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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ski pics

I haven't really felt like blogging lately... although tonight's the SoTU address (by another name), so that will probably provide plenty of fodder for the rest of the week.
But for now, here's a picture of me on the slopes...




and here are my parents, who wish to remain anonymous (at least I think those are my parents):



p.s. if you're jonesing for more banking analysis (and who isnt?) read this and this

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

misc

I'm currently in Denver International Airport, on my way home from Breckenridge, where I've been the last few days, skiing with my family. Not to gloat, but it was pretty great. At this moment, however, my mind is captivated by the birds flying around the concourse. Are they doomed? Or have they hit the motherload of foodcourt leftovers.

Well, I havent been following the news, so here are a few random things...



http://thejailbreak.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/custom_1234987579544_sushi.jpg



Is George W. Bush President?

A visual depiction of Wal-Mart's spread across the country.

David Foster Wallace you left us too soon: a humane way to cook lobster

The clown that makes you not want to have sex:



Thomas Frank says bipartisanship is a silly beltway obsession

James Morone, professor of political science at Brown University looks at the historical record and concludes the same

Thursday, February 12, 2009

200

Happy two hundredth, dudes:


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I didn't realize these guys were born on the exact same day. Crazy.


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John Fabian Witt, a legal historian, explains how Lincoln went from dismissing wartime codes of conduct, to ultimately finding value in such standards. The rules of engagement Lincoln ultimately laid down would go on to become the core of the Geneva Conventions.

One of Abraham Lincoln's little-noted accomplishments has become his most unlikely legacy. He helped create the modern international rules that protect civilians, prevent torture, and limit the horrors of combat, the body of law known as the laws of war. Indeed, he was probably our most important law-of-war president, having crafted the very rules that George W. Bush and his Justice Department tried to destroy.

For the past seven years, America has repeated the journey Lincoln completed in 24 grueling months. Strong majorities of Americans now call for the dismantling of detention facilities at Guantanamo. Even stronger majorities oppose the use of torture in interrogations. As a nation, we have walked in Lincoln's footsteps, down an uncertain path from skepticism about the laws of war to a rediscovery of their pragmatic mix of toughness and humanity. President Obama, in his inaugural address, pledged to reconcile our interests and our ideals. This is precisely what Lincoln's laws of war sought to accomplish, rejecting lawlessness while relentlessly pursuing threats to our way of life.

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Some Senate heavy hitters have introduced legislation to set parameters around Executive Branch's use of the "state secrets" privilege. This would actually be an even better development than if the Obama administration had chosen to refrain from widely asserting the privilege, as it would be a formal, institutional check on this power, which would remain in existence for future Presidents to contend with.


Glenn Greenwald:

What we need far more than a benevolent and magnanimous President is a re-assertion of Congressional authority as a check on executive power. Even if Obama decided unilaterally to refrain from exercising some of the powers which the Bush administration seized, that would be a woefully insufficient check against future abuse, since it would mean that these liberties would be preserved only when a benevolent ruler occupies the White House (and, then, only when the benevolent occupant decides not to use the power). Acts of Congress -- along with meaningful, enforced oversight of the President -- are indispensable for preventing these abuses. And that's true whether or not one believes that the current occupant of the Oval Office is a good, kind and trustworthy ruler.

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David Axelrod on his predecessors:

Axelrod said he was "disappointed" by former Vice President Dick Cheney's comments regarding the planned closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and the suggestion that it would increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack; he described himself as "surprised" by former White House chief of staff Andy Card's remark that not wearing a jacket in the Oval Office was disrespectful.

But, Axelrod saved his strongest condemnation for the man who held his job in the Bush White House: Karl Rove. Of Rove's criticism of Obama's economic stimulus plan, Axelrod said: "The last thing that I think we are looking for at this juncture is advice on fiscal integrity or ethics from Karl Rove -- anyone who's read the newspapers for the last eight years would laugh at that."

Heh.


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Andrew Sullivan on why Judd Gregg withdrew his name for Sec. of Commerce:

When Judd Gregg approached the Obama administration to see if he could be a part of it, he was assuming that his own party wasn't going to adopt a policy of total warfare against the newly elected president in a time of enormous economic peril. Between that moment and the current all-out ideological assault on Obama, his position became untenable. His recusal on the stimulus package provoked fury at home (check out the comments here) and dyspepsia among the GOP who are intent on responding to an open hand with a clenched fist.

I have to say even I am a little taken aback by the force of the Republican assault. Even in a downturn as swift and alarming as this one, even after an election that clearly favored one approach over another, even after the most conciliatory efforts by an incoming president in memory, these people have gone to war against the president. The president should stay cool. The rest of us should realize what motivates the GOP: the opportunism of selective ideology.


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E.J. Dionne Jr. on the bailout:

The plan seemed to be defined more by what it didn't want to be than by what it actually was, inspired more by a concern with how things look than what actually works.

Geithner did not want the administration to seem leftist, so he rejected the temporary nationalization of the bad banks. Yet the advantage of nationalization is that it's straightforward: The government would take over the bad banks -- as opposed to throwing endless sums of money at them -- clean them up, and sell them off.

Temporary nationalization is far from a perfect solution. But it's a better idea than having taxpayers take on bad assets while letting the banks keep the good ones. Socializing losses and privatizing profits is a recipe for ripping off taxpayers. It's still not clear, to me at least, how Geithner's proposal will protect the interests of taxpayers.

