Redefining Hard Power

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 2:55 PM EST

Errr, just click the link.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 26 December 2008

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 2:40 PM EST

BOXING DAY CATBLOGGING....We spent Christmas Eve this year at my mother's house, which naturally means I acquired many new pictures of her implacably adorable new kittens. I think they went through three complete cycles of manic zeal followed by utter slumberland during the few hours we were visiting.

But there will be riots in the street (punctuated by the occasional snooze) if Inkblot and Domino are booted from their rightful spots as America's Favorite Cats™ for two weeks in a row. So here they are. Domino is in her normal morning position, draped over Marian's head and sucking up all her bodily warmth. Inkblot, whose relationship with the new pod is sometimes a fraught one, was in a pod-loving moment a few days ago and spent the morning curled up in the sunshine on the other end of the bed. Usually he disdains the pod and sleeps right by Marian's feet, which basically makes her into a cat sandwich. On the other hand, my mother now has four cats, and apparently all of them like to sleep on the bed at night, so I guess it could be worse.

Eartha Kitt Dies at 81

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 2:30 PM EST

Eartha KittLegendary singer and actress Eartha Kitt died yesterday of cancer at age 81. The AP described her as rising "from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality," while the New York Times called her a "seducer of audiences" whose wide-ranging career presaged current entertainers:

Ms. Kitt, who began performing in the late '40s as a dancer in New York, went on to achieve success and acclaim in a variety of mediums long before other entertainment multitaskers like Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. ... With her curvaceous frame and unabashed vocal come-ons, she was also, along with Lena Horne, among the first widely known African-American sex symbols.

After the jump, video of Kitt singing "Santa Baby," a hit in 1953.

A Fall From Greatness

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 2:10 PM EST

A FALL FROM GREATNESS....As American manufacturing prowess continues its long decline, even American crime is being affected. Secret Service agent Charles Green explains to the Kansas City Star:

More counterfeiters are using today's ink-jet printers, computers and copiers to make money that's just good enough to pass, he said, even though their product is awful.

In the past, he said, the best American counterfeiters were skilled printers who used heavy offset presses to turn out decent 20s, 50s and 100s. Now that kind of work is rare and almost all comes from abroad.

....Green pointed to a picture hanging in his downtown conference room. It's a photo from a 1980s Lenexa case that involved heavy printing presses and about 2 million fake dollars. "That's what we used to see," he boomed. "That's the kind of case we used to make."

....Green's voice sank as he described today's sad-sack counterfeiters. These people call up pictures of bills on their computers, buy paper at an office supply store and print out a few bills. They cut the bills apart, go into a store or bar and pass one or two.

That is just a sad state of affairs, my friends. Whatever happened to taking pride in your work? I guess all the real crooks have decided that identify theft and computer fraud are the hot tickets these days.

As an aside, though, I have my doubts that the good stuff all "comes from abroad." My guess is that it comes from right here in the U. S. of A. Just not from counterfeiters.

Wish List from the Good Gov't Community: A Decent FEC

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 1:34 PM EST

Christmas may have come and gone, but Obama still has the opportunity to give a gift to those who care about good government reform. Here's the New York Times:

For all the talk of change in Barack Obama's Washington, it is cynical business as usual for the ever-feckless Federal Election Commission. As a senator, Mr. Obama's signal reform achievement was a new law designed to crack down on lobbyist "bundlers" who package money from fat-cat donors seeking political favors. The F.E.C. — the bipartisan watchdog that loves to play dead — has now issued regulations for the law that poke it full of loopholes....
We have had little enthusiasm for the F.E.C. But the future only looks grimmer now that Donald McGahn has taken over as chairman. He is a party wheelhorse who was formerly the ethics lawyer for Tom DeLay, the ethically impaired ex-majority leader who quit under a cloud of money-raising scandals.
As president, Mr. Obama will have the power to confront the F.E.C.'s machinations. Three of the six commissioners are due to be replaced. Instead of rubber-stamping nominees suggested by Congressional leaders, he should broaden the process — with a blue-ribbon search panel, perhaps. It would be a real change to have an election watchdog with integrity and bite.

I say forget a blue-ribbon panel. That's a namby-pamby Washington-esque half-step. Create a wiki where the public can say who it wants on the FEC. The public will never, ever point to milquetoast party operators who will let politicians off the hook. (For more on how the FEC is in the pocket of the two major parties, read the article I wrote in April, back when the FEC lacked a quorum.) Also, a public wiki will guarantee that folks from the Sunlight Foundation, Democracy 21, Common Cause, and the Center for Responsive Politics — the folks who promote no interest other than getting the government to better serve the public interest — will have a voice. Currently, there is an implicit agreement whereby congressional lawmakers, the folks that the FEC regulates, tell the president who to appoint. I say the folks who regularly work for better regulation, instead of worse, should get that privilege.

Richardson in Trouble? Or Just Causing Trouble?

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 12:45 PM EST

The Obama campaign has cleared itself of all wrong-doing in Rod Blagojevich's attempted sale of the vacant Illinois Senate seat, but they might have their own pay-to-play scandal on their hands.

...two former state officials say they've recently been questioned by a federal grand jury specifically about allegations that [Secretary of Commerce designate Bill] Richardson or aides pushed state business worth nearly $1.5 million in fees toward CDR Financial Products in 2004. The company is headquartered in Beverly Hills.
This was about the same time as CDR's founder, Rubin, donated $100,000 to two of Richardson's political action committees; mainly it appears to cover expenses of the governor and his staff at the Democratic Party's National Convention in Boston that summer.
Rubin also donated another $29,000 to Richardson's unsuccessful presidential campaign this year and last.

Right now, Rahm Emanuel is screaming, "[Bleeping] Richardson!" Or he's screaming, "[Bleeping] vetters!" Because in a transition focused on avoiding drama, headed by a president-elect who has made ethics reform a major part of his political persona, the fact that a high-level appointee may be guilty of straight-up corruption means someone screwed up big time. Either the massive questionnaire that Obama Administration job seekers had to fill out was ignored for top people, or Richardson lied to the Obama staffers who were in charge of scrutinizing his background.

Either way, Rahm probably isn't the only one who is pissed. Obama himself can't be happy. He's going to be dogged by this for as long as the investigation goes forward (it probably isn't problematic enough that he can just cut Richardson loose tomorrow), and while he would probably be willing to endure that for one of his superstars (Clinton, Summers, Holder), he must be frustrated that he is forced to endure it for a small potatoes pick like Richardson.

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Quote of the Day - 12.26.08

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 12:40 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Michael O'Hare, after reading some disturbing news:

Great challenges, widespread deprivation, and collective enterprise need more chocolate, not less.

Quite so, and Barack Obama better not forget it. All together, I think I received about four pounds of chocolate this Christmas, so I'm set for the next couple of days. After that, store shelves better remain fully stocked if everyone expects this blog to continue.

Climate Change Update

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 11:28 AM EST

CLIMATE CHANGE UPDATE....My morning paper delivers some good news and some bad news on climate change. The bad news:

In one of the report's most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea levels could rise as much as 4 feet by 2100. The intergovernment panel had projected a rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the last two years show the world's major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice in the Alps.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this number grow further as more studies are done. But there's also good news:

The report is reassuring [] on the prospects for some potentially drastic effects, such as a huge release of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, that is now locked deep in the seabed and underneath the Arctic permafrost. That is unlikely to occur in the near future, the scientists said.

"It's unlikely that we're going to see an abrupt change in methane over the next hundred years, but we should worry about it over a longer time frame," said Ed Brook, the lead author of the methane chapter and a geosciences professor at Oregon State University....By the end the century, Brook said, the amount of methane escaping from natural sources such as the Arctic tundra and waterlogged soils in warmer regions "could possibly double," but that would still be less than the current level of human-generated methane emissions.

The release of methane from melting permafrost is one of the worst of the feedback-loop scenarios that could cause climate change to spiral out of control during the middle part of the century. If we really have a hundred years or more before it gets out of hand, that's good news.


| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 11:17 AM EST

MILK....Matt Yglesias explains why he didn't like Milk as much as he expected to:

My first instinct was to say that the problem with the film is that the pacing is odd, but I think the problem may actually be that on some level Harvey Milk's story isn't that interesting.

This is an underappreciated phenomenon. When it comes to fiction, everyone understands that an uninteresting story is a death knell. But when it comes to stories based on real people, filmmakers too often seem to think that just because a person has done something of note, it means that this person's life story is inherently interesting. But it's not. Harvey Milk did worthwhile things and his life ended in a dramatic way, but his life story is actually fairly ordinary. The same can be said for the subjects of a disturbingly large number of biopics.

Which isn't to say that Milk is bad. I didn't think it lived up to its hype, but it was still pretty good. And Sean Penn did a phenomenal job in the title role. The film might be worth seeing just for that.

How Would You Say "Goodbye, George W. Bush"? Tell Him

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 1:09 AM EST

Office sort of quiet? Itching to spice up dinner conversation at the in-laws'? Dying to test drive the camera Santa brought? How about making an entry for our "Goodbye, George W. Bush" video contest? Put your 30-second (or so), PG-13 video on YouTube labeled "Mother Jones Goodbye Bush Video" and send us the link at; all styles of entries are welcome, from simply talking at the camera to fancier stuff. Winners will be featured on the MoJo site and get prizes, not to mention more YouTube views than Straight No Chaser.
P.S. Spread the word! Contests are only as good as the number of entries they get, and we can't afford to advertise--so tweet, blog, and link away.