Protectionism

I think Matt Yglesias makes a pretty good political point here about trade policy:

If you convince people that it’s not possible for monetary authorities to boost employment, and that it’s unwise to use fiscal policy to boost employment, then it starts to look irresponsible for politicians not to use trade restrictions to protect the jobs of people in their state/district. When an economy is near full employment you can say trade makes the pie bigger and people who lose their jobs will get new jobs. But [if] we’re years away from full employment — which both the Fed and the White House seem to think — then getting laid-off is catastrophic.

The Fed is obviously more concerned about inflation than it is about unemployment right now, and Congress likewise seems unwilling to do very much more to help create jobs.  In an environment like that, public pressure for trade restrictions becomes hard to resist.  So if free traders really want to keep protectionist sentiment tamped down, they'd be well advised to start supporting domestic policies that create jobs, bring down unemployment, and reduce the kind of financial fear that drives protectonist sentiment in the first place.

ClimateGate

As near as I can tell, ClimateGate is almost entirely a tempest in a teacup.  Among the stash of emails recently hacked from computers at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, one mentioned a "trick" for producing a nice looking graph, but the word "trick" was plainly used in the sense of "technique," not chicanery.  There's nothing questionable there.  Another bunch of emails shows that when scientists are communicating privately they can be as catty and nasty as anyone else.  It's good gossip fodder, but nothing more.  Another set of emails deals with outraged reaction to a particular journal article, but this isn't news.  It was an entirely public incident when it happened a few years ago, and half the board of the journal resigned in protest.  The emailers were determined not to have shoddy science published in peer-reviewed journals, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Then there are some emails about which research should and shouldn't be included in the next IPCC report, which, again, is entirely normal.  Every scientist who worked on the IPCC report surely had opinions about which research was on point and which was shoddy.  Finally, there's the revelation that CRU has destroyed some raw temperature data, but this happened back in the 1980s, before global warming was even on anyone's radar screen, and was obviously motivated by space considerations (they were paper records), not any kind of coverup.  What's more, the raw data is still available from the original sources that provided it to CRU anyway.

Unfortunately, there are also a couple of messages that suggest an effort to destroy emails that might have been subject to a Freedom of Information request.  That's a genuine problem, though it's not clear to me just how big a problem it is.

So on a substantive level, there's really very little to this.  Certainly nothing that changes the actual science of climate change even a little.  The earth is still warming and disaster is still highly likely if we sit around and do nothing.  But George Monbiot thinks we lefties have our heads in the sand if we think that makes any difference:

I have seldom felt so alone. Confronted with crisis, most of the environmentalists I know have gone into denial. The emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, they say, are a storm in a tea cup, no big deal, exaggerated out of all recognition. It is true that climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can't possibly support (the end of global warming, the death of climate science). But it is also true that the emails are very damaging.

....The crisis has been exacerbated by the university's handling of it, which has been a total trainwreck: a textbook example of how not to respond....When the emails hit the news on Friday morning, the university appeared completely unprepared. There was no statement, no position, no one to interview. Reporters kept being fobbed off while CRU's opponents landed blow upon blow on it. When a journalist I know finally managed to track down Phil Jones, he snapped "no comment" and put down the phone. This response is generally taken by the media to mean "guilty as charged".

....The handling of this crisis suggests that nothing has been learnt by climate scientists in this country from 20 years of assaults on their discipline. They appear to have no idea what they're up against or how to confront it. Their opponents might be scumbags, but their media strategy is exemplary.

It's hard to argue with this.  Climate change skeptics have gotten fantastic mileage out of this affair, but that's only partly because technical explanations of facially damaging statements are never very convincing to the general public.  An even bigger part of the problem is that a lot of the scientists involved haven't even been providing the technical explanations, leaving that up to others who are trying to get a handle on what's going on.  From a PR standpoint, it's been a disaster so far.

For years the CRU has resisted public release of its underlying datasets, partly for the understandable reason that they're tired of dealing with amateurs who comb though raw data looking for ways to pretend that warming isn't really happening, and partly because they don't have the authority to release it all.  Still, science is all about transparency, and annoying or not, the data should be available.  Now it probably will be, and under the worst possible circumstances.  It's going to be rough sledding for the next couple of years against the fever swamp crowd, aided and abetted by the coal industry.  Buckle up.

