2009 - %3, April

Leave Harold Koh Alone!! No, Seriously, Leave Him Alone

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 10:46 AM EDT
Dahlia Lithwick says that the conservative attacks on the Yale Law School dean, who is slated to become the legal adviser to Obama's State Department, are unfounded and that is is high time for some lefty pushback. Koh, she argues, is exactly the sort of person who ought to be staffing State at times like these. I agree. Give her a read.

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Poll: Obama-Muslim Misinformation Continues

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 10:21 AM EDT

We all know that there are some people who are so entrenched in their political views, and get their news from such incredibly partisan sources, than they can never be convinced to change their minds on anything. And yet, I'm stunned by this. Pew:

More than two months into Barack Obama's presidency, as many people incorrectly identify him as a Muslim as did so during the 2008 campaign. When asked about Obama's religious beliefs, 11% say he is a Muslim. In October, 12% said Obama is a Muslim, which was unchanged from earlier in the campaign.

In the current survey, 35% say they do not know Obama's religion, either because they do not know enough about him (22%), or because they have heard different things about his religion (13%); another 6% refused to answer.

As was the case last fall, white evangelical Protestants (19%) and Republicans (17%) are among the most likely to view Obama as a Muslim. Fewer than half in each group -- 38% of white evangelicals and 46% of Republicans -- correctly identify Obama as a Christian.

Jesus.

Glenn Beck Takes Godwin's Law to New Heights

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 9:42 AM EDT

The contemporary version of Godwin's Law states that as an argument on the Internet grows longer, the odds that someone compares someone else to Hitler or the Nazis approaches one. The corollary is that whoever mentions Hitler first usually loses. Godwin's Law and Reductio ad Hitlerum are sly ways that the Internet and its denizens shame/lampoon needless hyperbole and its overheated practitioners.

Glenn Beck either doesn't get it or doesn't care. The man does not understand shame, good taste, or, frankly, how journalism works. Wednesday night, he accompanied his rantings about how America is descending into fascism under President Obama (which sound nutty and militia-ish, but were aired on Fox News) with over a minute of full screen images of Nazi foot soldiers marching in lockstep. It is completely over the top and completely unacceptable. Watch below (via Think Progress):

I say we rename it Beck's Law. Godwin's Law has been blown to pieces.

US Deaths in Iraq at All-Time Low

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 9:26 AM EDT

Back when the Iraq War was in its worst stages, we would mention high casualty numbers here on the blog (i.e. July's 350 deaths represent the second highest monthly total since the war began). So it's only fair that I mention that there were just nine American soldiers killed in March, the lowest monthly number for the entire war. That's great news. No info is available on civilian casualties, but let's hope those numbers are low, too, and that they stay that way as the Pentagon draws down forces.

And just FYI: I'll be the first to admit that giving credit to Obama for this -- something that so clearly has its origins before his ascent to office -- would be absurd. You won't find any lefty bloggers praising Obama for this development. Which is why the Right's attempts to pin the recession on Barack Obama ("the Obama recession") is so despicable and says so much.

Sorry to get political on an issue that shouldn't be.

More G-20 Gossip, Please

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 12:53 AM EDT
I think I've now read about a dozen stories telling me that America is seriously at odds with France and Germany at the G-20 meeting because Obama isn't as serious about financial regulatory reform as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are.  The phrase "non-negotiable red lines" and the quote "The crisis didn't actually spontaneously erupt in Europe, did it?"show up in pretty much all of these stories, but there's always one thing missing: an explanation of exactly what the disagreement is about.  Is the global financial press really so lame that they haven't been able to ferret this out yet?  Better gossip, please.

Keeping Banks Small

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 12:13 AM EDT
I promise not to bore you forever on the subject of limiting bank size, but here's a suggestion from Willem Buiter that seems to make sense.  It's part of a list of proposed regulatory reforms:

(2d) There has to be international agreement on restricting the size and scope of financial institutions.  Aggressive enforcement of anti-monopoly policy and the imposition of capital requirements that are increasing in the size of a bank (for given leverage and risk) would be two obvious tools for achieving this.

This seems both better and more workable than a flat cap on assets.  What he's suggesting is that the bigger a bank gets, the higher its capital ratio should be.  This accomplishes two things: (1) it puts natural downward pressure on bank size since higher capital requirements reduce leverage and profitability, and (2) if a bank gets big anyway, the higher capital ratio makes it less likely to fail and cause systemic problems.  Sounds reasonable to me.

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Scientists Name New Syndrome: Limbaughtosis

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 7:31 PM EDT
It's like halitosis, only it's bad breadth not breath. In other words, a case of severely overweighted self worth notable for its rush onset, sweatiness, febrile humor, heavy breathing, spitting, and verbosity. There's no known trigger though some speculate on electromagnetic waves. There's also no known treatment. Time-release drug formulas seem to exacerbate the symptoms.

Patient X, who does not wish to be identified, says his affliction with Limbaugh Syndrome is a living hell. He describes obsessive demons of righteousness and a compulsion to fight for individual rights—except those that fail to appease his obsessive demons of righteousness. The conflict exhausts him.

He can't sleep. There's insomnia over phantom governments. There are nightmares of unchanging ideals. He is forever tripping over his own unapologetic rules. Faith blindsides him.

It's also intensely emotionally lonely, says Patient X. He feels like a lone voice in an answerless universe. He expects a God-given natural right to be free yet imagines himself irretrievably trapped inside a small soundproof room amid billowing clouds of smoke.

