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French Pique-Nique Update

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:41 AM EDT

Flash: The French are dropping plans for a picnic tax (per earlier blog). It's elitist. Apparently the rich don't pique-nique and the pollution of the non-rich isn't important.

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

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Vote Your Fears

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:15 AM EDT

711px-Menschliches_Auge.jpg People who react strongly to bumps in the night, spiders, or the sight of a victims are more likely to support more defense spending, more government resources for fighting terrorism, and tighter immigration controls. This according to a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published in the current issue of Science.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and tested 46 people who identified themselves as having strong political opinions. The subjects were shown threatening visual images—pictures of a spider on a person's eyeball, a dazed person with a bloody face, an open wound with maggots in it. The subjects' skin was monitored for electrical conductivity—an indicator of emotion, arousal, and attention. As a separate physiological measure, the subjects were surprised by a sudden, jarring noise, while measurements were taken of their blink reflex.

Those with the strongest eye or skin reactions to unexpected noises or threatening pictures tended to endorse political positions emphasizing protecting society over preserving individual privacy. These people were found to be more willing to sacrifice their privacy in return for what they perceived as government protection. Conversely, the subjects who reacted less strongly were more likely to favor policies that protect privacy and encourage gun control. . . It's all in the biology. Even for disbelievers of biology.

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

Palin Without a Prompter....Part 7

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 12:39 AM EDT

PALIN WITHOUT A PROMPTER....PART 7....Have I used up my quota of two Sarah Palin references today? No? Then check out this phenomenal answer she offered up at a townhall meeting today about — well, I'm not sure what it's about. But it's energy related in some way:

"Of course, it's a fungible commodity and they don't flag, you know, the molecules, where it's going and where it's not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it's Americans who get stuck holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It's got to flow into our domestic markets first."

Be sure to click on the video to see the whole thing. It's priceless watching Wolf Blitzer tactfully admit that it's "not exactly easy to understand what she was saying" before he tries to tease out the "nuggets" in her answer. You almost feel sorry for him.

Rev Run's Affirmations

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 10:04 PM EDT

reverend-run.jpgWords of Wisdom, a recently published book from Rev Run of Run DMC, is part Stuart Smalley, part Russell Simmons; sort of a pocket-sized, bathroom-reading, Christian alternative to Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power, a book that made rounds in hip hop circles a few years ago.

I was reluctant to pick the book up because I prefer to think of Run as he used to be: an MC for one of the most influential and popular New York hip hop acts of the 80s. It's Run, after all, who convinced me that I needed to wear white hi-top sneakers with bright, fat laces to my middle school every day. Today, it's safe to say he's convincing folks to do a lot more than just wear cool kicks:

Construction Bonds Revisited

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 6:55 PM EDT

CONSTRUCTION BONDS REVISITED....This is not exactly a critical issue, but over at Washington Wire Easha Anand takes a stab at defending Sarah Palin's contention that the AIG bailout was necessary because of its involvement with "construction bonds," concluding that "Palin's answer wasn't as outrageous as some have claimed."

You can read the entire post for yourself, but once you cut through the clutter there's not much there. Like me, Anand believes that Palin was referring to surety bonds on construction projects, but it turns out that (a) only government projects require surety bonds, (b) AIG is the 14th largest provider of surety bonds in the U.S., amounting to a paltry $79 million out of an industry total of $5.3 billion, (c) there are about ten other companies that can underwrite even the biggest surety bonds, and (d) surety bonds are written by AIG's regulated commercial subsidiaries, which were in no danger of default and are guaranteed by state funds anyway. In other words, surety bonds played no part whatsoever in the decision to bail out AIG. Palin just pulled them out of nowhere because she happened to be familiar with them from her tenure as mayor and governor.

Basically, I figure that presidential candidates can toss out three kinds of comments during a crisis like this:

  1. Intelligent comments that actually address the issue at hand (which you may or may not agree with, of course).

  2. Random bromides designed to fill up airtime.

  3. Stupid things.

Comments in category 1 are rare, especially in a crisis like this one that has extremely arcane and technical causes. However, Obama's remarks today about the subprime meltdown, maintaining the flow of credit, ensuring liquidity in capital markets, and helping homeowners in trouble, qualifies. He's at least talking about the right things. John McCain's comments about the "casino culture" on Wall Street fall into category 2, as does Joe Biden's complaint about tax cuts for the wealthy. Both are basically harmless political posturing.

But then we have category three, which includes stuff like McCain saying he wants to fire Chris Cox and Sarah Palin claiming that AIG needed to be bailed out because of "construction bonds." These are just actively dumb comments that do nothing but make life more difficult for the folks trying to work on solutions. If they can't do better than that, they should just keep quiet.

UPDATE: Of course, I guess there's also a category 4: bromides so halting and clueless that they just scare the hell out of everyone. As Ezra says about Palin's disjointed reaction, "Meanwhile, McCain's response made Palin's commentary look like a model of analytical clarity." Scary stuff.

Palin Watched SNL Skit With No Sound - And Thought It Was "Hilarious"

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 6:05 PM EDT

Given that the McCain campaign condemned SNL's portrayal of Sarah Palin last week as sexist, I was surprised to hear Palin's spokeswoman say that the governor actually found the spoof "quite funny."

Wonder how she would have felt if she'd watched with the sound on?

h/t TPM.

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Palin Proposes "Google For Government," Unaware Obama Already Created It

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 6:02 PM EDT

CNN has a lesson for Sarah Palin:

"We're going to do a few new things also," she said at a rally in Cedar Rapids. "For instance, as Alaska's governor, I put the government's checkbook online so that people can see where their money's going. We'll bring that kind of transparency, that responsibility, and accountability back. We're going to bring that back to D.C."
There's just one problem with proposing to put the federal checkbook online – somebody's already done it. His name is Barack Obama.
In 2006 and 2007, Obama teamed up with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as "Google for Government." The act created a free, searchable web site — USASpending.gov — that discloses to the public all federal grants, contracts, loans and insurance payments.

Mission Creep Dispatch: Steven Metz

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 5:32 PM EDT

metz.jpgAs part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.) The following dispatch comes from Steven K. Metz, a strategic military theorist whose latest book is titled Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy.

America's Global Military Footprint Is the Lesser Evil

Throughout US history, Americans have periodically reassessed their nation's strategy. We are once again involved in this process, debating tough issues that emerged at the end of the Cold War but remained unresolved. Foremost among these is the militarization of American statecraft. Unfortunately, much of the discussion of the vital topic misleads rather than illuminates. Take the global deployment of US troops:

It's Safe to Say a President Obama Would Improve Relations With Latin America...

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 4:59 PM EDT

News of the weird: At least six Brazilian politicians have changed their names to "Barack Obama."

McCain Hearts FDR. What's the (New) Deal?

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 4:48 PM EDT

How the times are changing. At a General Motors assembly plant in Lake Orion, Michigan yesterday, Sen. John McCain gave a shout-out to none other than Franklin Roosevelt, the original big-government guy:

One of our great presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, expressed this optimism even at the height of the Great Depression. He said, and I quote, "Plenty is at our doorstep but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply." . . .My friends, that's true again today."

Indeed it is, but, of course, McCain pointing that out is like Milli Vanilli singing "Girl You Know It's True"--the love just isn't real. Take the Social Security Act, passed under FDR in 1935. McCain (before he reversed himself recently) wanted to replace it with "private savings accounts," which would have caused millions of retirees to lose their shirts this week. As recently as July, he even said that "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America" is "an absolute disgrace"

A "great president" whose legacy is an "absolute disgrace?" I thought that was supposed to be Bush. Here's what FDR's grandson has to say: