March 28, 2009

Continential Europe says no to Brown on stimulus

On the eve of the big G20 confab, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the Continent is definitely not interested in a $2 trillion (€ 1.45 trillion or so) stimulus package.

And it wasn’t just Germany.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Spanish Finance Minister Pedro Solbes said the same thing.

So Brown will be an impotent, impotent G20 host while the Conservatives look for Labor to fall further in polling.

Perhaps Merkel, Sarko and others even spoke loud enough for not only President Barack Obama, but also Paul Krugman, to hear.

A progressive take on how to fix papers

John Nichols has an in-depth take on the problem, with tentative ideas to help (which he doesn’t call a solution, smartly) offered up as well.

First, he notes that the Internet, bloggers, electronic media, etc., all still heavily depend on print journalism.

Second, he notes that sites like Talking Points Memo, Pro Publica, etc. are making a valiant effort, but are just drops in the bucket. Even worse, he says they may be just enough of tacticial-level successes to be strategic-level failures:
For all their merits and flaws, these fixes are mere triage strategies. They are not cures; in fact, if there is a risk in them, it is that they might briefly discourage the needed reshaping of ownership models that are destined to fail.

He then goes back pre-Internet, to pin the start of newspapers’ problem on the rise in corporate journalism.

I totally agree. As I’ve blogged before, corporate ownership, CEOs and boards of seven-day dailies, or groups thereof, soon became used to 30-percent profit margins. So used to it that they refused to relinquish the idea, held almost as if it were a divine right, long after it was ceasing to be realistic, at least not realistic without job-slashing.

Then, he starts moving toward suggested solutions:
The old corporate media system choked on its own excess. We should not seek to restore or re-create it. We have to move forward to a system that creates a journalism far superior to that of the recent past.

We can do exactly that--but only if we recognize and embrace the necessity of government intervention. Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism.

But, doesn’t government subsidy mean government control?

No. Nichols notes that discounted postal rates, government printing contracts and other subsidies have been around since the birthing days of the American Republic. In fact, cheap postal rates for journals of opinion, and somewhat for non-daily newspapers (more on them in a minute) were killed earlier this decade by big, slick newsmagazines, which, (schadenfreude alert) are themselves now in advertising and circulation trouble.

Nichols also notes that free FCC licenses for valuable airwaves, etc., mean that much of our media isn’t independent of government support anyway.

From here, he continues his suggestions. After starting with free postal privileges for periodicals with little advertising, he lists other ideas. An interesting one, but one I totally reject, is a tax credit for the first $200 per year spent on daily newspapers.

And, as I e-mailed John, it’s that word in italics that sets me off on this issue.
Your $200 tax deduction for buying newspapers? I don’t want it restricted to dailies. Community weeklies, and alt-weeklies in bigger cities, as well as largely non-daily specialty publications, such as gay or other special interest, black or other ethnic group, foreign language, etc., shouldn’t be made to feel any more “second class” than they already are.

And, we may not be as bad off as seven-day dailies, but we’re not exactly flying

If you write further on this issue, I strongly urge you to rethink or amend this point.

Amended in that way, it’s great. Or with a codicil of $200 for dailies PLUS $50 for non-dailies.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s good, very good, overall.

Geithner capitalism – socialize risk and keep profit private

In response to a questioner at a recent Council on Foreign Relations event, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, by his non-answer to a question along those lines, admitted that that is what modern capitalism is in the United States, by government understanding.
QUESTIONER: What seems to have happened recently is that whenever anyone talks about nationalizing the banks, people scream socialism. But the current administration seems to be wanting to socialize risk but keep profits private.

And that seems to be the new capitalism in the United States, where the taxpayers take a lot of the risk, but the market continues to enjoy profit, should there be any.

And, just what did Timmy G. say to this brilliant observation?
To solve financial crises, governments have to be willing to take risk, because the definition of “financial crises” is the markets are not willing to take risks that looks — otherwise would be economic.

The central fact is that governments have to be prepared to take risks the markets can’t take, for a temporary period of time, in order to get a firmer foundation for repair.

That’s my emphasis on the “can’t.” Why didn’t Geithner say “won’t” instead? This is just like a subprime mortgage buyer whom the Goldmans and AIGs (or the GOP in Congress) don’t want to bail out. The reasoning goes like this:

“If they couldn’t pay that mortgage, they shouldn’t have gotten it.”

But, shouldn’t that apply to the AIGs of the world, too?

US is IMF basket case – what to do?

Two former top employees of the International Monetary Fund, Desmond Lachan and Simon Johnson, discuss how America got to this point.

Lachan, previously a deputy director there, took much of his article to compare some black marks of our economy today with Russia and Argentina in the 1990. I tackled it in more depth in a previous post. Suffice it to say that a Harvard-educated finance minister (Argentina) or Harvard-educated consultants (Russia) should belie the idea that previous employment at Goldman Sachs (United States) guarantees special economic brilliance.

Simon Johnson, a former IMF chief economist, has an even an even more in-depth piece at The Atlantic, both about how the U.S. is a potential IMF basket case, and about how, per Paul Kennedy in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” financialism has somehow become an “industry,” and one of the biggest in America at that.

And, since Lachan has a stereotypical “old style IMF” recommendation — austerity measures, I want to focus much more on Johnson in this post, on his prescription side, since that differs strongly from Lachan’s even though they make essentially the same diagnosis.

Johnson offers up more concern about how Team Geithner, or Team Summers is dealing with the financial bailout issue:
Even leaving aside fairness to taxpayers, the government’s velvet-glove approach with the banks is deeply troubling, for one simple reason: it is inadequate to change the behavior of a financial sector accustomed to doing business on its own terms, at a time when that behavior must change.


Johnson, in fact, disagrees with his former IMF compadre on what’s needed next:
The second problem the U.S. faces — the power of the oligarchy — is just as important as the immediate crisis of lending. And the advice from the IMF on this front would again be simple: break the oligarchy. …

This may seem like a crude and arbitrary step, but it is the best way to limit the power of individual institutions in a sector that is essential to the economy as a whole. …

To ensure systematic bank breakup, and to prevent the eventual reemergence of dangerous behemoths, we also need to overhaul our antitrust legislation.

Given that Geithner’s “regulatory” plan does exactly none of this, and contra disappointed but still pony-seeking types like Paul Krugman, isn’t likely to ever do any of this, (Dennis Kucinich, since Bush impeachment went nowhere, how about Geithner impeachment?), let’s not hold our collective breath.

Indeed, Johnson tells us why we shouldn’t hold our collective breath:
Boris Fyodorov, the late finance minister of Russia, struggled for much of the past 20 years against oligarchs, corruption, and abuse of authority in all its forms. He liked to say that confusion and chaos were very much in the interests of the powerful—letting them take things, legally and illegally, with impunity.

Does this sound like Geithner’s TALF plan? His proposed regulatory plan? The way he and Bernanke talk down even to much of Congress?

Johnson says there could light at the end of the tunnel, but possibly only after going through a tunne even darker than the Great Depression.

I too do NOT want Obama to succeed – on financial plans

Why?

First, his ever-growing penchant for wanting to hire Goldman Sachs alums, the disciplines and pupils of Bob Rubin and/or Larry Summers, the two anti-wunderkinder (almost typed wunderkiner!) of Sachs who helped get the country into this financial mess in the first place, through taking over two previous presidential administrations

Second, that these hires, and the presidential boss who took so much campaign money, refuse to face the reality that we’re like Russia or Argentina a decade ago; the only reason the IMF hasn’t already come knocking at our door is because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency.

This is also why I don’t agree with everything Krugman says; while he rightly and thoroughly critiques Geithner, on broader U.S.-vs-world economic issues, he’s still too much of an American exceptionalist, in my opinion.

Desmond Lachman, previously a deputy director at the IMF, does indirectly tackle that, or so I interpret him:
Yet how often do U.S. leaders respond to growing signs of economic dysfunctionality by spouting nationalistic rhetoric that echoes the speeches of Latin American demagogues like Peru's Alan Garcia in the 1980s and Argentina's Carlos Menem in the 1990s?

While Krugman isn’t that bad, nonetheless, his attitude seems to be that Europe just “doesn’t get it” with its different approach to the current situation, and therefore must be wrong.

Anyway, back to the main picture. Lachman says that the Goldmanistas, despite their Harvard Biz School pedigrees, seem about as clueless as their Argentine or Russian counterparts. Of course, Argentina’s finance minister at the time had a Harvard degree, and Harvardistas like Jeffrey Sachs, who is all of a sudden pretending to get religion, actually gave Russia the road map for driving itself off the cliff.

Simon Johnson has an even an even more in-depth piece at The Atlantic, both about how the U.S. is a potential IMF basket case, and about how, per Paul Kennedy in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” financialism has somehow become an “industry,” and one of the biggest in America at that.
His take on American economic exceptionalism?
Of course, the U.S. is unique. And just as we have the world’s most advanced economy, military, and technology, we also have its most advanced oligarchy.

Indeed. And, it’s aided and abetted by the dollar as global reserve currency, just as British moguls were up to World War I.
But, beyond that, there’s other parallels. Back to Lachman:
A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers -- none of which is particularly well disposed to us.

At the same time, I don’t want people like Desmond Lachman telling us how to react, either. At the end of his article, he makes clear that, were he the IMF person given the chance to knock on the Geithner-Obama door, he would call for the same “austerity measures” that the IMF did with the Argentinas and Russias of the 1990s world.

And, of course that means cutting Social Security and Medicare. Just because the IMF has the right diagnosis doesn’t mean it has the right prescription. Or, at least, some people in the IMF don’t.

Johnson offers up more concern about how Team Geithner, or Team Summers is dealing with the financial bailout issue:
Even leaving aside fairness to taxpayers, the government’s velvet-glove approach with the banks is deeply troubling, for one simple reason: it is inadequate to change the behavior of a financial sector accustomed to doing business on its own terms, at a time when that behavior must change.

Exactly. This has gotten lost over actual public-level anger, and DC Village pseudo-anger, at AIG bonuses. For people who think about the issue, far more than wanting AIG’s bonuses to disappear, we want AIG’s surrounding culture to be wiped out. (And, Geithner’s latest regulatory proposals don’t do that.)

Johnson disagrees strongly otherwise with Lachan. He says the “oligarchy” needs to be broken up. But, contra disappointed but still pony-seeking types like Paul Krugman, Geithner isn’t likely to ever do any of this. More coming in a second post.

Third, as far as the prescription, it seems Geithner has the same medical approach as Lachman, per Tiny Revolution.
Of course, we are all fiscal hawks now because of Pete Peterson. (Laughter.) There are no doves left on the fiscal side.

Really, though, this isn’t new. His boss has already made noises about “reforming” Social Security, tried to get veterans to start paying for their own health care, and has offered a “national health plan” that certainly won’t get us to a national healthcare plan and may leave us worse off in some ways.

So, for entirely opposite reasons than Rush Limbaugh, I want Barack Obama to fail.

I DON’T want a financial bailout plan that keeps bleeding money to plutocrats who already have one hand on the machinery of government.

I DON’T want healthcare reform that isn’t, or entitlements reform that isn’t.

I DON’T want a continued sense of American exceptionalism in our financial policy.

I DON’T want a financial sector bailout that, if anything, has a good chance of increasing the American income gap.

If Geithner is the fox guarding the henhouse, per Glenn Greenwald, what does that make his boss? And if, on average, people become more conservative as they age, is Obama’s RealAge more like 57 not 47?

A simplistic analysis of newspaper decline vs an in-depth one

David Sirota, progressive doorknobs bless him, says poor news coverage is behind newspapers’ accelerating decline.

It’s nice as far as it goes. But, we had poor news coverage well before 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. And, it’s simplistic.

Here’s a much wider look at the problem.

My observations come from the fringes of the inside. I’m currently the editor of suburban Dallas weekly; I started my career at a small, community-level daily.

First, without being snarky, David, it is true that news quality has been on decline for well before 9/11. When Jeff Gerth wasn’t writing no-story stories about Whitewater, other media stories were putting Clinton on the celebrity pedestal.

Second, there’s been other internal self-shootings besides the ones you mentioned.

Biggest of these was already a decade or so ago, when big newspaper owners, CEOs and boards refused to accept that the days of the 30 percent profit margin, which they seemed to think was a divine right, were going away never to return.

John Nichols has a much more in-depth take at The Nation, by the way. Among his talking points is precisely this issue.

That, then, caused cuts not only in local writers and editors, but folks like copy editors, which can affect quality.

(At the same time, seven-day dailies had fat they could have cut earlier. Nobody short of movie fanatics probably care if the review of a new movie was locally generated or not.)

That said, you take the Internet too lightly, David. Papers now whore after crumbs of ad revenue on it, even though, last year, by percentage, online ad revenue declined more than hardcopy revenue.

Why? Internet ads and money are like the Red River in West Texas in summer — a mile wide but just an inch deep.

Between pop-up blockers and a regularly updated hosts file, I don’t even see a lot of online ads. So, online ad designers create more obnoxious ones, while the folks at Firefox et al up their ad-blocking skills.

(BTW, that’s another reason not to use Google Chrome, IMO. Google has a vested interest in its’ ad-blocking capability being “leaky.”)

Oh, and both big dailies and alt-weeklies have seen BIG classified ad losses to Craigslist.

The current system, for big dailies at least, probably is broken beyond viable repair. Community newspapers, and special/niche papers, such as those for gays or other interest groups, blacks or other socio-ethnic groups, and Spanish-language or other non-English ones will do better. But even that is a relative term.

Obama attempt to ‘win’ A-stan goes through P-stan

The new mash-up word for the combined strategic theater is AfPak.

Anyway, it seems clearer all the time that Presdient Barack Obama doesn’t believe he can win Afghanistan without reining in Pakistan. But how?

Parr of his answer seems to be increasing Predator drone strikes on Pakistan.

The idea is even being broached about expanding the Predator strikes beyond the most rugged border area, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, to the Baluchistan province on Pakistan’s west.

It’s a danger, though. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government is shaky. If it falls to another civilian, Nawaz Sharif has been critical of the strikes.

What if, instead, there’s a military coup? One linked to Inter-Services Intelligence? The ISI we have good reason to believe is in come degree of cahoots with the Taliban?

There’s another danger with going into Baluchistan. If we destablize it, neighboring Iran may see its own opportunity, just like with Iraq.

All of this is playing at the edges, though.

The big question — the big question for domestic consumption as well as deciding foreign poiicy, is, “what is victory?”

President Obama has now mentioned benchmarks for Afghanistan, but he hasn’t yet mentioned what they are. (Note to folks like Media Matters for America: Obama had a chance NOT to get more deeply involved in Afghanistan. He has instead, per the new phrase, chosen to “double down” instead. So, it IS now his war.)

One benchmark for Afghanistan may be particularly tough – the War on Drugs there. In fact, Obama’s special regional envoy, Richard Holbrooke, just said, “We’re going to have to rethink the drug problem.”

That means either going a LOT lighter on eradication, or else paying people a LOT more money not to grow the stuff. And, are we going to continue those payments after we remove our troops? Even before that, how do we prevent either the Taliban or warlords

Given all the above links, setting benchmarks re the Pakistan half of AfPak is going to be even more tricky than for Afghanistan, probably. And, if this includes more covert operations, or yet more expansion of Gitmo East, aka Bagram, how much more forbearance does Obama get, or lose for more people, either inside or outside the Democratic party, on the strongly progressive end of discussing this issue?

March 27, 2009

Why is Obama cutting automakers some slack on CAFÉ?

First, the facts. He is cutting them some slack on fuel economy standards as compared to the Bush Administration.

It’s not much, but it’s there.

As for the “only two months to prepare rules”? Sorry, not buying. All you had to do is tweak the already-existing Bush proposals. If this is because of Big Three financial issues, all you have to do is say that this is the case.

A simple explanation.

Those white devils overwhelm Brazil

At a joint presser with British PM Gordon Brown, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the current global economic crisis was caused by “white people with blue eyes.”

In a narrowly empirical sense, Lula is right, of course, as a look at Henry Paulson would show. (Geithner and Bernanke both have brown eyes, and George W. Bush’s have a permanently glazed-over look.)

On the other hand, Lula doesn’t have the darkest of skin tone himself. And, while not blue, his eyes are hazel-green more than dark brown.

Beyond that, WTF got into him? He’s been known, amongst the various left-of-center leaders in Latin America, as a relative moderate. Blame the developed world without implying a "racial" gene for greed.

Whine by the jug, Harry Reid style

First, the Senate Majority Leader claims John Roberts falsely portrayed himself as a moderate during confirmation hearings.

Dude. It’s called “doing your homework.” If you got pwned, look in the mirror.

Second, Reid tells activist groups to

back off running pressure ads against Blue Dog Democrats.

Well, somebody has to.

Drug-war non-change we can't believe in from Obama

Because, as he showed at his town hall, President Barack Obama, either from fear of the political establishment, or other reasons, won’t give us that change on marijuana legislation.

Instead, Team Obama first tried to have him simply not answer the No. 1 question on the town hall website.

Then …

As Sullivan notes, the answer Obama DID give was weak, and dismissive of the background of the issue.

Here’s a much more in-depth take on Obama acting like Bill Clinton 2.0 when he had the chance to do much more.

And, at least one MSLB may have shut down comments on one post for a similar reason.

Steve Benen and/or Washington Monthly staff closed comments on this thread, his usual end-of-day political roundup.

Why?

My best guess is a throwaway link about Obama’s town hall and saying he’s not going to legalize marijuana.

Benen’s “close the thread” antic is as weak and chickenshit as Obama’s answer to the marijuana-issue was, though neither is quite as bad as Team Obama removing the question from Obama’s original list of questions to answer.

The larger issue, though, is beyond the War on Drugs. The attempt by Jared Bernstein et al to simply ignore this issue, as posted on the town hall website, shows what I’ve known for nine months or more, with the e-mail addresses, ignoring requests that he not flip flop on FISA telecom immunity, etc.

The “openness” of electronic democracy is going to pretty much be a one-way street.

Obama stimulus money IS worth scat

Or, SCAT, in this week’s scatblogging. Seneca County, Ohio, is getting about $3 million in federal economic stimulus money, much of it for a new building for Seneca County Agency Transportation.

When a Washington Monthly ‘open thread’ is not

Steve Benen and/or WM staff has closed comments on this thread, his usual end-of-day political roundup.

Why?

My best guess is a throwaway link about Obama’s town hall and saying he’s not going to legalize marijuana.

Benen’s “close the thread” antic is as weak and chickenshit as Obama’s answer to the marijuana-issue was, though neither is quite as bad as Team Obama removing the question from Obama’s original list of questions to answer.

Update, 2:30 p.m. Central: Benen says he has never closed a commment thread as a blogger, via e-mail. I ask him to explain why, both then and now, this particular post is the only one on the page where you can't comment, either in the comments pop-up box or the permalink.

I told him I stand by my assumption that he, or somebody else at WM (I didn't say it was necessarily you, Steve), deliberately did the closure. But, I find it hard to believe this is an Internet or blogging program glitch.

Hey, if you did it because of NORML comments, per Team Obama trying to avoid discussing the question, fine. But, something happened, and it appears deliberate.

Finally, in his second e-mail, not his first, Benen, after referring to comment moderators in the original e-mail, says it was specifically because of some Xanax spam. Why he didn't mention that in the first e-mail, I don't know.

He also said he's not usually informed of when moderators (which include Blue Girl still, I'm sure... blecch; another "salute Democrats only" liberal who booted me from a joint blog after inviting me) intervene. Well, you told me the cause, in the second e-mail, Steve. Let's see how long it takes you to follow my suggestion and actually note, at the end of the post, that's a closed post.

And, to claim you're unaware of when a moderator shuts down a comment thread?

You, like most big bloggers, read the threads and actually post responses on occasion. Please. I'm not 100 percent buying that, either.

If that is 100 percent true, you have an internal communication problem, then. Don't blame that on me either.

