Happy Valentines Day

HAPPY VALENTINES DAY....Craig Childs defends the refinement and discrimination of pre-Columbian cultures in North America:

A thousand years ago, people in the Southwest had not invented the wheel, had no armies and relied on stone tools, which has marked them as uncivilized. They are imagined as cavemen. But the recent discovery of chocolate in a broken jar from pre-Columbian New Mexico might be enough to change that kind of thinking.

Consider it changed!  If chocolate isn't the mark of a great civilization, what is?

M.I.A. Has Baby Boy, Gets Called Terrorist

What a week. Singer M.I.A. has posted the news to her MySpace blog, as one does: she gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Wednesday, and he is apparently "the most amzing [sic] thing ever on this planet." Apparently my little joke about her giving birth on the Grammys last Sunday night wasn't far off, as the singer said in her own all-caps words:

SUNDAY NITE I CA M E HOME FROM THE GRAMMY'S STILL IN THE MOOD TO PARTY , I COUDA EASILY GONE OUT BUT I WENT HOME INSEAD , LUCKY I DID!! COZ MY EARLY STAGE LABOUR KICKED IN AROUND 2 AM.

Nothing like terrible lip-synching to induce labor. Anyway, they haven't told us a name, but congratulations to M.I.A. and babydaddy (can I say that?) Ben Brewer Bronfman, frontman for NYC combo The Exit; hopefully this will take their minds off the weird article in Tuesday's New York Times, which used the obligatory "some say" to accuse M.I.A. of being "an apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels fighting in the country's long-running civil war." The article didn't really have any new reporting other than quotes alleging she supports "perhaps the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world," and the Times itself calling her opinions a bit out there:

Which Reagan?

WHICH REAGAN?....Conservatives want Barack Obama to act more like Ronald Reagan.  Fred Kaplan asks, which one?

In his first term, from 1981-85, Reagan escalated East-West tensions, spoke in bellicose rhetoric, and jacked up military spending to 30-year highs. This is the Reagan whom Republican chieftains worship and insist that all subsequent presidents emulate. But in his second term, which coincided with Gorbachev's rise to power, Reagan flipped, making dramatic diplomatic overtures to Moscow and accepting equally dramatic proposals in turn.

Few remember, but many of the Republicans who now tout Reagan's accomplishments pummeled him at the time for "betraying" his followers and their Cold War ideology.

....When Republicans tell Obama to act more like Ronald Reagan, a suitable response might be: "Which one?"

Do I get a vote? How about neither? George Bush has just spent the past eight years pretending to be the first-term Reagan, so we hardly need a repeat of that. And the second-term Reagan was a clueless naif. I could do without that too. How about if we just let Obama be Obama instead?

Rush

RUSH....Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, here's his latest tirade against Barack Obama:

"I want everything he's doing to fail... I want the stimulus package to fail.... I do not want this to succeed."

Charming, no? I don't have a problem with Limbaugh wanting Obama to fail. That's just politics. But publicly rooting for the stimulus to fail and the economy to tank? Is there anyone in the conservative community who thinks that's taking things a wee bit too far? Or are they all OK with this?

Fairness Follies

FAIRNESS FOLLIES....For months conservatives have been nattering obsessively about how Democrats want to put their talk radio stars out of business by bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. It's ridiculous. Barack Obama says he's against it, there's no serious legislation pending, and there's no chance at all of any legislation passing. Given all that, then, it's pretty annoying to hear Bill Clinton hand the talking heads some free ammunition on the subject. Here's the Big Dog a couple of days ago:

Well, you either ought to have the Fairness Doctrine or we ought to have more balance on the other side, because essentially there's always been a lot of big money to support the right wing talk shows and let face it, you know, Rush Limbaugh is fairly entertaining even when he is saying things that I think are ridiculous....

I don't get it. Is there some kind of subtle three-cushion bank shot stategerizing going on here? Are we just trying to keep conservatives off balance over trivia? Or what? Because unless there's some serious movement afoot to repeal the Fairness Doctrine — and I don't think there is — Dems with big microphones really ought to just shut up about it.

The Opposition Opposes

THE OPPOSITION OPPOSES....Atrios says it's OK for the opposition party to oppose the president en masse:

I don't have a problem with Republicans who, on balance, wanted the bill to pass but still voted against it. I don't really think it's "cowardice" or whatever, they're simply making it clear that they're the opposition party. And that's a good thing! It's only in bizarro Broderville, combined with the annoying supermajority bits of the Senate, that anyone really thinks differently.

Basically, I agree. Both parties have an interest in differentiating themselves, and the best way to do that is to make the majority party responsible for its agenda.

But as Atrios also points out, there's one problem with this: "the annoying supermajority bits of the Senate."  A parliamentary system is fine if you have the machinery of a parliamentary system, in which the majority party has the power to pass its legislative program and then stands or falls based on how well it works out.  But it's not so fine if a party can win the presidency, the House, and the Senate by landslide majorities but still can't pass big parts of its program because it needs 60 votes in the Senate.

If Republicans want to adopt the party discipline features of a parliamentary system, fine.  But they also need to adopt the rest of the system as well.  The filibuster was never intended to become a routine requirement that all legislation needs 60% of the vote in the Senate to pass.  But that's what it's become.  It's time for reform.

Chart of the Day - 2.14.2009

CHART OF THE DAY....It's cold this year!  I guess that means global warming is a crock, right?

Even as a joke this is inane, but in case you want to see what's really happening this winter, here's a NASA chart of global temps for January.  As you can see, there are only two areas in the entire world that are colder than the 1951-1980 average: eastern Siberia and the American northeast, home to virtually the entire national press corps.  So naturally cold temps are getting lots of media play.  But, in fact, the rest of the world continues to be substantially warmer than in the recent past, and if you look at entire latitudes, even in this chilly month every single one is warmer than in the past.  It would be nice if global warming really were taking a break, but it's not.

CBO Scores the Stimulus – Part 2

CBO SCORES THE STIMULUS – PART 2....So how did the stimulus bill turn out?  Answer: according to the CBO, pretty well.  Their scoring of the original House bill is here, and their scoring of the final bill is here.  The bottom line for both bills is below: the original bill pumped out 64% of its money over the next 18 months, while the final bill pumps out 74%.

Now, the final bill has a different mix of taxes and spending, and it also has a bit less total spending than the original bill.  However, it has more spending in the next two fiscal years.  This frankly doesn't seem like a bad tradeoff.  All kvetching aside — and I've got a lot of the same kvetches as other liberals — the final bill really doesn't seem substantially worse than the original, and in some respects it's better.  Given the realities of the sausage factory, that's not bad.

Tar Sands Update

A year ago we were putting the final touches on Tar Wars, the story of a small-town physician who'd been threatened with sanctions from Canadian health authorities after announcing that pollution from Alberta's massive tar sands mines might be killing his patients in tiny Fort Chipewyan. A lot has happened since then. Just after the story appeared, the Alberta government opened an investigation into the town's health problems. Around the same time, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Leslie Iwerks read our story and was inspired to make "Downstream," a controversial documentary about the doctor, John O'Connor, which came out in December and was promptly short-listed for an Oscar.

This past week, Alberta health officials finally concluded their investigation and announced that Fort Chip suffered from a higher than expected cancer rate. They'd found 51 cancers in 47 people, compared to the 39 that were expected in the town of 1,200. They also reported two cases of cholangiocarcinoma, a rare-bile duct cancer that is normally found in one person out of 100,000. That's the same number of cases that the nurse at Fort Chip's health clinic had told me she could document, but more than the one case that the Alberta government had reported at the time and fewer than the five that O'Connor said he'd seen. Presumably, O'Connor's inability to document all five cholangiocarcinomas has been the root of the government's ongoing investigation into whether he raised "undue alarm" in the community. It now seems that the government's under-reporting of the cases should equally require it to investigate itself for undue complacency.

Despite the new findings, Fort Chip's small size and isolation--it's only accessible by plane or boat for much of the year--prevents biostaticians from easily saying that cancers are caused by more than chance. Still, our piece detailed many other reasons to finger tar sands pollution, and even the government's scientists are starting to sound worried: "We did find some soft signals (for concern)," investigator Tony Fields told the Edmonton Journal, adding that scientists would need to keep tabs on the town to see if the cancers were part of a trend. That's small comfort to the many Fort Chip locals who are convinced the tar sands are killing them.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama makes his first official visit to Canada, the U.S.' top supplier of foreign oil. Canadian officials want to propose a U.S.-Canada climate pact that would exempt the tar sands' greenhouse gas emissions (the sands is a big reason why Canada flunked its Kyoto targets). Obama will probably hear how the U.S. oil companies that are knee-deep in the capital-intensive sands stand to lose big bucks in the era of cheap gas and pricey carbon. Let's hope that's not all he hears. Tiny Fort Chip is the oldest settlement in Alberta, sits on the tar sands' doorstep, and is eager to put the brakes on development. Presumably, that should count for something.


UPDATE: Just in time for Obama's visit, the environmental group Forest Ethics has placed a full-page ad in USA Today tarring the tar sands. Meanwhile, the Canadian American Business Council, which includes ExxonMobil and Shell, is running full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post, and National Journal stressing that "Canada is poised to securely supply even more oil and natural gas to the U.S."

New "Red Hot" Comp Gets Indie

Dark Was the NightIn its many years of putting together albums to raise money for AIDS relief, the Red Hot organization has created some of the most memorable compilations of recent times. Their first effort, 1989's Red Hot & Blue, featuring contemporary artists covering Cole Porter, connected pop music past and present in a way that seems like standard practice now, but was eye-opening then. Later, 1993's No Alternative captured the exuberance and creative diversity of a moment, just before Kurt Cobain committed suicide, when it felt like some grungy kids with guitars might change the world. Since then, Red Hot CDs have celebrated samba, country, dance, and bossa nova (and raised a load of cash in the fight against AIDS), but their latest compilation may go down in history as capturing another moment. Dark Was the Night  features just about every indie band idolized by the Pitchfork generation: Arcade Fire, The National, Feist, Conor Oberst, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, Blonde Redhead, Bon Iver and Sharon Jones all contributed exclusive tracks to the compilation, along with over 20 others, and it's quite a collection. Thankfully, Red Hot has kept up with the times and made it easy to get a free internet taste. You can listen to a different song every day at their MySpace page, or you can go to their web site and make your own little blog widget with any three tracks. Check out mine after the jump.

Dark Was the Night is out Tuesday, February 17.