Thursday, December 25, 2008

Retracting the Pardon

Merry christmas to my (admittedly sparse) readership.
The pardon system is fairly ridiculous, and has been abused on countless occasions, and is a fairly straight-forward affront to the rule of law. Richard Nixon pardoned scummy union leader Jimmy Hoffa. In 1974, Nixon himself was pardoned for his criminalization of the executive branch. Mark Felt, as we now know key to Nixon's downfall, was pardoned by Ronald Reagan for numerous abuses in pursuit of the Weather Underground (I have trouble seeing Felt's rule as noble. He exposed Nixon, but only because he was disgruntled for careerist reasons, Nixon had passed him over for head of the FBI.) Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich for 51 counts tax fraud and running illegal oil deals with Iran. As unedifying as these pardons are, the worst are those which allow the executive to cover-up its crimes: Bush I pardoning 6 Iran-Contra felons (Bush must have been knee deep in Iran-Contra) , Bush II pardoning "Scooter" Libby for obstruction of justice. Libby's actions saved Rove, and perhaps Cheney, from indictment.
Still, one thing we've never seen is a president retract a pardon. At least, not until now. The original pardon was pretty clearly outrageous, this person deserves to answer for what he's done. It's hard to say though, whether a president can really call off a pardon like that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bush Done Good

... well, Bush done ok, on this issue. He's extending a loan to the car-companies, as I suspect you were already aware. Bush was for the car loans all along, but he had two differences with the Democratic congress, first insisting on not tying it to increased fuel efficiency standards, and second wanting it to come from money ear-marked for enhancing fuel efficiency. Sense a pattern? Our president really doesn't like fuel efficiency.
When congressional Republicans killed the deal, Bush had little choice but to take the money from TARP, not from the fuel efficiency money. If GM went under, by the way, the government would be shelling out a lot more TARP money, so it makes sense fiscally to bail out the company. From Bird Brain.
AIG issued credit default swaps on GM. A lot of credit default swaps, apparently; according to Forbes.com, estimates are that AIG's exposure is about 10 times the outstanding debt. If GM declares bankruptcy, AIG is on the hook for that money, and guess who currently owns AIG? That's right, the government. In a nutshell, if we let GM go bankrupt, we taxpayers are likely to end up paying out eight to ten times as much as if we bail them

The congressional Republican's who opposed didn't get much of what they want. This seems only fair to me. Opposing the deal was prompted mixture of southern regionalism and ugly classicism-based union-busting. The congressional Republicans have shown themselves unwilling to play any constructive role.They deserve nothing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bill Kristol Gets it Right

I'm having trouble believing it, but I actually agree with Bill Kristol. From his Times op-ed.
Now there are other ways to explain the disparate treatment of G.M. and Citigroup. Finance is different from manufacturing, and banks from auto companies. It may be that the case for a huge bank bailout was strong, and that the case for a more modest auto package is not. Still, it seems to me true that the financial big shots haven’t been treated nearly as roughly in Congress or in the media as the auto executives, who have done nothing remotely as irresponsible as their Wall Street counterparts.
...
Last week, Senate Republicans picked a fight with the U.A.W. on union pay scales — despite the fact that it’s the legacy benefits for retirees, not pay for current workers, that’s really hurting Detroit, and despite the additional fact that, in any case, labor amounts to only about 10 percent of the cost of a car. But the Republicans were fighting Big Labor! They were standing firm against bailouts! Some of the same conservatives who (correctly, in my view) made the case for $700 billion for Wall Street pitched a fit over $14 billion in loans for the automakers.

OK, I don't agree with the column 100%, but Kristol points out that the Republican party line on this specific issue is totally wrong. I didn't really expect that to happen.

The Shoe Thrower

It appears that the shoe was thrown by a man named Muntathar al Zaidi. He remains in Iraqi custody. People report that the man was beaten senseless by PM al-Maliki's guards.
It appears he was partially influenced by his witnessing of US bombings in Sadr city.
Friends said Zaidi covered the U.S. bombing of Baghdad's Sadr City area earlier this year and had been "emotionally influenced" by the destruction he'd seen.