Other than that, I know, I'm a mix of left-liberal, civil libertarian and anti-duopoly poster, which in the eyes of somebody like Steve, probably puts me at about 7.5 on the troll scale, 1-10.

And, I can be wrong at times. I was wrong about the cause of this shutdown. That said, I'll make another, not observation, but guess. Benen probably knew of the shutdown by the time I attempted to post, even if he didn't know the cause. How hard is it to update the last line of a blog post to say that it's no longer open due to spamming?

I've updated this blog twice, since Steve's first e-mail. True, it's a slow Friday at the office, but I do have a day job. And, I'm live-drafting for fantasy baseball at the same time.

One final thought: When I think of Democrats-right-or-wrong bloggers, I am reminded of the Iranian philosopher Idries Shah, who said, “There are never just two sides to anything.” Third parties aren't necessarily the “right” side, but they are a third or fourth or fifth side that deserves a hearing.

Krugman gives Summers a smackdown

Paul Krugman notes that President Barack Obama’s economics czar, Larry Summers, is ultimately the eminense grise behind Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s TALF, TARP 2.0 and other alphabet soup. Krugman notes that our post-World War II growth was NOT dependent on a massive, and wheeling-dealing, “finance sector,” so, contra Summers, he says we don’t need one now either.

Sen. Gillibrand in pocket of Philip Morris

And that’s even worse than being in bed with the NRA.

Despite her transparent attempts at denial, in the 1990s, Kirsten Gillibrand, now the newly-appointed junior senator from New York, did some very heavy legal lifting for tobacco giant Philip Morris, specificially helping to stiff Justice Department attempts to find out what Philip Morris had discovered about smoking hazards from its own laboratory in Germany.

The fact that, after initially agreeing to an interview with the NYTimes, Gillibrand cancelled out speaks volumes.

So, why shouldn’t New York voters just pull the “R” level rather than voting for a pseudo-Democrat who’s not that indistinguishable from some Southern Republicans? (That is, if Gillibrand survives the Democratic primary in 2010, which I hope she doesn’t.)

Major bankruptcy may be headed to Vegas

If Dubai World, as threatened, pulls out of a partnership with MGM Mirage on Vegas’ City Center, it could have a domino effect on the whole Strip.

With other construction projects there on hold or shuttered, and Vegas near ground zero of the subprime bubble, this could be the last straw for Sin City.

Which, in a sense, is fine by me.

I have no problems with gambling.

But, there’s already too damned many people in that spot in the Mohave Desert, and the Colorado River’s about to run dry in its lower stretches.

Vegas could stand to lose about half a million people. At a minimum. Probably an even million population loss wouldn't be too off the mark.

Mohamed: Don’t scapegoat MI5 on Brit torture

British subject and joint British-U.S torture victim Binyam Mohamed instead wants the light of British criminal investigation shown high up the British political system. If only both countries’ governments (that’s you, President “Change”) would stop blocking his legal actions, he might get that.

March 26, 2009

Wolverines back in California

Well, so far, it’s only one, but he’s been spotted two years in a row!

David Kunkle needs to fire Robert Powell

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle offered a public apology today to Ryan and Tamisha Moats, after Dallas Police Officer Robert Powell had pulled them over for deliberately running a red light to get to see Ms. Moats’ deathbed-dying mother at Baylor-Plano.

Powell even brandished, to use that clichéd media word, his service pistol at the two, after threatening that he could “screw over” Moats. And, it’s all on his police cruiser videotape. Meanwhile the two Moatses continually are telling him they’re trying to get to Tamisha’s mom before she dies, and had been alerted by the hospital. It’s not until Baylor security came down that Powell let Ryan Moats.

BUT.. that’s not all.

Here’s why Powell needs to be fired:

AFTER seeing the video, here was his take;
“My understanding is that Officer Powell, even when he saw the videotape, believed he had not acted inappropriately," Kunkle said.

If he’s that redneck, police nazi, or whatever, get rid of him.

Nice creepy tattoo he has on his MySpace page.

Update: Powell has self-terminated.

Ken Salazar continues to show his true colors

Possibly, no, probably, Obama’s worst Cabinet choice this side of Tim Geithner, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar first showed his pseudo-environmentalist flag when he decided people in Idaho and Wyoming could start indiscriminately shooting wolves again.

Now, he claims Bureau of Land Management rules allow private land donated to BLM in the Clinton Administration, with the understanding it would be left undisturbed, can be developed for large-scale solar energy farms. Southern California is a great place for solar, but there’s other BLM sites, right? And, an agreement is an agreement.

Meanwhile, San Diego winger GOP Congressmut Brian Billbray wants to exempt such solar behemoths from any National Environmental Policy Act review. The bill he’s introduced to that effect surely has nothing to do
Apparently, Rahmbo with his major campaign contributors.

Let’s have Feinstein or Boxer on the Senate side, or somebody on the House side, ask Kenny Boy how he feels about this bill. You know, smoke him out more.

Since he rejected Feinstein’s letter on the development on donated lands issue, he needs to be put on the record on this.

Science in public schools gets a reprieve in Texas

A split vote by the State Board of Education keeps the creationist/IDer camel’s nose of evolution’s “strengths and weaknesses” out of classrooms. My SBOE rep, Mavis Knight, recovering from surgery, cast her vote the right way, by video.

Angela Hunt nails Trinity toll road in Dallas

While Wick Allison makes nice and Jim Schutze fulminates

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt nails it: with the serious concern the Army Corps of Engineers has about Trinity River levees here in Dallas, it’s time to abandon the idea of a Trinity toll road, and move TxDOT money to other projects. Dallas can still build Trinity Park without waiting on a toll road.

Oh, and whenever some sort of road is built there, tolls or not, there’s no way, with levee issues, it can be more than four lanes wide.

But, she does have one big boo-boo. She calls for a road connecting I-20 and the west side of Loop 12.

As I e-mailed her….

We already have Spur 408 connecting I-20 and Loop 12's west side in southwest Dallas.

Nothing new is needed.

Hunt e-mailed me later, saying that to meet the News' column length, she'd chopped some information about details of a connector to Walton Walker. Well, her e-mail, and her blog, which said the same thing, didn't really clarify stuff that much to me, or indicate what's "missing" that Spur 408 doesn't already do. (Now, if she had mentioned something similar to 408 stubbing off from the northwest corner of Loop 12/Walton Walker, that would be different.) Or, that 161, when actual freeway lanes are done, certainly won't do.

D Magazine’s Wick Allison does caveat that the North Texas Tollway Authority was going to pay part of some part-related construction.

Meanwhile, at the Observer, Jim Schutze (who else) describes just how bad the levee problem could be.

RealAge is really Big Pharma

RealAge, the popular website for determining what’s allegedly your actual biological age rather than your chronological age, is a front for sending your personal information to Big Pharma. Drug companies may not actually get your name, but they get plenty of other info about you for marketing purposes.

