The Auto Industry's 15 Billion Point Turn

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 5:56 PM EST

Below is a guest blog entry by Nomi Prins:

Perhaps jarred by the November unemployment report, Congress offered a $15 billion olive branch to the Detroit Three Friday night. (Note: You can keep calling them the Big Three if you want, but it's a bit of a misnomer these days, isn't it?)

The loan, stressed House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), will provide "short-term and limited assistance" to the D-3, though there is some ambiguity about what she meant. She also promised the money would be repaid "within a matter of weeks." But given the absence of inventory movement, and lack of cash flowing through the D-3's books, it's not clear exactly how that's going to happen.

Nonetheless, this loan will allegedly keep the auto industry on a ventilator until March, when the Obama administration and new Congress can take another pass at determining what to do. Until that point, the auto-execs will supposedly go about executing their multi-hundred page restructuring plans. Will they address the core problems that plague the auto industry? Let's hope.

—Nomi Prins

Nomi Prins is a former Wall Streeter and frequent contributor to Mother Jones.

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Nisoor Square Update

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 3:37 PM EST

NISOOR SQUARE UPDATE....The Blackwater guards who were charged on Thursday for their role in the 2007 Nisoor Square shootings plan to give themselves up tomorrow:

Five indicted Blackwater Worldwide security guards plan to surrender to the FBI Monday in Salt Lake City, about 2,000 miles from the Washington courthouse where they were charged, a person close to the case said.

Such a move would be the opening salvo in what is shaping up to be a contentious legal fight before the guards can even get to trial. By surrendering in Utah, the home state of one of the guards, the men can argue for a trial there — a far more conservative, pro-gun venue than Washington.

Via Blue Girl. More here. Iraqi reaction here.

Afghanistan Update

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 3:18 PM EST

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE....This is really bad news:

Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.

....The plan for the incoming brigade [] means that for the time being fewer reinforcements — or none at all — will be immediately available for the parts of Afghanistan where the insurgency is most intense.

It also means that most of the newly arriving troops will not be deployed with the main goal of curbing the cross-border flow of insurgents from their rear bases in Pakistan, something American commanders would like and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has recommended.

This isn't a huge surprise at this point, but it's the most concrete evidence yet of how badly the fight in Afghanistan is going. Two years ago, the main complaint was that, sure, Kabul was safe, but it was just a small island of security in a vast sea of lawlessness. Today, we're apparently close to losing even that small island.

So does that mean that we need a surge in Afghanistan? Well, the theory behind the surge in Iraq was that a relatively small number of additional troops could make a big difference if they were concentrated primarily in Baghdad, where three or four brigades would represent a near doubling of forces. Baghdad was considered so central to Iraqi security that if it could be pacified, it would make an enormous difference in the rest of the country too.

That's not true of Afghanistan. Obviously Kabul has to be safe, but it doesn't play the same outsize role that Baghdad does in Iraq. Nor are any of the other factors that helped the surge succeed present in Afghanistan. It's just a mess. Denying al-Qaeda a safe sanctuary is an important goal, but if even Kabul isn't safe anymore, it means we've got a very, very long road ahead of us before we can make that happen. I don't envy Barack Obama the choices he has ahead of him.

Conservative Hysteria Watch

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 2:59 PM EST

CONSERVATIVE HYSTERIA WATCH....Shorter George Will: If liberals were trying to do a bunch of things they aren't trying to do, they'd really suck. Next week: If Canadians launch an attack on North Dakota, they'd be real warmongers, wouldn't they?

Late Boomers

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 2:46 PM EST

LATE BOOMERS....In the Washington Post today, Neil Howe takes on one of my favorite hobbyhorses: The Kids These Days™. Are they really the dumbest generation ever? Howe says no: that honor belongs to my generation, those born between the late 50s and mid 60s:

On both the reading and the math tests, and at all three tested ages (9, 13 and 17), the lowest-ever scores in the history of the NAEP were recorded by children born between 1961 and 1965.

The same pattern shows up in SAT scores....It fell steeply for 17 straight years, hitting its all-time low in 1980, when it tested the 1963 cohort

....According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans born from 1958 to 1962 have the highest share that has never completed high school among all age brackets between 25 and 60. They also have the lowest share with a four-year college degree among all age brackets between 30 and 60.

....Once early Xers entered the labor force in the 1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noticed something else: For the first time in decades, the share of young adults entering professions such as law, medicine and accounting began to drop.

