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First Listen: TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 7:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-tvotr-dearscience.jpgNo, that comma is not a misprint, although the verdict is still out on the capitalization of "on" and "the." Jeez, I know I'm not a real writer, but come on, TVOTR, get with the grammar program. Are you guys like those Midwestern sign-makers who put quotes around things for emphasis, advertising "clothes" for "sale"? I mean, even Panic at the Disco dropped the exclamation point!

Honestly, though, I'd forgive this band almost anything. I'd say they're tied with Queens of the Stone Age for highest ratio of music quality to cover art crappiness, for instance. But in TV on the Radio's short career, they've been incredibly ambitious, combining a creative experimentation with astute social and political awareness in a way that makes them kin to fellow-airwave-referencing combo Radiohead. But while Thom Yorke and crew produce expansive, soaring tunes that can carry across a field, TVOTR have always aimed inward, towards sonic density. Their 2006 release, Return to Cookie Mountain, took the dark themes of their first album, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, and dove even deeper, but on Dear Science, they seem to have come to terms with some inner turmoil and returned to the surface.

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Norm Coleman's $1 Million Mistake?

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 6:19 PM EDT

Norm.jpg Republican Senator Norm Coleman may pay a big price for a small violation of federal elections law.

Coleman, who is locked in a reelection battle with comedian and author Al Franken, is running a television ad in Minnesota that fails to meet the requirements of what is known as the "stand by your ad" law. The provision says any political ad aired within two months of election day that mentions the name of an opponent must close with a four-second image of the candidate running the ad, along with his or her name and a statement that he or she approved and paid for the ad.

In 2006, then-Senator Rick Santorum got in hot water in Pennsylvania for violating this provision. Santorum put his image at the beginning of the ad and the written statement of approval and sponsorship at the end. This slip-up threatened to disqualify Santorum from receiving the heavily discounted advertising rate — known as the "lowest unit charge" or "lowest unit rate" — commonly offered to political candidates.

Now Coleman faces similar trouble.

Troopergate Update

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:57 PM EDT

TROOPERGATE UPDATE....Steve has the latest on Troopergate. Bloomberg has the latest on the McCain camp's attempt to shut down the investigation.

Palin's Supporters and Zombie Feminism

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:46 PM EDT

The excellent Rebecca Traister, who writes about gender politics for Salon, is totally on-point about what Sarah Palin means for women and for feminism. Here's a sampling:

The pro-woman rhetoric surrounding Sarah Palin's nomination is a grotesque bastardization of everything feminism has stood for, and in my mind, more than any of the intergenerational pro- or anti-Hillary crap that people wrung their hands over during the primaries, Palin's candidacy and the faux-feminism in which it has been wrapped are the first development that I fear will actually imperil feminism. Because if adopted as a narrative by this nation and its women, it could not only subvert but erase the meaning of what real progress for women means, what real gender bias consists of, what real discrimination looks like.

Check out the whole thing.

A Minor Obama Advantage: Three Places At Once

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:30 PM EDT

It looks like Palin will be by McCain's side throughout the campaign season. Here's First Read:

The McCain campaign is "very seriously considering" having McCain and Palin campaign together more often than not in the next two months, a senior campaign aide said...
The aide said the two have developed a strong chemistry together and will likely utilize it through joint rallies. He likened it to the chemistry Bill Clinton and Al Gore had in 1992, suggesting it was instinctive.

Of course, this has everything to do with the fact that McCain's solo attempts at campaign rallies aren't going well, and Sarah Palin has essentially become the draw on the GOP ticket. It's an advantage for the Democratic ticket. The fact that Cindy McCain is usually by her husband's side means that, for the GOP, the presidential candidate, the vice-presidential candidate, and the presidential candidate's wife are all in one place on any given day. On the Dem side, those three figures are all fully capable of campaigning unaccompanied.

Healthcare, McCain Style

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:29 PM EDT

HEALTHCARE, McCAIN STYLE....Joe Klein wants to get out of the gutter and talk about the issues:

Today's issue: health insurance. John McCain wants to tax your employer-provided health care benefits. He wants to replace those benefits with an insufficient tax credit — $2500 for individuals and $5000 for families (the average cost per family for health insurance is $12000).

....It is amazing to me that Obama campaign has let things go this far without pointing out that McCain — who opposes the energy bill because it would increase taxes on oil companies — is actually proposing a tax increase on health care benefits for American workers. But that is precisely what the Senator from Arizona is doing.

Let's unpack this. If you get health insurance through your employer, as most Americans do, you don't pay taxes on it. Under McCain's plan you would. So if the insurance premium for your family is $14,000 (the best estimate available for 2009), you'll pay federal income tax, state income tax, and payroll tax on that amount, and your employer will pay the employer share of the payroll tax on it. For an average family, that comes to about $4,900.

But McCain's plan provides you with a $5,000 tax credit, so you're ahead of the game. Everything is OK.

Except there's some fine print hidden where McCain hopes no one will see it: his tax credit increases each year only by the normal inflation rate. Your premiums are going to increase way faster — probably around 6-8% per year. That means your taxes are going to go up 6-8% per year too. The chart on the right, courtesy of CAP, shows the gory details: the tax credit doesn't keep up with the increase in tax payments. In other words, your taxes go up.

