G-20 Review

The draft G-20 communiqué is here.  The final communiqué is here.  Looking solely at the section on financial regulation, it's hard to see too many huge differences.  Regulation of hedge funds, which Obama was said to be resisting, is still there.  However, Obama was also said to be opposed to a greater role for international regulatory bodies, and he appears to have won that round.  The draft section that called for regulators "to supervise cross-border institutions and to complete the establishment of colleges of supervisors for all significant cross-border financial firms" is gone.

What else?  The section on tax havens got beefed up rhetorically with a single sentence: "The era of banking secrecy is over."  That's nice.

I haven't looked at the rest in any detail, but it includes about a trillion dollars in loan pledges and IMF support, but no specific targets for domestic stimulus.  That number could have been higher, and probably should have been higher, but reality being what it is, that's not bad.

And the big losers in all this?  Protesters.  The street wars were a big deal in Seattle, guys, but with every passing year your schtick just looks more and more pro forma.  Time to give it a rest.

Blood Sport

Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate about the insane smear campaign being waged by the wingnut right against Harold Koh, Obama's nominee for legal adviser to the State Department:

Every one of the anti-Koh rants dutifully repeats a canard that first appeared in a hatchet piece in the New York Post by former Bush administration speechwriter Meghan Clyne. She asserts that Koh believes "Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts." The evidence for her claim? "A New York lawyer, Steven Stein, says that, in addressing the Yale Club of Greenwich in 2007, Koh claimed that 'in an appropriate case, he didn't see any reason why Sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States.' "

....But, of course, Koh believes nothing of the sort. And the only real revelation here is that truth can't be measured in Google hit counts or partisan hysteria.

....Clyne's gross distortions of Koh's views have gone completely unanswered in the mainstream press. You can certainly argue that ignoring the whole story signals that it's beneath notice....[But] when moderate Americans and the mainstream media allow a handful of right-wing zealots to occupy the field in the public discussions of an Obama nominee, they become complicit in a character assassination.

The right-wing nutcase machine really does seem to have picked up from its Clinton-era follies without missing a beat.  But although Lithwick right about the moral dimensions of this kind of smear campaign, there's also a practical aspect: it's yet another part of the increasingly dismal Senate kabuki show that makes it harder and harder to fill high-level administration positions. It's one thing to go through this kind of harangue to become Secretary of State, but it's quite another to go through it to become merely a high-level aide, and as this stuff gets more and more rabid, fewer and fewer people are willing to put up with it.

So let's knock it off.  We can't stop the wingnuts, but we can take the wind out of their sails by taking away their platform.  After all, is there really any reason why the Senate needs to confirm the legal advisor to the State Deparment in the first place?  No?  I didn't think so.

Dahlia Lithwick says that the conservative attacks on the Yale Law School dean, who is slated to become the legal adviser to Obama's State Department, are unfounded and that is is high time for some lefty pushback. Koh, she argues, is exactly the sort of person who ought to be staffing State at times like these. I agree. Give her a read.

We all know that there are some people who are so entrenched in their political views, and get their news from such incredibly partisan sources, than they can never be convinced to change their minds on anything. And yet, I'm stunned by this. Pew:

More than two months into Barack Obama's presidency, as many people incorrectly identify him as a Muslim as did so during the 2008 campaign. When asked about Obama's religious beliefs, 11% say he is a Muslim. In October, 12% said Obama is a Muslim, which was unchanged from earlier in the campaign.

In the current survey, 35% say they do not know Obama's religion, either because they do not know enough about him (22%), or because they have heard different things about his religion (13%); another 6% refused to answer.

As was the case last fall, white evangelical Protestants (19%) and Republicans (17%) are among the most likely to view Obama as a Muslim. Fewer than half in each group -- 38% of white evangelicals and 46% of Republicans -- correctly identify Obama as a Christian.

Jesus.

The contemporary version of Godwin's Law states that as an argument on the Internet grows longer, the odds that someone compares someone else to Hitler or the Nazis approaches one. The corollary is that whoever mentions Hitler first usually loses. Godwin's Law and Reductio ad Hitlerum are sly ways that the Internet and its denizens shame/lampoon needless hyperbole and its overheated practitioners.

Glenn Beck either doesn't get it or doesn't care. The man does not understand shame, good taste, or, frankly, how journalism works. Wednesday night, he accompanied his rantings about how America is descending into fascism under President Obama (which sound nutty and militia-ish, but were aired on Fox News) with over a minute of full screen images of Nazi foot soldiers marching in lockstep. It is completely over the top and completely unacceptable. Watch below (via Think Progress):

I say we rename it Beck's Law. Godwin's Law has been blown to pieces.

