Blogs

Conservative Think Tank Thinking Less

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 10:54 AM EDT
Oh how sad. The venerable conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute--so flush during the go-go years of the Bush administration--is having a budget crisis, reports the Washington Independent. The group that launched so many of the worst neoconservative ideas of the Bush era (remember those guys who wanted to privatize Social Security and bring democracy to Iraq?) has watched helplessly as its long-time corporate benefactors have hit the skids and no longer have the luxury of funding loony political "scholars." Perhaps we should consider this one of the few upsides of the nation's grim economic crisis: a few conservatives are actually going to have to work for a living, or discover the pitfalls of retiring during a bear market!

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10 Winners of the Global Economic Meltdown

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 10:43 AM EDT

"Everyone is suffering," President Obama said in his speech to a joint session of Congress in late February. He was referring to the global financial and economic crisis, but he didn't have it exactly right. There are some people who are doing well: dollar-store owners, bankruptcy lawyers, gun manufacturers (sales are up!), short-sellers of stock, foreclosure experts, and so on. But some who are doing well are doing really well. You've heard of some of them: John Paulson, the hedge fund guru; Andrew Lahde, the hemp enthusiast; Meredith Whitney, the super-prescient analyst. But what about the guy from New Zealand who got a 236 percent return last year? He's on the list, too. Here's a rundown of 10 of the financial crisis' biggest winners.

Obama's Choice

| Fri Mar. 13, 2009 1:47 AM EDT
The New York Times reports that President Obama has a decision to make:

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers. But the federal Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the judges, citing a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

....Now, Mr. Obama is in a tough spot. If he supports the personnel office on denying benefits to the San Francisco court employees, he risks agitating liberal groups that helped him win election. If he supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters.

Look: this isn't so tough.  Just do the right thing.  How hard is that?

Corn on "Hardball": Still Debunking the Saddam-9/11 Connection

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 11:57 PM EDT

On Wednesday night, Chris Matthews interviewed--make that, skewered--Ari Fleischer on Hardball, grilling him on George W. Bush's legacy: a lousy war in Iraq sold to the public with false information and a lousy economy. At the end of the long segment, Fleischer said

But after September 11, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again?

Strike again? Was Fleischer pushing the canard that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 9/11 attacks? Matthews was busy closing out the segment and didn't focus on this remark. But after watching the interview later, he decided this comment deserved attention.

Enter former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney and me. We were invited on Thursday's show to discuss Fleischer's comment and the claim--to which some neocons still cling--that Saddam was in cahoots with the 9/11 mass-murderers. The 9/11 commission said there was no link between Saddam and 9/11, but, yes, Gaffney still contends that Saddam was behind al Qaeda's attack. His evidence? Gaffney cited circumstantial reports, a book by discredited neocon Douglas Feith, and, essentially, his own hunch. Here's what happened:

Testing Our Kids

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 5:38 PM EDT
In his big education speech on Tuesday, President Obama said this:

Today’s system of fifty different sets of benchmarks for academic success means fourth-grade readers in Mississippi are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming—and getting the same grade.

Bob Somerby wants to know what he's talking about:

According to Obama, fourth-grade readers in Mississippi “are scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming—and getting the same grade.” Does anyone know what that actually means? Mississippi kids are scoring “seventy points lower” on what? (Seventy points can represent a very large or very small difference in achievement, depending on the measure in question.) And what “same grade” are both groups of kids getting? This was a very important speech—and this was a central contention within it. And yet, this statement makes no sense at all. (The spectacularly unhelpful White House “fact sheet” makes no attempt to explain it.)

I'll take a guess.  Obama was talking about state testing regimes, and a couple of years ago the Department of Education released a study (here) that tried to convert passing scores on the various state tests to more standardized NAEP scores.  In fourth grade reading, they found that the passing score in Wyoming was equivalent to an NAEP score of 228, while in Mississippi it was equivalent to an NAEP score of 161.  That's a difference of 67 points.

This was a poorly worded passage in Obama's speech, but my guess is that "getting the same grade" was supposed to mean something like "meeting the minimum state requirement."  As Bob says, there are some pretty obvious explanations for all this, but still, the difference between the highest and lowest state standards really is an astonishing 70 points or so (very roughly equivalent to seven grade levels).  That's probably what Obama was getting at.

The EPA's Most Wanted

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 4:45 PM EDT
The EPA's criminal investigation division has a website where you can print out wanted posters for environmental criminals who are on the lam. Who knew? Most of these guys look so perfect for Central Casting that you've got to wonder if they were chosen more for their oily hair and trucker glasses than their rap sheets. The website's America's-Most-Wanted feel is reinforced by a big red warning that reads: "Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals." What, not even this guy?

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Rachel Maddow Attacked By Fart-Obsessed Interviewer

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 4:45 PM EDT
Salon called it "the weirdest Rachel Maddow interview ever," and while we at Mother Jones can neither confirm nor deny that statement, it's sure a hell of a lot weirder than our own Clara Jeffery's recent conversation with the breakout cable news star. Plus, Clara actually talked less than the person she was interviewing, something Vanity Fair's George Wayne couldn't manage in his bonkers Q&A. The piece just made the rounds of the Mother Jones e-mail circle, and here's a sampling of comments:

Jen Phillips: Our interview is so much better, even if it doesn't mention eproctophilia.

Mike Mechanic: Foul.

Me: Is this guy from 1923?

Dave Gilson: Has anyone ever really uttered the phrase, "listen to this saucy pedant"?

Nicole McClelland: I cannot believe VF printed two of this asinine interviewer’s words to Maddow’s every one. How is it possible they let him go on about eating ass for not one, but two complete sentences?

As you can see, this interview raises more questions than it answers. Here's another one: Does saying "darling" a lot make up for using the term "dyke-stache"? Twice? If only there was an upcoming opportunity to ask Ms. Maddow how she felt about all this, at an event benefitting a non-profit magazine, for which there was an exclusive reception that still has some tickets available.

Five-Foot Sea Level Rise to Hit San Francisco by 2100

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 4:32 PM EDT
The Chronicle ain't the only thing sinking in San Francisco. According to a new report commissioned by the state, the city will likely be 5' lower in the Bay by the end of the century.

The global warming-driven rise in sea levels will cause $100 billion in property damage, the report says, and put 480,000 people at risk of a "100-year flood event" if no actions are taken. $100 billion sounds substantial (actually, given the bank bailouts, maybe not so much) but the impact of an additional 5' of water really hits home when you see how much of land could slip beneath the waves.

The Pacific Institute, who conducted the study for the state, has a nifty online map showing exactly which areas would be at risk. With just a 5' rise, SFO airport, Alameda, parts of Silicon Valley, and the foot of the San Mateo bridge are all at increased risk for being nearly totally flooded. Ocean Beach, site of political protests, would be just ocean. In fact, if the waters keep rising as expected, and if "100-year flood events" keep increasing in frequency, the Pacific could invade Golden Gate Park 500 meters at one point, swamping its historic, water-pumping windmills and encroaching on endangered Western Snowy Plover habitat.

Of course, as in Katrina, the people suffering the most from the rising tides will be the poor. In San Francisco, the most dramatic water rise happens in the low-income, but developing, Hunter's Point neighborhood. Maybe the city can build that new Bay Bridge a little higher.

The Palin Family Regrets to Inform You…

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:43 PM EDT
The Governor of Alaska and Mr. Todd Mitchell Palin announce that the engagement of their daughter, Miss Bristol Palin, to Mr. Levi Johnston, has been ended by mutual consent.

In a shocking development, the torrid betrothal of 19-year-old apprentice electrician Levi Johnston and the daughter of the governor of Alaska—a year-long relationship that created two-month-old Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston and helped bolster the pro-life and working-class credentials of Sen. John McCain—has ended.

The liaison stood little chance of success, especially after the Republican Party transformed the two high-school dropouts into symbols of social conservatism. With that pressure, it's no wonder the teens couldn't withstand the normal trials of dating, never mind the stress of playing it out before the entire country. And so, having performed his role with considerable aplomb, Johnston may now retreat to obscurity, free to snowboard, ride dirt bikes, go camping, film reality TV shows, and hang out with the boys to his heart's content.

As for his son, Tripp Johnston, there's no reason to worry. Many people conceived by unmarried couples have gone on to achieve illustrious feats in their own rights. 

See U2's Crazy 360° Stage Design

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:41 PM EDT
U2 may have fizzled a bit, ratings-wise, on their recent 5-night Letterman residency, and maybe they actually brought Good Morning America's ratings down when they did a live performance for the show last Friday, and perhaps their new album, No Line on the Horizon, has sold about 42% fewer copies than 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb did in its first week. But that isn't stopping the Irish combo from creating a completely insane, War of the Worlds-style contraption to support their upcoming tour. The band's stadium performances will be "in the round," with a custom-made four-legged structure holding up the speakers, lighting and a large cylindrical screen, supposedly offering "an unobstructed view" to audiences. Except for the giant alien monster legs, which are also helpful for sucking up unsuspecting concert-goers and grinding them into sweet, sweet fan-pulp, to power our takeover of your puny planet. Bwah hah haa! You can check out a virtual tour of the thing over here. After the jump, "in the round" concerts: infuriating or just annoying?