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You Are the Best Readers Ever

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 4:09 PM EST

onion_opinion479.article.jpgA couple of weeks ago we posted about the tough financial times we've encountered as a result of some funders pulling back on previously made commitments (plus of course the general economic meltdown). We asked you to help fill the hole they left--and because you are awesome, you did. We're going into the new year leaner, meaner, but close enough to our fighting weight to take on whatever stories our crack investigative reporters encounter. (Job One: Keep tabs on the new administration, not to mention that line of bailout applicants stretching around the block.) We'll spend your money carefully and we hope you like (and are outraged by) the results.

While we're on house news, next week (we think) we're launching our brand new website—same content, but much better presented and with a spiffy new commenting system that builds on what we've learned from you over the years. Thanks again for being part of the MoJo community. And P.S. The subscriptions department kind of told us not to mention this, but we're going to anyway: There's a super secret special offer going on now whereby you get a MoJo subscription for a year PLUS a pound of Peace Coffee for $10. That's less than a pound of Starbucks! And then you can be just like this guy.

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Sanjay Gupta: Don't Laugh, It's a Good Pick!

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 3:48 PM EST

gupta.jpg The CNN personality is Obama's pick for Surgeon General. I like it.

If you believe, as I do, that the Surgeon General's top job in the Obama Administration will be convincing Americans that the obesity epidemic is a real crisis, Sanjay Gupta is your man. I know, it's easy to lump him in with Dr. Phil and all those other lightweight TV "doctors." But the man has tackled obesity before, is a university professor, advised Hillary Clinton on health policy when she was First Lady, and most importantly, has the pitchman skills to get Americans moving. You could even argue that having TV talent is the top requirement for the Surgeon General at this time. And dare I say it, you would be correct.

New Congress Begins With Progress on Earmarks

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 3:38 PM EST

Now we're talking:

The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees on Tuesday jointly vowed to slice the level of earmarks while providing unprecedented disclosure of Member requests.
House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said that starting with the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, when Members make their earmark requests, they will be required to post the requests on their Web sites explaining the purpose of the earmark and why it is a valuable use of taxpayer funds....

Gaza War Bush's Parting Gift to Middle East

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 3:29 PM EST

gazabombs.jpg

At one point or another, most American presidents concern themselves with bringing peace to the Middle East. Ultimately, all other foreign policy achievements pale in comparison. It's the brass ring of presidential greatness, the elusive key to ensuring kind treatment in the eyes of history. Such thinking must become particularly acute as presidents reach the twilight of their terms and begin in earnest the inevitable consideration of how they will be remembered. Bill Clinton made a last-ditch effort late in his second term to become the great peacemaker. He failed, as had all others before him. But at least he tried. For his part, our current outgoing commander in chief, just weeks away from relinquishing his office, has steadfastly refused to get involved even as Gaza disintegrates into violence.

Not that this should come as a surprise. Bush's lack of engagement this late in the game, says the National Security Network, is nothing if not consistent with the rest of his term. As the group describes in press release issued today:

[Bush's] episodic involvement has been muddled and without coherent vision: supporting Palestinian elections in 2006, despite the very clear possibility that Hamas would win, then refusing to honor the results; asserting that the 'road to Jerusalem ran through Baghdad;' belatedly engaging through the Annapolis peace conference, which has proved to be too little too late. Experts and regional actors with differing views on the road ahead share the belief that the US absence from the scene is counterproductive and harmful to the interests of all concerned. The outbreak of war in Gaza confirms that after eight years in office the Bush administration will leave behind a region that is further from achieving a lasting peace than when it came to office.

Money For Main Street

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 3:11 PM EST

MONEY FOR MAIN STREET....Currently, businesses that lose money are allowed to use those losses to offset profits from the past two years. The result in some cases is a refund against past taxes. Part of Barack Obama's stimulus bill is a plan to increase this period to five years, which apparently would provide businesses with about $25 billion in additional tax refunds this year. Matt Yglesias isn't impressed:

As stimulus, this doesn't work. Businesses spend money based on calculations of the likely returns on spending. Insofar as it's profitable to expand operations, businesses will spend money on expanding operations. Insofar as it's not profitable to expand, businesses won't expand. Transferring lump sums of money to existing firms doesn't alter the profit-loss calculus. A firm with no expansion opportunities it sees as profitable will just pocket the lump sum and consider itself fortunate. And a firm with expansion opportunities it sees as profitable will only be very marginally impacted by an infusion of cash.

I'd be curious to hear from other folks on this. Technically, this sounds right, but I think the reality might be a little different. Lots of things in the business world are sticky, and jobs are one of them. Corporations generally don't like to lay off employees, partly for business reasons (they don't want to lose good workers that they might not be able to rehire later), partly for ordinary human reasons (most bosses really don't enjoy laying people off), and partly just because of inertia. So it's possible that a tax refund that eased the P&L a bit might prompt them to keep on more workers than pure hard-hearted economic calculations might dictate. It would probably be a fairly small effect at the margins, but it might still be noticeable. Especially if the rest of the stimulus package gives business owners hope that the downturn might be short-lived.

Besides, all this does is change the tax timing anyway. Corporations that booked big losses in 2008 will be able to carry them forward against future profits regardless, which will decrease their taxes in the future. But maybe we're better off letting them get their refunds now, rather than two years from now when the economy has picked up again?

Alternatively, this is just another big corporate giveaway. Any nice liberal economists care to weigh in on this?

UPDATE: Via Jon Cohn, Dean Baker shreds the tax write-off proposal:

The break that allows businesses to write-off losses against taxes paid 4-5 years ago (as opposed to 2 years in current law) is simply a give-away to the financial industry and homebuilders. These are likely to be the only businesses that will have losses so large that they can't fully deduct them from earnings over the last two years.

This tax cut has nothing to do with stimulus. It is difficult to imagine that this sort of tax break would even be considered if it were not for the political power of the financial industry.

More from Jon about the stimulus package here.

Bush Designates Massive New Marine Monuments

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 3:00 PM EST

Coral reefs worldwide are in peril. Marine species, protected by ineffective regulations, are being fished to extinction. Ocean pollution has our seas nearing cataclysm. Fortunately, there's one group that's doing something about it.

The Bush Administration.

It's true. On Tuesday, President Bush, whose environmental policies have not exactly been the hallmark of his administration, designated three new marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, an act that will protect some of the world's most pristine places and give ocean ecosystems a chance at recovery. Together, the Mariana Trench monument, the Central Pacific Islands monument, and the Rose Atoll monument in America Samoa (PDF map and images here), will encompass over 190,000 square miles, roughly the size of the states of Oregon and Washington combined. The protected areas include the habitats for several threatened species, rare underwater geological formations, and some of the oldest known life forms on the DNA tree.

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Stooges Guitarist Found Dead

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 2:46 PM EST

Stooges Ron AshetonOriginal member of seminal rock band the Stooges Ron Asheton was reportedly found dead in his Ann Arbor, Michigan home this morning. He was 60 years old. While cause of death has not been determined, Rolling Stone reports that officials do not suspect foul play, and that "initial indications suggest Asheton had a heart attack." Asheton's personal assistant had not been able to reach him for days and contacted police, who found his body.

Asheton formed the Stooges in Ann Arbor in 1967 along with brother Scott, bassist Dave Alexander and legendary frontman Iggy Pop. The Stooges released only three albums between 1969 and 1973— The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power— but despite their limited output, the band had an incalculable influence on modern music. Their edgy live shows set the bar for future performance artists and rock spectacles, while their raw, fuzzy sound can be heard in everything from punk to French techno. The Detroit Free Press put it this way:

The Stooges' raw guttural sound helped create the template for punk rock, and later became hugely influential in the alternative-rock revolution of the late 1980s and early '90s. Asheton was not an incredibly gifted player technically, but the dirgy, guttural sounds he created on early Stooges classics like "I Wanna Be Your Dog" were cited by guitarists as varied as Kurt Cobain, Thurston Moore and Jack White — who once called the Stooges' 1969 effort "Fun House" the greatest rock album of all time.

