The oh so serious Bill Kristol has some advice for the Obama administration and how to handle any sort of diplomacy with Iran. Regime change is the only "serious" and "realistic" policy the United States now needs with Iran in Kristol's view. I'm so glad listening to his similar advice for the Bush administration on Iraq has worked out so well for all of us.
Archives for June, 2009
It's getting to the point where I don't even want to read Simon Johnson anymore. Yes, he's right. If we reduce oversight safeguards to "trust us," we have a system far too ripe for corruption - in fact, almost asking for it:
Buried in the late wire news on Friday – and therefore barely registering in the newspapers over the weekend – Treasury announced the rules for pricing its option to buy shares in banks that participated in TARP.
The Treasury Department said the banks will make the first offer for the warrants. Treasury will then decide to sell at that price or make a counteroffer. If the government and a bank cannot agree on a fair price for the warrants, the two sides will have the right to use private appraisers.
This is a mistake.
The only sensible way to dispose of these options is for Treasury to set a floor price, and then hold an auction that permits anyone to buy any part – e.g., people could submit sealed bids and the highest price wins.
In Treasury’s scheme, there is significant risk of implicit gift exchange with banks - good jobs/political support/other favors down the road – or even explicit corruption. For sure, there will be accusations that someone at Treasury was too close to this or that bidder. Why would Treasury’s leadership want to be involved in price setting in this fashion?
Treasury apparently sees corruption as an issue about personalities (i.e., WE aren’t ever corrupt) rather than about institutional structure. For example, if you create an arrangement that easily permits corruption, such as through nontransparent decision making or negotiation around warrant pricing, you set up incentives to be corrupt. Either existing people change their behavior, or new people will seek appointment in order to participate in corruption.
This is also a point, by the way, that Treasury has been making for years through its representatives at the International Monetary Fund – including during the Clinton Administration, when the same people were running U.S. economic policy as now. It’s a good point and never easy for countries-with-potential-corruption to hear. It applies as much to the United States as to anywhere else.
Treasury will argue the disposal of warrants is a one-off event, but this is not a plausible line: it is part of a much longer series of nontransparent decisions over finance. The attitude that “we can be nontransparent because we will never be corrupt” creates reputational risk for both Treasury and participating banks. If extraordinary support for the financial sector lasts several years, we will likely have at least one time-consuming and damaging investigation into all the details of these settlements.
I'd love to tell you that I'm so erudite and cosmopolitan that I eagerly gobble up The New Yorker cover to cover every month. But it would be a lie. The honest truth is that I read The New Yorker occasionally when articles come up through keyword searches for research for the site and when other bloggers I respect recommend an article.
But this article on Leon Panetta at the CIA was sent to me by one of my Iranian friends (living abroad) who has been filling my inbox with reports of protests and the rumors flying around Tehran. This article has filled her with dread of American interference in Iran.
In fairness, it's a reasonably balanced article; it fairly states the delicate balance that Panetta must tread between the all-too-often opposing forces in the Agency and the Executive Branch. But this section, buried deep on page 6 of the 8 page article, hit me (like my friend) right in the gut:
No criminal charges have ever been brought against any C.I.A. officer involved in the torture program, despite the fact that at least three prisoners interrogated by agency personnel died as the result of mistreatment. In the first case, an unnamed detainee under C.I.A. supervision in Afghanistan froze to death after having been chained, naked, to a concrete floor overnight. The body was buried in an unmarked grave. In the second case, an Iraqi prisoner named Manadel al-Jamadi died on November 4, 2003, while being interrogated by the C.I.A. at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad. A forensic examiner found that he had essentially been crucified; he died from asphyxiation after having been hung by his arms, in a hood, and suffering broken ribs. Military pathologists classified the case a homicide. A third prisoner died after an interrogation in which a C.I.A. officer participated, though the officer evidently did not cause the death. (Several other detainees have disappeared and remain unaccounted for, according to Human Rights Watch.)
