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Bailouts and Justice

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 1:14 PM EST

Daniel Gross interviews Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who complains that raging populism has made his job harder:

So you don't think the bailouts were too friendly to Wall Street?
The idea that the strategy was unfair and has principally benefited a small number of institutions in New York is a mischaracterization of the design and result of the strategy. I thought people would have understood this after the failure of Lehman Brothers. But when you do too little and you leave the system with real fear that everything is going to fall apart, like any financial crisis, it hurts the poorest most. A just and fair strategy, even if it is politically hardest to explain and justify, is to use well-designed but massive force to stabilize the system.

You know, Geithner really didn't have to go that far.  It's one thing to defend the bailout as an ugly but necessary response to a crisis, but it's quite another to call it a "just and fair strategy."  Basically, the banking system held a gun to our collective heads and forced us to transfer a huge amount of wealth to them, and has spent the entire time since then working feverishly to make sure they pay no price for this and are in no way prevented from ever doing it again. Maybe we didn't have a choice, but there was nothing just about it. I wish Geithner could at least acknowledge that much.

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Celebrities and Illness

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 12:13 PM EST

Via Dave Munger, an article today in USA Today about celebrity idiocy on the medical front:

Doctors and public health groups say they struggle over the best way to respond to celebrity claims.

At Every Child By Two, an immunization campaign co-founded by former first lady Rosalynn Carter, board members were initially inclined to ignore celebrities who question vaccine safety, says executive director Amy Pisani. Now, the group spends 80% of its time explaining why vaccines are still critical.

"We were poised to start working in Africa," Pisani says. "But we were forced to pull back just to re-educate people here in the United States."

I practically go into spasms these days whenever Jenny McCarthy shows up on TV. The damage she's done to millions of kids is almost incalculable. However, as the article says, celebrities can also have quite positive effects when they go public with illnesses that are underacknowledged for one reason or another. So it's not all bad.

Gun Owner Nabbed Near Obama Was Bush Employee

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:25 AM EST

The man who was arrested with two guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition near the Capitol during President Barack Obama's health care speech in September had been an employee of the George W. Bush White House. The arrest of the man, Joshua Bowman, was widely reported at the time, but the news stories made no mention of his previous employment: For several years he worked in the Executive Office of the President, dealing with tech issues, including White House emails, his lawyer, George Braun, tells Mother Jones.

On the night of September 9, Bowman was on his way to meet Braun, a Bush administration political appointee, at the National Republican Club on First Street, SE when he was stopped by Capitol Police around 7:45 p.m.—minutes before Obama was scheduled to deliver a major address to Congress pushing his health care initiative. Bowman had driven up to a security checkpoint and told officers he wanted to park, but his lack of a permit for the area aroused their suspicions, and they asked to search his car.

Bowman had a bumper sticker like this one on his car, according to court records. (Patriot Depot).Bowman had a bumper sticker like this one on his car, according to court records. (Patriot Depot).The previous weekend, Bowman and Braun had gone duck-hunting, according to Braun. But Bowman forgot that he still had the guns in his car when he consented to a search of his vehicle, a Honda Civic with a bumper sticker proclaiming, "I'll keep my guns, freedom, and money.... you keep the change." The officers found a Beretta 12 gauge semi-automatic* shotgun, a .22 caliber long rifle, and over 400 rounds of ammunition in Bowman's trunk. The guns were unloaded and in their cases, according to court records. Braun says they were disassembled. The Capitol Police took Bowman into custody and charged him with two counts of possession of an unregistered firearm and one count of unlawful possession of ammunition. He faced up to $3,000 in fines and as much as three years in jail. (The case is still pending.)

When Braun—who was at the National Republican Club, hanging out with congressmen including Iowa's Tom Latham and Nebraska's Lee Terry—finally heard from Bowman, it was around 10 p.m. Bowman told Braun he needed Braun to get him out of jail, explaining that he had been stopped with guns in his car. "Don't you know that's illegal?" Braun asked.  Both men were surprised when they heard the story on the radio as they left jail the next day. Braun thought the coverage was excessive. "They were making him sound like a terrorist," Braun said. "Does [Bowman] look like a terrorist? He has the élan to walk around with a bowtie."

Braun suggested that Bowman was only caught with the guns because he was used to having a White House security pass and expected to be able to park near the Capitol. He probably wouldn't have been stopped and searched by Capitol Police if he had still had the pass. He had left government employ just a few weeks earlier, having landed a high-paying job at Northrop Grumman. "He hung out for a long time. He worked for a Republican administration and he was pretty much the last person in the Democratic administration. It's not that he thought the new administration was right or wrong—it's called 'a year and a day,' and Josh was there for six," Braun said, referring to the Washington tradition of working a government job for long enough to put it on your resume and then leaving for a higher-paid private sector gig.

It seems pretty clear that Bowman wasn't planning anyone any harm when he drove to Capitol Hill in September. Braun claims the Secret Service was unconcerned about the incident (no federal charges were filed) because they knew Bowman from his years in the White House. But having unregistered guns in the District of Columbia is illegal (although perhaps not for much longer if gun rights advocates continue to win court challenges), and Bowman certainly made a big mistake. Even his girlfriend thought so. "His girlfriend called me up and asked, 'Is my boyfriend the stupidest guy in the world or what?'" Braun said. For the moment, it's unclear whether that mistake will land Bowman in jail.

*An earlier version of this article described the shotgun as automatic.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 23, 2009

Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:23 AM EST

Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, listens to community leaders of Nawa district discuss recent events at a lunch party Dec. 8. The celebration was held at the district administrator’s residence in honor of McCollough and 1/5’s success in the district over the past five months. McCollough, known throughout Nawa as "Colonel Bill," dressed in traditional Afghan clothes and a headdress out of sincere respect to Afghan culture. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill.)

Need To Read: December 23, 2009

Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:20 AM EST

Today's must reads will be on vacation Thursday and Friday:

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Jesse Ventura Body-Slams the Climate Change "Conspiracy"

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:00 AM EST

Jesse "The Body" Ventura, the erstwhile professional wrestler, Navy Seal, motorcycle gang member, and governor of Minnesota, has embarked upon yet another career: investigator of nefarious plots. This month, Ventura launched a show called "Conspiracy Theory" on TruTV which claims to shine light on "the most frightening and mysterious conspiracy allegations of our time." So far Ventura has explored whether 9/11 was an inside job (he doesn't buy the 9/11 Commission's official explanation) and whether the government is testing mind-control weaponry at a secret base in Alaska. (Conclusion: "I learned that radio waves really can get inside your head. They got inside mine.") And in another recent episode, he takes on "the global warming scam."

"Whether global warming is real or not, some people may be using the issue to earn billions of dollars, start a one-world government and control people's lives," warns the teaser on the website for TruTV (formerly known as Court TV). In the show, a voiceover promises that "Jesse Ventura finds the direct link between global warming and a plot to rule the world."

Enter Ventura, who spends much of the 60-minute show skulking around in a black leather jacket, meeting gravelly voiced informants in abandoned warehouses for no apparent reason. "I never thought I'd be investigating global warming. I believe it's real and that saving the planet is good," intones Ventura. "But now I'm on my way to see a guy named Noel Sheppard. He says he has proof that some people are using global warming as an excuse to make money and control the world. That's a conspiracy I want to expose."

Ventura sets up a "clandestine meeting" in a deserted San Francisco courtyard with Sheppard, who is described as an "investigative journalist." This not-exactly-elusive figure—he is a writer for Newsbusters.org—has it on good authority from Russian tabloids that "the earth is now on the brink of entering another Ice Age." He also believes that the occurrence of snowstorms disproves global warming. Ventura learns that climate change may in fact be a vast and elaborate hoax—perpetrated, as he puts it, for "Power. Money. Control."

So Ventura dispatches his team of expert investigators to uncover the truth. These super sleuths fail to locate the thousands of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or other preeminent institutions who have spent years studying the phenomenon of planetary warming. Instead, they visit three scientists suggested by Sheppard. 

One of Ventura's hard-hitting investigators—June Sarpong, formerly a reporter on a British youth entertainment show—travels by what appears to be a passenger ferry to an undisclosed location to meet Dr. X, a scientist who is "hiding for his life." June frets that someone is following her (presumably someone other than Ventura's camera crew). In order to protect Dr. X from the climate change mafia, he is never named and nor are his credentials revealed. Sitting in deep shadow, he reveals that while he believes the planet is warming, the culprit isn't carbon dioxide. It's the sun. "There's absolutely no question the sun is virtually ignored by the authorities," he says.

