Old CW: Drudge rules their world. New CW: Breitbart rules their world. Jim DeMint gets it: “We don’t need The Washington Post to cover things anymore. Something can get on a conservative blog, then on Fox News, then it’s everywhere.”
Old CW: Drudge rules their world. New CW: Breitbart rules their world. Jim DeMint gets it: “We don’t need The Washington Post to cover things anymore. Something can get on a conservative blog, then on Fox News, then it’s everywhere.”
Good news! The Washington Post has picked the ten finalists in its “America’s Next Great Pundit” contest. I know you don’t have time to read them all, so I’ll summarize:
Richter: Bring back the Office of Technology Assessment.
Haber: Where I come from, five plus one equals eight. What’s more, Nevada will both lose and gain a congressional seat after the 2010 census.
Martin: These days, everybody wants it all. Also: my dad is driving my mother crazy.
Jackson: Barack Obama needs to stop whining. Bush 43 wasn’t so bad.
Gyamfi: Cable news is stupid.
Huffman: I want to be the next Dave Barry.
Esper: Healthcare is an important issue.
Khalil: Surprise! Arab-Americans watch Fox News.
Khan: Women like to yak, and Obama should capitalize on this.
I know what you’re thinking: this is only nine columnists. What’s the deal? Answer: there’s a tenth, but for some reason her column isn’t up yet. Not sure why.
By the way, the ten winners include a Nobel Prize winner, a Bush 43 assistant secretary of commerce (guess which one), a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, a former researcher at the Kennedy School of Government, an Atlantic Media fellow, and a small-town newspaper editor. Not exactly a crowd of just plain folks. It might have been more fun to read the other 4,790 entries.
Via the mysterious Will, io9 has a guest post this week from Chanda Phelan, a graduate of Pomona College who recently completed a thesis on post-apocalyptic literature. Basically, she looked at 423 books, poems, and short stories about the apocalypse (full list here) in order to try and divine trends on just what the fictional causes of fictional apocalypses are. Fun!
Anyway, the result is a gigantic chart, partly excerpted below. And some discussion:
I wanted to see if there were patterns in how writers saw the monster. As it turned out, the patterns were clearer than I imagined. Nuclear holocaust was really popular after 1945; that’s to be expected. But the precipitous and permanent drop in nuclear war’s popularity after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 (see chart)? That surprised me.
….The easily spotted trends make the patterns’ total collapse in the mid-1990s even weirder. Human-created apocalypses shrink dramatically, and there’s a sudden spike of unexplained apocalypse scenarios at the turn of the century. What happened? One possibility is that every End started to feel clichéd. The terror of a possible nuclear war faded, and no new extravagant ways to kill ourselves appeared to replace it.
My theory: most the explained apocalypses hightailed it to the movie theater, where practically the whole point of apocalyptic storytelling is to show you exactly how the planet is destroyed in loving IMAX/Technicolor/Dolby CGI detail. This wouldn’t really be on my mind except that I’ve now seen the trailer for 2012 about a hundred times — it feels like a hundred times, anyway — and apparently the purpose of the movie is to make the entire genre obsolete by rolling up every disaster movie trope ever invented into one ultimate 2-hour extravaganza never to be surpassed. Everything will be destroyed. Every manner of destroying things will be used. Every cliche will be exploited. When you’re done, you will never need to see another disaster movie ever again!
Which is fine with me. I’m just wondering if they’ll even pretend to tell a story while all this mayhem is going on. Or is that too old school these days?
POSTSCRIPT: I also have a question about the chart: what happened in 2000? Not a single work of planet-ending fiction in the entire year? Really?
From Maria Walter, United Airline’s director of merchandising, on the barrage of innovative, second generation fees coming soon to a flight near you:
[Walter] told conference attendees that the airline wants passengers to see the new offers as “options,” not as fees. “Options are different than fees,” she said.
Walter was speaking at the Ancillary Revenue Airline Conference, an entire event dedicated to brainstorming newer, subtler, and more annoying fees. And then there’s this, from legendary LA talk show host Michael Jackson, on what the triumph of “vitriolic, unsympathetic, bombastic” talk radio means about America:
That we’re amazing. That we can put up with all of that and more! It’s the best country in the world.
I admire Jackson’s optimism. I don’t really share it, but I admire it.
The New York Times reports that a deal on a federal shield law is near:
The Obama administration, leading Senate Democrats and a coalition of news organizations have reached tentative agreement on legislation providing greater protections against fine or imprisonment to reporters who refuse to identify confidential sources.
….Protection under the so-called shield law would also be extended to unpaid bloggers engaged in gathering and disseminating news.
….In civil cases, the litigants seeking to force reporters to testify would first have to exhaust all other means of obtaining the information. Even then, the judge would apply a “balancing test,” and the burden would be on the information seekers to show by a “preponderance of the evidence” why their need for the testimony outweighed the public’s interest in news gathering.
Ordinary criminal cases, as in prosecutors’ effort to find out who leaked grand jury information about professional athletes’ steroid use to The San Francisco Chronicle, would work the same way, except that the balancing test would be heavily tilted in favor of prosecutors….Most cases involving disclosure of classified information would work the same way as criminal cases.
This is….better than nothing, I suppose. But most of the high-profile trials of the past few years that involved confidential sources have been criminal cases, and it doesn’t sound as if this compromise proposal provides very much real-world protection in these cases. But news organizations support it, so maybe it’s better than it sounds. I’ll be curious to hear some media lawyers weigh in on it.
I happen to think that the evils of sugary soft drinks have probably been a wee bit overblown, but even at that it’s a little hard to believe that the American Academy of Family Physicians would create a “corporate partnership” with Coca-Cola that’s designed to “develop consumer education content related to beverages and sweeteners” in return for a six-figure fee. And yet they did.
I’m not surprised they did this, mind you. I’m just surprised they sold out so cheaply. Seems like this ought to be worth at least a million bucks or so.
Today, under the headline “Transparency like you’ve never seen before,” the White House released visitor records from January through June. But wait! It’s not all the visitors. It’s only a selective dump of names that people specifically asked about. Someone submitted a request about Bill Ayers, for example, so all the “William Ayers” records were released. But guess what? There’s more than one guy in the country named William Ayers:
A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings. Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few “false positives” — names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else. In September, requests were submitted for the names of some famous or controversial figures (for example Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, Robert Kelly (“R. Kelly”), and Malik Shabazz). The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House. Nevertheless, we were asked for those names and so we have included records for those individuals who were here and share the same names.
Hold on there. This data dump includes everyone who’s been on a public tour of the White House? Everyone who’s been invited to some kind of White House ceremony? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. Max Doebler, for example, is the White House ceremonies coordinator, and sure enough, there are 29 visitor records linked to luncheons and receptions where he’s listed as the official host. Bill Ayers is one of the many people who were there for public tours. (Plus a second mystery Bill Ayers who was there for some other reason.)
This is kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? I suppose it’s easy enough to filter out the dross once you figure out the right codes, but it almost seems like the White House is deliberately trying to inundate everyone in useless mountains of data by including this stuff. In particular, when the end of the year rolls around and we get the full dump, do we really need the names of all 500,000 people who have been on a tour of the residence? Is it even right to make all these names public? Is the White House staff playing a quiet little joke hoping for a few reactions like this? What’s going on?
Today’s picture is life imitating art. Or is it art imitating life? Hard to say. Is Windows wallpaper art? Is Inkblot life as we know it? Questions, questions, questions.
(Note: I’m talking about the picture below, not the one on the left.)
And here’s another question: who’s the cutest cat of them all? Inkblot knows the answer, but as an employee-by-concatenation of the Foundation for National Progress, aka the publisher of Mother Jones magazine, he’s ineligible for our upcoming cat contest. But your cat isn’t! Go here and register a first-round vote in our contest to find the cutest cat made into a Mother Jones cover. If you think you can do better, make a cover out of your cat and submit it for the cat-off to be held in two weeks. May the best cat win.
