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Archive for February, 2009

Notes from Newt

[ 0 ] February 28, 2009 |

I’d like to feel sorry for people on Newt Gingrich’s e-mail list, but I really can’t.

A lot of these e-mail messages are deeply wonkish, written in single-sentence paragraphs without punctuation or capital letters. It’s almost as if you can see Gingrich twittering away at a Starbucks while doing calculations on a wrinkled napkin. On Thanksgiving Day, for instance, in an e-mail message one recipient shared with me, Gingrich fired off a riff on an idea by Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas, who had suggested that, instead of a stimulus bill, the party propose a payroll-tax holiday. “FICA and personal income tax combined are about $160 billion a month (you might want to check my math),” Gingrich wrote to a group of Congressional allies. “So if Pelosi proposes a $700 billion stimulus spending package in January, we could propose a 4-month tax holiday as the alternative.” In a separate e-mail message to his own aides, he wrote: “Think of no personal or corporate income tax and no fica tax for a year as a stimulus package. Am I nuts in rome or is the contrast startling.”

You could add the clause “like a crazy person” to the end of every sentence in that paragraph, to say nothing about the rest of the article. That said, I can’t object to the idea that Newt Gingrich has refurbished himself as the new intellectual genius of the Republican party. With a second baby due at any moment in my household, I’ll happily seize upon any reason to sleep peacefully for the next few years. I’d be especially pleased if Gingrich will agree to keep endorsing such winning notions as, say, John McCain suspending his campaign to single-handedly address economic issues he openly claimed not to understand. Comparing McCain’s defeat-ensuring move to Eisenhower’s October 1952 declaration that he would “go to Korea” was a magical moment.


The Day Each Year that I Get to be Joel Surnow…

[ 0 ] February 28, 2009 |

The 2009 Patterson School Crisis Simulation has ended. Coverage of the simulation was provided by the UK School of Journalism, and can be found here (start with the very bottom post and work your way up). The story was this: A Panamanian flagged, Pakistani owned container ship named MV Straat Malakka was seized by pirates after an extended firefight. The RFS Pyotr Velikiy responded, and began to escort the merchant ship to port. Hijinks ensued.

We divided the Patterson class into the following teams:

United States:
Department of State

Islamic Republic of Iran:
Revolutionary Guard
Foreign Ministry

Somali State of Puntland

United Nations International Maritime Organization

Note that the exercise was intended solely for educational purposes (for both Patterson and School of Journalism students), and reflects no particular position on Iran, the United States, Russia, or pirates.

We Could Never Be This Fortunate…

[ 0 ] February 28, 2009 |

This would be awesome, but there’s just no way…

Already in conflict with his party’s leaders, Sen. Jim Bunning has reportedly said privately that if he is hindered in raising money for his re-election campaign he is ready with a response that would be politically devastating for Senate Republicans: his resignation.

The Kentucky Republican suggested that possible scenario at a campaign fundraiser for him on Capitol Hill earlier this week, according to three sources who asked not to be identified because of the politically sensitive nature of Bunning’s remarks.

The implication, they said, was that Bunning would allow Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, to appoint his replacement — a move that could give Democrats the 60 votes they need to block Republican filibusters in the Senate.

I do kind of like how the old man is playing hardball, though…

The Republican Party’s Rising Superstar

[ 0 ] February 28, 2009 |

apparently weaves a mean tall tale, which embellished the speech in which he chose to respond to Obama’s economic speech by reiterating the claim that Mississippi’s economic system should serve as a national model. (Although pointing it out makes you a racist.)

Republican claims of Jindal’s greatness are beginning to remind me of nothing so much as the brief moment in time in which Fred Thompson was going to totally save the Republican Party because of the way he made the ladeez swoon.

The Hottest Thing Since Porkbusters! Or At Least the Victory Caucus!

[ 0 ] February 27, 2009 |

When it comes to Sammy the Wurzelbacher, nobody cares. This isn’t surprising, since it’s not as if he has ever an actual grassroots phenomenon. Rather, starting with the GOP’s hapless presidential candidate, he was certain conservatives’ idea of what an “authentic heartland phenomenon” should be. If there was any doubt about this, the fact that Pajamas Media seems to be going all-in on him — in tandem with “tea parties” that are going to need considerably more density to rise to the level of being “sparsely attended” — should settle the question. (I eagerly await Glenn Reynolds’s new Pajama TV episode about how An American Carol really was a license to print money; after all, it’s all about the DVDs today, and it’s still the 497th 569th [and probably dropped again by the time you read this] best-selling DVD in the country!)

The end of something

[ 0 ] February 26, 2009 |

Next month will be the tenth anniversary of when I started publishing a weekly column in the Rocky Mountain News. This afternoon Scripps Howard announced that the RMN, which is Colorado’s oldest continuously operating business (150 years), will publish its last edition tomorrow. People had been expecting this since December, when Scripps announced it was looking for a buyer for the paper, which is part of a joint operating agreement with the Denver Post. Not surprisingly, none was forthcoming. The Post, which is also losing money, will continue to operate, at least for now, and being the only paper in town will probably buy it a few more years.

