Quote of the Day

From Andrew Sullivan:

Killing the leader of the group that protected bin Laden seems like a big deal to me. Think for a minute about the attempt to paint Obama as Carter. Now think of three real-time operations — the killing of the Somali pirates, the release of the NoKo hostages, and now the targeted killing of the Taliban's leader. Does that sound like Jimmy Carter to you? Now how about getting Osama? Wouldn't that be a coup? I suspect he's working hard on it.

Hmmm.  I hadn't quite thought of it that way.  But it's an interesting point.  Obama hasn't yet had a substantive foreign policy success on the scale of Jimmy Carter's Camp David Accords (or even on the scale of returning the Panama Canal, for that matter), but on the little things he's been remarkably successful.  Or remarkably lucky.  Or both.  Either way, though, these little successes breed a sense of competence and self-possession that can help make things go better on the larger stage too.  Maybe Obama really does lead a charmed life.

Should Beef Be Used As Biofuel?

Just when you thought biofuel couldn't get any more contentious, bam, it totally did. Are you ready for this? Tesco, a UK-based retailer, sells 5,000 tons of expired meat a year to biofuel companies, which turn it into energy. How many cows is that? About 80. Vegans and animal rights activists are up in arms. Here's why.

Five thousand tons of expired meat took 148,000,000 pounds of carbon to raise. Sure, doing something with all that expired meat is better than letting it rot in a landfill, but not growing it in the first place would mean a net savings in carbon, water, and energy, not to mention animal waste and pollution. This is one of the main arguments biofuel detractors make: Turn corn or soy into a biofuel, and more people will go hungry. Turn meat into a biofuel? Well, that's pretty much the worst idea ever.

Permanently Unemployed?

Today's unemployment news was generally good: we're still losing jobs, but we're not losing them as fast as we have been.  For now, at least, it looks like the stimulus is having an effect and the economy might be getting ready to improve.

But there are still some disturbing signs, and CBPP shows one of them in the chart on the right: job losses may be slowing, but the number of long-term unemployed is at a record high, way above even the peak it hit during the 1981 recession.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but for some reason it reminded me of this article on the front page of the New York Times today:

Digging out of debt keeps getting harder for the unemployed as more companies use detailed credit checks to screen job prospects.

....Once reserved for government jobs or payroll positions that could involve significant sums of money, credit checks are now fast, cheap and used for all manner of work. Employers, often winnowing a big pool of job applicants in days of nearly 10 percent unemployment, view the credit check as a valuable tool for assessing someone’s judgment.

But job counselors worry that the practice of shunning those with poor credit may be unfair and trap the unemployed — who may be battling foreclosure, living off credit cards and confronting personal bankruptcy — in a financial death spiral: the worse their debts, the harder it is to get a job to pay them off.

This is, admittedly, the equivalent of a single anecdote in the broader economic picture, but I continue to worry that a cluster of trends are converging to produce a larger class of the permanently unemployed than we've had in the past.  It's possible that I'm just worrying too much.  But this recession has affected the poorly educated way worse than high school and college grads; it's hit men worse than women; things like poor credit or a felony conviction seem to have become nearly permanent black marks; and unskilled jobs are continuing to dwindle despite a big drop in the illegal immigrant population.

I don't want to push this theme too far because I haven't yet done the work to really get a reliable sense of what's going on.  But I wonder, when this recession is finally over, if we're going to find ourselves in a European-esque mode with a large and growing population that's almost continually unemployed or, at best, underemployed.  More later.

The Lies of August

Hey, I thought MSM columnists weren't allowed to use the word "lie"?  Either (a) Steven Pearlstein didn't get the memo, (b) the rules are different for Pulitzer Prize winners, or (c) Republican lies about healthcare reform have caused his brain to explode:

There is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie

....Health reform will cost taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. Another lie.

....The Republican lies about the economics of health reform are also heavily laced with hypocrisy. While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers.

And he didn't even get around to mentioning the "Democrats want to kill granny" meme or the "Obama wants you to snitch on your neighbor" meme or the "liberals want to provide spa vacations to illegal immigrants" meme.  I guess his column wasn't long enough.

Congress' Travel Hypocrisy?

This is just odd. In the middle of a recession, after lambasting executives for flying on expensive corporate jets after receiving millions in taxpayer bailout funds, the House has approved $550 million to buy eight new jets for use by members of Congress and their staff, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Lawmakers in the House last week added funds to buy those planes, and plus funds to buy an additional two 737s and two Gulfstream V planes. The purchases must still be approved by the Senate. The Air Force version of the Gulfstream V each costs $66 million, according to the Department of Defense, and the 737s cost about $70 million.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Department of Defense didn't request the additional planes and doesn't need them. "We ask for what we need and only what we need," he told reporters Wednesday. "We've always frowned upon earmarks and additives that are above and beyond what we ask for."

