2008 - %3, November

Who's Really Calling The Shots on The Economic Bailout?

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:30 AM EST

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a non-partisan watchdog group that advocates transparency and accountability in Washington, today fired off a letter to leaders of a half dozen relevant House and Senate committees, requesting more information on how lawmakers decided to approve the $700-billion economic bailout package. Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director, complained of a "continued lack of openness concerning the government's response" to the financial crisis and urged Congress to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place to prevent fraud and abuse.

From the letter:

We take no position on the merits of the various actions over recent months to address the crisis. However, Congress needs to act now to ensure that the ongoing expenditures of billions—even trillions—of the taxpayers' funds are subjected to extraordinary scrutiny.
Too few questions are being asked about the how, and even the why, behind these enormous undertakings. Even when questions do get raised, as at recent hearings, numerous important questions go unanswered. This issue is so critical we feel compelled to urge you to demand those answers, either directly from policymakers and recipients of these taxpayer funds, or through your own independent investigations.
At this writing, nearly half of the $700 billion appropriated under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) has gone out the Treasury's door with little openness. The public needs to know how the beneficiaries of their tax funds are chosen, how conflicts of interest are guarded against, and whether the integrity of the process has been assured...
Our overriding concern is the utter lack of information about who is making critical decisions involving untold billions of taxpayer dollars. It is not clear how banks or other institutions are chosen to be bailed out or allowed to fail. It is a mystery to us and to the public why one industry is favored and another is left to suffer. We are at a loss to understand how particular companies or institutions within particular industries are blessed and others are not. Irrespective of whether the decisions are made by political appointees, career employees, or Members of Congress, the decision-making process has been a nearly perfect black box.

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Right-Wing Paranoia About an Obama Supreme Court

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:17 AM EST

The conservative legal powerhouse, the Federalist Society, is holding its annual convention in Washington this week. In past years, the group has had smug gatherings highlighting all of its many members who've been installed in lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary and into other top government jobs. It's crowning moment: the confirmation of longtime member Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

This year, though, the right-wing scholars and judges headlining the events seem a bit more subdued. Barack Obama has put a huge brake on their quest to remake the federal courts into bastions of conservative legal thought (and dashed the career plans of a new generation of conservative lawyers). Among the rank and file this morning, talk revolved around fear of the direction the Supreme Court might take under an Obama administration. There was wild speculation that Obama would be replacing moderate liberals like John Paul Stevens (who was actually appointed by Gerald Ford), with "radical leftists."

Dog Helps Orca

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 9:00 PM EST

Tucker.jpg

Photo copyright Fred Felleman

It's been a bad year for the southern resident population of orcas in Puget Sound. Seven have gone missing and are presumed dead. Including the nearly 100-year-old matriarch of K Pod, along with two reproductive-age females vital to the future of the whales. One female, L-67 showed clear signs of emaciation before she disappeared in September. That leaves only 83 animals in this culturally-unique population of orca.

It's been a bad year for salmon too—the primary prey of southern resident orca. Researchers suspect the missing whales may have starved. Now researchers at the U of Washington Center for Conservation Biology are trying to answer that question using a specially trained dog. The Seattle Times reports how Tucker, a black Lab, has been deployed two of the past three summers to track orca scat from the bow of a research boat.

Analysis of hormone levels in the scat suggest mortality among the orca was highest when their thyroid hormone levels were lowest. This means they're malnourished. Katherine Ayres, a UW graduate student working on the study says: "It is interesting and sad. We have a link to what scientists have been saying for a long time."

New DNA Tech May Allow Cloning, Re-Creating Mammoths

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 8:00 PM EST

600px-Mammoth_mg_2805.jpgHave scientists learned nothing from Jurassic Park? A group of genomicists from Pennsylvania State University published research on their experimental procedure that's decoded "a large fraction of the mammoth genome," reports the New York Times. The procedure uses two $500,000 machines to extract genome information from mammoth hair.

Oogedy-Boogedy

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 5:17 PM EST

OOGEDY-BOOGEDY....Kathleen Parker blames the demise of the Republican Party on its "evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch," and Jonah Goldberg is annoyed:

What aspects of the Christian Right amount to oogedy-boogedyism? I take oogedy-boogedy to be a perjorative reference to absurd superstition and irrational nonsense. So where has the GOP embraced to its detriment oogedy-boogedyism? With the possible exception of some variants of creationism (which is hardly a major issue at the national level in the GOP, as much as some on the left and a few on the right try to make it one), I'm at a loss as to what Kathleen is referring to. Opposition to abortion? Opposition to gay marriage? Euthanasia? Support for prayer in school?

OK, maybe "oogedy-boogedy" wasn't the most felicitous phrase to use. Sway to the music all you want and no one will mind. But I think conservatives do themselves a disservice if they pretend not to know what Parker is talking about.

There will always be plenty of votes for a culturally conservative party. That's not the problem. The problem is the venomous, spittle-flecked, hardcore cultural conservatism that's become the public face of the evangelical wing of the GOP. It's the wing that doesn't just support more stringent immigration laws, but that turns the issue into a hate fest against La Raza, losing 3 million Latino votes in the process. It's the wing that isn't just a little skittish about gay marriage, but that turns homophobia into a virtual litmus test, losing 6 million young voters in the process. It's the wing that isn't just religious, but that treats belief as a precondition to righteousness, losing 2 million secular voters in the process. It's the wing that isn't just nostalgic for old traditions, but that fetishizes the heartland as the only real America, losing 7 million urban voters in the process. It's the wing that goes into a legislative frenzy over Terri Schiavo but six months later can barely rouse itself into more than a yawn over the destruction of New Orleans.

