2009 - %3, March

WSJ: Bankers Admit to Holding Economy Hostage

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

If you have a chance, read this Wall Street Journal piece (via Hilzoy) about how bankers' feelings are really hurt because some people said some really mean things about them and how the Obama Administration is trying to make nice so everyone can work together to save the economy. If you look closely, you'll find all the evidence you need to indefinitely detain these Wall Street clowns on an extrajudicial island in the Caribbean.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his colleagues worked the phones to try to line up support on Wall Street for the plan announced Monday.... Some bankers say they turned the conversations into complaints about the antibonus crusade consuming Capitol Hill. Some have begun "slow-walking" the information previously sought by Treasury for stress-testing financial institutions, three bankers say, and considered seeking capital from hedge funds and private-equity funds so they could return federal bailout money, thereby escaping federal restrictions....

And later on:

Bankers were shell-shocked, especially when Congress moved to heavily tax bonuses. When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks' message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.

You probably don't need anyone to interpret that for you, but here's what it says: bankers are holding the economy hostage until they're promised their six-figure bonuses won't be touched. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost every month because rich jerks can't figure out how they'd live without things like $87,000 area rugs.

Hilzoy calls it shameful. Ezra calls it unpatriotic. I think it ought to be criminal. I know "rank populism" is considered gauche in this country, but at times like these I wish I owned a pitchfork and the right to use it.

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Why Do Women Get Their Asses Kicked? Feminism, Of Course

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 7:32 AM EDT

OK, the tsunami of getting the kids up, cleansed, fed, and off to school has me all muddled. Is that why I can make neither heads nor tails of this NRO piece (courtesy of Salon's Broadsheet)?

If I understand this correctly (re: Chris Brown and Rihanna), the 'argument' is that feminism has deprived women of their supposed 'special status' in society (cuz pre-bra burning, women were never brutalized), such that men don't know how to behave (i.e. maybe hitting women is ok?)

According to Kathryn Jean Lopez, the editor of NRO, "There's something off when so many people blame the victim, not the aggressor."

Hmmm. Might that 'something' be sexism? As Theodoric of York would conclude: Naaaaah.

If you want to understand how people who have sold their souls to a particular way of making a living live with themselves, read those links.

Another Mile Down the Road

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 12:54 AM EDT
Yesterday I wrote that one problem with nationalizing big financial corporations is that the government probably doesn't have the legal authority to do it even if it wants to. They can seize banks, but they can't necessarily seize all the other components of big financial institutions. The Washington Post reports that the White House is about to ask Congress to change that:

The Obama administration is considering asking Congress to give the Treasury secretary unprecedented powers to initiate the seizure of non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds, whose collapse would damage the broader economy, according to an administration document

....Besides seizing a company outright, the document states, the Treasury Secretary could use a range of tools to prevent its collapse, such as guaranteeing losses, buying assets or taking a partial ownership stake. Such authority also would allow the government to break contracts, such as the agreements to pay $165 million in bonuses to employees of AIG's most troubled unit.

The Treasury secretary could act only after consulting with the president and getting a recommendation from two-thirds of the Federal Reserve Board, according to the plan.

If, several weeks ago, you had charged a task force with figuring out how to successfully nationalize a big bank, what do you think they'd say you had to do? Three things, at least: (1) you have to figure out a widely acceptable way to value the toxic assets on bank balance sheets, (2) you have to set up a fair and consistent test for evaluating bank solvency based on those values, and (3) you need to make sure you have the legal authority to take over a huge, multinational financial conglomerate in an orderly way.  Is it just a coincidence that these are precisely the things Tim Geithner has set in motion over the past month?  I wonder.

Letting the Little Guy Invest

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 12:10 AM EDT
One of the persistent criticisms of the Geithner plan is that it's a sweetheart deal for investors.  The government puts up most of the money, downside risk is limited thanks to the non-recourse funding, and there are probably lots of ways the auctions can be gamed.  Matt Yglesias points to a comment at The Baseline Scenario that suggests a way to deal with this:

If Geithner’s taxpayer subsidized toxic public/private plan goes forward, I think it would be fair if the federal government allow non-institutional investors to participate via a no-fee investment vehicle.  I think if Americans had the option of investing in this program (without having to pay the egregious fees to the investment advisors/PE shops), it would be much easier to swallow since they would at least get the same deal the sharks are getting.

Like James Kwak, I think this is a brilliant idea, and one that Treasury should not merely allow, but actively encourage.  At least one of the fund managers chosen to participate in the program should be one that agrees to allow investment by retail customers.  In the end, Geithner's plan may or may not turn out to be a sweetheart deal, but surely us little guys should have the same chance to find out as the well-heeled crowd.

Listen Up, Grown-Ups

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 10:06 PM EDT
Okay, there's been a ton of venting on my baby boom post. I still feel like people are missing the point I was trying to make. So let me try again.

Eoin O'Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor's bright green blog suggests that assigning responsibility for emissions across generations is inherently faulty since we'd have to trace it all that ways backwards to our original progenitor, "a clump of self-replicating molecules some four billion years ago."

