Europe and Guantanamo

Getting European countries to accept resettlement of Guantanamo prisoners was always going to be a hard sell, but the Washington Post reports that it's recently gotten even harder:

Rising opposition in the U.S. Congress to allowing Guantanamo prisoners on American soil has not gone over well in Europe. Officials from countries that previously indicated they were willing to accept inmates now say it may be politically impossible for them to do so if the United States does not reciprocate.

"If the U.S. refuses to take these people, why should we?" said Thomas Silberhorn, a member of the German Parliament from Bavaria, where the White House wants to relocate nine Chinese Uighur prisoners. "If all 50 states in America say, 'Sorry, we can't take them,' this is not very convincing."

....More trouble emerged when Washington stipulated that the Uighurs would be barred from traveling to the United States.

"If the U.S. says they should come here, but they cannot travel to the U.S., we would have to ask why not?" said a German Interior Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. "Does that mean they are dangerous?"

Good question!  When the time came to actually accept Guantanamo detainees, European countries were always bound to run into more trouble with domestic politics than they anticipated.  But with the American talk radio contingent making it virtually impossible for the U.S. to accept even a small number of the safest detainees ourselves, it's now inevitable that Europeans are going to back off.  You'd have to be politically suicidal to resettle prisoners that the United States has all but tattooed "terrorist."

So now what happens to them? Stay tuned.

If you are not aware of all internet traditions, you may not know about the "Downfall" parodies. You're missing out. The New York Times explained the phenomon back in October 2008:

On YouTube, we’re in a bunker, and the enemies are always, always closing in. The ceilings are low. The air is stifling. A disheveled leader is delusional.

This is the premise of more than 100 videos on the Web — the work of satirists who for years have been snatching video and audio from "Downfall," the 2004 German movie of Hitler’s demise, and doctoring it to tell a range of stories about personal travails and world politics. By adding new English-language subtitles, they transform the movie’s climactic scene, in which Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) rails against his enemies and reluctantly faces his defeat, into the generic story of a rabid blowhard brought low.

The problem for "Downfall" artistes, however, is that not everyone likes being parodied, and the targets of such mocking (and the studio that owns the rights to "Downfall") sometimes send takedown notices to YouTube under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Parody, of course, is protected by the fair use doctrine in copyright law, but that usually doesn't stop YouTube from following through with the takedowns. It's cheaper and easier to just take down everything that the site receives a DMCA notice for than to review individual claims. Now the heroic Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced the ultimate meta-Downfall parody, in which Bruno Ganz' Hitler tries to send takedown notices for all the Downfall parodies. The result is amusing and informative:

Geek god Lawrence Lessig's new-ish organization, Change Congress, aims to expose and curtail the influence of money in politics. They're not being polite about it. On Thursday, Change Congress accused Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) of "Good souls corruption"—"legal, even ethical acts that reasonably lead the public to wonder whether it is the merits or the money that is driving this Senator's decision."

In this particular case, Change Congress makes the shocking observation that Nelson's receipt of millions of dollars from insurance and health care interests might call the sincerity of his (now-renounced) opposition to a public health insurance option into question.

David Boies and Ted Olson are this week's odd couple after the pair teamed up to file a constitutional challenge to California's gay marriage ban Wednesday. The two lawyers made headlines in 2000 when they squared off before the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, with Olson representing Bush and Boies representing Gore. Despite the acrimonious election battle, Boies and Olson aren't mortal enemies. They're lawyers--people schooled in the notion that an adversary is not an enemy.

As such, Olson and Boies are so friendly that last summer they took a bike trip through Italy with Tom Brokaw and media mogul Steve Brill, who, incidentally, is now responsible for another one of their joint ventures: Journalism Online, Brill's new attempt to save journalism by making people pay for it online. Boies and Olson are on the company's board of advisors. But Brill didn't pick the pair for the novelty factor. His legal team suggests that he intends to start the war that newspapers so far have shied away from: forcing Google pay for the news content it now steals for free.

The New York Times reports:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s lucky streak is apparently at least six months long.

A financial disclosure report for the judge, released on Thursday, included this nugget: income of $8,283 for a “Jackpot Game Winning” on Nov. 23, 2008, almost exactly half a year before President Obama tapped her to be on the Supreme Court.

A spokeswoman for the White House said Judge Sotomayor hit it big while gambling with her mother at a casino in Florida.

Impressively lucky, but anyone can win a jackpot game. I'd be more interested to learn whether Judge Sotomayor is any good at poker. President Barack Obama has been known to play.

From the Thursday's night edition of MSNBC's "The Ed Show." I don't know if you can tell, but I was being rained on, as we discussed the SCOTUS nominee. You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

The Wall Street Journal reports that big banks aren't happy with the Obama administration's plans to make trading of credit derivatives more transparent by putting them on a public exchange:

Wall Street banks with large derivative-trading businesses have been outwardly supportive of greater regulatory oversight of the $684 trillion market. But behind the scenes, there has been hand-wringing over the details of certain proposals and discussions about how the industry can help shape the rules.

Potentially billions of dollars in revenue is at stake. An effort earlier this decade to improve transparency in the corporate-bond market ended up cutting bank fees by more than $1 billion in a year, according to some studies.

....For credit-default swaps, information about intraday trades and prices has long been controlled by a handful of large banks that handle most trades and earn bigger profits from every transaction they facilitate if prices aren't easily accessible.

For example, credit-default swaps tied to bonds of companies such as General Electric Capital and Goldman Sachs typically have a pricing gap of 0.1 percentage point between the bid and offer price. That translates into a $40,000 margin for every $10 million in debt insured for five years. Greater price transparency could narrow that gap, lowering costs for buyers and sellers but reducing fees for banks.

That's a sad story, isn't it?  When you make trades public, suddenly banks find that they can't rob their clients blind anymore.  Break out your violins, boys and girls.

A few days ago I linked to a Robert Reich post in which he suggested that the skyrocketing cost of student loans was forcing too many grads to take high-paying private sector jobs instead of lower-paying but more socially beneficial positions.  As a solution, he recommended limiting loan repayments to 10% of income for ten years, and I sort of agreed.

Well, that hasn't happened yet, but this morning Mike Kruger of the House Committee on Education and Labor emailed to tell me about some of the provisions of the recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act:

The biggest thing is the Income-Based Repayment Program that will cap a monthly payments based on income.

Under the income-based repayment program, such borrowers will never have to spend more than 15% of their discretionary income — an amount based on federal poverty guidelines — on student loan payments. Those whose income falls below 150% of the poverty level won't be required to make any payments.

Here's how it could work: Suppose a student has the average $22,000 in student loans, and gets a job making $25,000/year. Assuming the loans have a fixed interest rate of 5.6%, the monthly payment under the income-based repayment program would be $110, vs. $240 under a standard 10-year repayment plan. Obviously, when the student’s income rises in the future, so will the payments.

For some students, the reduced payments won't cover the interest on their loans. For those with subsidized Stafford loans — which are provided to students who demonstrate economic hardship — the government will pay the interest for the first three years of the program.

For unsubsidized loans, the interest will be added to the balance, so a student could come out of the program with a larger loan balance. However, any amount owed after 25 years of qualifying payments will be forgiven. This is significant, because in the past, it was nearly impossible for borrowers to get out from under their student loan debts.

Now, this isn't what Reich was proposing.  You still have to pay back the full amount of the loan eventually (or make payments for 25 years, whichever comes first) regardless of your income.  But it's sort of a nudge in the right direction, so I thought I'd pass it along.

Why Soot Sucks

Here's a most excellent video to illuminate my last blog post on the link between black carbon soot and the melting Arctic. How springtime burning of farm fields may account for 30 percent of Arctic warming to date. The good news: It's an easy 30 percent to fix. The video, from Earthjustice, tells us how in slightly more than 2 minutes. I'm impressed. We need more relevant videos with super clean message lines and good looks.

The United States Border Patrol turned 85 this week. What better way to celebrate than by indoctrinating American youth?

Below, four examples of kid-friendly border patrol fun: