Saturday Morning News and Views

Good Morning Conflucians!!!! It is 3 degrees here in the Boston western suburbs!!

Nevertheless, we are better off than you guys in the southern states where there is a winter storm going on. Yesterday, Texas and Oklahoma got about a foot of snow, and today the storm will move east into the Carolinas and Virgina and then out to sea.

California Conflucians are getting a break from the storms, but the state still needs more to end the long-term drought.

Our economics-challenged President is threatening to veto spending bills (except money for wars, banks, and insurance companies), because he thinks cutting the deficit is as important as creating jobs. I wonder when he’s going to figure out that the U.S. economy is dependent on consumer spending; and if people don’t have jobs, it’s kind of hard for them to buy things. Since he never held a full-time job before getting elected President and all his friends are rich corporate types, he doesn’t quite get what us ordinary people are so worried about.

“Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t,” Obama said. “And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.”

In an effort to make a dent in the growing federal deficit, White House officials announced earlier this week that their budget proposal would keep non-military discretionary programs at fiscal 2010 levels (Greenwire, Jan. 26). The proposal would exempt some of the largest parts of the federal budget including defense and entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

It will be up to Congress to decide whether to comply with this request in its spending bills, and Obama pled with them last night to toe the line — addressing critics from his own party and calling the effort vital to keep markets in line and avoid increases in the cost of borrowing.

I guess Obama thinks he can solve our economic problems by creating jobs in the military and defense industries. Maybe he is hoping a lot of us will go to work for Blackwater? I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I like Joseph Cannon’s idea of replacing Geithner with our own Dakinikat.

Eric Holder has been taking a lot of criticism from the right for locating the 9/11 conspiracy trial in New York City, and now he will be getting critiques from not non-Obots on the left. The Justice department review has cleared the Bush torture memo writers of professional misconduct.

Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources. (Under department rules, poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct.)

By this time everyone should be aware that the Obama administration is not going to hold anyone accountable for planning or participating in torture. Continue reading

Economics Food Fight

Matt Taibbi

Finally we have something fun to talk about. This could save us from wallowing in the horrors of Obama’s health insurance company bailout bill all weekend long. Matt Taibbi’s latest piece came out in Rolling Stone weeks ago, but was only available to subscribers until recently. Suddenly there is a fascinating back and forth going on between Taibbi and Obama apologist Tim Fernholtz at American Prospect. Fernholz nitpicked Taibbi’s article in a much-discussed critique. Then Felix Salmon stepped in to add his two cents to war of words. Then, Taibbi put his own response to Fernholz up on his blog. And finally, the latest: Fernholz has a new response to Taibbi’s response and he includes a couple of digs at Salmon too!

Here are links to all the relevant articles with some highlights:

Taibbi’s original RS story: Obama’s Big Sellout

Taibbi’s main argument is that Bob Rubin and people closely connected with him are running Obama’s economic policy–ensuring that deregulation and free-trade will continue to be the order of the day, rather than efforts to control an out-of-control Wall Street.

It is bad enough that one of Bob Rubin’s former protégés from the Clinton years, the New York Fed chief Geithner, is intimately involved in the negotiations, which unsurprisingly leave the Federal Reserve massively exposed to future Citi losses. But the real stunner comes only hours after the bailout deal is struck, when the Obama transition team makes a cheerful announcement: Timothy Geithner is going to be Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary!

Geithner, in other words, is hired to head the U.S. Treasury by an executive from Citigroup — Michael Froman — before the ink is even dry on a massive government giveaway to Citigroup that Geithner himself was instrumental in delivering. In the annals of brazen political swindles, this one has to go in the all-time Fuck-the-Optics Hall of Fame.

Wall Street loved the Citi bailout and the Geithner nomination so much that the Dow immediately posted its biggest two-day jump since 1987, rising 11.8 percent. Citi shares jumped 58 percent in a single day, and JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley soared more than 20 percent, as Wall Street embraced the news that the government’s bailout generosity would not die with George W. Bush and Hank Paulson.

Fernholz’s critique: The Errors of Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi has done it again — written a nightmare of a story for Rolling Stone on Obama’s economic sell-out of his campaign. The piece is a factual mess, a conspiracy theorist’s dream, doesn’t even indict Obama for his real failures (which I’ll discuss in a post later today) and of course invokes the cold hands of Bob Rubin like a bogeyman at every turn. This is pernicious for a lot of journalistic reasons, but politically it’s bad for progressives beacuse conspiracy theories stand in the way of good policy analysis and good activism, replacing them with apathy and fear.

Salmon’s critique of Fernholtz’s critique: Fernholtz vs. Taibbi

Tim Fernholz’s intemperate attack on Matt Taibbi and his latest article is getting a lot of attention in the Twittersphere. It turns out that a lot of journalists don’t like Taibbi, and love it when he gets taken down a peg.

But Fernholz’s attack is weaker than it looks at first glance; a lot of it is simply a matter of slant and opinion.

Taibbi’s response to Fernholz: On Obama’s Big Sellout

So I fucked up with that line — “a former Clinton diplomat” — and for that I certainly am sorry, among other things because Rolling Stone’s fact-checkers are the most rigorous in the business (much more so than any other newspaper or magazine I’ve worked for) and I think actually this was my error and not theirs, a late-stage mixup near press time.

Now, that said, it was indeed Bob Rubin’s son Jamie who worked with Michael Froman in the Obama transition team. Had it not been Bob Rubin’s son, that would certainly have qualified as a serious error, because then we’d be making an argument based upon a factual error.

But the basic argument of the article was that an enormous number of people with ties to Bob Rubin and/or other Wall Street insiders had assumed positions of responsibility in the Obama transition and White House. And Jamie Rubin is Bob Rubin’s son, and he was a headhunter for Obama’s economic hires from the first days of the transition. So the meaning here is really not significantly different. The fact that this heads the Prospect’s list of complaints says a lot about the substance of this criticism.

Fernholz’s response to Taibbi’s response and Salmon’s critique of his critique of Taibbi: Lighting Round

So yesterday’s post on Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone got a bit more attention than I had anticipated, including a response from Felix Salmon that I thought was worth addressing. Salmon defends Taibbi — I’d accuse him of some logrolling in our time thanks to his appearance in the piece, but Salmon is better than that — but it’s not a very strong defense….

Here’s my point: Taibbi has written an article arguing that Obama has sold out his campaign-era economic populism by surrounding himself with Bob Rubin’s lackeys and giving away the farm to the bankers — “one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.” Only it turns out, though, that many of the Rubinites he identifies don’t work on the things he says they work on, or don’t take the positions he applies to them, or aren’t as influential as he thinks they are. The people he says were “banished” from Obama’s inner circle, like Austan Goolsbee, weren’t. He manages not to mention any of the populist decisions Obama has made.

And Andrew Leonard at Salon is threatening to get involved–he sounds like another Obama apologist.

Is it my imagination, or does the attribution “spent 12 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs” now carry with it the stain of the scarlet letter? Nothing more need be said.

I will return to this theme later today when I tackle Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone assault on President Barack Obama but let’s note here for the record that this is yet another case of the White House proposing a sensible piece of regulatory reform — anything that quacks like a financial services banking duck should be regulated like a financial services banking duck — that has been watered down by Congress.

Back and forth–who will be heard from next and will they come to blows?


UPDATE I:

Here is the promised attack on Taibbi by Andrew Leonard: Matt Taibbi goes Obama scalp hunting

And, another voice pipes up from the peanut gallery, Big Media Matt, king of the apologists, Blame Obama First h/t MABlue


UPDATE II:

Salmon returns Leonard’s serve: Don’t Ask Taibbi to be Krugman

But where does Salmon get the idea that we have a “left-leaning government now?” What is he smoking?

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Saturday Morning at The Confluence

Good morning everyone! What are you reading this morning? I recently started the new book by John Perkins, Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded–and What We Need to Do to Remake Them.

In the news, I’m half-heartedly following the health care bill’s progress and wondering what is going to happen with the Fort Hood story. Even though there seems to be a lot happening, I get the feeling that absolutely no progress is being made on anything whatsoever. Is it just me?


SENATE HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL

I know I should be all worked up about the health care bill, but I’m not. The Senate will have a vote tonight at 8PM to see if debate on the bill can go forward, but who cares? The bill doesn’t seem worth all the months of arguing and haranguing. The politicians haven’t listened to the people’s concerns at all, as far as I can tell. It has all been just a big kabuki dance leading up to the next corporate bailout.

The New York Times has an editorial on the situation, but it’s hard to tell if they are endorsing the bill or not:

The Senate bill is weaker in many respects than the trillion-dollar bill passed by the House, which would cover more of the uninsured and provide greater subsidies. It would postpone many reforms until 2014, a year later than the House bill, delaying benefits for millions of Americans. It also lacks an explicit mandate on employers to offer coverage. The House bill does a better job of closing the gap in Medicare that leaves many elderly beneficiaries struggling to pay for medicines.

