• Chart of the Day


    Today’s economic green shoot is the latest Case-Shiller report, which shows that although house prices are still declining, they’re declining at a slower rate than before.  Hooray!

    But Henry Blodget is right about this:

    We’re still talking about an astonishing rate of collapse….So the folks who use this slight moderation in the rate of decline to spin tales of a “bottom” or, worse, a “recovery” are smoking something.  Prices have at least another 10%-15% to fall, and they’ll likely be falling for at least another year or two.

    To show this graphically, I’ve helpfully extended the S&P chart Blodget includes in his post.  It’s this simple: as long as the line is below zero, house prices are dropping.  And if price declines slow down at about the same rate they accelerated, it means we won’t get back to zero until sometime in 2011.  Put even more simply: the price decline between 2007-2009 — which started slowly and then picked up steam — will probably be mirrored by the price decline between 2009-2011 — which started with a head of steam and will end up dropping ever more slowly until it finally flattens out.  And that price drop was about 25%.

    So if anything, Blodget might be too optimistic.  We might still have 25% to go.

  • Leverage


    In last week’s column, Martin Wolf warned that bushels of new regulations won’t save us from another banking crisis.  The problem, he said, is that in a highly leveraged business it makes perfect sense for shareholders (and therefore management) to take enormous risks, and nibbling around the regulatory edges won’t change that.  But what will?  He didn’t really say, prompting me to comment, “Perhaps this column was a season finale cliffhanger and we have to wait until next week for the mind blowing conclusion?”

    I guess it really was, after all, because this week we get Wolf’s answer:

    If institutions are too big and interconnected to fail, and no neat structural solution can be identified, alternatives must be found: much higher capital requirements and greater attention to liquidity are the obvious ones. At present, big financial institutions operate with next to no capital: in the US, the median leverage ratio of commercial banks was 35 to 1 in 2007; in Europe, it was 45 to 1 (see chart). As I noted last week, this makes it rational for shareholders to “go for broke”, with the results we have seen. Allowing institutions to be operated in the interests of shareholders, who supply just 3 per cent of their loanable funds, is insane. Trying to align the interests of management with those of shareholders is then even crazier. With their current capital structure, big financial institutions are a licence to gamble taxpayers’ money.

    So how much capital makes sense for systemically significant institutions? “Much more than today” is the answer. Moreover, the required capital must also not be risk-weighted on the basis of banks’ models, which are not to be trusted. Shareholders’ funds should make up a minimum of 10 per cent of capital. In the US, it used to be far higher.

    ….Within a far better capitalised financial system, it would also be relatively easy to operate a “macroprudential” regime, with the required capital rising during booms and falling during busts. Again, the bigger the stake of shareholders, the less one would worry if the rewards of managers were aligned with them.

    Well, that turned out to be distinctly non-mind blowing, didn’t it?  Regulate leverage wherever, whenever, and in whatever form it appears.  But though Wolf’s answer may have been a bit anticlimactic, at least it has the virtue of being right.

    The big remaining question, though, is: how?  How do you mandate higher capital requirements in a way that’s likely to be robust?  As Wolf says earlier in the column, “‘Never again’ might be too much to ask. But ‘not for a generation’ is essential.”  So how do we build a system of stronger capital requirements likely to persist around the globe for at least a generation?  I haven’t yet heard a really persuasive answer to this, and unfortunately, at this point it’s not clear that anyone is even trying very hard to figure it out.  There are just too many people who want to believe that the crisis is over and we can go back to business as usual with just a bit of minor deck chair rearranging.  Ten years from now we’ll pay the price for this.

  • Senator Al Franken (D–Minn.)


    Norm Coleman has finally conceded the 2008 Minnesota Senate race.  Al Franken will be sworn in soon (probably next week) and Democrats will finally have a majority of 60 in the Senate.

    Which will, of course, make approximately no difference at all.  The corruption of the filibuster into a routine requirement for 60 votes in the Senate (an arguably unconstitutional evolution, IMHO) combined with the continuing presence of half a dozen non-liberals in the Democratic caucus combined with an almost iron self-discipline within the Republican caucus — well, all that combined means that liberals now have the illusion of control of Congress but not the reality.  In a way, it’s almost the worst of all possible worlds.  Dem vs. Dem is now practically the only narrative that anyone will pay attention to, and since unanimous agreement is the only way for that narrative to play out well, this means it’s almost always going to play out badly.

    Still, that’s a glass-half-empty point of view.  So let’s be more positive: one more vote is one more vote.  And unless events are massively unfavorable, the ground still looks favorable to pick up two or three more seats in 2010.  And Franken will probably be a pretty good senator, someone who knows how to talk in plain language and get himself on the talk shows.  As long as he keeps his sense of humor and shows it to us once in a while, I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.

  • Quote of the Day


    From Malcolm Gladwell, responding to yet another book length treatise from one of the information-wants-to-be-free (Free, I tell you, Free!) diehards:

    So how does YouTube bring in revenue? Well, it tries to sell advertisements alongside its videos. The problem is that the videos attracted by psychological Free—pirated material, cat videos, and other forms of user-generated content—are not the sort of thing that advertisers want to be associated with. In order to sell advertising, YouTube has had to buy the rights to professionally produced content, such as television shows and movies. Credit Suisse put the cost of those licenses in 2009 at roughly two hundred and sixty million dollars. For [Chris] Anderson, YouTube illustrates the principle that Free removes the necessity of aesthetic judgment. (As he puts it, YouTube proves that “crap is in the eye of the beholder.”) But, in order to make money, YouTube has been obliged to pay for programs that aren’t crap. To recap: YouTube is a great example of Free, except that Free technology ends up not being Free because of the way consumers respond to Free, fatally compromising YouTube’s ability to make money around Free, and forcing it to retreat from the “abundance thinking” that lies at the heart of Free. Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube will lose close to half a billion dollars this year. If it were a bank, it would be eligible for TARP funds.

    That might not make much sense to you.  Read the whole thing and it will.

  • The Power of Coal


    Ezra Klein notes that coal state Democrats voted against the Waxman-Markey climate bill at a higher rate than non-coal state Dems, but not that much higher.  About one-in-four of the coal state Democrats voted no, compared to only a little over one-in-10 of everyone else:

    Even so, that means only one-in-four of the coal state Democrats voted no. I’d like to see those results drilled down to coal-dependent districts, but still, that’s quite a bit less parochial defection than one might imagine.

    ….Another way of putting this is that the evidence suggests that this vote was less about parochial interests than partisanship and ideology. Plenty of Democrats from coal states made the judgment that they could defend this legislation to their constituents.

    I think I’d look at this a little differently.  Sure, partisan politics was the main divide, but that’s the main divide on everything.  What’s more interesting is that a quarter of the coal state Dems voted against the bill even though it had already been massively watered down to reflect coal state interests. In its current state, Waxman-Markey has very little effect on coal state interests for at least the next decade, and possibly for more like 20 years.  But even so, lots of coal state Dems voted against it despite the fact that passage is a major goal of the party leadership, it’s a major goal of the president, and it’s the right thing to do.  I’d call that pretty damn parochial.

  • Green Dam Spouts a Leak


    For years the Chinese government has relied on the “Great Firewall” to censor its citizens’ access to the internet, primarily by filtering packets based on keyword detection and blocking IP addresses of sites the government dislikes (Falun Gong, pro-democracy sites, etc.).  But the firewall has never been as watertight as the government would like, and the next phase was supposed to be the mandatory installation of a piece of software called “Green Dam” on every new computer sold in China.  Interestingly, Chinese computer users are fighting back and apparently winning:

    In a last-minute climbdown, the Chinese government announced today that it will delay the launch of censorship software that was supposed to have been sold in every computer from tomorrow.

    ….The Guardian struggled to find a single retailer who had Green Dam either installed or bundled with computers. Adding to the mystery, Lenovo, Sony, Dell and Hewlett Packard refused to comment on whether their PCs are now being shipped with the software, as the government ordered them to do last month.

    ….A group of bandit hackers, known as Anonymous, declared “war” on Green Dam and threatened to attack it tomorrow.

    According to a source close to the group, they plan to create a remote computer ‘bot’ that pummels Baidu, Kaixin and other mainland websites with data requests containing forbidden or sensitive terms, such as expletives, Falun Gong, Dalai Lama and “Fifty-cent party member” (the derogatory name given to people paid to post pro-government comments online). They hope the volume of dirty traffic will clog up the keyword filters.

