Blogs

Feeding at the Federal Trough

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 3:56 PM EST
Gail Collins on Bobby Jindal's response to Obama's speech on Tuesday:

Louisiana has gotten $130 billion in post-Katrina aid. How is it that the stars of the Republican austerity movement come from the states that suck up the most federal money? Taxpayers in New York send way more to Washington than they get back so more can go to places like Alaska and Louisiana. Which is fine, as long as we don’t have to hear their governors bragging about how the folks who elected them want to keep their tax money to themselves. Of course they do! That’s because they’re living off ours.

They are indeed.  Wonky details here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Global Meltdown

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 3:26 PM EST
I wrote a little post yesterday rounding up some of the bad economic news from around the world (exports plummeting in Japan, Italy rescuing its banks, Eastern Europe turning into a basket case, Russian GDP down 8%, etc. etc.), but then my browser crashed and I didn't feel like reconstructing it after I was back up and running.  But the bottom line was simple: there's a world of economic pain out there, and economic pain frequently turns into political and national security pain too.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the White House is worried about the same thing, and has asked the CIA to begin preparing a daily report on the global economic crisis:

The CIA's role in producing the report underscores the level of anxiety within the administration over how rapidly the economic downturn is spreading, as well as its potential to hobble foreign governments and trigger instability overseas.

The report, called the Economic Intelligence Brief, was launched at the request of the White House and delivered for the first time Wednesday.

[CIA Director Leon] Panetta said the document would survey major economic developments internationally and focus on how plunging markets and credit pressures are driving the decisions in nations including Russia and China.

The report covers "economic, political, leadership developments" in other countries as well as "the implications of those developments in terms of the U.S. economy," Panetta said.

We're not going to see pitchforks and torches in the United States, but we might in a few other countries before this is all over.  This is a smart move by Obama.

UPDATE: Along these lines, Cernig directs our attention to the recent armed mutiny among the 42,000 members of the Bangladesh Border Guards over lack of pay.  Global warming is implicated too.

Michael Klare has a much more detailed piece on this general subject over at Salon:

If you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations — none as yet in the United States — your map would already look aflame with activity.

Obama's new briefing is going to be a busy one.

Federal Pay

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:58 PM EST
Federal employees are sharing the pain in Obama's FY2010 budget:

Civilian employees of the federal government will be limited to a 2 percent pay increase in 2010 under the proposed budget released this morning by the Obama administration.

...."It's a modest increase, but it certainly is prudent," said Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees...."While it's certainly a modest pay increase, federal employees recognize the severity of the economic situation, and we're viewing it from that context."

Over the past 12 months the Consumer Price Index has gone up 0.4%, so a 2 percent raise isn't exactly iron-fisted.  No wonder the union guy is taking this so serenely.

The $1 Trillion Carbon Cap GDP Boost

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:00 PM EST

The consensus among economists these days is that the economic cost of curbing climate change in the short-term will run between 0.5 and one percent of U.S. GDP—about $143 billion if we use 2008's GDP as a reference.

But Grist's Gar Lipow doesn't think curbing climate change will cost the GDP a dime:

Chart of the Day - 2.26.2009

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:51 PM EST
Henry Farrell says today that self-reported ideology is pretty unreliable when it comes to blog readers:

Netroots blog readers may identify themselves as being a mixed bag of ideologies....But self-identification here is misleading, as we can see if we look at a scale measuring blogreaders’ attitudes to a number of hot-button political issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, where left and right disagreed strongly at the time the data was gathered.

....Here, we don’t see anything like an even spread between those who are strongly liberal (i.e. inclined to take the ‘liberal’ position on all of these issues), and those who are moderate liberals or centrists. Instead, left blog readers tend to clump heavily at the strongly liberal end of the spectrum, with pretty well no centrists worth talking about.

The same thing is true for conservative blog readers.  I don't find this surprising, but I think a caveat is in order.  The issue scale is apparently based on a survey of only five questions (“partial-birth” abortions, funding for stem cell research, withdrawing troops from Iraq, raising the minimum wage, and extending capital gains tax cuts), and this doesn't allow for much nuance.  For example, there's not much question that I'm further toward the center than, say, Glenn Greenwald or Jane Hamsher, but on this scale we'd all come out identically as raging communists with perfect 5-0 liberal scores.  I think you'd need to dig quite a bit deeper than this to get decent read on the real views of the blogreading public.

Coen Brothers Take on Clean Coal (Video)

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:38 PM EST

The Coen brothers + environmental advocacy equals this:

Take that, "clean" coal! You're never going win the battle for the hearts and minds of America's movie-going hipster minority now! (No, seriously, "clean" coal is a hoax and needs to be stopped. Kudos to the Coen brothers for joining the effort.)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

John Bolton at CPAC: The Benefits of Nuking Chicago

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:27 PM EST
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton believes the security of the United States is at dire risk under the Obama administration. And before a gathering of conservatives in Washington on Thursday morning,  he suggested, as something of a joke, that President Barack Obama might learn a needed lesson if Chicago were destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the nation's largest annual conference of conservative activists, Bolton, one of the hardest hardliners of the George W. Bush administration, spoke at length about Obama's naiveté and how various nations – Russia, North Korea, Iran – will be exploiting the new president. The most dramatic moment of his speech may have been when he cracked a joke about the nuking of Obama's hometown.

"The fact is on foreign policy I don't think President Obama thinks it's a priority," said Bolton. "He said during the campaign he thought Iran was a tiny threat. Tiny, tiny depending on how many nuclear weapons they are ultimately able to deliver on target. Its, uh, its tiny compared to the Soviet Union, but is the loss of one American city" – here Bolton changes his tone subtly to prepare for the joke – "pick one at random – Chicago – is that a tiny threat?"
 
Bolton wasn't the only one who thought this was funny. The room erupted in laughter and applause. Was this conservative catharsis, with rightwingers delightfully imagining the destruction of a city that represents Obama? Or perhaps they were venting vengeance with their laughter. (Bolton is no stranger to inflammatory remarks. He once infamously quipped, "There are 38 floors to the UN building in New York. If you lost 10 of them, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.")

At CPAC, the Right's most fevered beliefs about Obama live on, with speakers portraying him as a radical liberal who wants to compromise American values, hand hard-earned taxpayer dollars to the shifty poor, and, as Bolton repeatedly pointed out, weaken America's defense.

Obama Increases Military Budget, Ignoring Frank's Criticisms

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:04 PM EST

On Tuesday, Rep. Barney Frank said that "To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit," President Barack Obama had to cut the military budget. Apparently, Obama didn't get the message. The White House released its proposed budget on Thursday morning. The very first page of the Department of Defense section of the budget (PDF) proposal trumpets: "$533.7 billion for the Department of Defense base budget in 2010, a four-percent increase over 2009." (Obama's budget is for fiscal year 2010, which runs from October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010.)

There is some good news for Frank and his cohorts. According to McClatchy, Obama may target the air force's F-22 fighter plane—a program Frank had mentioned as particularly wasteful—for cuts. (Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also criticized the program.) But even if the F-22 program is slashed, or even halted altogether, the military budget is still going up. That's a far cry from what Frank and other Congressional Dems called for on Tuesday. Will they make a fuss?

Free the Memos

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:02 PM EST
In the LA Times today, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer argues that Barack Obama should release all the confidential memos churned out over the years by George Bush's Office of Legal Counsel:

Lawyers for the office — including John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee — churned out dozens of memos on torture, rendition, detention without charge and wiretapping without warrants.

....Some of the memos were plainly intended to insulate Bush administration officials from criminal liability....And, according to the Washington Post and other sources, a yet-to-be-released ethics report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility confirms that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel intentionally misrepresented or distorted the law to support the Bush administration's policy goals.

....Limited redactions maybe be necessary in extraordinary cases, but national security should not be used as a pretext for the wholesale suppression of the memos. And there are good reasons to release the memos now. By releasing them, the Obama administration would signal that it truly intends to end an era in which the Justice Department became shamefully complicit in the most egregious crimes. Equally important, it would allow the public to better understand the policies that defined the Bush administration and shaped history, and to understand the role that the Office of Legal Counsel played in developing, justifying and advocating those policies.

Read the whole thing.  I suspect this is an area where Obama might need to feel some significant pressure from the left to make him do the right thing.

Haves vs. Have Nots

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 12:24 PM EST
Ezra Klein talks about the healthcare principles outlined in Obama's budget:

The salient fact about health insurance in the United States is not that 15 percent don't have it. It's that 85 percent do....That's why the first three health care principles in Obama's budget speak to the concerns of the insured: Choice, affordability, security. But In his latest column at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman suggests a metric we should we be watching to see if they're successful. Polls, he notes, generally ask whether you think health reform will make your family better off. Kaiser recently ran one such survey and the results were moderately encouraging.

At a guess, it's the group in the center that's critical.  Supporters provide the shock troops and the opposition provides, um, the opposition.  But that big middle group that mostly thinks national healthcare is probably good for the country but isn't sure if it's good for them?  They're the ones most easily swayed by conservative scare talk.  Altman notes that these poll numbers are better than the ones Bill Clinton enjoyed in 1993, which is good, but 43% is still a huge number.  That's the battleground.