Blogs

How the Bailout Benefits the Environment

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

Everyone knows the $700 billion bailout package is a boon for Wall Street. But it turns out green consumers stand to benefit too. According to Fortune and the Environmental News Network, the legislation includes a number of perks for the eco-friendly, including:

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Alaska Judge Cracks Down on Palin's Emails

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 6:09 PM EDT

A judge in Alaska has ordered the state to preserve any business-related emails sent by Sarah Palin from her private email accounts. Palin's emails have generated a lot of attention, possibly because the situation mirrors the Bush Administration's own missing emails scandal.

We know that Palin is withholding 1,100 emails from open records requests on the grounds that they are protected by executive privilege, despite the fact that her husband was frequently a recipient of the emails.

We know that Palin used private email accounts for public business, a tactic used by the Bush Administration to deter oversight. We also know that the Palin Administration has declared that making the emails in these accounts public will require so much work and time that it is impossible for them to be released before the election.

Finally, we know that as mayor of Wasilla, Palin used her official city account to campaign for higher office, a seeming violation of Alaskan state law that has gone unaddressed.

The action of the court may lead to greater oversight down the road, but it is unlikely anything Governor Palin is hiding will come to light before the all-important date of November 4th.

Friday Cat Blogging - 10 October 2008

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 4:24 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....I've still got a lot on my mind today, but I guess that's true for all of us, isn't it? So let's call it a week anyway and spend the rest of the day winding down and admiring our cats instead. They deserve it.

Today we have action shots. Sort of. On the left, what is Domino looking at? A bird? A plane? Superman? No: it was a bird after all. To be precise, a hummingbird flitting around the garden for her occasional amusement. On the right, you'll notice the extreme bushiness of Inkblot's tail. I'm not entirely sure what caused it, but circumstantial evidence suggests he took note of a neighborhood dog and came charging around the corner to run into the house. Thus the tail. He knows perfectly well that the back door is open, of course, but he'd rather have somebody open the front door for him instead.

We are currently suffering from a cat food liquidity crisis, and it's now time for resolute action to prevent it from turning into a cat food insolvency crisis and causing full blown feline panic. So I'm off to the store. Have a good weekend, everyone.

"William F. Buckley's Son Says He Is Pro-Obama."

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 4:03 PM EDT

"WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY'S SON SAYS HE IS PRO-OBAMA"....Christopher Buckley explains why he's not writing his endorsement of Barack Obama in his usual column at the back of National Review, the magazine his father founded:

My colleague, the superb and very dishy Kathleen Parker, recently wrote in National Review Online a column stating what John Cleese as Basil Fawlty would call "the bleeding obvious": namely, that Sarah Palin is an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that. She's not exactly alone. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who began his career at NR, just called Governor Palin "a cancer on the Republican Party."

As for Kathleen, she has to date received 12,000 (quite literally) foam-at-the-mouth hate-emails. One correspondent, if that's quite the right word, suggested that Kathleen's mother should have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a Dumpster. There's Socratic dialogue for you. Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who fancied himself a WFB protégé had said something transcendently and provocatively cretinous, "You know, I've spent my entire life time separating the Right from the kooks." Well, the dear man did his best. At any rate, I don't have the kidney at the moment for 12,000 emails saying how good it is he's no longer alive to see his Judas of a son endorse for the presidency a covert Muslim who pals around with the Weather Underground. So, you're reading it here first.

The modern GOP is the party of Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, George Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. It's not just off the rails. It doesn't even know where the rails are anymore.

"Off With His Head!"

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 3:28 PM EDT

"OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"....Steve Benen describes the ugliness of the Republican Party's recent rallies and campaign events:

The McCain campaign has deliberately been whipping the angry, far-right Republican base into a frenzy. That includes increasing frequency of "Hussein" references, but it also includes looking the other way while campaign supporters exclaim "treason!," "terrorist!," and "kill him!" during official rallies.

On Wednesday, during a McCain harangue against Obama, one man could be heard yelling, "Off with his head!" On Thursday, Republicans erupted when an unhinged McCain supporter ranted about "socialists taking over our country." Instead of calming them down, McCain said the lunatic was "right."....Slate's John Dickerson described the participants' "bloodthirsty" tone.

