Blogs

Explaining Al Gore

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

Bob Somerby, employing his traditional royal we, makes an announcement today:

After Labor Day, we plan to roll out a new product; at a new web site, we plan to start posting our (largely written) book about the press corps’ coverage of Campaign 2000.

That's good news — though I confess I'd personally prefer to simply read the whole thing at once instead of getting it a chapter at a time on the web.  How about a Kindle version, Bob?

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GOP Sen. Coburn to Sotomayor: "You Have Lots of 'Splainin To Do" (Video)

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 12:03 PM EDT

Whether you think it's racist or not, Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) line in today's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor certainly comes with some ethnic baggage:

Depressing F-22 Update No. 463

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 11:31 AM EDT

OK, maybe there haven't been quite that many. But lawmakers trying to deal a death blow to the F-22 fighter jet suffered yet another setback on Wednesday. The Senate was supposed to vote today on an amendment from Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain that would strip funding for the outmoded, overpriced plane from this year's defense authorization bill. (Obama has threatened to veto the legislation if it contains F-22 money.) There was a lot of last-minute arm-twisting yesterday, but the word on Tuesday night was that Levin and McCain had mustered just enough votes to kill the plane.

But not so fast! I've just heard that Levin has withdrawn the amendment for now, apparently because it somehow got caught in the middle of a separate battle brewing in the Senate over whether to add hate-crimes legislation to the defense legislation. Of course, maybe Levin just realized that he didn't have the votes after all. That wouldn't be so surprising—Lockheed and Boeing, which make the planes, have showered nearly $1.4 million on 50 senators so far this year. Levin plans to try again sometime later this week—I'll let you know what happens.

Robin Hood

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 11:18 AM EDT

Ezra Klein spots a trend:

My colleague Binyamin Appelbaum noticed something interesting yesterday: Robin Hood movies are tied to recessions. We're talking here about the adult Robin Hood movies. So set aside "Men in Tights" and the Disney cartoon. Instead, look at first major Robin Hood film, "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Release date? 1938. Similarly, "Prince of Thieves" came out in 1991, another recessionary year. And I ran a quick Google search: Sure enough, there's another Robin Hood movie slated for May of 2010.

1938 marked the first major Robin Hood film?  Please.  I claim a point of personal privilege.  My father's name was Dale Douglas Drum.  His first name was based on the character Allan-a-Dale and his middle name was taken from the actor Douglas Fairbanks.  Why?  Because shortly before he was born my grandparents had seen the 1922 version of Robin Hood starring Fairbanks and the names were fresh in their heads.  It was quite famous in its day.  But was there a recession in 1922?

Decide for yourself.  NBER says there was an 18-month recession from January 1920 to July 1921 and a 14-month recession from May 1923 to July 1924.  So it was a generally contractionary period.  But 1922 itself?  Recession free!  I claim a foul.

In related news, my father was born in 1926, which just goes to show how long it took movies to make their way into smaller cities back then.  The good citizens of Portland get better treatment from Hollywood these days.

The End of CDS?

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 11:02 AM EDT

Do you think the country would be better off if credit default swaps were banned?  Apparently so does someone in the House, who inserted language into the Waxman-Markey climate bill that would outlaw them.  The intent of the language, apparently, is to ban "naked swaps"; that is, to allow people to buy CDS insurance only on credit instruments that they themselves own.  But the actual language goes further.  Zach Carter reports:

Today, if a bank is worried that a debtor might default on a loan, it can still go to a CDS issuer like American International Group Inc. and buy insurance on that debt. But completely unrelated firms with no interest in the underlying loan can also go to AIG and bet that the debt will not be repaid. This kind of bet is known as a "naked swap" and, by 2007, the market for naked swaps was completely out of control. The notional value of the CDS market had exploded to over $62 trillion, according to the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, well in excess of the entire global economic output for a full year.

"Let's say there's $1 trillion worth of obligations in the economy. You can use CDS to create $5 trillion worth of additional obligations," said Joseph Pastore III, a managing partner with the Fox Rothschild LLP law firm who works with CDS. "When you melt it all down, and there's only $1 trillion worth of cash and $5 trillion worth of obligations, it causes absolute economic devastation."

Here's the key passage from Waxman-Markey, buried on page 1,070 of the 1,428-page bill introduced in the Senate on July 6:

[Blah blah blah....]

"Clearly, the intent was to limit the multiplier effect of CDS by requiring only those parties with a risk to be able to insure the risk," Pastore told SNL.

But the restrictions apply to "any person" who would "enter into" a CDS contract, not merely to any company that would purchase one. That means banks are allowed to hedge risks by purchasing CDS, but CDS issuers like AIG are actually forbidden from selling them. When AIG offers insurance protection, AIG is not hedging anything; it's just making a speculative bet that a certain debt will not be repaid. In practice, then, Waxman-Markey would ban any credit default swap whatsoever, hedge or bet.

"A literal reading of it would prevent anyone from entering into a CDS contract, because the party that owns the underlying instrument needs to find somebody else to enter into the swap agreement with," Pastore told SNL.

I assume this language will get cleaned up, and even if it doesn't the courts will likely rule that "enter into" merely means "buy."  But maybe not!  Maybe Waxman-Markey will obliterate the CDS market entirely.  Stay tuned.

