No Bailout

NO BAILOUT....Senate Republicans have scuttled the auto bailout bill. Apparently Democrats and the UAW had agreed to deep wage cuts and work rule changes, but it still wasn't enough:

The automakers would [] have been required to cut wages and benefits to match the average hourly wage and benefits of Nissan, Toyota and Honda employees based in the United States, and the companies would have to impose equivalent work rules.

It was over this proposal that the talks ultimately deadlocked with Republicans demanding that the automakers meet that goal by a certain date in 2009 and Democrats and the union urging that the deadline wait until 2011 when the U.A.W. contract expires.

This is nuts. If you're just flatly against the bailout, fine. Vote against it. But if the wage cuts, along with the debt-for-equity swap that was also part of the bill, were enough to bring you around, why would you cavil at the cuts happening in 2011 instead of the end of 2009? It's only about an 18 month difference, and cutting wages makes a lot more sense in 2011 than it does in the middle of a massive recession anyway.

Another shining moment in the history of the modern GOP. Ideology uber alles.

Saving Detroit

SAVING DETROIT....Earlier this morning the auto bailout bill seemed destined for failure, but later in the day Harry Reid and Sen. Bob Corker (R–Tenn.) were busy trying to patch together one final effort at compromise:

As Reid spoke, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives from Detroit's Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers union were meeting one floor below in the ceremonial Foreign Relations Committee Room, trying to broker an 11th-hour deal to save the rescue package.

....Corker today put forward a plan that would impose far more stringent auto industry restructuring standards than the House bill. It would reduce the wages and benefits of union workers at domestic car manufacturers by requiring the total labor costs of GM and Chrysler to be "on par" with those in non-union U.S. plants of foreign automakers such as Toyota and Honda.

OK, but I have one question: Is Corker also insisting that the total labor costs of GM's white collar management staff be on on par with those of Toyota and Honda? Just curious.

ProPublica: Bush's Presidency, Harper's Index-style

From ProPublica:

Number of Illegal immigrants deported in 2001: 110,000. In 2008: 350,000.

Number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in 2000: 2.2 million. In 2007: 21.8 million

Number of personnel who process FOIA requests in 2000: 5,378. In 2007: 5,367

It's pretty grim reading. But it confirms that we were right to throw that particular bum out.

[Also, speaking of ProPublica, check out their nifty 'Degrees of Hank Paulson' interactive game while you're there.]

Obama and Afghanistan

OBAMA AND AFGHANISTAN....Michael Crowley talks to counterinsurgency guru John Nagl after a visit to Afghanistan:

Winning in Afghanistan, he realized, would take more than "a little tweak," as he put it to me from back in Washington a few weeks later, when he was still shaking off the gritty "Kabul crud" that afflicts traveler's lungs. It would take time, money, and blood. "It's a doubling of the U.S. commitment," Nagl said. "It's a doubling of the Afghan army, maybe a tripling. It's going to require a tax increase and a bigger army."

....Nagl's rule of thumb, the one found in the counterinsurgency manual, calls for at least a 1-to-50 ratio of security forces to civilians in contested areas....By Nagl's ratio, Afghanistan's population calls for more than 600,000 security forces. Even adjusting for the relative stability of large swaths of the country, the ideal number could still total around 300,000 — more than a quadrupling of current troop levels. Eventually, Afghanistan's national army could shoulder most of that burden. But, right now, those forces number a ragtag 60,000, a figure Nagl believes will need to at least double and maybe triple.

So how's that ragtag force coming? Joe Klein reports on his visit with British Lieutenant Colonel Graeme Armour in Helmand province last week:

Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh."

....The war in Afghanistan — the war that President-elect Barack Obama pledged to fight and win — has become an aimless absurdity....The far more serious problem is Pakistan, a flimsy state with illogical borders, nuclear weapons and a mortal religious enmity toward India, its neighbor to the south. Pakistan is where bin Laden now lives, if he lives.

This has now become conventional wisdom: the real problem is Pakistan. So far, however, in the same way that plans for rescuing General Motors rely mostly on handwaving about "restructuring," plans for solving the Pakistan problem rely mostly on handwaving about "getting tough." Unfortunately, hardnosed details on how this is actually going to work are pretty thin on the ground. If Obama wants public support for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, his national security team better start providing those details pretty quickly.

Golden Globe Nominations: Huh?

mojo-photo-goldenglobes2.jpgThe always-good-for-a-laugh Hollywood Foreign Press Association put out their Golden Globe nominations today, and while elevating a few interesting choices, they overlooked a few things that make one scratch one's head. First up, Milk had been scoring some critics' awards, but apparently didn't impress the HFPA, snagging only one nod for Sean Penn. His co-star, James Franco, got a nomination as well, but not for Milk--for Pineapple Express. You heard me. Other notable shutouts include WALL-E, coming off its recent LA film critics win for "best film" with only an animation nod, and The Dark Knight, making a last-minute promotional push for some awards, but also receiving only one, a posthumous nomination for Heath Ledger. Well, I hated that movie.

