQPolitics.com blogger and national security journalist Jeff Stein, quoting a former CIA operations veteran, reports that the rank-and-file reaction to Panetta at the CIA has been "overwhelmingly negative." Stein notes that many CIA field people aren't keen on bringing an intelligence establishment outsider into the CIA and would rather have someone who knows the nitty-gritty of spy work running the place--though Stein does report that "a number of former top CIA officials" have told him that Panetta could be a good choice, given that he can be expected to have the standing within the Obama administration to bring effective leadership to the agency.

I asked a former top CIA official who had served not too long ago to share his/her view of the Panetta pick. S/he would only do so if not identified. I know it's often unsatisfying to read a long quote from an unnamed source. But his/her perspective is interesting enough to merit presenting the full response. Let me add that this person is savvy in both the ways of Langley and Washington:

I was expecting to be surprised...and I was. It seems to me to be a reasonably good one pick given the cards they had dealt themselves. The Obama transition folks massively mishandled the [onetime contender for CIA chief] John Brennan situation. When they caved to a little outside pressure [which resulted from Brennan's previous association with the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation procedures] and forced him to remove himself from consideration -- they ended up ruling out a whole class of potential candidates. (i.e. anyone who had served in a position of any significance in intelligence in the past 8 years). So then what could they do?

Transparency and Bipartisanship On the March. Really!

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 10:24 AM EST

I'm convinced that Obama's massive (and growing) popularity has as much to do with stuff like this as it does with his personal charisma and his plans for fixing the economy, health care, and America's reputation abroad. Even those who opposed Obama during the campaign are seeing that the new administration will be run with respect for the other side and a full embrace of transparency. Jake Tapper:

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Vir., suggested said the [stimulus] bill should be put on the Internet a week before Congress votes on it.
Mr. Obama smiled and said something along the lines of, "maybe if I was better at faking it , I'd say, 'Great idea — we'll take you up on that.' But we've actually talked about this idea."
Obama turned it over to incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who essentially said they would do the Republicans one better. They're planning a Google-like search function to show every program funded by the stimulus package, whether it comes in under or over-budget, whether it is meeting its intended purpose, and how many jobs it is creating.
"Tell you what," Obama said, "we'll still call it the Cantor idea."

Also note that Obama is insisting that the stimulus bill be clear of earmarks. This stuff is catnip for fiscal conservatives and government reform do-gooders alike. (H/T Sunlight)

Panetta at the CIA

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:45 AM EST

PANETTA AT THE CIA....Fred Kaplan asked Richard Clarke about Leon Panetta today, and Clarke mentioned that a point in Panetta's favor as CIA director is that as Bill Clinton's budget director and White House chief of staff during the 90s "he was one of a very few people who knew about all of the covert and special-access programs." That could come in handy:

These "special-access programs" — satellites, sensors, and other intelligence-gathering devices whose very existence is known only to those with compartmentalized security clearances — form a welter of costly, overlapping, ill-coordinated, and largely unsupervised projects that are run by private contractors to a greater extent than most people might imagine.

One former CIA official who is familiar with these programs (and who asked not to be identified) speculates that Panetta's main task might be to clean up not only the agency's high-profile mess — the "black ops" that have tarnished America's reputation around the world — but this budgetary-bureaucratic mess as well. Certainly, he knows where the line items are buried to a degree that few insiders can match.

But I wonder how much control Panetta would have over this stuff. Isn't most of it part of NSA, NRO, or other Pentagon outfits? Still: an interesting point. Panetta's past experience may be more relevant than people think.