My Voltaire Moment

Yesterday, as I learned that The Donald handed Miss California Carrie Prejean a pink slip, allegedly because she failed to meet contractual obligations to make scheduled appearances, I had a Voltaire moment: "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it."

Since Prejeans's interview at the Miss USA Pageant, she has since become one of the most vilified characters in liberal America (even though San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom defended her), as she went so far as to become a spokeswoman/unofficial lobbyist for the National Organization for Marriage.

To be fair, during the infamous pageant she was questioned about same-sex marriage by Perez Hilton, who likely had an agenda to pursue, and whose website received tons of traffic from the incident. Hilton's question was clearly loaded, because as a judge he was aware that Prejean was a student at San Diego Christian College, a conservative, evangelical school in El Cajon, California. Also, I think Prejean's response was actually quite tactful. When questioned by Hilton, she responded, "Well, I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman." (See the video below)

James von Brunn, the white supremacist arrested for the murder of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum, held numerous extremist views, as has been widely reported.

He maintained that 9/11 was the product of a Jewish conspiracy. In one posting, he claimed that only one Jewish person was killed at the World Trade Center--even though the "WTC was the nexus for international Jew trade, located in the largest Jew city in the world." He added, "It is revealing that 3 Jews laughing with glee, pointing at the exploding WTC, were caught by a neighbor on video-tape."

Like many anti-Semitics, von Brunn believed Jews controlled the world financial system, and he used the traditional data points and rhetoric of such hate-mongers: "From this cess-pool of Jews and traitors came the FTAA which in 1994, with Congressional blessings, changed its name to WTO (World Trade Organization)."

But von Brunn also tracked updates on the global financial Jewish conspiracy. In 2003, von Brunn posted on Stormfront.org, a site of "white pride," information about Google that he had found at the website of Holocaust denier David Irving. The basic charge: Google was founded, funded and controlled by Jews. And you know what that means.

What the Iranian Election Means

I don't have any special comment about the upcoming Iranian election pitting hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against moderate reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi, but I thought Marc Lynch's musing was worth passing along.  Here it is:

The Iranian election has already captivated the Arab public sphere — it has been all over the headlines and the TV stations. I imagine that many of the Arabs who see democracy as an important and positive issue find this Iranian election inspiring (as they did Khatemi's 1997 campaign). The Arab public may regard a Mousavi victory as the same kind of opportunity to rethink relations with Iran as Obama's victory offered for relations with the United States. Arab leaders may find it harder to mobilize opposition to Iran with the seemingly reasonable Mousavi in office than with the cheerfully inflammatory Ahmedenejad.

....Of course, if Ahmedenejad wins, the reverse effect may take hold. When George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004, a very wide swathe of Arab public opinion concluded that this meant that the American people really did bear responsibility for Bush's unpopular policies. If the U.S. is really a democracy, they asked, then didn't Bush's victory mean that his war on terror and invasion of Iraq really did represent the American popular will? If Ahmedenejad wins, the same dynamic may hit Iran in the Arab world: the Iranian people had the chance to correct their policies, and chose to continue as they were. That might lead to a hardening and deepening of anti-Iranian sentiment, at least among elites and leaders.

Video: Five Funniest Gibbs Moments

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is a funny dude. In fact, Gibbs could be the funniest press secretary in the history of media-crazed presidential administrations. In Gibbs' first four months on the job, the White House stenographer recorded more than 600 separate outbursts of "(laughter)" compared to a paltry 57 laughs during Dana Perino's first four months as press secretary for the Bush administration.

Gibbs has even been criticized for being too jovial in the press room about somber matters. But rather than poking fun at such issues, Gibbs uses humor to deflect difficult questions in an often-obvious and certainly skilled, attempt to keep the media at arm's length.

Behold the list of top five funniest moments in the Gibbs press room (video after the jump).

Payday Lending for Rich People

Felix Salmon has the story here.  I found it unaccountably entertaining.  Cashing out Daddy's art collection after blowing through your inheritance has never been easier.

Getting to 17%

The Waxman-Markey bill requires a 17% drop in carbon emissions by 2020.  Joe Romm explains how we can get there:

Clean energy deployment from the stimulus....carbon dioxide emissions will be some 2% lower in 2020 than in 2005....Obama’s recent fuel economy deal....Let’s call that another 2% emissions drop....Then we have Waxman-Markey itself.  It achieves huge energy efficiency savings....That’s another 5% drop.

....Let’s say 1% of the target will be met with domestic offsets....Let’s say 1% of the target will be met with international offsets....cofiring biomass....2% of the 2020 target.

That's about 13% already, and the rest of the reduction can be met simply by utilizing existing gas-fired electric plants at a higher rate than we do now:

It now appears likely that, thanks to unconventional supplies, natural gas alone could meet a great deal of the Waxman-Markey CO2 target for 2020 — without requiring gobs of new power plants to be sited and built or thousands of miles of new transmission lines.