There is nothing wrong with a sensible centrism that tries to balance competing goods. But Washington has become too concerned with appearances and with calculating the distance from some arbitrary midpoint in any given debate. The sensible center should be defined by what works, even if that means discovering that the true middle ground isn't where we thought it was.


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This guy seems to know what he's talking about...

former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, who now teaches at MIT, brings a slightly different perspective to the U.S. banking crisis, that of someone who has studied and been involved with resolving financial crises in developing nations.




More from Johnson here.


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Yglesias on the stimulus:

Realistically, though, the largest impacts of the stimulus are going to be things that are hard to see because they're things that aren't happen. State governments will lay off or furlough workers, but they'll do less of this than they would have done had the stimulus not passed. Which means those employees will spend more at their local retail outlets than they otherwise would have done. So the retailers of the country will lay off fewer workers than they otherwise might, and low-cost retailers may add jobs and capacity faster than they otherwise might.


Something worth keeping in mind.


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This guy is what you'd call a character:



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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

bankrupt on selling

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Mike Allen:

An oft-quoted investment banker e-mails us: “There is no capital in the entire global financial system. None. When I say ‘financial,’ I mean banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, homeowners and other leveraged players. There is some capital among the ‘real money’ players such as sovereign wealth funds and central banks. And the U.S. can ‘print’ some. But that's it. … The problem with the distressed assets is not that there are no buyers. There are plenty of buyers; I speak to them every day. The problem is there are no sellers; that is, the banks won't sell. Because to sell is to book a loss on what you have sold and what remains. And to do that is to die. That's what it means to be insolvent.”


Ezra Klein:

Just to clarify those last sentences: The banks bought the bad assets at high prices. They need to sell them at low prices. But this banker is arguing that they are too financially stressed to absorb the losses that would entail. Conversely, so long as they don't sell the assets, they can pretend they haven't lost any money on them, as they can pretend that they will rebound to a better price once the mania is over. The other way of putting this is that much of the banking sector is already insolvent, it's just not prepared to admit it.


Atrios:

There are various ways to tell this story, but the punchline is always the same. The financial institutions are insolvent. For some time many of the people in them perhaps honestly believed that it was a temporary liquidity issue, that the assets were worth more than they could sell them for. That time has long passed. They bet it all on Big Shitpile and lost. And they know it.


Robert Kuttner of Geithner's plan:

The plan is a convoluted mess, but here is the essence: The basic problem is that America's largest banks are insolvent. They owe more than they own. Geithner's strategy is to disguise this reality. His problem is that Congress is in no mood to legislate another nickel of bailout funds. If his latest plan were written as legislation, it could not get even a majority of Democrats. So his scheme takes $100 billion of the Treasury's remaining $350 billion in TARP money, uses the Federal Reserve's enormous funds, which are outside congressional control, to leverage that sum to $1 trillion, and then uses that money to insure private purchases.

If that sounds complicated, it is. And it’s complicated because Geithner expressly rejected the more straightforward solutions: He explicitly ruled out direct government ownership of the big banks, or even giving the government majority seats on bank boards. Rather, under his plan, regulators will subject bank balance sheets to intensified study to determine just how bad things are -- something that regulators should have been doing all along. Then, Geithner hopes to use loans from the Federal Reserve and guarantees from the remaining TARP funds "as a bridge to private capital," as Geithner delicately put it.


Dean Baker:

The basic point is extremely simple. We have a large number of bankrupt banks. We have a public interest in keeping the banks functioning, but we have zero public interest in giving taxpayer dollars to bank shareholders or to the executives that wrecked the banks they ran.

Geithner can design as complex a dog and pony show as he wants, but if his plan takes up hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and does not involve wiping out the shareholders and sending the bank executives packing, then he has ripped us off.


Obama on temporarily nationalizing the banks, a la Sweden:

Sweden, on the other hand, had a problem like this. They took over the banks, nationalized them, got rid of the bad assets, resold the banks and, a couple years later, they were going again. So you’d think looking at it, Sweden looks like a good model. Here’s the problem; Sweden had like five banks. [LAUGHS] We’ve got thousands of banks. You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale, I think, would — our assessment was that it wouldn’t make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country.

Obviously, Sweden has a different set of cultures in terms of how the government relates to markets and America’s different. And we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core — core investment needs of this country.

And so, what we’ve tried to do is to apply some of the tough love that’s going to be necessary, but do it in a way that’s also recognizing we’ve got big private capital markets and ultimately that’s going to be the key to getting credit flowing again.


Felix Salmon:


Now I'm on the record as being decidedly pro-nationalization, but this is as clear and well-argued a case for not nationalizing as you could hope to get.


Paul Krugman:

Yes, Obama is impressively articulate and well-informed — and his response shows that he has actually considered the issue. It’s light-years better than what we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.

But his two main arguments aren’t actually very good. Yes, we have thousands of banks — but the problems are concentrated in a handful of big players. In fact, the Geithner plan, such as it is, already acknowledges this: the “stress test” is to be applied only to banks with assets over $100 billion, of which there are supposed to be around 14.

And the argument that our culture won’t stand for nationalization — well, our culture isn’t too friendly towards bank bailouts of any kind. Yet those bailouts are necessary; and even in America they may be more palatable if taxpayers at least get to throw the bums out.

Oh, and not a week goes by without the FDIC taking several smaller banks into receivership. Nationalization is actually as American as apple pie.


Paul Kedrosky:

All this talk of “culture”, “traditions”, and so on are an opaque way of saying that Democrats are terrified of nationalization because they worry about Republican name-calling.


