Quote of the Day - 4.14.09

From conservative Bernard Goldberg, talking to Sean Hannity about the right's obsessive effort to find fault with Barack Obama's handling of the Somali pirate affair:

"I'm sorry, Sean....but we have to stop going out of our way to find fault with every single thing he does.... If something bad happened here, and thank God it didn't, but if something bad happened here, I guarantee you, I'll tell you who would have been leading the crusade against him: you."

Jeez, even Bernard Goldberg sees this?  Wingers take notice.

Senator Franken, Almost

Yesterday, 161 days after the 2008 elections, Al Franken was declared the winner of the Minnesota Senate race. Former senator Norm Coleman pressed every angle he could in front of a bipartisan three-member election court, and the end result was that Franken's lead grew about 100 votes, leading the court to rule that Franken is indeed the winner and ought to be seated. "Enough is enough," said DNC chair Tim Kaine, who urged Coleman to concede so that Minnesota could have two votes in the Senate. (The GOP has been silent on the ruling.)

Coleman, of course, has no intention of heeding Kaine's advice. He plans on appealing to the Minnesota state supreme court, and to SCOTUS if necessary. As many have pointed out, the longer Coleman ties Franken up in legal challenges, the longer the Senate Democrats have to scrap and hustle to find an extra vote on all of their major priorities.

It's kind of astounding how long Franken has been at this. I sat down with him in spring 2007 in order to write a magazine profile of him and his Senate chances, and at that time he had already spent 18 months attending every political event he could find in small- and medium-sized Minnesota towns (wellll out of the spotlight) in order to slowly built support for his run. No one can accuse him of not doing the legwork on this one. Now he's closer than ever to realizing his dream; while he waits for the final word, maybe he can work on his vocals.

Photo courtesy of flickr user ohad*.

Ethanol or Water: Which One?

Growing and producing ethanol costs a lot more water than anyone realized. Nevertheless we make some 9 billion gallons worth every year in the US. That's 13 to 17 percent of US corn production—with more coming down the pipeline.

But we could be a lot smarter about the process. Based on water use alone, some places grow reasonably cost-effective bioethanol while others produce an absurdly environmentally expensive brew.

Previous studies estimated that a gallon of corn-based bioethanol uses from 263 to 784 gallons of water from the farm to the fuel pump. But a new study assessed irrigation data from 41 states and found it's as high as 861 billion gallons of water. And some places cost 2,100 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.

Bottom line: Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, California and New Mexico should not be growing ethanol. In the authors' words: Continued expansion of corn production in these regions is likely to further aggravate expected water shortages there.

Better growing states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky. The authors conclude: The time left for improving water consumption is limited… and immediate action needs to be taken in order to prevent a problem shift from energy supply to water sustainability.
 

Coleman's Appeal

From USA Today:

A Minnesota court court has confirmed that Democrat Al Franken won the most votes in his 2008 Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman, The Associated Press reports.

But, as the saying goes, it ain't over til it's over. Coleman already had said he would appeal such a decision to the state Supreme Court. He has 10 days to file.

So here's something to watch for: how long will it take Coleman to file his appeal?  He's known this decision was coming for a long time.  His legal team almost certainly knew the grounds on which he was going to lose.  They've had plenty of time to prepare their argument.  They could probably file it tomorrow if they wanted to.

But do they want to?  If they're genuinely trying to win a Senate seat, they'll file quickly.  After all, the faster they file, the faster Coleman can win the case and return in triumph to Washington.  But if they don't think they can win — if they're merely trying to stretch out a losing argument as long as possible in order to deny Franken his seat — then they'll wait the ten full days.  Which do you think it will be?

More "News" About the Oldest Profession

This weekend, the New York Times Magazine made its contribution to the array of recent reports that some women are having sex with men for money, still, but now have the additional option of setting it up via the internets with websites like SeekingArragement.com. The piece contains some pretty interesting profiles of arrangement seekers of both sexes, from the math nerd with the Pygmalion complex to the businesswoman who doesn't even need the cash but is just a literally money-grubbing whore to the impossibly deluded finance exec who pays women for sex and then asks, inexplicably, "Would she still want to be with me even without the money?"

A year and a half ago, I went on a couple of dates with sugar daddies to report on the phenomenon for MoJo. But to me then, as now, the interesting story was not that people are using the Internet, as they were inevitably going to do, to make these arrangements and so transparently, but that the increased accessibility that the Internet provides has the potential to draw a whole new crowd into such arrangements. I do know some gals who have either considered sugar daddies or slept with them via these sites who wouldn't otherwise have gotten into sex work. And one of the girls in the Times piece, for example, would never have become someone's paid mistress had she not found the website and, subsequently, the man so easily. It's like the correlation between accessibility and usage that opponents of legalizing drugs are always going on about.


Seeking Arrangement has three times as many users now as it did when I filed my story. Today, it "pays to have its ads pop up on search engines whenever someone types in 'student loan,' 'tuition help,' 'college support' or 'help with rent,'" the Times article reports. That kind of visibility plus ease of opportunity plus a recession could add a whole new slew of applicants to the sugar baby pool yet. I wonder how long it'll take before they start linking their ads to searches for "classified" or "Monster.com" or "unemployment."
 

San Francisco's freezing-cold answer to Coachella, the Outside Lands festival, made its debut last year, and despite some organizational problems and nerve-wracking sound issues, a good time was had by all. The organizers have just announced this year's lineup, set for August, but they didn't just post a list on the internet; they managed to get ranger, bison and beaver puppets to sing a crazy little song punning on the names of all the bands. This may be the cutest thing I've ever seen in my entire life, and I've been to Japan. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you any of the bands playing, so you have to watch it.

NY Times: Fairey Not a Crook, Just a Sell-Out

Well, Jeez, you try making money with spray paint and stickers! The New York Times’ Moment blog had design guy Steven Heller take a look at the appropriative work of graphic artist and Obama “Hope” poster creator Shepard Fairey, and despite what the AP says, he believes Fairey isn’t a plagiarist:

Those who rebuff Fairey’s work are angry that he misappropriates (read: steals) famous art and design works; they argue that Warhol changed paradigms while Fairey makes knockoffs. I did an interview with Fairey for his recent book, “Obey: Supply & Demand,” and I admit that on occasion he has come close to crossing the line from acceptable borrowing into murky infringement territory. But after seeing the satiric art barbs that he aimed at politics, cultural icons and bêtes noires in his exhibition at the I.C.A. (where I participated in a panel discussion on appropriation), I can say this: Shepard Fairey is not a crook.

Heller allows that Fairey’s work involves copying “established works,” but maintains the images are “playfully twisted,” and, at its best, a “critique of image ownership.” However, he seems disappointed in Fairey’s more recent turn towards salesmanship, with the “Obey” designs turned into T-shirts and knick-knacks, and Fairey “aggressively using legal means to stop other artists from appropriating his work.” A few years ago, I had an experience with Fairey that made me feel the same way.

Pensions for the World's Poor

At the G20 summit that concluded last week, the world’s leading economic powers made what looked like a generous commitment to poorer nations: $1 trillion to help the developing countries weather the economic crisis, which will drive an estimated 50 million more people into dire poverty. But as Robert Weissman writes on the Huffington Post today, the apparent largesse might not be all it seems.

To begin with, the $1 trillion figure is overstated, and much of the funding is in the form of loans. Even more importantly, Weissman argues:

The entire purpose of the G20’s assistance may be thwarted by the institution through which the G20 countries chose to channel most of the money: the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The logic of providing assistance to developing countries is to help them adopt expansionary policies in time of economic downturn. Yet the IMF is forcing countries in financial distress to pursue contractionary policies–exactly the opposite of the stimulative policies carried out by the rich countries (and supported by the IMF, for the rich countries).

For decades now critics have excoriated the IMF for lending policies that tie financing to a country’s willingness to tighten its belt by cutting social programs, and pursuing a program of financial deregulation, privatization, and foreign investment–precisely the sorts of policies that created the financial mess in the first place, and precisely the kinds of changes will make suffering in the developing world even worse. The IMF says it is changing its approach–but as Weissman points out, Congress can hold them to this dubious claim by attaching conditions to U.S. funding. 

One eminently practical suggestion for how some of this funding might be used comes from HelpAge International, a grassroots organization focused on the needs of older peoples of the world. HelpAge argues that to be effective, development policy “must respond to the intergenerational nature of poverty and to rapid population ageing.” As the G20 meeting concluded, HelpAge urged that funds be provided ”to build social security schemes that put money directly into the hands of the world’s poor and deliver long-term income security.’’

More than three quarters of the world’s population has no access to anything resembling social security. That includes 100 million people living on less than $1 a day. The economic downslide makes their survival even more tenuous.  As HelpAge argues:

Coachella Preview: Rock

The tenth installment of America's hottest music festival is only one week earlier than usual this year, but it sure feels like it snuck up on me. Holy palm trees, it’s this Friday, and I'm not ready! I need to get new crazy-colored board shorts, hipster vintage T-shirts, and decide on a poolside cocktail! More than anything, though, any festival attendee with a serious interest in music needs to start planning early, picking priorities from the cornucopia of quality acts. For the next three days I’ll take a look at the lineup, splitting things up into admittedly imperfect “rock,” “hip-hop” and “electronic” categories, for lack of a better idea. Today: rock.

Clarence Thomas Is One Seriously Troubled Dude

This New York Times article on a rare public appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas -- a talk with high school essay contest winners -- is enough to make you feel sorry for the poor schmuck, if he wasn't on the most powerful court in the land and thus able to place the imprint of his neuroses and obvious self-loathing on the legacy of American jurisprudence.

The article makes clear, simply by quoting the famously taciturn Thomas, that he believes he is dumber than all the other justices and a good number of law professors, and retreats into isolation ("I tend to be morose sometimes") to nurse his wounds and brood. What an awful purgatory of an existence: to know you are a fraud, to know that everyone else knows you are a fraud, and yet to be locked into your job more or less for life. It's enough to ruin a person. And it appears it has.