Fred Hiatt keeps delivering self-inflicted body blows to the dwindling reputation of the Washington Post editorial page. His latest punch to the Post‘s kidney (or is that groin?): Running a misstatement-filled piece trashing the House climate bill by one-time Reagan administration chief economist Martin Feldstein — just two weeks after the uber-right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page ran a very similar piece by Feldstein.
Heckuva job, Freddie! What’s next — reprinting the Washington Times editorial page?
According to the New York Times, lobbyists for the nation’s largest banks “plan to make a renewed push on Capitol Hill this week” against proposals to regulate derivatives. Derivatives, of course, played a key role in dragging down some of the financial sector’s giants — particularly AIG — and the Obama administration is working to create a system that would remove some of the opacity from derivatives markets.
As the financial crisis entered one of its darkest phases in October, a handful of the nation’s largest banks began holding daily telephone sessions…Atop the agenda during their calls: how to counter an expected attempt to rein in credit-default swaps and other derivatives…The nine biggest participants in the derivatives market — including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America — created a lobbying organization, the CDS Dealers Consortium, on Nov. 13, a month after five of its members accepted federal bailout money.
The Wall Street Journal wrote that the banks are currently “being careful not to publicly oppose any rules.” However, this week a group of banks and money managers “plan to release a letter to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other U.S. and overseas regulators to help fend off some rules proposed by the Obama administration that seek to control trading in the derivatives market.”
Financial groups are also voicing opposition to a proposal aimed at creating new authorities for unwinding complex financial institutions. They are pushing back against calls for a single banking regulator, and criticizing the administration’s plan for merging and reforming some of the oversight agencies. In short, the bank’s won’t publicly oppose any of the regulatory reforms, but are privately opposing just about every one.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), for one, is peeved at the amount of deference Congress has shown to the big banks. “The banks run the place,” he said. “I will tell you what the problem is — they give three times more money than the next biggest group.” And indeed, the banking lobby has managed to deraillegislation at an alarming pace. Some sort of regulatory reform is almost certain to occur in the not too distant future, but if the banks can water it down and create loopholes then the opportunity to make meaningful changes will have been wasted.
With Barack Obama in the White House, misguided talk of bombing Iran has increasingly started to center on the idea that Israel might bomb Iran. But not only is this a bad idea, there continue to be many experts who see it as totally infeasible:
Their concerns, based on sober analyses of Israel’s known capacities and the scope of the challenge it would face, are crystallized in a recent 114-page paper by Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan, senior scholars at Washington’s Center for Strategic & International Studies. They have produced what is regarded as the most detailed public study thus far of the challenges Israel would face.
Their conclusion: Chances of a strong success — defined by how much of Iran’s uranium enrichment program is destroyed or the number of years the attack delays Iran’s acquisition of material sufficient to build a nuclear bomb — seem dubious, while the risks of the undertaking and its harsh military and destabilizing geopolitical consequences seem overwhelming.
And always recall that beyond the logistical challenges are the political issues. An Israeli strike on Iran is overwhelmingly likely to make the Iranian government more interested in forward-looking efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.
At the National Press Club today, former Vice President Dick Cheney gave some of his strongest comments yet in favor of same-sex marriage. Asked if “some form of legalized marriage” was “inevitable in the United States,” Cheney said that “freedom means freedom for everyone.” “I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish,” said Cheney, adding that believes marriage should be regulated at the state level. Watch it:
Cheney’s answer at the press club was pretty much the same answer that he usually gives when asked about the subject. But in the past, Cheney has said that “people ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.” Today, he used he word “union.”
One of the great pathologies of the news biz is that there’s a structural incentive to overstate absolutely everything. Thus, Politico asserts that “Even as it gets set to announce the bankruptcy of General Motors Monday, the Obama administration is struggling to set parameters on how it will act after taking a 60 percent stake in the new company that emerges — and now that it has become the owner of a significant swath of Corporate America.” Conor Clarke points out that the government is, in fact, the owner of merely a trivial fraction of corporate America:
At any rate, Jon Cohn makes the case for the administration’s efforts and is fairly persuasive.
I wonder, however, about the international relations aspects of some of this. General Motors is now going to be majority owned by the US government with a substantial additional fraction owned by the Canadian government. There’s a fair amount of precedent for state-owned corporations (mostly from Europe, and most of it not very promising) but I’m not really familiar with much in the way of that sort of international joint venture. What’s more, no other country seems any more inclined to allow its car industry to go under than we are. But it’s hard to compete against rival firms that are getting government subsidies. Consequently, once you shift from a “nobody subsidized” equilibrium into an “everyone subsidized” equilibrium, it seems to me that it may be difficult to switch back. In principle, this is a solvable international coordination problem, but international coordination can be hard to pull off.
Over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein argues that I overstated my (ongoing) case against the Congressional Budget Office. On Friday, after the CBO released its decision to exclude the federal mandate to purchase health insurance from the federal budget, I argued that we should not allow the CBO to hold health reform hostage. “Why exactly are [reformers] jumping through hoops to satisfy the CBO?,” I asked.
This is, I think, going a couple of steps too far. There’s no doubt that the Congressional Budget Office is a pain in the neck for health reformers. But that’s not the fault of the Congressional Budget Office. It’s because the cost of health reform — at least in the plans under consideration — is a pain in the neck for health reformers. Attacking the CBO is like attacking the guy who writes the numbers on the price tag…. Reformers fear CBO’s honest estimates, however, because they recognize that the opponents of reform will use them dishonestly.
I fully recognize that the cost of reform is the “real pain in the neck for health care reformers.” $1.5 trillion over 10 years ain’t chump change and my post was not intended to obfuscate the fact that comprehensive health care reform would require a serious upfront investment. Nor was it prompted by my “fear of CBO’s honest estimates.” Rather, I was highlighting the deficiencies within CBO’s accounting process. I’m not attacking “the guy who writes the numbers on the price tag,” I’m questioning how “the guy” comes up with the numbers in the first place.
As CBO chief Doug Elmendorf admitted during a recent Senate Budget Committee hearing, “we have very little evidence about interlocking changes in the complex health-care system, and I don’t think that our numbers should be the ultimate determinant of the policies that you and your colleagues will vote for and against”:
WHITEHOUSE: And I have two concerns about your actuarial science. One, there is a limited amount of evidence, and so you’re very limited in what you can sign off on in terms of scoring. And two, areas that we’ve been talking about like health information infrastructure and investment in quality reform that saves money and reimbursement reform end up being dynamically inter-engaged. [...]
ELMENDORF: I agree entirely with your concerns, Senator. CBO is going to draw on existing evidence about the effects of changes. And that evidence will be weak in many cases, and it will be particularly weak in cases that involve the interactions of several policy changes. We have a fair amount of evidence related to incremental changes that, on policies that have been in place for a long time, because almost everything has been moved up and down, and you can see how the world has responded to that. We have very little evidence about interlocking changes in the complex health-care system, and I don’t think that our numbers should be the ultimate determinant of the policies that you and your colleagues will vote for and against.
WHITEHOUSE: We’ll have to make some leaps of faith based on our best judgments.
ELMENDORF: Yes. Now, however, let me say I think we can be of great service to you in judging what leaps are worth taking.
Put simply, the fear is that the CBO understimates the savings from health care reform. It has a hard time identifying long-term savings, doesn’t consider the ledgers of businesses or families — who would benefit from progressive prescriptions — and has some serious scoring problems. For instance, health care reform would improve the health of the population, increase workers’ productivity and in turn yield greater revenue. The CBO does not score these savings. Klein is correct to note that this isn’t the CBO’s fault — Congress demands exact numbers and so the CBO tries to come up with ballpark estimates.
As Robert Reischauer — the CBO head from 1989 to 1995 — put it after one member of Congress wished to know if the CBO’s estimates about President Clinton’s health care reform plan were “in the ballpark,” “Congressman, I believe that we are in the town the ballpark is in. ”
Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief under Presidents Clinton and Bush, slammed Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice for invoking what he called “the White House 9/11 trauma defense” — namely, the shock of 9/11 was so great as to justify all and any actions taken in the name of national defense. Clarke called the decisions on interrogations, detentions, and Iraq were all “wrong,” and the White House panic proved that Cheney and company had simply been ignoring the warning signs:
Cheney’s admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.
Speaking at the National Press Club today, Cheney struck back at Clarke. When asked about Clarke’s argument, Cheney — once again — invoked the “burning ashes” of 9/11 and the victims who leaped to their deaths from the World Trade Center. Then, quite succinctly, Cheney pinned the entire blame for 9/11 on Clarke:
CHENEY: You know, Dick Clarke. Dick Clarke, who was the head of the counterrorism program in the run-up to 9/11. He obviously missed it. The fact is that we did what we felt we had to do, and if I had to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same thing.
When the moderator reminded Cheney that Clarke had repeatedly warned the administration about al Qaeda’s determination to attack the U.S., Cheney snarkily replied, “That’s not my recollection, but I haven’t read his book.”
In fact, it was Cheney who “missed” the warning signs, not Clarke. New York Times reporter Philip Shenon’s book, “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” reprinted some of Clarke’s emphatic e-mails warning the Bush administration of the al Qaeda threat throughout 2001:
“Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack” (May 3)
“Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot” (May 23)
“Bin Ladin’s Networks’ Plans Advancing” (May 26)
“Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent” (June 23)
“Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” (June 25)
“Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” (July 2)
Similarly, Time Magazine reported in 2002 that Clarke had an extensive plan to “roll back” al Qaeda — a plan that languished for months, ignored by senior Bush officials:
Clarke, using a Powerpoint presentation, outlined his thinking to Rice. … In fact, the heading on Slide 14 of the Powerpoint presentation reads, “Response to al Qaeda: Roll back.” … The proposals Clarke developed in the winter of 2000-01 were not given another hearing by top decision makers until late April, and then spent another four months making their laborious way through the bureaucracy before they were readied for approval by President Bush.
Cheney needs to check his “recollections” before blaming former employees for the single most devastating attack in American history.
My friend AM has decided that Metric is “boy music for boys” but I think it’s awesome music for awesome people. What’s needed is a larger sample to weigh-in on this crucial question, so what is one to do but turn to the internet:
I should confess that I feel a special obligation to hype Metric up, because they’re just about the only band I like that I discovered without first having had them hyped-up to me by someone else. Instead, years ago I went to a Walkmen show at the 9:30 where Metric was the opener. Heard ‘em, loved it, bought Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and the rest is history.
An editorial in Israel’s Haaretz praises the Obama administration’s call for a settlement freeze, writing that “the settlements threaten to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the implementation of the partition solution, which is essential for preserving Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Defending the settlements requires Israel to operate a complex system of access roads and roadblocks, which make Palestinians’ lives more difficult and inflict serious financial harm on them.
Every Israeli government since 1967 has insisted on building and developing the settlements, causing the country severe political damage. The massive resources invested in sustaining and enlarging the settlements come at the expense of other national goals, like the development of the Negev and the Galilee.
For all these reasons, the demand to freeze settlement construction is just and wise. The Obama administration is refusing to accept the natural growth excuse that Israel has made to previous American administrations. Under their protection, Israel has continually increased the number of settlers in the territories and the infrastructure meant for their use — primarily the segregated road system and the invasive route of the separation fence, which is intended to facilitate Israel’s de facto annexation of part of the West Bank.
Now the Obama administration has decided that Jerusalem must be divided and that the Jews must stop building in areas that should be handed over to Palestinians at some undetermined date in the future. The State Department is demanding “that Israel limit Jewish growth in these areas of Jerusalem, ‘whose status remains to be determined’ in negotiations.” Apparently the third principle that must apply to Jerusalem is that Jews cannot build on land the Obama administration has set aside for other uses — like appeasing the Arabs.
Goldfarb also passes along a quote from an Israeli government spokesman, who complained that “I have to admire the residents of Iroquois territory for assuming that they have a right to determine where Jews should live in Jerusalem.” That’s funny, but I actually don’t think the comparison of Palestinians to Native Americans really works in Israel’s favor, given that most people now accept that the mass oppression and dispossession of indigenous peoples is a bad thing.
A British video game development firm is in the process of creating a video game based on the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Entitled “Gitmo: Rendition,” the game “depicts the prison in the near future — after its anticipated closing by the U.S. government — as a camp run by mercenaries who detain innocents sold off to their captors to serve as ‘lab rats’ in scientific experiments.” The game’s developer hired Moazzam Begg — a “British Muslim who was detained at the American military base at Guantanamo Bay for three years” before being released uncharged — as an adviser to help make the game “more realistic.” Begg and seven other Britons detained by the U.S. recently sued the British government, “claiming U.K. authorities were complicit in their abductions, detention and interrogations.” Watch the game trailer: