CBO Scores the Stimulus – Part 2

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 6:38 PM EST
CBO SCORES THE STIMULUS – PART 2....So how did the stimulus bill turn out?  Answer: according to the CBO, pretty well.  Their scoring of the original House bill is here, and their scoring of the final bill is here.  The bottom line for both bills is below: the original bill pumped out 64% of its money over the next 18 months, while the final bill pumps out 74%.

Now, the final bill has a different mix of taxes and spending, and it also has a bit less total spending than the original bill.  However, it has more spending in the next two fiscal years.  This frankly doesn't seem like a bad tradeoff.  All kvetching aside — and I've got a lot of the same kvetches as other liberals — the final bill really doesn't seem substantially worse than the original, and in some respects it's better.  Given the realities of the sausage factory, that's not bad.

Advertise on

Tar Sands Update

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 6:03 PM EST
A year ago we were putting the final touches on Tar Wars, the story of a small-town physician who'd been threatened with sanctions from Canadian health authorities after announcing that pollution from Alberta's massive tar sands mines might be killing his patients in tiny Fort Chipewyan. A lot has happened since then. Just after the story appeared, the Alberta government opened an investigation into the town's health problems. Around the same time, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Leslie Iwerks read our story and was inspired to make "Downstream," a controversial documentary about the doctor, John O'Connor, which came out in December and was promptly short-listed for an Oscar.

This past week, Alberta health officials finally concluded their investigation and announced that Fort Chip suffered from a higher than expected cancer rate. They'd found 51 cancers in 47 people, compared to the 39 that were expected in the town of 1,200. They also reported two cases of cholangiocarcinoma, a rare-bile duct cancer that is normally found in one person out of 100,000. That's the same number of cases that the nurse at Fort Chip's health clinic had told me she could document, but more than the one case that the Alberta government had reported at the time and fewer than the five that O'Connor said he'd seen. Presumably, O'Connor's inability to document all five cholangiocarcinomas has been the root of the government's ongoing investigation into whether he raised "undue alarm" in the community. It now seems that the government's under-reporting of the cases should equally require it to investigate itself for undue complacency.

Despite the new findings, Fort Chip's small size and isolation--it's only accessible by plane or boat for much of the year--prevents biostaticians from easily saying that cancers are caused by more than chance. Still, our piece detailed many other reasons to finger tar sands pollution, and even the government's scientists are starting to sound worried: "We did find some soft signals (for concern)," investigator Tony Fields told the Edmonton Journal, adding that scientists would need to keep tabs on the town to see if the cancers were part of a trend. That's small comfort to the many Fort Chip locals who are convinced the tar sands are killing them.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama makes his first official visit to Canada, the U.S.' top supplier of foreign oil. Canadian officials want to propose a U.S.-Canada climate pact that would exempt the tar sands' greenhouse gas emissions (the sands is a big reason why Canada flunked its Kyoto targets). Obama will probably hear how the U.S. oil companies that are knee-deep in the capital-intensive sands stand to lose big bucks in the era of cheap gas and pricey carbon. Let's hope that's not all he hears. Tiny Fort Chip is the oldest settlement in Alberta, sits on the tar sands' doorstep, and is eager to put the brakes on development. Presumably, that should count for something.

UPDATE: Just in time for Obama's visit, the environmental group Forest Ethics has placed a full-page ad in USA Today tarring the tar sands. Meanwhile, the Canadian American Business Council, which includes ExxonMobil and Shell, is running full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post, and National Journal stressing that "Canada is poised to securely supply even more oil and natural gas to the U.S."

New "Red Hot" Comp Gets Indie

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 4:09 PM EST

Dark Was the NightIn its many years of putting together albums to raise money for AIDS relief, the Red Hot organization has created some of the most memorable compilations of recent times. Their first effort, 1989's Red Hot & Blue, featuring contemporary artists covering Cole Porter, connected pop music past and present in a way that seems like standard practice now, but was eye-opening then. Later, 1993's No Alternative captured the exuberance and creative diversity of a moment, just before Kurt Cobain committed suicide, when it felt like some grungy kids with guitars might change the world. Since then, Red Hot CDs have celebrated samba, country, dance, and bossa nova (and raised a load of cash in the fight against AIDS), but their latest compilation may go down in history as capturing another moment. Dark Was the Night  features just about every indie band idolized by the Pitchfork generation: Arcade Fire, The National, Feist, Conor Oberst, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, Blonde Redhead, Bon Iver and Sharon Jones all contributed exclusive tracks to the compilation, along with over 20 others, and it's quite a collection. Thankfully, Red Hot has kept up with the times and made it easy to get a free internet taste. You can listen to a different song every day at their MySpace page, or you can go to their web site and make your own little blog widget with any three tracks. Check out mine after the jump.

