Kevin Drum

How to Tame a Deficit

| Mon May 10, 2010 6:20 PM EDT

The Economist's Allison Schrager writes about America's future:

Willem Buiter reckons the American debt situation has gotten so bad that future policy makers will face two options: default or inflate. That’s certainly a possibility, but not yet inevitable. If the American economy experiences reasonably high growth in the future (at least on par with the last few decades) AND the government miraculously summons the political will to cut entitlements, America can spare itself a sovereign debt crisis.

Hmmm. I could swear there's an alternative that's missing here. Maybe something you could do in addition to cuts. But what? The opposite of cutting something, I suppose. Damn. It's on the tip of my tongue. I'm sure it will come to me in a few more minutes.

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HuffPo Turns Five

| Mon May 10, 2010 2:02 PM EDT

CJR asked a few writers to give their short takes on the Huffington Post on the occasion of its fifth birthday, and I think Ryan Chittum captured its zeitgeist the best:

Let’s get it out of the way up top that I think The Huffington Post is a mess — a schizophrenic, mostly unreadable hunk of tabloid journalism leavened with serious stuff.

I mean, where else can you read a droning missive on the BP oil spill by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, helpfully identified as “Spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide,” on the same screen as “Lawrence Taylor RAPE Arrest: NFL Legend ARRESTED For Attacking Teenager” and “Elisabeth Hasselbeck SLAMS Erin Andrews’ Clothing, Excuses Stalker”?

Eyeballs JARRED. Reader GOOGLY-EYED After Reading HuffPo.

At the same time, he's also right about this: "But that’s a superficial (if understandable) read these days. In the space I cover, the business press, the site has been doing some serious reporting lately." HuffPo does do a fair amount of very good reporting on business and financial reform issues. It requires a seemingly endless stream of flotsam and jetsam to subsidize all this, but hey — you've got to subsidize it somehow. If you're not the Wall Street Journal, covering this stuff just doesn't pay.

I suppose this kind of tabloidy mashup of salacious trivia with serious reporting might be a model for the future. Not the one we all had in mind when news first started going online, but it wouldn't be the first time the human race was surprised by what ended up working and what didn't.

Quote of the Day: Men on the Court

| Mon May 10, 2010 12:50 PM EDT

From Kathryn Jean Lopez, tweeting about Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court:

just wondering: are men allowed to be nominated to the supreme court anymore?

It's pretty remarkable just how little it takes to bring out the pity party in conservatives. Two women in a row and suddenly men are an endangered class in the American legal profession. Conservatives may not care much about discrimination against minorities, but they sure do snap to attention quickly whenever they spy any potential slight against the majority, don't they?

Gordon Brown Quits

| Mon May 10, 2010 12:28 PM EDT

Well, over in Britain Gordon Brown is out. He now admits that the election was a judgment by the voters and plans to ask the Labour Party to organize an election for a new party leader. From the Guardian's blog:

Here are the main points.

  • Gordon Brown is going to resign. He wants to stand down as Labour leader before the next Labour conference in the autumn. But he intends to remain as prime minister until then (if he can).
  • Nick Clegg has formally opened talks with Labour. Brown said that Clegg rang him recently (presumably after the Lib Dem meeting) to say he would like to have formal talks with a Labour team.
  • Brown is proposing a "progressive" government, comprising Labour, the Lib Dems, and presumably the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and the Alliance. Electoral reform would be a priority.

Alex Massie comments:

And so, playing Salome, Clegg has got Gordon's head on a platter and we now have the extraordinary sight of the Lib Dems negotiating with both parties at the same time. This is madness and invites the public to view the Lib Dems as a party of political hoors prepared to sell their services to the highest-bidder for nothing more than self-evidently narrow, selfish interests.

That's their choice but it reduces their seriousness and seems likely to leave Clegg open to the notion that he's no better, and perhaps worse, than any other politician. This invites all kinds of trouble for the Lib Dems at the next election.

Constitutionally there's no problem with having another "unelected" Prime Minister but having two in a row brought to power in such a fashion seems, politically at least, a rather different matter. And how on earth can Clegg agree to a coalition deal without knowing who the Prime Minister is going to be?

So what the hell is going on? Perhaps as Philip Stevens suggests this is simply a wrecking maneovre by Brown. Whatever else it is, however, it's not necessarily the kind of arrangment that is likely to leave voters more enthused about the idea of electoral reform.

Stay tuned! It's certainly more interesting than American politics at the moment.

Easy Confirmation for Kagan?

| Mon May 10, 2010 12:17 PM EDT

Over at the Corner, Ed Whelan runs down a list of reasons to oppose Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. In a nutshell, they are (1) she has no judicial experience, (2) she's an Obama crony, (3) Goldman Sachs, (4) she opposed military recruiting at Harvard because of DADT, (5) she has a thin written record, (6) aside from national security issues she's probably a garden variety liberal, and (7) we need to see her records from the Clinton White House.1

I consider this basically good news for Kagan. I assume this is a decent summary of all the available conservative oppo research on Kagan, and there's nothing new here. Hell, most of it has already been hashed out by the left, let alone the right. So this suggests that conservatives don't have anything more than this, and all they can hope for is that they get their hands on something juicy when Obama turns over Kagan's Clinton-era records. Which, frankly, seems unlikely given Kagan's obviously cautious nature even in private. The odds are pretty long that anything seriously embarrassing is lurking there.

If it turns out that Whelan's list is all they have, I doubt that conservative objections will gain even a little bit of traction. It's a nothingburger. She'll be donning her robe and hiring clerks by summer.

1Plus she's a bad driver. If Whelan is that desperate, there really must not be anything better he can come up with.

Will Payday Lending Be Regulated?

| Mon May 10, 2010 11:40 AM EDT

Felix Salmon comments on the latest bit of financial reform insanity:

It's completely insane that a system which protects the relatively well-off customers of banks might include a carve-out specifically excluding the unbanked from any federal consumer protection.

What's he talking about? Payday lenders, of course, who are in an uproar over the idea that their business ought to be subject to any serious federal regulation at all. Keep your eyes open to see if this piece of the Senate reform package slowly gets whittled away until it's meaningless.

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Kagan to be Nominated to Supreme Court

| Mon May 10, 2010 1:39 AM EDT

Well, Elena Kagan it is. No surprise there. But I sure hope this bit of analysis from the New York Times is wrong:

In his selection of finalists, Mr. Obama effectively framed the choice so that he could seemingly take the middle road by picking Ms. Kagan, who correctly or not was viewed as ideologically between Judge Wood on the left and Judge Garland in the center.

Judge Garland was widely seen as the most likely alternative to Ms. Kagan and the one most likely to win easy confirmation. Well respected on both sides of the aisle....But Mr. Obama ultimately opted to save Judge Garland for when he faces a more hostile Senate and needs a nominee with more Republican support. Democrats expect to lose seats in this fall’s election, so if another Supreme Court seat comes open next year and Mr. Obama has a substantially thinner margin in the Senate than he has today, Judge Garland would be an obvious choice.

Fine. But right now Obama has the biggest Democratic majority in the Senate he's ever going to have. So why not use it to ensure a solidly progressive nominee like Diane Wood instead of an ideological cipher like Kagan?

This isn't the worst thing in the world. It's not as if I think Kagan is a reactionary in sheep's clothing or anything like that. But I still don't get it. When Obama compromises on something like healthcare reform, that's one thing. Politics sometimes forces tough choices on a president. But why compromise on presidential nominees? Why Ben Bernanke? Why Elena Kagan? He doesn't have to do this. Unfortunately, the most likely answer is: he does it because he wants to. Some socialist, eh?

Europe Finally Stops Dithering

| Mon May 10, 2010 1:21 AM EDT

The EU has finally stepped up and created a trillion dollar fund to defend the euro against "wolfpack" investors who have been betting heavily against Greek/Portuguese/Spanish bonds and sending bond yields through the roof. However, the biggest part of the fund isn't quite ready for prime time yet:

The €440 billion pledged by euro-zone governments isn't immediately available cash in hand. Instead, a specially created off-balance-sheet entity will borrow the money, as needed, and then lend it out to the country or countries in trouble. The special entity's borrowings will be guaranteed by euro-zone countries — excluding the country asking for aid. This construction helps skirt the EU treaties' prohibition on one state's assuming the debt of another....This portion would need approval by the parliaments of contributing countries, something that could delay a rapid payout of funds.

Italics mine. I wonder if there are going to be any recalcitrant parliaments out there? And I wonder if any of the dozen or so fights it's going to take to get approval for this fund will just end up making Europe look even more feckless than it already does? Remember what happened when Congress initially voted against TARP?

This could turn out very well or it could.....turn out the opposite. Keep your fingers crossed.

(On the bright side, the WSJ also reports that "perhaps more important is the news that the ECB will act to shore up the shaky european bond market. Many investors had been calling for the ECB to take this step, and the ECB's failure to announce such a plan following a ECB governing council meeting last week was a key contributor to a significant sell-off Thursday." This is similar in spirit to what the Fed did in 2007-08, and since the ECB can do it unilaterally it will kick in immediately.)

Quote of the Day: Sarah P. on Mother's Day

| Sun May 9, 2010 1:03 PM EDT

This is, seriously, a Mother's Day tweet from Sarah Palin:

U.S. Moms: we are thankful 4 freedom!Despicable treatment of women in Iran(setting U.N.policy on women’s rights)make U.N.credibility a joke

We bloggers have an impressive ability to politicize anything and an even more impressive ability to somehow connect the day's events to whatever our personal hobbyhorses happen to be. But we are as children compared to Sarah.

Personally, I'm thinking of dinner and flowers for Mother's Day. But that's just me.

Some Kagan Contrarianism

| Sun May 9, 2010 12:54 PM EDT

I think I might have to award Jonathan Zasloff this month's Slate award for awesome contrarianism for his post today about Elena Kagan. After noting that she somehow managed to get tenure at the University of Chicago and then become dean of Harvard Law with a shockingly thin academic record, he says that's a feature, not a bug:

This shows that Kagan may not be a great scholar, but she is enormously skilled at impressing older colleagues — and that’s just what the doctor ordered for this appointment.

Essentially, any Supreme Court appointment this cycle has two tasks: 1) vote the right way; and 2) convince Anthony Kennedy to do the same.1 Kagan seems to have the skills to do that.

Indeed, if you think about it, those justices with the greatest scholarly credentials have not generally been thought of as effective concerning the Court’s internal politics. Holmes and Brandeis were essentially isolated dissenters. As Richard Lazarus has demonstrated, Antonin Scalia has consistently undermined his own authority within the Court by insisting on his own theories of things. It is people like Earl Warrren, William Brennan, John Marshall, and John Paul Stevens, who were plenty smart but not infatuated with their own jurisprudential theories, who got things done.

Barack Obama is a student of the Court. I think he understands this history. And it’s why he’s leaning toward Kagan.

Well, OK. But if you want to play in the big leagues, Jonathan, you need to add a few paragraphs about the history of ass kissing and how it's underrated by mainstream scholars. Then throw in an example of an obscure but history-changing court decision that was turned around at the last second by an epic case of brown nosing, preferably something from a district tribunal in 19th century Northern Rhodesia. You'll have the crowd on its feet!

Anyway, Diane Wood has six kids and plays the oboe. I'll bet she can convince just about anybody of just about anything. I have a pitch in to Jacob Weisberg for a piece that explains the whole thing.

1On another note, maybe it's time for all of us to tone it down on the whole Anthony Kennedy thing. The more we talk about how the next nominee needs to be someone who can wrap Kennedy around their little finger, the more likely Kennedy is to get grouchy and peeved about the whole thing. So let's all just keep this between ourselves from now on, OK?