Bush Designates Massive New Marine Monuments

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 3:00 PM EST

Coral reefs worldwide are in peril. Marine species, protected by ineffective regulations, are being fished to extinction. Ocean pollution has our seas nearing cataclysm. Fortunately, there's one group that's doing something about it.

The Bush Administration.

It's true. On Tuesday, President Bush, whose environmental policies have not exactly been the hallmark of his administration, designated three new marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, an act that will protect some of the world's most pristine places and give ocean ecosystems a chance at recovery. Together, the Mariana Trench monument, the Central Pacific Islands monument, and the Rose Atoll monument in America Samoa (PDF map and images here), will encompass over 190,000 square miles, roughly the size of the states of Oregon and Washington combined. The protected areas include the habitats for several threatened species, rare underwater geological formations, and some of the oldest known life forms on the DNA tree.

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Stooges Guitarist Found Dead

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 2:46 PM EST

Stooges Ron AshetonOriginal member of seminal rock band the Stooges Ron Asheton was reportedly found dead in his Ann Arbor, Michigan home this morning. He was 60 years old. While cause of death has not been determined, Rolling Stone reports that officials do not suspect foul play, and that "initial indications suggest Asheton had a heart attack." Asheton's personal assistant had not been able to reach him for days and contacted police, who found his body.

Asheton formed the Stooges in Ann Arbor in 1967 along with brother Scott, bassist Dave Alexander and legendary frontman Iggy Pop. The Stooges released only three albums between 1969 and 1973— The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power— but despite their limited output, the band had an incalculable influence on modern music. Their edgy live shows set the bar for future performance artists and rock spectacles, while their raw, fuzzy sound can be heard in everything from punk to French techno. The Detroit Free Press put it this way:

The Stooges' raw guttural sound helped create the template for punk rock, and later became hugely influential in the alternative-rock revolution of the late 1980s and early '90s. Asheton was not an incredibly gifted player technically, but the dirgy, guttural sounds he created on early Stooges classics like "I Wanna Be Your Dog" were cited by guitarists as varied as Kurt Cobain, Thurston Moore and Jack White — who once called the Stooges' 1969 effort "Fun House" the greatest rock album of all time.

In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Asheton at #29 on its "Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list, and in September of this year, the Stooges were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user RealLowVibe.

Even Heather Mac Donald Is Right Twice a Year

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 2:38 PM EST

I have to give this one to my girl Heather Mac Donald over at City Journal. Well, partly give it to her. She's right on the problem, but wrong-ish on the solution.

There's been lots of talk lately, however muted since black dysfunction is the issue, of rising intrablack homicide and violence rates. Overall, crime is down, except for blacks. What gives?

Geoghegan Running for Congress

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 2:20 PM EST

GEOGHEGAN RUNNING FOR CONGRESS....Via Jim Fallows and others, I see that Tom Geoghegan (pronounced Gay-gan) is running for the House seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel. I can't say that I've read a huge number of Geoghegan's books and essays, but I've read enough to be pretty impressed. I guess this comes from two sources:

  • He has a fascinating writing style. I don't really have the vocabulary or esthetic sensibility to describe it properly, and if I did it would almost certainly seem like it shouldn't work. But it's sort of the writing equivalent of the bumblebee: it shouldn't be able to fly, but it does. (And stings, too!) I'd kill to be able to write as effectively and idiosyncratically as Geoghegan does.

  • He's a labor lawyer who's completely dedicated to the cause, but I've always gotten the sense that his eyes are wide open. He know which side he's on, and he knows why, and he can explain it in very plain English, but he never makes the mistake of thinking that unions are beyond reproach. They're human institutions, sometimes they suck, sometimes they're shortsighted, but they're still necessary and they're still the best bet we have to counterbalance the massive influence of corporations and the rich on the political and economic process.

The basic Geoghegan bio is on his Facebook page here. Kathy G. has a more personal account here. Fallows has this to say:

The remarkable thing is that in Geoghegan's case writing has been a sideline. Day by day for several decades he has been a lawyer in a small Chicago law firm representing steel workers, truckers, nurses, and other employees whose travails are the reality covered by abstractions like "the polarization of America" and "the disappearing middle class." Geoghegan's skills as a writer and an intellectual are assets but in themselves might not recommend him for a Congressional job. His consistent and canny record of organizing, representing, and defending people who are the natural Democratic (and American) base is the relevant point.

Geoghegan is running against a gaggle of competitors, including Cook County commissioner Mike Quigley, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, Alderman Pat O'Connor, State Representative John Fritchey, and several others. I have no idea how to handicap the race, but it should be an interesting one to watch.

UPDATE: TNR has just posted a collection of Geoghegan's writings for them here. They're all more than ten years old and I haven't read any of them, but they might be worth checking out.