The Sotomayor News from Planet Conservative

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 10:47 AM EDT

Richard Viguerie, one of the founders of the modern conservative movement and a direct-mail king of the right, thinks the Senate GOPers are doing a pretty good job at the confirmation hearings of Justice-to-be Sonia Sotomayor. He put out this statement:

Led by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are starting to do what the McCain campaign and the Republican Party failed to do in the 2008 election: defining Barack Obama, his ideology, and his unconstitutional, authoritarian approach to governing.

By making the Sotomayor confirmation hearings about President Obama's governing philosophy—including his beliefs that judges should change constitutional principles and the law—Senate Republicans are showing that Obama's views are radical and dangerous. As Senator Sessions said at the hearings, those views are so inconsistent with the Constitution that they could be 'disqualifying' for Obama's judicial nominee.

Win, lose, or draw in this confirmation battle, that approach will pay huge dividends for Republicans. Exposing the President in these hearings will help Americans better understand that, constitutionally speaking, Obama cannot be trusted...

So hats off to Senator Sessions and the other Republicans who 'get it'.

Wow. He really is watching a different channel. How many Americans—of the small percentage of those who have watched the hearings for any extended length of time—are jumping off their couches and saying, "Gee, after seeing Senator John Kyl grill her, I now realize that Obaama is destroying the Constitution and cannot be trusted. Get me my pitchfork!"

I respect Viguerie for constantly putting ideology ahead of partisan loyalty. He blasts the Republicans whenever he thinks they're squishy. But if he believes the hearing so far has been a net win for the Rs, he's engaged in observational activism. A strict constructionist reading of the proceedings would score the GOPers as marginally significant at best. They have done nothing to bruise Sotomayor. They have done nothing to make the hearings a noticeable platform for advancing their retro views about the role of judges. I even wonder if the conservative base is following the hearings closely enough to be fired up by whatever Jeff Sessions and the others are doing, as Viguerie suggests. Let's see if GOP candidates next year run on these hearings. If that's what Viguerie is hoping for, I'll bet he's disappointed.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.
 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 15, 2009

Wed Jul. 15, 2009 9:33 AM EDT

A member of the Afghan national army calls for help as a member of the Afghan border police fires at anti-Afghanistan forces in the mountains surrounding Barge Matal in Afghanistan's eastern Nuristan province, during Operation Mountain Fire, July 12. Afghan national security forces and International Security Assistance Force's fought side-by- side during the gun battle, which started in late afternoon and lasted until coalition and ANSF forces forced the insurgents to flee in the early evening. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Cute Endangered Animal: Kangaroo Rat

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 7:40 AM EDT

This week's cute endangered animal is the kangaroo rat. Now you might not think that any animal with "rat" in its name would be cute, or in danger of disappearing, but both are true for several species of kangaroo rats here in the U.S. Despite its name, the kangaroo rat is not actually a rat, but rather a relation the gopher family. Currently, six species of kangaroo rats (genus Dipodomys) are facing extinction. They all live in the Western half of the US, starting in the Dakotas and extending West to California and Nevada, preferring desert habitats. The tiny animals measure just 2" at the shoulder, and like to get around by hopping like kangaroos (as much as 6" a leap!). Kangaroo rats are known for their love of dust baths, for cramming an incredible amount of food into their cheek pouches and, on occassion, for hiding under the crotches of hapless biologists.

The native kangaroo rat was thriving until the 1950s, when a two-tiered threat of agriculture and human development hit them: the farmers carried out pest-control campaigns against the rats (who found newly-tilled soil perfect for burrows), and new roads made it hard for rats to find new habitat. More recently, oil and natural gas exploration has been painted as a possible culprit in a number of rat deaths. Also, given that the rats relate their mating status and territory by thumping their long hind legs on the ground, one can only imagine that development also hinders intra-species communication.

The kangaroo rats' survival is important to environmentalists because the animals are a "keystone species" in their environments. With kidneys four times as strong as humans', kangaroo rats get most of their daily moisture from their food: seeds and nuts. By eating plants with the largest seeds, they allow plants with smaller seeds to flourish, which in turn effects the surrounding insect and bird populations.

Despite their importance to the ecosystem, the federal government has not been pro-active in protecting the kangaroo rat. Just last year, US Fish & Wildlife proposed cutting a California kangaroo rat's protected habitat by about 2/3. Conservation groups said they were going to sue the department, and Fish & Wildlife relented by changing the planned habitat reduction. Scientists said last year that they will use an Israeli satellite to take pictures of the rats habitat which will help them get an accurate population count. Though just how accurate the satellites will be remains unknown. "It's fairly rare for something so small to be a keystone species," UC Berkeley's Tim Bean told USA Today. "It's easier to track, say, bison."

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday July 15

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 7:11 AM EDT

Curious what you might have missed yesterday? Here's a list of Blue Marblish stories from our other blogs.

Dept. of CYA: What does the new House committee healthcare report mean for you?

Dept. of IDK: When thinking about healthcare, should we factor in how it could be used for... evil? What if we get another Cheney in office? What then

Dept. of GITMO: DC Bureau Chief David Corn talks torture on NPR.

Dept. of TCB: Elvis wanted to work as a drug enforcement agent for Nixon.

 

Progressives

| Tue Jul. 14, 2009 9:09 PM EDT

I've finally given up on progressives.

Lenses, that is.  I tried 'em for over a month and just couldn't adjust.  Distance vision was fuzzy everywhere except dead center, and the reading portion didn't work at all.  So I took them back and in a few days I'll have a pair of genuine old-man bifocals.  Just like my hero, Benjamin Franklin.