During his tenure at the C.I.A., John Helgerson, the former inspector general, forwarded the crucifixion case, along with an estimated half-dozen other incidents, to the Justice Department, for possible prosecution. But the case files have languished. An official familiar with the cases told me that the agency has deflected inquiries by the Senate Intelligence Committee seeking information about any internal disciplinary action. (Helgerson told me, “Some individuals have been disciplined. And others no longer work at the agency.”)
Panetta acknowledges that there are some people still at the C.I.A. who may be tainted by the torture program. Nevertheless, he says, “I really respect the people who say we shouldn’t have gotten involved in the interrogation business but we had to do our jobs. I don’t think I should penalize people who were doing their duty. If you have a President who exercises bad judgment, the C.I.A. pays the price.”
Excuse me? We're literally crucifying detainees (who have not had the right to even know what they're charged with, much less any other legal right) and there's been NO accountability, NO investigation and Panetta's worried about the CIA paying the price?
Methinks they have the wrong priorities.
Considering the current makeup of the court -- and the long-established propensity of Arthur Kennedy to lean right on civil-rights cases -- this probably isn't a surprise, just deeply unfortunate:
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.
New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.
The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide and make it harder to prove discrimination when there is no evidence it was intentional.
"Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters "understandably attract this court's sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them."
Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens signed onto Ginsburg's dissent, which she read aloud in court Monday.
You can read the ruling here [PDF]. Ginsburg's dissent is especially worth reading, since she thoroughly eviscerates the skewed logic the conservatives applied here. The key graf:
By order of this Court, New Haven, a city in which African-Americans and Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of the population, must today be served as it was in the days of undisguised discrimination by a fire department in which members of racial and ethnic minorities
are rarely seen in command positions. ... The Court's order and opinion, I anticipate, will not have staying power.
There's also a lot of speculation about how this will affect Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Court, since the ruling overturned here was hers. However, what's clear also is that if anyone is being an "activist judge" here, it is the Court's right-wing faction.
As People for the American Way observed in its statement:
Sotomayor and her panel colleagues were bound by longstanding precedent and federal law. They applied the law without regard to their personal views and unanimously affirmed the district court ruling. To do anything but would have been judicial activism.
Listening to Republicans Peggy Noonan and Kathleen Parker on the panel of This Week practically swooning over Mark Sanford's emails to his mistress and excusing his behavior was truly a sight to behold. They both looked downright giddy this morning while dismissing his actions because he was in love.
Paul Krugman and Michael Eric Dyson do their best to try to point out that the trouble is not so much the cheating since it is human nature which is not reserved for one party, but the hypocrisy of the Republicans being the party of family values and people like Mark Sanford's words coming back to bite him. Of course Noonan and Parker were having none of that.
Noonan: Ooohh...I never think that when politicians, Democrats and Republicans get in these stories, that the story itself, the sin itself if you will, undermines what the politician stands for necessarily. Mark Sanford's Libertarian/traditional views are right or wrong on their own. Um..I must say I've been thinking about Clinton a lot and it seems to me that in the Clinton era, during that famous story, a new devilishness was unleashed, especially in the media where a new meanness took style.
And I feel like in every one of the scandals of the past few months, and we've had so many of them, the political sex scandals, the level of meanness of the response, publicly, and on cable and the newspapers, gets meaner each time. It seems to me that we are coming, we are reacting as almost as a nation, but certainly in the media as kind of Puritans without faith, which is the worst of both worlds. To be Puritanical and not even have faith.
I'm sorry Peggy, but the treatment any of the Republicans of late have gotten in the press pales in comparison to what the media did to Bill Clinton. And the media are not the ones being Puritans. The Republicans are the ones who have held themselves out there as the party of virtue and family values. The press didn't invent that.
UPDATE: I wanted to thank everyone for their help today. We got this from one of our contacts at ACORN: "After about 2.5 hours, the bank agreed to postpone the foreclosure auction on Ms. Leary's house for 30 days. We'll be using that time to pressure them to sit down with her and come to a long-term solution to keeping her in her house."
