2009 - %3, April

Quotes of the Day - 4.30.09

| Thu Apr. 30, 2009 11:21 AM EDT

#1 comes from entertaining Republican loon Michele Bachmann, who apparently doesn't know that Herbert Hoover was president in 1930:

FDR applied just the opposite formula — the Hoot-Smalley Act....That's what we saw happen under FDR. That took a recession and blew it into a full-scale depression. The American people suffered for almost 10 years under that kind of thinking.

#2 comes from Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, explaining the facts of life:

And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

We've noticed.  #3 comes from Megan McArdle:

If my husband sacrificed our child to save thousands of people, I might recognize, at some abstract level, that he had done the right thing.  But we wouldn't stay married.

Discuss.  Would you stay married?

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The Party of No

| Thu Apr. 30, 2009 10:52 AM EDT

Mark Schmitt thinks that Barack Obama's bipartisan tone has worked pretty well, defining the landscape and marginalizing a Republican Party that's gotten steadily crazier in opposition.  Matt Yglesias isn't so sure:

To take just one example, climate change. The administration and the congressional leadership have ruled out the use of the reconciliation process to pass their energy/climate agenda. Since it’s completely inconceivable that you could get 60 votes in the Senate for the sort of cap-and-trade proposal that Barack Obama outlined during the campaign, this means they’ve preemptively surrendered on an agenda that they ran and won on during the course of a two-year presidential campaign.

....So you can say that congressional obstruction has succeeded in derailing Obama’s efforts on the most important short-term issue that congress has jurisdiction over, and also derailing his efforts on the most important long-term issue that he’s facing. That’s pretty impressive for a small and unpopular minority!

I'd sort of agree with this except for one thing: Obama never really campaigned on cap-and-trade in the first place.  Sure, it was part of his energy proposal if you dug down into his website and looked for it, but during the debates, on TV ads, and in speeches, he barely even mentioned it.  It was all windmills and blue skies and green jobs.  He did virtually nothing to build any public support for the tougher parts of his energy plan.

Now, maybe that was the right thing to do.  Presidential campaigns aren't notable for going out of their way to highlight tough choices for the electorate.  Still, the result is that there's essentially no organic public support for cap-and-trade right now, which means it's wide open to demagoging by Republicans.  This in turn makes it scarier to on-the-fence Dems, which is why a really solid cap-and-trade bill not only can't get 60 votes in the Senate, it might not even be able to get 50.  Partisan gridlock may be responsible for some of that, but Obama's unwillingness to risk selling it during the campaign deserves some of the blame too.

Chrysler to File Bankruptcy

| Thu Apr. 30, 2009 9:58 AM EDT

According to people "familiar with the talks," several of Chrysler's bondholders have rejected the government's deal, which amounted to paying them off a little more than 30 cents on the dollar.  So that means it's probably Chapter 11 time.  Blecch.  I hope the holdouts all end up getting less from the judge than they would have gotten from Obama.

Texas, Run by Secessionist Guv, Has Received More Federal Disaster Relief Than Any State

| Thu Apr. 30, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

Like everyone else, I was amused when Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, requested help from the CDC with swine flu medication just a week or so after he said that the "federal government has become oppressive" and that if Texans started considering seceding from the union, "who knows what might come out of that." Perry didn't seem to realize that throwing off the yoke of the federal government would mean no more help when the going got tough.

Today comes news that Perry has issued a disaster declaration for the state of Texas, the first step in getting assistance from federal agencies like FEMA, DHS, and HHS. I decided to take a look at how many times the federal government has bailed Texas out during Perry's tenure. The results are pretty incredible.

Bankruptcy and Chrysler

| Thu Apr. 30, 2009 8:16 AM EDT

If the Times's sources are correct, it looks like we're going to see a bankruptcy filling from Chrysler later today. A few debtors have balked at the Treasury Department's offer of 33 cents on the dollar:

To win over several hedge funds, which have been holding out for better terms, the Treasury increased its cash offer to holders of Chrysler’s secured debt by $250 million, to $2.25 billion, these people said. If all of the secured holders would agree to the new deal, which would give them the cash in exchange for retiring about $6.9 billion of debt, Chrysler would still have a chance of restructuring out of bankruptcy court.

[...]

The four big banks that own 70 percent of Chrysler’s secured debt have already signed on to the Treasury’s plan and are trying to line up the other lenders in favor of the new terms.

If all 46 lenders do not agree to the new offer, and a bankruptcy filing occurs, the lenders will be forced to accept the $2 billion they were originally offered or fight in court for a higher amount.

This conjures two questions in my head: Why do these holdouts think they can get better terms? Do they really think the bankruptcy courts are going to be more amiable to them, especially after considering the debtors who hold a vast majority of Chrysler's liabilities have accepted the Treasury's terms? The Treasury's deal would leave about $675 million for the holdouts. I say take the money and swallow your losses on the bad investment; the deal doesn't look like it will get much sweeter.

UPDATE: The Obama administration has confirmed Chrysler will indeed for bankruptcy today.

Swine Flu Update

| Thu Apr. 30, 2009 12:59 AM EDT

It turns out the swine flu outbreak may be a little bit less deadly than we thought.  Here's the latest from the Los Angeles Times:

As the World Health Organization raised its infectious disease alert level Wednesday and health officials confirmed the first death linked to swine flu inside U.S. borders, scientists studying the virus are coming to the consensus that this hybrid strain of influenza — at least in its current form — isn't shaping up to be as fatal as the strains that caused some previous pandemics.

....When the current virus was first identified, the similarities between it and the 1918 flu seemed ominous.

Both arose in the spring at the tail end of the flu season. Both seemed to strike people who were young and healthy instead of the elderly and infants. Both were H1N1 strains, so called because they had the same types of two key proteins that are largely responsible for a virus' ability to infect and spread.

Richard Webby, an influenza virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, told the Times, "This virus doesn't have anywhere near the capacity to kill like the 1918 virus," which claimed an estimated 50 million victims worldwide.

Among those 50 million were my grandmother's two sisters.  So this is good to hear.  But wash your hands anyway, OK?

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You Gonna Jump or Jerk Off?

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 8:15 PM EDT

If you're like me, you think the Patrick Swayze-Keanu Reeves vehicle Point Break is one of the better things to happen to 1991. And if you're like me, you have a suspicion that the production could somehow be even better were it performed live by young, yelly guys who never, ever put shirts on and a totally unpracticed Johnny Utah lead who is chosen from the audience and reads his lines off cue cards. Well, you're right on both accounts.

Point Break Live! debuted in Seattle in 2003, but two cities in California are lucky enough to be hosting its current runs. The LA show opened for what was supposed to be a couple of months in 2007 and is still going due to popular demand; San Francisco has brought the show back after a successful go last year. It's been to New York and Minneapolis and Las Vegas, and according to coproducer Thomas Blake, Nightline is soon to run a segment about how PBL! could change the face of theater. Let's hope that's true. Take, for example, this conversation I had with one of the actors after the show: 
 

Obama on Torture

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 7:28 PM EDT

Interesting comment from Obama right now about why he opposes waterboarding:

Not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways.

Obama has obviously seen all the internal reports by now, and he's carefully not saying that waterboarding didn't work.  This suggests that it may indeed have produced useful information.

Now there's a followup question directly asking whether waterboarding produced anything useful.  He's dodging a little bit (reports are classified, can't discuss it, etc. etc.), but making it sound as if it probably did.  On the other hand, after a bit of throat clearing toward the end of his answer, he says he's seen nothing that "would make me second-guess the decision that I've made" to ban waterboarding.  Which might suggest either that waterboarding produced only moderate amounts of useful information, or that he's convinced we could have gotten the same information with other methods.

Not sure what to make of all that, or even if I'm interpreting it correctly.  Just passing it along.

Calling All Campus Hellraisers

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 6:50 PM EDT

Today's fearless feats of student activism go far beyond the rallies, protests and marches of yesteryear—here's your chance to spread the word about your favorites.

Mother Jones and Campus Progress proudly introduce the Hellraisers, our first annual student activism awards.

Here's how it works: You tell us about your favorite activism antics. Selected nominees will be featured in the September/October 2009 issue of Mother Jones.

Anyone can nominate any current student activists (and we're not just talking college here! High schoolers, grad students, kindergartners—all okay).

Nominating is quick and easy. Do it here.

 

 

Volcker on Stimulus

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 6:42 PM EDT

Most liberal economists seem to think that we need a much bigger stimulus package than the one we passed in February.  However, most liberal economists also seem to think that Barack Obama ought to listen to Paul Volcker more than he does.  So now what do they think?

The U.S. economy is "leveling off at a low level" and doesn't need a second fiscal stimulus package, said former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, one of President Barack Obama’s top economic advisers.

Volcker, head of Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said the 6.1 percent decline in first-quarter gross domestic product reported by the government today was "expected." More recent data show the contraction in housing, business spending and inventories has slowed, and stimulus spending is only just beginning to hit the economy, he said.

That's from Bloomberg Television's "Conversations with Judy Woodruff," which will air this weekend. There was also this about regulatory reform:

Volcker said he and National Economic Council Chairman Lawrence Summers have disagreed about how heavily regulated the financial industry should be.

"We've had a little talk about this," Volcker said. "I'm sure he'll recognize the wisdom of my views sooner or later."

That's a conversation it would be interesting to hear more about, wouldn't it?