Conventional Wisdom Watch

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM WATCH....Wednesday's CW: The stimulus bill is doomed! We're all gonna die!

Thursday's CW: It'll pass by Friday, with a few modest changes. Happy days!

You could get whiplash from stuff like this. Hopefully today's CW is the right one.

Earthquake in China Caused by Dam After All?

In September I questioned the theory going around that the devastating  Sichuan province earthquake in May was caused by the Three Gorges Dam. The idea was inspired by research out of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska in 1999 (long before Three Gorges was built) that said that the weight of the water held back by the dam could cause "reservoir-induced seismicity." The problem with Probe International's charge was that the fact that Three Gorges happens to be 400 miles from the epicenter. But now scientists have found that a closer dam might have contributed to tectonic shifts of the 7.9 variety, that its several hundred million tons of water would have put "25 times" the stress of natural tectonic movements on the fault line.

That the dam involved is not the controversial Three Gorges doesn't lessen the consequence here: an earthquake caused by a man-made dam means the government has to answer, at least in part, for 80,000 deaths.

The Legacy of Public Investment

Not only is infrastructure investment an excellent way to stimulate the economy, it creates lasting projects that serve America for decades. Salon has a slideshow up that shows some of the well-known American institutions created with federal money during the New Deal. See how many you've been to or used. They include: the Lincoln Tunnel in New York, the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia and North Carolina, Camp David in Maryland, the Appalachian Trail, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, much of the Chicago lakefront, and La Guardia Airport.

Will Obama Mobilize His Millions of Supporters? The White House Responds

On Friday morning, I asked, "Will Obama mobilize his millions?" By that, I meant would he activate the 13 million or so Americans who had signed up with his campaign in order to pass the stimulus bill. Organizing for America, the spin-off of the Obama presidential campaign, is holding house parties on the weekend to discuss the recovery package. But Obama has yet truly to unleash his supporters. His push for the economic bill has not had much of a grassroots component.

On Friday afternoon, I was able to ask White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about this. First, I inquired if President Obama wanted the folks attending the weekend house meetings to pressure members of Congress to support the stimulus bill. (As of this writing, the bill, which had passed the House, was heading toward a vote in the Senate. After that, the two versions will have be reconciled and a final version approved by both chambers.) Gibbs replied with something of a platitudinous reply, noting that the president always encourages citizens to be involved in their government.

While it's understandable if you're a cynic about the usually-preposterous Grammy Awards, Sunday night's show actually promises some nail-biting races and some dramatic, "will-they-or-won't-they" performances. First of all, singer M.I.A., up for Record of the Year for "Paper Planes," is scheduled to perform, despite the fact that she is very, very preggers. In fact, tomorrow Sunday is apparently her due date, if you can believe it. Will her wee Arulpragasam pop out right at the "ka-ching" noise in "Planes," or will an early arrival force her to cancel? Also upping the drama quotient is Radiohead, who are not scheduled to perform (and have never performed at the Grammys), but rumors are flying all the way to Pitchfork, who seem to believe the Brit combo will play In Rainbows' jazzy, drum-led 5/4 opener "15 Step" accompanied by the USC marching band. Hooray Radiohead, but ugh, marching bands—they're so, you know, "Hollaback Girl." Pitchfork also holds out hope for a Kanye/Radiohead mashup performance, which would make me pleased for Earworm but sad for myself, since it's long been a secret wish to see, for instance, Liam Gallagher wander out on to the Grammys stage for a surprise duet with Green Day—even if I don't get a shout-out. MTV already made some predictions about who will win (Coldplay, yes; Lil Wayne, nope) but I suppose I can try my hand at calling what the wrinkled old geezers in the Recording Academy will vote for without ever having heard it. My predictions in a few categories after the jump.

After last week's dramatic episode, I had high hopes for LOST's third installment, titled "The Little Prince." Well, I was disappointed. It was dull, dull, dull, punctuated only by overly dramatic music (like when Sun received a very ominous box of Godiva chocolates) and one key revelation. Namely, Jin's not dead! Hurrah!

Andy Card Knows What Really Matters to the Constitution: Suit Coats

card_andrew.jpg Andy Card has some serious nerve. When I heard he criticized Barack Obama for not wearing a suit coat in the Oval Office, I dismissed it without a second thought. Formal dress codes seem to me to be the product of little minds; anyone who thinks good work can't be done in casual or business casual clothes needs to visit Silicon Valley. And anyone who thinks that a building or space can be disrespected by whatever clothes are worn within it needs to get over themselves.

But then I actually read Card's comments. Get a load of this guy:

Does the EPA Know Which Industry is America's Dirtiest?

Today the EPA filed a laudable lawsuit against Kansas-based Westar Energy for violating the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act. Laxly enforced by the Bush Administration, the rule requires power plants to install more advanced pollution-control technologies when they perform upgrades. The EPA action is part of what it bills "a national initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants." Sounds good to me, but unfortunately the EPA gets a bit carried away in its press release, which says: "Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States."

Obama Brings Affirmative Action To His Economic Recovery Advisory Board

Would George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have sought economic advice from, say, James Galbraith, a well-known progressive economist (and Mother Jones contributor)?

That's a rhetorical question.

But look at the composition of Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which he unveiled on Friday morning. It's chaired by Paul Volcker, the former Fed chair, and includes, among others, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Penny Pritzker, a businesswoman and philanthropist who chaired Obama's campaign finance committee, Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win (a labor group), Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Martin Feldstein of Harvard. Feldstein is a prominent conservative economist. He was resident Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser and was a driving force behind George W. Bush's failed effort to partially privatize Social Security. (Imagine if that had gone through!) He also was a board member of AIG (whoops!). Talk about affirmative action.

A.Q. Khan Freed From House Arrest


Just last week I described A.Q. Khan, Pakistani nuclear trafficker extraordinaire, as "secret wrapped inside a riddle inside an enigma." I wrote of how he recently stepped into the online world with a new personal website, despite being under house arrest in Islamabad for his role in smuggling nuclear bomb designs and production materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Well, it now looks like we'll be hearing a lot more from Khan. Today, a Pakistani court freed him from house arrest, enabling the 73-year old nuclear smuggler—at once a Pakistani national hero and international pariah—to move about freely within Pakistan's borders. Khan's wife told reporters that the Pakistani government has retained her husband's passport, suggesting that he will not be permitted to leave Pakistan, at least for now. (Then again, his sudden release is indicative of how quickly things can change.)