    I don’t have any special comment about this.  It seemed like a quixotic plan from the start, and I’m not all that surprised that it’s been delayed at the least, and possibly abandoned.  It’s just hard to see how it can work in the long term.  Still, as with the twittering in Iran, it’s interesting to see yet another case of how technology can be simultaneously both servant and bane of autocratic governments.

  • Infinite Jest


    So a bunch of folks are reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this summer and blogging about it.  Infinite Summer kicked things off and A Supposedly Fun Blog is the stomping grounds for IJ musings from a bunch of political types.

    I feel kind of funny reading the things everyone has to say.  It’s an iconic book now, the kind of thing you read partly to say you’ve read it, and it’s famously long and complex.  And the footnotes.  The footnotes.

    But that wasn’t my experience of Infinite Jest.  It’s absolutely not the kind of book I’d normally pick up and read, but for some reason I did back in 1997.  I have no idea why.  I’d never heard of the book and I’d never heard of David Foster Wallace, so I didn’t suffer from any preconceptions that I was making a statement by diving into it.  I was completely naive.  And I loved it.  It was long and complex — I could only read about 50 pages a day because my brain just gave out after that many pages — but I never found it pretentious or overly difficult, two adjectives often associated with it.  (A little bit difficult, yes, but a friendly kind of difficult.) To me, Wallace was having fun with the vocabulary he used, not showing off.  I got a huge kick out of the endless footnotes.  And once he finally explained what the chapter headings were about, things started making a whole lot more sense.  (Granted, that doesn’t happen until you’re a couple hundred pages in, but hey — that’s less than 20% of the book!)  If you’re interested, my original 1997 thoughts about IJ are here.

    I don’t think I’m up to the task of rereading it this summer, but I’d recommend it to anyone who asks.  When you’re done, be sure to read the first chapter over again.

  • Medical Myths


    The New York Times summarizes a few “medical myths” today, and Ezra Klein says he’s glad to hear that knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis.  Since I’m a longtime knuckle cracker and it drives my mother crazy, I already knew this.  You gotta keep up with the latest research when you’re arguing with Mom.  But this one surprised me:

    8. Sugar makes kids hyper. Numerous studies show sugar doesn’t affect behavior, but most parents don’t believe this. In one study, parents were told their kids had sugar and they were more likely to report problem behavior — but in reality, the kids had consumed a sugar-free drink.

    Seriously?  Sugar has no effect on kids’ behavior?  This must be one of the most widely believed myths in history.  I’m not sure I want to buy the book all this stuff is excerpted from, but I might head over to the bookstore just to skim this part.  It sounds fascinatingly contrary.

  • Out of the Cities, Not Yet Out of the Country


    Phase 1 of the Iraqi withdrawal plan brokered by George Bush is now complete:

    Six years and three months after the March 2003 invasion, the United States has withdrawn its remaining combat troops from Iraq’s cities, the U.S. commander here said, and is turning over security to Iraqi police and soldiers.

    While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles have largely disappeared from Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq’s other urban centers. Iraqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks overnight in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation’s troubled history. The government staged a military parade to mark the new national holiday of “National Sovereignty Day,” and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made a triumphant, nationally televised address.

    The general consensus seems to be that this is a big deal.  And in one sense it unquestionably is: in a lot of ways, the “surge” was less about the number of new troops sent to Iraq than it was about the way they were deployed.  Gen. David Petraeus insisted from the beginning that they establish a direct presence in neighborhoods throughout Baghdad and other cities, and that presence — along with several other factors — played a substantial role in reducing violence.  Now that presence is gone.

    And yet — those “other factors” were a big deal.  In combination, they were certainly a bigger deal than the surge itself.  So the big question now is whether the Sunni Awakening holds; whether Muqtada al-Sadr has genuinely been defanged; whether the sectarian cleansing of the past couple of years is over; and whether Maliki can keep things together if and when Kirkuk blows up.  And the even bigger question is whether he can do that when he no longer has American troops as a backstop to his own power.

    We won’t know that until U.S. troops actually leave the country, not just regroup outside the cities.  That’s the real test.

  • I’m Back


    New York City was lovely, thanks for asking.  But imagine my surprise when I came back and discovered that my absence meant twice the usual amount of catblogging last Friday.  That’s above and beyond the call of duty from David Corn, who was filling in for me while I was gone.

    Needless to say, I really was on vacation.  My catblogging post was written last Tuesday and showed up on Friday via the miracle of prescheduled posting.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a nice picture of the Statue of Liberty at sunset to prove that I was in the Apple this weekend.  Still not enough?  I also have some lingering inner ear wobbliness thanks to flying with a cold, which I plan to use as an all-purpose excuse for the rest of the week if I write anything unusually off kilter.

    Anyway, this is just a placeholder to let everyone know I’ve returned safely, full of good deli and Italian food.  Blogging on matters of actual substance will resume Tuesday morning.

  • Iran: Election Results Confirmed, Any Protests?


    Kevin is still gone. He’ll return tomorrow. Until then, you have me.

    Today, Iran’s Guardian Council, after a partial recount (that was fast!), declared that–stop the presses!–Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election. Some Iranians not happy with this decision wanted to express their outrage. But, it seems, there were no organized protests. A contact in Tehran, who opposes the government, emailed me this note:

    We went to Valiasr Street, but at this part it was just plain-clothes [security officers] and police. People couldn’t stop and we came back home. Valiasr Street is about 12 miles, longest street of Tehran and Iran. People say in north of Valiasr Street, people gathered but police tried to disperse crowed using tear gas. Today many people in the street were showing V with their fingers to each other. I think hope for change spreads among the people.

    As I mentioned earlier, I’m at the Personal Democracy Forum conference today. And as I got the above email, I was speaking to John Kelly, chief scientist of Morningside Analytics. He has studied Internet usage in Iran. Kelly was telling me that he’s worried that social netowrking could interfere with successful organizing in Iran. How so? After all, such a remark sounded like blasphemy at this gathering, where speakers and attendees routinely speak of the transformative political power of the Internet.

    Kelly explained that his concern was not related to a prospect that had been discussed at a panel discussion on social networks and Iran: that a repressive government can easily penetrate and/or block social networks to undermine or disrupt an opposition. Instead, Kelly said, he wondered if social networking–blogging, Twittering, forwarding email–gives people the feeling they are participating in an opposition and leads them to believe they don’t have to hit the streets.

    Of course, Twitter and the rest can facilliate opposition by spreading the word about protest actions. But does social networking also undercut old-fashioned in-the-street networking? (It seems clear that autocratic governments tend not to yield power without being confronted physically and, often, violently.) I don’t know if Kelly is right or not. But it was interesting to hear him note that the sword of Twitter might have two edges.

    You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

  • That Afghanistan Election


    Kevin is off until Tuesday. I’m blogging for him until then.

    As I noted recently, keep your eye on Afghanistan’s ongoing presidential election. From AFP:

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday criticised the US ambassador’s presence at a meeting calling for a decentralisation of his government, adding he would fight such moves “tooth and nail”.

    Karzai said ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s attendance at a press conference this month, where a leading rival to the president in the August 20 elections had called for the change, was deeply sensitive and “raises concerns”.

    This was especially because of recent US and British media reports of plans laid in “Washington and in London to bring a change into the structure of governance in Afghanistan to weaken the central government of Afghanistan,” Karzai said.

    There’s been plenty of tension between the Obama administration and Karzai. At his first White House press conference, President Obama noted that Karzai’s government was “very detached” from the rest of the country. That was quite a slam.

    Since then–especially when Obama unveiled his strategic review concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan–the White House has tried to downplay its dissastisfaction with Karzai. But Karzai is accutely aware of it. And now he’s making it part of his reelection strategy. This might help him. His government has been plagued by corruption and incompetence. But there’s a lot of popular anger at the United States military for its bombing assaults, which kill innocent civilians, and its raids on homes, which humiliate and intimidate Afghans. If Karzai holds on to power by playing the anti-USA card, it will not make Obama’s already difficult job in Afghanistan any easier.

    You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

     

  • McCain and the Internets


    Kevin is on a break until tomorrow. I’m filling in until he returns to the helm.

    Remember that delicious story last year about John McCain’s admission that he could not use a computer on his own? It seemed to symbolize his out-of-touchness–especially when he had to run against a candidate who seemed to have the Internet in his DNA. At the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference, which began this morning in New York, the first panel discussion included Mark McKinnon, who was an adviser to the McCain campaign (until Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination) and Joe Rospars, who handled new media for the Obama campaign. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of PDF, opened the chat with what he thought was a quasi-provocative question: Mark, did McCain really not understand or use the Internet?

