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The Best Singles of 2008

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 11:42 AM EST

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What a bonkers year for singles. The undisputed heavyweight champion song of the year, with the magical combo of hipster cred and unexpected popular appeal, is, inarguably, copyright 2007, so any replacement #1 will necessarily feel kind of anticlimactic. I suppose it's stretching it to include MGMT as well, but everybody else is, so I'm going to look the other way. It's a mess. To be honest, I finally settled on 20 great songs and then scrambled the order until it looked right. What emerged on top was at first a surprise, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense: it's a convention-smashing ode to staking a claim on your future, no matter what the haters say.

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In Defense of Caroline Kennedy

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 11:40 AM EST

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Over at his blog, Kevin Drum joins "the almost unanimous blogosphere consensus" that New York Gov. David Paterson should appoint someone other than Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat:

Rich and famous people already have a huge leg up when it comes to winning political office, but at least they still have to run and win. Appointing them instead so they can avoid the whole messy business of engaging in a campaign is just a little too Habsburgian for my taste.

That's fair enough. In general, I agree: appointing the scion of a political dynasty to political office reeks of royalism. But let me play the devil's (or Kennedy's) advocate. The Senate, and especially the Senate in New York, seems to me to be a special case. Each state gets two senators, regardless of population. That means most states are tremendously overrepresented in the Senate, but a few big ones, like California and New York, are hugely underrepresented. (David Sirota pointed out last year that senators representing just 11% of the US population represent enough votes for a filibuster—allowing the representatives of a small fraction of the country's population to block just about anything.) Since every senator gets one vote in the Senate, big states can only really compensate for their underrepresentation in two ways: with seniority (which Clinton's replacement won't have in any case) and celebrity (which Kennedy has in spades).

Why does celebrity help? Well, for one, it gives you a more effective bully pulpit. The national media is more likely to cover Sen. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) than someone that nobody outside of the state has ever heard of. Caroline's celebrity status will garner her instant press attention, regardless of her actual abilities. Press attention magnifies your attacks on your opponents and amplifies your message.

Maybe New York's underrepresentation problem doesn't outweigh the arguments against Kennedy's candidacy. Not everyone gets to be powerful in the Senate by virtue of being a bonafide political celebrity beforehand, Hillary Clinton-style, or by racking up seniority, like Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, built up his power base by raising enormous amounts of campaign cash for his fellow Democrats. (Of course, celebrity helps with fund-raising, too.) In any case, New York is in big trouble, and I'm not sure it has time to wait for a new senator to earn power. Big states like Ohio and Michigan were certainly regretting the Senate's bizarre one-state, two-votes structure after the auto bailout failed. When New York needs a high-profile Senator to rail against small state obstructionists preventing the next, say, Wall Street rescue, will New Yorkers regret not having a Kennedy in their camp?

Inflation

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 11:29 AM EST

INFLATION....The consumer price index fell last month, but this was mostly due to falling oil prices, so it's no big deal. It's a good thing, in fact. Remove oil prices and inflation was up very slightly, perhaps 0.1% or so.

That's worryingly close to zero, and that's a much bigger deal, especially since we're still in the early days of this recession. If prices fall any further, we're in deflation territory, and that would be dismal indeed. So as much as I dislike the auto bailout on its merits, this would not be a good time to let GM go under. Nor is it a good time to cavil about federal stimulus spending or to force state governments to slash expenditures. So tell me again: how many days are there until January 20th? It would be nice to have an actual president again.

China Jumps To Hybrid

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 8:11 PM EST

277211.jpg China's first mass-produced hybrid electric car hit the market today. The car is made by BYD Auto and backed by Warren Buffett who owns 9.9 percent of the company. The F3DM (if you say so, C-3PO) can be charged from powerpoints at home or at electric car charging stations. That's a first for mass produced. The hybrid runs 62 miles on a full battery and costs under $22,000 dollars.

BYD Auto says it doesn't expect the F3DM will succeed with Chinese customers initially because of the high price, reports AFP. Instead the company is focusing on sales to company fleets. The strategy is to leapfrog past traditional cars—where Chinese technology lags badly—straight to hybrids.

Smart strategy. Remind me again why exactly we're bailing out our own loser car companies? BYD already specialized in producing rechargeable batteries and only started making cars in 2003 when it bought a bankrupt state-owned car company. Since then it's beaten Toyota and General Motors to the punch as those companies won't launch home-chargeable hybrids cars before 2009 and 2010 respectively. Can't we leapfrog past the traditional car companies straight to hyperdrive mass transit? Can't we, as the Chinese say, transform the current mass chaos into mass opportunity?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the PEN USA Literary Award, the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal.

Question of the Day

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 7:22 PM EST

QUESTION OF THE DAY....From professor Henry Farrell, responding to Robert Samuelson's latest maunderings in the Washington Post:

Should people pretend to take this sort of horseshit seriously?

Well? Should they? Argument for the affirmative: if you don't respond, horseshit takes on a life of its own because no one ever knocked it down. It may be an unwelcome task, but someone has to do it. Argument for the negative: Serious debate merely gives horseshit a stature it doesn't deserve. Laughing at it is much more effective.

Anyway, Samuelson's argument in today's column is that poor people have powerful advocates just like rich people, and he then suggests that the techno-wonks at the CBPP have the same kind of clout as, say, the Club for Growth. This is indeed laughable, but Larry Bartels tells us that it's even more laughable than you think:

I know of two systematic attempts to measure the relative influence of affluent, middle-class, and poor people on government policy. One is in the next-to-last chapter of Unequal Democracy, where senators' roll call votes are moderately strongly affected by the preferences of high-income constituents, less strongly affected by the preferences of middle-income constituents, and totally unaffected by the preferences of low-income constituents. That's the more optimistic view. My Princeton colleague Marty Gilens (in a 2005 article in Public Opinion Quarterly and a book-in-progress) has a parallel analysis focusing on aggregate poilcy shifts over two decades. He also finds no discernible impact of low-income preferences, but argues that middle-class people also get ignored when they happen to disagree with rich people.

Italics mine. So: mockery or wonkery? Which works better? Leave your vote in comments.

Dark Cloud Watch

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 6:53 PM EST

DARK CLOUD WATCH....AP reports on Barack Obama's timetable for releasing a review of his staff's internal conversations with the comically corrupt Rod Blagojevich:

Spokesman Dan Pfeiffer [] said the office won't release details of its review until the week of Dec. 22 at the request of prosecutors "in order not to impede their investigation of the governor."

That's Christmas week, when few people will be paying attention and when Obama plans to be celebrating the holiday in Hawaii.

Those crafty Obamaites! They somehow got legendary straight arrow Patrick Fitzgerald to request that they release their report when no one would be paying attention.

Now, I don't have any evidence for this, but I'm pretty sure the Obama team must have gotten to Fitzgerald somehow. There's going to be a dark cloud of suspicion over his head until he accounts for this.

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No Royalty, Please

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 6:40 PM EST

NO ROYALTY, PLEASE....From the New York Times today:

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of an American political dynasty, has decided to pursue the United States Senate seat being vacated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a person told of her decision said on Monday....Ms. Kennedy will ask Gov. David A. Paterson of New York to consider her for the appointment, according to the person told of her decision.

For what it's worth, I'd like to join the almost unanimous blogosphere consensus that Paterson should choose someone else. Rich and famous people already have a huge leg up when it comes to winning political office, but at least they still have to run and win. Appointing them instead so they can avoid the whole messy business of engaging in a campaign is just a little too Habsburgian for my taste.

Needless to say, I've got nothing against Kennedy. But appointing her to the Senate just isn't the right thing to do.

Johnny Marr Quashes Smiths Reunion Rumor

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 4:07 PM EST

mojo-photo-oldsmiths.jpgOr, "William, It Was Really Nothing." Ahem. Reports emerged late last week that The Smiths were possibly maybe "on the verge" of a reunion, after lead singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr "settled their differences." The UK Telegraph was reporting that "industry sources believe that a comeback could be imminent." While just about every other band who ever broke up has already reunited, long-suffering Smiths fans likely didn't get their hopes up (mostly because Smiths fans don't really have any hopes to get up) and our abject cynicism and unfettered pessimism was proven right once again, as Marr has forcefully denied the rumors of a reunion to NME:

Marr issued a statement to NME.COM saying that rumours floating around that the band were reuniting were "untrue". He declared: "The stories circulating about a Smiths reunion are, as usual, untrue." Marr added he was committed to his current band The Cribs. "I'm currently very excited about writing and recording with The Cribs for a new album to be released next summer and we're playing shows in February, so going back in time isn't in my plans," he said.

Considering your musical promiscuousness post-Smiths, I'm sure The Cribs totally believe you.

Paranoia at Big Coal Headquarters (Video)

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:26 PM EST

There's an awful lot that is crazy about this speech by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest coal company in the country, and member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He says "greeniacs" are trying to take over the country. He says that people who disagree with his retrograde views on global warming and energy (climate change doesn't exist, duh) are "communists" and "atheists." He compares the editors of a newspaper that has criticized him to Osama bin Laden.

But my favorite part is when Blankenship suggests that somehow third world countries have got themselves in their unfortunate states by trying too hard to conserve energy and live sustainably.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China and India in the last year or two, and I can tell you, that's the first stage. You go from having your own car to carpooling to, you know, riding the bus to mass transit. You eventually get to where you're walking. And your apartments go from being nice apartments and homes with your own bathroom, to sharing bathrooms and kitchens with four families.

Whatever you say, chief. Here are the highlights; they're an excellent view into the thinking of the far Right. More video is over at the NRDC.

Always Look Under the Hood

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:17 PM EST

ALWAYS LOOK UNDER THE HOOD....Some good advice from Dean Baker. When a news article tells you that industrial production fell "less than expected," check to see if that's only because the previous month's numbers have been revised downward:

There are often large revisions to prior months' data. A large fall from an upward revision can leave us in a much better place than a small fall from a downward revision. If the new information in the report is that things were much worse last month than we had thought, we have limited grounds to celebrate when we say that they have not worsened too much further in the current month.

The data show that November's manufacturing output is down 1.4 percent from October's level, which was in turn revised down by 0.5 percent from the previously reported level. Over the last three months, manufacturing output has fallen at a 17.8 percent annual rate. That is not good news.

No, it sure doesn't sound like good news to me. On the other hand, if we let GM go under we'll all be pining away for the days of a mere 17.8% decline.