Don’t expect me to visit RealAge again, now that’s its been exposed. Not to mention that it gets flogged by Oprah’s latest guru, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

What, looking at your stools every day can’t tell you your real age, Dr. Oz?

Tejada gets 1-yr probation for lying about roids

The Houston Astro shortstop got that slap on the wrist for lying to Congress about his connection with performance-enhancing drugs.

After being named on the Mitchell Report, Tejada lied to Congress when he claimed he had never discussed HGH or steroids with Oakland A’s trainer Adam Piatt.

It is a federal felony; he could be deported, but that won't happen.

Congressional progressives feel slighted and shall remain so

There’s a good reason President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Y’all have yet to make enough noise against him, unlike House and Senate Blue Dog caucuses, as David Sirota notes:
“The fact that Obama has spent time courting House Republicans, the most legislatively irrelevant group on the Hill, and still hasn’t met with Progressives, the center core of his party — it’s incredible,” said David Sirota, a liberal columnist and former aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who founded the Progressive Caucus in the early 1990s when he served in the House. …

“The Progressive Caucus won’t get the respect they deserve unless they show they’re willing to play hardball.”

Vote against some Obama measure. Vote against ANY Obama measure connected to Tim Geithner.

That will get you noticed. And, in combination with conservatives, might actually kill some nonsense.

Loose lips sink dollar prices, Mr. Geithner

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who really should know better, gets his first lesson in international currency markets.

But, behind the learning curve are some serious issues:
Yet Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan’s demarche is also a warning that reserve currency status carries special obligations. It means the U.S. isn't conducting monetary policy only for itself but for much of the world. And it means that when the U.S. falls for the temptation to debase its currency, it sends shocks through the entire global trading system. The dollar's sharp but needless gyrations during this decade are in our view one of the major causes of the housing and commodity asset bubbles that led to the financial panic and global recession.

If Mr. Geithner meant yesterday that he is "open" to broader monetary and exchange-rate cooperation, that could be a step forward. But instead of abdicating to IMF bureaucrats, this would mean working with the world's most important governments and central banks -- for starters, the Fed, ECB, and the Banks of England, Japan and China. The world could use monetary reform, but the goal should be to reduce currency fluctuations and enhance price stability and world trade. In the meantime, the dollar's special status is an asset worth preserving.

Indeed. And, while the Euro is a “young” currency, and the eurozone still has growing pains, nonetheless, it becomes more attractive as a second, supplemental reserve currency all the time.

More on Zhou’s reserve currency proposal is, here. Note also the graphic showing the sharp rise in euro holdings, in the graphic.

That said, Zhou’s not proposing the Euro as a backup reserve currency, unlike what Russia has said in the recent past. He wants a “hypothetical” reserve currency instead.
China’s proposal is likely to have significant implications, said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University and former IMF official. “Nobody believes that this is the perfect solution, but by putting this on the table the Chinese have redefined the debate,” he said. “It represents a very strong pushback by China on a number of fronts where they feel themselves being pushed around by the advanced countries,” such as currency policy and funding for the IMF.

The WSJ kind of pooh-poohs that idea in the first-linked story. But, given the way currencies float anyway, is it that unrealistic?

That said, right now, due to U.S.-China trade, it may not bee too practical for it to strongly ramp up the number of euros it has in reserve.

Is Nouriel Roubini OK with Geithner TALF plan? Ehh …

Josh Marshall at TPM marked him down for a cautious yes; let’s take a look at what Roubini says.

From where I sit, I would make that a very cautious, and very caveated, yes.

First, the OK:
With this plan, it will still be a hard swim, but, at least, there is a path to shore.

Next, the caveats:
The deal is structured so that firms will be responsible only for losses on their initial investment. The hope is that by giving this big "freebie," the government will induce investors to participate, and that competition among them will lead to higher offer prices for the loans and securities, thus encouraging banks to sell them.

A lot of ifs …

But let's not have any illusions. The government bears the risk if and when the investors take a bath on the taxpayer-provided loans. If the economy gets worse, it could get very ugly, very quickly. The administration should be transparent in making clear that there is still a wealth transfer taking place here - from taxpayers to investors and banks.

Italics mine, and very needed.

That last is the biggest caveat from where I sit.

It would be one thing to call for that level of transparency from “Abstract Treasury Secretary X.” it’s another thing entirely to expect it from real-world Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Meanwhile, on the same NY Daily News online op-ed pages, Luigi Zingales zings the plan harshly. REALLY harshly:
The irony of the plan is that it seems to replicate the same excesses that brought the crisis - carrying enormous economic and political risk. …

If you think that the revelation of AIG lavish bonuses has shown all the rage of the American people, think again. When former subprime lenders will become the new billionaires, we run the risk of a populist revolution.

Only thing is, as Zingales knows, the idea of a “revolution” here in America? Chuck Norris’ third fist and half brain aside, not so much.

This earmark sure won't fly

Secret manned surveillance planes purchased under a “black earmark” by the Drug Enforcement Administration suck so bad they’re being sold as cannibalized parts to maximize the money they produce in sale.

And, what is a “black earmark,” you might ask?

Per the story, which has a number of other examples, it’s analogous to the CIA’s black budget. It’s an earmark made in secret.

If you want to know how bad they are, black earmarks are part of what led to Duke Cunningham’s conviction less than two years ago.

Beyond that, the DEA is NOT the CIA; nor is the Coast Guard, also burned by a black earmark. There’s no need for any of its weaponry to be funded in secret.

Bachelorettes gone wild with horses in Kansas

A definite news of the weird — a bachelorette party that included an inflatable penis, and ends with a horse being considered a police officer.

March 25, 2009

MSM finally notices Obama lip service to civil liberties

The Washington Post finally rights about how Obama is BushCo light, or even just plain BushCo, on state secrets — and civil liberties issues that relate to that.

The story — only a month or so after Glenn Greenwald, among others — focuses on the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation suit. There, Team Obama has made the same use of the “state secrets” claim as BushCo did, essentially claiming, “We’ll let you the court know what you get to read and when.”

Even the most ardent Obamiacs haven’t offered much defense of what amounts to a claim for authoritarian government. And, the Obama Administration doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on:
“There has to be other ways to protect secret information without having to block accountability,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine. He said that “state secrets” has become a sort of “talismanic phrase” uttered by government officials who want to dispose of inconvenient or troubling challenges to their authority.

In fact, the story rightly argues that, in some matters, the Obama Administration may be worse than BushCo.

Otherwise, if you’re NOT familiar with some of the issues at hand, the article does a good job connecting the basic dots.

And, if your blog reading has been confined to mainstream liberal blogs like Washington Monthly or Talking Points Memo, you’re probably NOT too familiar with what’s up here.