Atrios (again):

Some sort of nationalization is inevitable. Why the Obama team thinks it's a good idea to light a pile of money on fire first is beyond me.





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A quick update on the Obama Admin's decision to continue asserting Bush's expansive state secrets argument in order to have lawsuits dismissed...


The NYT slams Obama for 'defending the indefensible:'

The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law.


Glenn Greenwald was not impressed by that Marc Ambinder article I linked to yesterday:

He called up "administration officials," granted them full anonymity to defend their position (without bothering to explain why anonymity was warranted here), did not offer a single identifying fact about who these "officials" are, and then faithfully wrote down what they said, without a word of questioning or skepticism. He then found two independent sources who also praised Obama's decision. He did not cite or quote a single source critical of any of these claims -- including even the ACLU's Wizner, who he never bothered to call to ask for comment. It was a completely one-sided act of uncritical administration-amplifying stenography -- "anonymous administration officials say X and I'm going to write that down and pass it on uncritically and then praise it" -- which is exactly what many Beltway reporters have long meant when they praise themselves for doing "original reporting."



Rachel Maddow talks to an attorney for one of the torture victims whose lawsuits would be dismissed:



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Zadie Smith ruminates on Obama's use of language and bridging cultural divides

It's my audacious hope that a man born and raised between opposing dogmas, between cultures, between voices, could not help but be aware of the extreme contingency of culture. I further audaciously hope that such a man will not mistake the happy accident of his own cultural sensibilities for a set of natural laws, suitable for general application. I even hope that he will find himself in agreement with George Bernard Shaw when he declared, "Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it." But that may be an audacious hope too far. We'll see if Obama's lifelong vocal flexibility will enable him to say proudly with one voice "I love my country" while saying with another voice "It is a country, like other countries." I hope so. He seems just the man to demonstrate that between those two voices there exists no contradiction and no equivocation but rather a proper and decent human harmony.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

rope-a-doper

clips from last night's press conference...

the first question/answer:



on dealing with Republicans:



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Maddow on the three types of Republican responses to the bill:



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Noam Schieber thinks Obama has played the Republicans, rope-a-dope style:

Obama has completely defined the stimulus narrative on his own terms. To the average voter, Obama has been earnest and conciliatory while the Republicans have been cynical, self-serving, and puerile. Which, if the past is any guide, is precisely the moment he’ll start playing hardball.

In fact, Obama spent Monday basically telegraphing these intentions. The headlines from his trip to Elkhart, Indiana, focused mostly on his comments about the urgency of the stimulus. But the day’s key moment took place toward the end of the town hall meeting. After a weekend in which the White House scrupulously avoided any indication it preferred the House version of the stimulus to the stingier Senate compromise, Obama let it be known that he’d like to see some of the Senate’s education cuts restored.

Then, at his press conference last night, Obama sounded like a man who was done soliciting ideas and was ready to lay out the stark terms of debate: A vote against for the stimulus is a vote against jobs—in particular, the 4 million the plan would save or create. (He used the word “jobs” 19 times in his 1,000-word preamble.) Once the questioning began, he explicitly announced the end to the bipartisan phase of this operation: “I think that, as I continue to make these overtures, over time, hopefully that will be reciprocated,” he said. “But understand the bottom line that I've got right now, which is what's happening to the people of Elkhart and what's happening across the country. I can't afford to see Congress play the usual political games.”


Mark Nickolas is also optimistic:

You take this to the bank. Once House and Senate conferees sit down to hammer out the final version of the bill, the education spending will be back in the bill and some of the more egregious tax cuts will be removed. Obama will then dare Senate Republicans to vote against final passage. Actually, he might dare Republicans to filibuster the bill and run the risk of a massive backlash of their obstructionism in the face of a genuine effort by Obama to work together. There is no way that Mitch McConnell will be dumb enough to block such critical legislation with less than 40 votes.

Instead, Senate Republicans are going to scream that Obama and congressional Dems stabbed them in the back in conference and that the final bill wasn't what they passed. No one is going to care about their bitching. The public views them as a pack of Limbaugh-led obstructionists trying to block what a very popular bipartisan president is trying to do to help address a crisis he did not cause.

Ultimately, the bill that Obama signs next week is going to be a lot more like the version the House passed than the one the Senate is about to pass. Also, the Republicans are going to walk away from this showdown with major scars and even more unpopular with the public.

Finally, and counter-intuitively, this whole process has actually given Obama an even better chance at passing his larger goals like universal health care or tackling climate change because the Republicans will have lost the benefit of the doubt in the minds of the public that simply views them as more concerned about the 2010 and 2012 elections than working together with the president on things that will help the country.



For balance here's a good dose of pessimism. First sentence:

Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?



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whoa:


I was there when the secretary and the chairman of the Federal Reserve came those days and talked to members of Congress about what was going on... Here's the facts. We don't even talk about these things.

On Thursday, at about 11 o'clock in the morning, the Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous drawdown of money market accounts in the United States to a tune of $550 billion being drawn out in a matter of an hour or two.

The Treasury opened up its window to help. They pumped $105 billion into the system and quickly realized that they could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks.

They decided to close the operation, close down the money accounts, and announce a guarantee of $250,000 per account so there wouldn't be further panic and there. And that's what actually happened.

If they had not done that their estimation was that by two o'clock that afternoon, $5.5 trillion would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapsed the entire economy of the United States, and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed.

Now we talked at that time about what would have happened if that happened. It would have been the end of our economic system and our political system as we know it.


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Everyone's trying to figure out what Geithner's up to.

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Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz explains some of the issues behind the bank bailout stuff:



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Today:



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Glenn Greenwald and others have expressed extreme dissapointment over the Obama's Admin's decision to continue the Bush Admin's controversial tactic of using the "State Secrets privilege" to quash inconvenient lawsuits. And indeed, it seems really bad. Marc Ambinder has been making some calls and doing the journalism thing and his piece sheds some needed light on what Team Obama's thinking on the matter.


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I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that I saw the film Milk over the weekend and it's really good. Go see it!:





Now I need to finally get around to seeing the documentary:

monday monday



This Krugman column really needs to be read in its entirety.


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Michael Tomasky paints a brighter picture:

The stimulus bill, imperfect as it is, does indeed represent an enormous political victory for Obama. For reasons tactical as well as substantive, liberals ought to declare victory and dance on the vast empty tundra that is the Republican present.

Think back. Two months ago, people were talking nervously about a stimulus package worth about $400bn. Now? Assuming the Senate and House of Representatives more or less split the difference between their two versions of the bill - they will likely iron those out this week and vote on the final passage of the new product by the week's end - we're talking twice that, with at least $500bn in new spending (the rest is tax cuts). That is, by some distance, the largest public spending bill ever conceived in the US.

Now, to be fair, the big concern of liberals who are unhappy with this bill - they wanted it to be larger, and less focused on tax cuts - is the central question of whether it will work. They say, this is our best shot in 30 years at showing that government can be part of the solution, and it damn well better show that. They're doubtful that this bill can.

Time may prove them right, but two points: a) then again, it might not, because who can really say, and b) in any case, this bill is not the Obama administration's only chance to do something about the economy. Treasury secretary Tim Geithner is rolling out a plan today to get credit flowing and protect homeowners. Soon, the administration will present a proper budget, in which it can signal priorities about things like transport and the greening of the economy, which are multi-year projects in the best of circumstances.

Liberals should press the administration for the most progressive outcome possible. That's fine and laudable. But at the same time, let's understand that they got about 80% of what they wanted here, and getting 80% of what you want is awfully rare, in politics or marriage or at the office or anywhere.


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Should we temporarily nationalize the banks? Some smart people think so. But that's one of those words that gets you into trouble, so perhaps not.


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scary:
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As much as Republicans may insist otherwise, the fact remains that the New Deal worked. (duh)


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Sunday, February 8, 2009

bullpucky

watch this:



Word is that a "compromise" has been achieved which cuts over half a million jobs from the bill while adding in tax cuts for the better off, making the Senate version somehow more expensive yet less stimulative than the House version. Yay Centrism!


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A couple of interesting items on the foreign policy front:


Back in December, before he even took office, Obama sent Henry Kissinger to Russia to engage in secret talks on the subject of nuclear disarmament. Presumably he chose Kissinger in order to blunt Republican criticism.


Also, General Petraeus tried to get Obama to sign on to some Bush-style word games in order to keep our troops in Iraq, but got rejected:

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.


But I think it's safe to say this isn't the last we'll be hearing about this:

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus's strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.

Keane, the Army Vice-Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's Jan. 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.

The source says the network, which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.

If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.

That line seems likely to appeal to reporters covering the Iraq troop withdrawal issue. Ever since Obama's inauguration, media coverage of the issue has treated Obama' s 16-month withdrawal proposal as a concession to anti-war sentiment which will have to be adjusted to the "realities" as defined by the advice to Obama from Gates, Petreaus and Odierno.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

stimulous drama

I've been sickly and don't have the energy to put anything clever together concerning this stimulus mess, but here are a bunch of random quotes for perspective. (and don't ask how that's different from anything else I post!)

If nothing else watch TPM's daily recap:





And if you've been slacking (hey, it happens) and haven't kept up to speed with this particular debate you may be wondering, "why do we need to spend a gazillion dollars on a bunch of random crap?" It's a perfectly reasonable question, to which Robert Reich provides a perfectly reasonable answer.


Ed Kilgore (this morning):

In the course of about 48 hours, the conventional wisdom about the likely fate of the economic stimulus packagage has undergone a remarkable change from guarded optimism to quasi-panic. In a semi-ironic reference to the rapidly shifting winds, Mike Madden did a post at Salon yesterday entitled: "Stimulus Bill Not Dead Yet."

I've never quite seen so much of a mood-shift based on, well, a mood-shift. Obama's not perceived as doing well because people are saying that Obama's not perceived as doing well. This is the sort of self-proliferating cycle of negative perceptions that can develop a ferocious energy, but can also dissipate rapidly in the fact of real-life events.


Ed Kilgore (this afternoon):

Anybody trying to follow what's happening in the Senate on the stimulus package today is having a bad case of vertigo. The big news yesterday seemed to be that Senate Dems didn't have the votes to enact the stimulus legislation that was reported out of its committees, and that was roughly similar to what the House enacted. As a result, a self-designated group of "centrists"--apparently five GOPers and up to 15 Democrats--had convened under the leadership of Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to agree on modifications of the package that would reduce its cost and/or eliminate objectionable "pork."

Now today, even as details of the Nelson-Collins "agreed-to-cuts" leaks out (TPM seems to have the first copy), Harry Reid has dramatically announced that he has the votes to cut off debate and enact a bill. The question, of course, is "what bill?"