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Housekeeping Note

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 2:23 AM EST

I now have 999 Twitter followers.  If you're quick, you can be the 1,000th. Hurry! @kdrum.

(See? I'm taking this new media stuff seriously.  Honest.  Another 700 followers and I'll be ahead of Mickey Kaus.  You don't want me to be behind Mickey, do you?)

UPDATE: Congrats to @eugenephotoblog (Eugene from Atlanta), lucky #1,000! But keep 'em coming. I'm still trying to catch up with Mickey.

Quote of the Day: Conservative Values

| Wed Dec. 23, 2009 12:23 AM EST

From Mike Potemra, over at National Review Online:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era — peace, tolerance, due process, progress....

You know, conservatives don't usually confess straight up to finding peace, tolerance, due process, and progress so disagreeable.  But I guess they slip up every once in a while.

Sean Hannity's Bogus Russian Climate Scandal

| Tue Dec. 22, 2009 8:50 PM EST

Late last week, Fox's Sean Hannity sent global warming skeptics into their biggest tizzy since ClimateGate when he announced that "a major Russian climate change organization dropped a bombshell:

The Institute of Economic Analysis now claims that much of its climate data was tampered with by a leading British research center. In fact, they say that any of their data that could help disprove global warming was simply ignored. Not exactly the news that all the alarmists in Copenhagen were now hoping for.

The conservative media has seized upon Hannity's "bombshell" as apparent confirmation that ClimateGate was but the tip of a solidly frozen iceberg. "Climategate goes SERIAL," crowed a blogger for the UK Telegraph, joining a chorus of triumphant skeptics in the Washington Times, the Investors Business Daily, and the Examiner.com, which described the IEA as a "key Russian ministry." What none of them mentioned is that the IEA is actually a libertarian think tank that has no scientific expertise in climatology but numerous ties to industry-backed climate change denial groups in the United States. (Needless to say, British scientists never tampered with the IEA's "data" or any other climate data)

As Media Matters first noted, IEA president Andrei Illarionov is a fellow at the US-based Cato Institute, a champion of climate change skepticism. The IEA is itself a member of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change, a group formed by the ExxonMobil-backed International Policy Network "as a response to the many biased and alarmist claims about human-induced climate change;" the DC-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation's Freedom To Trade Campaign, which circulated a "Petition Against Green Protectionism" in advance of the Copenhagen talks; and a network of global warming denying think tanks overseen by Canada's Fraser Institute, which is in turn backed by ExxonMobil and the oil-funded Koch family foundations. Illarinov has a long history of parroting the fossil fuel industry's climate claims. In 2004, he told the Moscow Times that the Kyoto Treaty will kill off the European economy like "an international Auschwitz."

Illarionov isn't alone. The IEA is part of a loose network of some 500 similar organizations in dozens of countries that are often bankrolled by American foundations that are, in turn, backed by carbon-spewing American industries. For a complete take on how they're working to end the modest progress made in Copenhagen, read today's story, Deniers Without Borders.

 

 

China's Diplomatic Triumph

| Tue Dec. 22, 2009 7:08 PM EST

Mark Lynas writes in the Guardian today about the final chaotic day of the Copenhagen conference:

Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.

....Even George Monbiot, writing in yesterday's Guardian, made the mistake of singly blaming Obama. But I saw Obama fighting desperately to salvage a deal, and the Chinese delegate saying "no", over and over again....Here's what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors....

The whole piece is worth reading. It's certainly arguable that Western leaders pursued a poor strategy at Copenhagen, but most of the evidence suggests that Lynas is right: the key stumbling block was China, which simply had no intention of agreeing to anything measurable and significant. Nothing Obama or the others did would have changed that.

By itself, that's not too surprising. What I have found surprising is that China has largely gotten away with this. There's been a bit of criticism of their obstructionism, but it's been almost completely drowned out by attacks on world leaders who were far more willing to do a deal than they were. And just to make China's victory complete, those same leaders have been largely (though not completely) unwilling to call them out on this. It's a pretty sweet deal for Beijing.