The danger here is not mobs of violent Republicans marching through the streets. The danger is that John McCain is setting us up for a repeat of the 90s, an era that conservatives to this day have never been willing to come to grips with. If the looney-bin right decides to treat President Obama as not just an opposition leader, but as a virtual enemy of the state, as they did with Bill Clinton, it's going to be a very, very long eight years. Whatever grownups are left in conservative-land really need to step up to the plate soon before their movement goes even further off the rails than it already is.

Selling War

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 2:33 PM EDT

SELLING WAR....Want to learn more about Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's crazy top foreign policy advisor? The one responsible for marketing Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraq war to a gullible media? And tutoring Sarah Palin in neocon nutbaggery? Sure you do. Laura Rozen's got you covered here.

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Penguins Threatened in Antarctic, Dying in South America

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 2:16 PM EDT

penguin-lifecycle.JPGYou'd think that with penguins driving a booming Antarctic tourism industry, there'd be some climate change protection for the little guys. Not so, says a new World Wildlife Fund report. If the world's temperature increases 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, it will threaten half of emperor penguin breeding grounds, and 75 percent of Adelie penguin colonies. The temperature rise would also likely severely impact krill, a key food source for penguins.

If that weren't bad enough, dead, emaciated, and oil-slicked Magellanic penguins have been washing up on Brazilian beaches. Magellanic penguins live in Argentina, regularly visit Brazil, but not in the numbers or conditions seen this summer. Their lack of body fat is a bad sign that something's seriously amiss in their environment. Many animals are imperiled by global warming, but somehow losing the penguins seems extra depressing.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Trading Derivatives

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 2:09 PM EDT

TRADING DERIVATIVES....Megan McArdle on the banking crisis:

One of the smarter ideas I've heard for trying to prevent this sort of thing next time around is putting derivatives on exchanges. Most derivatives are traded over the counter, in part because US bankruptcy law encourages it: as I understand it, derivative counterparties don't have to get in line with the others, but can seize any collateral they can get their hands on.

Exchange trading enhances transparency, by making it clear what's out there and roughly who owns it. It also moves the clearing risk to the exchange; while exchanges do fail, they do so much less often than financial firms, and if intervention is needed, they provide a centralized locus for any private or public action.

I've been noodling over a list of regulatory changes that ought to be on the table for the next administration, and this is one of them. Credit default swaps, in particular, should be registered like any other security and traded on public exchanges. This wouldn't make them 100% safe (stock markets have bubbles and busts too, after all), but it would certainly make them a lot safer.

On the other hand, I'd like to hear an argument for even allowing CDOs to exist in the first place, whether they're publicly traded or not. It's one thing to chop up securities into different tranches that appeal to different classes of investors — that's just marketing — but with very rare exceptions the overall yield of such an instrument should be nearly the same as the yield of the underlying securities themselves. A little less, in fact, since you have to factor in additional administrative costs. But the fundamental idea behind modern CDOs is exactly the opposite: not merely that they're providing a bit of convenience or regulatory arbitrage, but that if you bundle up a bunch of securities and then chop them up in specific ways, they'll be magically worth much more than the underlying securities themselves. Much more. But this violates a basic law of economics. We'd prosecute for fraud anyone selling a perpetual motion machine, and I'm not sure why CDOs are really any different. Done properly, the market for CDOs ought to be small and sleepy, barely worth anyone's attention. If it gets non-sleepy, that means it's becoming fraudulent. So maybe it's just not worth having at all?

Needless to say, I have no idea how you'd go about banning a particular class of security. And I suppose it's possible that the underlying problem is with the rating agencies, not the CDO packagers — though real life being what it is, I suspect that's a distinction without a difference.

In any case, I'd like to hear the argument. Why should we allow the sale and marketing of CDOs at all?

George W. Bush: Helping Candidates Lose Election in Other Countries, Too

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 1:53 PM EDT

Canada's parliamentary elections are coming up shortly, and the majority Conservative party is having a tough time maintaining its lead over the opposition Liberals.

How is the Liberal party making its gains? In part, by tying the prime minister to George W. Bush. Look familiar?

(Via Yglesias)