You think I'm joking, don't you?  Au contraire:

Half of the $1.4 million prize went to Charles K. Kao for insights in the mid-1960s about how to get light to travel long distances through glass strands, leading to a revolution in fiber optic cables. The other half of the prize was shared by two researchers at Bell Labs, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, for inventing the semiconductor sensor known as a charge-coupled device, or CCD for short. CCDs now fill digital cameras by the millions.

Without CCDs to take the pictures and fiber optics to carry them from my house to the server that broadcasts them to the world, there would be no Friday Catblogging.  So congratulations to Drs. Kao, Boyle, and Smith.  The catbloggers of the world salute you.  The cats of the world would salute you too if their appreciation of light went beyond coveting sunny patches on the floor.

This letter to the editor in Saturday's Washington Post was pretty amusing:

George F. Will used his Oct. 1 column to deride government officials and scientists warning of the consequences of global warming, and he suggested that these climate-change "Cassandras" slow down and not cater to "alarmists" 

Mr. Will has perhaps forgotten his classics. Cassandra, prophetess of Troy, was always right when she sounded the alarm but was never believed by those with power to avert disaster.


Senior Attorney

Environmental Law Institute


The man with the oddly appropriate name is right. (Via)

Brendan Nyhan takes a look at support for Barack Obama's healthcare plan following his big speech a couple of weeks ago and comes away unimpressed:

There was a small bounce in support for health care reform after the speech, but part of the effect dissipated. Meanwhile, estimated opposition to reform, which dipped in the wake of the speech, quickly rebounded toward previous levels and is now greater than it was before the speech.

....I'm emphasizing this point because there's a misperception among journalists that the president can easily move public opinion. As we've seen again and again over the years, it's simply not true, but the lack of followup by the press means that the lesson is never learned.

I agree on the narrow question here: a single speech by a president probably has very little impact except in the very short term.   But I'm not sure that's the same thing as saying the presidents don't have much effect on public opinion.  It's obviously harder to measure presidential impact the more broadly you look at it, but my guess is that presidents can have a fair amount of impact if they pick one or two subjects and hit on them early and often.

This was one of my criticisms of Obama from the very beginning: his campaign was very good at inspiring people to vote for "change," but that message was only good enough to win the election.  By November 4th, the only specific change in most people's minds when they entered the voting booth was that they didn't want four more years of George W. Bush.

Now, Job 1 in a campaign is to get elected.  And "change" is one of the two classic messages for any winning campaign.  (The other is "experience counts.")  But there's not much point in getting elected unless you can accomplish something once you're in the Oval Office, and that requires a public that's solidly behind your legislative program.  Unfortunately, that's something Obama never really got, because he didn't want to take the chance of muddying his message and risking the election.  Maybe that was the right decision, but the end result is that he doesn't really have a lot of genuinely fervent public support (the kind of support that generates townhall protests in every state, lights up the congressional swithcboard like a Christmas tree, and makes politicians fear for their reelection) for his specific healthcare agenda.

It could be that there's no way to square this circle.  I don't know.  But I believe two things: (a) public opinion is the key to almost everything and (b) it's hard for a president to move public opinion.  One lesson you can take from that is that presidents are stuck.  The other is that they should treat public opinion the way Eisenhower treated World War II and mount a long, hard campaign to win it from their earliest days on the campaign trail.  I choose door #2.

Several semi-employed Republicans have recently said they support Barack Obama's healthcare reform plan, but today brings news that a couple of employed semi-Republicans do too: Arnold Schwarzenegger (technically an R but pretty much disowned by most of his party) and Michael Bloomberg (currently pretending to be an independent).  There's still not much in the way of support from anyone who's both employed and a red-blooded Republican, but it's a start.

The Obama White House keeps running smack into fundamental and inconvenient contradictions concerning its tough slog in Afghanistan. Most recently, on Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declared that pulling out of Afghanistan is "not a decision that's on the table" for President Obama. Yet a few days earlier, he had said that the Obama administration can only succeed in Afghanistan if it has a partner there that "is free of corruption and transparent." That description certainly does not fit the Kabul government—not even close. So how can the Obama administration hold on to both of these notions: that it will stick with this war and that it cannot triumph if the Afghan government and its security forces are not effective, competent and honest?

Looking for an answer to this critical question, I asked Gibbs about the apparent conflict between these two ideas at Monday's press briefing. Here's the exchange:

After some initial hesitation on its news pages, the New York Times' editorial board has linked the dust storm that dumped tons of fine red particles on Sydney, Australia last month (and described in detail on these pages), in part, to the climate chaos that is already ravaging many parts of the planet:

"It is tempting to think the dust storm that enveloped eastern Australia last month — choking Sydney with an estimated 5,000 tons of orange dust — is an anomalous event, the result of a decade-long drought. There is solid evidence that the number of dust storms is on the rise and a strong possibility that they may become more common as climate change advances."

Spc. Gilad Wolbe provides security for fellow Soldiers nearby during a humanitarian mission in Baghdad on Feb. 26. (US Army photo by Spc. Olanrewaju Akinwunmi.)

Need To Read: October 6, 2009

Today's must-reads are tired of never-ending lunacy:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

News from our other blogs and around the web.

The Littlest Protest: AFP's healthcare protest is small but spunky. Costumes and pics.

Parting Shots: Yet another company, Apple, leaves Chamber of Commerce over outdated climate stance. [Yahoo]

Gearing Up: Pre-Copenhagen, Denmark shows reporters like Kate Sheppard what's green.

Spot Check: Enviros use satellites and thermal imaging to spot illegal toxic waste dumps. [New Scientist]

E.coli Conservatism: Can another scary NYT story about E.coli = actual food reform?




In Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Larry Summers, he suggests that Summers and Tim Geithner turned out to be right about bank nationalization.  It wasn't necessary after all, and things are going just fine without it:

The results of the stress tests showed that the banks were not in as dire shape as commonly believed. Most of the nineteen banks were able raise money privately. “It worked,” the Treasury official said. “People had money to put into banks. The nationalization crowd would have had the government putting all that money in.”

Matt Yglesias isn't impressed:

The key thing here is that the arguments as being relayed to Lizza seem not to know that the proposal to apply the Swedish model to the banking sector was a proposal to nationalize insolvent banks and explicitly guarantee the debts of the solvent ones. This is precisely designed to deal with the “nationalization sets off larger panic” worry. The fact that the stress tests showed that many banks were not in such bad shape is also irrelevant. Nobody ever proposed that we nationalize banks that weren’t in trouble. The proposal was to guarantee the obligations of banks that weren’t in trouble, a low-cost move since these are the banks that aren’t in trouble. The Obama administration wound up implicitly doing that anyway, which is precisely why most of the banks were able to raise money privately. The exact same thing would have played out with the exact same banks if the troubled banks had been nationalized.

I'm on the fence about this.  I was initially a proponent of nationalizing weak banks (Citigroup being the most likely target), even though I always recognized that there were downsides, and I'm not sure I've changed my mind.  After all, the argument was never that the banking system would collapse unless we nationalized, the argument was that (a) nationalization was the best deal for taxpayers and (b) it would get weak banks back into good shape faster than just waiting for them to earn their way back to solvency.  Considering that we pumped $45 billion into Citigroup and provided them with $300 billion in asset guarantees as an alternative to nationalization, I'm still not sure that argument wasn't correct.

It's probably true that nationalization wasn't absolutely necessary, and that we'll muddle through without it.  But the fact that we're muddling through doesn't mean we live in the best of all possible worlds.  It just means we're muddling through.

That said, so far the Geithner/Summers gamble has paid off.  If we don't hit any more big bumps in the road, it will probably continue to.