Zaidi's channel is Baghdadiya Television, which supports the insurgency. It appears it's an Iraqi channel, but is based in Cairo, Egypt, presumably because Iraq itself is too dangerous.
From the Times
Hitting someone with a shoe is a particularly strong rebuke in Iraqi culture. Although the president was uninjured, the incident overshadowed media coverage of the trip in the Arab world. And it has transformed Muntader al-Zaidi into a symbolic figure in the debate about the American military’s presence in Iraq.

Maythem al-Zaidi said his brother had not planned to throw his shoes prior to Sunday. “He was provoked when Mr. Bush said [during the news conference] this is his farewell gift to the Iraqi people,” he said. A colleague of Muntader al-Zaidi’s at al-Baghdadiya satellite channel, however, said the correspondent had been “planning for this from a long time. He told me that his dream is to hit Bush with shoes,” said the man, who would not give his name.

Muntader al-Zaidi appears to have a long-standing dislike of the United States presence in Iraq. He used to finish his reports by saying he was in “the occupied Baghdad.” His brother said that he hates the occupation so strongly that he canceled his wedding, saying: “I will marry when the occupation is over.”
...
Maythem al-Zaidi said that his brother is politically independent, but several people who know him mentioned that he was a Baathist who turned into a Sadrist after the war.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

So Much for Journalistic Impartiality

It appears our president is better at dodging objects than he is at dodging question, at least that's the impression this event gives me. I'd say this just is one more reminder of how disliked out president is.
One thing that surprised me... I would have expected that Iraqi journalist to have been shot 16 times by secret service as soon as he threw. Is that not how it works? Were they asleep at the wheel? Perhaps they simply don't mind seeing this president get attack?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Killing the Auto-Deal

Yes, apparently it's died again, probably for the last time until Obama and the new congress takes over
John Judis:
Here’s what bothers me. Japanese companies, which for years have benefited from one-way deal by which they could sell cars in the U.S. while U.S. companies were stymied in selling cars and trucks in Japan, set up non-union plants in low-wage, low-education, right-to-work states where they can pay less wages and benefits to their workers. Of course, in Japan, these same companies recognize and work with unions, but not here, where they have a chance to undercut American firms that work with unions. Corker and these other great patriots want to allow these Japanese companies to dictate the wages and benefits that American companies pay their workers. It’s despicable. Imagine, for a moment, American companies being allow to operate in this manner in Japan or South Korea. It would not happen.

The Republicans did refuse to take a responsible stand in this crisis. Apparently, they hate unions so much (and like foreign automakers) that they wouldn't mind seeing a car company bankruptcy so long as they don't cave to the unions. Real good going, guys.

States of Corruption

With corruption very much in the news thanks to comically corrupt and stupid governor Blagojevich, this seemed topical. A report released last year listed the 35 most populous states from most to least corrupt. Louisiana came in number one. This should come as no surprise (William Jefferson, recently voted out, had had $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He's just the latest in a long line.) It's followed by Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama. Illinois comes in at number 6, though clearly not for lack of trying. New Jersey, another state known for corruption, come in at 9. My own state is 20, not so bad (state governments pretty clean, though there certainly is corruption at the local level... remember Kwame Kilpatrick). Alaska is to small to make the list but would doubtless have scored highly. The ranks can be found here.

Speaking of corruption... the Golden Duke "scandal awards" have come out. Expect Blagojevich to sweep the top scandal, Eliot Spitzer may hit best sex and carnality. Local scandal: I'm thinking from our own home state... Kwame Kilpatrick.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rod Blagojevich: the Best thing Since the Nixon Tapes

Rod Blagojvich, who has been engulfed by a cloud of scandals for some time, declared that anyone could tape him, if they wanted to, but, he warned "it smells like Nixon and Watergate.
I agree it smells like Nixon and Watergate, though compared to Rod Blagojevich, Nixon is a class act.
One always had to wonder with Richard Nixon: why did someone committing such abuse of presidential power tape everything going on in the Whitehouse (with the exception of the the notorious 18 1/2 minute gap). Even stranger though: why on earth would anyone ever try to sell a public office (senate seat vacated by the president-elect, no less) on a tape he had good reason to think was tapped. The taps kinda remind me of the Nixon tapes, full of profanity and incriminating comments. At the Daily Beast they have a test where you identify quotes by Tod Blagojevich and Tony Soprano. I went 10/10, not surprising, I watch the Sopranos all the time. Still, the two sound similar.
For 5 weeks, Illinois was considered an amazing place. Now the Obama magic has dissipated, and we're back to good old fashioned Illinois politics. Of the last 5 governors, 3 have been indicted. Perhaps they'd save on transportation by having the prison next to the governors mansion.

