Hey it's Laura, dropping off the latest Kevin and David Week in Review podcast. This week: When will the Birther insanity end? Where will Bill Clinton go next? Who will win the battle for August's health care reform town halls? Plus: Rush Limbaugh and Kevin's take on liberal vs. conservative derangement. Listen to the podcast here.
 
Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

We'll keep it short and sweet:

  • In Costa Rica, a new species of frog was discovered. And their colors are extraordinary.
  • In Surrey, England, theives stole a painting of a frog sitting on a toilet from a gallery.

Clearly it's been a slow news week, which just may be a good thing. Oh, and we cleaned our frog/fish/snail tank out for the first time in a month. Everyone is alive and well. Cheers!

After a yearlong investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee has dismissed complaints against Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) for their participation in Countrywide's "Friends of Angelo" VIP loan program. (I can't say this is unexpected, since the House and Senate members who sit on the congressional ethics committees aren't exactly known for taking fellow lawmakers to task.) Informing Dodd and Conrad they'd been cleared of wrongdoing, the committee gave the Democratic senators the mildest of rebukes:

While the Committee finds no substantial credible evidence as required by Committee rules that your Countrywide mortgages violated Senate ethics rules, the Committee does believe that you should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a Senator.

The ethics committee also told the lawmakers that participating in "a program with the name 'VIP' should have raised red flags for you"—a major understatement if you ask me.

On the left, Inkblot is pretending to be in kitty jail.  Pretty nicely decorated jail, though.  On the right, Domino is Queen of the Printer.

My new food rationing plan is working well, by the way.  It's way too early to know if anyone has lost any weight, of course, but my interim Metric for Success™ is that no one starts yowling in the middle of the night because they're hungry and want me to come downstairs and feed them.  I never do, but in the past that hasn't stopped the yowling if they're feeling mistreated.  So far, though, half a cup of dry food before bedtime is enough to last them through the night until I wake up naturally.  Peace reigns throughout the house.

Superstar police chief Bill Bratton has announced he'll be leaving the LAPD at the end of October.  Mark Kleiman would like to see him move up in the world:

As for Bratton's own future, here's hoping that his move to Altegrity is a just a quick cash-in on his way back to public service. The FBI would be a stretch: agents aren't really cops, counter-terrorism isn't policing, and any fight to change Hooverville would run into serious resistance from the Ba'athist dead-enders at on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue. So I wouldn't put the same sort of odds-on bet on Bratton's success at the Bureau that I would if he took over another police department. Still, given the stakes, it's a gamble I'd like to see happen.

Well, Mueller's term is up in 2011, so that would give Bratton a couple of years to earn some private sector dough before returning to the trenches.  He'd certainly be an interesting choice.

When I used to complain to my mother about my older brother's verbal taunts, she usually told me to just ignore it; it was my strident reaction that made him want to mess with me. I now tell my son the same when his little sister deliberately pushes his buttons. But we (somewhat rational) journalists are pathologically unable to grasp that simple truism and ignore the taunts of the bullies that populate right-wing cable and radio.

Truth is, our whole culture is addicted to meaningless controversy, and by god, it drives Web traffic like nothing doing. So when Obama is attacked by crazies who insist he lacks a birth certificate, when Glenn Beck jokes about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, when Fox lights up with claims that the Democrats want to euthanize the elderly, when Rush and others equate the president to Hitler, the journobloggers are all over it. Anytime I'm drawn to comment on this stuff, though, I have to admit some level of ambivalence. I still remember being annoyed years ago when one of Bill O'Reilly's antigay tirades about San Francisco made A-1 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Didn't the editors get it? To steal from the first Terminator movie: That's what he does. It's all he does. O'Reilly baits people, and they respond, and then he sells more books. Even 2 Live Crew, a feeble act that made millions in the 1990s off an obscene-lyrics controversy, understood that game. (Of course, fanning the O'Reilly flame probably sells more newspapers, too. And god knows, they need all the sales they can get. Evidence here.)