Conservative Democratic senators whose votes will be needed to break a Republican filibuster are restive over the costs of the overall plan and over including a public option, even with an opportunity for states to opt out. Some may also object to provisions that would allow enrollees to buy plans that cover abortions on the exchanges using their own money, a more reasonable standard than the virtual ban on abortion coverage under the House bill. Despite these concerns, conservative Democrats owe it to the nation to help break a Republican filibuster and allow debate to proceed.

Whatever….

More health care reform links:

Reuters: Healthcare bill faces first U.S. Senate test

Bloomberg: Reid, Democrats Face First Big Senate Test on Health-Care Bill

CNN International: What to expect in Senate’s Saturday health care vote

Politics Daily: Pollster Celinda Lake: Where Women Really Stand on Health Care

Washington Post: Health Bill Opponents Turn Up the Volume


FORT HOOD SHOOTINGS

News 8 Austin: Hasan to have first court hearing Saturday

Wall Street Journal: Army Taps General to Probe Shootings

AFP: Fort Hood Shooter Talked with Radical Cleric

Boston Globe Editorial: Questions swirl in Fort Hood

CRUCIAL QUESTIONS need to be answered about the motives and contacts of Colonel Nidal Hasan, the suspect charged in the mass murder at Fort Hood, Texas. Was the army psychiatrist radicalized by a Yemeni-American imam who had known two of the 9/11 hijackers and who called the Fort Hood massacre a “heroic act’’? Could the killings have been prevented if the FBI had notified the army about an exchange of e-mails the bureau was monitoring between Hasan and the radical imam?

These are questions that may not be the focus of prosecutors but are rightfully the concern of congressional committees with oversight responsibilities. Irritating as Senator Joe Lieberman’s grandstanding on other matters might be, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was doing what needs to be done when he opened hearings Thursday to determine if federal agencies “missed signals or failed to connect the dots in a way that enabled Hasan to carry out his deadly plan.’’

LA Times: Senate inquiry into Ft. Hood misplaced

Sen. Joe Lieberman insists on pushing ahead with a Senate inquiry into the mass murder at Ft. Hood, despite White House and Pentagon anxieties that the probe could compromise the prosecution of alleged killer Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

It’s always interesting to see how many friends due process has in times of extreme stress. Given what looks like the security authorities’ wretched mishandling of the Hasan case — the guy appears to have done everything but paste an “Osama bin Laden Rocks” bumper sticker on his car — there’s every reason for the administration and the FBI to want to put off a legislative reckoning for as long as possible. “We want to guarantee everyone a fair trial” is always good cover. But in this case, it has the additional virtue of being true.

Lieberman isn’t the only Senator calling the Fort Hood attack “terrorism.” Now Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan is saying it too:

The Hill: Sen. Levin: Fort Hood shooting rampage was likely a terrorist attack

“It probably could be labeled as a terrorist attack. I am not uncomfortable with thinking that’s the likely outcome here or the likely accurate description,” Levin added.

[....]

Levin said his panel has to receive a number of closed-door briefings from the military and other involved agencies before it holds a public hearing. Levin did not offer a timeline as to when the hearings will occur but said he is committed to holding them.

He also stressed that Congress has an important oversight role to play in regard to the shooting and identifying deficiencies within military processes and policies.

This could get ugly.


THE ECONOMY

NYT: New Consensus Sees Stimulus Package as Worthy Step

WSJ: Goldman Holders Miffed at Bonuses

WSJ: House Attacks Fed, Treasury

Obama Says Asia Trip Focused on Economy and Creating U.S. Jobs


ODDS AND ENDS

Man arrested at LAX with fifteen live lizards strapped to chest

In an apparently cold-blooded attempt at smuggling, a Lomita man was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport this week with more than a dozen wriggling lizards strapped to his chest.

Michael Plank, 40, was detained by U.S. Customs agents after they discovered 15 live lizards stuffed into his money belt, officials with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said Friday.

Ancient Crocs Ate Dinosaurs

Thursday, University of Chicago dinosaur hunter Paul Sereno writes about five skeletons of ancient crocodiles that lived 100 million years ago.

“We have crocs that ate plants and galloped and ate dinosaurs and were flat as a board,” said Sereno, who unearthed the skeletons over the last several years in the Sahara.


Tips for the Admissions Test … to Kindergarten

Test preparation has long been a big business catering to students taking SATs and admissions exams for law, medical and other graduate schools. But the new clientele is quite a bit younger: 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance — costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions — will help them win coveted spots in the city’s gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.

