GOP Gets LESS Tech-Savvy

The RNC's top in-house new media and tech guy, Cyrus Krohn, is resigning his post, setting the GOP even further back in its effort to match the Democrats' use of web tools to organize, raise funds, and message. (I've written about the GOP's tech deficit before.) I asked Matt Lewis, a conservative blogger, for his thoughts. They are below.

"I think Cyrus' departure is very bad news for the RNC. It is important for any organization to maintain institutional knowledge, and a lot of that knowledge just walked out the door.  This -- coupled with the fact that the RNC still has not filled key staff positions -- raises serious questions about the RNC's ability to fulfill basic logistical functions.

"Cyrus was a tech guy, which is important because it is easier to teach a tech guy politics than to take a political guy and make him technologically proficient. He was also highly regarded by the conservative blogosphere."

Michael Steele is off to a rocky start as the new head of the RNC. The one thing everyone seemed to agree he was doing right was his unreserved embrace of the web and conservative web activists. With Krohn's move, that too is in peril.

One of the more infuriating prevarications of the presidency of George W. Bush concerned stem cell research.

On August 9, 2001, Bush delivered his first nationally televised prime-time address, and the subject was the federal funding of stem cell research. In the speech, he announced that he would allow federal funding of research involving stem cell lines that had already been created, but he said he would prohibit federal financing of research using new stem lines. His reasoning was that doing the latter would place the US government in the position of underwriting the destruction of blastocysts (a.k.a., very young embryos), and that would be morally wrong.

But have no fear, Bush said, this restriction would not get in the way of stem cell research, for there were already 60 existing stem lines. These lines, he said, "have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating opportunities for research." Funding research that depended on those existing lines while saying nyet to research utilizing new lines, he maintained, "allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line."

Bush was trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He was protecting blastocysts everywhere (and endearing himself to the Catholic Church and the anti-abortion movement), while maintaining that his administration would be supporting research that could find cures for all sorts of terrible diseases. Yet at the core of his argument was a serious misstatement of fact. There were not 60 lines available for vigorous research. By the estimates of expert scientists, between 10 and 30 lines existed, and not all of them were suitable for the best research. Many could not be regenerated indefinitely. And most were tainted by mouse DNA and not useful for the most advanced and promising sort of research related to finding cures and treatments for human diseases. The scientific community's consensus was unequivocal: The existing lines did not allow researchers to explore fully or effectively the promise and potential of stem cell research. Bush had greatly misled the public on this.

Why recall this now? Because of the news that President Obama will sign an executive order on Monday lifting Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. This will mark yet another move in the effort to undo the damage done by Bush's war on science.

For almost eight years, Bush's based-on-a-lie policy prevented research that could help scientists develop cures for serious diseases. There's probably no way to quantify the number of people who were negatively affected by this Bush decision--those who have suffered with Parkinson's, diabetes or other ailments--but there's no doubt that eight years is a long time when it comes to applying the brakes on promising research. On Monday, Obama will free federally-funded scientists from Bush's restrictions, and he will free the country from one of Bush's more consequential falsehoods.

Mick LaSalle vs. A.O. Scott on Watchmen

In a world, where two movie critics, see the same movie, but form two, very, different, opinions, one review, holds the key... LaSalle: Director Zack Snyder ("300") is beginning to look like the best thing to happen to the action movie in this decade. Scott: I wouldn't say that Mr. Snyder's "Watchmen" is a good movie, though it is certainly better than the same director's "300." LaSalle: One could say that the filmmakers' strategy in "Watchmen" is to try to hold the audience's attention, not with a great story (the story is just OK), but with great scenes. Scott: If I had [Dr. Manhattan's enhanced temporal perspective], the 2 hours 40 minutes of Zack Snyder’s grim and grisly excursion into comic-book mythology might not have felt quite so interminable. LaSalle: [Snyder] had a strong advantage going into "Watchmen," an audacious adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. Scott: There are times that the filmmakers seem to have used [the original] book less as an inspiration than as a storyboard. LaSalle: Advisory: This movie contains simulated sex. Scott: “Watchmen” features this year’s hands-down winner of the bad movie sex award, superhero division: a moment of bliss that takes place on board Nite Owl’s nifty little airship, accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” LaSalle: The viewer has been infused with a sense of life on earth as chaotic and hopeless. Scott: Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it’s better to grow up. LaSalle walks away, dejected. Fade to black.

Baby Bottle BPA Bye Bye

Today's heartening public health news from WebMD:

The top six makers of baby bottles in the U.S. have agreed to stop using the polycarbonate plastic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their bottles...
The FDA is studying bisphenol A, but hasn't issued any warnings about BPA in baby bottles or other consumer products.
But the National Toxicology Program issued a report last year that includes "some concern" about BPA's possible effects on the brain, prostate gland, and on behavior in fetuses, infants, and children, and "minimal concern" for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier age for female puberty in fetuses, infants, and children.

Read MoJo's Plastic Panic investigation for a primer on BPA.

The legendary New York combo Sonic Youth is planning to release what appears to be their 16th studio album The Eternal on June 9—is Confusion as a Sex a full-length? Anyway, June seems like a million years away, but thankfully we've been given a little jolt of Sonic goodness to tide us over. The band has released a two-and-a-half-minute audio clip containing excerpts of tracks from the album, which, as you would expect, is both great and annoying. There are plentiful moments of shiver-inducing guitar work and eyebrow-raising lyrics (did Kim just say "anti-war is anti-orgasm"?) but I want it all, and I want it now! Actually, as Newsweek (from whence this stream comes) pointed out, the little medley is itself rather artfully composed, with the various clips rolling into each other, if not exactly smoothly, then at least interestingly. So that's something.

Your absurdly-named DJ was a mega-fan of der Yoof's last platter, 2006's scrappy, hooky Rather Ripped, an album that was both a return to form and a bold, accessible step forward. From the wee clippies in this little montage, The Eternal sounds a little edgier, with about equal time given to hectic rock-outs as strummy jams, but I can already tell it's going to be another good one. We're coming up on 30 years of fine material from this band, and still no Hall of Fame?! Goes to show.

Like I said, The Eternal is out June 9 on Matador, and if you buy early (starting April 28) you get extra goodies and a full preview stream, I guess is what Matador wants me to tell you.

Friday Cat Blogging - 6 March 2009

Inkblot is back up exploring the new fence today.  Something has caught his eye in our neighbor's yard, but it's not clear what.  A leaf?  A stray molecule?  Something from another dimension?  Domino, meanwhile, is rolling around in the lovely, lovely sunshine and mugging for the camera.  And why not?  What better way is there to spend one's day?

Should We Pity the Rich?

I found this little gem on National Review online via Oliver Willis. I think it says a lot about modern conservative thought. Stick with me all the way through; I think it's worth it.

The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities….

No group of people contribute more to their community. And now the president, who followed a path sort of like that, and who claims that his wife's former six-figure income was a result of precisely such qualifications and efforts, is demonizing them. More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.

So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 or 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling? Instapundit speculates on people "going John Galt." I think golf — a time-intensive sport that the hard-working have eschewed for the past decade or two because it took too long — will make a comeback.

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GOP Hispanic Outreach FAIL

From the conservative website Right Wing News (via The Next Right):

I was talking to a very credible Capitol Hill source (who wishes to remain anonymous) today and that person told me a story that just blew my mind...

He told me the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 19th Annual Legislative Conference will be taking place next week in DC.

Here's the kicker: supposedly, the Democrats have 20 senators scheduled to attend various events and receptions. The Republicans? Are you ready for this? They have no senators currently scheduled to attend. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

You know what's great about this? This is easy minority outreach for Republicans. It's not like they're being asked to go visit the NAACP or speak to an immigrants' rights march. This is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, an organization filled with business leaders who presumably have wealth, oppose regulations, and want to see lower corporate taxes. And yet, when the Right Wing News author followed up with the HCC (my acronym), the staff there confirmed that Republicans were taking a pass.

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the control and will soon dominate politics in the western United States. Effective Hispanic outreach by the Dems and a complete lack of attention by Republicans could mean long-term Democratic control of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, all current or former key swing states.

Update: Ryan Grim reports that Republican lawmakers have been embarrassed into attending the HCC conference! That was quick.

Are the GOP's Blacks Getting Sloppy Seconds?

Black people never run out of conspiracy theories. This is because there's no way we could have ended up in this position without diabolical whites plotting against us all the time. Usually, the theories are either just plain paranoid (e.g. the CIA floods the inner city with crack) or perhaps better explained by other facts (maybe you're unemployed cuz you smoke dope in your mama's basement all day and not cuz The Man won't let a brother get ahead). But every now and then, they make me stop and go hmmm. Like this one. In the Daily Beast, Stanley Crouch writes:

"A fundamental aspect of black barbershop disparagement—what you might call a suspicion of things as they seem to be—is that white people never give any power toys over to black Americans until they are through with them. Or unless they are so rusty that only a fool could not see how far beyond repair those toys actually are."
"The people taking those positions are not defeatists, or do not think of themselves that way. Their sense of the world is not based in Frederick Douglass' observation that power does not give the opposition anything without a fight. They merely think that color rules are hard, fast, and very different. Power is never given or trusted in the hands of those who are not white."

He is, of course, talking about Michael Steele's so far disastrous run as RNC chair. One might even extend the theory to Barack Obama (remember the Onion's classic summation of his election.)

So, brothers get to run a country and a political party brought to its knees by rich white men. Whites get to sit back and throw stones while they try to clean up someone else's mess.

Hmmm...maybe we're not paranoid after all.

How to Make Cap-and-Trade Into a Bad Joke

Via Gristmill, I see that Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D–NM), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources committee, has decided to preemptively surrender on global warming:

Bingaman said any Congressionally developed system capping and trading emissions probably will include carbon allowances given to polluters like cement factories and coal-burning power plants, along with permits that are sold.

Auctioning 100 percent of the permits would essentially make polluters pay quickly for emissions. In the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, emissions permits were given away to polluters at first. This led to a glut of permits and windfall profits for some emitters.

...."I think it's unlikely we will pass a cap-and-trade bill with 100 percent auction," Bingaman told reporters at the Platts Energy Podium.  He said such a system has the risk of substantially increasing the burden on some utilities and major emitters.

There are lots of bells and whistles that you can add to a cap-and-trade plan: safety valves, circuit breakers, banking, offsets, and other buzzwords by the truckload.  Some are mostly good (banking), some are mostly bad (offsets), and some are in between (safety valves and circuit breakers).  All of them are things we should care about getting right, but they're also things where, inevitably, we're going to have to compromise.

Auctioning permits is different.  This is the one thing that ought to be a deal-breaker in any cap-and-trade plan.  I talk about this in my cap-and-trade piece in the print magazine this month:

4. There 's no such thing as a free permit. One of the key issues with any cap-and-trade system is how you allocate permits. Power plants would like to get them for free, and at first glance this seems appealing. If you set the overall carbon cap at 90 percent of current levels, and allocate only that number of permits, that should reduce carbon without raising prices for the consumer. After all, the power plants didn't have to pay for the permits, so there are no costs to pass along. Right?

Oddly enough, no. The economic theory involved is a little hairy, but those permits have a value on the open market, and that means that in many cases marginal producers can make more money selling their permits than by producing power. They'll only be willing to produce power if they can raise prices enough to make the power-producing business more profitable than the permit-selling business, and eventually everyone will jack up prices to follow suit.

This may sound abstract—even a bit fantastical—but it's absolutely real. In fact, when permits in phase one of Europe's ETS system were handed out for free, electricity prices rose and power companies pocketed a windfall profit (which Britain's Department of Trade and Industry estimated at about $1.1 billion a year in the UK alone). Dale Bryk, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), puts it bluntly: "If you ask them point-blank if they'll charge customers for free permits, they won't tell you. But they know they will."

A better way is for the government to hold an auction to set the price of permits. This has a couple of extremely salutary effects. First, it puts everyone on a level playing field (since Congress has no ability to allocate permits to favored interests). Second, and even better, the money from selling the permits goes to the federal government, not to the carbon emitters. That's a pretty useful revenue stream, one that would probably start out at about $20 to $30 billion per year and go up steadily as the cap came down and the price of carbon permits increased.

There are loads of special interests who hate the idea of a 100% auction, of course.  But once you start giving away permits, you'll never stop.  It is, plain and simple, a massive giveaway to existing power plants, and as the Europeans learned it makes a mockery of any serious cap-and-trade plan.

This all sounds very wonky, but it's a hill to die for if you care about reducing greenhouse gases.  Without a 100% auction, cap-and-trade is a bad joke.  Somebody needs to tell Bingaman to start listening to the coal lobby a little less and start caring about effective public policy a little more.

UPDATE: I was going to add something about the politics of this, but the post was already long so I decided to skip it.  Luckily, Matt Yglesias does it for me:

When you’re a Democratic Senator, you often face a conflict of interests. On the one hand, you would really like to sell out to anti-reform special interests. On the other hand, you can’t openly portray yourself as someone who wants to sell out. One appealing option is to do what Bingaman does here and just cite unspecified political obstacles. Not that the obstacles aren’t real. But in the U.S. Senate they’re also people, with names. But instead of naming names, Bingaman’s just offering the vagueness play. He’d love to do the right thing, but it’s “unlikely” to happen. And everyone can do this. Nobody needs to be the Senator who’s against a public plan in health care, or who’s against a 100 percent auction. Instead, everyone’s just being practical for the sake of someone else.

Quite so.