Pete Hoekstra "is a Meme" on Twitter

By now you may have seen the deluge of heckles on Twitter directed at  Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra since yesterday, when he tweeted, "Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House." Wha? Anyway, the resulting tweet storm has been fierce (example: "Arjunjaikumar @petehoekstra i spilled some lukewarm coffee on myself just now, which is somewhat analogous to being boiled in oil").

Capitalizing on the 140-word fury, a new website, Pere Hoekstra is a Meme, is now pairing the best twitter retorts to Hoekstra's gaff with photo illustrations:

 

 

 

Terrorists vs. Detainees

Here's something weird.  In a recent poll, the New York Times asked people if we should shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but they used slightly different wording for half the sample.  Here's the response:

People were actually more in favor of shutting down Guantanamo when told it was holding "suspected terrorists."  Granted, it was only a six point difference and might just be a statistical artifact, but it sure is the opposite of what you'd suspect.  Question: is this just some kind of strange outlier, or does it suggest that the events of the past eight years have actually made people more jaded about the supposed danger of "suspected terrorists" than they are about mere "detainees"?

The 5% Doctrine

One of the regulatory proposals made by Barack Obama's financial team would prevent loan originators from making crappy loans and then immediately selling them off.  Instead, in an effort to make them pay more attention to the quality of their loans, they'd have to retain at least 5% of the risk of the loans on their own books.

I was skeptical about this when I first heard about it, but that was largely because I thought the 5% requirement applied to the banks who buy and securitize the loans, not the originators themselves.  Via Tim Fernholz, though, I see that that isn't true.  Here's what the administration white paper says:

The federal banking agencies should promulgate regulations that require loan originators or sponsors to retain five percent of the credit risk of securitized exposures. The regulations should prohibit the originator from directly or indirectly hedging or otherwise transferring the risk it is required to retain under these regulations.

....The federal banking agencies should have authority to specify the permissible forms of required risk retention (for example, first loss position or pro rata vertical slice) and the minimum duration of the required risk retention....The agencies should also have authority to apply the requirements to securitization sponsors rather than loan originators in order to achieve the appropriate alignment of incentives contemplated by this proposal.

The devil is in the details (what forms of risk retention will be required?), and I'd still prefer to see a higher number than 5%.  I'm also a little taken aback by the final sentence of the proposal, which explicitly allows regulators to apply the rule to securitizers rather than loan originators.  This is the kind of thing that looks harmless during ordinary times but becomes a gigantic loophole in the hands of pliant regulators when the economic mood swings into bubble mode.

Still, this regulation, along with the proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, could go a long way toward cleaning up the mortgage market if Congress puts some teeth in it.  At the very least, it's a little better than I thought it was.

Solved: One WH Emails Mystery

Well, I think I've solved one mystery related to the Bush administration's White House email scandal. It's a rather small one considering some of the larger questions hanging out there—the suspicious gap in the OVP emails being one of them—but it certainly did seem curious. I'm referring to the fact that, in 2003, contracting related a new White House email archiving system (a project that was abandoned just as it reached completion) was handled by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service. You may recall that this particular division, which collects (or fails to) oil and gas royalties, was the subject of a series of scathing reports by the agency's inspector general. Beyond run-of-the-mill corruption and graft, the IG reported “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.” (One MMS official slept with oil company employees.) 

Iran's Rural Voters Revisited

Babak Rahimi, who left Iran in 1980s but visits frequently, is now a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at UC San Diego.  Today, he echoes Eric Hooglund's skepticism that rural Iranians voted monolithically for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

During the first couple of weeks after I arrived, I sensed little public interest in the election. But in the weeks before the election, the country underwent a dramatic change of attitude. I watched passionate supporters of Mousavi dance, sing and chant anti-government slogans on the streets of Tehran, despite a ban on most of these activities under Islamic law. From the southern port city of Bushehr to the northern towns of Mazandaran province, an astonishing sense of enthusiasm spread throughout the country. "I have never voted before, but I will vote this time," a resident of Bushehr told me, expressing a sentiment I heard again and again.

One major claim of those in power is that although there is some dissent in the cities, the countryside voted solidly for Ahmadinejad, which accounts for his win. But in my preelection fieldwork in a number of southern provinces, I observed major tensions between provincial officials — especially the local imams — and the Ahmadinejad administration in Tehran. I saw far lower levels of support for the president than I had expected. In fact, I heard some of the most ferocious objections to the administration in the rural regions, where the dwindling economy is hitting the local populations hard. As one young Bushehr shopkeeper put it: "That idiot thinks he can buy our votes. He does not care for us."

Iran Update

The latest from Iran:

Days after it was urged to investigate last week’s disputed presidential election, Iran’s authoritative Guardian Council said on Thursday that it had invited the three candidates challenging the official results to a meeting to discuss their grievances, state media reported.