This isn't exactly conclusive evidence, mind you, but I don't think Howe is far off the truth. If I were giving out awards for the least educated, least motivated, and least engaged recent generation, mine would certainly be a top contender.

Battleground "Ad" Nauseum

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 11:34 AM EST

Despite the fact that as a presidential candidate Barack Obama ran several national ad buys that brought campaign advertising to California, Utah, and a number of other states that hadn't experienced the excitement/overkill of campaign season in quite a while, battleground states still dominated ad purchases. According to Fair Vote:

Percent of all presidential campaign related television ads that took place in [Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvani and Vriginia] from September 24 to November 4 – 54.5%

The campaign was consolidated in other ways as well:

Percent of all 300 campaign events by major party presidential candidates between September 5 and November 4, 2008 that took place in the states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia – 57%
Number of states where 99% of all campaign visits and 99% of all campaign spending took place: 16

And the effect of this? Just over 10 percent in voter turnout.

Voter turnout in the 15 states with the most campaign activity: 69%. Voter turnout in the remaining states: 56%

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Cheering the Ouster of Democrats, Continued

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 11:13 AM EST

I've called for Charlie Rangel's removal, despite the fact that he's great on the issues. It should be no surprise, then, that I'm cheering "Dollar Bill" Jefferson's defeat. Not a hard decision — anytime someone's been indicted on 16 charges of corruption by a federal grand jury and the FBI has found $90,000 in cash in his home freezer, it's time to go.

Jefferson leaves a very Democratic Louisiana district in the hands of a Republican. Should be a targeted pickup for the Dems in 2010.

Salvation Army Strong-Arms Marriage

| Sat Dec. 6, 2008 5:15 PM EST

red_kettle.jpg Next time you see the dingaling bell ringers on the sidewalk, and before you drop your coin in the red kettle, consider this: If you're an officer for the Salvation Army, you also live Salvation Army. Meaning the country's second largest charity (behind the United Way) mandates that their leaders (not priests, mind you, business professionals) don't drink or smoke, and that they marry only other officers. This all because the charity is a devoutly religious one, founded by an evangelical Christian in 1865. Still, Salvation Army gets a hefty chunk of its budget from government funding (via faith-based funding that Obama says he'll expand) so the marriage restriction seems to fly in the face of employment discrimination principles.

Take Captain Johnny Harsh, the head of Salvation Army's Oshkosh, Wisconsin chapter. His wife, also a captain, died of a heart attack in June. Johnny has since fallen in love with a nurse he met on a Christian online dating site, a nurse who, incidentally, is not a Salvation Army officer. Still, they got engaged. (The harsh consequence after the jump.)

Cell Phones Fry Memory

| Fri Dec. 5, 2008 8:27 PM EST

Rats exposed to mobile phone radiation for two hours a week for more than a year suffered memory loss. The findings may be related to earlier findings that microwave radiation from cell phones affects the blood-brain barrier.

The team from Lund University in Sweden previously found that albumin, a protein that acts as a transport molecule in the blood, leaks into brain tissue when lab animals are exposed to mobile phone radiation. Now they find damaged nerve cells in the cerebral cortex and in the hippocampus, the memory centers of the brain. Although the albumin leakage occurs directly after radiation, the nerve damage takes four to eight weeks to manifest.

Furthermore, the team discovered alterations in the activity of a large number of genes after cell phone radiation—not in individual genes but in groups that are functionally related. "We now see that things happen to the brains of lab animals after cell phone radiation. The next step is to try to understand why this happens," says Henrietta Nittby. She has a cell phone herself, but never holds it to her ear, using hands-free equipment instead. . . The lab animals, lacking opposable thumbs, have no choice. Oh, wait, aren't we all lab animals, in our own special way?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the PEN USA Literary Award, the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal.

MOJO VIDEO: Rallying to Unelect Obama

| Fri Dec. 5, 2008 3:52 PM EST

Obama-haters, conspiracy theorists, and old fashioned Constitution devotees that question Barack Obama's eligibility for the White House due to his birth status reached their collective apogee Friday morning in front of the Supreme Court. The justices were considering whether to put on the docket a New Jersey case that alleges Barack Obama was a dual American and British citizen at birth, and that he thus fails the ill-defined "natural-born citizen" standard demanded of presidents by Article II of the Constitution. Legal experts doubt that the case will move forward, but that didn't stop roughly 20 people from gathering on the steps of the Supreme Court building to wave flags, pray, say the pledge of allegiance, and generate as much media attention as they could.

— By Jonathan Stein and Tay Wiles