    McKinnon should have had an answer to this obvious question. Something like:

    Well, he was not the most ardent user of email and computers, but he quickly became one and certainly understood the signficance of the Internet in commerce, communication, and democracy. Look, he’s actively Twittering these days. And his Twitters about Iran even get attention from reporters who then ask the White House about them. So he’s fully engaged with this stuff.

    But McKinnon said none of this. In fact, the GOP consultant didn’t even try to answer the question. He went on about how the digital revolution has changed politics, journalism, and the music business. (McKinnon is a failed professional songwriter.) He talked about how the Internet has made it so much easier for campaigns to harnass the enthusiasm of volunteers. (Duh.) He praised Obama–whom he had told McCain he could not work against–for his campaign’s innovation. (Duh, again.) He took a shot at Al Gore for claiming to have invented the Internet. (Which Gore did not claim.)

    But McKinnon didn’t say anything about McCain and the Internet. He totally ducked the question. I would take that silence as confirmation of that 2008 meme. Any other explanation?

    You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

  • Iran: What’s Next?


    Kevin is still away. He’ll be back on Tuesday. I’m filling in until then and will be blogging from the Personal Democracy Forum conference on Monday.

    On Sunday, thousands of Iranians protested against the government, gathering at the Goba mosque in Tehran. Mir Hossein Mousvai’s wife and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, were part of the demonstration. Mousvai, according to some reports, addressed the crowd via a cellphone. But this rally, smaller than previous demonstrations, will likely not cause the headline writers of The New York Times to reconsider the title on Sunday’s dispatch from Iran: “In Tehran, a Mood of Melancholy Descends.”

    It does seem that the opposition might have lost steam–though we ought to recall that it took the last Iranian revolution two years to take hold and take power. On Sunday, a Tehran  filmmaker I’ve met via email sent me the below dispatch. This person is a Karroubi supporter and wants those of us in the West to realize that not all the opposition Iranians are Mousavi fans. It’s a good point, since conventional media coverage often does turn complicated, full-of-nuance situations into binary, easy-to-shorthand episodes. S/he believes the opposition could regain momentum in the days ahead and writes:

    It’s been said both Mousavi and Karroubi are under house arrest, but every once in a while they are allowed to appear in public. Karroubi stayed in the Goba mosque just half an hour while he joined protesters and walked away with them. I think he couldn’t stay more.

    Well it’s like new wave of demonstrations gonna start in next days, people talk about making a long human chain tomorrow. New faces coming up, just like [cleric] Hadi Ghaffari and some Ayattollahs. There is video and audio file of Ghaffari’s speech against Khamenei on the Internet. It’s just released today and I think in couple of days the whole country know about it and it may encourage people to go on.

    People were waiting for Hashemi Rafsanjani’s speech. They counted on him to stand in front of Khamenei. But after two weeks he spoke today and in a very moderate way supported Khamenei. Now it’s like the waiting is over and there is no middle path to go.

    You know , I think the government also enjoys this situation! I mean if they wanted to steal votes they could do it in a more convincing way. They could simply say Ahmadinejad has 500,000 more votes than Mousavi. They want to make the people angry. Ahmadinejad calls people who voted for other candidates “dust.” Khamenei threathens the nation while he could have made a more cautious speech.They attack ordinary people. I don’t know what the hell is going on behind the scenes, but pieces of puzzle just don’t match.

    I think Mousavi was not the man this nation needed, All he talked about before election was that “I have these plans because Khomeini wanted this for this society”. It’s sad the people who were pissed off at religion suddenly started repeating his religious slogans. People wanted a secular government but since Mousavi came everybody just forgot that aim.

    What really upsets me is that we were 13 million voted for Karroubi. We protest the election results. Most of the politician arrested in past days were supporters of Karroubi, but the whole world consider us in the opposition as Mousavi’s supporters!

    Those of us watching from far away cannot easily suss out what is happening in Iran, and alas, the same applies to the nation’s own citizens.

    You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

  • Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan….


    Kevin is off for a few days–and not in Argentina. He’ll be back and ready to blog on Tuesday. In the meantime, I will be your pilot.