Motivated by a recession putting private schools out of reach and concern about the state of regular public education, parents — some wealthy, some not — are signing up at companies like Bright Kids NYC. Bright Kids, which opened this spring in the financial district, has some 200 students receiving tutoring, most of them for the gifted exams, for up to $145 a session and 80 children on a waiting list for a weekend “boot camp” program.

Quick restart of Big Bang machine stuns scientists

The nuclear physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider were surprised that they could so quickly get beams of protons whizzing near the speed of light during the restart late Friday, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
The machine was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault in September last year.
Some scientists had gone home early Friday and had to be called back as the project jumped ahead, Gillies said.

HAVE A STUPENDOUS SATURDAY, EVERYONE!!!!


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Obama wins Nobel Prize in Economics

Who me?  Yes, you.  Couldnt be  Um, yeah, we know.

"Who me?" Yes, you. "Couldn't be" Yeah, we know.

Today, the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to President Barack Obama.  Citing his intention to pull the country and the world out of the deepest recession since The Great Depression, the Nobel committee said that it was inspired by the President’s ability to promote a sense of financial well-being in the world’s bankers.

“President Obama has transformed Reagan’s vision of trickle down economics into something that rains down on all of us”, The Committee chair announced.  “Besides, we had one prize left and thought, what the heck!   We have a crush on Obama.  B-to-the-A-to-the-R-A-C-K O-B-A-M-A!”

When reminded of Elizabeth Warren’s warning that the real economy has been hollowed out by decades of deregulation of the financial industry that has left the country with a very fragile economy and that Obama has essentially continued and extended former President George Bush’s economic policies, the committee said that Elizabeth Warren was not a ‘serious person’ but a ‘cotton headed ninny muggins’ who is ‘childishly impatient’.  “Elizabeth Warren is much too concerned with the immediate impact of the financial bailout on the average consumer.  We advise her to wait and see what happens.  We are awarding this prize pre-emptively to demonstrate that Obama will do what he should have done anyway without any expectation of an award.  Call it, ‘The Audacity of Hope’.  D’OH!  Lars, take a note.  Make sure Obama gets the prize next year for Literature.”

The Nobel Committee said that it would spend the rest of the year figuring out ways President Obama could camp on the Prizes in Medicine, Chemistry and Physics but thought that they could swing it if they knocked a couple of hardworking women out of the running.

Meanwhile, the DNC released a statement condemning those who thought the Prize premature and lowering the threshhold of accountability to farcical levels as expressing “obviously racist tendencies”.  Users at the blog, The Confluence, a liberal site of former Democrats now dedicated to holding Obama accountable to the people his campaign steamrolled on his way to the presidency, rolled their eyes and said this Prize will not alter their outlook on Obama’s presidency, which they deemed a failure before it even started.  “We waited eight long years to get rid of Bush only to be disenfranchised during the primaries and stuck with this weakling for four years”, Confluence proprietor RD said, “Prize or no prize, we expect him to do the right thing by America’s voters.  We’re not going to let no starry-eyed, lutefisk eaters try to tell us what to think.”

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Thursday Morning at The Confluence: Browsing at Nini’s Corner

Nini's Corner Newstand, Harvard Square

Nini's Corner Newstand, Harvard Square

In your mind’s eye, join me for a leisurely morning browse through the Nini’s Corner newstand in Harvard Square. Before the internet, it was great place to find local, national, and international newspapers and periodicals. For now the monsoons have stopped and Harvard Square is warm, sunny, and welcoming. We can buy a selection of newspapers, grab a cup of coffee and a muffin, and find a comfortable place to sit outdoors and catch up on what’s happening in the world. Many thanks to MABlue for sending along some recommended links.

Sotomayor Confimation Hearings

Legal experts’ views on the Sotomayor hearing

At Stake in Hearings Are Post-Sotomayor Nominations

After three days of testimony, Judge Sotomayor appeared to have made no major mistakes that would jeopardize her confirmation in a Senate dominated by Democrats. So both sides are trying to use the Judiciary Committee hearings to define the parameters of an acceptable nomination in case another seat opens up during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Charlie Savage is such a good reporter–a real throwback.

Franken Stumps Sotomayor

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was breezing through her third day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee when she was tripped up by, of all people, the junior senator from Minnesota, Al Franken.

The comedian, in his second week on the job, noted that Sotomayor had, earlier in the day, said she was inspired to become a prosecutor by watching “Perry Mason,” who, in all his TV episodes, lost only one case to the nefarious Hamilton Burger. Franken’s question was deft and devastating: “What was the one case in ‘Perry Mason’ that Burger won?”

For the first time all week, the future justice was stumped.

[....]

“Didn’t the White House prepare you for that?” he asked with incredulity.

I remember that case. But I think Perry Mason won it on appeal.

Coburn might have some “splaining to do”

Of Pride and Prejudice: Latinos celebrate a milestone that Judge Sotomayor’s critics struggle to understand (h/t MABlue) Continue reading

Friday Morning at The Confluence: News and Views

Another rainy day in Boston

Another rainy day in Boston

Good morning Conflucians! It’s another cold, rainy day in the Boston area. I’ve gone through the stages of grief, from denial to anger, and so on, and I think I’ve almost reached acceptance. Summer is just not coming to New England this year. It’s 57 degrees on July 3. So what? I should be grateful it’s raining and not snowing, right? The local papers have started publishing snarky little articles like this one about the “bright side” to all this rain and cold.

OK, it’s wet. OK, everyone’s miserable. OK, the sun shines on every other city in the country and Mother Nature is spitting on Boston.

But instead of thinking of this weather front as a personal affront, why not grab onto that silver lining and recognize the rainfall for what it is: a respite from the rat race known as summer.
Yes, summer, the ultimate setup for personal and recreational failure, when every day is supposed to be a mini-vacation….

But now, thanks to unremitting clouds and drizzle, it’s off.

No need to squeeze into the bathing suit. Or do your hair (it’ll frizz up faster than a flash flood). Or sport a tan. Or go for that walk or run or bike ride or show up for bootie boot camp at 6 a.m. It’s pouring!

As for the beach, no wonder everyone’s lying down, exposing themselves to deadly UVB rays. Getting there is exhausting. Lewis and Clark had an easier time looking for the Northwest Passage.

Oh hardy har har. Don’t get me wrong. I’m really happy for all of you Conflucians who don’t live up here in the Northeastern corner of the country. Who knows? Maybe God is punishing us for our sins or something.

The Boston Globe reports that there is one genuine positive to all this ghastly weather.

While the onslaught of miserable June weather played havoc with people’s plans and psyches, it has also provided a quiet benefit to many city neighborhoods. Fatal and nondeadly shootings in Boston have plunged, and police acknowledge the weather has been a key factor.

Well I’m glad there really is one positive effect of the horrible weather…. So let’s see… what’s happening in the rest of the country this morning?

You’ve probably heard the Washington Post did a quick reversal yesterday on its plan to sell access to politicans and Post writers and editors. It was all just a big misunderstanding, according to Howard Kurtz.

Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth yesterday canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered corporate underwriters access to Post journalists, Obama administration officials and members of Congress in exchange for payments as high as $250,000.

“Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” Weymouth said in an interview. “This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren’t vetted. They didn’t represent at all what we were attempting to do. We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.”

Sure Katharine, we believe you. Some guy in marketing is taking the fall for the public relations nightmare:

The fliers were approved by a top Post marketing executive, Charles Pelton, who said it was “a big mistake” on his part and that he had done so “without vetting it with the newsroom.”

I’d just love to know if the Post actually had an agreement with the White House to participate in these “salons.” It really does sound like something this administration would do, but we’ll probably never know for sure, since investigative journalism is dead.

It looks like the Washington Post still has at least one real reporter on staff though. R. Jeffrey Smith read some recent court filings and found some interesting background on the Valerie Plame case showing that Dick Cheney was in control of the Bush administration’s revelations about Plame’s status with the CIA in order to minimize the damage caused by her husband Joseph Wilson’s critique of the case for war in Iraq. Surprise, surprise, the Obama administration is trying to keep Cheney’s activities secret.

A list of at least seven related conversations involving Cheney appears in a new court filing approved by Obama appointees at the Justice Department. In the filing, the officials argue that the substance of what Cheney told special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald in 2004 must remain secret.

No such agreement was reached between Fitzgerald and Cheney at the time of their chat, according to a 2008 Fitzgerald letter to lawmakers. But the Bush administration rejected requests by Congress and a nonprofit group for access to two FBI accounts of the conversation, saying the material was exempt from disclosure under subpoena or the Freedom of Information Act.

The Obama administration has since agreed that the material should not be disclosed. A Justice Department lawyer at one point last month argued that vice presidents and other White House officials will decline to be interviewed in the future if they know their remarks might “get on ‘The Daily Show’ ” or be used as fodder for political enemies.

Gasp! Heaven forbid! You mean politicians could be laughed at? Or their actions might be used to defeat them in an election? I can certainly see why our Department of Justice would be fighting hard to prevent that. Seriously, do we live in anything event resembling a free country anymore? Continue reading

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