The GOP 's Grand Problems

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 1:57 PM EST

I've been thinking about this analysis by Huff Po blogger Paul Jenkins of the quandary the GOP is in, having successfully turned itself into a whites-only party: is utterly unrepresentative of America in the 21st century. Its Congressional representation is nearly uniformly white, and overwhelmingly male. So much so, in fact, that there is not one single African-American GOP member of Congress (out of 219 or 220); nor, for that matter, are there any black GOP Governors (out of 22). There are just four Republican Latinos in Congress, all Florida Cuban-Americans; one of them, Senator Mel Martinez, has announced his retirement. He is the only non-white or Hispanic GOP Senator.

...Even non-white members of George W. Bush's cabinet appear to have turned on the party: people like Colin Powell, who heartily endorsed Obama, or Condoleezza Rice, who seemed at her very happiest the day after Obama's victory. The last African-American GOP member of Congress, J.C. Watts, who retired in 2002, is equally as disillusioned, not to say anything of potential candidates such as Charles Barkley, a one-time Republican with aspirations to Alabama's governorship, who says the Republicans "lost their mind." And so the GOP trots out the same sad losers, Michael Steele of Maryland, and Ken Blackwell of Ohio, who have achieved little more than secondary elected office in their respective states, both losing in landslides when they sought a bigger job.

Finally being exposed for their corrupt, cronying, and most of all, hopelessly incompetent businessmen and policy makers hasn't helped Republicans either. The GOP is in tatters. About damn time.

Dennis Blair

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 1:39 PM EST

DENNIS BLAIR....Last month Gary Farber noted that Adm. Dennis Blair, who is Barack Obama's choice to become our new Director of National Intelligence, has a gray spot on his record: in 1999, when he was Commander in Chief of the Pacific, he apparently cozied up with the Indonesian military at a time when they were supporting terrorist militias in East Timor — and he did it in spite of instructions to tell them it was time to shut down the militias. Here's a contemporaneous report from The Nation:

Officials say that this past April, as militia terror escalated, a top US officer was dispatched to give a message to Jakarta. Adm. Dennis Blair, the US Commander in Chief of the Pacific, leader of all US military forces in the Pacific region, was sent to meet with General Wiranto, the Indonesian armed forces commander, on April 8. Blair's mission, as one senior US official told me, was to tell Wiranto that the time had come to shut the militia operation down....But Admiral Blair, fully briefed on [a recent massacre at] Liquiça, quickly made clear at the meeting with Wiranto that he was there to reassure the TNI chief. According to a classified cable on the meeting, circulating at Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance.

Last night Gary emailed to ask why nobody seemed to care about this. My response, essentially, was "I dunno."

And I really don't. In fairness, Blair doesn't seem to have disobeyed a direct order from the president or anything. The Nation piece uses the passive voice ("was dispatched to") in its description and a later admonition to Blair came from the State Department via the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. Blair, however, apparently felt that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and chose to engage with General Wiranto in hopes of gaining his trust, rather than delivering a sharp rebuke that might have seriously damaged U.S.-Indonesian relations. In an update, for example, Gary quotes a line from a Dana Priest article in the Washington Post:

Robert Gelbard, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, opposed Blair's push to work with that country's military in 2000, but he endorses Blair as director of national intelligence. "We had a legitimate policy disagreement. But he has a tremendous analytic mind and commands a lot of respect in Washington. His appointment comes at a time when there needs to be a critical reassessment of what the ODNI does," Gelbard said.

These kinds of intra-government disagreements happen all the time, so it's hard to say how big a deal this really was. And Gelbard certainly doesn't seem to hold it against Blair. Still, it seems worth making sure Blair's actions in Indonesia are at least on the table. So: is this a red herring or a legitimate beef? Anyone who happens to know more about what really happened here is invited to chime in in comments.

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Happy New Year, Obama Baby!

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 1:17 PM EST


When we started developing Mother Jones' January/February 2009 cover, we were looking for a way to depict President-elect Barack Obama in a lighthearted way, while acknowledging the mammoth task he has ahead of him the minute he assumes office. After rejecting numerous ideas, including one of Hercules shoveling dung out of the Augean stables (you're welcome!), we were intrigued by the image of Obama as an innocent New Year's baby (the thinking being that "innocence" can mean "not guilty" of said mess, but can also imply "inexperienced.")

I arrived at Norman Rockwell's predecessor at the Saturday Evening Post, illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, who blogger Charley Parker claims to be the source of the New Year's baby metaphor. Aside from having developed the "Arrow shirt man" (reportedly a likeness of Leyendecker's partner of 48 years, Charles Beach), and Saturday Evening Post covers throughout the first half of the 20th century, it seems that Leyendecker created the New Year's baby image for a 1908 Post cover and continued to explore variations on that theme until his very last cover, on their January 2, 1943, issue.

Top Ten Bills

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 12:53 PM EST

TOP TEN BILLS....Over at Tapped, Tim Fernholz passes along summaries of the top ten bills the Senate Democratic leadership plans to introduce this month. It starts with S.1, the stimulus bill, and runs down through troubled mortgages, healthcare, climate change, education, immigration, and a few other things. The descriptions are mostly just placeholders and don't really say much, but it's still an interesting look at Harry Reid's priorities.