As for Inkblot, the powers-that-be tell me that he’ll be appearing in costume on our home page over the weekend. An e-costume, of course. Check it out tomorrow.
UPDATE: No, it turns out that it’s Domino who gets the e-costume. Which is appropriate since she’s the black cat in the house. So everyone gets a picture this week!
I was on vacation and not watching the news back in June when Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup. Ever since then I’ve used this as an excuse not to blog about it, since I hadn’t really kept up with the twists and turns that got it all started. But today, both sides signed a deal that restored Zelaya to office for the remainder of his term and allowed the scheduled November election to proceed with everyone’s blessing. Tim Fernholz comments:
If the election in Honduras goes smoothly — doesn’t every foreign-policy article these days include the sentence, “If the election in ________ goes smoothly”? — then Honduras’ democratic system will have been reinforced without harsh sanctions, which would mainly affect the people of the state, or military conflict. Affirming democracy in Latin America is a positive step, especially coming from the United States, which does not have a particularly good history in that department. While the White House’s domestic opposition will no doubt call this deal a sham or attack the president for helping restore a controversial leader to power, this outcome will likely improve inter-American relations, and that is a win for a relatively green foreign-policy team.
The truth is that I still don’t know all the ins and outs of what happened in Honduras and whose side I’m supposed to take. But what I do know is that conservatives came out of the chute almost instantly with demands that the Obama administration adopt the hardest line possible in favor of the coup leaders. This appeared to be for no special reason except that Zelaya was friendly with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, and to call this idiotic would be an insult to idiots everywhere. Tim is right: the Obama administration’s calmer approach was the right one, and messy or not, it helped get the job done in a region where the U.S. is not exactly known for subtlety and respect for local customs. Not bad.
Rich Yeselson says, “We are living through the Californiafication of America — a country in which the combination of a determined minority and a procedural supermajority legislative requirement makes it impossible to rationally address public policy challenges.” Ezra Klein agrees.
Me too! Here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, back when the Dodgers and Angels still had a chance of getting to the World Series:
Unfortunately, a local championship or two are about all the good news we’re likely to get anytime soon in the Golden State. We have structural deficits as far as the eye can see. A Republican governor took over a few years ago and cut taxes, making things even worse. Healthcare costs have gone through the roof.1 Unemployment is over 12%. And a rabid Republican minority in Sacramento can — and does — prevent any of these things from being seriously addressed because the state constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget or raise taxes.
But no schadenfreude, please. In Washington DC, federal deficits have become enormous, Republican tax cuts have made them even worse, healthcare costs are skyrocketing, unemployment is about to break double digits, and it’s nearly impossible to seriously address these problems because the Republican Party has adopted a policy of making the filibuster a routine tool of state. If you can’t get 60 votes in the Senate, you can’t pass anything of consequence these days.
In the past, California has been a bellwether for the nation, and that’s been no bad thing. But this time? Fasten your seatbelts, gang. It’s going to be a very bumpy ride indeed if it happens again.
Don’t remember reading this? That’s because I wrote it for our weekly email newsletter, which you can subscribe to here. All I can say is this: for years I was basically uninterested in Sacramento politics because it was such a cesspool. It made Washington DC look like a model of good government. But no longer: Sacramento is still a cesspool, but DC is catching up fast. If we keep it up much longer, the entire country may end up in the same mess we’ve made for ourselves here. That would be decidedly not a good thing.
1And prison costs!
GDP was up 3.5% in the third quarter, and yesterday I wondered where all that growth was going. Today we get part of the answer: not to workers.
The BEA reports that personal income and disposable personal income, adjusted for inflation, were down again in September and down for the entire quarter. Spending was up in August thanks to Cash for Clunkers, but dropped 0.6% in September.
Separately, the BLS reports that the Employment Cost Index was up 0.4% in the third quarter. However, since inflation rose about 0.6% in the same period, that’s a real decrease of about 0.2%. “With incomes so soft,” analyst Ian Shepherdson said in a statement of the obvious, “increased spending will be a struggle.”
So: the economy is growing, but very little of that growth seems to be trickling down to us middle class types. Happy holidays!
