Kevin Drum

Zombie Corporations

| Mon May 18, 2009 12:41 PM EDT

If you're interested in this kind of thing, John Hempton has a post over at his place examining why Korea snapped back from its late-90s banking crisis fairly quickly while Japan's crisis lingered on for over a decade.  It's interesting stuff, but the main reason I recommend reading it is that he debunks the common misconception that Japan suffered from an epidemic of "zombie banks" during the 90s.  For the most part, though, that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that their banks spent the 90s lending to zombie corporations.  Big difference.  Full story here.

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The Michael Steele Diaries – Part XLVII

| Mon May 18, 2009 12:20 PM EDT

RNC chairman Michael Steele's latest brainstorm is to cast gay marriage not as a moral issue, but as a small business killer: if gays get married, then small businesses will have to provide extra health insurance.  The bottom line?  "You just cost me money," he told an audience a few days ago.  Andrew Tobias brings the snark:

He’s spot on, which is why the GOP should come out against marriage generally, not just same-sex marriage.  Married workers cost more if you provide family health insurance.  So the smart hiring order is: single people first; and then married gay people (who are less likely to have kids needing health insurance and more likely to have working spouse’s with their own health insurance), and then, if you absolutely must, married heterosexual couples.  It’s just good business.

As Steele himself says, he's the gift that keeps on giving.  I'm sort of hoping for a Palin/Steele ticket to go up against Barack Obama in 2012.

Map of the Day

| Mon May 18, 2009 11:56 AM EDT

Via Ezra Klein, here's an instructive map that visually makes a point I've brought up a few times in the past: as bad as global warming is in general, one of its worst aspects is that developed countries (like us) are the ones causing the biggest part of the problem, but it's underdeveloped countries that are going to suffer the biggest part of the damage.  In the map on the right, taken from a Lancet study, the top panel shows each country by the size of its carbon emissions, while the bottom map shows each country by the number of deaths its likely to suffer due to global warming.  Long story short, we spit out the carbon, but it's people in Africa and South Asia who are mostly going to die because of it.

This comes from Ezra in his new digs, by the way.  He's at the Washington Post now, and his new URL is:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/

Other miscellaneous info (RSS feed etc.) is here.

Election Day

| Mon May 18, 2009 11:35 AM EDT

Tomorrow is special election day here in California and lots of people have been emailing me to ask how I'm going to vote on the miserable collection of propositions on the ballot.  The honest answer is that I don't know.  Staying home seems like the best alternative right now.  It's hard to remember an election in which voters were given quite such a stark choice between bad and worse.

Besides, the polls say almost all the propositions are going to lose.  So it hardly matters.  Still, here's where I am right now:

Prop 1A - Spending Cap: NO.  Lots of other states have spending cap/rainy day fund requirements of various kinds, and their success seems to be fantastically sensitive to the precise wording of the cap and the way different figures are estimated.  That means 1A could be halfway reasonable or it could be a disaster, and there's really no way to tell in advance.  That's not the kind of thing I want enshrined in the constitution.

Prop 1B - More Spending for Teachers: NO.  This is ballot box budgeting of the worst kind and interest group politics at its most blatant.

Prop 1C: Sell Future Lottery Profits: NO.  This raises a fair amount of money, but it's just horrible, horrible policy.  I can't bring myself to support it.

Props 1D and 1E: Raid Money From a Couple of Previous Initiatives: YES.  Ballot box budgeting locked up this money in the first place, so there's no other way to unlock it.  It would be better to get rid of the original initiatives (and all their kin) entirely, but in the meantime this is the only choice the legislature has.

Prop 1F: No Pay Raises Until a Budget is Passed: NO.  This is just stupid.

That's it.  If you vote exactly the opposite way, I understand.  My views on these initiatives are about as firm as jello right now.  Make your case in comments if you think I'm full of it.

The End of the Tamil Tigers

| Sun May 17, 2009 9:26 PM EDT

Even after following the increasingly precarious position of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers for the past few months, it's hard to believe that their civil war is finally over.  But apparently it is:

Cornered into a tiny patch of jungle about the size of a football field, the Tamil Tiger rebels — who once operated a shadow state complete with a law school, tax system, navy and even traffic police — vowed Sunday to lay down their weapons for good, in a stunning and unprecedented admission of defeat in Asia's longest-running war.

....In Washington, Sri Lankan ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya credited President Obama's recent public statements with helping to end the crisis. In an e-mailed statement, he said the Tigers "effectively folded shortly after President Barack Obama told the world that the terrorists were holding innocent Tamil civilians as hostages. He was one of the few world leaders to note that fact so forcefully."

And now the hardest part: can the Sinhalese majority bring itself to treat the defeated Tamil minority charitably after a quarter century of brutal war and nearly 100,000 deaths?  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day - 5.17.09

| Sun May 17, 2009 6:48 PM EDT

From Fran Townsend, George Bush's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, when White House chief of staff Andy Card called during Hurricane Rita to ask her what she needed:

“I want to know if the president knows what a fucking asshole Don Rumsfeld is.”

Probably not.  But plenty of other people did.  Robert Draper's full story is here.

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Life in the Playground

| Sun May 17, 2009 3:06 PM EDT

Via Joe Romm, a wee quiz:

Q: Why do Republicans want to raise Alcoa's taxes?  Also Chrysler's, Ford's, GE's, and Pepsi's?

A: Because these companies and 20 others are in favor of reducing greenhouse emissions.  In other words, they're traitors, and they no longer deserve the tax breaks the GOP has worked so hard to give them over the years.

Isn't political kabuki grand?  Turns out Joe Barton (R–Fantasyland) and his friends are planning to introduce a tidal wave of 448 amendments to the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Act, apparently in the belief that kindergarten stalling tactics like this will get them taken seriously.  Among the 448 are 25 that remove all tax benefits from corporate members of the United States Climate Action Partnership, who obviously no longer deserve them.  Plus there are five more that ominously address the "tax status" of nonprofits who support action on greenhouse gases.

Very grown up.  But what about the other 418 amendments?  Well, a couple hundred or so are routine nonsense, but some of the others are more entertaining.  There's the Dollar-Yuan-Euro Study, whatever that is.  The Economy Killer Lobbyist Transparency Provisions.  The American Hero Exemption and Credit.  And the Virgin Islands Tourism Killer Safety Valve.

But my favorite is BLACK_004, the Black Liquor amendment.  There's no explanation of what this might be, but considering the almost comical bamboozlishness of the current black liquor loophole, you just know it has to be outrageous even by wingnut standards.  If you've forgotten what this is all about, details are here.

Chart of the Day - 5.17.2009

| Sun May 17, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

Is public opinion against abortion hardening, as a couple of recent polls indicate?  Not likely.  Over at the Monkey Cage, John Sides helpfully presents three decades of data from the National Election Studies which shows (a) remarkable steadiness and (b) if anything, a modest increase in the strong pro-choice position.  John slices and dices the data further at his place, if you're interested in the details.

God Talk

| Sun May 17, 2009 1:24 PM EDT

Professional complainer Charlotte Allen takes to the pages of the LA Times today to complain about her competition: the "superstar atheists" who professionally complain about religious believers.  People like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, P.Z. Myers, etc.

Which is fine.  Sometimes these guys are annoying.  And they certainly don't need me to defend them anyway.  But after some fairly routine whining about how much she hates all these other whiners, Allen drops what's rapidly becoming my all-time least favorite argument from the religious crowd:

The problem with atheists — and what makes them such excruciating snoozes — is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God's existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God's omniscience with free will or God's goodness with human suffering. Atheists seem to assume that the whole idea of God is a ridiculous absurdity, the "flying spaghetti monster" of atheists' typically lame jokes. They think that lobbing a few Gaza-style rockets accusing God of failing to create a world more to their liking ("If there's a God, why aren't I rich?" "If there's a God, why didn't he give me two heads so I could sleep with one head while I get some work done with the other?") will suffice to knock down the entire edifice of belief.

Please.  This argument has become ubiquitous lately (was there some secret meeting or something?), which I suppose is a confirmation of Drum's Law: the more inane a complaint is, the more popular it becomes.  And this one is right up there.  Aside from the fact that if you so much as scratch any of these "serious arguments" you end up with a handful of air, the fact is that atheists have addressed them in sophisticated ways since the beginning of organized religion.  But they do it in journals and convocations and formal theses and other equally tedious venues, not in bestsellers at Barnes & Noble.  Just like religious believers, who are represented in the nation's bookstores and chat show circuits by sophisticated tomes like the Left Behind series and the collected works of Robert "Possibility Thinking" Schuller.

If you want to believe, it's fine with me.  But contra Allen, don't pretend that atheists can easily get elected to public office, that creationism is no big deal, or that believers have gobs of sophisticated theological arguments that atheists have never had the guts to take on.  It may be comforting, but it just ain't true.

America's Team

| Sat May 16, 2009 12:46 PM EDT

You will all be excited to know that Team America aka Team AIG aka Manchester United has won the Premier League title.  Hooray.  It's good to see our investment paying off for the plucky lads.