While the exact motives, timing and conditions for the invitation from the Guardian Council remained unclear, it was the first public indication that the authorities were prepared for some form of dialogue to defuse the outrage over the election results, Iran’s worst political crisis since the 1979 revolution. But the opposition seemed likely to view it warily.

Playing for time?  A genuine offer?  A sign of weakness?  Hard to say.  But the Guardian reports that today's demonstration in Tehran drew upwards of a million people.

House Lawmakers Fight for the F-22

This is not a good sign for Obama's big push to rein in wasteful defense spending: the House Armed Services committee has made an early move to restore funding for the F-22 fighter jet. Gates wants to finish production on four more planes and then end the program. (Its flaws are many: here's a useful rundown.) Instead, the committee inserted $369 million into this year's defense authorization bill to pay for parts for another dozen F-22s. This is basically a sneaky way to commit the government to 12 planes while putting off the bill until later: The F-22 officially goes for $143 million each—and the real figure is more like $350 million when you add in things like maintenance and training. So $369 million won't even come close to covering their total cost.

The vote was very close (31-30), and there's still a long way to go—both the House and Senate have to finish marking up the bill, and then negotiators for both chambers will haggle over the details in conference. Still, by coming out so early in defense of the F-22, House lawmakers are sending a pretty blunt signal to the White House that the Gates budget is going to get a bumpy ride. We'll be covering this very closely next week in a special feature on the defense budget—watch this space.

UPDATE: Barney Frank is introducing an amendment to remove the F-22 funding.

 

Iranians Pleased With Obama's Silence?

As Glenn Kessler points out in the Washington Post, Obama is in a tough spot when it comes to Iran. The natural inclination, of course, is to support the hundreds of thousands of protesters (millions, according to a friend of mine in Tehran), who've taken to the streets since last Friday's disputed presidential election. But larger political and national security concerns are not easily brushed aside. The fact is, while it would be wonderful to have a reformer as Iran's president, the mullahs still call the shots, particularly when it comes to the issue of most concern to the United States: Iran's nuclear weapons program. Alienating Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with any perceived American meddling in his nation's internal politics (a touchy issue dating back to the pre-revolutionary Mosaddeq years) could irreparably harm any remaining hope Obama may have of negotiating away Tehran's nukes. 

Even in the midst of impassioned protests, writes Azadeh Moaveni in the Daily Beast, many Iranians seem to agree with Obama's decision to wait and see--at least if the views of her family and friends in Tehran are any indication. She writes:

But in conversations with friends and relatives in Tehran this week, I've heard the opposite of what I had expected: a resounding belief that this time the United States should keep out. One of my cousins, a woman in her mid-30s who has been attending the daily protests along with the rest of her family, viewed the situation pragmatically. “The U.S. shouldn't interfere, because a loud condemnation isn't going to affect Iranian domestic politics one way or the other. If the supreme leader decides to crackdown on the protests and Ahmadinejad stays in power, then negotiations with the United States might improve our lives”...

Other friends I spoke with cited various reasons why the United States should maintain its discrete posture. “If Obama's position until now has been to respect Iran, then he really has no choice but to watch first how things unfold. Mousavi hasn't produced any facts yet, no one has produced evidence of fraud,” said my friend Ali, a 40-year-old photographer. “That's what is needed before Obama takes a major stand.”

My older relatives fretted particularly that any real criticism by the United States would be used as a pretext by Ahmadinejad to blame the protests on “outside enemies,” a reflexive response for the president when dealing with even housing inflation and the rising price of tomatoes. “It's better for Obama to stay out of this. Given what happened with Bush in Florida, Ahmadinejad can always claim the United States is in no position to lecture anyone about fair elections,” my aunt noted.

 

Best in Blog: 18 June 2009

Today's 5 MoJo must reads:

1) Tehran's declared war on satellite dishes; this email explains the methods.

2) Seattle lost its rain; The Onion wants its headline back.

3) Cheney "lost" those Valerie Plame emails; CREW found some damning docs under a big pile of his BS.

4) Remember the good old days of Obama's presidency, back when no one booed his crazytown health care ideas? Sorry Big O.

5) Last: Hey, a contest! Looks like gay pride flag designers are finally over the rainbow. Does Shepard Fairey know?

Realism on Iran: No Change Without Blood?

Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst with expertise on Iran and Iraq, is enthused by the opposition movement in Iran, but he is a realist about its prospects and how far it must go to force--and he means force--change. Bottom-line: the autocrats of Iran will not yield as the Shah did during the 1979 revolution. White sadly notes it will take sacrifice and blood to topple the regime in Tehran.

Here's an email White circulated to colleagues on Wednesday night: