Kevin Drum - January 2009

Beta Testing MoJo

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 12:26 PM EST

BETA TESTING MOJO....Next week (we hope!) we'll be relaunching MotherJones.com. Gone will be the cluttered layout that you see here and the clunky code that we deal with. If you'd like to take a sneak peek, and along the way help us with load testing and bug targeting, go to http://www.motherjones.com. The login is mojo and the password is fearless (all lower case). Once you're in the site, you can read about why we did what we did, poke around, register and pimp out your profile, etc. Please bear in mind, however, that:

  1. Your username will stay valid after the new site launches, so choose wisely....

  2. The content is several weeks old and is there for testing purposes only. Don't worry, we'll get the latest articles and all the comments moved over when we launch.

  3. Comments you leave on the beta site will be overwritten when we switch over. Please do leave comments and try out the discussion system, just remember that if you've written any great pearls of wisdom, you should save a copy elsewhere.

  4. Any questions, bug reports, or general input about the site, please leave a comment on our inaugural blog post, or email us at web-feedback@motherjones.com.

We're eager to hear what you have to say. (And yes, we know it's slow, we're running compression programs....)

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Economic Update

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 12:18 PM EST

ECONOMIC UPDATE....You will be unsurprised to learn that the fourth quarter of last year sucked:

The U.S. economy shriveled at the end of 2008, shrinking by the most in 26 years....Gross domestic product fell at a seasonally adjusted 3.8% annual rate October through December, the Commerce Department said Friday in the first estimate of fourth-quarter GDP.

....Federal government spending helped the economy....Also preventing the economy from sinking further were inventories, which rose at the end of 2008. On a down note, the inventory increase was likely unintended — the result of companies getting stuck with unwanted merchandise because demand has tailed off in the recession....Inventories increased by $6.2 billion, after going down $29.6 billion in the third quarter and $50.6 billion in the second quarter. Inventories added 1.32 percentage points to GDP in the fourth quarter.

In other words, if not for the unwanted inventory buildup, GDP would have shrunk something like 5.1% or more. Yuck.

A Good Time To Be Rich

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 11:36 PM EST

A GOOD TIME TO BE RICH....Here's the latest 2006 income data for the Fortunate 400:

The nation's top 400 taxpayers made more than $263 million on average in 2006, as the stock market was rallying, but paid income taxes at the lowest rate in the 15 years that the Internal Revenue Service has tracked such data, according to figures released Thursday.

....In constant dollars, the average income of the top 400 taxpayers nearly quadrupled from 1992....Meanwhile, the group's average income tax rate [] fell to 17.2% in 2006 from 18.2% the prior year. That's down from a high of 29.9% in 1995.

Just for the record, my federal income tax rate is higher than 17.2%. And yours, probably. So maybe the quarter billionaire crowd can afford a wee bit more too?

Test Post

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 9:07 PM EST
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.  For example:
  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow

Bullets work!  Huzzah!  But opinions differ:

Discuss the latest from Mother Jones with other readers in Comments Central. Discuss the latest from Mother Jones with other readers in Comments Central. Discuss the latest from Mother Jones with other readers in Comments Central.
Blockquotes work!  Huzzah!  How about a picture?

Huzzah!



Rod, We Hardly Knew Ye

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 6:50 PM EST

ROD, WE HARDLY KNEW YE....The Rod Blagojevich soap opera is over. The Illinois Senate has voted to convict him on abuse of power charges and has removed him from office. Our long regional nightmare is finally over.

Quote of the Day - 01.29.09

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 3:06 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Alison Singer, who recently quit as head of communications at Autism Speaks, on the overwhelming evidence that vaccines have nothing to do with the development of autism in children:

At some point, you have to say, "This question has been asked and answered and it's time to move on." We need to be able to say, "Yes, we are now satisfied that the earth is round."

There was a time when investigating vaccines and thimerosal as possible contributing factors for autism made sense. That time is long past. The Jenny McCarthyization of the autism movement needs to be put finally and firmly to rest, and research money spent on actual science. Enough's enough.

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Factoids

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:40 PM EST

FACTOIDS....How is a factoid like Schrödinger's cat? Answer here.

