Yesterday, we reported on Clemson University's basically admitting that it manipulates U.S. News and World Report's college rankings. Now, the university has done an about face and denied any pandering, calling the accusations "outrageous" and "untrue." From a statement issued by Clemson today:

 

The New York Times reports that Tim Geithner's plan to buy up toxic assets from the banking system is dead.  Basically, even at the subsidized prices the program would have offered them, banks weren't willing to sell because it would have forced them to recognize big losses, and recognizing big losses would have been bad.  Ezra Klein comments:

There are two ways of understanding what happened here. The first is that banks couldn't sell their assets at current prices because doing so would have rendered them effectively insolvent. In this scenario, PPIP fails to fulfill its intended function: Saving the banks. The toxic assets survive and the banking system remains hollow and unhealthy.

The second is that banks no longer need to rush their troubled assets off their books because they're increasingly able to raise private capital, operate in a restored financial market, and wait out the last vestiges of the storm. They can, in this world, let the value of the assets rise naturally, and sell them off later. In this scenario, PPIP is no longer necessary.

I'll take door #1.  It's at least arguable that the banks were justified in not wanting to sell toxic securities at the fire sale prices on offer from vulture funds and others.  But Geithner's plan would have offered them considerably more than that — and they're still unwilling to sell.  That means they're completely dedicated to the proposition that all their mortgage-backed junk is worth exactly what they say it's worth.

Maybe this will work out in the end.  But history suggests that we'd all be better off if banks were forced to honestly account for their losses, take their lumps, and then move on.  Instead, Geithner's stress tests have persuaded everyone that things are fine and losses on these securities aren't as bad as everyone thinks.  Maybe so.  But if Geithner and the banks are wrong, doing it this way is likely to drag the pain out over years, producing a long period of sluggish semi-recovery and slow, fragile growth.

That's basically my fear at this point.  I sure hope Geithner knows what he's doing.

If you believe Chevron's ubiquitous ad campaign, it's an icon of corporate responsibility. According to environmental and human rights groups…not so much.

Organizations including CorpWatch, Global Exchange, and EarthRights International released "The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report" last week. And not surprisingly, it tells a different story than the oil giant. To wit:

Lowry on Obama

Most of the conservative reaction to Obama's speech seems to be the usual robotic stuff — moral equivalence! shameful! naive! — but props to Rich Lowry for his reasonably measured response:

I have to go back and read it carefully, so I reserve the right to extend and revise my remarks. But on the whole I thought it was pretty good and I basically agree with Max Boot's take here. Yes, there were many things about which to cavil, there were missed opportunities, and he betrayed the disturbing weakness of his policy in certain key areas, Iran foremost among them. But the speech was an act of diplomacy and as such, it inevitably was going to skate over some inconvenient truths and tilt its presentation in a way to try to make it more persuasive to its target audience. Fundamentally, Obama's goal was to tell the Muslim world, "We respect and value you, your religion and your civilization, and only ask that you don't hate us and murder us in return." Bush tried to deliver the same message over and over again. The difference with Obama is that people might actually be willing to listen.

I guess the question is whether he sticks to his guns here, or whether the wingosphere reeducation squads eventually force him to "extend and revise" his remarks and admit that the speech was, in fact, a betrayal of everything good and decent.  Stay tuned!

It's not just good policy ideas about Medicare and health care costs that fail to become law because entrenched interests oppose them. Good tax reform ideas also die because powerful businesses and interest groups are threatened by them—a fact that helps make our tax code the loophole-ridden mess it is today.

media mattersNot everyone likes Media Matters for America, the left-wing media watchdog that seeks out "conservative misinformation" in the media. I do. Like the excellent ThinkProgress, there's a wonderful, understated humor to a lot of Media Matters' content. Both sites have a writing style that focuses on "just the facts." That style can strip some of the color from colorful events. But some things are surreal, brilliant, and hilarious without any comment added. Take this, for example:

change congress logoI'm beginning to think I was wrong to criticize Change Congress' latest ad on Wednesday. The anti-corruption non profit has been slamming Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, for his opposition to giving Americans the ability to choose between private insurance plans and a government-run option. Insurance companies hate the idea of a so-called "public option," and they've given Nelson over $2 million in campaign cash. Change Congress has been pointing out that Nelson's position on a public plan and his acceptance of that campaign money, taken together, create the appearance of corruption. (The fact that this even needs to be pointed out is pretty sad.) 

Roll Call reports that Norm Coleman might throw in the towel if the Minnesota Supreme Court rules that Al Franken won last year's senate race:

Senate Republican leaders appear willing to go to the mat for former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), but it’s unclear whether Coleman wants to go to the mat for himself.

....Sources close to Coleman say the former Senator would likely give up his legal battle and accept defeat if the Minnesota Supreme Court decides in Franken’s favor. That’s because Coleman anticipates that Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) would ultimately sign Franken’s certification papers.

OK, this is pretty iffy.  The only backup is "sources close to Coleman," and those sources only say it's "likely" that he'd give up the fight, and even then it's only if Pawlenty signs the certification papers.  So who knows?

Coleman's appeal is based on the contention that different counties used different standards for counting ballots, and as it happens, I'm tolerably sympathetic to this argument.  I'd like to see states do a better job of ensuring equal treatment for ballots in a variety of respects.  But my opinions don't matter.  What matters is past precedent and accepted practice, and on that score Minnesota actually seems to have handled the recount quite admirably.  Legally, Coleman really doesn't have a leg to stand on, so maybe he and Pawlenty will do the right thing after all. We'll know in a few weeks.

How did Obama's hard truths play in Cairo? Over at Politico, Roger Simon notes that his speech, at times, "fell flatter than a piece of pita bread." And when the president did move his audience to applause, it came at predictable moments. For instance, when Obama spoke of outlawing torture, "applause and whistles of approval" followed. But on other topics--9/11, confronting and isolating "violent extremists," America's "strong bonds" with Israel--silence.

Not that this is relevant to her ability to serve on the Supreme Court, but Sonia Sotomayor clearly has an addictive personality. A profile of the judge in Thursday's Washington Post reveals that during her heady days as a prosecutor in New York, Sotomayor smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day. When President Obama was narrowing down his choices to fill the soon to be vacant slot on the U.S. Supreme Court, was he trying to find someone to sneak cigarettes with?

But that's not all:

The prosecutors were expected to juggle 80 to 100 cases at a time, and in her years there Sotomayor tried perhaps 20 cases before juries. She survived by becoming, in the words of her friend Dawn Cardi, a "caffeine addict" who started her day with a Tab, one of maybe 20 she threw back on an average day...

It's great to see that Sotomayor has vices like the rest of us. But 20 a day? I (Nick) like my diet soda, but I've never had more than two 2-liter bottles, and that's on a really bad day. Sotomayor's habit was the equivalent of over three and a half 2-liter bottles a day. That's a lot of cola. And the 936 mg of caffeine in 20 Tabs is the equivalent of around nine brewed coffees. Add in 30 cigarettes, and you've got one wired prosecutor.

Whether she still smokes (or drinks Tab) seems to be a mystery, though Sotomayor reportedly now works out at the gym three days a week or so, suggesting that she may have kicked the habit. Of course, Obama works out a lot too, and he still gets caught puffing once in a while. Perhaps the Judiciary Committee will ask her about this. After all, smoking is probably a lot more relevant to her longevity on the bench than the fact that she has diabetes, which has also come up during the debate.