After the jump: more mockery, and what did Mick LaSalle think?

Powered By Java: Me & My Car

800px-A_small_cup_of_coffee.JPG Looking for a spare 340 million gallons of biodiesel? Waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks. Spent grounds contain 11-20 percent oil by weight—about the same as rapeseed, palm, and soybean oil. Growers already produce more than 16 billion pounds of coffee yearly and the spent grounds generally wind up in the trash.

To see if that oil from those grounds is worth putting into your diesel tank, researchers from the U of Nevada collected separated the oil from the grounds and used an inexpensive process to convert 100 percent of it into biodiesel.

The result: a coffee-based fuel that actually smells like java. Mmmm. Plus it's more stable than traditional biodiesel due to the coffee's high antioxidant content. The solids left over from the conversion process can be converted to ethanol or used as compost. The researchers estimate the process could make a profit of >$8 million a year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide it could produce 340 million gallons of biodiesel annually. The team plans to develop a pilot plant in the next eight months.

The study appears in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Drink it up. Wake up your car.

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.

I think Ben Smith gets this exactly right:

Bill Clinton, former aides say, worked hard for his Cabinet that "looks like America," and reached outside the normal establishment channels for some of his picks. George W. Bush, reaching into a less diverse GOP, did the same in some cases.
Sixteen years later, Obama hasn't had make any apparent special effort to avoid having a cabinet dominated by white guys: People like Susan Rice, Steven Chu, Eric Shinseki, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Janet Napolitano, and Eric Holder are obvious choices, with their own power bases, relationships with Obama, and/or establishment credentials -- some earned at high levels of the Clinton administration -- that the notion of a special effort to ensure diversity at the top level of this administration seems sort of irrelevant.

It's true. All of the appointees Smith lists are minorities or women, but they are so accomplished and talented that no one has dared called them affirmative action picks. They mirror Obama in that way.

In my short article on things Bush got right (did I mention it's a short article?), I noted that Bush put together the most diverse executive branch team in history. Obama's will rival his but may not top it. The important point, though, is that Bush's cabinet secretaries and aides performed so poorly that it almost felt like W. was making a high-stakes argument against affirmative action. He didn't know it, but in actuality he was making a high-stakes argument against prioritizing loyalty over competence. See Gonzales and Miers in that regard.

Kanye West "Exposed"!

mojo-photo-kanyewestred.jpgOkay, I hate when blogs do that, i.e., use cheeky misleading headlines to grab your attention. But a) we need some clicks over here on the Riff and b) that's what they said. Urb magazine has a link to a homemade video somebody's put together (YouTube user "Jonay122"?) detailing the sample source for just about every single Kanye West song ever. Now, "exposed" is misleading since, like most hip-hop, Kanye's use of samples isn't meant to be a secret, but an open recontextualisation. However, this video extends all the way to the recent 808s and Heartbreak album, which I had thought was just Kanye fooling around on the drum machine, sans samples, but it turns out I'm wrong--it's chock full of references as well. Either way, even if you're aware of the source for the robot voices in "Stronger," this is an interesting (if long--10 minutes!!) video. Ultimately, one comes away from it with the sense that the only thing that's been exposed about Kanye West is that the dude has a really big record collection. Watch it after the jump.

Spin, Rolling Stone Release Best Album Lists

mojo-photo-stonespincovers.jpgWith most of the recent publications to announce their "Best Albums of 2008" located, er, somewhere north of France, the lists have been heavy on stuff Brits like, most notably Elbow and Kings of Leon (i.e., dad-rock and a weird parody of Southern rock that I guess feels exotic to them). Now, finally, we have some American opinions to criticize! Our two big music mags, Spin and Rolling Stone, put out their lists today and yesterday, respsectively, and they're both okay as lists go, with Spin's a step up, naturally. Both New York-based mags put New York-based combo TV on the Radio at their #1 slot, and while I can't say enough good things about that band, the approaching-unanimous critical adulation is kind of creeping me out. Rolling Stone's list gets crazy after that, with the old, old white dudes who work at that magazine asserting their paleness via Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Metallica in the Top 10, and Guns N' Roses hovering just outside it at #12. Blergh! Why do people let them get away with that? Spin gets closer to the truth with Portishead, Deerhunter and Santogold, although how anyone could be tricked into putting Coldplay in their list is beyond me.

Anyway, I'll post the definitive Best Albums list on Monday, so stay tuned for that! Spin and Rolling Stone's Top 10s after the jump.

Not sure what to get the godless on your holiday shopping list? Some suggestions:

"Fine…I evolved. You didn't" bumper sticker.

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Also Available:
"I'm the Atheist Your Pastor Warned You About"
bumper sticker.

"Top 10 Reasons Beer is Better Than Jesus" beer mug:

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For atheists and beer-lovers alike.

Jesus Action Figure

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Bonus: Also works as an un-ironic gift for religious friends.

Happy shopping, heathens!