Monday, December 8, 2008

India- Don't Attack Pakistan!

The New York Times has an article detailing the support the ISI has had for the group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group accused of carrying out the recent attack in Mumbai. This is not news, the these links have long been known. This is merely background. News would be if we discovered that the ISI were involved in this particular attack. This has not happened yet, but it could.
Should this happen, we should expect Indian and Pakistan to go to war. This would be a profound mistake. These elements in the ISI area common enemy to the government of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the US. Ali Asif Zardari had been, as I mentioned previously, attempting both to rein in the agency and pursue better relations with India. As corrupt and immoral as this man is, I take these overtures at face value. Now he looks weak and impotent.
As Ahmed Rashid points out, these attacks were intended as a distraction. War between India and Pakistan would be a gift to the islamists currently fighting the Pakistani government, even as Pakistan acts to curb the group responsible.
Juan Cole wrote a post asking indians not to go down the Bush/Cheney route in fighting terror. It's beginning to look like many indians learned exactly the wrong lessons from the US "War on Terror" and many compare the possible attack on Pakistan to the US attack on Afghanistan. At a time like this, I wish we had remembered there are indeed other countries, and hadn't embraced the idea of "preemptive strike".

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Thoughts on the Automaker Bailout

Chastened auto-executives carpooled to Washington this last week to beg the lawmakers for a bailout.
One of the most notable features is the way congress seems intent on humiliating the auto CEOs. One has to wonder why the auto company CEO and the bank CEOs have been treated so differently. Partly it's clearly clout: the automakers are pretty well connected, but the big banks influence is doubtless far greater. Also, as I pointed out in the previous post, there are plenty of southerners who have regional interests directly opposed to those of the automakers.
The country seems understandable reluctant to land money to a failing business. Recently, Paul Krugman said he believed there is no future for the US car industry. It seems clear, even given the bailout, the automakers will emerge smaller companies that will eventually fade away.
Beyond this, we need a paradigm shift, before cities start going under water. America in 50 years will not be the car-centered nation it is today, market pressures (rising gas price) and environmental problem will see to that.
So, we should have no illusions about the long term viability of these companies. Still, the bailing them out would be money well spent. Allowing one of these companies to go under would likely hurtle us toward depression. From this perspective, shelling out billions to merely postpone the inevitable seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bailout Politics

One thing I've been wondering about is why the automaker bailout is treated so differently by our elected representatives. I have particularly the Republicans in mind... my impression is that the reason Democrats like Nancy Pelosi talk about this differently (e.g. the automakers need a plan... did she ever ask the banks for a plan?) is she knows she's not going to be able to push this through. Part of the answer is that there was opposition to the original Paulson Plan. Still, opposition from Republicans has been really extremely hard, and the passage of the bank bailout means it can't be all to do with ree-market ideology. Matthew Yglesias makes a point about the rest.He points to Mitch McConnell's comments that we still have a foreign owned auto industry and concludes
[I]t’s pretty aggravating to see these Dixie conservatives who obviously have a parochial stake in letting the Michigan-based firms die off popping up all across the media without the coverage even reflecting that fact. Whenever you see Carl Levin or Debbie Stabenow on television or quoted in the papers, it’s made clear that their views aren’t just stuff they thought up one afternoon — they’re trying to represent the interests of their constituents. But people need to understand that Bob Corker and Richard Shelby and Mitch McConnell all have equal and opposite parochial interests pushed in the other direction — if Detroit folds, then that’s way more market share for Japanese-owned, non-union factories in their home states.

I suspect this makes the difference between the bank bailout and the automakers bailout. It also helps us understand why Richard Shelby said "this is your problem, not our problem", he thinks that the Big Three's problem are his good-fortunes. Foolish. If the Big Three go down, the entire national economy suffers.