    Under usual circumstances, the withdrawal of US troops from a theater of war would be considered a big deal.

    Not these days.

    The United States has begun to pull troops out of Iraq, and there’s not much attention being paid–even with the explosion of violence in Iraq this week. (Insert gratuitous Michael Jackson reference here.) And there are other milestones to look ahead to within Iraq. Reuters notes:

    Many observers see Iraq’s most crucial milestone being the parliamentary election next January, rather than the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from town and cities by the end of this month.

    That vote will be a defining test of whether the country’s feuding factions can live together after the years of sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion.

    “Security gains in a narrow sense will be of limited value unless the … election is turned into a thoroughly inclusive affair where Iraqis get the opportunity to discuss fundamental issues of national reconciliation in an open atmosphere,” said Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of Iraq-focused website www.historiae.org

    This is something else to look forward to being insufficiently covered within the American media.

    Just like the Afghanistan presidential election campaign now in process. From Politico:

    Without strong preemptive action by the Obama administration and the international community, Afghanistan’s impending elections could be just as suspect — and have just as dire consequences — as Iran’s, a top opponent to Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed on Tuesday.

    “The possibility of a Kenya or a Zimbabwe or an Iran looms large,” said Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and Karzai adviser now challenging him for president in the Aug. 20 election.

    Well, what would you expect a Karzai challenger to say? But what if he’s right? A bad election in Afghanistan would truly undermine the US operation there. The International Crisis Group, a savvy NGO, has put out a report outlining the election challenges in Afghanistan. The group’s South Asia project director, Samina Ahmed, notes: 

    Ultimately, it is the perception of the Afghan population that will measure electoral success. If they are to be encouraged to vote, they must be confident that their ballots will count. But if perceived to be unfairly conducted, elections could provide a potential flashpoint.

    Isn’t Afghanistan already a flashpoint? Ugh.

    You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

     

  • Has Obama Done Enough?


    Despite that cat blog posting you see below this one, Kevin is on vacation. At least, he’s suposed to be on vacation. Expect him back with non-cat blogs on Tuesday. I’m subbing until then.

    Okay, I know that Michael Jackson died, but there’s a bill heading to a vote in the House this afternoon that’s billed by President Barack Obama as a “historic first step” toward dealing with the threat of climate change. As I type, it looks like a nail-biter.

    At the daily White House press briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked what Obama was doing today to help pass this legislation. Gibbs said that the president had made “a few” calls to House members. A few? Does that sound like a big push? We weren’t given many more details. But it certainly didn’t seem as if Obama is pulling an all-out LBJ. Was the White House trying not to attach Obama’s prestige to a cap and trade bill that might crash and burn? Hard to know what’s going on behind the scenes. But I certainly wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall in Rahm Emanuel’s office—unless, of course, Obama is there. (Smack!)

    I wonder if Obama and his team have made efficient use of Obama Nation—that is, those millions of people who supported his campaign. Yesterday Organizing for America—the offshoot of the Obama presidentical campaign, which is housed within the Democratic National Committee—sent out an email to its list (of presumably millions), asking followers to visit a website page that shows how to call your representatives and what to say in support of the energy bill. It’s a pretty spiffy and sophisticated web operation. Was it kicked into gear too late? Obama’s millions were not fully mobilized prior to this late stage.

    But you can’t call this an error until the votes are counted. If the bill passes, the White House played it right. If not….

    Meanwhile, Al Gore stayed away from the House today—there was some talk in Washington that he would parachute in—and posted a blog item explaining his support of the bill:

    There is no back-up plan.  There is not a stronger bill waiting to pass the House of Representatives.  It’s time to get started on a plan that will create jobs, increase our national security, and build the clean energy economy that will Repower America.

    Please contact your Member of Congress today.

    Gore has not been a major presence in the debate on this bill. Democratic strategists must assume that he doesn’t help much with those Ds or Rs on the fence. That’s probably an accurate assessment. But if the bill flops, media commentators will be consumed with second-guessing how the White House and Speaker Pelosi handled it—if they’re not busy pondering the Michael Jackson autopsy results.

    You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

     

     

     

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 26 June 2009


    Sure, I might be on vacation, but that doesn’t mean there’s no Friday Catblogging this week.  What kind of monster do you think I am?

    But if I’m on vacation, then Inkblot and Domino get a vacation too.  So this week, courtesy of reader Randy G., we have some guest catblogging.  The pile of furballs on the right are Lennie and Louie, and as you can guess, they’re littermates.  Sigh.  I want a pair of littermates some day.  They’ll be 14 years old next month, but if you’d like to see pictures of them as kittens, along with their mentors Ralph and Alice, just click here.  It’s bonus historical kitten blogging!

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 26 June 2009


    I’m subbing for Kevin until Tuesday. He’s probably not leaving his room, so he can watch all the Michael Jackson coverage.

    Okay, I don’t like cats. I’m allergic to cats. They make me sneeze. Once, a tabby clawed me and my arm swelled up. I looked like The Hulk. Or, part of The Hulk. Two years back, I did rescue a cat, and now it lives in the house across the street and visits our yard regularly. I named it Miles. Why? Just seemed to fit. But that was an exception. Whatcha gonna do when a living creature gets caught in brush behind a fence? Just listen it to it yelp while you’re lying in a hammock swatting mosquitos? Nah, you gotta do something, right? So I did. But don’t get the wrong impression. I don’t like cats. Dogs are jake with me–but some make me wheeze. Which is why my kids want a Portuguese Water Dog. Hypo-allergenic, they say. Yeah, right. It sure doesn’t hurt that Sasha and Malia got one–which, I’m betting, raised the price of a PWD pup by a factor of twelve. Can’t wait to go shopping for one of those.

    But I’m off-topic. Cats. Cat blogging. Just. Don’t. Get. It. But tradition–that I understand. Keeping customers satisfied–that I really understand. Don’t want to lose no eyeballs. So if the cables can go wacko over Jacko, I can go bats over cats. That is, with the help of longtime Kevin Drum reader BH, who foreseeing my dilemma emailed me pics of his kitties. At least, he says they’re his cats. On the Internet, who knows? Names: Walter and Milo. And I don’t know nothing else about them. So here’s your cat blog.

    Milo sitting in an IKEA chair. I hope he didn’t have to assemble it.

    Walter and Milo after a fight. If only Angelina and Megan could make up so easily

     

     

  • Merkel Plays Hard


    Kevin has hit the road for a few days. He’ll be back on Tuesday. I’m sitting in his cyber-chair until then.

    After President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a sit-down at the White House this morning, the two held a joint press conference at the White House. There were a few questions about Iran, and Merkel talked tough on the subject without causing ruptures. She declared, “we will not forget” what has happened to participants in the Iranian oppoosition who have been suppressed, beaten, and killed. “We will do everything to identify the exact number of victims,” she said, and who they were. “Iran cannot count on the world community turning a blind eye,” she said. Merkel noted that it’s “so important” for dissidents “to know that people somewhere else in the world” are watching what they are doing. By speaking in such terms, she went–for good or bad–further than Obama, who did again condemn the Iranian crackdown on the opposition. Merkel referred to concrete steps that can be taken, at least in retrospect. And I wonder if Obama will feel compelled at some point to do likewise. Then again, that will probably depend on what happens with the opposition in Iran. If things quiet down, such pressure will ease.

    At the same time, Merkel said, she “completely agreed” with Obama that the United States and Germany had to work with Russia and China to find productive ways of engaging with Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

    Now, Germany ain’t the United States, and it certainly doesn’t have the same bad history with Iran. Merkel has far more latitude to express outrage and to propose responses. Obama is probably still getting the balance right. Sometimes it just doesn’t look pretty.

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  • Best in Blog: 26 June 2009


    Sure, Michael Jackson’s brilliance changed music, as everyone who’s ever moonwalked, breakdanced, or lugged a boom box to school to play “Thriller” during recess knows. But now the recently departed King of Pop is also changing the weekend news arc. Will this be the last we hear of Iran from the MSM?

    Our Friday faves:

    1) Guess Who’s Selling Wall Street’s Bull?

    Hint: He was a Bush aide who cooked up a phony pitch for the Iraq War. Read more.

     

    2) The Biofuel Boondoogle

    Midwestern Congressman Collin Peterson introduces the week’s worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill. Read more.

     

    3) BK’s New BJ Ad, Now With More Ick Factor

    Have you seen the burger-as-blow-job Burger King ad just that burst onto the scene? Here it is.