Seeing Party Ben's post on Jay Z's new victory rap, I thought I'd add a link to an NPR bit on how Obama energized (and cleaned up) some rappers. Apparently, some have moved from 'hos to po-li-ti-cos!

Get it?

See? I'm not a nerd.

What Just Happened

WHAT JUST HAPPENED....Despite all the grief she's gotten, I continue to think that the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate represents the breaking of a consensual cultural barrier far more fundamental than most people realize. It's not just that she was inexperienced (Spiro Agnew and John Edwards weren't much more experienced than Palin when they ran for VP) but that she was — obviously, transparently, completely — uninterested in and uninformed about national policy at nearly every level. We've simply never seen someone so completely unmoored from the normal requirements of national office before. She was chosen purely at the level of celebrity, and an awful lot of people seemed to be just fine with that.

Unfortunately, I've never really been able to find the words to describe just how corrosive I think her choice was. The whole affair just left me gobsmacked. So instead I'll turn the floor briefly over to Andrew Sullivan:

Let's be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy....The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months — and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish — is a sign of their total loss of nerve.

....This deluded and delusional woman still doesn't understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her — but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Andrew's obsession with Palin was often hard to take, and I sometimes wished I could reach through the screen and strangle him whenever he started talking about Trig Palin again. Still, aside from the "clinically unhinged" crack, I agree with all of this. Disturbing hardly begins to describe what we've gone though with Palin over the past two months.

UPDATE: Via email, here's an excerpt from Wolf Blitzer's interview today with Palin:

BLITZER: Another question. What are your new ideas on how to take the Republican Party out of this rut that it's in right now? Give me one or two new ideas that you're going to propose to these governors who have gathered here in this hotel.

PALIN: Well, a lot of Republican governors have really good ideas for our nation because we're the ones there on the front lines being held accountable every single day in service to the people whom have hired us in our own states and the planks in our platform are strong and they are good for America. It's all about free enterprise and respecting the ...

BLITZER: Does that mean you want to come up with a new Sarah Palin initiative that you want to release right now.

PALIN: Gah! Nothing specific right now. Sitting here in these chairs that I'm going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it's our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don't get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we're dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.

Should I laugh or should I cry? I think it depends on whether Palin disappears back into well-earned obscurity over the next few months.

As we reported in the current November/December 2008 issue, UBS is being pursued by the IRS and Department of Justice for helping American clients evade taxes on some $20 billion offshore assets. News today is yet another banker, Raoul Weil, has been indicted. Though the indictment does not mention UBS by name, the Washington Post reported that Weil headed UBS's wealth management department from 2002 through 2007.

UBS recently complied with IRS and Department of Justice requests for specific names of American clients with offshore accounts. It gave the names of 70 US customers (out of an estimated 20,000) to the agencies Monday, and the IRS independently found 30 more names. Though UBS has said it will no longer offer offshore accounts to US citizens, its continued pursuit by the DOJ and the IRS, along with Barack Obama's condemnation of UBS as a "tax cheat," shows some stormy skies ahead for the company's incredibly profitable wealth management division.

White House 2.0?

It's no secret that Barack Obama took the White House thanks in large part to his campaign team's Internet savvy. The interactive website, text-message organizing, YouTube channel and all the rest not only spurred people to action; they made Obama seem as accessible to them as their neighbor, their teacher, or their priest.

But campaigns are all about populism—the more people a candidate can connect with, the better. The president, by contrast, is usually cordoned off from the public and hardly ever released to take question; the Bush administration took this secrecy to an extreme. As he looks towards January, will Obama try and bridge the gap between an interactive campaign and the highly managed nature of the presidency?

Sure looks like it. Obama has already launched change.gov, a public interface for his presidency. He still has a YouTube channel, and has pledged to institute an online comment period before singing nonemergency legislation. Though Obama was less available to the press during the campaign than many reporters would have liked, as president he's pledged to put government business online. Perhaps an overhaul of whitehouse.gov is in the works?

After eight years of dealing with a secretive, inaccessible and often combative executive, it would be more than refreshing to have the exact opposite. If Obama does it right, Americans will feel like their country is theirs again; instead of an announcer for a leader, they'll have a mouthpiece.

UPDATE: A collection of over 60 open government groups has weighed in on Obama's plans for transparency, offering 69 specific policy suggestions.

200px-Bobby_Jindal%2C_official_109th_Congressional_photo.jpg If you know anything about the Governor from Louisiana, you know he's whip smart. Apparently, he also has some political instincts. Here's why he refused to be vetted as part of John McCain's VP search (from the WaPo via Andrew):

While the official reason that Jindal took his name out of contention was his lack of a desire to leave the Louisiana governorship, there was also real trepidation within his political inner circle that Jindal might wind up as the pick -- McCain was attracted to his comprehensive health-care knowledge -- and be caught up in what they believed to be a less-than-stellar campaign that could pin a loss on Jindal without much ability to change or control the direction of the contest.

Jindal, who is 37, was a congressman from 2004 until 2007, when he was elected governor. He was the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 25 and president of the University of Louisiana system at 28. He turned down both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship after graduating from Brown.

Jindal has scheduled an upcoming appearance in Iowa, fueling speculation that he is considering a 2012 run for the presidency. (Jindal would be just 41.) The only question: Is Bobby Jindal too "elite" for the Republican Party?

Healthcare Update

HEALTHCARE UPDATE....Senator Max Baucus is outlining his healthcare reform proposal today, and naturally, now that Barack Obama is in town, he brings the socialism!

I don't think a single payer health care system makes sense in this country. We are America, we will come up with a uniquely American health care system that's a combination of public and private.

....I do believe we should not scrap the employer based system. We should maintain it. We should build upon it. But the current vision of the tax code has certain inefficiencies that I believe we can address while still building on the employer-based system.

Wait a second. That's not socialism at all. What the hell is going on here?

Hmmph. And here I thought the revolution had arrived. Jon Cohn provides a quickie look at the non-socialistic Baucus plan:

It look a lot like the plan Barack Obama touted on the campaign trail: Expanded Medicaid and S-CHIP for the poor; a pooling mechanism that allows individuals and the uninsured to buy coverage at group rates; a new public insurance plan, modeled vaguely on Medicare, that would be available to people buying coverage through the new pool; subsidies to offset the cost of insurance coupled with efforts to restrain the cost of medicine in the long term; and regulations that force insurers to sell to everybody, regardless of pre-existing condition.

But Baucus' plan will differ from Obama's in one intriguing, and important, way. According to the Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler, it will include a requirement that all people obtain insurance. In other words, it will include an individual mandate. That was a major source of contention during the Democratic primaries. Obama opposed such a mandate, while Senator Hillary Clinton supported it. (As readers of this space know, I think Clinton was absolutely right about this.)

More later as details of his plan percolate through the capitol. (The full policy paper is here.) Overall, it sounds a lot like what we heard during the campaign, with an interesting addition that allows people to buy into Medicare at age 55 if they want, and I very much doubt that mandates will be a huge sticking point with Obama. In fact, he might very well breathe a sigh of relief that someone like Baucus is insisting on it, since it gives him an easy out on the issue.

Bottom line: Republicans will almost certainly try to filibuster whatever the final product turns out to be, but they're going to have a hard time making it stick. Unlike 1994, Baucus, Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and the president are roughly on the same page, the liberal interest groups are interested in getting something done, not bickering, and even the business community is finally coming around to the need for dramatic action. I give serious healthcare reform an 80% chance of passing before June.

CHART OF THE DAY (OIL EDITION)....The International Energy Administration has released its latest projections for oil production over the next couple of decades. They report that the average annual decline in existing oil fields will accelerate to about 8.6%, a very high number, but that overall production will continue to increase anyway. No peak oil for these guys! — but only if we invest $13 trillion in drilling and exploration infrastructure between now and 2030, mostly in OPEC countries.

I have my doubts about that, but I really have my doubts about this:

These projections are based on the assumption that the IEA crude oil import price averages $100 per barrel (in real year-2007 dollars) over the period 2008-2015, rising to over $120 in 2030....In nominal terms, prices double to just over $200 per barrel in 2030.

I know that oil fell below $60 yesterday, but I'm still willing to take on all comers on a bet that oil will be selling for only $200 per barrel in 2030. I just don't believe that. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if oil were selling for $1000 per barrel by then.

In any case, this report, which is paired up with another report about carbon emissions, makes our choice stark. We can invest many trillions of dollars in oil infrastructure, which might keep oil prices relatively low and greenhouse emissions high, or we can do the opposite: allow oil prices to rise, thus reducing demand, and spend trillions of dollars on green power generation instead. The IEA's preference seems to be for both, somehow, which must mean I'm misreading something. I'll try to give the report a more careful read later. In any case, their estimate is that a global program to limit CO2 to 450 ppm would cost a bit less than 1% of world GDP, which includes a cap-and-trade system that sets a price of $180 per ton of CO2. If that's really true, then hallelujah. That's really not such a big number. But as they say, "Time is running out and the time to act is now."

UPDATE: A correspondent emails to point out that in 2004 IEA projected oil demand in 2030 of 121 million bpd, in 2005 lowered that to 115 million bpd, and this year lowered it again to 106 million bpd. Likewise, in 2005 their projection for oil prices was $65 per barrel in 2030. Today it's $200.

Those are huge changes. Like my correspondent, I don't think IEA has fully faced reality yet, but they're getting there.

The Treasury Department is all about efficiency these days. The original bailout plan that Secretary Paulson proposed, which has been quietly dumped, was just three pages. I guess it's no surprise, then, that the application to get some sweet, sweet bailout bucks from the TARP Capital Purchase Program is just two pages. No joke, Taxpayers for Common Sense actually got a hold of the thing. If you're interested in landing a spare billion, give it a shot. It won't take you more than five minutes.

Wasn't one factor in the housing crisis the fact that lenders gave home loans to people without checking credit and obtaining documentation of assets, salary, and other signs of financial health? And yet you get piles of cash from the Treasury with less paperwork than what goes into car loans, student loans, and most credit cards?

The Obama transition office announced on Wednesday that the president-elect will send two representatives to meet with delegates attending the G-20 economic summit being held this weekend: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democrat, and former Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican. The pair, according to a press release, will hold "unofficial meetings to seek input from visiting delegations on behalf of the President-elect and Vice President-elect." Afterward, Albright and Leach will brief Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Leach is both a curious and obvious choice. First, the obvious: he's a Republican who led the Republicans for Obama effort during the presidential campaign. By calling on Leach, who had a long career in the House as a liberal GOPer, Obama can show he does believe in bipartisanship. Now the curious: during part of his stint in Congress, Leach chaired the House banking committee and shared responsibility for passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation, which broke down the wall between commercial banks and investment banking.

Since the current Wall Street collapse began, policy wonks have debated whether this 1999 law led to the present troubles. But let's look at an Obama campaign statement released last March (when he gave a speech on financial regulation) that referred to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act:

Instead of finding the right level of government oversight in a vibrant free market, we've let the special interests set the agenda. Changes in the financial landscape, driven by technology and globalization, made the 1930's era Glass-Steagall Act--the New Deal era law that required that investment banking be kept separate from commercial banking--increasingly inefficient. While reform was desirable, the banking, insurance and securities industries spent over $300 million lobbying Congress to shape that reform to meet their own interests. In the two years before Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, financial service industries gave $58 million to congressional campaigns; $87 million to political parties; and spent $163 million lobbying Washington. But though the regulatory structure was outdated, the need for oversight was not. Unfortunately, in the rush to repeal the law to create immediate opportunities for certain Wall Street firms, little effort went into modernizing the government's supervision of the financial industry--to guard against the potential for conflicts of interest, to insist on transparency, or to ensure proper oversight of new and complex financial products or the dramatic rise of investment banks and non-bank financial institutions, like hedge funds and Structured Investment Vehicles. Nearly a decade later, our financial markets--and everyday Americans--are paying the price.

Paying the price--for a bill that Leach helped to usher through Congress. That's a tough critique.

RUMORS AND REPORTS OF RUMORS....I'm a little torn about whether I should blog more about transition scuttlebutt. On the one hand, this stuff matters a lot for the future course of the administration. If Robert Gates is Secretary of Defense or Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture, that says a lot about the tone and direction of Obama administration policy.

On the other hand, I'd guess that about 99% of these rumors are completely bogus, just random guesses from people with only a tenuous connection to the transition team. In that sense, reacting to the rumors is just dumb. It's the kind of thing that makes us all stupider, not better informed.

Still, chatting about who might go where, and what it all means, isn't such a bad conversation to have, even if the spark is sort of random and poorly sourced. So I dunno. What do you all think of the possibility of Gates staying on as SecDef or Vilsack being appointed Secretary of Agriculture?