Obama's (And Our) Clean-Coal Blues

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 5:16 PM EST

The Internets are all atwitter today with talk of Obama's supposedly devastating admission that he wants to "bankrupt" the coal industry in the United States. An Ohio industry spokesman said Obama is a "disaster"; conservative blogs are attributing the remarks to some kind of San Francisco "truth serum", and Sarah Palin is accusing the San Francisco Chronicle, which conducted the offending interview back in January, of deliberately hiding its content from voters. (See the article and the Chron's rebuttal here.)

I just want to make a few points to inject a little sanity into this discussion. First, as I mentioned above, the quote comes from a comprehensive sit-down interview Obama conducted with the Chronicle nearly nine months ago. (Watch the whole thing here.) Since then, his stance on this issue has been pretty consistent. He supports a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions (as does John McCain, by the by), as well as the development of "clean coal" technology.

Here's where we get to the real problem. In the interview, Obama asks, "how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon? And how can we sequester that carbon and capture it?" Characterizing unilateral opposition to coal as "ideological," Obama also stresses that since we already get so much of our electricity from coal, we can't expect to eliminate it from the mix anytime soon. "If technology allows us to use coal in a clean way, we should pursue it," he concludes.

But when it comes to "clean coal", it's environmentalists who should be worried, not coal executives.

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A Tax Cut Everyone Should Support

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 3:51 PM EST

A TAX CUT EVERYONE SHOULD SUPPORT....Riffing off a Rachel Maddow segment about stupendously long lines to vote, largely in poor urban precincts, Ezra Klein says:

The poll tax was a sly system of disenfranchisement used in the Jim Crow era to disenfranchise Southern blacks. Aware that the Constitution now assured everyone the "right" to vote, Southern states imposed a voting fee heavy enough that African-Americans would deem it a right too pricey to exercise. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, of course, did away will all that. But as Rachel Maddow says in the clip above, voting lines are just another form of poll tax. They are a time tax. How much is four hours worth to the average voter? How many voters can take four hours off from their job, or their family, to stand at a precinct? We tend to frame long voting lines as an inspiring vision of democracy, but they're quite the opposite: They are disenfranchisement in action. A longer line does not simply mean more people are voting. It means more people are not voting, as they could not afford the time tax.

Just for the record, the poll tax wasn't actually especially "sly." Everyone knew exactly what it was for. But point taken anyway. The flip side, of course, is neighborhoods like mine. I live in an upscale, white, suburban city, and you will be unsurprised to learn that I haven't had to wait more than five minutes to vote since the day I moved here. Quite a coincidence, eh?

Election Day Arrives: Should Obama Supporters Worry?

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 3:45 PM EST

obama_fret250x200.jpg Democrats are notoriously skittish. Conditioned by decades of underperformance in presidential elections, where they have secured just three victories in the 40 years since Richard Nixon first won the White House, and in Congress, where the Dems have only recently recovered from their crushing 1994 defeat, Democrats are like the metaphorical field mouse, constantly spooked at the first bit of bad news.

The Obama campaign appears to be an exception to that trend. It has inspired more than just hope — it has inspired confidence. So much so that national polls show that wide margins of Democrats and Republicans alike assume Obama will win the presidency. In fact, the Obama campaign has released a video warning supporters of the dangers of over-confidence.

But as Election Day nears, it's likely you know anxious Democrats who just can't help themselves. Four things cause worry.

Your Election Soundtrack: McCain and Obama Online Radio Channels

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:50 PM EST

mojo-photo-slacker.jpgWe here on the Riff have tried to keep track of the musical metanarratives floating along beside the presidential candidates' campaigns, but mostly, that's consisted of tallying up musicians endorsing Obama and threatening to sue McCain. At points, though, both candidates have expressed their own personal tastes in music, perhaps McCain most infamously. Well, the smart kids over at online radio company Slacker have sifted through the interviews and events of the last 22 months and compiled songs the candidates have said they like and music played at their rallies, creating two new stations: Obama and McCain Radio. Full disclosure: I've done some audio production work for these guys, so I suppose this is logrolling, but the LA Times beat me to the story anyway. Programmer Scott Riggs told me he controlled his snarkier instincts, resisting the urge to include songs that could be interpreted as being about the candidates. I suggested Neil Young's "Old Man" and maybe something from Dumbo (cause of the big ears, see) but the channels play it straight: Obama Radio features Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and Sheryl Crow, while McCain Radio features the aforelinked ABBA, Elvis, The Beach Boys (har) and of course, John Rich's "Raisin' McCain." Which station is better? Well, I have to admit, the ornery old McCain channel's got a certain, um, erratic charm, while Obama's looks a lot like middle-of-the-road AAA radio. But Obama's got Kanye, so I think he wins.

Listen for free under "Slacker Spotlight" at

Charlie Black: Eternal Optimist

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:37 PM EST

From former MoJo-er Michael Scherer's Swampland post yesterday, explaining why the McCain campaign thinks the race is getting closer:

Barack Obama On The Issues: Sagging Pants

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:31 PM EST

In an otherwise issues-focused interview with MTV, we finally get to hear Barack Obama's position on what those darn kids are wearing:

Here is my attitude: I think people passing a law against people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time. We should be focused on creating jobs, improving our schools, health care, dealing with the war in Iraq, and anybody, any public official, that is worrying about sagging pants probably needs to spend some time focusing on real problems out there. Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What's wrong with that? Come on. There are some issues that we face, that you don't have to pass a law, but that doesn't mean folks can't have some sense and some respect for other people and, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I'm one of them.