Joe Klein:

Some form of stimulus will pass. If it doesn't revive the economy, then more stimulus will be passed. Obama's maintaining the proper balance of reaching out to Republicans, making some compromises, but staying firm on the need for a bill that includes public works as well as tax cuts. A Republican Senator, a vocal opponent of the bill, told me the other day: "The guy has really impressed us. We may not vote for the bill, and he may have to learn that you have to give us more than he wants to give us to make us happy, but he's made a really strong start that will work to his benefit down the road."

At a time when the economy seems to be falling off a cliff, Republican politicians cannot come up with anything but the very same policies they have advocated year in, year out, in good times and bad -- and have enacted, with results that we can see around us. They show no signs of being interested in figuring out what will actually help the country, at least in any sense that involves canvassing the views of people outside their own echo chamber. They show no interest in any sort of compromise.

I'm glad Obama reached out to them. It was the right thing to do, both morally and tactically. But there are limits. And we have reached them. If there are enough votes to defeat a filibuster in the Senate, well and good. If not, Harry Reid should do one of two things: (a) reintroduce the bill under reconciliation rules, which do not allow filibusters, or (b) force any Republicans who want to filibuster the bill to actually stand up in the Senate chamber and talk.

If the Senate Republicans want to hold the American economy hostage to their idiotic ideas, they should at least have to suffer some sort of inconvenience for it. It would be much better, though, just to defeat them


Michael Hirsh:

The reason Obama is getting so few votes is that he is no longer setting the terms of the debate over how to save the economy. Instead the Republican Party—the one we thought lost the election—is doing that. And the confusion and delay this is causing could realize Obama's worst fears, turning "crisis into a catastrophe," as the president said Wednesday.

Obama's desire to begin a "post-partisan" era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that's supposed to be "temporary" and "targeted"—among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts that will prompt immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There's no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply.



Digby:

I think the administration thought they could be mediators between the two parties rather than leaders of the Democratic party. That just won't work, particularly when the Democrats aren't very good at battling the Republicans in close combat and the Republicans can make those who stay above the fray seem lightweight and insubstantial, which is what they've managed to do.


Ryan Avent:

A changed tone in Washington, if costless, would be a wonderful thing. But voters put Obama and Democratic majorities into office in order to get results. If Obama chooses to embrace Republicans even as they actively work against the interests of the vast majority of Americans, then we have to question his judgment. It takes two to change the tone. Republicans aren't interested, and they're using his overtures to undermine the American economy and the Obama presidency. Obama's mandate is his to deploy or squander, and the speed with which he has lost control of the storyline on stimulus suggests that he has miscalculated in figuring how much magnanimity that mandate affords him.



Theda Skocpol
:

In response to what you are saying: Obama is, sadly, much to blame for giving the Republicans so much leverage. He defined the challenge as biparitsanship not saving the U.S. economy. Right now, he has only one chance to re-set this deteriorating debate: He needs to give a major speech on the economy, explain to Americans what is happening and what must be done. People will, as of now, still listen to him -- and what else is his political capital for?

Speaking as a strong Obama supporter who put my energies and money into it, I am now very disillusioned with him. He spent the last two weeks empowering Republicans -- including negotiating with them to get more into Senate and his administration and giving them virtual veto-power over his agenda -- and also spending time on his personal cool-guy image (as in interview before the Super Bowl). The country is in danger and he ran for president to solve this crisis in a socially inclusionary way. He should be fighting on that front all the time with all his energies -- and he certainly should give a major speech to help educate the public and shape the agenda. That is the least he can and should do. Only that will bypass the media-conserative dynamic that is now in charge.



Josh Marshall:

Behind all the back and forth over the Stimulus Bill is a simple fact: the debate in Washington is rapidly moving away from any recognition that the US economy -- and the global economy, for that matter -- is in free-fall. The range of outcomes stretches from severe recession to something closer to a replay of the Great Depression, though that label is perhaps better seen as a placeholder for 'catastrophic economic collapse' since the underlying place of the US economy in the world economy is very different from what it was in 1929. This reality was palpable in the political debate until as recently as a few weeks ago. But Republicans are using a strategy of conscious denial to push it off the stage.

Take stock of the last few weeks and you can almost visualize the two conversations -- path toward economic calamity and debate over Stimulus Bill -- diverging.

The other key into the current debate is that the Republican position is ominously similar to their position on global warming or, for that matter, evolution. The discussion of what to do on the Democratic side tracks more or less with textbook macroeconomics, while Republican argument track either with tax cut monomania or rhetorical claptrap intended to confuse. It's true that macro-economics doesn't make controlled experiments possible. And economists can't speak to these issues with certainty. But in most areas of our lives, when faced with dire potential consequences, we put our stock with scientific or professional consensus where it exists, as it does here. Only in cases where it goes against Republican political interests or economic interests of money-backers do we prefer the schemes of yahoos and cranks to people who study the stuff for a living.

Of course, at some level, why would Republicans be trying to drive the country off a cliff? Well, not pretty to say, but they see it in their political interests. Yes, the DeMints and Coburns just don't believe in government at all or have genuinely held if crankish economic views. But a successful Stimulus Bill would be devastating politically for the Republican party. And they know it. If the GOP successfully bottles this up or kills it with a death of a thousand cuts, Democrats will have a good argument amongst themselves that Republicans were responsible for creating the carnage that followed. But the satisfaction will have to be amongst themselves since as a political matter it will be irrelevant. The public will be entirely within its rights to blame Democrats for any failure of government action that happened while Democrats held the White House and sizable majorities in both houses of Congress.



Obama: Mr. Nice Guy

Jonathan Zasloff suggests going in the opposite direction

Sam Stein at HuffPo spoke to ("nearly apoplectic") staffers who put the stimulus bill together.

Harold Meyerson says we've had this debate before, in 1932.


E.J. Dionne Jr.:

For most of the debate, Obama has cast himself as a benevolent referee overseeing a sprawling and untidy legislative process to which he would eventually bring order. He urged Democrats to knock out small spending measures that had caused public relations problems while doing little to defend the overall package or to reply to its Republican critics.

In the meantime, those critics have been relentless, often casting logic aside to reframe the debate from a practical concern over how to rescue the economy to an ideological dispute about government spending.

"This plan is a spending plan; it's not a stimulus plan," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), ignoring the truth that stimulus plans -- including Republican proposals to put more money into resolving the housing crisis -- by definition include significant new spending.

And Republicans who in one breath say they want more tax cuts declare in the next that they are against the tax cuts Obama has proposed.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said of Obama's $500 refundable tax credit: "Calling a rebate to people who don't pay income taxes a tax cut doesn't make it a tax cut." Presumably Kyl doesn't consider as taxes the payroll taxes (or, for that matter, sales taxes) paid disproportionately by low- and middle-income Americans.

But such volleys have gone largely unreturned, and the biggest danger for Obama will come if Republican attacks erode support for the stimulus among Democrats. That's why the president will be spending more time with congressional Democrats in the coming days. The administration's visionary emphasis on winning expansive Republican support has been replaced by a down-to-earth struggle to get a bill through the Senate.

Its hopes rest in part on a different form of bipartisanship. If Washington Republicans have decided to build a wall of opposition to the stimulus, Republican governors and mayors are eager for the money Obama wants to give them.

Thus will Obama and his allies be touting strong support for the stimulus from the Republican governors of California, Connecticut, Florida and Vermont. Mayors will be called upon to move House Republicans still open to persuasion.

In just two weeks, the elation of Inauguration Day has given way to a classic form of partisan hardball.



Oh yeah, and Obama himself wrote an op-ed on the matter



Sunday, February 1, 2009

odds and sods

Ask yourself THIS.

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Check out this photo of the inauguration.

I made a panoramic image showing the nearly two million people who watched President Obama's inaugural address. To do so, I clamped a Gigapan Imager to the railing on the north media platform about six feet from my photo position. The Gigapan is a robotic camera mount that allows me to take multiple images and stitch them together, creating a massive image file.

My final photo is made up of 220 Canon G10 images and the file is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. It took more than six and a half hours for the Gigapan software to put together all of the images on my Macbook Pro and the completed TIF file is almost 2 gigabytes.


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Obama art in Seattle:







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How might a discussion of lobbying reform veer into an appraisal of indie band the Silver Jews? Find out!


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This is seems pretty far-fetched:





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The Onion:

Obama Inauguration Speech Ruined By Incessant Jackhammering

January 21, 2009 | Issue 45•04

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's Inauguration Day address—a speech that many believed would jumpstart the healing process of an ailing nation, foster hope and goodwill across the world, and serve as the ultimate stamp on the Democrat's historic win—was ruined Tuesday by nearly two hours of nonstop jackhammering.

According to D.C. officials, the jackhammering interrupted the landmark address on 30 separate occasions and came from the nearby U.S. Botanic Garden, where it was being used to break up pavement for a new Heroes of Horticulture exhibit.

"My fellow—," began Obama, who then stopped when he and the 2.5 million citizens present, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles to experience the once-in-a-lifetime event, were startled by loud, metal-on-concrete banging. "My fell…my fell…my—."

"Is that a jackhammer?" Obama added.

Though Obama first acknowledged the incessant jackhammering with an impromptu joke, saying, "Well, I know one guy who doesn't need a job," the typically poised orator grew gradually more annoyed as it became clear that the shrill thumping was not going to stop.

Obama appeared most frustrated about halfway through the address when reverberations from the pneumatic drill set off several dozen nearby car alarms, drowning out the new president's attempt to describe his vision for America's future in a changing world.

"If the person currently operating the jackhammer can hear me, please stop," Obama said at approximately the eight-minute mark of his speech. "Seriously, please. Stop it now."

The unremitting pounding caused the first African-American president to sigh or roll his eyes a combined 17 times, most notably during an apparently eloquent passage conveying his "lifelong desire to [unify or commit] the United States to a [common goal, higher purpose, or challenge] by 2012."

During a particularly loud spell of thuds, Obama muttered, "Oh, come on."

Footage of the event shows that when the president tried to explain how perseverence and pride could help rebuild a better society for all, he was interrupted not only by the jackhammer, but by several audience members who shouted, "Speak up," "Louder," and "I can't hear you over all this jackhammering."

At one point during the address, Obama stopped talking entirely and walked off the stage for nearly five minutes. When he returned, he asked the restless crowd for calm and understanding.

"Okay, so, it looks like they're not going to stop jackhammering. We're just going to have to keep going, I guess," Obama told the massive group, many of whom had already begun walking to their cars. "I'll try to speed through it."

A transcript released by his campaign prior to the address revealed that Obama ultimately cut the speech short by six pages, omitting a section about the conflict in Afghanistan and a point-by-point explanation of his economic recovery plan.

According to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the lasting images of the 2009 presidential inauguration will be Vice President Joe Biden, seated just 20 feet behind Obama, cupping his right ear in a desperate attempt to hear what the 44th president was saying.

"Inauguration addresses have always brought us inspirational and defining moments," Goodwin said. "FDR reminded Americans that all they had to fear was fear itself. John F. Kennedy encouraged citizens to ask what they could do for their country."

