Larry Summers

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 3:57 PM EST

LARRY SUMMERS....Sheryl Sandberg defends Larry Summers:

At the World Bank, he was a tireless advocate for girls' education. At Treasury, he fought for social security benefits for women working in their homes, better enforcement of child support obligations, and an expansion of child care tax credits.

....Larry has been attacked by some in the women's community for remarks he made about women's abilities. As he has acknowledged himself, this speech was a real mistake. What few seem to note is that it is remarkable that he was giving the speech in the first place — that he cared enough about women's careers and their trajectory in the fields of math and science to proactively analyze the issues and talk about what was going wrong. To conclude that he communicated poorly — and even insensitively — is fair. To conclude that he is opposed to progress for women overlooks the fact that improving this progress was precisely the subject he was addressing.

Jon Cohn defends him too:

On the issues I know best and over which the Treasury Secretary has sway, Summers is good. Very, very good. In the last few years, he has become a persistent critic of inequality and advocate for government action to redress it. He's a true believer in health care reform, both as a way to alleviate economic insecurity and to address the country's long-term fiscal crisis. He wants major action on climate change. And he has argued for aggressive action to stimulate the economy, despite high deficits.

And Brad DeLong:

Larry is — in Paul Krugman's words — a "a force of nature....You can bring him up to speed on anything in fifteen minutes....If you do a piece of something for him excellently — a link in a chain, say — he will do his damnedest to make sure that all other links in that chain are done equally excellently....If he thinks you know more about something than he does, he will listen to you very patiently and then trust and act on what you have told him....Very good people want to work for Larry because he will, if he thinks you can handle it, push you forward into the limelight and give you more responsibility than you thought you could handle.

The anti-anti-Summers backlash appears to be gathering steam.

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David Plouffe For Democratic Party Chief?

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 3:28 PM EST

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder reports that Plouffe sent him an email saying he won't be taking the DNC chair. But Plouffe wouldn't say what he might be doing post-election.

Howard Dean is stepping down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This is no surprise; it's been known for months he would be departing after the election. The question is, who's next?

HuffingtonPost reports one possibility is that Dean will be replaced by a duo: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who would be the talk-show face of the party, and an operative who would do the operating (perhaps Steve Hildebrand, who was deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential bid).

But shouldn't the DNC job go to David Plouffe?

As the manager of Obama's campaign, Plouffe steered the best-run presidential campaign in years. He put together an effective campaign structure. He efficiently matched man, message, money, and machine. Developing his own version of Dean's 50-state strategy, Plouffe expanded the electoral map for Democrats. In public, he projected an image of calm, confidence, and competence. His public spin was always tethered to reality. He came across a master mechanic who believed in the mission, not an ideologue or a grandstander. And he beat the toughest, most experienced operation in politics: the Clintons.

It's no put-down of McCaskill to suggest Plouffe. Naming her DNC chief--with or without a partner--would have symbolic value. And she was an effective advocate for Obama, especially when he was locked in a fierce battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, though Obama appears to have lost her home state by 6000 votes. Perhaps if McCaskill becomes DNC head, that would help Obama and Dems narrow that narrow gap next time.

Recession Watch

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 3:28 PM EST

RECESSION WATCH....Via Brad DeLong, the Wall Street Journal reports the following:

The unemployment rate is expected to rise to 8.5% by the end of next year and inch even higher in early 2010, economists for Goldman Sachs wrote Friday. The cumulative trough-to-peak increase of more than 4 percentage points in the jobless rate would be the most since World War II, they said.

The BLS unemployment series is above, modified to show 9% unemployment in 2010. I guess this would technically beat out the 1979-81 "double-dip" recession because there was a pause in the middle of that one. To me, the current recession still doesn't look quite as bad '79-'81, but then, we haven't had a sudden oil crisis yet either. And let's hope we don't. It looks plenty bad already.

Arnold on Marriage

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 2:48 PM EST

ARNOLD ON MARRIAGE....The latest from the Governator:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday expressed hope that the California Supreme Court would overturn Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage...."It's unfortunate, obviously, but it's not the end," Schwarzenegger said in an interview Sunday on CNN. "I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area."

Have I mentioned recently just how disgusted I am with Schwarzenegger? Yes? Well, I still am. In addition to single-handedly causing at least half or more of our budget crisis, he also twice vetoed bills that would have legalized gay marriage in California. And now I have to listen to his crocodile tears over the subject? Spare me.

The Golden Rule

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 2:34 PM EST

THE GOLDEN RULE....Ross Douthat is skeptical that things are (yet) really that bad in the Republican Party:

Oh, the pundits will fight, as they have been for a while, but for a serious circular firing squad you need the activist groups to turn on one another. You might think that a defeat like the one the GOP endured last week would prompt Grover Norquist to argue that the Republican Party needs to ditch its warmongers and its theocrats, or prompt Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to argue that the GOP needs to ditch its flat-tax obsessives, or prompt the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo to complain about all those anti-intellectual hicks who loved Sarah Palin. But in practice the incentives probably cut the other way: Nobody wants to fire the first shot against their fellow movementarians, because then everybody else might just close ranks and train their fire in your direction. So the social-conservative activist groups will stand by the economic-conservative activist groups, and so on, lest they all hang separately.

He's probably right, but that's because the single-issue activist groups mostly don't have any beef with each other. They're pretty much on board with the entire movement conservative agenda, and are convinced that they just need to make their case to the American people and everything will be fine again.

The business community, however, is both more practical and more ruthless than the activist groups. Richer, too, and at some point they're going to conclude that Something Must Be Done. They don't want Dems writing new regulations and taking away their offshore tax shelters and making unions more powerful, and if the activist groups are in the way of getting Republicans back in power — well, they're just going to have to be dealt with. If that means backing more moderate Republicans with huge fistfuls of cash, then that's what they'll do. If it means more direct threats, that's fine too. And if James Dobson and Grover Norquist get caught in the crossfire, that's unfortunate, but you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. It's nothing personal, guys. Just business.

Sarah Palin Talking Nonsense on Medical Records

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 2:34 PM EST

She's speaking to reporters in an attempt to clear her name. Here's one statement she made Sunday, about the gossip that swirled around her candidacy:

"Some of the goofy things, like who was Trig's mom. Well, I'm Trig's mom, and do you want to see my medical records to prove that?"

Um, yes. We asked for your medical reports repeatedly. Andrew Sullivan talked about little else for a while. You refused. Your campaign stonewalled. And ultimately all you did was pass around a letter from your doctor asserting you were in good health the day before the election. Are you serious right now?

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Will Obama's Cabinet Favor Whites?

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 2:19 PM EST

The Wall Street Journal ran a cheat sheet of the powerful blacks who may wind up in the Obama administration. But check this:

Of those hoping for access and government stints, some may be disappointed. Loyalties aside, Mr. Obama, according to people familiar with his thinking, may be constrained in the number of blacks he appoints to avoid any charges of favoring African-Americans.

So, he can appoint white folks for days—but just a Negro here and there. Why won't that be seen as 'favoring whites'?

A white reporter covering a small town, McCain-area called me post-election for comment, appalled at hearing whites in the local diner angrily fretting about being demoted to the back of the bus, the Muslim Obama giving their hard-earned money to "those who refuse to work," etc. Don't worry white folks: Situation normal. A brother may be president, but he's still got to eenie-meenie-miney-mo among us blacks, his own judgment be damned. And of course, he wouldn't be the President-elect if he didn't understand these things. But it still sucks.

Whenever blacks find themselves in a group larger than three or four at work, invariably someone will 'joke:' "Better break this up. More than four and the white folks get nervous." I guess that joke ain't going anywhere. And I bet Obama's administration will blacker than any other in history but that won't take much, will it? An under-secretary here, a deputy assistant there, and soon you've got yet another quarter-step toward full equality.

But it's all good. Obama won. I can wait a little longer.