Perhaps what's most interesting, though, is what's not on the list: card check, forcing hedge fund billionaires to pay ordinary taxes on their income (possibly the biggest no-brainer legislation in recent history), military procurement reform of any kind, and serious financial regulation. That's not to say this stuff won't come later. But apparently it's not part of the Top Ten.

UPDATE: A couple of commenters think card check is implied as part of S.2. Maybe so. The wording seems awfully vague if that's really their intent, but we'll see.

Bringing Us Together

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 12:24 PM EST

BRINGING US TOGETHER....The LA Times reports on Barack Obama's attempt to get wide bipartisan support for his fiscal stimulus package:

Despite Barack Obama's decision to include as much as $100 billion in business tax breaks to his economic stimulus package to woo reluctant Republicans, obstacles to speedy, bipartisan passage remain.

...."I think he would like to have a large bipartisan vote in favor of this package. And he knows, even before we mentioned it, that the way to do that is obviously for it to have elements that are appealing to Republicans," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after a 90-minute meeting that Obama held with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders Monday.

....At the same time, McConnell and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said they were not ready to endorse the overall stimulus proposal....House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), speaking after the closed-door meeting with Obama, said, "I think there would be a lot of support" for tax cuts among the GOP rank and file. But, he added, "we cannot afford to be burdening our children and our grandchildren with an extra trillion dollars in debt."

The more I read about this, the more perplexed I get. What is Obama's goal here? He's already tossed in something like $300 billion in tax cuts to curry Republican favor, and his spending plans amount to about $200 billion per year for two years. That's a big number, but it's also only about 1-2% of GDP. It's not that big a deal, and as a response to a massive recession it ought to be a no-brainer, even for Republicans.

But they're playing the game anyway. By pretending to be skeptical, they're hoping to wring yet more concessions out of Obama. Which is exactly what you'd expect them to do. It's politics.

But what does Obama get out of this? He's got the votes to pass his package already, and it's hard to see what a bigger vote total buys him. In fact, considering what a crowd pleaser this bill is likely to be (jobs + tax cuts + aid to states = wild popularity), it's not entirely clear why Obama is working so hard to get Republican votes. Wouldn't it be better if the public saw this bill as a Democratic victory enacted over the meanspirited, neo-Hooverite obstructionism of a dying and bitter Republican Party? Besides, when push comes to shove, my guess is that plenty of Republicans will be clamoring to vote for this bill no matter what Obama does. Who wants to be left off the gravy train with elections coming up in a mere 22 months?

(And if, against all odds, the bill ends up being unpopular, or viewed as ineffective? Or the economy continues to suck no matter what? Well, all the Republican votes in the world still won't help Obama. They'll attack him viciously whether they voted for the bill or not, and he'll own the economy, for good or ill, regardless.)

I guess this all comes down to whether you really believe Obama can change the tone in Washington. He seems to genuinely believe he can, and his actions on the stimulus bill make sense if you see them as the opening move in a long-term project to dial down the bitter partisanship of the past couple of decades. The press might eat this up (or might not, since they generally dismiss this kind of talk from Democrats), but I continue to wonder what makes Obama believe he can pull this off? There's just no evidence from history to suggest that this can work, and no evidence from the recent history of the conservative movement to suggest that they're planning to adopt a more conciliatory tone over the next few years.

So I continue to wonder: What does Obama see that I don't? What does he know that I don't? I'm flummoxed.

The Federal Gov't Decides to Let Old Folks Keep Their Own Money - What's Left of It

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 11:56 AM EST

As one of its final acts in the worst economic year since the Great Depression, the federal government passed legislation suspending for 2009 the rule requiring old people to withdraw a minimum amount of money from their 401Ks, IRAs, or other individual retirement accounts. The current rule imposes a 50 percent tax penalty on anyone over age 70 1/2 who fails to take their so-called mandatory distributions by the end of the year.

That's right, fellow oldsters--as a parting gift to all of us, the 110th Congress and George W. Bush, who failed to prevent or contain the financial meltdown that has cost some of us a third or more of our life savings, is now giving us permission not to spend some of what's left.

The idea behind the legislation is that seniors shouldn't be forced to sell off their investments at a loss. Unfortunately, however, it applies to 2009, not 2008--which is, of course, when our retirement accounts got gutted. According to the New York Times, some members of Congress urged Henry Paulson's Treasury Department to apply the same change to 2008, but it declined to do so.

In a letter to members of Congress, the Treasury Department said any steps it could take to address the issue would be "substantially more limited than the relief enacted by Congress and could not be made uniformly to all individuals subject to required minimum distributions." It also said carrying out the changes would be "complicated and confusing for individuals and plan sponsors."

Well, by all means, let's not confuse the old farts; we're having a tough enough time figuring out how how it is that we did everything we were supposed to do--worked, planned, saved, invested--and still got so royally screwed. And let's not complicate things for the financial institutions, who are already overburdened figuring out how to spend their $700 billion handout.