....Today, dirty coal plants are being “dispatched” (or utilized) to provide electricity by grid operators first, while natural gas plants that could provide electricity with far lower emissions of carbon dioxide remain unutilized or underutilized — even though their electricity costs are only slightly higher.  This is occurring in at least two regions of the country, according to a major under-reported May study by the Energy Information Administration, “The Implications of Lower Natural Gas Prices for Electric Generators in the Southest.”  A cap on CO2 emissions and even a low price of CO2 will switch the dispatch order, generating large emissions savings at low cost (if the gas is available, as now seems likely).

Joe suggests that a carbon price of around ten bucks a ton — which is pretty low — is all that we'd need to motivate utilities to change the dispatch order of their plants enough to meet the rest of the 17% target.

Bottom line: meeting the Waxman-Markey targets for 2020 is pretty easy.  We'll have over a decade to start getting ready for the harder measures it takes to make serious cuts.  Doom mongers, take note.

Blackwater (renamed "Xe") has been kicked out of Iraq. Baghdad has revoked its operating license, and the State Department cancelled its long-standing private security contract earlier this year, replacing it with competitors DynCorp and Triple Canopy. But ridding Mesopotamia of Erik Prince and his hired guns is apparently not that simple. According to a lawsuit (PDF) filed Wednesday in the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Blackwater continues to operate in Iraq under the mantle of Greystone Ltd., one of an array of smaller sub-companies under the Blackwater/Xe umbrella. (Dan Schulman and I wrote an in-depth piece about Greystone and its practice of hiring Third-World mercenaries for duty in Iraq in the March/April 2008 issue of Mother Jones.)

The contract in question is with a State Department-funded group called the International Republican Institute (IRI). Nominally nonpartisan, it claims to be promoting good governance and the rule of law in Iraq. In reality, the organization's leadership is heavily populated with Republicans, including Senator John McCain, who serves as chairman of the board. Bill Sizemore of HamptonRoads.com reports that, between 2005 and 2007, the IRI paid Blackwater $17 million annually for security services, almost a quarter of the group's $75-million annual budget.

10 Questions for Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis

Ken Lewis, the CEO of Bank of America, has been called on to the carpet: he'll be testifying at a hearing of Ed Towns' Oversight and Government Reform committee today. The Service Employees International Union passes on ten questions it thinks committee members should ask Lewis:

1. How can you commit to pay for former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo’s legal defense—“a million a month” according to Bloomberg—while Bank of America announced layoffs for 35,000 employees and refuses cost-of-living raises for its lowest-wage workers?

2. Why do you nickel and dime your lowest paid workers (tellers earn $10.50/hour without access to affordable health insurance) at the same time you shower lavish perks and deals for executives and traders?

3. As Bank of America employees speak out about unpaid overtime and a predatory sales culture, what do you plan to do to improve employment practices?

4. Given dismal economic performance, low-staff morale, and a core business model of pushing debt on consumers, what has Bank of America done to meet its stated goal of being "the world's most admired company?"

5. After reportedly receiving tax breaks, and more than $195 billion in bailouts, government guarantees, and taxpayer-funded healthcare for its workers, what is Bank of America’s plan to reduce its dependence on the U.S.taxpayer?

6. After being bailed out by hard-working taxpayers facing the toughest economic times since the Great Depression, do you think it’s right for Bank of America to lobby against laws that would helps working families—like the Employee Free Choice Act, healthcare reform, and credit card reform?

7. As you argue against any laws that would create greater transparency in the industry, could you tell us what other calamities on your books you are hiding? First it was the Merrill Lynch deal—what’s the next shoe to drop?

8. During your time as CEO, at what point did cutting costs and gouging customers with unnecessary products and skyrocketing fees become more important than customer satisfaction?

9. At a time when people are struggling, have you considered lowering banking and overdraft fees that are already higher than many other non-bailed-out banks?

10. Why do you create incentives for Bank of America employees to push further debt on customers?

This should get good. You can watch live here.

Today's photo is from Afghanistan.U.S. Army Spc. Benji McHugh works security from the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over Khost, Afghanistan, May 26, 2009. McHugh and the Chinook crew are assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Prentice C. Martin-Bowen.)

Fingers Crossed: Saved by The Bell Reunion

On Tuesday night, my friend Lisa sent me an e-mail with "Amazing clip!" in the subject line. In the e-mail, she included a link and wrote: "This is the best clip ever! Zack Morris brought back to life!" Knowing that Lisa can be a drama queen, I waited a full 36 hours before checking out the e-mail. When I did, I was amazed. I had no idea that Jimmy Fallon had dedicated a significant amount of his life to organizing a Saved By The Bell cast reunion. In my mind, the whole Tonight Show switcheroo has already been trumped by Fallon's single-handed endeavor.

I'd always hoped to meet my childhood idol Zack Morris, and actor Marc-Paul Gosselaar's brilliant in-character appearance on Fallon's show kept my dream alive. For those of us born in the mid-1980s, Saved By The Bell gave us the scoop on high school from the time we entered kindergarten. And while no show is perfect (Chuck Klosterman famously critiqued SBTB's  "Tori Paradox" in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), I believe SBTB flirted with perfection.

Three Bayside Tigers cheers to Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon production team. Without further ado, here it is: