LOST: Slowly, Answers Are Coming

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 4:12 PM EST

Last night's LOST episode, the second of the season, "Jughead," was full of answers. Or not even answers, but new information that gives reasons for answers. Now that the writers have an end date in sight, they seem to be picking up the pace and wrapping things up more tidily than last season. So what did we learn last night? Here are the highlights.

Advertise on

Quote of the Day - 01.29.09

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 3:06 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Alison Singer, who recently quit as head of communications at Autism Speaks, on the overwhelming evidence that vaccines have nothing to do with the development of autism in children:

At some point, you have to say, "This question has been asked and answered and it's time to move on." We need to be able to say, "Yes, we are now satisfied that the earth is round."

There was a time when investigating vaccines and thimerosal as possible contributing factors for autism made sense. That time is long past. The Jenny McCarthyization of the autism movement needs to be put finally and firmly to rest, and research money spent on actual science. Enough's enough.


| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:40 PM EST

FACTOIDS....How is a factoid like Schrödinger's cat? Answer here.

Take a Sneak Peek at 2.0 in Beta

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:34 PM EST

Next week (god willing) we'll be relaunching Gone will be the cluttered layout that you see here and the clunky code that we deal with. If you'd like to take a sneak peek, and along the way help us with load testing and bug targeting, go to You'll be asked for a login and password. That's mojo/fearless (all lower case). Once you're in the site, you can read about why we did what we did, poke around, register and pimp out your profile, etc. Please bear in mind, however, that:

1) Your username will stay valid after the new site launches, so choose wisely...
2) Content is a few weeks out of date, and some old comments have yet to migrate too. Don't worry, we'll get the latest articles and all the comments moved over when we launch.
3) Comments you leave on the beta site will be overwritten when we switch over. Please do leave comments and try out the discussion system, just remember that if you've written any great pearls of wisdom, you should save a copy elsewhere.
4) Any questions, bug reports, or general input about the site, please leave a comment on our inaugural blog post, or email us at

Eager to hear what you have to say. (And yes, we know it's slow, we're running compression programs...)


| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:15 PM EST

EMPLOYMENT....The latest on the employment front:

The total number of U.S. workers filing claims for jobless benefits lasting more than one week has soared to a record high, a government report showed, a sign of the severe toll the deepening recession is taking on the unemployed.

....The U.S. has lost jobs in each of the last 12 months, and employers slashed payrolls at a rate of about half a million per month in the final four months of 2008. This month's claims figures point to another drop of that magnitude when January data are released next week.

Indeed, the hemorrhaging of jobs shows no sign of abating.

The stimulus bill making its way through Congress right now obviously isn't perfect. What is? But all the evidence suggests that employment levels are going to remain anemic for another couple of years at least, which means that spending stimulus will remain effective through FY2011 at a minimum. And since virtually all of the spending in the current bill gets disbursed before then, this means it's all reasonably well targeted.

Still, isn't the bill just a hodgepodge of unrelated spending? Sure. What else could it be? There's no way to spend $800 billion on infrastructure over the next two years, so most of the money has to be spent on other stuff. But so what? Employing clerks or crossing guards or home care workers counts every bit as much as employing backhoe operators or engineers. Spending money on contraceptives does as much for the economy as spending money on rebar. An unemployment check gets spent on food the same way a paycheck does.

In an ideal world there's stuff about this bill that all of us would change. Overall, though, what we have isn't bad, and the real world being what it is, I'd give it a B or a B+. So it deserves to pass, and quickly. But once that's done, it's going to be time to start talking seriously about what happens after that. Our economy is way out of kilter, and has been for a while, and President Obama needs to let us know what he thinks needs to be done about that. Pass the bill, then let's talk.

Reversing Itself, GM Will Source Volt Engines Abroad

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 1:37 PM EST

So much for GM's Green Revolution. Reuters reports that General Motors has suspended work on its $370 million Chevy Volt engine plant in Flint, Michigan and will source the engines from abroad until it figures out how to cut costs and restructure. Given that the Volt's batteries will come from Korea, it's unclear at this point what part of GM's electric car is actually going to be American. Before the automaker was pledged $13.4 billion in government loans, we heard a lot about how it would reinvent itself through clean tech. Could that just be more hot carbon dioxide?

Advertise on

Withdrawing From Iraq

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 12:46 PM EST

WITHDRAWING FROM IRAQ....General Ray Odierno, the top field commander in Iraq, thinks we can reduce forces there by no more than two brigades over the next six months. Then we need to wait until 2010 before making any further decisions: "I believe that if we can get through the next year peacefully, with incidents about what they are today or better, I think we're getting close to enduring stability, which enables us to really reduce," he said. Marc Lynch isn't impressed:

The politics of this aside, I think that Odierno's intention of keeping troops in Iraq through the national elections is dangerously wrong. The CFR/Brookings/Odierno "go slow" approach ignores the reality of the new Status of Forces Agreement and the impending referendum this summer — which may well fail if there is no sign of departing American troops.

....This strategy is also a recipe for endless delay....Senior Iraqi officials have suggested that the national elections, which Odierno suggests as the point when drawdowns might begin, may well not be held until March 2010. I don't think that 16 months is a sacred number. But what Odierno is proposing is no significant drawdowns for 14 months, followed by another period of wrangling. This could ironically make the "rush for the exits" that everyone wants to avoid more rather than less likely — whether or not it leads to the failure of the SOFA referendum.

There's always something a year down the road that we should wait for before pulling troops out. Provincial elections. Stability. SOFA. National elections. You name it. But at some point we need to demonstrate to the Iraqis that we're really pulling out and they need to take the transition seriously. It's well past time for that.

Obama also has a lot of credibility at stake over this. He said during the campaign that he wanted to withdraw within 16 months, and while there's a lot of room to fudge there, he still needs to show that he's serious about that. It may end up being 24 months instead of 16, and the residual force he leaves behind may end up comprising tens of thousands of troops, but he still needs to start. He needs to show the world that his word is good.

Will Obama Release The Remaining "Torture Memos"?

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 12:22 PM EST

After 9/11, the Justice Department became a "War on Terror" memo factory, churning out legal justifications for torture, illegal wiretapping, detention of prisoners, and on and on. Some of the memos have been declassified, thanks largely to lawsuits brought by the ACLU. But many have not. ProPublica has assembled a comprehensive list, sorted by author, date, and subject, showing those that have been made public and those that remain state secrets. The question now is whether President Obama, in his efforts to break with past government counterterrorism-related excesses, will choose to declassify the remaining memos. It would surely make compelling reading...

Blackwater To Lose Iraq Operating License

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 12:19 PM EST


The Iraqi government, taking advantage of the autonomy granted by the Status of Forces Agreement that went into effect January 1, has informed US officials that it will not be renewing Blackwater's operating license, according to this morning's Washington Post. This does not come as a shock—the firm has been in Baghdad's sights since at least September 2007, when its contractors opened fire in a traffic circle, killing 17 and wounding 24 others. The Iraqi government's first attempt to boot Blackwater from the country came just days after the shootings when it revoked the company's license, but US officials (enjoying a bit more authority at the time) simply ignored the order and went on to reaffirm Blackwater's presence the following April, much to the Iraqis' displeasure.

Blackwater has a short grace period as Baghdad finishes a draft of new guidelines that will govern the operations of private contractors. As Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Adbul-Karim Khalaf told the Post, "When the work of this committee ends, [private firms] will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don't have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave immediately."

Don't expect Blackwater to cry in its milk. The firm foresaw the eventuality of leaving Iraq and is in the throes of planning new lines of business, particularly in the area of military training. Guarding VIPs in war zones, as it turned out, was a politically dodgy business, despite the fact that Blackwater has never lost a client. As a pair of Blackwater execs told me a few months ago, the firm will be only too happy to move on to less controversial work.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from abej2004.

So Every House Republican Voted Against Stimulus. What Do We Learn?

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 10:52 AM EST

barack-obama-sad-250x200.jpg Right now, the new era of bipartisanship in Washington is unilateral.

The massive stimulus package passed the House yesterday with zero Republican votes. Obama, who had hoped for a widely supported bill, got stonewalled despite doing three things: (1) fashioning roughly 1/3 of the package out of tax cuts, which the GOP loves; (2) going to the House Republican caucus and asking for their input; and (3) pulling provisions from the bill that Republicans didn't like (see previous post). House Republicans acknowledged all of this, thanked the President, talked smack about the House Democrats, and voted against the bill anyway.

So what does Obama do now?