Books on Paper

I got my Kindle in early March and I haven't read a book printed on actual paper since then.  Today, however, Eric Boehlert's Bloggers on the Bus came in the mail, all bound and printed on genuine dead trees.  And it looks definitely worth reading.  But it's going to feel so weird....

From a Washington Post story about wage cutbacks:

Members and employees of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra are bracing for more hard times. The orchestra has had to contend with a $1.5 billion debt....The musicians were furloughed, and the administrative staff, including Johnson, took a 20 percent pay cut. The two moves saved the VSO about $500,000.

Not bad!  At that rate they should have their debt paid off in another 3,000 years.

I know I'm being sort of prickish for even bringing this up, but seriously: at least one reporter and two editors worked on this piece, and apparently none of them were taken aback by the idea of a regional orchestra being $1.5 billion in debt.  At any rate, not taken aback enough to wonder idly if maybe it was $1.5 million instead.  Sheesh.

Out of Power

Matt Yglesias notes that even Republican members of Congress in razor-close swing districts voted unanimously against Barack Obama's budget:

These are not people who can count on the angry anti-Obama minority to win elections for them. And John Boehner has little in the way of favors to hand out, while Nancy Pelosi is in a position to give them something to take back to their district at home in exchange for acquiring a veneer of bipartisan cover. And yet not a one of them — nor even a single House Republicans nationwide — could be induced to vote for the Obama Recovery Act or the Obama budget plan. It’s impressive. My best guess is that the Club for Growth has really put the fear of God into everyone, but maybe there’s more to it.

There's another side to this too.  Basically, these votes are freebies: both the stimulus bill and the budget plan were obviously going to pass the House by wide margins, so Republican votes really didn't matter.  This means GOP members of Congress could cast a base-pleasing no vote without having to worry that their vote might actually derail anything and come back to haunt them.  Being utterly out of power may be a bummer, but I suppose it has its occasional bright spots too.

In the previous post, Dean Baker noted that Social Security payments went up considerably last quarter because they're based on inflation measurements that included the big runup in gasoline prices through mid-2008 but not their subsequent fall.  Needless to say, though, there's a flip side to that:

For the first time in more than three decades, Social Security recipients will not get any increase in their benefits next year, federal forecasts show.

.... The forecasts, by the Obama administration and the Congressional Budget Office, indicate that Social Security beneficiaries will not receive any cost-of-living increase in 2010 or in 2011.

This certainly won't help whatever recovery we manage to start eking out next year.

Thursday's miserable GDP number supposedly included a bit of good news: personal consumption was up 2.2%.  Yay consumers!  Something didn't quite add up, though, but after looking at the numbers for a few minutes I got distracted by something else and never came back to it.  Luckily, Dean Baker did:

Many pointed to this rise as an increase in consumer confidence.

Okay, so how does this increase in confidence fit with the rise in the savings rate from 3.2 percent to 4.2 percent?....Higher consumption can't be explained by rising income either. Income fell in the first quarter. So, where does higher consumption come from?

The answer to the mystery is lower taxes and higher transfers, most importantly the big cost of living increase in Social Security payments that seniors got this year. (The cost of living adjustment is based on the 3rd quarter CPI compared with the prior year. This included the run-up in gas prices, but not the subsequent fall.)

So there you have it.  Not really especially encouraging news, after all.  Atrios has another big reason to be pessmistic about the economy over at his place.  And I'm still waiting for Eastern Europe to implode.  Did somebody say "green shoots"?

Gary Kamiya, at Salon, thinks so and I agree. Obama has said virtually nothing about race in his first 100 days and I, for one, am glad he both chose not to and wasn't forced to by events. The simple existence of that magical family in the White House, with all our sappiness about Michelle's clothes and the new puppy, has given us all a chance to exhale. It's given us all a chance to be hopeful that we really are on the path, however potholed, to color blindness.

New poll data show that:

"two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good, and the percentage of blacks who say so has doubled since last July... ."

Big, big improvement. Follow up interviews make it plain that Obama is the reason Americans have gone all kumbayah. But Kamiya gets it right when he muses that:

...it also seems to me that a big part of the reason that Americans are feeling better about race is because of how Obama has handled the subject -- or rather, not handled it. Obama has assiduously avoided the subject of race. His silence has allowed his actions and character to take center stage, rather than the color of his skin. We are a country used to talking endlessly about race but not doing anything about it. Obama is doing exactly the opposite. He is not talking about race, but that very fact, combined with his high popularity, has advanced racial harmony more than any utterance could do. His silence sends exactly the right message, the message preached by Jesus, Martin Luther King and every other apostle of human equality: The accidents of race, ethnicity gender and class do not define us.