The climate summit that kicks off in Copenhagen next week may turn out to be more eventful than you might expect, thanks to significant promises from the US and China in recent days.

Last week, the White House confirmed that Obama will make a pit stop at the summit and announce that the United States is committing to reducing planet-warming emissions in the neighborhood of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The next day, the Chinese government announced a goal of reducing their carbon intensity—the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit of gross domestic product—by up to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Since the US and China together are responsible for 40 percent of the world's emissions, these commitments are expected to have a real impact on the negotiations.

Congress already made sure the Obama administration wouldn't have to release photos of detainee abuse, but on Monday, the Supreme Court told the government the same thing: no worries.

A federal appeals court ordered the photos, which the ACLU is seeking under the Freedom of Information Act, released earlier this year. But the Obama administration convinced Congress to pass a law that allows the executive branch to unilaterally withhold any detainee photos it wants to keep secret. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the court earlier this month that he would use the power granted to him by the new law to withhold the photos that are the subject of the ACLU's lawsuit. The high court's decision instructs the appeals court to reconsider its decision in light of the new law and Gates' announcement.

Supporters of releasing the photos shouldn't blame the courts for their continued suppression. Now that Congress has given the Obama administration almost unlimited power to suppress detainee abuse photos, the blame for using that power lies with the president himself. This isn't John Roberts' problem. It's Barack Obama's.

Too Big To Fail

The Financial Stability Board (what a great name!) has created a list of the world's top 30 "systemically important" financial institutions — aka banks that are too big to fail.  Citi and BofA make the list; Wells Fargo doesn't.  If you were in charge of Wells, would you be pleased or annoyed?

Via Felix Salmon, who wants to know why there are no American insurers on the list.  Probable answer: AIG has already failed, so they can hardly make the list, and America's other big insurers are mostly purely domestic affairs.  They're the Fed's problem, not the world's.

One of the unfortunate side effects of being subscribed to as many conservative email lists as I am is that you get subjected to a lot of sales pitches. Stephanie already blogged about some of the more offensive Christmas gifts conservatives are selling to each other this holiday season. But this stuff never stops. On Monday, one conservative mailing list tried to sell me a children's book called Help! Mom! Radicals are Ruining My Country!, which is about how liberals are destroying America (what else?):

In a cameo appearance, "Governor Sarah," a Palin lookalike character, attempts to help two boys with a struggling swingset business hang onto the American Dream despite high taxes, burdensome regulations and 246 czars in the recently released children’s book Help! Mom! Radicals Are Ruining My Country!, by bestselling-author Katharine DeBrecht.

"I am trying to let all Americans know that these radicals are killing the American Dream and I want to stop them from hurting people that produce products and provide jobs," the Palin character consoles the frustrated boys. The book then describes an all-out media assault on the Palin figure based on false rumors which discourages the boys:

Unfortunately later that night, while the boys were still ruffling through their bills, they saw a special report on TV. The TV anchorwoman beamed "We have breaking news just in from a 37 year old man who lives in his parents’ basement that Governor Sarah’s mother is actually an alien."

The anchorwoman excitedly went on, "And from this exclusive source, we can confirm that Governor Sarah feeds her children dog food for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

The sample pages from the book aren't particularly compelling, especially since the central allegory is incredibly heavy handed. There's a place for funny conservative caricatures of liberalism. Unfortunately, Ms. DeBrecht is no Christopher Buckley . But the kids' book is interesting in how it echoes Palin's own story about herself, in which she is a victim who was unfairly smeared by a biased news media.

On a somewhat related note, historian Rick Perlstein has done a lot of work documenting how conservative mailing lists show that conservatives treat their constituents like suckers

I've been on dozens of both right-wing and left-wing mailing lists going back well over a decade. I've never, ever, ever received from the left anything remotely like the snake-oil pitches I receive from Newsmax and Human Events nearly every day.

Digby has more on this subject here.

Chart of the Day

I think I published an earlier version of this, but here's the latest analysis of the Senate healthcare bill from MIT economist Jonathan Gruber:

Analysis of the non-partisan information from the CBO suggests that for those facing purchase in the non-group market, the [Senate] bill will deliver savings ranging from $200 for singles to $500 for families in today’s dollars — even without subsidies. The savings are much larger for lower income populations that receive premium credits. This is in addition to the higher quality benefits that those in the exchange will receive, with actuarial values for low income populations well above what is typical in the non-group market today. It is also in addition to all the other benefits that this legislation will deliver to those consumers — in particular the guarantee, unavailable in most states, that prices would not be raised or the policy revoked if they became ill.

