Gaming Geithner

Via the Wonk Room, the Financial Times reports on plans for banks to game Tim Geithner's toxic waste plan by bidding on each other's assets:

US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system.

....Wall Street executives argue that banks’ asset purchases would help achieve the second main goal of the plan: to establish prices and kick-start the market for illiquid assets.  But public opinion may not tolerate the idea of banks selling each other their bad assets. Critics say that would leave the same amount of toxic assets in the system as before, but with the government now liable for most of the losses through its provision of non-recourse loans.

Administration officials reject the criticism because banking is part of a financial system, in which the owners of bank equity — such as pension funds — are the same entities that will be investing in toxic assets anyway. Seen this way, the plan simply helps to rearrange the location of these assets in the system in a way that is more transparent and acceptable to markets.

Italics mine.  Look: I'm no financial rocket scientist, but I'm at least a halfway reasonable judge of bullshit.  Are the Treasury boffins seriously suggesting that the aim of their plan is merely to "rearrange" the assets from one distressed bank to another?  Someone might want to take a wee look at public opinion on this before they put their feet any further in their mouths trying to explain why this is such a great idea.  It's not gonna fly, folks.

The Iowa Supreme Court has decided unanimously that a law banning same-sex marriage violates the state constitution.  Basically, the court made a common sense ruling that the Iowa ban did indeed discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation:

Our responsibility [] is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time....As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes poignantly said, “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

....[E]qual protection before the law demands more than the equal application of the classifications made by the law. The law itself must be equal. [...] In other words, to truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike.

....It is true the marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex. Viewed in the complete context of marriage, including intimacy, civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual. Thus, the right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all....By purposefully placing civil marriage outside the realistic reach of gay and lesbian individuals, the ban on same-sex civil marriages differentiates implicitly on the basis of sexual orientation.

That's nicely and plainly said.  Very midwestern.  The court then went through the usual list of reasons for banning gay marriage (maintaining traditional marriage, promotion of optimal environment to raise children, promotion of procreation, promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships) and concluded that none of them had enough substance to overcome obvious discrimination against a relatively powerless class.  And that was that.

So for now, anyway, Iowa has gay marriage and California doesn't.  Who would have guessed?

From CNN: Four shot. Forty-one held hostage.

Anyone wanna bet me on the gender of the perp, or the 'perceived' dissing he's seeking to alleviate with this action?

What is his deal, anyway?  Ezra Klein tries to figure it out with logic here and statistics here.  But the mystery only grows deeper.
One lingering result of Donald Rumsfeld's reign at the Pentagon is the US military's increased attention to humanitarian development and aid work that, say critics, puts real-life aid workers at heightened risk of attack and undermines long-term development projects. Rumsfeld's November 2005 Department of Defense Directive 3000.05 (PDF)—titled "Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations"—placed non-combat missions (those aimed at building rule of law and civil society) on equal footing with the Pentagon's other priorities of killing people and breaking things.

Confusion was inevitable, and now a group of 11 NGOs working in Afghanistan have issued a briefing paper (PDF) to the heads of NATO governments now meeting in Bucharest. The NGOs charge that NATO forces, despite a mutually agreed-to guidelines demarcating the roles of militaries and humanitarians in Afghanistan, have largely ignored the rules.

Think you've got a strong stomach? Bet me $100, then watch this Allahforsaken video of a 17-year-old girl, from The Guardian. Here's the description:

The two-minute video, shot using a mobile phone, shows a burka-clad woman face down on the ground. Two men hold her arms and feet while a third, a black-turbaned fighter with a flowing beard, whips her repeatedly. "Please stop it," she begs, alternately whimpering or screaming in pain with each blow to the backside. "Either kill me or stop it now."...A crowd of men stands by, watching silently. Off camera a voice issues instructions. "Hold her legs tightly," he says as she squirms and yelps. After 34 lashes the punishment stops and the wailing woman is led into a stone building, trailed by a Kalashnikov-carrying militant."

I made it 30 seconds in before I wanted to close out, but I made myself watch.

How long did you last?

Employment Update

In short: it's bad.  We're losing lots of jobs and we're losing them fast.  Jonathan Stein parses the numbers.  Calculated Risk provides the chart below.  Brad DeLong says we need a bigger stimulus.

During caucus season, the saying goes, "As Iowa goes, so goes the nation," which was true for Barack Obama after his win the Iowa kick-started his presidential campaign last year, and in three weeks, Iowa will be the first state in the Midwest to allow gay couples to get married. Though, given the confusion the rest of the country has about the vowel-heavy fly-over states, Ohio and Idaho will probably get some credit too. (The capital of Iowa is Toledo and it is known as the great potato state, right?)

This morning's decision follows years of legal back and forth. In 2005, six gay couples sued Polk County Recorder Timothy O'Brien for denying them marriage licenses. The Polk County District Judge ruled in favor of the couples last year, but the ruling was stayed until the Iowa Supreme Court could review the law.

The excitement around the courthouse this morning was palpable and happy couples and supporters cried and cheered. Mary Hicks, a long time advocate and hopeful bride, described the scene as "amazing." Disappointed conservatives slunked off with their signs to wait and see what would happen with the decision once it reached the legislature. Though, according to the New York Times, advocates don't believe there will be any immediate cause for overturning the decision. And, as Iowa has no residency requirement for marriage licenses, there may be a flutter of May-brides and grooms this spring serving pork tenderloins and sweet corn on their reception buffets.

Obama's Deal

I note for the record that every major paper — the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy — has a front page story today mentioning Barack Obama's diplomatic coup in brokering a deal to "take note" of tax havens instead of directly recognizing them.  The White House must really be anxious to make sure everyone knows about this.

In January, I wrote about Dawn Johnsen, the strident critic of Bush torture memo author John Yoo who President Barack Obama selected to run Yoo's old office, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC is responsible for providing legal advice (and, in the case of the Bush administration, legal cover) to the President. Johnsen, as I wrote in January, is the anti-Yoo: an outspoken opponent of torture and an advocate for an OLC that challenges presidential power. But now Senate Republicans may be planning to block her confirmation.

According to a story in Tuesday's New York Times, Senate Republicans "will first gauge whether they can attract some support from conservative Democrats" to filibuster Johnsen. A spokeswoman for Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, refused to say whether McConnell was plotting a filibuster. Reid and McConnell have not been able to reach an agreement on bringing Johnsen's nomination to the floor: "We are discussing how to proceed on the nomination; it is our hope that the Republicans will not obstruct her nomination through filibuster," Reid spokesman Jim Manley told me in an email.