It's maddening that minorities are still forced to go on reassuring whites that, once in power, we don't immediately don dashikis and commence to getting even. It's also necessary. No doubt Obama will smack headfirst into race before much longer. Here's hoping his instincts remain as finely honed when he does.

(And when he is ready 'to go there,' I vote for this symbolic act.)

Ok, maybe it's more of a brow lift.

From ProPublica today:

Our ever-watchful ChangeTracker tool spied a flurry of activity at whitehouse.gov yesterday—the administration updated more than two dozen web pages. Changes included some sweeping edits and complete rewrites to "The Agenda" area of the site, now renamed as "Issues."

I guess "Issues" sounds better. But check this out:

The Iraq page was deleted and replaced with a single paragraph on the foreign policy page.
Like many issues pages the civil rights page was dramatically cut. 756 words devoted to supporting the LGBT community have been replaced with two sentences.

Read more on ProPublica about that.

And if you haven't played with this yet, check out ProPublica's ChangeTracker. It's a nifty web tool that, you guessed it, tracks changes—to whitehouse.gov and a few other gov sites. Even cooler: They tell you how to create your own change tracker for any site you like.

Just how politicized will the choice of the next Supreme Court Justice get? Watch David Corn and Voto Latino's Maria Teresa Petersen debate that and other flashpoint issues on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews tonight. Video below.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Just because you're unemployed and facing a retirement in gut-wrenching poverty doesn't mean you don't deserve a vacation. Pack the Igloo with bologna sandwiches and take the kids to learn more about how we got ourselves into this mess.

1. The Museum of American Finance, New York—The nation's only museum dedicated to "celebrating the spirit of entrepreneurship and the democratic free market." Admission includes willing suspension of disbelief.  Please check explosives at the door. And for $37, buy "Look Out Wall Street! The Stock Market Board Game," probably the safest way to play the market these days.

2. The Hobo Museum, Britt, Iowa—Visitors learn the difference between a hobo and a bum, along with tips on evading railroad police and building a bindle. The annual Hobo Convention is held the second weekend in August.  Be careful riding the rails to town, or you'll end up in the Hobo Cemetery.

Round 1: Smart turbine blades improve wind power. That's the hope of researchers using sensors and computational software to constantly monitor forces on wind turbine blades and rapidly adjust to changing wind conditions. Engineers at Purdue U and Sandia National Laboratories believe a smarter turbine can also provide critical real-time information to prevent damage from high winds.

The sensor-embedded blades are now being tested at a USDA lab in Texas. The sensors will help develop future blades with control surfaces and simple flaps capable of changing the aerodynamics, something like an airplane wing. The US is now the largest harvester of wind energy in the world, surpassing Germany. But the question remains: How to make wind energy safer for birds and bats. We need smart tech on that too.

Round 2: Some 70 percent of rural households in India lacks electricity and more than 60 percent use kerosene lamps for lighting. Kerosene is expensive, inefficient, potentially dangerous, and a major source of greenhouse gases. On the other hand, India averages 250 to 300 sunny days a year. Solar could provide a greater equivalence of energy than the country’s total consumption.

The nonprofit Sadguru Foundation supplied 100 solar lanterns to socially and economically disadvantaged households in 25 Gujarati villages, 70 percent of which are connected to the power grid but don’t receive power in the morning or evening when energy is redirected to cities. The lanterns reduced villagers’ expenditures on kerosene and electricity between $150 and $250 a year. That particularly benefited schoolchildren and women who received six hours of clean dependable light during times at home they really need it. Seems like an idea worth growing.

Round 3: As I wrote some time back, the Pacific nation of Tuvalu—all nine coral atolls of it—is suffering from rising sea levels. Now boingboing via Wreck & Salvage reports that Internet domain registrar GoDaddy is advising against buying a .net domain name. Why? Because Tuvalu owns and leases all .tv names—its country code. Don't buy, says GoDaddy, "because it’s sinking." Which floats the question: What becomes of the meager resources of a tiny nation when and if that nation no longer has any landmass to call its own? Maybe if we allocate enough of Round 1 & 2 (above), when Tuvalu does inevitably disappear beneath the waves, there will be a clean new homeland thay can still call .tv.