There are three important things to note about this.  First, the Senate bill lowers the premiums for low-cost plans across the board.  Second, in addition to this reduction, the Senate bill provides subsidies to low- and middle-income familes that makes health insurance even less expensive.  Third, it does this for a plan that covers about 70% of all medical expenses, compared to a non-reform plan that covers only about 60% of all expenses.  On an apples-to-apples basis, the Senate bill lowers premiums by about 20% and then subsidizes that lower price to reduce the cost of coverage even more.

I hardly need to mention what an enormous boon this would be for millions and millions of real flesh-and-blood people, do I?

Palin's Latest Error

Geoffrey Dunn dug up an amusing error in Sarah Palin's Going Rogue.* The epigraph for Chapter Three, "Drill, Baby, Drill," is a quote that Palin attributes to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden:

Our land is everything to us... I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it—with their lives.

Dunn explains what the problem is:

[T]he quote wasn't by John Wooden. It was written by a Native American activist named John Wooden Legs in an essay entitled "Back on the War Ponies," which appeared in a left-wing anthology, We Are the People: Voices from the Other Side of American History, edited by Nathaniel May, Clint Willis, and James W. Loewen.

That's a pretty big mistake. Here's the full quote:

Our land is everything to us. It is the only place in the world where Cheyennes talk the Cheyenne language to each other. It is the only place where Cheyennes remember the same things together. I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it—with their life. My people and the Sioux defeated General Custer at the Little Big Horn.

As Dunn notes, that's not quite the message Palin was trying to convey.

*Update, 12/1/09: According to commenters, Lawyers, Guns, and Money had this on Nov. 20. Dunn didn't give anyone credit, so I didn't know. Sorry!

Ah, 'tis the season for right-wing nuttiness. Black Friday has unleashed a barrage of racist and homophobic political offerings available to stuff this year's stockings. Today's selections:

The Barney Frank Fruitcake: Offered by a Leesburg, Va.-based conservative group called the Public Advocate of the United States, the fruitcake is a booze-free confection topped with a color photo of the gay congressman. Pubilc Advocate offers the cake in exchange for donations of more than $50. "We accept Speaker Pelosi and the current liberal domination but when lawlessness is rampant we must oppose it, and this Fruitcake distribution represents our marking of another season of protesting a sorrowful spirit of immorality in Washington," says PA president Eugene Delgaudio.

Obozo's America: A board game based on the idea that a socialist clown has become president of the United States, subtitled, "Why bother working for a living?" The low-down:

Get your initial $1,000 cash grant at the First of the Month, then maneuver along Obozo’s Welfare Promenade. Get cash for your out-of-wedlock children. Draw from a stack of Welfare Benefit Cards. Get extra cash from Saturday Night crimes: Gambling, Armed Robbery, Drugs, and Prostitution. Play the lottery and the horses. Get your live-in a job on the Government Cakewalk. Experience the Jail Jaunt. Avoid landing on one of those dreaded “Get a Job” blocks forcing you onto the Working Person’s Rut (Somebody has to pay for Obozo’s Welfare Promenade). 50 Welfare Benefit Cards. 50 Working Person’s Burden Cards. Lots of funny money.

The deluxe version available for just $37.90, plus tax and shipping.

 

This year's Miss South Pacific pageant isn't just about swim suits—it's taking on climate change. The slogan is "preserving our environment the Pacific way," and several contestants have spoken about the issue. Last Wednesday was  Polynesian Nite for the week-long competition, which means Polynesian nations, including, Tuvalu will be honored. Miss Tuvalu, Akelita Marisa, has been vocal about the threats that climate change poses to her home country—sea level rises, king tides, extreme weather, and erosion. The final crowning of Miss South Pacific happened last weekend, less than two weeks before the international climate talks in Copenhagen kick off.

In the current issue of Mother Jones, Rachel Morris has taken an in-depth look at how Tuvaluans are dealing with the impending threats of climate change. Morris traveled to New Zealand to speak with Tuvaluan immigrants and atoll island experts about how soon Tuvalu could be under water. Check it out here.