Pork

PORK....Here's the headline in today's Washington Post:

Despite Pledges, Package Has Some Pork

And the evidence?  $8 billion for high-speed rail, $2 billion for the lithium ion battery industry, $200 million for Filipino vets, and $100 million for small shipyards.  And if that all sounds oddly non-porcine to you, you're right:

None of the items in the sprawling $789 billion package are traditional earmarks — funding for a project inserted by a lawmaker bypassing the normal budgeting process — according to the White House and Democratic leaders....But many Republicans, anti-tax advocates and other critics argue that the final version of the bill is still larded with wasteful spending and dubious initiatives that will do little to create jobs or spur financial markets.

In other words, this isn't pork at all.  It's just normal spending — and after all, if you're going to have a stimulus bill you have to spend the money on something, don't you?  All this is, it turns out, is spending Republicans don't like.

So why does the Post collude with the GOP to pretend instead that this is pork, when their story admits just the opposite?  It is a mystery.

RSS Update

RSS UPDATE....Good news!  My RSS feed has been fixed.  Here's the URL:

http://www.motherjones.com/rss/blogs/Kevin+Drum/feed

This is feeding full posts, not just headlines. If you're still having problems with your reader (I use Google Reader and it's working fine), please let us know in comments.

I Can Hear You

I CAN HEAR YOU....Big Brother is not just watching you anymore, he's listening in too.  This is probably inevitable, but I still don't have to like it, do I?
The World Press Photo winners were announced today! One of the most prestigious photojournalism awards, this year's top prize went to Anthony Suau, for his photograph of an armed police officer moving through a foreclosed house. He shot the photo in March 2008 for Time.

Anthony Suau for TimeAnthony Suau for Time

Quote of the Day - 02.13.09

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, on Sarah Palin:

"She was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall."

Indeed.  Which is why I can hardly wait for her to talk herself into running again in 2012.

Obama Drops Family Planning From Stimulus

If you think it was hard to push out the $787 billion stimulus package, try birthing a child without health care or living with HPV. Though the package bodes well for environmentalists, in order to lure Republicans—none of whom have signed on yet—Obama stripped it of a handful of important provisions on women, STD prevention, and children's services.

Specifically, Obama cut $25 million to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces and $150 million to the Violence Against Women Act at the suggestion of Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). Also stripped from the stimulus package was a section that would allow states to cover family planning services—without first obtaining a government waiver, as is the current practice—for low-income women who are ineligible for Medicaid. A Congressional Budget Office report estimates that this bill would have saved the country $200 million over five years and $700 million over the next ten.

STDs were apparently another sore spot for Republicans, so Obama ended up taking out $335 million for STD prevention. According to the CDC, STDs cost the health care system $15.3 billion per year, and we're expected to spend $12.3 billion on HIV/AIDS-related care in 2009. You do the math.


Update: Three Republican Senators—Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania—supported the bill.

Why Gregg?

WHY GREGG?....I don't know what really happened to cause Judd Gregg to withdraw his nomination as Commerce Secretary.  It's absurd for him to say that he hadn't really thought through the consequences of the stimulus package, which was by far the biggest story in Washington at the time he was nominated, and he claims the census kerfuffle was trivial.  So what was it?

Who knows?  But I'm sort of curious about the other side of this nomination too.  What was Obama thinking?  It's one thing to nominate a moderate conservative like Ray LaHood, or pragmatists like Jim Jones and Robert Gates, but Gregg is a full-blown dyed-in-the-wool fiscal conservative.  He's not a crank, but he's not within light years of finding common ground with a liberal Democratic president either.

So why did Obama nominate him?  Does he just not care about the Commerce Department?  Or did he really think that somehow this could work out?  The more I think about it, the stranger it seems.

When the stimulus package hits President Obama's desk, it will include a provision banning bailed-out banks from replacing laid-off American workers with skilled foreigners.

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed the ban, which would last two years. Their proposal came a few weeks after the Associated Press reported banks that had received $150 billion in bailout money requested work visas for nearly 22,000 foreign workers during the last six years, a move Sanders called "absurd."

Nationalization

Matthew Richardson and Nouriel Roubini argue in the Washington Post today that the U.S. banking system is insolvent to the tune of $400 billion, and nationalization is the only answer.  Here's their advice:

First, and this is by far the toughest step, determine which banks are insolvent. Geithner's stress test would be helpful here. The government should start with the big banks that have outside debt, and it must determine which are solvent and which aren't in one fell swoop to avoid panic. Otherwise, bringing down one big bank will start an immediate run on the equity and long-term debt of the others. It will be a rough ride, but the regulators must stay strong. Second, immediately nationalize insolvent institutions....Third, once an institution is taken over, separate its assets into good and bad ones....Fourth, merge all the remaining bad assets into one enterprise. ....Basically, we're all Swedes now. We have used all our bullets, and the boogeyman is still coming. Let's pull out the bazooka and be done with it.

I expect this to become a pretty mainstream opinion over the next few weeks, and once Geithner's stress testing is finished he's going to come under tremendous pressure to make the results public and do exactly what Richardson and Roubini suggest.  Pretty soon, even America's bankers will be capitalists, whether they like it or not.

The hot pink press packet that arrived at the office promised that "Your boyfriend doesn't need to know." What doesn't your boyfriend need to know? Well, that you eat chocolate, of course. That's between you and your "chocolate finger," as the marketing copy termed the two Twix-like bars being rolled out in the US by Mars under the name "Fling." (The candy's been out in Australia since 2007.)

In addition to tapping into the under-utilized market of paranoid heterosexual women whose eating habits are monitored by their boyfriends (it's a well-documented fact that lesbians hate candy), Mars has shrewdly incorporated sparkles into an advertising campaign that relies heavily on women's love for the color pink. (Fling's website is a tidal wave of the color, punctuated with silhouettes of short-skirted, high-heeled Fling aficionados, one of whom appears to have a handbag falling right out of her vagina.) While it's a given that women are more likely to buy things when they are pink, such as tools and cars, sparkles are oft ignored. It's not just Fling's website that sparkles, but the bar itself. "The shimmer," reads the FAQ on Fling's website, "is actually a [sic] FDA approved mineral called Mica, that shimmers and is used occasionally by specialty chocolatiers to add a unique and attractive sparkle to gourmet chocolate." Popularly known as Vitamin S (for Sparkle), Mica is also used in makeup, and in toothpaste, where it acts as a mild abrasive that helps whiten teeth. Yum!

Predictably, one of the hot selling points for the Fling bar is that "at under 85 calories per finger, it's slim, but not skinny. Indulgent but not greedy. Naughty but nice." In other words, the candy perfectly straddles the contradictions of the angel/whore dilemma in a way its intended female consumers never will. The bars were even promoted in Australia with a 2007 television commercial in which a princess bids a morning adieu to her prince in what can only be read as a post-one-night-stand kiss-off, before shutting the door and gobbling up a Fling. "Forever is overrated," warbles a flock of cartoon birds. While it's tempting to embrace the commercial as a sign of society's acceptance of sexually empowered women, it's even more tempting to wonder why the only reason one ever sees a woman on-screen go unpunished for her libidinous ways is when someone is trying to sell women something. The commercial hasn't been attached to any of the US marketing, but the ad copy is just as suggestive. The PR packages that went out to media outlets contained sheer T-shirts that read "Try It In Public," equating the act of women consuming sweets in front of other people with being as taboo as committing sex acts in front of them. Couple this with the oppressive pinkness of the campaign, and one is left wondering when marketers will figure out that in order to make women buy things, they do not have to, literally, shove sparkles down their throats.