Patient X secretly hopes for help from stem cell therapy. But he doesn't want to rush for a cure either. He can't envision life without his disease.

Radicals in Suits

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 6:04 PM EDT
Via Matt Duss, former Bush speechwriter Christian Brose takes a poke at liberals who have painted the new Foreign Policy Initiative talking shop as just the latest in a long series of neocon warmongering fests:

All that you suspect is true. Bill Kristol, wearing a Viking helmet and a bone through his nose, exhorted the participants to invade Chad, just because. He may have listed other countries, but he was speaking in tongues and war whoops half the time, and my Neo-con-to-English translation kept dropping out. Bob Kagan followed, bare-chested (as usual), in full war paint, banging the Mayflower china with a combat boot, shouting that America needed to put 10 million men under arms to extend its hegemony (benevolent, of course) into the Arctic, shouting something about the road to Moscow leading through the North Pole.

I saw this with my own eyes, people.

If only. It would have been a lot more exciting, that's for sure. As it was, the conference was a pretty staid affair.

But look: that's the whole point.  Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan and all the rest of their neocon bretheren (and sisteren) are sober, suit-wearing, well-modulated members of the foreign policy establishment.  If you listen to what they actually say, they're every bit as radical as any pony-tailed denouncer of empire from the wilds of Berkeley, but they rarely get called on it because they just sound so damn reasonable while they're suggesting a 3-week bombing run to wipe out Iran's nuclear facilities.

Kristol is, within the boundaries of polite society, always in favor of the maximally provocative, maximally militaristic response to any foreign policy problem.  He's about as extreme as you can get this side of the Michigan Militia.  But he wears a nice suit, has a good sense of humor, and makes his doctrine of endless interventionism sound almost soothing.  Who wouldn't want to occupy the Middle East after listening to Kristol's feel-good version of how it will all turn out?

So yesterday's kickoff was "a pretty staid affair"?  Of course it was.  That's the whole problem.

Cap and Trade

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 2:51 PM EDT
The Waxman-Markey climate bill was released yesterday, and if Joe Romm gives it a B+ I'm loathe to be pessimistic about it.  But I am.  It's true that the bill's targets for CO2 reduction are a little more aggressive than the ones Barack Obama campaigned on, but it also includes two provisions that are pretty discouraging.  First, their cap-and-trade program allows a lot of offsets: two billion tons in all, which allows companies to pollute away as long as they "offset" their carbon emissions somewhere else.  In theory, this is fine, but in practice it's an invitation to abuse, substituting purely fictional reductions for real ones.  Second, it allocates a portion of the emission credits directly to affected industries instead of auctioning 100% of them.  This is yet another invitation to abuse.

It's possible, of course, that both of these things can be beaten into submission with the proper oversight and regulation.  But what are the odds?  Ezra Klein anticipates my reaction here:

What concerns me is that it's not clear how it gets better. Waxman and Markey probably represent the leftmost edge of the possible. They're aggressively liberal, terrifically informed legislators who get the moral urgency of climate change and possess the intellectual firepower to grasp the necessary scale of the response. If this is as far as they felt able to go on an opening bid, it's hard to see the legislative pathway that strengthens, rather than weakens, the legislation.

A bill that started out with no offsets and no allocation might eventually end up with offsets and allocation.  But what happens to a bill that caves in on these issues right at the start?  It gets even worse as it wends its way through the sausage factory, that's what.

As Ezra says, Markey and Waxman are as good as they come on this stuff, and if they don't believe that a clean bill stands a chance even as an opening bid, they're probably right.  And God knows, making the perfect the enemy of the good and getting nothing done at all is practically a liberal art form.  Passing this bill in some form or another is certainly way better than passing nothing.

But still.  It's hard not to be a little let down by this.  If this is the best we can do, Bangladesh better get used to being a permanent swamp.

UPDATE: Dave Roberts notes that this is a b-i-i-i-i-g bill, combining a potentially unpopular cap-and-trade program with a tremendous amount of other stuff: "The fact is, doing these pieces separately would mean three, four, possibly five bruising legislative battles, culminating in a battle over cap-and-trade that, in my estimation, simply can't be won on its own in this Senate....So they've decided, uncharacteristically for Democrats, to double down. They are piling all this stuff into one big-ticket, high-profile, must-pass bill....There is now a single point of focus, a put-up-or-shut-up moment. Anyone who wants to transition to a green economy or get the country off foreign oil or prevent global warming knows what to get behind. If nothing else, there will be no doubt by next year whether we're serious about this sh*t."

True, that.  My reservations aside, this bill is the best thing we've seen on the energy front in a long, long time.  I just wish it were even better, that's all.  A guy can dream, can't he?

With Money Flying Around, Lobbying Registrations Soar

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 2:21 PM EDT

Bill Allison at the Sunlight Foundation did some digging:

Lobbying firms and special interests have filed nearly 1,700 new registration forms so far in the first quarter of 2009, a review of lobbying disclosure forms available online at the Senate Office of Public Records shows. As the federal government pumps up spending and intervenes in the troubled financial markets, K Street firms appear to have had no shortage of new business....

Governments are also scrambling for a piece of the action: 134 state, municipal, county and local government entities--ranging from the Office of Policy Management of the state of Connecticut to the Duneland School System in Chesterton, Ind....

President Obama has tried to make Washington more hostile to lobbyists, but with all the money flying around these days, it looks like it's still a good time to be on K Street.