Obama’s sellout on health care is hardly any secret, but this week's news of an outright backroom deal guaranteeing drug makers control over pricing is one for the history books. Even the Republicans didn’t lay down for big business quite like this.

As it now stands, there is no control over drug pricing in the US (save for a gesture in that direction under the Medicare Part D prescription drug insurance plan for the elderly). The system allows drug firms to set prices for prescription drugs under Medicare, in what amount to sweetheart deals with private insurance companies. Because drug pricing and insurance costs are set—basically at will—by these two industries, critics have demanded the government step in and set prices. Those demands haven’t gone anywhere, but never has there been an explicit announcement from on high about the arrangement. It’s always been just another one of Washington’s dirty little secrets.
 

Quote of the Day

From Andrew Sullivan:

Killing the leader of the group that protected bin Laden seems like a big deal to me. Think for a minute about the attempt to paint Obama as Carter. Now think of three real-time operations — the killing of the Somali pirates, the release of the NoKo hostages, and now the targeted killing of the Taliban's leader. Does that sound like Jimmy Carter to you? Now how about getting Osama? Wouldn't that be a coup? I suspect he's working hard on it.

Hmmm.  I hadn't quite thought of it that way.  But it's an interesting point.  Obama hasn't yet had a substantive foreign policy success on the scale of Jimmy Carter's Camp David Accords (or even on the scale of returning the Panama Canal, for that matter), but on the little things he's been remarkably successful.  Or remarkably lucky.  Or both.  Either way, though, these little successes breed a sense of competence and self-possession that can help make things go better on the larger stage too.  Maybe Obama really does lead a charmed life.

Just when you thought biofuel couldn't get any more contentious, bam, it totally did. Are you ready for this? Tesco, a UK-based retailer, sells 5,000 tons of expired meat a year to biofuel companies, which turn it into energy. How many cows is that? About 80. Vegans and animal rights activists are up in arms. Here's why.

Five thousand tons of expired meat took 148,000,000 pounds of carbon to raise. Sure, doing something with all that expired meat is better than letting it rot in a landfill, but not growing it in the first place would mean a net savings in carbon, water, and energy, not to mention animal waste and pollution. This is one of the main arguments biofuel detractors make: Turn corn or soy into a biofuel, and more people will go hungry. Turn meat into a biofuel? Well, that's pretty much the worst idea ever.

Today's unemployment news was generally good: we're still losing jobs, but we're not losing them as fast as we have been.  For now, at least, it looks like the stimulus is having an effect and the economy might be getting ready to improve.

But there are still some disturbing signs, and CBPP shows one of them in the chart on the right: job losses may be slowing, but the number of long-term unemployed is at a record high, way above even the peak it hit during the 1981 recession.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but for some reason it reminded me of this article on the front page of the New York Times today:

Digging out of debt keeps getting harder for the unemployed as more companies use detailed credit checks to screen job prospects.

....Once reserved for government jobs or payroll positions that could involve significant sums of money, credit checks are now fast, cheap and used for all manner of work. Employers, often winnowing a big pool of job applicants in days of nearly 10 percent unemployment, view the credit check as a valuable tool for assessing someone’s judgment.

But job counselors worry that the practice of shunning those with poor credit may be unfair and trap the unemployed — who may be battling foreclosure, living off credit cards and confronting personal bankruptcy — in a financial death spiral: the worse their debts, the harder it is to get a job to pay them off.

This is, admittedly, the equivalent of a single anecdote in the broader economic picture, but I continue to worry that a cluster of trends are converging to produce a larger class of the permanently unemployed than we've had in the past.  It's possible that I'm just worrying too much.  But this recession has affected the poorly educated way worse than high school and college grads; it's hit men worse than women; things like poor credit or a felony conviction seem to have become nearly permanent black marks; and unskilled jobs are continuing to dwindle despite a big drop in the illegal immigrant population.

I don't want to push this theme too far because I haven't yet done the work to really get a reliable sense of what's going on.  But I wonder, when this recession is finally over, if we're going to find ourselves in a European-esque mode with a large and growing population that's almost continually unemployed or, at best, underemployed.  More later.