This piece Shaun Mullen wrote about what alien life would actually be like if we found it or it found us has been on my mind for a while, not least because I think it gets at something I would like to see more in the movies: depictions of societies where multiple kinds of sentient life forms have figured out how to live together. It’s not that I dislike first contact movies, it’s just that they tend to follow fairly typical, conflict-driven arcs (with Contact being a notable and fascinating exception). Most of those contacts occur because either humans or aliens are rapacious and violent: they try to kill us in Independence Day, our avarice and fear lead us to kill them in District 9, which I devoutly hope will get a sequel that might push the narrative further. Men in Black was a humorous nod in the direction of coexistence, but that coexistence is maintained via a conspiracy that prevents humanity from actually having to grapple with the fact of intelligent alien life. Star Trek, of course, has alien life, but most of it is hominid in appearance, and the conflicts between races emerge out of differing value structures, rather than a true inability to comprehend each other. What I’m looking for is a world like Star Wars, where humans and aliens alike have essentially settled on a shared set of compromises that rule their interactions, where the society as a whole is far beyond the point of first contact, but where there are more genuinely alien main characters. Any good recommendations? It’s possible that what I’m looking for is out there and I’ve just missed it. But the craving is strong, and I can’t think of something I know out there that will satisfy it.
Ford’s decision to offer an electric version of its award-winning Transit Connect van is giving a boost to a small Oak Park company, Azure Dynamics, and is expected to create new jobs in metro Detroit.
Ford will unveil a Transit Connect Electric commercial van as well as a Transit Connect Taxi powered by compressed natural gas today at the Chicago Auto Show.
Both vehicles, based on the Transit Connect that won North American Truck of the Year for 2009, are expected to go on sale late this year.
Ford and Azure work together on gas-electric hybrids, but the Transit Connect Electric will be the first electric vehicle for both companies.
While most right-wing public officials do not endorse the “birther” theory that President Obama was secretly born in Kenya, a handful of conservative leaders continue to demand that Obama release his long-form birth certificate, throwing fuel on the conspiracy fires. One such official is Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA), who is also running for governor of the state of Georgia. At a recent event hosted by the Georgia Christian Alliance, Deal was asked about his letter to the President asking him for his birth certificate. The congressman responded that while he’s “not questioning” the president’s “legitimacy to serve,” he still wants Obama to show his birth certificate:
DEAL: Well, I think it is a communication that, uh, deserves at least his response, first of all, which we have not received. But in essence what I have told him is this. When I am asked by opponents or constituents hard questions, I don’t shy away from those questions. I try to answer those questions. If I don’t have the information to answer hard questions, I have to go to people who have the answers. What I have asked him to do is tell me where I can ask my constituents to go to see authentic documentation that he says satisfy their curiosity … I know some folks will try to label this as ‘politically incorrect.’ Let me tell you something, political correctness is paralyzing our society. These kinds of things deserve straightforward responses. I think this ought to be put to rest. I’m not questioning his legitimacy to serve as President. I would think he’d like to clear this up in as unequivocal fashion as possible. That’s all I’m asking him to do.
Georgia bloggers on the left and right who are fed up with Deal’s pandering to conspiracy theorists have started their own campaign to demand that Deal show his constituents his birth certificate (they are calling themselves the “proofers“). Georgia Liberal writes, “We have asked him, his Congressional Office, and his Campaign for proof that he is a resident of the state and meets the qualifications to be Governor … And still nothing. … Georgia Liberal does not shy away from the ‘hard questions.’”
President Barack Obama hinted that he may incorporate some Republican tort reform proposals into the existing health care reform legislation, but warned that “bipartisanship cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything they believe in, find the handful of things Republicans have been advocating for and then we do those things.” “There’s gotta be some give and take..and that’s what I hope is accomplished,” Obama said of the forthcoming February 25th health summit:
Let’s establish some common facts. Let’s establish what the issues are, what the problems are and let’s test out, in front of the American people, what ideas work and what ideas don’t. And if we can establish that factual accuracy about how different approaches would work then I think we can make some progress. And it may be that some of the facts that come up, are ones that make my party a little bit uncomfortable.
“If it’s established that by working seriously on malpractice and tort reform, that we can reduce some of those costs, I’ve said from the beginning of this debate, I’d be willing to work on that,” Obama said. “On the other hand, if I’m told that that’s only a faction of the problem and that’s not the biggest driver of health care costs, then I’m also going to insist ‘okay, let’s look at that as one aspect of it, but let’s do what we were going to do,’” Obama added.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently estimated that common Republican tort reform proposals — like capping awards for noneconomic damages — could save the federal government $54 billion over 10 years, but some progressives have questioned the budget office’s conclusion. In a letter to CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) argued that the new CBO report reverses years of precedent and relies on academic studies that actually undermine the savings projection. “CBO has repeatedly concluded that cost savings associated with medical malpractice reforms would be minimal and the at evidence concerning defensive medicine is ‘inconsistent,’” Rockefeller wrote, noting that the budget office has previously determined that “the effect of medical malpractice reform “would be relatively small — less than 0.5 percent of total health care spending” and would “save [only] $5.6 billion over 10 years.””
In September, Obama directed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to authorize “demonstration projects in individual states” to test various approaches to tort reform. The Senate health care bill includes money for such demonstrations.
While in the Senate, Obama also co-sponsored “legislation aimed at reducing both medical errors and lawsuits through a program known as Sorry Works, rooted in the idea that injured patients value an apology as much as money.” That legislation would have given physicians who disclosed their errors “certain protections from liability within the context of the program, in order to promote a safe environment for disclosure.“
Companies will continue punting on major infrastructure investments and the jobs they create as long as Congress dawdles
Sean Pool is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at American Progress.
Businesses leaders are rallying around bipartisan climate action. One reason is that the cloud of uncertainty hovering over clean energy legislation is holding up billions of dollars of private investment that could be creating jobs and spurring technological innovation today.
Peter Darbee, CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric (one of the country’s biggest gas and electric utilities), explained in an op-ed yesterday that as companies wait to see what Congress will do, they are holding off on putting needed capital into infrastructure, manufacturing, and R&D facilities “”investments that would amount to another (privately funded) stimulus package:
They say that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. On a similar principle, I guess, is the Land of Palin, Michael Goldfarb is a shrewd mind:
Sarah Palin is putting together a campaign team, and Washington is taking notice. Mark Leibovich of the New York Times described her bare-bones political operation. Here is why I know: she is not worried about fundraising right now. Pam Pryor, a former RNC senior adviser, leads Palin’s political action committee and is orchestrating her outreach to social conservatives. Randy Scheunenmann remains her policy maestro, with informal assistance from his Orion Strategies colleague Michael Goldfarb, the former Weekly Standard writer and McCain campaign rapid responder. (Goldfarb did not return an e-mail seeking comment about his future in Palin’s world.) Fred Malek is perhaps the single Washington establishment figure that Palin turns to, although Malek has insisted that he is neutral about the presidential race — though he admits to having a soft spot in his heart for Palin.
In case Palin’s ever wondering how many Jews work at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Malek should come in handy.
Today, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced that he is recommending that President Obama nominate Daniel Alter to serve as a judge in the Southern District federal court of New York. Alter was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, becoming an expert in terrorism and security. He has also served as the National Director of the Civil Rights Division of the Anti-Defamation League. Alter would be a historic pick for Obama, becoming the first openly gay man to be nominated to the federal bench. From Schumer’s statement:
His outstanding leadership skills, his commitment to justice, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for a position on the federal bench. I’m proud to nominate Daniel Alter. Period. But I am equally proud to nominate him because he is a history-maker who will be the first openly gay male judge in American history.
Although Obama chooses his judicial nominees, presidents generally defer to the recommendations of home state senators. In 1994, President Clinton nominated the first LGBT person, Deborah Batts, to serve as a federal judge for the Southern District, where she currently sits. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is currently blocking the nomination of Marisa Demeo, an openly gay Latino woman, to serve on the D.C. Superior Court.
Last week, Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) announced that Democrats are going to go it alone on financial regulatory reform, as negotiations with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), were at an “impasse.” One of the sticking points has been the Obama administration’s proposal to levy a $90 billion tax on the largest financial institutions, which Shelby said he opposes outright, adding that if the Democrats were to pursue implementing the tax, they would “risk unravelling much of the bipartisan support already reached.” Republicans as a whole, in fact, have been courting support from the banks, on the grounds that they will block significant regulatory reform.
If ditching a tax on the very biggest banks is the price of bipartisanship, than it was wise for Dodd to move on. After all, the tax is pretty tame, and is only aimed at recouping the money lost on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). I’ve argued that the tax can go further (maybe by making it permanent) and the regulatory reform bill that the House passed in December had a smart provision mandating that banks pay into a fund, which will be used to unwind failing firms without using taxpayer money.
Today on CNBC, former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine said very much the same thing, endorsing the bank tax and likening it to the deposit insurance that commercial banks pay:
Nobody watching this is going to like this, but I basically think the idea, this bank tax, is just another form of FDIC insurance. I think that the industry ought to both pay back but also prepare for the next financial crisis…There was a huge tax to get us out of Long-Term Capital [Management], Goldman Sachs had to put, I can’t even remember, $350 million at the time. This is pay-me-now or pay-me-later. I would rather set up the systems to deal with resolution of the problems over a period of time, which is what the FDIC insurance rates are about.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) put it similarly in pushing for the House’s version of the tax, saying “let’s create the fund, just like the FDIC, so when we need to resolve [a financial institution], it stands.” And FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair also agreed, saying that “Congress should establish a Financial Company Resolution Fund (FCRF) that is pre-funded by levies on larger financial firms — those with assets of at least $10 billion…We believe that a pre-funded FCRF has significant advantages over an ex post funded system.”
The levy makes sense on a few levels, as it will act to level the playing field a bit between the biggest financial firms and the rest of industry and will ensure that taxpayers do not bear the brunt of future failures. Dodd should listen to those like Corzine, who are correctly characterizing this proposal as a common sense reform that doesn’t place much of a real burden on the firms it will affect.
It grieves me that I don’t have a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s full coming-of-age series here in Washington, DC with me, because folks really need to remember that when it comes to winter, the past week or so barely rates. I think there are a couple of things worth remembering about The Long Winter, the story of an incredibly harsh winter the Ingalls’ lived through that lasted from October to May, when the train finally got through with the family’s Christmas turkey. First, they started out the year with a mediocre to bad harvest: even before the blizzard hit, Laura knew that the yield from her family’s new claim would get them through the winter if the stretched it, and no one expected winter to last seven months. These are folks who thought they knew how bad it could be, who had neighbors who walked eighty miles to get them a stick of Christmas candy, where the patriarch of the household once survived a blizzard for days by holing up in the snow and eating the treats he was supposed to bring home to his daughters. They had no idea what they were in for.
Second, the book is really about how Almanzo Wilder, the man who would become Laura’s husband, saves her and her family, but not in a damsel-in-distressy kind of way. They meet for the first time when Laura and her sister Carrie get lost in the Big Slough trying to bring back a tooth for a hay-cutter to their father, and lose their way. Later in the winter, when the Ingalls and many of their neighbors are quite literally starving to death, Pa Ingalls figures out that Almanzo and his brother have stockpiled wheat literally in the walls of their store: they’ve built hidden storage space. Weak with hunger and unable to provide for the family, he goes to the Wilder brothers and demands that they give or sell him some of the grain, and ultimately, they do, without sacrificing his dignity. And finally, Almanzo and Cap Garland, a younger boy, risk their lives to bring back enough wheat to get the town through the rest of the winter from a farmer with a stockpile of his own. In a very different way from Farmer Boy, the book in the series that focuses on Almanzo’s childhood, The Long Winter is about establishing Almanzo’s character and fitness to marry Laura. He’s got to grow up enough to earn her, and she has to grow up enough to learn to love and trust him.
The Shelby Shakedown continues. Richard Shelby is no longer holding all executive branch appointees hostage to his demand for extra pork for Alabama, instead it’s just these guys:
But Senator Shelby still has holds on on these individuals: Terry Yonkers, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force; Frank Kendall, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics; and Erin Conaton, Under Secretary of the Air Force.
This is completely unacceptable. If Shelby doesn’t think Terry Yonkers should be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force then he should vote “no” when the matter is brought to the Senate floor. If Shelby doesn’t think Frank Kendall should be Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics he should vote “no” when the matter is brought to the Senate floor. If Shelby doesn’t think Erin Conaton should be Under Secretary of the Air Force then he should vote “no” when the matter is brought to the Senate floor. That’s how a legislature runs. It has the authority to confirm or not confirm certain people. So when the president nominates people, the members vote. If they don’t want to vote “yes,” they don’t have to. But delaying a vote indefinitely? In order to shake some federal bucks loose? It’s outrageous.