Politics

February 20, 2009

Dennis Ross, Finally?
12:00 AM

A person who obsessively tracks Iran policy tells me that Dennis Ross's State Department appointment may finally be announced next week. A second well-connected source says he's heard the same talk but cautions that the Ross rumor mill is often wrong. Both say his portfolio is expected to cover more than just Iran, probably to include the Gulf region as a whole (creating the possibility of overlap with, among others, special Middle East envoy George Mitchell). Whether the administration has yet figured out exactly how it wants Ross to proceed towards Iran is a very different question.

Krugman And The Limits Of Government
12:00 AM

Look, I'm as liberal as the next guy, on this blog at least, but today's Paul Krugman column reminded me of the follies in relying on government activism to bail us out of every downturn. Krugman runs through a greatest-hits list of past economic calamities, noting that in most cases, recoveries occured despite government action, not because of it (the early '80s being an exception).

Photo Of The Day
12:00 AM

US President Barack Obama reads a piece of paper in the Oval Office after arriving on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, February 19, 2009. Obama traveled to Ottawa, Canada, his first foreign trip as president. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) --Michael Crowley

Are All Bankers Idiots?
12:00 AM

The banks are in a freefall. Congress and the White House are eyeballing their actions. Merrill Lynch is such a disaster that the government had to arrange its purchase by Bank of America. Merrill knows it's about to post huge quarterly losses. So what does it do? Doles out literally billions in bonuses to the fattest of the company's fat cats, with the result being that B of A's CEO must now endure the bad PR of being hauled in on a subpoena by NY AG Cuomo.

February 19, 2009

Defining 'Nation of Cowards' Down
12:00 AM

So what does our new Attorney General Eric Holder mean when he says that we are "a nation of cowards" for avoiding "frank conversations" about race?   The meanings we intend often correspond only fitfully to dictionary definitions. If someone asks “Do you have the time?” technically it would be answering the question to just say “Yes” and walk on.

Good Shots
12:00 AM

Last Thursday, three special masters in a federal “vaccine court”  bluntly ruled that vaccines do not cause autism. Thousands of families with autistic children are thus not entitled to compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Drawing on 5,000 pages of transcripts studded with academic footnotes and expert reports, these special masters made the right call.

Insufficient Boldness
12:00 AM

In the fall of 2007, the Bush Administration had a chance to stop the housing crisis before it would’ve reached the point of being called a crisis. The writing was already on the wall of every foreclosed property, and outside experts articulated workable versions of exactly the kind of scheme announced today by the Obama administration. But with its strong ideological preference for “market”-based solutions and its reluctance to ruffle financial sector feathers, the Paulson team preferred a voluntary loan modification program that proved almost completely ineffectual.

Car Trouble
12:00 AM

WASHINGTON--It was a terrible omen: At the end of November, just as the American car industry was hitting a wall, my dear Saturn was totaled, around midnight, in front of my house.Fortunately, no one was hurt. But it was the end of my 15-year relationship with "a different kind of company, a different kind of car." Like many Saturn loyalists, I was attracted to an excellent car made by members of the United Auto Workers under rules giving employees more responsibility.

Shaun Donovan--rising Star
12:00 AM

I have to say I found HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan very impressive during the background briefing he and Tim Geithner and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair gave reporters yesterday. I didn't see it live, but reading over the transcript, it seemed like Donovan had pretty much every detail at his finger tips and was able to relate them with real fluency. (In fairness, Geithner and Bair both more than held their own, but I'd seen them in action before.) For what it's worth, this jibes with what I've heard from multiple White House sources.

Sizing Up The Housing Plan
12:00 AM

There are two key proposals at the center of Obama's housing plan: one for people still making payments; one for people who've stopped making payments or are about to. Obama would help the first group refinance at a lower interest rate. For the second group, he'd give lenders incentives to accept less money each month than they're currently owed. I can think of two plausible objections--one macro, the other micro. But there are reasonable responses to both.

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