The campaign's new slogan: "Brothers should pull up their pants."

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| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:26 PM EST

BOO!....This is a few days old, but it just occurred to me to wonder who won the Halloween mask contest this year. Here's the answer:

Barack Obama will be the next president. At least that's what BuySeasons of New Berlin predicted last week based on the sales of its 99-cent paper presidential masks.

Sales of the masks as of Oct. 31 showed Obama with 55 percent of the sales and John McCain with 45 percent. The company, founded in 1999, has accurately predicted the last two presidential elections based on its mask sales.

Just sayin'.

The Spitterati and Trickle-Down Genomics, Part 1

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:24 PM EST

The following is a guest blog entry by Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society.

To read The Spitterati and Trickle-Down Genomics Part 2, click here.

Just before the world's financial system hit the skids, the New Yorker's Talk of the Town and the New York Times' Sunday Styles section both featured lengthy accounts of a celebrity "spit party," at which notables in cocktail attire ejected their saliva into test tubes. The chic gala, hosted by media moguls Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, and Harvey Weinstein, was the latest episode of a remarkable publicity push by 23andMe, the start-up biotech firm whose mission is "to be the world's trusted source of personal genetic information."

The Google-backed company launched its celebrity strategy this past January, when it distributed a thousand free spit kits at the elite World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But the genomes of the rich and famous were just the first step. Early this fall, 23andMe announced that it's slashing its prices to Christmas-stocking levels, in a bid to make DNA tests this year's high-tech must-have.

How an Obama Win Would Justify Years of Bush-bashing: A Personal Reflection

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 2:15 PM EST

I first posted this personal reflection at

This time it's personal.

Then again, it was personal in 2004.

In September 2003, I published a book immoderately titled, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. Its contention was a simple one: that Bush had gone beyond the normal boundaries of presidential spin in using falsehoods and misrepresentations to skew the public discourse on many fronts: stems cells, global warming, tax policy, and, above all, the invasion of Iraq.

At the time, this was not--in certain circles--a well-received argument. Conservative pundits, pointing to my book and others that came out at the time (Al Franken's Lying Liars, Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked, written with Lou Dubose, and Joe Conason's Big Lies), declared a new phenomenon was at hand: rabid, irrational Bush hatred. MSM commentators, ever looking to reside within the comfortable, above-it-all middle, observed that the left was now mirroring the extreme rhetoric of the Limbaugh-crazy, Coulter-loving right. I noted some examples of this dismissive reax in a recent Mother Jones essay. The New York Times' Matt Bai, citing my book, wrote, "the new leftist screeds seem to solidify a rising political culture of incivility and overstatement." Conservative columnist David Brooks proclaimed that "the core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves." (Yes, I was more dangerous than George W. Bush.) What few of these commentators of the center and right bothered to do was to evaluate the case I (and the others) had put forward. That is, to confront the facts I had presented. Their aim was to discredit the very idea of anyone going so far as to call the president of the United States a liar. And National Review editor Rich Lowry opined, "I don't think the public is going to buy the idea that [Bush is] a liar."

Lowry got it wrong. By Election Day 2004, polls showed that a slight majority believed that Bush was not honest and trustworthy. Still, Bush managed to best John Kerry in an election that was something of a referendum on Bush's first term. But that election came too early. Had it been held a year later--post-Katrina--any Dem would have thrashed Bush and Cheney at the polls. And now about seven out of ten disapprove of his presidency, and most of the public agrees with the premise that Bush deliberately misled American citizens about WMDs and the threat supposedly posed by Iraq. Bush is heading toward the door widely regarded as a failure: Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown. He has become the vanishing president. Hardly seen. Barely relevant.

Bush's style of politics, his policies, his political party--it's all been discredited. Whatever happens in the presidential race, the GOP is poised to take a beating in congressional races. He has led his party to ruin. The battle over the W. story has been won by his critics--at least in the short run. The view that Bush has been a dishonest president and bad for the United States has become the majority position in the United States. If John McCain somehow manages to win, it will be in spite of Bush.

Many presidents are elected as reactions to the previous president. George W. Bush's (faux) victory in 2000 was a reaction to the Bill Clinton soap opera. And a Barack Obama triumph would be the natural reaction to the W. years. Obama is the most progressive (or liberal) Democratic nominee since FDR ran for reelection. He is black (or biracial). He is an intellectual. He is no child of privilege. To sum up: he is the opposite of George W. Bush. Not only has Bush started two wars he couldn't finish, presided over a government that lost a major American city, and did little as a financial tsunami hit the nation; he has (I am guessing) created a yearning among many Americans for a non-Bush. And within the realm of conventional U.S. politics, Obama is about as non-Bush as it gets. No wonder Obama has a strong chance of becoming president. He spoke (endlessly) of change; he is an antidote to the Bush presidency.

A Report From the Economy

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 1:57 PM EST


Something called the Institute for Supply Management's factory index "plunged" to 38.9% in October. In an email, economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research tells us why this matters:

[The ISM index] is a pretty good measure of the direction of change in output in manufacturing. The current reading indicates that manufacturing output is falling sharply. That likely means many more layoffs and plant closings. It's pretty bad news.

The index, which used to be called the purchasing manager's index, is now at its lowest level since September of 1982. Numbers below 50% indicate that the economy is contracting. Newly minted economics Nobel winner Paul Krugman says the latest ISM number means "We need a government of national unity to deal with the economic crisis, starting at, oh, around 8:45 PM tomorrow."

Photo from flickr user zengrrl used under a Creative Commons license.