"And now President Barack Obama offers his own stirring message," Goodwin continued. "'Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.'"


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Joe BIden


zero



Last week's big news was that despite Obama's going all out to win Republican support for his stimulus bill, adding in tax cuts and cutting out funding for STD prevention that made Republicans feel icky, the stimulus still managed to attract exactly zero Republican votes.

So what to make of it? Reactions follow...


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Dylan Mathews
:

There's no economic argument - none - to be made for business tax cuts as a stimulus component. When Marty Feldstein and Joe Stiglitz agree on an element of fiscal policy, there's really no controversy within the profession on the matter. The only reason to include them was to curry favor with Republicans in Congress and get a wider margin of victory. Obama liked this logic, so the business tax cuts stayed. And they bought him a grand total of 0 Republican House votes, with eleven Democratic defections thrown in for good measure. Bipartisanship fail.

This stimulus will still pass in the end, and it's probably better to get something through fast than to repeat the fight in order to get a better deal. But I hope that Obama is taking away the right lesson from this. He tried cooperating. He reached out to John Boehner and Eric Cantor, even though he didn't need their support. And they screwed him. They had their choice between having an input into policy and becoming irrelevant, and they decided they'd rather be irrelevant. So here's hoping Obama helps them stay that way.



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Amanda Marcotte:

As you could have predicted, the benefit gained to Democrats for letting Republicans whine and cajole until crucial items were rewritten in the bill was.....shit. The song and dance did not get a single Republican vote, and 11 Democrats also voted against the bill. The lesson should be simple---Republicans are lying when they pretend to object to this small bit or that, and concessions offered to get their votes will equal knives planted firmly in your back. Despite this lesson, I guarantee that Republicans will be able to whine and cry until more concessions are granted in the Senate, at what point none of them will vote for the economic stimulus package. After years of being told to shove it up their ass, you'd think Democrats would enjoy the opportunity to tell Republicans to shove it up their ass, but that's not going to happen, I guess.

Here is the blunt reality: Republicans will gladly fuck over this country and ruin the lives of each and every one of you if they think that they'll get some political advantage from it. They can't be dealt with like reasonable people.


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Chris Bowers:

Cool. While we will need two Republican votes to pass the stimulus through the Senate, I'm glad no Republicans supported it in the House. Not only does it offer a clear contrast between the parties, not only does it give good reason to re-write the legislation without any concessions to Republicans when the bill is reworked in conference, but it puts a quick end to the "bi-partisan" charade of the last few days.

As demonstrated on so many occasions, most recently by the 95% drop in Republican support for TARP, almost all Republicans in Congress are bad faith actors. You can't compromise or appeal to people whose motives are simply to oppose you, rather than to actually stand for any principles or values (except, I guess, the principle of opposing you). The sooner congressional Republicans make their purely contrarian motives clear, as they have done in this case, the sooner we can move on to just passing good legislation. Let's drop futile attempts to appease those who caused our problems in the first place, and stay focused on cleaning up the mess they left.


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Hilzoy:

I'm glad it passed. I'm also glad that Obama tried as hard as he did to get bipartisan support, and I don't think that the fact that he didn't get it shows that the attempt was misguided. There are good reasons to try for bipartisan support regardless of how likely you think you are to succeed.

If you do succeed, then both parties have some ownership of the stimulus bill, neither will be as eager to politicize it, and it will be harder for either to use it to beat up the other. This is good. If you try hard, and publicly, to attract Republican support, but fail, then Republicans look like intransigent ideologues who would rather try to score political points than actually deal with the serious problems the country faces. You, by contrast, look reasonable: you tried to reach out, but your efforts were rejected.



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Kos:

It would be stupid for Republicans to try and obstruct the bill, but there's no political reason for them to support it. Democrats have the votes to do pretty much whatever they please. So it's best to lay out a competing agenda (i.e. more tax cuts for the rich!) and then use those distinctions to start building their new messaging. Worst case scenario for Republicans, the stimulus works and they're toast in 2010 anyway. Best case, the stimulus does little to help the nation's economic recovery, and they can play the "change" card next election.


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Matthew Yglesias
:

I would imagine the crude calculus is something like this. In 1993-94 the GOP minority relentlessly sought to obstruct a new president's legislative agenda and were rewarded with a big electoral win in 1994. In 2001-2002 the Democratic minority relentlessly sought to compromise with a new president's legislative agenda and were rewarded with a big electoral defeat in 2002. Simplistic lesson is that there's no upside to cooperation.

The lesson I would hope the administration learns here is this: He needs to spend less time seeking political cover to mitigate the downside to possible policy failure, and more time trying to implement the best policies he can.



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Josh Marshall:

I hear a lot of talk about whether Obama's governing approach can be 'bipartisan' if a good number of Republicans don't vote for his Stimulus Bill. But that dubious point seems to be obscuring a more obvious and telling reality: the Republican leadership in both houses has decided that it's in their political interest to oppose the Stimulus Bill no matter what.

In the most cynical of evaluations, it's not clear to me that they're incorrect. If the stimulus is judged a success, their political gain from adding more votes to what will be seen as Obama's bill will not be that great. So they're figuring that only failure will work for them politically; and they judge that they want Obama to own it entirely.




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Atrios:

If I were advising the Republicans I would've told them to vote against the stimulus package. I would tell them to make the point clearly that if they were in charge, the bill would be a different bill. They're a competing political party and they need to, you know, highlight the fact that their vision for America is actually different. I appreciate that members of both parties don't always toe the line completely, but on a bill as big as this it makes perfect sense for it to play out as it did.