You wouldn't believe how many e-mails I get every day, pleading with me to help with this cause or that. Usually I delete them because there's only so much I can do about all these problems. But this one (via ACORN - you know, the group Bill O'Reilly loves to hate?) really jumped out at me because it's far too emblematic of what thousands of people are facing right this minute. I can only imagine if my mother was in the same position:
I love my mom. Her name is Irene. She's 84-years-old, and she is the most important person in the world to me.
Today, her bank is selling the house she has lived in for 34 years, and it's breaking my heart.
The unbelievable part of it is that OneWest -- the bank -- doesn't even have to talk with my mom before selling her house right out from under her. That's because OneWest is among four big mortgage service companies that haven't signed on to President Obama's program to help stop foreclosures. It's the "Making Home Affordable" plan, and even though OneWest is the recipient of federal bailout money, they are still taking my mom's home away today.
Will you sign a letter to the CEO of OneWest before they sell my mother's home today? Click here. ACORN is sending copies of the letter to the CEOs of the other three banks whose mortgage servicing companies won't sign on to the Making Home Affordable plan (Litton of Goldman Sachs, HomEq of Barclays, and American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc, along with OneWest), because my mom isn't the only one who needs help right now.
I asked my mom to tell me about how she got into this situation -- she's been the same house for 34 years, after all. How did this happen?
Here's what my mom told me:
Such a dick, indeed.
So Dana Milbank is outraged, outraged we tell you, that the White House prearranged a list of journalists it intended to call upon at last week's press conference -- as though this were not something, as we just noted, that's been going on for years, and which reached its zenith with the Bush White House using a fake reporter named "Jeff Gannon" to raise questions favorable to its talking points.
Of course, what Pitney did was precisely the opposite: He actually asked an extremely tough question that President Obama had a difficult time answering (and in fact failed to answer). Yet this is what the Village folk are all waving their Gucci torches and Armani pitchforks about.
Moreover, as Eric Boehlert observes at Media Matters, Milbank never bothered to even write about this on the pages of the Washington Post, either while it was happening or afterward.
However, he did in fact appear on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Feb. 9, 2005, to talk about Gannon. And while he was happy to kick Gannon around a little, this was his rationale about the whole affair:
MILBANK: Let's call him Mr. G. He did get to ask a question of the president whether that was deliberate or not.
You know, what it really comes down to here is that it is not the type of question he was asking. I find that funny, it was a brief break, it was an amusement. The fact is he was representing a phony media company that doesn't really have any such thing as circulation or readership, it's affiliated with something called GOP USA. So there are many people, Fox News, Washington Times, they are conservative but they are legitimate organizations. So this guy is not a real journalist. And he was hanging out there wasting everybody's time in the press room.
Now, Milbank can't possibly object to Pitney's presence or inclusion in the press conference on the grounds that Huffington Post "doesn't really have any such thing as circulation or readership" -- it in fact has one of the largest readerships of any entity on the Internet, dwarfing even the Washington Post's.
So he's left to cling to the thin fiction that Pitney's preselection by the White House was some kind of massive transgression of the unwritten rules of White House press conferences. And in a way it was: It proved that the old unwritten rule -- that Beltway hacks like Dana Milbank will be permitted to dominate our national conversation by trivializing press conferences with dumbass questions about baseball and swimming suits -- is no longer quite so operative.
Indeed, no one seems to have asked the really relevant question here: Why did the White House feel compelled to ensure that someone asked an Iran question? Answer: Because they almost certainly feared the usual onslaught of swimsuit, baseball and Michael Jackson questions.
The headline of the linked article is “House Passes Milestone Energy, Climate Change Bill.” Obviously not happy with the AP headline, the Fox Nation writers, in order to put it in right wing terms the pitchfork gang can understand and appreciate, tweaked it thusly: “Treason? House Passes Direct Assault On Industrial Base.” It is accompanied by a photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The AP article is what real journalism is all about, as it describes what happened in the House of Representatives with no reference to “treason.” The Fox Nation headline is a subjective statement of pure right wing propaganda by those who haven’t read the constitution and is aimed at those who are constitutionally illiterate. But then, in Fox Nation, anyone who dares disagree with the solons of right wing dogma are traitors. Republican Rep Michele Bachman claims that Jesus has taken care of global warming, so why worry? BTW, Republican Representative John Shimkus said that "This is the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I have ever experienced.” He didn’t accuse the other side of treason. But it’s ironic, don’t ya think, that the same folks who accused those of disagreeing with Bush administration of being traitors, are now those who are disagreeing with the Obama administration to the point of advocating secession.
I swear, these Murdoch minions will not be happy until there's a full-out civil war in this country.
Lost in Tarnation: Unattended conference a huge success
at-Largely: Coup in Honduras...Vioent reaction might come from South America
alicublog: Build a better crackpot, and the world will beat a path to your door
Dissident Voice: How a Saudi deception protected bin Laden
Princess Sparkle Pony's Photo Blog: It's never too early to politicize a celebrity death
Dana Milbank wasn't the only Beltway Villager all wanked out about President Obama prearranging a question with HuffPo's Nico Pitney yesterday. On Meet the Press, David Gregory pressed David Axelrod about it, suggesting that somehow this sort of thing is anti-democratic:
MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Did the White House coordinate with a reporter about a question to be asked at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: The White House didn't coordinate with the reporter about a question, we were looking for a way to get questions from within Iran. We could--we did not have access to Iranian journalists.
MR. GREGORY: So you talked to a reporter beforehand and said, "Could you ask a question about--from--directly from Iran at a press conference?"
MR. AXELROD: We said if you--we, we, we, we, we knew that he had been and he was very publicly involved in getting--in trafficking and communications in and out of Iran, and we felt it was important...
MR. GREGORY: Well, why is it appropriate to coordinate with a reporter about what's asked at a time when we're championing democracy around the world?
MR. AXELROD: No, no, David, you miss...
MR. GREGORY: Is that, is that what you should do at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: You're not, you're not listening to what I said. We didn't coordinate with, with him about what was asked.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: In fact, he asked probably one of the most--the toughest and most probing questions at that press conference. We had no idea what he was going to ask.
MR. GREGORY: But you coordinated with him about, about that subject of a question beforehand.
MR. AXELROD: He was a, he was a, he was a, he was a vehicle to get questions from Iran asked at this press conference, and that we thought was not only appropriate but, but necessary.
MR. GREGORY: If President Bush had done that, don't you think Democrats would have said that's outrageous?
Gregory is a Beltway Villager, and like all such folk, he wants to cling to the well-honed myths that preserve their favorite fictions about themselves. One of these is that White House press conferences are actually exercises in democratic, even egalitarian questioning of government officials by the people's representatives in the press corps.
So they are loathe to admit a simple reality: White House press conferences are in cold reality carefully stage-managed affairs, and the main beneficiaries of this arrangement have been the handful of "elite" reporters from big-name media outlets who traditionally have dominated them.
We're perfectly aware that presidents have for some long time gone into these conferences with a prearranged list of reporters upon whom they are going to call. The result has been an immense trivialization of press conferences, because those "elite" reporters have demonstrated over the years their eagerness to indulge trivial, celebrity-media-driven questions at the expense of serious policy matters. In the process, they've become increasingly manipulable.
This trend reached its apotheosis back when Jeff Gannon was lobbing softball questions to President Bush and White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Not only was Gannon a phony journalist, he was being regularly selected to be among the main questioners at the daily briefings.
Considering that this same White House never came clean on exactly why it issued credentials to this fraud -- and especially considering that David Gregory never once objected to it -- his outrage over the Obama White House's calling on Pitney for the toughest question any reporter at that conference asked seems strangely misplaced.
On the other hand, considering that this White House's admission of people like Pitney into the circle of people who get to ask questions at these conferences represents a direct erosion of the "elite" status of people like David Gregory -- and in fact an opening of these questions to many more "representatives of the people" -- it's really not too surprising.