Huh? We can't go backwards in time (well, not until the Large Hadron Collider goes online, anyway). So all we actually can do at this point in time to affect any change is to think of the future as we take actions and make choices today. So, yes, we must (not assign) but assume responsibility for emissions across generations.

Second, O'Carroll questions whether it's "a wise strategy to deploy environmental stewardship to urge people to voluntarily stop having kids?" He continues:

Even if such a strategy worked (a big if), the only people to heed this advice be those who care about the environment, while those who don’t care about the environment would continue breeding as usual. Given that children generally tend to share the social beliefs of their parents, this starts to looks like a recipe for eliminating environmentalism from the gene pool.

Okay, so those of us who know having more kids will screw up the world faster than it already is getting screwed up should go ahead and have those kids anyway because the screwed-up anti-greenies are going to take over the world? Sounds like a South Park episode to me. This is a classic Tragedy of the Commons approach akin to burying our heads in the diapers. The truth is we all own equal shares in the future of our planet and each one of us needs to protect the shares in any way we can.

Third, O'Carroll's cites Alex Steffen's "alternative" vision of how we can protect the climate by curbing population growth: that is, by empowering women.

That means increasing their access to reproductive health choices, education, jobs, loans, and protection against violence.  Everywhere this has happened, the birthrate has declined.

This is hardly a new approach to population control and is clearly the only one that has worked so far. So we're in agreement here. But I would add that part of the education that empowers women is providing access to scientific studies buried in obscure journals. Even telling them things they may not want to hear. In my case, I wanted to let women and men know that the cost of their next child is 10,000 to 13,000 extra metric tons of CO2. Is that not educational?

Deploying environmental stewardship is educational.

As for the photo I posted—and a lot of the readers took umbrage at it—apparently I violated a secret social contract that requires we publish only pictures of cute happy babies.

What's wrong with angry babies?

Which leads me to my final point. I do not hate babies, even when they're little monsters.

I'm just trying to talk about their future.

Acorn

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 9:43 PM EDT
I thought that "Going Galt" was pretty much as stupid as conservatives could possibly get, but I was wrong. This has it beat.  Jeebus.

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Suckitude

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 8:48 PM EDT
Have I mentioned lately that computers suck? Well, they do.

And what's the deal with everyone wanting super-widescreen monitors these days? It's practically impossible to get a native 1280x1024 monitor when your old one breaks. Like mine just did. Blecch.

Whole Foods vs. Unions

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 7:25 PM EDT

In what's being euphemistically dubbed the 'third way', the CEOs of Whole Foods, Costco, and Starbucks have joined together to lay out a 'compromise' to the management/labor stand-off over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). At issue is whether employees interested in forming a union would be allowed to choose their union formation process. Current law lets companies insist upon a secret-ballot election, even when employees would prefer a majority sign-up method.

I'm not going to restate the merits of labor's position (you can read about it here and here) but surely we can agree that employees should be able to choose how they decide to form a union, right? Well, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey thinks it's un-American.

FDA Ordered to Reconsider Plan B Age Limits

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 7:17 PM EDT
Today, a federal court ordered the FDA to make Plan B available without a prescription to women age 17 and older (currently, age is set at 18 or older). Not only that, the court also mandated that the FDA reconsider making Plan B available over-the-counter to women of any age.

In the decision, the court wrote that the FDA "acted...in response to political pressure" and that the FDA's evidence for limiting Plan B access to those under 18 "lacks all credibility." You can read the rest of the scathing, 52-page decision here.

While reproductive rights activists and FDA reformists are rejoicing, there's also the predictable condemnation by conservative organizations like the Family Research Council. The FRC says it worries about girls' well-being, and claims the court's decision is politically motivated. The decision accepts "all of the claims of a political ideology promoting sexual license for teens." Personally, I don't really see how Plan B promotes sexual license. If anything, I would think it promotes sexual responsibility. What's your take?

"Trash" Is the New N Word

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 4:03 PM EDT

Right wing hateration against the Obamas (and black people in general) continues.

Someone named Tammy Bruce, guest hosting for Laura Ingraham, waxes philosophical about "the trash in the White House". According to HuffPo's transcript, the psycho-pundit said:

"...You know what we've got? We've got trash in the White House. Trash is a thing that is colorblind, it can cross all eco-socionomic...categories. You can work on Wall Street, or you can work at the Wal-Mart. Trash, are people who use other people to get things, who patronize others, who consider you bitter and clingy..."

Really, you have to listen to believe. I have to hope she was high because it's pure insanity.

Loco as this is, HuffPo also links to a Townhall piece which tries to fake deep thinking proving that Michelle is...wait for it...a bitch. Think even THEY couldn't be this pathetically obvious in their need to keep the Negroes in their place?

"The burning question in my circle is: If the First Family gets a female dog, will she be the First Bitch or will she have to settle for second place?"

OK. I gotta ask: Where is this moron's circle, exactly?