Steve Benen, Think Progress go in tank for Obama again

Talking about Chinese (and Russian) discussion about the world possibly needing a second reserve currency besides the dollar, Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen and Think Progress’ Ali Frick both see a Drudge-led right-wing noisemaking conspiracy behind this, as nothing more than airplay.

While it’s true that some religious conservatives may see the Euro as the replacement mark of the best for the UN, Common Market, etc., there’s also serious issues involved.

That’s why, as I posted on Washington Monthly:
This isn’t a conservative vs. liberal talking point, though, Steve.

If the EU is right on its inflation worries, and wanting more Obama financial regulation legislation first, and only then more stimulus plans, the euro looks like a better and better alternative world currency. And rightly so.

No wonder both China and Russia are pushing it.

Too bad neither Steve nor any of the posters here get that.

Especially when the Eurozone is the world’s largest economy, maybe we should listen to somebody outside our own echo chamber a little more often.

And, I’ve already gotten a response there from people who think “my country, right or wrong,” on fiscal policy. One person said, in essence, “no, it’s JUST a social/religious issue. To which, I say:
It’s a geopolitical talking point, as well as an economic one, that has also been made into a religious and social conservative talking point.

And, the fact that it has been made into that in no way negates the actual news, and newsworthy, background, of this.

1. Russia, as well as China, has mentioned the second reserve currency idea. While Beijing still likes to be low-key in leveraging its muscle, nobody's ever leveraged that accusation at Moscow.

2. Re the European Central Bank and the idea of the Euro as a second reserve currency? No, it's not perfect. But, is the Fed? Errr...

3. Let's not forget the eurozone, for all its faults, IS the world's largest economy, and may well be for years to come. Maybe we should listen to somebody outside our own echo chamber a little more often.

4. Given that the BushCo SEC promised more financial regulation and then didn’t deliver, I don’t blame the EU for saying, in essence, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Meanwhile, as people like Glenn Greenwald also know, plenty of pseudoprogressive will salute whatever Obama runs up the flagpole.

That said, might I be wrong about the fiscal policy of the ECB, etc.? Of course. But, we have no guarantee somebody like Paul Krugman is right when he bashes the EU and ECB, and I get tired of the “my country right or wrong,” let alone the, “my Obama, right or wrong,” view of international finance. It’s almost as simplistic as the conservativism it professes to stand against.

And, one final note. Although I can appreciate the gamesmanship of politics, indeed, even its chess-like strategy, nonetheless, people like Benen, as part of looking at it through the two-party duopoly lens first, the broader political ideas lens second, make it a zero-sum game, duopoly players the only ones who need apply.

That's why it's going to be a long four years with mainstream liberal bloggers like him.

EU worried about deficits now, not just ‘someday’

The European Union, from Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who holds the EU presidency, on down, wants action, not talk from the Obama Administration on financial re-regulation/reform.

And, I agree.

While I agree with Paul Krugman on panning Tim Geithner, I DIS-agree on him panning the Euros for insisting on more reform first. Given the G. Sachs connections of the Obama-Summers-Geithner troika, why shouldn't the EU be worried about getting another unfulfilled promise of reform from Washington?

Israel’s Labor Party may split; Bibi salivates

Ehud Barak is determined to carry Labor into Bibi Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, even though he only got about a 57-43 split on the party vote to coalition.

Some Labor members are already making noises about refusing to follow Barak, and instead staying in opposition.

I’ll bet at least 7 of Labor’s 27 Knesset members do that, enough to make Bibi’s “grand coalition” a bit less grand, especially if Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her Kadima Party continue resisting Bibi’s blandishments.

Bibi, meanwhile, even though his Israel the only state policy is directly contrary to U.S. foreign policy on Palestine, is drooling at the prospect of getting at least half of Labor into coalition. It gives him at least partial cover, lets him ignore the worst of Avigdor Lieberman and so forth.

At the same time, if this causes an official split in Labor, so much the better from a Likud Party perspective.

I never thought that weasel would ever come back to power. But, not only has he, he looks to be stronger than before.

March 24, 2009

A rap on the knuckles today

And, whether it was "deserved" or not (a word that, like "justice," is more situational, in my opinion, than others may think), I can honestly understand, and accept, where it came from, from my soon-to-be new employers.

Newspaper ‘stimulus’ plan hits Congress

Sen Benjamin Cardin’s Newspaper Revitalization Act would let newspapers operate as nonprofit organizations for education purposes, similar to public broadcasting – or similar to my favorite British liberal newspaper, the Guardian.

And, Cardin is focused on newspapers, and newspaper-only operations; no conglomerate that own TV and/or radio as well.

I like it.

Of course, newspaper CEOs are going to have to permanently accept that this puts paid to the era of 30 percent, or even 20 percent, profit margins.

Nonprofit means nonprofit.

And, I’m gambling that between social Darwinist drives and pride, many newspaper companies might not bite.

That said, from a working stiff editor whose been at “community” newspapers all my life …

I like it.

Summers bends over for Wall Steet at $5K a pop – insider trading

So, President Barack Obama’s economic czar, Larry Summers, spewed his pearls of wisdom, like a cheap version of ZZ Top’s Pearl Necklace, at $5,000 a pop, to conference attendees specifically invited by the Wall Street Journal.

At the White House.

Closed to the press.

Since this was surely about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s TALF plan, if this had happened within a corporate boardroom, it would be called insider trading.

HuffPost hearts Obama stimulus PR vs. ‘old Europe’

No, unlike Don Rumsfeld, Max Bergmann doesn’t actually use that phrase. But, he sure seems to tilt that way.

This is one area where I disagree with Krugman as well. Much of continental Europe wasn’t hit in the same way in the current recession as was the U.S., or the U.K. And, given that the EU pushed BushCo for tighter SEC regulations nearly five years ago, it’s good to see that it won’t buy a pig in a poke from Obama.

Goldman Sachs exploiting TARP?

If Sachs actually does give back its various TARP monies, whether directly or indirectly paid to it, you know it’s not for its health that its doing that.

There’s a clear ulterior motive, and that’s to swat down other “investment” banks, even though none such officially exist any longer.

Don’t forget the Sachs-Summers-Geithner-Obama connections.

I guess the idea of “recusal” isn’t part of the Obama Administration vocabulary.

School strip searches unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court will soon decide that issue.

I personally believe that, in the case in question at least, they’re illegal. A strip search for prescription ibuprofen?

The Ninth Circuit already has indicated it feels the same way:
Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said, “It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights.”

Agreed. The Obama Administration is, for once, doing the right thing on a civil liberties issue with an amicus brief for the student and her family. Read the full story for details.

Stiglitz – Geithner robbing taxpayers

The man who should be Treasury Secretary, if we had an actually progressive president, Joseph Stiglitz, says the toxic assets buy-up plan of the man who, most unfortunately, is Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, ain’t gonna work and “amounts to robbery of the American people.”

