Pentagon Bloat Continues Apace

As Nick Baumann has reported here and here, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the midst revamping the Pentagon's defense acquisitions programs, preparing to kill those that have been draining the most funds from government coffers, such as the the F-22 fighter and the Zumwalt-class destroyer. If you need more evidence that there's a problem, see the GAO's seventh-annual report (.pdf) on cost overruns in selected Pentagon weapons systems. The government auditor found that the number of major defense spending programs has grown from 77 to 96 since the beginning of the Iraq War. Not surprisingly, costs have continued on their upward march from $1.2 trillion to $1.6 trillion over the same period, with R&D costs now an average of 42 percent over budget. More programs, more money, and, yes, more delays. Initial delivery on DOD program investments now averages 22 months. The reason for much of this is that our military seldom looks before it leaps: the services routinely budget big-ticket projects before the basic technology is in place, meaning that development is routinely delayed as technological hurdles emerge. From the GAO:
A majority of the programs GAO assessed were unable to fill all authorized program office positions, resulting in increased workloads, a reliance on support contractors, and less personnel to conduct oversight. In December 2008, DOD revised its policy for major defense acquisition programs to place more emphasis on acquiring knowledge about requirements, technology, and design before programs start and maintaining discipline once they begin. The policy recommends holding early systems engineering reviews; includes a requirement for early prototyping; and establishes review boards to monitor requirements changes--all positive steps. Some programs we assessed have begun implementing these changes.

Our Century's Hoover

Back when my mother was a girl, the house would be silenced whenever "Mr. Hoover" gave a speech on the radio.  Which he did.  Often.  Sure, he had been repudiated at the polls by historic margins, but he was bitter and angry over FDR's policies and insisted on making sure everyone knew it for years and years after his defeat.

Well, I guess every generation needs its own Hoover.  It looks like John McCain is ours.

Welcome, Fox Nation!

Have you checked it out yet? Fox is going to the Internets with an aggregator site that will try to lure conservative HuffPo-types (the homepage is similar even). Their top stories right now feature a picture of Spicoli (the only Sean Penn Bill O'Reilly likes), and  instead of an About Us page (because that phrase would be too Democratic?) they offer Our Purpose instead:

The Fox Nation was created for people who believe in the United States of America and its ideals, as expressed in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a community that believes in the American Dream: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One that believes being an American is an honor, as well as a great responsibility—and a wonderful adventure.
This is a place for people who believe we live in a great country, a welcoming refuge for legal immigrants who want to contribute their talent and abilities to make our way of life even greater. We believe we should enjoy the company and support of each other, delighting in the creativity, ingenuity, and work ethic of one and all, while observing the basic rules of civility and mutual respect and, most importantly, strengthening our diverse society by striving for unity.
The Fox Nation is for those committed to the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse--and fair and balanced coverage of the news. It is for those opposed to intolerance, excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought, expression, and worship. We invite all Americans who share these values to join us here at Fox Nation.

Why is it that the language of the right feels like a history textbook? And liberals don't believe in the American Dream, the Emancipation Proclamation? Plus, they go all Spider-Man on us with the great honor and great responsibility business. These tenets feel basic, it's the nuance where we disagree, the policies that make for a "great country." But never mind nuance, I'm still stuck on the "basic rules of civility" part, not exactly a guiding principle at Fox News.

Has the Economy Bottomed?

Atrios thinks any optimism about the economy is misplaced.  Homes prices are continuing to fall, plus this:

There's still a big wave of ARM resets* coming, and the CRE implosion has just begun.

*Regarding ARM resets, some suggest this won't be a problem because interests rates are so low. But the issue is option ARMS ("pick a payment!") loans, where people have been making interest-only or even neg-am payments on the loans.

For what it's worth (about what you're paying for it, I'd say), I agree. Home prices probably have another 9-12 months left to fall, commercial real estate is imploding, rising savings rates are going to continue to depress consumption, and beyond that there's the rest of the world to think about too.  Eastern Europe looks set to collapse sometime later this year, and if/when that happens it's going to have a huge impact on western European banks.  Plus there's hedge funds.  So far they've weathered the storm fairly well, all things considered, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on that score.