Back when the Iraq War was in its worst stages, we would mention high casualty numbers here on the blog (i.e. July's 350 deaths represent the second highest monthly total since the war began). So it's only fair that I mention that there were just nine American soldiers killed in March, the lowest monthly number for the entire war. That's great news. No info is available on civilian casualties, but let's hope those numbers are low, too, and that they stay that way as the Pentagon draws down forces.

And just FYI: I'll be the first to admit that giving credit to Obama for this -- something that so clearly has its origins before his ascent to office -- would be absurd. You won't find any lefty bloggers praising Obama for this development. Which is why the Right's attempts to pin the recession on Barack Obama ("the Obama recession") is so despicable and says so much.

Sorry to get political on an issue that shouldn't be.

I think I've now read about a dozen stories telling me that America is seriously at odds with France and Germany at the G-20 meeting because Obama isn't as serious about financial regulatory reform as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are.  The phrase "non-negotiable red lines" and the quote "The crisis didn't actually spontaneously erupt in Europe, did it?"show up in pretty much all of these stories, but there's always one thing missing: an explanation of exactly what the disagreement is about.  Is the global financial press really so lame that they haven't been able to ferret this out yet?  Better gossip, please.

Keeping Banks Small

I promise not to bore you forever on the subject of limiting bank size, but here's a suggestion from Willem Buiter that seems to make sense.  It's part of a list of proposed regulatory reforms:

(2d) There has to be international agreement on restricting the size and scope of financial institutions.  Aggressive enforcement of anti-monopoly policy and the imposition of capital requirements that are increasing in the size of a bank (for given leverage and risk) would be two obvious tools for achieving this.

This seems both better and more workable than a flat cap on assets.  What he's suggesting is that the bigger a bank gets, the higher its capital ratio should be.  This accomplishes two things: (1) it puts natural downward pressure on bank size since higher capital requirements reduce leverage and profitability, and (2) if a bank gets big anyway, the higher capital ratio makes it less likely to fail and cause systemic problems.  Sounds reasonable to me.

It's like halitosis, only it's bad breadth not breath. In other words, a case of severely overweighted self worth notable for its rush onset, sweatiness, febrile humor, heavy breathing, spitting, and verbosity. There's no known trigger though some speculate on electromagnetic waves. There's also no known treatment. Time-release drug formulas seem to exacerbate the symptoms.

Patient X, who does not wish to be identified, says his affliction with Limbaugh Syndrome is a living hell. He describes obsessive demons of righteousness and a compulsion to fight for individual rights—except those that fail to appease his obsessive demons of righteousness. The conflict exhausts him.

He can't sleep. There's insomnia over phantom governments. There are nightmares of unchanging ideals. He is forever tripping over his own unapologetic rules. Faith blindsides him.

It's also intensely emotionally lonely, says Patient X. He feels like a lone voice in an answerless universe. He expects a God-given natural right to be free yet imagines himself irretrievably trapped inside a small soundproof room amid billowing clouds of smoke.

Patient X secretly hopes for help from stem cell therapy. But he doesn't want to rush for a cure either. He can't envision life without his disease.

Radicals in Suits

Via Matt Duss, former Bush speechwriter Christian Brose takes a poke at liberals who have painted the new Foreign Policy Initiative talking shop as just the latest in a long series of neocon warmongering fests:

All that you suspect is true. Bill Kristol, wearing a Viking helmet and a bone through his nose, exhorted the participants to invade Chad, just because. He may have listed other countries, but he was speaking in tongues and war whoops half the time, and my Neo-con-to-English translation kept dropping out. Bob Kagan followed, bare-chested (as usual), in full war paint, banging the Mayflower china with a combat boot, shouting that America needed to put 10 million men under arms to extend its hegemony (benevolent, of course) into the Arctic, shouting something about the road to Moscow leading through the North Pole.

I saw this with my own eyes, people.

If only. It would have been a lot more exciting, that's for sure. As it was, the conference was a pretty staid affair.

But look: that's the whole point.  Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan and all the rest of their neocon bretheren (and sisteren) are sober, suit-wearing, well-modulated members of the foreign policy establishment.  If you listen to what they actually say, they're every bit as radical as any pony-tailed denouncer of empire from the wilds of Berkeley, but they rarely get called on it because they just sound so damn reasonable while they're suggesting a 3-week bombing run to wipe out Iran's nuclear facilities.

Kristol is, within the boundaries of polite society, always in favor of the maximally provocative, maximally militaristic response to any foreign policy problem.  He's about as extreme as you can get this side of the Michigan Militia.  But he wears a nice suit, has a good sense of humor, and makes his doctrine of endless interventionism sound almost soothing.  Who wouldn't want to occupy the Middle East after listening to Kristol's feel-good version of how it will all turn out?

So yesterday's kickoff was "a pretty staid affair"?  Of course it was.  That's the whole problem.