If you're in a somewhat higher tax bracket than the median, the news is even worse because your marginal federal tax rate is higher. If you live in a high-tax state like California, the news is even worse because your marginal state tax rate is higher. If you have a big family, the news is even worse because your premium will be more than $14,000 and the taxes you pay on it will therefore be higher. If your employer decides to ditch group healthcare entirely because there's no longer any tax advantage to it, then you're really screwed. And if that happens and you happen to have a chronic illness that no private insurer will touch — well, screwed hardly begins to describe it.

So that's McCain's healthcare plan: make it more expensive, make it riskier, and for some people, make it nonexistent. There's more to say about this, and you can get all the details in this CAP report written a couple of months ago. This stuff is hardly a secret.

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Another Sarah Palin Email Controversy?

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 2:36 PM EDT

Is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin taking I.T. tips from Dick Cheney and Karl Rove?

As Mother Jones first reported, her office, responding to an open records act request, refused to release about 1100 emails involving Palin and her aides, citing what seems to be an iffy claim of executive privilege. And now another email issue has emerged: Palin's use of a private email account for her official duties.

Emails obtained by Andrée McLeod, the independent government watchdog in Alaska who filed that opens records request, indicate that Palin, who is running along side John McCain to replace Cheney, has used a gov.sarah@yahoo.com account--rather than an Alaska state email account--for official business. As McLeod, a registered Republican, points out, this raises at least two potential problems. One is security. Is Palin conducting state business outside of secured Alaska state servers? Another is transparency. Can her emails on this private account be properly maintained and archived? Can they be reviewed in response to, say, an open records act request?

To date, nether Palin nor her spokespeople have had anything to say about the withheld emails or her use of a private email address for state business.

At War in Pakistan

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 1:06 PM EDT

AT WAR IN PAKISTAN....This has been a subject of discussion so long that it's hardly even news anymore, but apparently the Bush administration has officially decided to endorse ongoing ground operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan:

President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

...."The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable," said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."

....The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military's Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.

Earlier in the year John McCain criticized Barack Obama for suggesting that he supported these kinds of operations, so purely for point-scoring reasons it would be nice to ask him whether he approves of Bush doing it instead. (First, though, McCain would have to come out of hiding long enough for a reporter ask him. That doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon since, with good reason, he's afraid of what else they might ask him about at the time.)

But what should we think about this on a non-point-scoring basis? At the risk of being thought a huge wuss, I have to confess to extremely mixed feelings. The situation in Pakistan has surely been tactically intolerable for some time, but this is the hardly the first time we've faced a situation like this. Vietnam analogies may be out of fashion, but it's worth remembering that this is exactly how we got mired down in Laos and Cambodia too: Viet Cong troops were using those countries as bases during the Vietnam War, and tactically this was every bit as intolerable as the Pakistan situation is today. But U.S. raids on those bases turned into U.S. bombing missions, and U.S. bombing missions eventually turned into full scale war. And we all know how that turned out.

In Pakistan, we've now gone from trying to work with the Pakistani government to occasional Predator attacks and now to periodic ground assaults. How likely is it that we can keep things from escalating further? What happens the first time the Taliban wins a firefight and takes some prisoners? What happens when civilian casualties rise to a level where the Pakistani government, under pressure domestically, can no longer pretend not to notice the raids? What happens when a raid goes bad, reinforcements are called in, and before long we have a couple of companies on the ground in some godforsaken corner of the tribal areas?

Needless to say, this is exactly the kind of liberal hand wringing that hawkish conservatives would normally pounce on. I suppose, however, that for now the pouncing has to be kept fairly low key since their own hawkish conservative presidential candidate seems to have the same qualms that I do. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that McCain's qualms were little more than a chance to take a shot at Barack Obama back when that seemed like a good idea, and would almost certainly disappear instantly once he took office. What then?

McCain Wants To Spend 1/3rd of a Trillion Dollars on Nuclear Plants

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 12:17 PM EDT


From Bloomberg

John McCain's plan to revive the U.S. nuclear power industry with 45 new reactors may cost $315 billion, with taxpayers bearing much of the financial risk.
...Taxpayers are on the hook only if borrowers default. A 2003 Congressional Budget Office report said the default rate on nuclear construction debts might be as high as 50 percent, in part because of the projects' high costs.

So much for Mr. I-Watch-Out-for-the-Taxpayers. Read the rest here.

Knowledge != Power

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

KNOWLEDGE != POWER....Robert Kagan says it's OK — maybe even better! — for national politicians to lack experience or knowledge of foreign policy. Matt Yglesias thinks he's expressing his honest opinion:

Kagan, like most neoconservatives, thinks that in-depth knowledge of foreign countries and the politics and culture of foreign societies isn't helpful in thinking about foreign policy questions. Similarly, they believe that in-depth knowledge of theoretical and empirical work in the field of international relations isn't helpful. Indeed, they think that this kind of in-depth knowledge is actually harmful. They prefer the judgment of people who have little knowledge of the outside world but do possess a degree of gut-level nationalism.

Sure. Conservatives never trusted either Nixon or Bush 41 on foreign policy, even though both of them were knowledgable and sophisticated students of foreign affairs. They thought that knowledge slowed them down and made them wimps, always worrying about what world opinion might think. Conversely, they loved Reagan and Bush 43, both of whom had a couple of basic instincts about foreign affairs and not much else.

So John McCain? He's great! And Sarah Palin? Even greater! You, elitist that you are, may think that knowledge is power, but that's decidedly not the position of most modern Republicans.