Mojo - November 2008

Solicitor General Says Uighur Detainees Have An Immigration Problem

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 3:05 PM PST

The Bush administration is clearly getting desperate: Monday, it sent the Solicitor General of the United States to federal court to try once again to justify its detention of 17 innocent Uighur detainees held for the past six years at Guantanamo Bay. The administration's top litigator, Greg Garre usually spends his time at the Supreme Court, but the administration dispatched its big gun to the DC Circuit courtroom to make its best possible case that no court in the land has the power to tell the Bush administration what to do. It will not go down in history as one of Garre's finest moments.

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As Obama Taps Larry Summers, Recalling Summer's Days as a Regulation Foe

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 2:58 PM PST

On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama announced his economic team, noting that Lawrence Summers would be the director of his National Economic Council. In touting Summers, Obama praised the former treasury secretary for his work during the Clinton years

Larry helped guide us through several major international financial crises – and was a central architect of the policies that led to the longest economic expansion in American history, with record surpluses, rising family incomes and more than 20 million new jobs. He also championed a range of measures – from tax credits to enhanced lending programs to consumer financial protections – that greatly benefited middle income families.
As a thought leader, Larry has urged us to confront the problems of income inequality and the middle class squeeze, consistently arguing that the key to a strong economy is a strong and growing middle class....And as one of the great economic minds of our time, Larry has earned a global reputation for being able to cut to the heart of the most complex and novel policy challenges.

While some of that might be true, Summers has been a controversial figure, and it's likely no accident that he is being handed a position that does require him to be confirmed by the Senate.

But despite Summer's intellect and experience, it's worth remembering that he did blow one of the major calls of the 1990s: what to do about financial derivatives--those esoteric financial products (such as credit default swaps) that helped grease the way to the subprime meltdown. Not only did Summers oppose greater regulation for those financial instruments; he led the opposition against it.

An Immediate Obama Effect in African-American Communities?

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 1:48 PM PST

Spotted over at Ben Smith's space, an attempt by the Washington DC police department to stop gun violence by invoking the President-elect.

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A quick look at the crime map application hosted by the DC police department shows that 1,726 crimes have been committed in the District of Columbia since Obama's election on November 4, an 11 percent drop from the same period last year. Unfortunately, homicides are up 100 percent, suggesting the need for this initiative and many others.

New Report Shows What The Economic Bailout Is Really Costing Us

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 1:27 PM PST

Today, as Obama introduced his economic team, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released a new report (.pdf) adding some context to the sheer sums of money being thrown at the financial-industry bailout. The top-line finding? The US and Europe have committed about $4.1 trillion so far, or about 40 times as much as they've spent on combating climate change and global poverty this year. The report, called "Skewed Priorities," speculates that Western governments will use the economic crisis as an excuse to pull back from their commitments to climate and development programs.

According to IPS Director John Cavanagh, "The financial crisis is only one of multiple crises that will affect every nation — rich or poor. Skyrocketing poverty and unemployment in the developing world will mean even more brutal global competition for jobs. Climate change imperils the very future of the planet. And yet thus far, the richest nations in the world appear fixated almost entirely on responding to the financial crisis, and specifically, on propping up their own financial firms."

Yes, the bailout seems necessary (at least that's what they tell us... and, as any of my childhood math teachers would attest, I am not one to make a judgment on that issue), but the IPS report does at least let us know what we're sacrificing in the name of righting our financial ship. From a press release announcing the report's publication:

Obama's Economic Stimulus Package: Whose Pump Will It Prime?

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 1:18 PM PST

"I'm not going to discuss numbers right now," Barack Obama said this morning at his press conference, where he introduced his economic team but held off on providing details of their plans to respond to the deepening recession. In fact, the devil will be in those details. They will be a test of the president-elect's willingness to take bold action, as well as of his basic ideological approach to economics and social justice.

While various experts have projected a stimulus package costing anywhere from $600 billion to $1 trillion, Obama would only say that "we need a big stimulus package." At the same time, he declared, "95 percent of workers will receive a net tax cut," with those earning over $250,000 a year eventually paying "a little bit more." He has also indicated that he may take no immediate action to roll back Bush's tax cuts to the rich, but simply let them expire in 2010. So how will the Obama administration pay for a big stimulus program? For the most part through Keynesian style pump-priming—government spending that increases the huge deficit over the short term, in hopes of reducing it later under a recovered economy. It's the approach taken, most famously, by FDR—the man to whom the Obama is now being compared on a daily basis.

In fact, deficit spending has long been undertaken not only by New Deal Democrats, but by Republicans from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. These so-called fiscal conservatives have been only too happy to run up the national debt when it suits their ideological goals, whether they be military buildups or corporate handouts. Obama and his team will need to decide which larger goals their deficit spending will serve—what pumps they want to prime, and how. In particular, will their program to stimulate the economy reject the discredited "trickle down" approach, and address the extremes of wealth and poverty created over the last 30 years?