But it’s obvious that the end of the American newspaper in anything like its traditional form is in sight. For example the Sunday New York Times (which is the only aspect of the NYT print operation that still makes money) must be half the size it was three years ago, and many local papers have divested themselves of any independently generated content at all.

For me this is a minor economic inconvenience, although I’m finding myself a lot more affected by it psychologically than I was expecting to be. For a lot of people I know it’s a devastating blow in every sense.

And it’s a typical irony of the age that I discovered the news about my paper’s demise on an internet message board.

Philip Jose Farmer, RIP

[ 0 ] February 26, 2009 |

Philip Jose Farmer has passed at the age of 91. Riders of the Purple Wage is an enduring masterpiece. Of the Riverworld series I only really liked To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat, although I made it through the entire set. Didn’t read the rest of his body of work.

Giving Away the Show

[ 0 ] February 26, 2009 |

Shorter Verbatim Dave Schultheiss: “What I’m hoping is that, yes, that person may have AIDS, have it seriously as a baby and when they grow up, but the mother will begin to feel guilt as a result of that.” Well, you have to, ah, appreciate the honesty.

I think this is the most instructive look into “pro-life” psychology since the VP of Focus on the Family defended one of their silly policies by claiming it created “greater legal liability and danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus.” Boy, I’m more persuaded by Will Saletan’s assertions that they occupy the moral high ground all the time!

You know what I want (or maybe you don’t)

[ 0 ] February 25, 2009 |

One uncomfortable truth about this still incredibly rich country is that fully half of middle-aged and older Americans own essentially nothing. The median 50-year-old has no retirement savings to speak of. Not “inadequate savings to retire comfortably with,” but none, or so close to none as to make no difference.

Arguments about Social Security and Medicare often manage to avoid any contact with this fact.

Of course as soon as the Dow gets to 36,000 these problems will seem less acute.

"Government Speech" And the First Amendment

[ 0 ] February 25, 2009 |

As was widely expected, the Supreme Court today that Pleasant Grove, Utah’s unwillingness to display a monument erected by the Summum did not violate the religious group’s free speech rights. Alito, writing for the Court, argued that “the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech.” Once the action is held to fall into the “government speech” category, there was no First Amendment violation, as the government (while it may be required to provide neutral access to public fora) is not required to be impartial when speaking itself, as long as its speech is consistent with the Establishment and Equal Protection clauses.

In an interesting concurrence, however, Justice Stevens attempted to draw some useful distinctions between today’s case and previous cases held to be in the “government speech” category. For example, Altio’s opinion approvingly cited Rust v. Sullivan, in which the Court narrowly held (over three dissenting opinions, including one by Stevens) that the infamous “gag order” that prevented any medical professional receiving federal family planning funds from even discussing abortion with a patient did not violate the First Amendment. As Stevens points out, however, there’s a major difference between the two cases: the gag order interfered with private speech, which today’s decision did not, as Pleasant Grove didn’t do anything to prevent the Summum from displaying a monument on their own property. I agree with Stevens that today’s decision is sturdier than many of the much more dubious “government speech” cases.

Bobby Jindal: Soft on Volcanoes

[ 1 ] February 25, 2009 |

If I were as vapid as Ann Althouse, I’d probably wonder if Bobby Jindal’s hostility toward “volcano monitoring” weren’t some variety of passive aggressive challenge to Sarah Palin, who spends a lot more time near active volcanoes than most of the GOP’s rising stars.

But no. Rather, Bobby Jindal — who I hear from Michael Gerson patrols the land on a horse made of crystal — simply has terrible ideas about the public utility of science:

The $140 million to which Jindal referred is actually for a number of projects conducted by the United States Geological Survey, including volcano monitoring. This monitoring is aimed at helping geologists understand the inner workings of volcanoes as well as providing warnings of impending eruptions, in the United States and in active areas around the world where U.S. military bases are located.

Among the scenarios in which the USGS’s monitoring can assist — the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, which killed 57 people (including a geologist monitoring the mountain) and was the deadliest and costliest volcanic eruption in U.S. history ($2.74 billion in 2007 dollars). This event was preceded by thousands of earthquakes in the two months before the volcano blew its top; some of these prompted the Governor of Washington to declare a state of emergency and many residents were evacuated from a designated danger zone.

About 50 volcanic eruptions occur around the world every year, according to the USGS. The United States ranks third, behind Indonesia and Japan, in its number of historically active volcanoes (those for which written accounts exist). Most U.S. volcanoes are located in the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, with the rest distributed around the West.

It’s pretty clear from the context of Bobby Jindal’s remarks that he doesn’t merely think that $140 million for geological work is misplaced in a stimulus bill. He actually argues that volcano monitoring is inherently silly. As the governor of a geologically-vulnerable state, you’d think Jindal would have a bit more sense than that, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the new GOP — now with 50 percent more crazy — this past year has given us.


[ 1 ] February 25, 2009 |


If it sounds like Jindal is targeting his speech to a room full of fourth graders, that’s because he is. They might be the next people to actually vote for Republicans again.

Of course, what makes it really funny is that Jindal is apparently the GOP’s idea of a Deep Thinker. Yeah, good luck with that.

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