But don't worry! The Journal also reports that most travel "must be approved by congressional committees." So we can rest assured that even if some freewheeling spenders in Congress want to abuse their travel privileges, others will step in as champions of fiscal responsibility. The Senate still needs to sign off on the decision, but its track record is not promising either—or perhaps their champions of fiscal responsibility were absent earlier this month when Congress approved a tour of Europe for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and three other senators and their spouses.

"It's obviously an economically difficult time in this country, so every decision such as this will be looked at with more scrutiny than in times of prosperity" says Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. "There could indeed be outcry by citizens of this country." But, he says, congressional accountability will depend on how incensed constituents get about wasteful spending. With the public focused on the healthcare debate, an issue that directly impacts their wallets, these kinds of proposals could slip below the radar.

Green College Guide

If you’re as skeptical of US News & World Report’s college lists as I am, you might want to take a look at a different way of ranking colleges: The College Sustainability Report Card. The 2009 edition was recently released, and the evaluators report some encouraging news: Two out of three schools improved their overall grade between 2008 and 2009. More than four in five schools improved from 2007 to 2009. CSRC evaluates schools on a host of criteria, including energy use, dining hall food sourcing, recycling, green building, endowment transparency, and investment priorities.

Like any college ranking system, the CSRC has its flaws. One that bugs me: Since only colleges with endowments of $160 million or more were considered, some smaller schools with excellent environmental programs (such as those in the Eco League) were left out. It’s a shame, since these schools are small and nimble, they often have the flexibility to implement new ideas more quickly than big colleges. (Some progress: When I blogged about this problem in 2007, the Report Card evaluated only the 200 best endowed schools in the US; now it considers the top 300.)

List of “overall sustainability leaders” (colleges that were graded A-, the highest grade the evaluators gave out) after the jump.




 

Crime and Punishment

Good news, Californians!  Our state may be a shambles, debt-ridden and stuck in an endless political quagmire, but Arnold Schwarzenegger has just signed a bill that makes it safe to organize March Madness pools in your workplace:

The new law changes the penalty for participation in a non-commercial or an office "sports betting pool" from a misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $1,000, to an infraction, punishable by a fine not to exceed $250.

Since we're so fond of naming laws after people, I think we should call this one Margaret's Law, after Margaret Hamblin, the 76-year-old grandmother who was busted in 2006 for running a $50 football pool at an Elks Lodge.  She was fined $130 and had her fingerprints and mug shot taken after she was cited for running a betting pool.

But no longer!  We're free of the jackbooted tyranny of the office pool gestapo!  Surely marijuana legalization can't be far behind?

No More Coups in Pakistan?

Juan Cole says the possible death of Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Pakistan's Taliban Movement and likely mastermind of the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, is only the second most important news out of Pakistan:

The really big news out of Pakistan in the last week was the  finding of the restored Supreme Court that Gen. Pervez Musharraf's emergency decree of November, 2007, was unconstitutional. The ruling has larger implications, in perhaps suggesting that all of Pakistan's military coups have been unconstitutional. This is the first time that the Pakistani Supreme Court has so forcefully stood up to the military.

If the American press and political establishment was serious about supporting democracy in Pakistan and the Muslim World, we'd have seen an avalanche of comment praising the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for democracy. I did a keyword search at Lexis under television transcripts and could not find any evidence that anyone in national television or radio except Julie McCarthy at NPR even mentioned the epochal Pakistani Supreme Court ruling!

Consider it reported.  I confess to some skepticism about how seriously to take a court decree that military coups are unconstitutional, since military coup leaders don't generally pay a lot of attention to the niceties of judicial review in the first place.  But Prof. Cole calls it "a bigger turning point in Pakistani history than any we have seen since 1947," so it's worth knowing about.

On Wednesday, the American Psychological Association made headlines by repudiating gay-to-straight therapy. In a report, the APA found that not only is there no evidence that the practice actually works, but it can also lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. Considering that so-called "reparative therapy" has been enthusiastically championed by the religious right, you might be surprised to learn that they're touting the report as a major victory.

Confused? Here's what happened. In addition to instructing members not to seek to change a patient's sexual orientation via therapy, the APA also issued additional guidelines advising therapists how to deal with a patient struggling with their sexual identity. And these guidelines explicitly state that it may sometimes be appropriate for a therapist to help a client deny his sexual orientation because of his faith.

Need To Read: August 7, 2009

Some Friday web content you should check out:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So is my colleague Daniel Schulman, and our editor, Clara Jeffery. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)