Good news! The financial industry plans to pick up the stimulus slack as the government’s efforts start to tail off next quarter:
Having shaken off the biggest economic decline since the 1930s, almost three in five traders, analysts and fund managers believe their 2009 bonuses will either increase or won’t change, according to a quarterly poll of Bloomberg customers. Only one in four see a decline. Asians are the most optimistic about pay and Americans and Europeans somewhat less so.
“The large banks are knocking the cover off the ball,” said Daniel Alpert, managing director of New York-based investment bank Westwood Capital LLC. The industry is “making money, though with government help.”
Worldwide, a majority of market professionals in the survey also turn thumbs down on government attempts to limit compensation, with 51 percent saying restrictions will stifle useful innovation. Only about 38 percent think pay limits will control excessive risk-taking.
There are still some naysayers out there, like Mark Borges, a compensation consultant at Compensia Inc., who says the survey results “give some fuel to the people who claim that Wall Street hasn’t really gotten it.” But me? I’m just grateful that bankers are going to be part of the economic recovery of struggling Porsche dealerships and Cape Cod real estate agents. I’d say they get it just fine.
Now that it looks like Congress is only inches away from producing a surprisingly decent healthcare bill, Paul Krugman lays down the law:
Everyone in the political class — by which I mean politicians, people in the news media, and so on, basically whoever is in a position to influence the final stage of this legislative marathon — now has to make a choice. The seemingly impossible dream of fundamental health reform is just a few steps away from becoming reality, and each player has to decide whether he or she is going to help it across the finish line or stand in its way.
….For conservatives, of course, it’s an easy decision: They don’t want Americans to have universal coverage, and they don’t want President Obama to succeed.
….Should progressives get behind this plan? Yes. And they probably will.
The people who really have to make up their minds, then, are those in between, the self-proclaimed centrists….I’d just urge them to take a good hard look in the mirror. If they really want to align themselves with the hard-line conservatives, if they just want to kill health reform, so be it. But they shouldn’t hide behind claims that they really, truly would support health care reform if only it were better designed.
For this is the moment of truth. The political environment is as favorable for reform as it’s likely to get. The legislation on the table isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as anyone could reasonably have expected. History is about to be made — and everyone has to decide which side they’re on.
I don’t know if “self-proclaimed centrists” listen to Krugman, but he’s right. The modest public option that’s survived the sausage factory so far just isn’t a big enough deal to sink the entire bill over. At least, it’s not if you really want healthcare reform in the first place. It’s time for everyone to figure out if they do.
Via Andrew Sullivan, here’s a sample of the pro-marriage (left) and anti-marriage (right) ads running in Maine right now. Reminds me of California 11 months ago: generally bright and positive from the pro side, dark and fearmongering from the anti side. Note especially the almost comically menacing musing from the anti folks.
Of course, as we all know, fear sells: the anti side won in California. But not by much! Only by a couple of points, and I remain convinced that if Barack Obama had been willing to step in a little more forcefully he might have turned things around. I understand his reluctance to address hot button cultural issues until he gets most of his legislative agenda through Congress this year, but justice is justice. He ought to speak up on this.
From Fay Chapman, former chief legal officer at Washington Mutual, about loan standards during the housing bubble era:
“Someone in Florida had made a second-mortgage loan to O.J. Simpson, and I just about blew my top, because there was this huge judgment against him from his wife’s parents,” she recalled. Simpson had been acquitted of killing his wife Nicole and her friend but was later found liable for their deaths in a civil lawsuit; that judgment took precedence over other debts, such as if Simpson defaulted on his WaMu loan.
“When I asked how we could possibly foreclose on it, they said there was a letter in the file from O.J. Simpson saying ‘the judgment is no good, because I didn’t do it.’ “
It’s a testament to the difficulty of healthcare reform and the power of the healthcare lobby that it’s able to make reform of Pentagon procurement look almost easy by comparison. But that’s how it’s turned out: at the same time that President Obama’s healthcare reform has been fighting through the congressional underbrush one painful subparagraph at a time, his defense cuts have practically sailed through. Remarkably enough, he’s succeeded almost completely in cutting back the weapons platforms he targeted earlier this year, and he’s succeeded so quietly that I’d pretty much forgotten it was even happening. But it did, and the defense appropriations bill Obama signed yesterday included nearly all the cuts he had asked for:
Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said Wednesday that the plan was to threaten a veto over a prominent program — in this case, the F-22 fighter jet — “to show we were willing to expend political capital and could win on something that people thought we could not.”
