Blogs

The Ownership Society

| Sat Jan. 3, 2009 3:13 PM EST

THE OWNERSHIP SOCIETY....The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration plans to sign an eleventh hour agreement allowing a timber company in Montana to pave roads passing through Forest Service land. Why? Apparently because we're suffering from a housing shortage:

The shift is technical but with large implications....As Plum Creek has moved into the real estate business, paving those roads became a necessary prelude to opening vast tracts of the company's 8 million acres to the vacation homes that are transforming landscapes across the West.

Scenic western Montana, where Plum Creek owns 1.2 million acres, would be most affected, placing fresh burdens on county governments to provide services, and undoing efforts to cluster housing near towns.

Impeccable timing as always from the Bush administration. What better time than now to provide a free gift to the homebuilding industry?

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A Denver School Teacher Responds to the Bennet Appointment

| Sat Jan. 3, 2009 1:21 PM EST

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter's choice of Michael Bennet to replace departing Senator Ken Salazar (Salazar is leaving Congress' esteemed higher body to become Obama's Secretary of the Interior) is already drawing criticism. Bennet, the reform-oriented head of the Denver school system, has never run for office in his life and has never held a statewide position. There is little evidence that suggests he can hold onto the seat when challenged by a Republican in 2010.

A few weeks ago, when Bennet was generating buzz as a possible Secretary of Education, I spoke to a friend who is a charter school teacher in Denver. She was skeptical. Naturally, I asked her for her thoughts on Bennet's latest move. They are below.

A Former Blago-ite Fills In Some Blago/Burris History

| Sat Jan. 3, 2009 12:53 PM EST

A Capitol Hill-type who got his start interning for Blagojevich responds to a blog post from yesterday that raised the possibility that Blago appointed Burris because Burris helped Blago win the 2002 governor's race. Blago, who had no standing in the black community at the time, won the Democratic primary only because Burris stole some of the black vote away from a man named Paul Vallas who had assiduously courted the black community.

Sorry, no. Blago's not the kind of guy who returns favors, and Burris (a man who has built a lavish monument to himself listing his accomplishments) is not the kind of guy that would do a massive favor like this and then wait around 6 years for a Senate appointment that no one could have predicted in 2002. Burris ran because he thought he could get the nomination by having Vallas and Blago split the white/downstate vote, leaving Burris with the nomination in a year with a remarkably weak Republican party and candidate.
Why has Blagojevich picked Burris now? Because he needs 19 votes from State Senators to survive impeachment. 9 State Senators are black. I think Blago's hoping they're all getting calls from community leaders asking them to stand by him since he stood by them.

Can Paving America be Eco-Friendly?

| Sat Jan. 3, 2009 12:12 PM EST

Given that Obama's economic stimulus package is likely to include billions of dollars in road projects, how will he counteract the environmental toll? One idea, supported by the steel industry, is to funnel more of that money into rail, such as the $45-billion high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco that was approved by the state's voters in November.

Another idea is to build those roads greener. Two new cement companies, one in Great Britain, another in Silicon Valley, claim to have discovered a new way to produce cement that not only emits no carbon dioxide, but also sucks much of it from the atmosphere.

This is no small feat. Cement production accounts for 5 percent of the world's CO2 emissions--more than the entire aviation industry. And a recent report by the French Bank Credit Agricole estimated that demand for cement will increase 50 percent by 2020.

The Silicon Valley company, Calera Corp, was founded by Stanford professor Brent Constanz, who in 1986 invented a medical cement that revolutionized the way hospitals repaired broken bones. Unlike conventional cement, which is made by heating up limestone or clay to around 1500 degrees C, his medical cement combined carbon dioxide and magnesium to mimic the way coral reefs are formed. His new eco-cement works much the same way, except the carbon dioxide comes from power plants that would otherwise spew it into the atmosphere. The British company, Novacem, uses a similar process.

Both companies claim their products are strong enough to work in roads, buildings, and bridges and are cost-competitive with conventional cement. The hard part will be to convince customers that the cements will endure the test of time when there's no real track record. Of course, using conventional cement will also be a gamble--in the form of some 450 million tons of yearly carbon emissions.

2009: Predictions For the Year In Music

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 3:10 PM EST

mojo-photo-2009glasses2.jpg2008 is dead and gone, and the universal opinion seems to be, from the economy to our government to music: "good riddance." As Slant put it, "the cliché that oppressive Republican administrations foster the most compelling music was disproved over nearly each of the last 52 weeks." Music seemed splintered and aimless, and year-end best-of lists seemed to reflect the confusion, with the same 50 records showing up a lot, but in completely different orders. Some of the year's most successful and compelling music was actually made months, or even years, before the start of 2008. So, 2009, will you be any better? Here's a quick (and admittedly somewhat fanciful) look ahead at the year ahead's most anticipated releases.

Friday Cat Blogging - 2 January 2009

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 2:23 PM EST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Here's Inkblot in the pod again. For some reason, he seems to be going through weird phases of being frightened by the pod, followed by phases of adoring the pod. Yesterday he was in one of his adoration phases. Today he's sleeping on the bed, but making sure to keep his distance. I'm really not sure what's going on.

Domino, meanwhile, is obviously annoyed that Marian is explaining something to Professor Marc, who was visiting last night, instead of keeping immobile and providing her with a proper cat bed. Truly, the life of a cat is a hard one.

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*Long-Form Journalism

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 2:06 PM EST

LONG-FORM JOURNALISM....David Brooks today:

Everything becomes a shorter version of itself. Essays become op-eds. Op-eds become blog posts. Blog posts become Twitter tweets. The Sidney Awards stand athwart technology, yelling stop. They are awarded every year to some of the best examples of long-form journalism and thought.

Of the four pieces Brooks chooses to honor, the Lewis and Judis pieces I had already read, and both were good. The Professor X piece I had also already read. I didn't reread it, but I remember thinking at the time that it was more routine gripe than insightful observation. The Caldwell piece was new to me, and it was pretty engaging. Overall, a pretty good bunch of selections.

Maybe Blagojevich Does Owe Burris Something

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 1:48 PM EST

The media has been looking for evidence that Roland Burris' appointment to the United States Senate is payback for something Burris once did for Governor Rod Blagojevich. Ben Joravsky, publishing over at TNR, may have put his finger on it. Without Burris, Balgo would have never made it out of the Democratic primary in the 2002 race for Illinois governor:

Getting it Right

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 1:32 PM EST

GETTING IT RIGHT....How many people figured out that the U.S. financial system was headed for disaster before the disaster actually struck? Just for starters, I think that if you want credit for "getting it right":

  • You need to have really gotten it right. For example, predicting a dollar crash due to our expanding trade deficit with China doesn't count, since that's not what actually happened.

  • You need to have figured this out in 2004, not 2007. By 2007 the storm clouds were overhead, the Fed was in full panic mode, and it was too late to do anything useful.

  • You need to have a decent track record, not merely one of being a chronic doomsayer. After all, if you're always predicting disaster, you'll always be right eventually.

That said, the Wall Street Journal profiles "The Doomsayers Who Got It Right" today, and given my bullet points above, I have to say that fund manager Bob Rodriguez seems pretty spectacularly prescient:

He saw storm clouds gathering in 2005 when newly minted pools of supposedly high-quality "Alt-A" mortgages began acting oddly....He quickly dumped the holdings, reckoning that by the time he figured out what was actually going on, whatever disaster the odd behavior foreshadowed would have already occurred.

....He stopped buying Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt and took giant insurer American International Group Inc. off the list of approved commercial-paper investments. He refused to invest in financial-services companies because of what he saw as "a pandemic collapse" in the rules by which lenders approved mortgages.

As of 2004, he began moving his fund to more than 45% cash, even as one big shareholder yanked out $300 million because of his bearish stance.

Not bad! You can read more about Rodriguez from Money magazine, who called him "the best fund manager of our time." So what's he concerned about now?

Looking forward, he, too, sees "a massive bubble in Treasurys" forming. "Quite frankly, we do not trust government," he says, as the U.S. government adds more debt to pay for economic-revival measures. He's not buying Treasurys because "We will not lend long-term money to a borrower that capriciously erodes its balance sheet."

His real concern, he recently told shareholders, isn't the next two years, "but period three through 10." In an interview, he says it will be punctuated by inflation, and he expects real GDP growth of no more than 2% a year, possibly less.

I too am concerned about years three through ten. As Barack Obama prepares his stimulus plan for years one and two, I hope his economic boffins also explain what they're doing now to prepare for what they think the economy will be like in 2010. That dollar collapse might still come someday, after all.

Drudge, NY Post Have Field Day with Kathy Griffin's CNN "Trash Talk"

| Fri Jan. 2, 2009 1:23 PM EST

Kathy Griffin CNNComedian Kathy Griffin is making news for uttering an expletive during CNN's New Year's Eve broadcast, which the D-lister hosted with Anderson Cooper. The network's enemies are having a field day. Here's how the New York Post described the moment:

Comedienne Kathy Griffin may be doomed to life on CNN's S-list after answering a heckler with a shrieking, vulgar tirade during the network's live New Year's Eve broadcast.
"Screw you," she told the heckler. "Why don't you get a job, buddy? You know what? I don't go to your job and knock the d- - - out of your mouth."
The raunchy exchange, which occurred well after the ball dropped at midnight, was received with guffaws by the camera crew.

That's because everyone at CNN is a godless, liberal heathen, right, everybody? Actually, if you watch the clip (which you can do after the jump) it's clear she was responding sarcastically to good-natured ribbing, not a "heckler," and I'd say the "shrieking" part is debatable, too. Either way, we watched CNN's coverage New Year's Eve before heading out for DJ gigs, and honestly, the almost-always-hilarious Griffin was the best thing about that sloppy, nonsensical broadcast—can someone teach them how to avoid the talk-over-each other problem during live remotes? Also amusing: watching both Griffin and drag queen Sushi (live from Key West!) hold themselves back from making gay jokes about Cooper. Do you think they sign a contract?