I Like the Taste of Straight (Radioactive) Iodine…

According to this NPR report, the Japanese are lucky because it’s not the partially-spent fuel rods that caused spikes in radiation levels around the Fukushima nuclear reactors, it was just material from the reactor core.

Along with officials in Japan, independent experts in the United States and Europe are investigating the source and nature of the radiation released. But it looks like most of the material likely came from the reactors themselves, not from the pools of used fuel that have caused such concern.

Like, the reactors aren’t anything to worry about? Were people really more concerned about the spent fuel pools than the reactors or is that sort of a deflection of concerns?

Elide In

I have to say, that with all of the words spilled in this Glenn Greenwald post at Salon about Joe Lieberman that it’s somewhat surprising that the Gore mentioned in the post is Tipper.

It was, after all, then-VP and presidential candidate Al Gore who chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2000. That act more than anything else gave Lieberman the national slimelight he’s craved ever since. He was the 2000 template for Sarah Palin: the running mate who eclipses the losing presidential candidate who picked them.

It wasn’t just Lieberman’s mendacity during the recount battle that cost Gore the election. There was a large contingent of Democratic voters who sincerely disliked Lieberman for reasons that—while they might not have been apparent to everyone in 2000—have certainly been on display for most of the decade and more since.

It may have been a can of worms that Greenwald wasn’t interested in opening. I’ve certainly run across any number of commenters at sites over the years who’ve claimed that Lieberman “turned to the right” only after 9/11 or after he’d been rejected by the Connecticut Democrats in 2006, as if pettiness and spite were somehow excuses. Maybe Greenwald just ran out of steam; he certainly had a lot of material to choose from. But I’d make the point that the fact that Lieberman was the choice of the elders to be that “heartbeat away” from the country’s levers, combined with the praise Greenwald mentions probably reveals a lot about where the real soul of the Democratic Party is and why it seems moribund and toothless.

Rahm Place, Rahm Time

The Illinois Apellate Court has overturned a decision that would have let former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel run for mayor of Chicago on the grounds that he moved his family to DC two years ago, rented out his Chicago home, and therefore hasn’t been a resident of the city for a year, a requirement for the post.

That, I think, is indicative of one reason the Obama administration has had such a rough couple of years. Whether or not Emanuel is actually eligible to run for mayor is something the state Supreme Court is likely to decide, but it was a no-brainer to anticipate this potential bump in the road. The past two years have been a very bumpy ride for the administration, but it’s been all the worse because people like Emanuel failed time and again to predict any of the jolts. They were repeatedly caught off-guard and unprepared for opposition to policy proposals and plans. From the reprise of the fifty-year-old casting of national health coverage as “socialism” to the administration’s blissful unawareness of an unemployment level that’s seemingly resistant to all of the happy “Road to Recovery” talk, people like Emanuel have acted as if their very ideas were enough to shape the world: creating their own reality where facts don’t matter, as one Bush-administration official told journalist Robert Suskind.

Like so many challenges of the past two years, this impediment to Emanuel’s run for mayor was completely foreseeable. He may surmount it but there’s a good chance it will screw up his plans and in any case it could have been sidestepped neatly if he’d simply re-established some sort of obvious residence in the city a year ago, presumably when he was thinking about running for the office.

Planning ahead is one of those attributes that’s supposed to be useful in civic leaders, no?

Bringing a Microphone to a Gun Fight

Personally, I think the people who have been blaming hate talk radio, Tea Party shouters, and politicians het up about Kenyan birth certificates and socialism for the string of violence and near-violence of which the Tucson shooting last weekend is just the most recent have it all backward. Those people didn’t make Jared Lee Loughner kill three senior citizens, a federal judge a young man, and a little girl. They didn’t pull the trigger on the Glock that sent bullets through the brain of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and into a dozen others. They’re just not as limited in their opportunities, patience, or skills as Loughner was.

A report by Alix Spiegel on NPR’s Morning Edition today delves into a 1999 study of assassins and would-be assassins conducted for the Secret Service by an agent and a psychologist. They studied people both well-known and obscure and came to the conclusion that:

…rather than being politically motivated, many of the assassins and would-be assassins simply felt invisible. In the year before their attacks, most struggled with acute reversals and disappointment in their lives, which, the paper argues, was the true motive. They didn’t want to see themselves as nonentities.

And one thing [professor Randy] Borum and [psychologist Robert] Fein say about choosing a political figure — as opposed to choosing a show-business celebrity — is that the would-be assassins are able to associate themselves with a broader political movement or goal. That allows them to see themselves as not such a bad person. In this way, Borum says, assassins are basically murderers in search of a cause.

“There’s nothing crazy about thinking that if I attacked the president or a major public official, I would get a lot of attention. I would get a lot of attention. My goal was notoriety,” Fein says. “That’s why I bought the weapon.”

In the case of politicians, talk radio hosts, and Fox News pundits, they have a weapon that’s not going to get them put in jail. The payoff for what they do—in notoriety, money, and freedom—is far greater than any mere physical assassin. Police aren’t likely to shoot them. They aren’t going to go to jail. If their particular brand of vitriol catches on they get invited on TV and radio, they get book deals, and they might even get their own show or elected to office.

Of course, it didn’t really take a study for someone to figure out that assassins just want to have fun. The Secret Service could just have hired Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, who’d figured it out while writing the musical Assassins a decade earlier and expressed it in the song “Another National Anthem”:

[SAM BYCK (attempted to hijack a plane to crash into the White House and kill Richard Nixon)]
I deserve a fucking prize!…

[LYNETTE “SQUEAKY” FROMME (attempted to shoot Gerald Ford)]
I did it so there’d be a trial, and Charlie [Manson] would get to be a witness, and he’d be on TV, and he’d save the world!…

[CHARLES GUITEAU (shot and killed James Garfield)]
Where’s my prize?

I did it to make people listen.

[LEON CZOLGOSZ (shot and killed William McKinley), FROMME]
They promised me a prize…

[JOHN HINCKLEY (shot Ronald Reagan)]
Because she [Jodie Foster] wouldn’t take my phone calls-

[ALL (Except Zangara)]
What about my prize?

[GIUSEPPE ZANGARA (attempted to shoot Franklin Roosevelt, killing Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak)]
Because nothing stopped the fire-!

[ALL (Except Byck)]
I want my prize!…

Nobody would listen!

It’s a pretty easy path for the right-wing pundit. The money flows like the hate. But there can only be so many of them on the air at once and not everyone has the gift of the golden tongue. Not everyone who wants the attention can manage to keep it together long enough to make it through their crisis point.

“They experienced failure after failure after failure, and decided that rather than being a ‘nobody,’ they wanted to be a ‘somebody,’ ” Fein says.

They chose political targets, then, because political targets were a sure way to transform this situation: They would be known.

Married, with two kids, Beck barely held things together; ratings at New Haven’s KC101 were sinking, and his salary and responsibilities were being slashed. “Every single minute of every single day was a struggle for me,” he says. His worst moment: blacking out at night, then breakfasting the next morning with his kids when “they said, ‘Dad, Dad, that was the best one ever, tell us that [nighttime] story again.’ I realized that not only could I not remember the story, I didn’t even remember tucking them in.” Beck took himself to Alcoholics Anonymous. But he credits Tania, his second wife, whom he met three or four years later, for pulling him out of the deep ditch. At her insistence they shopped around for a church and became Mormons.

In the late 1990s (Beck is fuzzy on dates), while filling in as a talk radio host at WABC in New York City, Beck got a lucky call from media agent George Hiltzik, who had been tipped off by the program director. Beck told him he had an offer to do talk radio in Tampa. Hiltzik was impressed with Beck’s passion–and his urge to make a lot of money.

—Lacey Rose, “Glenn Beck Inc”, Forbes (04.08.10)

Loughner got his prize. It just comes with a bit harsher center than the prizes Rush Limbaugh and Beck take home.

Inconvenient Truths Are … Inconvenient

As I mentioned back at the beginning of November, Portland blogger Jack Bogdanski banned me from commenting at his site (again) for a throwaway comment about how I didn’t think a City of Portland web page on living car-less amounted to “hectoring.”

I’ve tended to check his site less and less—not being a believer in one-way communication—but what the heck, it was Christmas Eve and I was looking for distraction from my work. I ran across a one-line comment link he made about why Oregon’s population didn’t grow as fast as Washington’s over the past decade, which linked to a Washington Examiner opinion piece by right-wing economist Michael Barone. Could it be “lack of a personal income tax?”

Barone’s article doesn’t mention Washington or Oregon although he rhapsodizes at length about “diversified,” “business-friendly,” “low-tax” Texas. Bogdanski’s takeaway from the article seems to have been this line: “Seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average.”

Now, there are a couple of problems with this that would be evident to anyone who’s both seen anything about the Census report and been watching the business news over the past few years. First, the state that grew the most between 2000 and 2010 was Nevada (35.1%). Nevada’s one of the entries on Barone’s list of states that can teach us all a lesson about taxes. On the other hand, as of October Nevada had been leading the nation in home foreclosures (currently 1 out of every 74 homes) for nearly two years. And their preliminary seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for November 2010 was 14.3%. Maybe rapid growth isn’t such a great thing.

Then again, how much of an edge did no sales tax supposedly net Washington state? But if you look at the chart, their rate of growth was barely higher than Oregon’s: 14.1% vs. 12%. Sure, they got another US House seat but Washington’s population was already 70% larger than Oregon’s ten years ago. Two percent extra growth seems a rather thin ledge to hang this claim from.

And what about all of the states that grew faster than Washington even though they had personal income taxes? Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The first three on that list actually grew faster than Barone’s beloved Texas, although Arizona’s high in the rankings of per capita foreclosures along with Nevada.

And what about Texas itself? Sixth-highest poverty rate (17.3%) in the nation. A child poverty rate of 25.6% last year, seventh-highest in the US. Largest share of the population lacking health insurance. Sure, sign me up.

I put a few of those facts together in a short comment, pointing out that Barone was full of hot air. Bogdanski rejected the comment and posted back to me:

Not today.

We had a couple of email exchanges after that but there was no explanation as to why he banned the post other than my presumed reason that it made the guy he linked to look like a fool.


I’m glad the FBI has developed the capabilities to ferret out young men with murder on their minds in places like Portland and Maryland, but it does make me wonder if some of the energy needed for supporting an operation that builds fake bombs and people to track these targets for months on end could possibly have been spent looking for people like Byron Williams who was actually on his way to kill people with real bullets when the California Highway Patrol tried to stop him for reckless driving.


My poker and politics obsessions come together in a post at the Cake Poker blog that refers to a story by Randall Lane about Barack Obama’s poker-playing days in Illinois in The Daily Beast:

Lane puts all this information together and says that Obama’s concessions to the Republicans on the tax bill, the federal wage freeze and “unreciprocated health-care and fiscal concessions” that they’re confident in their ability to bluff the president. That’s bad news for him since the Republicans will be in control of Congress for at least the next two years, where they’ll have plenty of time to make him fold his medium-strength hands to their unsuited garbage. If the president is as big a nit as The Daily Beast suggests, he’d better hope his stack doesn’t dwindle to where he has no fold equity before the next election.

You can probably make out the sense of that without knowing the specific terminology, but a “nit” is someone who us si risk-averse that they can often be forced out of a hand they’re not absolutely sure of. “Fold equity” is the amount of money you can bet to force other players to back down; if you don’t have many chips it’s difficult to protect weak hands or to bluff because it costs little for others to match your bet.

As I wrote back in July, poker is a game of imperfect knowledge, unlike tic-tac-toe or chess. You can sometimes be sure you have the absolute best combination of cards but that’s not the usual situation, particularly in the early stages of betting in a hand when you only know about a portion of the cards that will be dealt. This is from Lane’s article:

“He wasn’t a bluffer,” says [Will County executive Larry] Walsh. “When Barack was betting, you could pretty much know that he had a hand.”

[State Senator Terry] Link remembers more bluffing, to a point: “He bluffed, with the cards. He wasn’t going to bluff with a total longshot.” In poker parlance, this is known as a semi-bluff: even if you’re called, you still have a so-so hand as insurance.

And if his opponents bluffed? Both Link and Walsh remember Obama as disinclined to engage unless he already held an overwhelming advantage. “If he was chasing [another card to complete a straight or flush], he’d give her about two shots and then fold,” says Walsh.

If nothing else, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the GOP Republicans have demonstrated their bluffing proficiency. Obama confirmed as much at yesterday’s press conference: “I have not been able to budge them. And I don’t think there’s any suggestion anybody in this room thinks realistically that we can budge them right now.” There’s only one way to find out, but Obama, lacking an overwhelming hand, has been unwilling to do so over the first two years of his presidency.

Then again, the other possibility is he’s getting exactly what he wanted.