Once the Senate voted in July to stop buying F-22s, Mr. Emanuel said in an interview, that success “reverberated down” to help sustain billions of dollars of cuts in Army modernization, missile defense and other programs.
….Military analysts said [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, also aimed at the most bloated programs. And Senator John McCain of Arizona, the former Republican presidential candidate, who has criticized the Pentagon’s cost overruns, provided Mr. Obama with political cover to make the cuts without being seen as soft on the military.
“They probably get an ‘A’ from the standpoint of their success on their major initiatives,” said Fred Downey, a former Senate aide who is now vice president for national security at the Aerospace Industries Association. “They probably got all of them but one or maybe two, and that’s an extraordinarily high score.”
Yes, Obama and Gates mostly took on only the most egregiously bloated Pentagon programs and then plowed the money they saved into other areas, which probably cut down considerably on opposition grumbling. Still, this is a landmark effort. Cutting even a single bloated program is usually the work of years, and to cut three or four at once is unprecedented.
Having a conservative (and politically savvy) Defense Secretary like Gates carrying the ball for the program cuts was instrumental in getting them done, in the same way that having a conservative like Gates carrying the ball for ending DADT will probably be instrumental in getting it abolished next year. I was sort of ambivalent about the Gates appointment when it was announced last year, but I have to admit that so far he’s come through on the potential upside.
Iowans aren’t accustomed to paying politicians to speak at their events. Just the opposite, in fact: as the kick-off state for the presidential primary season, most politicians are so eager to speak in Iowa that they’re almost willing to pay for the privilege.
But not Sarah Palin! She’s hungry for scratch, and Iowans have to pay up the same as anyone else:
A conservative Iowa group’s effort to lure Sarah Palin to its banquet next month has had an unintended effect: Rather than exciting conservatives about the prospect of a visit from the former Alaska governor, the group’s plan to raise a six-figure sum to bring her to the state has GOP activists recoiling at the thought of paying to land a politician’s speaking appearance.
Matt Yglesias is cynical: “The hard-right loves Sarah Palin and wants her to be president, but she really just wants to cash in.” Nick Baumann isn’t so sure: “Running for President does mean sucking up to Iowans, and if Sarah Palin isn’t willing to do that, she either has an outrageously inflated sense of her own importance or she isn’t planning on running. You can probably find evidence for either of those explanations.”
Why yes you can. Or both! As for myself, I go back and forth on whether Palin plans to run for president in 2012. At times, it really does seem as if the 2008 campaign made her realize that the rigors of big-time politics weren’t for her. On the other hand, she really, really loves the spotlight, and what’s a bigger stage than the White House? But if she planned to run, would she really be quite so obviously frenzied about cashing in on her notoriety while she has a chance? Still, Nick is right: her sense of self-importance is so manifest that you can practically see her measuring the Oval Office drapes when she makes public appearances. But surely her advisors know perfectly well that she has absolutely no chance of beating Barack Obama and will let her know that? Maybe so, but that might just mean she’ll find herself new advisors. The ability of people to convince themselves that they can win the presidency (Fred Thompson? Chris Dodd? Seriously?) is the stuff of legend.
So I don’t know. I’d put it at about 50-50. Or maybe 45-55. If I had to bet, I’d say she won’t run. But I wouldn’t bet very much. Give her another year or two and she might very well delude herself into thinking that the American people are really, really yearning for her to be the leader of the free world. After all, they love her book, don’t they?
POSTSCRIPT: If you want to know the truth, this post is really just an excuse to include that picture of Palin, captured some time ago from her old Twitter page. It cracks me up. The first time I saw it she reminded me of some Paul Bunyanesque giant gazing down curiously on the antlike peasants below — perhaps just before rampaging over the Alaskan tundra and crushing a few villages in the process. Or maybe I just have an odd sense of humor?
UPDATE: As is so often the case with Palin, it turns out that the real story here is murky. Is she really asking for $100,000? Is she even planning to be in Iowa at all? Maybe not. More here.
Last night at a roundtable for our nations’s elite, that is to say, “bloggers,” Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President, implied, though did not say outright, that one consequence of the real estate bubble was that manufacturing and other types of businesses were finding it difficult to obtain credit at favorable terms. As I said, this seemed to be the gist of what he was saying though I’m not 100% sure that was his point. So I’m curious! How much was credit being funneled away from all other sectors in the economy?
I’d like to know too, though I’m not sure what the best measure of this would be. But I’ve always thought that one of the most worrisome aspects of the recent credit bubble was the fact that it was at least partly driven by Ben Bernanke’s famous “savings glut,” big pools of money from Asia looking for a home. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough genuinely productive invesment opportunities to soak up all that money, so instead it ended up on Wall Street where it got funneled into a housing bubble and lots of financial engineering.
But why weren’t there enough good, traditional places to invest that money? And by “traditional” I mean people who want to build factories or expand call centers or start up biotech ventures. That is, businesses that provide goods and services to meet demand from consumers and corporations. The supply side of the economy may have been going great guns, but the demand side wasn’t keeping up. This is why some people think it’s better to talk about this phenomenon as an “investment drought.”
A lot of this has to do with the distribution of income that Steve Randy Waldman blogged about the other day: demand for goods and services is primarily driven by consumers, and if their wages aren’t increasing then demand for goods and services can’t increase very much either. So instead excess money flows to Wall Street, where it gets loaned out to consumers as a substitute for wage growth. Eventually, though, it becomes obvious that they can’t take on any more debt, and then comes the crash.
So what happens next? If we want stable growth, it really needs to be based on consumer demand, and that in turn mostly means middle class demand. That demand will then provide investment opportunities for capital. But that all depends on broad, sustained wage growth for the middle class, and as far as I can tell no one is talking much about how to promote that. If that stays the case, and income inequality continues to rise once we’re out of the woods, how far out can another crash be?
No surprise here: GDP was up 3.5% in the third quarter. But is the growth sustainable?
The cash-for-clunkers program helped boost consumer spending on durable goods….Similarly, economists say the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers helped revive spending on housing.
….Stagnant consumer demand and withering consumer confidence have left companies wary of hiring more employees — or, for that matter, taking any expensive risks. The jobless rate reached 9.8 percent in September, its highest rate in 26 years. According to Thursday’s report, business investment in buildings and other structures fell at an annual rate of 9 percent in the third quarter.
The Wall Street Journal also provides a note of skepticism: “Since the federal stimulus reached its maximum effect in the third quarter and the unemployment rate remains high, there’s uncertainty over the sustainability of the recovery.” As for myself, I’m curious to know not just where the growth is coming from, but where it’s going to. Wage growth has been weak this year, and there’s not much sign that the recovery in Q3 did much to change that. So who’s getting the bulk of the benefit?
Gallup released a poll on Monday showing a slight blip in the number of Americans who identify themselves as conservatives. Since this got a fair amount of attention, I figured it was time to update my chart of the Harris Poll version of this data, which goes back to the early 70s and consolidates the results from multiple polls throughout the year.
As you can see, nothing much has happened for the past three decades. In the mid-70s a bunch of “not sure” respondents decided they were conservatives after all, and since then the numbers have remained remarkably steady: about 18% identify as liberals, 37% as conservatives, and 40% as moderates. This hasn’t varied by more than three or four points since 1980. The most recent Harris data is for 2008, and breaks down 18% liberal, 37% conservative, and 41% moderate, right in line with the historical averages. It’s possible that something dramatic has happened since then, but Gallup aside, I wouldn’t count on it. Ten bucks says Harris gets pretty much the same results when they consolidate all the 2009 data at the end of the year.