Will Ken Starr Defend Prop 8 in CA Supreme Court?

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 12:52 PM PST

ken%20starr.jpgOverheard last week in DC at a right-wing legal convention: "We've all but confirmed that Ken Starr is going to take the case."--Jordan Lorence, senior counsel, Alliance Defense Fund.

The involvement of the former Clinton special prosecutor in efforts to preserve California's new ban on gay marriage really wouldn't come as much of a surprise. Two years ago, Starr, now dean of the Pepperdine law school, represented a bunch of anti-gay marriage groups, including the Mormon Church, in amicus briefs in some of California's gay marriage litigation. He's been involved in the issue for a while, now. Given the intense interest in other people's sex lives that Starr demonstrated during his investigation of the Lewinsky scandal, he seems a perfect fit for the job.

Of course, when I asked him at the Federalist Society conference to confirm the gossip, he said with a laugh, "No comment." Later, I asked Lorence whether he had indeed confirmed Starr as counsel. Looking a bit shocked that he'd been caught blabbing out of school, he pleaded ignorance, suggesting that he had no intelligence on the matter whatsoever, despite his earlier boasts to a Harvard law student about his inside line to Starr. He did confirm that he would not be doing the arguing himself, nor would another lawyer from the alliance who has argued such cases before. I take all this to mean that Starr is likely to take the case.


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Hillary to State Appears a Done Deal, But What About Bill's Overseas Donors?

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 9:07 AM PST

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It appears to be a done deal: President-elect Barack Obama will appoint Senator Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. But while the Obama camp's vetting of Bill Clinton's foreign entanglements and activities continues, there is one thorny matter that needs to be addressed publicly: the identity of the donors to Bill Clinton's foundation and presidential library.

The former president has raised millions of dollars from overseas officials and corporations for his foundation and library--while also pocketing mega-speaking fees from businesses abroad. (He's also struck an unusual deal with transnational mining conglomerate head Frank Giustra.) All of this raises potential conflicts and ethics questions. The basic dilemma: can Bill Clinton receive millions of dollars from foreign nations and corporations that may have an interest in US foreign policy while his wife oversees US foreign policy? Unless Clinton opts out of his (often admirable) globe-trotting activities, this situation seems almost too knotty to be untied.

But aides to Obama and Bill Clinton aides are trying to work out rules that would govern the former president's actions. Last week, The Washington Post reported:

Obama's Treasury Nominee Tim Geithner: Yet More Power for the Federal Reserve

| Sun Nov. 23, 2008 10:03 AM PST

Barack Obama's reported latest cabinet pick shows that even the collapse of the U.S. economy is not enough to challenge the unbridled power of the Federal Reserve. The president-elect's choice for Secretary of the Treasury is Tim Geithner, head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, the most powerful bank in the system. The nation's leadership in both parties spent the better part of two decades unquestioningly following the man they called "the Oracle"—Fed chair Alan Greenspan--down the road to ruin. Now, they eagerly await the arrival of another Fed insider to lead them back into the light.

Clearly, the new administration and the Democratic Congress do not plan to in any way challenge the fundamentally undemocratic and fatally compromised nature of the Fed, which is not a government agency, but a "quasi-public" system effectively owned and run by the banking industry itself. It's no surprise, then, that the Fed so often operates in the interests of the private banks, even when they run counter to the public interest—as it did under Greenspan, when its policies fueled, rather than reigned in, the credit bubble and accompanying fiscal disasters. What is more suprising is the fact that those sworn to serve the public still show so little inclination to demand more transparency or accountability from this all-powerful institution.

Obama's No-Drama Pick for Treasury: Tim Geithner

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 2:11 PM PST

Various news outlets are reporting that on Monday, Barack Obama will announce his pick for Treasury secretary: Tim Geithner.

Compared to the other leading contender, Larry Summers, a former Clinton Treasury secretary, Geithner, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, is relatively unknown. Geithner is a career economist (with no Ph.D.)--no Wall Street master of the universe--who has worked in three administrations for presidents of both parties. He's been described as not an imposing figure, but a rather competent and steady person. Which may be why the Dow Jones shot up after word of his appointment leaked. (Take that, Hank Paulson!)

In March, Financial Times published a profile of Geithner. Some interesting bits:

Amateur Video Taken Inside Somalia's "Pirate Town" of Eyl

| Fri Nov. 21, 2008 12:20 PM PST

This footage, taken from CNN, is interesting purely for voyeuristic reasons. Where do these Somali pirates come from? To where do they return when their pirating is done? The town of Eyl in Somalia's Puntland region is believed to be a prime operating base of Somalia's pirate class, a place where virtually everyone is involved in some way in the plundering of commercial ships passing through the Gulf of Aden. Not much happens in this video (and by that I mean, like, nothing), but never has a lonely, windswept walk along a dirt road seemed so fascinating. Take a look.