Employment

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:15 PM EST

EMPLOYMENT....The latest on the employment front:

The total number of U.S. workers filing claims for jobless benefits lasting more than one week has soared to a record high, a government report showed, a sign of the severe toll the deepening recession is taking on the unemployed.

....The U.S. has lost jobs in each of the last 12 months, and employers slashed payrolls at a rate of about half a million per month in the final four months of 2008. This month's claims figures point to another drop of that magnitude when January data are released next week.

Indeed, the hemorrhaging of jobs shows no sign of abating.

The stimulus bill making its way through Congress right now obviously isn't perfect. What is? But all the evidence suggests that employment levels are going to remain anemic for another couple of years at least, which means that spending stimulus will remain effective through FY2011 at a minimum. And since virtually all of the spending in the current bill gets disbursed before then, this means it's all reasonably well targeted.

Still, isn't the bill just a hodgepodge of unrelated spending? Sure. What else could it be? There's no way to spend $800 billion on infrastructure over the next two years, so most of the money has to be spent on other stuff. But so what? Employing clerks or crossing guards or home care workers counts every bit as much as employing backhoe operators or engineers. Spending money on contraceptives does as much for the economy as spending money on rebar. An unemployment check gets spent on food the same way a paycheck does.

In an ideal world there's stuff about this bill that all of us would change. Overall, though, what we have isn't bad, and the real world being what it is, I'd give it a B or a B+. So it deserves to pass, and quickly. But once that's done, it's going to be time to start talking seriously about what happens after that. Our economy is way out of kilter, and has been for a while, and President Obama needs to let us know what he thinks needs to be done about that. Pass the bill, then let's talk.

Withdrawing From Iraq

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 12:46 PM EST

WITHDRAWING FROM IRAQ....General Ray Odierno, the top field commander in Iraq, thinks we can reduce forces there by no more than two brigades over the next six months. Then we need to wait until 2010 before making any further decisions: "I believe that if we can get through the next year peacefully, with incidents about what they are today or better, I think we're getting close to enduring stability, which enables us to really reduce," he said. Marc Lynch isn't impressed:

The politics of this aside, I think that Odierno's intention of keeping troops in Iraq through the national elections is dangerously wrong. The CFR/Brookings/Odierno "go slow" approach ignores the reality of the new Status of Forces Agreement and the impending referendum this summer — which may well fail if there is no sign of departing American troops.

....This strategy is also a recipe for endless delay....Senior Iraqi officials have suggested that the national elections, which Odierno suggests as the point when drawdowns might begin, may well not be held until March 2010. I don't think that 16 months is a sacred number. But what Odierno is proposing is no significant drawdowns for 14 months, followed by another period of wrangling. This could ironically make the "rush for the exits" that everyone wants to avoid more rather than less likely — whether or not it leads to the failure of the SOFA referendum.

There's always something a year down the road that we should wait for before pulling troops out. Provincial elections. Stability. SOFA. National elections. You name it. But at some point we need to demonstrate to the Iraqis that we're really pulling out and they need to take the transition seriously. It's well past time for that.

Obama also has a lot of credibility at stake over this. He said during the campaign that he wanted to withdraw within 16 months, and while there's a lot of room to fudge there, he still needs to show that he's serious about that. It may end up being 24 months instead of 16, and the residual force he leaves behind may end up comprising tens of thousands of troops, but he still needs to start. He needs to show the world that his word is good.

Diplomatic Pouch

| Thu Jan. 29, 2009 2:38 AM EST

DIPLOMATIC POUCH....The Guardian reports that the Obama administration plans to send a letter to the Iranian leadership:

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

Diplomats said Obama's letter would be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one adopted by the Bush administration, which portrayed Iran as part of an "axis of evil".

....State department officials have composed at least three drafts of the letter, which gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or released as an open letter.

An accompanying story suggests that the letter "represents a determined break from past US policy," but then strikes a less hopeful tone: "There is one thing everyone agrees on — it is impossible to do any kind of business with the current Iranian president. Ahmadinejad's speech in Kermanshah yesterday, demanding complete US withdrawal from all overseas deployments, clearly illustrated that." Stay tuned.