Dark Was the Night is out Tuesday, February 17.

A Brand New Blackwater! Erik Prince Renames Mercenary Firm

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 3:42 PM EST

What's in a name? A lot, particularly if you're a company accused of misdeeds. The best way out, as has been shown time and again, is simply to discard your name, adopt a new identity, and start again. It's a veritable capitalist tradition. Just ask the budget airline ValueJet, which, after one of its planes nosedived into the Florida Everglades in May 1996, killing everyone aboard, quietly became AirTran. Even cereal executives know the score: the breakfast favorite "Sugar Pops" became "Corn Pops" as health conscious mothers awoke to the idea that feeding sugar to their kids each morning was not a great idea.

What about repeated, questionable shootings of Iraqis? That, too, demands a blank slate... or so Blackwater has decided. Buried in the news Friday was Erik Prince's decision to rebrand his network of military contracting firms from Blackwater to "Xe," pronouned like the letter "z." Seems pretty lame at first blush, but perhaps it's a stroke of genius. Could it be that reporters' fascination with the Blackwater flows, at least in part, from the perfect symmetry of shady dealings and an ominous, Bond-villainish name?

Two Important Stimulus Links

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 3:02 PM EST

A full breakdown of where stimulus money is going is here. An example, taken at random:

Federal Aviation Administration infrastructure                 $200,000,000
Grants-in-aid for airports                                                  $1,100,000,000
Highway infrastructure investment                                   $26,725,000,000
Highway infrastructure investment in Puerto Rico           $105,000,000
Highway infrastructure funds distributed by states          $60,000,000
Highway funds for the Indian Reservation Roads program $550,000,000

And the end result of the wrangle over executive pay limitations is here. The upshot: the strongest versions of the pay limitations, proposed by Sens. Wyden, Snowe, and McCaskill, were not adopted; a gentler version, proposed by Sen. Dodd, was.

Update: Oh, forgot. Here's my piece from yesterday on the green community's reaction to the stimulus bill. In short: they love it.

Update Update: It's a cavalcade of links. Whistleblower protections stay in the bill!

Friday Cat Blogging - 13 February 2009

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 2:33 PM EST
FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Our next-door neighbor and I are doing our part to stimulate the economy.  Thanks to roots and trees and strong winds, our fence collapsed several weeks ago and we agreed to stimulate the local fencebuilding industry by getting it replaced.  Yesterday Inkblot took his first walk along our magnificent new construction project, and as you can see by his tail propped up behind him, he approves.  Who wouldn't?

As for Domino, I hauled her up onto the fence too, but she was less impressed.  She doesn't really like being that high off the ground.  So this week's picture is as ground level as you can get.  I know that I'm just begging for comments about how, um, rotund she is, but I say, bring 'em on.  Domino is deliriously happy with her body image and thinks that it just gives her more surface area to soak up the sunshine.  And she's right.  So go soak up some sun this weekend if you can.  Lincoln and Washington would approve.

Advertise on


| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 2:06 PM EST
PORK....Here's the headline in today's Washington Post:

Despite Pledges, Package Has Some Pork

And the evidence?  $8 billion for high-speed rail, $2 billion for the lithium ion battery industry, $200 million for Filipino vets, and $100 million for small shipyards.  And if that all sounds oddly non-porcine to you, you're right:

None of the items in the sprawling $789 billion package are traditional earmarks — funding for a project inserted by a lawmaker bypassing the normal budgeting process — according to the White House and Democratic leaders....But many Republicans, anti-tax advocates and other critics argue that the final version of the bill is still larded with wasteful spending and dubious initiatives that will do little to create jobs or spur financial markets.

In other words, this isn't pork at all.  It's just normal spending — and after all, if you're going to have a stimulus bill you have to spend the money on something, don't you?  All this is, it turns out, is spending Republicans don't like.

So why does the Post collude with the GOP to pretend instead that this is pork, when their story admits just the opposite?  It is a mystery.

RSS Update

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 1:32 PM EST
RSS UPDATE....Good news!  My RSS feed has been fixed.  Here's the URL:

This is feeding full posts, not just headlines. If you're still having problems with your reader (I use Google Reader and it's working fine), please let us know in comments.

I Can Hear You

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 1:26 PM EST
I CAN HEAR YOU....Big Brother is not just watching you anymore, he's listening in too.  This is probably inevitable, but I still don't have to like it, do I?

World Press Photo winners announced

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 1:09 PM EST
The World Press Photo winners were announced today! One of the most prestigious photojournalism awards, this year's top prize went to Anthony Suau, for his photograph of an armed police officer moving through a foreclosed house. He shot the photo in March 2008 for Time.

Anthony Suau for TimeAnthony Suau for Time