First Things First

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 1:53 PM EST

FIRST THINGS FIRST....The first thing any new president does is to reverse his predecessor's rules on support for international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid. As part of this tradition, Obama will be rescinding Bush's regulation, which itself was a change from Clinton's policy, which in turn was a repudiation of the original rule put in place by Ronald Reagan. Starting January 20th, the mere mention of the word "abortion" will no longer make you ineligible for American aid.

But that's not all. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal all ran stories over the weekend about the hundreds of other Bush-era executive orders Obama plans to overturn as soon as he's in office, and John Podesta was on TV Sunday morning saying the same thing, which means that this is pretty obviously something the Obama team is eager for the world to hear about.

So what's on tap? Changes to federal funding rules for stem cell research (which makes California's stem cell initiative from a couple of years ago redundant — thanks, initiative process!), some drilling decisions near national parks, and several other things. The most interesting one, however, is probably this:

The president-elect has said, for example, that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. "Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer," Obama said in January.

California had sought permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to require that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles be cut by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, effectively mandating that cars achieve a fuel economy standard of at least 36 miles per gallon within eight years. Seventeen other states had promised to adopt California's rules, representing in total 45 percent of the nation's automobile market. Environmentalists cheered the California initiative because it would stoke innovation that would potentially benefit the entire country.

....Before the election, Obama told others that he favors declaring that carbon dioxide emissions are endangering human welfare, following an EPA task force recommendation last December that Bush and his aides shunned in order to protect the utility and auto industries.

This, along with an EPA that decided to obey the law and classify carbon dioxide as a pollutant, could have extremely far-reaching effects. Pair them up with something close to the energy policy that Obama campaigned on and it would finally send a message to the world that the United States is no longer in denial about global warming.

And not a moment too soon. Julia Whitty explains why here.

New Hampshire the Apex for Gender Equality in Politics

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 1:40 PM EST

At the state level, New Hampshire now has a woman Speaker of the House, a woman Senate president, and a female majority in the Senate. It had a female governor from 1997-2003. At the federal level, it has a female Senator-elect (who happens to be that same ex-governor). That's a remarkable record of accomplishment on gender equality in politics.

Now if we could just recreate something even remotely close to this at the national level! As of 2006, the United States ranked #83 in the world in terms of percentage of seats held by women in the national legislative body. That is four spots below Zimbabwe.

Mahdi Army Update

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 1:30 PM EST

MAHDI ARMY UPDATE....Ned Parker of the LA Times reports that Muqtada al-Sadr has fallen on hard times:

In a telling measure of the militia's power, the U.S. military credits Sadr's decision more than a year ago to call a cease-fire as one of the chief reasons for the sharp drop in violence in Iraq.

But Sadr's fortunes have also plummeted, and his followers now contemplate a world where they are on the run and their Shiite rivals have the upper hand.

....Sadr's troubles are rooted in the fighting between his militia and Iraqi security forces that erupted in March after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki ordered the army to clear the militia's strongholds in the southern city of Basra. The clashes there ended only when Sadr commanded his militia to stand down, and then did the same in Sadr City six weeks later.

....With his armed wing formally frozen, Sadr looked to repair his movement's image. He announced in June that his fighters should form a new social and religious education organization, named Mumahidoon, which aims to teach Iraqis about Islam.

...."To avoid having his organization continually targeted, he had to do something with them, so he followed the Islamic Brotherhood and Hezbollah model," a U.S. military intelligence officer said, referring to other Islamist movements that provide charitable services and enjoy popularity in the Arab world.

At the time, I was skeptical that the Basra operation was a big win for Maliki, but obviously I was pretty spectacularly wrong about that. It's still not clear to me exactly what happened in Basra — did Sadr get beaten? did he sincerely decide that the violence had gotten out of hand? did he take direction from Iran? — but there's not much question that the eventual result was an enormous drop in influence for Sadr and a victory for Maliki and his Badr Organization allies.

In any case, read the whole thing if you're interested in the current lay of the land in Sadr City. It's certainly possible that Sadr could someday Hezbollah-ize his operation and end up more influential than ever, but in the meantime the cease-fire looks like a pretty permanent decision.