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Gore's Speech: A Reminder of What's Missing

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 10:42 PM EDT

There's been some talk among pundits and progressives that the Obama campaign could use a touch more populism--especially to reach those working-class voters (read: white working-class voters). So maybe the Democratic convention could have used someone talking like this:

My focus is on working families--people trying to make house payments and car payments, working overtime to save for college and do right by their kids. Whether you're in a suburb, or an inner-city. Whether you raise crops or drive hogs and cattle on a farm, drive a big rig on the Interstate, or drive e-commerce on the Internet… Whether you're starting out to raise your own family, or getting ready to retire after a lifetime of hard work

So often, powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seemed stacked against you--even as you do what's right for you and your family.
How and what we do for all of you - the people who pay the taxes, bear the burdens, and live the American dream--that is the standard by which we should be judged.

That's a passage from Al Gore's feisty I-will-fight-for-you-against-powerful-interests acceptance speech at the 2000 convention. This time around, on the final night of the convention, Gore appeared at Invesco Field an hour before Barack Obama was scheduled to come out, and he spoke--no surprise--mostly about climate change. He was eloquent on the subject, as he usually is. He did take a whack at the oil and coal industries and "the forces of the status quo." But he sure did not tailor his remarks to the sort of voters he focused on in his 2000 speech.

Of course, it's not Gore's job to populist-ize the Obama campaign. That seems to be Joe Biden's mission. But Gore's speech on Thursday night--given the obvious comparison to his 2000 speech--was a reminder that something's been missing.

THIS JUST IN: Shortly after Gore spoke, the convention presented several working- or middle-class voters who explained why they were supporting Obama. One of them, Smith Barney, who lost his job in a Marian, Indiana, factory, had what was (so far) the best populist line of the night: "We need a president who puts Barney Smith before SmithBarney."

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Obama's Speech

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 9:31 PM EDT

OBAMA'S SPEECH....Barack Obama's staff has released excerpts from his speech tonight. Here's a piece:

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built, and we are to restore that legacy.

....I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

The rest is here. Some of it looks good, some looks a little too much like boilerplate to me — but it's obviously silly to try to judge before I hear the whole thing. More later.

Roundtable Review: Trouble the Water

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 6:47 PM EDT

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A few days before Hurricane Katrina struck land in New Orleans three years ago Friday, 24-year-old rapper Kimberly Rivers Roberts bought a camcorder for $20 on the street. With her husband Scott, she started filming her neighbors—most of whom didn't have the means to leave—and their preparations to ride out the storm. She kept filming until the levees failed, even as the water rose and her friends sought safety in their attics. Two weeks later, Kim and Scott returned to document the destruction, and join some 20 friends in the back of a truck to begin the long trip to dry land. Kim and Scott's footage, along with archival materials including recovered recordings of 911 calls and video of inmates trapped in the Orleans Parish Prison, makes for a film that is at once journalistic and deeply personal.

Four MoJo staffers watched Trouble the Water Tuesday night and discussed it via Gchat Wednesday morning. Read the conversation here.

Core Inflation

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 6:43 PM EDT

CORE INFLATION....Why does the Fed rely on a "core" inflation rate — one that excludes food and energy costs — when it sets monetary policy? Are they trying to pretend that food and energy, items that are more important to the middle class than to the rich, don't matter? Mark Thoma explains:

If the question is "what is today's inflation rate," the total inflation rate is the best measure. It's intended to measure the cost of living and there's no reason at all to strip anything out. It's only when we ask different questions that different measures are used.

Core inflation, it turns out, (a) does a better job of forecasting future inflation, (b) does a better job of estimating whether inflation is currently rising or falling, and (c) is the inflation target that best stabilizes the economy.

The core inflation rate you see in the news, the one that strips out food and energy, should be though of as a short-hand, quick measure of all three of these concepts. But in each case the Fed uses measures (formally or informally) designed to best satisfy these three functions. For example, when it forecasts future inflation, it uses a different concept of core inflation than it uses in setting policy.

In other words: no, the Fed isn't trying to pretend that food and energy inflation aren't important. They focus on core inflation because it's a better input to the technical models they use to guide monetary policy. Read the whole thing for the full explanation.

Veep Rumors

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 6:11 PM EDT

VEEP RUMORS....Will John McCain announce (or "leak") his choice for vice president tonight during Barack Obama's acceptance speech? Obama communications chief Dan Pfeiffer is willing to bet he won't: "If they do it," he told Politico, "I will pay all of McCain's mortgages next month."

Yeah, sure he will. This is just more cheap talk from liberals. Everyone knows Cindy paid cash for all their homes.

The World Is Not Enough

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 4:07 PM EDT

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH....If Walter Cronkite could manage to talk semi-intelligently for hours on end during an Apollo countdown in which, literally, absolutely nothing was happening, why can't today's talking heads find something semi-intelligent to say while they cover political conventions for hours on end? It is a mystery.

However, despite the amusing personnel meltdowns taking place on air over at MSNBC, Fox's Megyn Kelly surely deserves the idiot award of the week for this comment on Michelle Obama's speech:

Do you think that, you know, her saying that she loves America, that she loves this country, is going to do it for those who questioned her patriotism? Because she said something — what she said was, and I wrote it down, was, "The world as it is just won't do." If you replace "world" with "country," you're back to the same debate, arguably, that you have been having about Michelle Obama's feelings about this country.

Why yes! And if you replace "world" with, say, "broccoli," then Michelle is dissing the vegetable industry! We could play this game for hours, couldn't we?

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Hezbollah Operating From Venezuela?

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 4:02 PM EDT

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Eighty-five people were killed in Buenos Aires in July 1994, when a truck filled with explosives detonated outside the Jewish Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA). Since then, conspiracy theorists have had a field day speculating about who was responsible, but it is generally believed to have been the work of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militia group listed on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups. The presence of Islamist militants, including Hezbollah, in South America—in particular, in the anarchic Tri-border Region, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet—has long been suspected. According to the Los Angeles Times, though, terrorism analysts fear that Hezbollah is expanding its base in Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez's government enjoys warm relations with Iran, Hezbollah's financial and ideological patron. The countries have established numerous business ties, and in March 2007 agreed to flights between their capitals on IranAir—flights that include a layover in Damascus. (The State Department complained early on that passengers arriving in Caracas seldom were checked against immigration databases or had their passports stamped. Venezuela has reportedly stepped up security procedures as a result.) In June, the US government accused two Venezuelans of working with Hezbollah, obtaining finances and arranging travel. Such activities may represent things to come.

From the Times:

Carbon Taxes

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 3:13 PM EDT

CARBON TAXES....Will Wilkinson argues that, environmentally speaking, eating food produced in faraway lands isn't really that big a deal:

According to a recent study out of Carnegie Mellon University, the distance traveled by the average American's dinner rose about 25 percent from 1997 to 2004, due to increasing global trade. But carbon emissions from food transport saw only a 5 percent bump, thanks to the efficiencies of vast cargo container ships.

A tomato raised in a heated greenhouse next door can be more carbon-intensive than one shipped halfway across the globe. And cows spew a lot more greenhouse gas than hens, or kumquats, so eating just a bit less beef can do more carbon-wise than going completely local. It's complicated.

There's a lot to be said for this, and one of those things is that it's a good argument for a carbon tax (or a cap-and-trade program, which amounts to much the same thing). Trying to figure out the carbon footprint for everything you do is just too damn hard. In fact, nearly impossible, as Will's example demonstrates. A better solution is to put a tax on carbon, let prices adjust to new levels, and then let the market sort things out. Carbon-intensive products will go up in price and we'll all end up buying fewer of them. Carbon-friendly products will go down in price (relatively speaking), and we'll buy more of them. No muss, no fuss.

There's another side benefit too: guilt reduction. After all, none of us will ever live pristine lifestyles even if we'd like to: maybe you like your SUV and I like my sirloin steak and we really, really don't want to give them up. What to do? Answer: pay the carbon tax and relax. Maybe you'll keep your SUV and eat more tofu, while I'll keep eating meat but buy a Prius. We'll both cut down our carbon use, but we'll each get to do it in our own way. And that way is whatever causes us the least grief. The Prius doesn't bug me much and the tofu doesn't bug you much, so we've both cut our carbon consumption, done it with only modest sacrifice, and held on to the things that we really care about. But despite the collective modest sacrifice, we've cut our carbon consumption.

The biggest problem with all this — and the most powerful argument the climate change skeptics have — is that a carbon tax won't truly be effective unless it's worldwide. Fruit shipped from Chile won't be affected at all, for example, as long as the freighters fuel up somewhere outside the U.S. Ditto for toys made in China and textiles in India, since neither China nor India appears likely to join us in taxing carbon emissions anytime soon.

But this wouldn't be the first time that the United States took a lead in the global sphere and had to wait for others to catch up. It seems worth doing to me anyway, especially since, in the meantime, even a U.S.-only initiative would spur development of green technologies and act as sort of a proof of concept for the whole idea. If not us, who? If not now, when?

Obama's Speech Tonight: What to Expect?

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 2:10 PM EDT

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There are some weird dynamics surrounding Obama's speech tonight. All of them, I think, point to a more subdued and workmanlike performance than many Democrats are hoping for.

Voila

| Thu Aug. 28, 2008 1:47 PM EDT

VOILA....John Goodman, a think tank president, evangelist for Health Savings Accounts, and advisor to John McCain, offers us his solution to the crisis of the uninsured:

Mr. Goodman, who helped craft Sen. John McCain's health care policy, said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, albeit the government acts as the payer of last resort...."So I have a solution. And it will cost not one thin dime," Mr. Goodman said. "The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American — even illegal aliens — as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care. "So, there you have it. Voila! Problem solved."

This is, obviously, idiotic — though in an almost charming, movement conservative Tourette's sort of way — but one wonders who Goodman thinks is going to be the payer of last resort for non-emergency care? Santa Claus?