Of course the flip side is that Dems should've pushed the best plan that could pass the Senate instead of pushing some pointless fantasy about bipartisanship.

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Glenn Greenwald:

Republicans aren't interested in "bipartisanship" except to the extent that they can force Democrats to enact their policies even though they have only a small minority thanks to being so forcefully rejected by the citizenry. And why should they be interested in bipartisanship? Why should they vote for a stimulus package that they don't support and that is anathema to what their most ardent supporters believe? It's very hard to find any virtuous attribute of the contemporary Republican Party, but one thing that can be said for them is that -- unlike Democrats, whose overarching desire in life is to please the needy harmony fetishists by adopting as many GOP views as possible -- Republicans are willing to incur criticisms by opposing what they oppose and supporting what they support.


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Nate Silver:

But does it do the [Republican] party as a whole any good for having opposed the bill unanimously? With headlines like the one in the Associated Press, it's hard to imagine so. Their unanimous opposition reads as an emphatic rejection of the President and the President's attempts at "bipartisanship". And the President is very popular right now.

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Tristero:

The rejection of bipartisanship by the Republicans should be perceived in terms of their long term strategy. They know that the depression has just begun. The worse is yet to come. How bad will it be? Far worse than anyone so far has imagined, and we've all imagined it as pretty bad. It will exceed our most extreme fantasies. (In fact, my father, who turns 100 next month (!) said this is shaping up as much worse than the thirties; I think he may be right.) The GOP knows that no feasible stimulus plan, no matter how large or well-crafted, can avert catastrophe. They intend to refuse to go along with anything Obama proposes, wait until disaster hits,and then - counting on the country's short memory span as well as the complicity of the media - blame Obama, Democrats, and liberalism for destroying the economy.

Obama also knows that economic disaster cannot be avoided and that it will be far worse than anything anyone alive - other than centenarians like my Dad - has ever seen; that's why his inaugural address was so grim. He also knows that no stimulus plan will work. And he knows he will be blamed for it when the misery adds up. Therefore, he is trying like hell to get the GOP to sign up, at least partially, for his proposal so he can spread the blame, This is after all, a time-honored political tactic, used by Bush, for example, to claim bipartisan authorization for the invasion of Iraq.

Since the GOP won't ever play - they're not stupid about their self-interest, after all - what is to be done? First, like Duncan, I think the Obama administration must propose the most responsible stimulus package they can, focused entirely on serious efforts to prop up the economy rather than appeasing the Republicans' special interests. Furthermore, they must propose legislation that protects as much as possible the middle class and the poor from the economic tsunami the Bush administration unleashed on this country and that has only begun to be felt. It may not work in staving off an economic collapse, but the crash will be so bad that any amelioration of its effects will be useful.

Naturally, Obama needs to take the high road and continue to call for "bipartisanship." But, as the GOP continuously refuses to go along, the Democratic party, and progressives, must attack on two fronts. First, they must accuse the GOP of lack of patriotism, of refusing to support the president in a time of extreme crisis. Second, they must never, not for a single news cycle, let the country forget that a Republican president, and a Republican legislature is to blame for the dreadful shape of the US economy.

Remember: as Limbaugh said, Republicans want the president and his policies to fail. Their refusal, to a person, to vote for the stimulus bill demonstrates that they expect the worst to happen no matter what is done. They intend fully to exploit that. Remember Carter's "maliaise" and Reagan's "morning in America?" Republicans see a repeat of that dynamic, but this time on steroids. That is why we must never let the country forget who wrecked the economy: George W. Bush, his Republican enablers in Congress, and the literally bankrupt philosophy of conservatism.


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Clive Crook:

One of the things the country likes best about its new president is his taste for consensus. Barack Obama campaigned as a moderate, open to the views of people who disagree with him. His appointments seem to reflect the same attitude: He has chosen mostly centrists, including many veterans of the Clinton administration, with other viewpoints represented too. In planning his fiscal stimulus, Obama made a point of reaching out to Republicans in Congress. This attitude is widely admired, but one must ask whether Obama's preference for moderation, accommodation, and consensus is what these times require.

The economy's plight is extreme. Bold and unusual remedies are needed. This necessary radicalism, if you want to call it that, is not straightforwardly partisan, to be sure. This is not a matter of listening to one particular faction and ignoring everybody else. But at the same time, you cannot get to the right policy merely by trending to the middle and splitting differences between Democrats and Republicans.


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Ryan @ The Bellows:

We are, for the most part, avoiding past policy mistakes. Monetary policy remains close to as easy as it can be, and Democrats are pressing ahead with a stimulus plan that will be large enough to have an effect. Credit markets continue to thaw. The crucial task of shaping up the banking system remains, and remains difficult, but Obama has convened an extremely talented group of economists to address the problem. Things can still go wrong, but we could be doing far worse.

The important thing to remember is that conditions will continue to look bad, even as we make progress. Many of us have never seen a recession like this, and we will watch in (understandable) dismay as unemployment rates continue to rise through (in all likelihood) all of 2009. That is unavoidable. We have sustained a massive financial shock, and a massive, subsequent shock to global demand. Try as we might, things will get worse before they get better.

But so long as we remain calm and avoid doing anything stupid — like starting trade wars, or deciding we need to balance the budget right this moment — we'll make it through this. But as I think about the House vote on stimulus, I have to breathe a sigh of relief that November went as it did. This is a serious time, and there's only one serious party in Washington.


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