Now, the GOP didn't lose all those votes solely because of their embrace of cultural victimhood. It was a Democratic year, after all, and the economy worked against them too. Still, exit polls suggest they had already lost most of this ground by 2006, and the economy had nothing to do with it back then. Conservative gains after 9/11 may have masked the problem for a while, but fundamentally these are voters who saw the Republican Party turn into a party of rabid identity politics and turned away in disgust. It's probably cost them (so far) about 10 million votes, and in an era where 53-47 is considered a big victory, that's a helluva deficit to make up elsewhere.

A party that merely wants to move more slowly and more deliberately than liberals in the cultural sphere wouldn't have lost all those votes. But the real-life GOP, a party whose primary association in much of the public mind is with revulsion toward gays, immigrants, urban elites, and the non-churchgoing, did. That's oogedy-boogedy.

Putting the Noise Machine in its Place

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:41 PM EST

PUTTING THE NOISE MACHINE IN ITS PLACE....Ezra Klein isn't sure that Barack Obama made the right choice by tapping Eric Holder as his nominee for attorney general:

It's hard for me to believe that Obama couldn't find anyone for the post who wasn't the workhorse behind Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Holder, obviously, was just doing his job, but appearances matter in this town. Republicans will have no problem attacking the choice, and your average voter will be rather confused as to why Obama made it. Whatever Holder's merits — and I grant that they are many — it's a nomination that recalls the worst of the Clinton era, and it's not clear why that needed to be done.

Leaving Holder's broader merits (or lack thereof) to one side, I'd offer a different take on this: do we really want to hamstring ourselves by worrying too much about what kind of temper tantrum the Republican Party is likely to throw over Obama's nominees? I don't doubt they'll do their best to smear Holder, but the Rich pardon happened eight years ago and Holder's role in it was fairly modest. Obviously it's not a good idea to give Republicans too many free shots early in his term, but if Obama truly thinks Holder is the best man for the job, then I think he's done the right thing. Let the talk show clowns wail and the congressional leadership send out their streams of faux outraged press releases. This is a pretty good chance to show that this stuff just doesn't work anymore, and I'll bet Obama realizes it.

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Are There Any Subprime Saints?

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:06 PM EST

What's the difference between a subprime a-hole and a subprime saint? Intent.

One focuses on maximum, nation-crushing profit, the other on providing merely profitable, nation-building services.

Check out Slate for subprime lenders to the working poor and minorities who have late-payment/default rates so low as to be insignificant.

Comparisons such as these alone should provide sufficient bases for thoroughgoing prosecutions once Obama is in power.

Throw the Bums Out (of Detroit)

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 3:48 PM EST

private_jet.jpg Let's say you're three auto industry executives summoned to Washington to explain why you deserve billions of dollars in taxpayer money. You and your cronies have mismanaged your industry for years, but luckily for you and unluckily for the country too many parts of the economy rely on your continued existence. You watched AIG executives get strafed in the media for throwing lavish corporate retreats (with spa trips!) just after taking bailout funds. You know the public is hyper-sensitive to signs of waste, because middle class Americans are struggling to get by and it's their money you're seeking.

So what do you do? You take separate private jets from Detroit to Washington. You take three flights at an estimated cost of $20,000 each, despite the fact that coach flights are available for under $300 and first class flights are available for under $1,000.

You spend $60,000 when you could have spent $900. And then you go to Congress with your hand out.

Jesus H. Christ. Bailout funds for the industry should be contingent on new leadership taking over and old leadership being put in stocks.

Holder's DC Legacy: Not Much

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 3:32 PM EST

Eric Holder seems poised to sail smoothly into a historic appointment: the first African American attorney general of the United States. He brings to the job everything you might want in the nation's top prosecutor: decades of experience working in the department he will oversee, with a special emphasis on prosecuting corrupt public officials; service as a local DC judge, and a temperament nearly as cool as Obama's. The only possible hitch in his ascension to AG is his role in Bill Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was once married to a Clinton donor.

Given Holder's otherwise squeaky-clean reputation and a democratic Congress, that minor hiccup isn't likely to slow him down. What might give some members of Congress pause, however, is Holder's record as US Attorney for the District of Columbia during the Clinton administration. If Democrats are looking for a crusader to clean house at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the federal government, Holder might not be their man.

Hillary - 234; Jesus - 23; Chuck Norris - 2

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 3:25 PM EST

Via Ben Smith, a tally of the write-in votes in Duval County, Florida:

234 HILARY CLINTON
174 RON PAUL
23 NONE OF THE ABOVE
23 JESUS
21 MIKE HUCKABEE
14 MITT ROMNEY
8 COLIN POWELL
6 GOD
4 OBAMA
4 RUDY GIULLIANI
4 STEVEN COLBERT
3 DONALD DUCK
3 DONALD FOY
3 MICKEY MOUSE
3 T. BOONE PICKENS
2 BILL COSBY
2 CHUCK NORRIS
2 CONDOLEEZA RICE
2 LOU DOBBS
2 PAGO POSSUM
2 SARAH PALIN
2 SEANATOR BROWNBACK

Those receiving one vote included Alfred E. Newman, Bill Clinton, Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, Oprah, Joe the Plumber, Willie Nelson, and "Me."