Anyway, that's all pretty discouraging stuff.  Hopefully we're both wrong and things are going to start picking up this summer.  But I'm afraid I doubt it.

News Flash: Americans (Still) Love Obama

I've long believed that there is a fundamental disconnect between Washington's pundit class and the American people as a whole. It's not a fault of the pundits' -- their life and work experiences don't put them in touch with anyone from roughly 45 of the 50 American states, and those people that they do meet tend to work in a small set of professions and industries. (Their only sin is not acknowledging the limits of their expertise and predictive abilities.) It is because of that disconnect that you can have TV commentators, journalists, and bloggers debating whether Obama's honeymoon is over when numbers like this suggest it is not a question open for debate:

The percentage of Americans in the new poll who said the country is on the right track still stands at just 42 percent, but that is the highest percentage saying so in five years and marks a sharp turnabout from last fall, when as many as nine in 10 said the country was heading in the wrong direction....

Overall perceptions about the country parallel a rapid increase in the percentage of Americans who say the economy is improving. For the first time since late 2004, the gap between the numbers saying the economy is getting better and those saying it's getting worse is in the single digits (27 percent to 36 percent).

Two-thirds of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the country's top job, and six in 10 give him good marks on issue No. 1, the flagging economy.

And this suggests that Democrats, independents, and likely some moderate Republicans reject the GOP's back-to-the-future "tax and spend" trope:

At the same time, 62 percent see Obama as a "new-style," fiscally responsible Democrat; fewer, about a third, label him an "old-style" Democrat oriented toward taxing and spending.

Time to get some new rhetoric, Karl Rove.

Public Service Announcement

I'm home, but it's too late to do anything except plow through a weekend's worth of email right now.  Normal blogging will resume Tuesday.

In the meantime, though, a reminder: I like comments!  The more the better.  And if you want to comment hassle free, it's easy: at the top right of the screen click on "Sign In," choose "Create New Account" and then enter your name and email address.  You can use either a handle or your real name, whichever you like.  Your email won't be displayed, and we won't use it send you spam or anything.  That's it!  It takes 30 seconds, and after a few minutes you'll get a confirmation email.  Click the link, choose a password for your account, and you're done.

You can also personalize your account if you want to, but that's optional.  If all you want to do is comment, just choose a name and password and you can comment away without ever having to encounter the annoying captcha prompt again.

Easy Fixes: Fish Oil Curtails Cow Farts

Adding 2-percent fish oil in the diet of cattle reduces the amount of methane emissions out their back ends. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are legendary and probably inflated but in this case the effect seems positively deflationary.

According to Lorraine Lillis, speaking at the Society for General Microbiology in the UK: "The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow's gut, leading to reduced emissions. Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals."

Target away, Doctor Lillis.

Cattle, sheep, and goats fart and burp about 900 billion tons of methane a year, more than a third of total global emissions. The problem comes from the methanogen bacteria inside the guts of ruminants. These helpful bacteria enable cows and the like to digest what is essentially indigestible (cellulose). But in the process they off-gas all that methane, which is 20 times more powerful by volume than carbon dioxide at trapping solar energy.

We could attempt to cap the number of flatulent ruminants in farm production as a means to cool global warming. This approach offers many fresh benefits—especially since meat and dairy are so insanely energy intensive, even without the farting. But if reduction never happens, we could still lower methane emissions via fish oil.

Or, better yet, flaxseed oil... can Doctor Lillis look into its omega-3 powers? If flaxseed works, then we don't have to rape the seas to feed the cows who eat the grain grown with fossil-fuel technologies only to fart the methane just so we can eat the cows and fart the methane from our meat-clogged digestive tracts... then maybe  we'll all live happily ever after.

(Burp.)

Backing Tracks: Still Controversial!

Back in April, I posted about an enjoyable live performance by The Ting Tings where the UK duo used some form of backing track or sequencer for extra harmonies, bass and percussion. It got me to thinking about what the boundary is between "live" and "not live" music in a performance setting, and why audiences are willing to accept certain amounts of prerecorded material in some live shows, but not in others. I even drew a little graph in an attempt to define what we call "live." Of course, as an electronic music enthusiast and DJ, I wasn't passing judgment, just trying to describe the phenomenon, but commenters (always a charming bunch) went on the attack, saying I didn't understand anything about live music and insulting me in vivid enough terms they got their comments deleted. Crazy! Well, today the folks at NPR's All Songs Considered blog waded into the topic, and I hope they get nicer comments. They noticed backing tracks a-plenty at the recent SXSW music festival in Austin:

Talk about MoJo rising! Rachel Maddow did us a huge solid and came to San Francisco to appear at a jam- and star-packed fundraiser for Mother Jones on Saturday, March 28. Before a sold-out crowd at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, she talked with Monika and me about everything from why women are closeted about being smart, to her impending interview with Colin Powell, what she'd ask Dick Cheney, Tweeting vs. blogging, her David Petraeus work anxiety dream, and why America needs to do more to ensure the future of serious investigative reporting and editing. Special props to Rachel for recognizing how newscasters depend on print reporting for the building blocks of their shows; "without the [MoJo DC bureau chief] David Corns of the world, there's no show. David Corn can do his job without me, but I can't do my job without him."

And if all that weren't fun and ego boosting enough, it was officially "Mother Jones Day" in San Francisco on Saturday (see proclamation after the jump)—whereby, according to SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty and California State Senator Mark Leno, nobody on staff could get arrested. Good thing, because at a reception before the big show, local mixologist extraordinaire Thad Vogler was making a killer signature cocktail, "The Maddow," and even those of us who had to get on stage and talk serious policy had a hard time saying no.

Rachel mixed it up with her adoring fans after the show, and everybody had an awesome time. Check out our exclusive videos, and (after the jump) the recipe to The Maddow and the Mother Jones Day proclamation.

10 Video Clips of Rachel Maddow in Conversation With MoJo Editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein

1) The Venn diagram of Rachel: Entertainer, journalist, self-indulgent dork.

2) The show on Afghanistan, ratings be damned.

3) The reason America needs full time reporters and editors, not hobbyists.

4) Why she's not closeted about being smart.

5) The lowdown on Tweeting vs. blogging.

6) The David Petraeus work anxiety dream.

7) The drink she would have fixed Lincoln.

8) The reporters she trusts on the bailout.

9) The state of the 4th Estate.

10) The reason she's optimistic about the country's future.

Click Here to Launch a Photo Slideshow of the Evening.

Then mix yourself a Maddow* and go watch Rachel's show tonight.

My Super Awesome Maddow Pre-Show Playlist

If you missed it, then I hate to rub it in, but Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was totally the place to be here in San Francisco on Saturday night, as Mother Jones' dynamic editorial duo of Clara Jeffrey and Monika Bauerlein shared the stage with everybody's favorite MSNBC host Rachel Maddow at an event packed with enthusiastic supporters of good journalism. In addition to having the most enviable cowboy shirt this side of Jack White, Maddow was also charming and informative, although I'm still troubled that this TV star doesn't actually watch any TV. Not even Aqua Teen?! Anyhoo, those of you who showed up early to get a good seat may have noticed a delightful little music mix playing over the loudspeakers. And who, pray tell, could have put together such an awe-inspiring CD? Why, your idiotically-named DJ and contributor, of course. Organizers asked me to come up with an hour of tunes to entertain the early arrivals, so I took it upon myself to find tracks that were not only diverse and entertaining, but also had (perhaps wryly) appropriate lyrics. Unfortunately, when I showed up at 7:45, the CD was just starting, so I don't know if the whole thing got played or not. But if you're curious about what you heard (or what you were supposed to hear), look after the jump for the full list of tunes. And yes, I totally included "The Bleeding Heart Show."