In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Asheton at #29 on its "Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list, and in September of this year, the Stooges were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user RealLowVibe.

Even Heather Mac Donald Is Right Twice a Year

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 2:38 PM EST

I have to give this one to my girl Heather Mac Donald over at City Journal. Well, partly give it to her. She's right on the problem, but wrong-ish on the solution.

There's been lots of talk lately, however muted since black dysfunction is the issue, of rising intrablack homicide and violence rates. Overall, crime is down, except for blacks. What gives?

Geoghegan Running for Congress

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 2:20 PM EST

GEOGHEGAN RUNNING FOR CONGRESS....Via Jim Fallows and others, I see that Tom Geoghegan (pronounced Gay-gan) is running for the House seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel. I can't say that I've read a huge number of Geoghegan's books and essays, but I've read enough to be pretty impressed. I guess this comes from two sources:

  • He has a fascinating writing style. I don't really have the vocabulary or esthetic sensibility to describe it properly, and if I did it would almost certainly seem like it shouldn't work. But it's sort of the writing equivalent of the bumblebee: it shouldn't be able to fly, but it does. (And stings, too!) I'd kill to be able to write as effectively and idiosyncratically as Geoghegan does.

  • He's a labor lawyer who's completely dedicated to the cause, but I've always gotten the sense that his eyes are wide open. He know which side he's on, and he knows why, and he can explain it in very plain English, but he never makes the mistake of thinking that unions are beyond reproach. They're human institutions, sometimes they suck, sometimes they're shortsighted, but they're still necessary and they're still the best bet we have to counterbalance the massive influence of corporations and the rich on the political and economic process.

The basic Geoghegan bio is on his Facebook page here. Kathy G. has a more personal account here. Fallows has this to say:

The remarkable thing is that in Geoghegan's case writing has been a sideline. Day by day for several decades he has been a lawyer in a small Chicago law firm representing steel workers, truckers, nurses, and other employees whose travails are the reality covered by abstractions like "the polarization of America" and "the disappearing middle class." Geoghegan's skills as a writer and an intellectual are assets but in themselves might not recommend him for a Congressional job. His consistent and canny record of organizing, representing, and defending people who are the natural Democratic (and American) base is the relevant point.

Geoghegan is running against a gaggle of competitors, including Cook County commissioner Mike Quigley, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, Alderman Pat O'Connor, State Representative John Fritchey, and several others. I have no idea how to handicap the race, but it should be an interesting one to watch.

UPDATE: TNR has just posted a collection of Geoghegan's writings for them here. They're all more than ten years old and I haven't read any of them, but they might be worth checking out.

The GOP 's Grand Problems

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 1:57 PM EST

I've been thinking about this analysis by Huff Po blogger Paul Jenkins of the quandary the GOP is in, having successfully turned itself into a whites-only party:

...it is utterly unrepresentative of America in the 21st century. Its Congressional representation is nearly uniformly white, and overwhelmingly male. So much so, in fact, that there is not one single African-American GOP member of Congress (out of 219 or 220); nor, for that matter, are there any black GOP Governors (out of 22). There are just four Republican Latinos in Congress, all Florida Cuban-Americans; one of them, Senator Mel Martinez, has announced his retirement. He is the only non-white or Hispanic GOP Senator.

...Even non-white members of George W. Bush's cabinet appear to have turned on the party: people like Colin Powell, who heartily endorsed Obama, or Condoleezza Rice, who seemed at her very happiest the day after Obama's victory. The last African-American GOP member of Congress, J.C. Watts, who retired in 2002, is equally as disillusioned, not to say anything of potential candidates such as Charles Barkley, a one-time Republican with aspirations to Alabama's governorship, who says the Republicans "lost their mind." And so the GOP trots out the same sad losers, Michael Steele of Maryland, and Ken Blackwell of Ohio, who have achieved little more than secondary elected office in their respective states, both losing in landslides when they sought a bigger job.

Finally being exposed for their corrupt, cronying, and most of all, hopelessly incompetent businessmen and policy makers hasn't helped Republicans either. The GOP is in tatters. About damn time.