Those aren’t Stiglitz’s only harsh words. In detail:
“Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don’t think it’s going to work because I think there'll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer.”

Stiglitz also said it’s time for the U.S. to share more of the world’s economic decision-making power:
“The voices of developing countries, and countries like China that will provide a lot of the money, are not heard.”

He wants China to get more IMF voting rights. Given the amount of U.S. debt it holds, Beijing may get more assertive about this in the future.

Rick Steves: Keep on traveling – and toking

PBS travel guru Rick Steves (whom I had the pleasure of meeting, and interviewing for my newspaper group, last fall) says that, within budget constraints, Americans should keep on traveling, and preferably abroad.

If you missed his PBS special about Iran last month, you missed something great. Steves admits that even he needed a dose of Mark Twain’s aphorism about travel as mind-broadening before he went to Iran, a step beyond his normal Euro-based travel.

That said, from the amount of time he’s spent in Europe, Steves knows what works in drug decriminalization, and isn’t afraid to talk about it.

He’s so unafraid, in fact, that he’s on the board of directors of NORML, something not mentioned in the article, but which he did discuss here in Dallas last fall.

Summers stiffing Volcker and Geithner connections?

Yesterday, I blogged on the possibility that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s TALF plan might be “all she wrote,” not only, or even primarily, because if he screws this up, Congress won’t give him another shot, but because he doesn’t plan another shot.

Paul Krugman touches on “risking trouble with Congress” angle, as part of his latest column, where he notes this is already the third time Geithner has floated warmed-over Paulsonism.

But, back to my original angle, taking Krugman a step further. Is Geithner simply deliberately regurgitating Paulson in different ways as “take it or leave it”?

I say yes.

More proof of that? The Paul Volcker-led Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board has yet to meet.

As Politico notes, this group was originally going to meet every few weeks. Then, it got shoved back to monthly. Then very few weeks. Now, it’s quarterly… but, we’re almost through the first quarter of this year!

And, if they’re meeting in private, it’s apparently in violation of federal open meetings law. (Not that that would surprise me; I think the Obama Administration is quickly proving to be almost as unsurprising in a mix of mendacity and hubris as BushCo was.)

That said, I’ll give you one guess as to who is stiffing the group; this time, his initials aren’t Tim Geithner; they’re Larry Summers.

On TALF itself, Krugman wraps up his latest column by saying Obama is “squandering his credibility.”

He’s lucky Bush was his predecessor, or he’d really look bad.

March 23, 2009

Home sales offer a glimmer of hope

A February jump in existing home sales offers a glimmer or two of economic hope.

True, much of the jump is sales of repos, but they have to be sold sometime.

And, the West, ground zero of the housing bubble, actually paced the increase.

Time for Detroit and Big Three to face reality

The Environmental Protection Agency has officially declared greenhouse gases are pollutants.

It will probably also make some sort of carbon cap program easier to pass in Congress, though probably not until this fall, I might guess, unless a watered-down plan gets passed, with the stipulation it’s just a starter bill.

Side benefit?

Since methane is another greenhouse gas, it means EPA can do what USDA hasn’t, and start regulating concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Obama upping Predator strikes on Pakistan?

It certainly appears he will continue the heavier pace of Predator attacks that started with the Bush Administration last August.

That said, if Pakistan is REALLY that upset about the strikes, all Islamabad has to do is forbid the U.S. from using Pakistani airbases, since we’ve stopped asking its permission.

The silence you hear is an indication that Pakistan is opting for the rock of Predator attacks versus the perceived instability of further regionalism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and more direct assaults on the government.

Miss Molly warned us about the AIGs of the world

Molly Ivins gave us the heads-up at the same time she sounded the alarm about Gramm-Leach-Bliley in particular and Phil ramm in general.
“Too Big to Fail” will be the new order of the day. And guess who gets left holding the bag when they're too big to fail? One of these monsters goes down, and it will cost as much as the whole S&L debacle.

Yep, a full decade ago, some non-economists had more brains than Phil Gramm (not hard), Alan Greenspan and others.

Music IS the universal language

Turns out sub-Saharan Africans can pick out the likely emotional state reflected by particular items of Western music, even people who may never have heard such music on a radio before.

That said:
1. The study is small;
2. I’m not sure of the p-value;
3. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t asked to listen to Schoenberg or even more avant-garde items.

What if Geithner’s TALF plan is his last offer?

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s bad assets buy-up plan has been roundly knocked about by both economics and non-economics bloggers from across the political spectrum.

And, despite the plan now being defended by himself, with bullshit PR such as “legacy assets,” the pig doesn't look any better with makeup.

Here’s the details of Geithner’s “assumption”:
The plan to be announced next week involves three separate approaches. In one, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will set up special-purpose investment partnerships and lend about 85 percent of the money that those partnerships will need to buy up troubled assets that banks want to sell.

In the second, the Treasury will hire four or five investment management firms, matching the private money that each of the firms puts up on a dollar-for-dollar basis with government money.

In the third piece, the Treasury plans to expand lending through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a joint venture with the Federal Reserve.

The third prong has already, in an earlier form, drawn drools from hedge funds and the like, meaning we should be suspicious.

The FDIC partnerships in leg one will also have these types of folks drooling.
To entice private investors like hedge funds and private equity firms to take part, the F.D.I.C. will provide nonrecourse loans — that is, loans that are secured only by the value of the mortgage assets being bought — worth up to 85 percent of the value of a portfolio of troubled assets.

Yeah, where do I sign up to get the government pay for 85 percent of something and still let me call it mine?

That leaves the second leg, and given both Geithner’s and Ben Bernanke’s lack of forthrightness on TARP and TARP 2.0 issues, what sort of guarantee will he have about any clarity re these investment management firms?

Elsewhere, Krugman, Calculated Risk and John Cole weigh in, as do Naked Capitalism and James Galbraith.

One thing all of them miss, though, Krugman hinted at it in a previous blog post, and that is:

What if Geithner (Summers) NEVER, last-ditch never, is going to do the Sweden plan? What if this is, in essence, a take it or leave it offer?

Joe Stiglitz, the man who should be in Geithner’s seat, kind of thinks along those lines, wondering how many more times will he try to ram this crap down our throats.

But, Geithner is not without defenders who are not named Obama or Summers.

Bucking the trend of the almost universal centrist-to-liberal economics blogbashing of Geithner’s TALF plans, Brad DeLong goes totally homer for him. DeLong, who shows that myths of Berkeley being the hotbed of liberal academia are just that in its econ department, and also showing another reason why I thought Kevin Drum was such a squish at Washington Monthly, claims:

1. Geithner actually knows what he’s doing, and for more than his G. Sachs BFFs;
2. TALF as structured by Geithner is actually a bit of a financial burden for them, etc.

Krugman has now responded, congratulating DeLong for “the old college try,” then pointing out how Ihe basically didn’t do the old college homework on a significant part of Geithner’s plan.


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March 22, 2009

Obama on ‘60 Minutes’ – has Geithner sandbagged him?

Thursday, he told Jay Leno on “The Tonight Shows” he was “stunned” by the bonuses themselves. Three nights later, he tells Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes” that, regarding public reaction to the bonuses, “I wasn't surprised by it. Our team wasn't surprised by it.”

Well, since everybody now knows that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has lied about when he first knew about the bonuses, we have a bit of a quandary here.

Did Obama also know early? Nobody’s directly asked him that question yet.

Or, did Geithner sandbag him?

Or was it just an honest slip-up by an overtaxed Geithner?

I think Option 2, perhaps, being charitable, with a bit of Option 3 in the mix, is the most likely.

That said, Obama also indicated he’s listening to long-term budget worries, and told Kroft, in essence, there’s a limit to what the government can spend.

Obama later tipped his hand that he might continue to be Bush Light on the War on Terror, however he renames it or its participants:
Now-- do these folks deserve Miranda rights? Do they deserve to be treated like a shoplifter-- down the block? Of course not.

Unfortunately, in asking about the war in Afghanistan, Kroft asked not a word about the expansion of Bagram Air Base into Gitmo 2.0.

Brains pushing the envelope

Not some particular brains, but all brains. Our dura matter operates “on the edge of chaos, new studies show. And the results have some interesting self-organizational fallout.

ESA to send new micro-satellite to Lagrange Point

In case you don’t know what that is, the Lagrange Points are five different points, in relation to the Earth-Sun system (or similar two-body astronomical systems with similar mass differences) where their gravitational forces balance out.

Specifically, the FEEP satellite is going to L1, between Earth and Sun in a heliosynchronous orbit.

There’s a reason the satellite is going there. While the gravitational forces of Earth and Sun will balance, other perturbations will still exist, notably the solar wind. The new satellite will test a micro-sized ion engine designed to exactly resist that pressure at a fine-tuned scale. Read the rest of the story for space technology applications this cold produce.

Brad DeLong gets him some Geithner loving

Bucking the trend of the almost universal centrist-to-liberal economics blogbashing of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s TALF plans DeLong practically goes Brokeback Mountain with Timmy G. DeLong, who shows that myths of Berkeley being the hotbed of liberal academia are just that in its econ department, and also showing another reason why I thought Kevin Drum was such a squish at Washington Monthly, claims:

1. Geithner actually knows what he’s doing, and for more than his G. Sachs BFFs;
2. TALF as structured by Geithner is actually a bit of a financial burden for them, etc.

Krugman has now responded, congratulating DeLong for “the old college try,” then pointing out how Ihe basically didn’t do the old college homework on a significant part of Geithner’s plan.

Independents shift GOP

Charlie Cook reports that political self-identified independents are now equally likely to lean Republican as Democratic, That’s surely not good news for national Democrats, who have to figure out how to counteract the clear damage they’re picking up over AIG and other bailout issues.

Big Biz LOVES binding arbitration – except in EFCA

Curly, Moe and Larry of pseudo-progressive businesses Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costcoo (actually, Costco is somewhat more progressive on the matter at hand than the other two) have now shown why they’re offering an alternative to the Employee Free Choice Act – they HATE being “bound” by binding arbitration:
Whole Foods Market chief executive John Mackey said that binding arbitration is “not the way we normally do things in the United States” and that allowing workers to organize without a secret ballot “violates a bedrock principle of American democracy.”

Really, John?

Let’s say Whole Foods starts offering home food delivery, and I sign a contract.

Are you going to tell me you WON’T have a binding arbitration of disputes clause in there? Stop lying to me.

Oh, why are these folks the Larry, Moe and Curly?

Well, Starbucks has been pretty decent on environmental issues. It’s been middle-of-the-road on fair trade coffee. BUT — it’s no slouch in its anti-unionism.

Whole Foods? Pretty weak in its commitment to food sustainability, and most of its organic stuff is Big Ag produced. It’s damn good at marketing a burnished image, though.

Making this worse, Curly and Moe also go apocalyptic on us:
Giving organizers the ability to use card check, Schultz said, would lead to a slew of separate bargaining units at a company like his, leading to “havoc and significant cost and disruption.” Mackey had an even grimmer view. “Armed with those weapons, you will see unionization sweep across the United States and set workplaces at war with each other,” he said. “I do not think it would be a good thing.”

So, John Mackey also stands exposed as an anti-capitalist.

Larry, Costco CEO James D. Sinegal, is being more low-key. And, tis true that Costco has a much flatter salary structure than rival Sam’s Club.

Maybe we need to not forget the Shemp of the issue, former Clinton advisor and triangulation squish Lanny Davis. Davis makes clear that’s his angle on this issue — he wants to give President Obama a triangulation option.

Inflation fear– TARP beneficiaries sell America short

The dollar has just hit a 25-year low spot. Why? Fears that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is not just stoking inflation, but actually “clipping” the dollar, with his buyback of Treasuries announced last week.
“What it introduces is the problem of the currency to the extent that the Fed is buying what isn’t desired by foreign holders,” said Bill Gross, co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., in an interview on Bloomberg Television on March 19. “The Fed can keep interest rates where they want to keep them, at least for a 6- to 12- to 18-month period of time, but it will have consequences down the road.”

Plus, that 1985 low point was a coordinated international strategy.

This ain’t.

And — chutzpah alert:

TARP beneficiaries Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are telling people to buy euros.

Brad DeLong has an interesting idea: Why doesn’t Bernanke buy undervalued private bonds instead?

Bible study – Jesus was a SOCIALIST! (I think)

No, don’t let the success theologians, or the fundamentalists and others who are willfully wedded at the hip to the GOP, tell you Jesus is a capitalist.

Beyond the fact that capitalism as we know it today didn’t exist 2,000 years ago, the bible clearly shows us Jesus is a socialist. Or even a communist, for doorknob’s sake!

Matthew 20:1-16 clearly shows that:
1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5So they went.

"He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

7" 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
"He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

8"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'

9"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

13"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

While Jesus doesn’t use Marx’s phrase, it’s arguable that Jesus had some version of “each according to his needs” in mind.

On the other hand, it’s arguable that he was an unregulated Gilded Age capitalist. If he says he has the right to pay whatever he wants, he obviously doesn’t believe in a minimum wage. By rebuking one of the early workers, he clearly doesn’t believe in unionism.

By hiring day laborers in the marketplace, he probably does believe in exploiting labor. Would probably have been OK with unrestricted illegal immigration by the Nabatean Arabs into Roman Palestine.

It’s certainly NOT arguable, though, in reference to the success theologians, that trying to make modern economic arguments and justifications from the bible is almost as inane as trying to do that by ID/creationism.