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...Quite a few Republican ideas, it turns out.

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(Adapted from an article I wrote for "The Mall", the official blog of the USA 2020 political simulation game. Cross-posted in usa2020 and theleftunited.)

Anyone remember that $700 billion?

That would be the $700 billion bailout bill where we were all told that if Congress did not act immediately, the economy would completely collapse to a point that would make the Great Depression look like a pleasant walk in the park. The one pushed by Hank Paulson, our Treasury Secretary and rich former banker to bail out a bunch of rich bankers.

Well, about half of the money has been spent. That amounts to $350 billion. The problem is, no one seems to know where all the money went. The Congressional panel charged with keeping track of the money tried to ask the Treasury Department where it went. Treasury seemed to think the issue was "beside the point". Now the Congressional panel is stepping up its criticism of the department, saying that Treasury has no real strategy and has done nothing with all this taxpayer money to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

Treasury Department officials don't even seem to be trying. They have responded to the oversight panel's questions with canned responses copied and pasted from previous documents and web sites. Treasury officials keep saying their goal is "to stabilize the financial markets." The oversight panel, in a classic masterpiece of understatement, has said that this answer is "vague" and that there are "significant gaps" in the government's ability to find out what happened to the money.

So, where's our money? Is it being used to help banks repair their balance sheets? Is it being used by big banks to buy other banks? Do banks intend to lend out the money or use it to help people facing foreclosures, even though there's no sign of anything like this happening so far? Is all the money just sitting in a vault somewhere?

The truth is, we simply don't know.


Bernard Madoff ran what was probably the largest Ponzi scheme not affiliated with the United States government or one of the Fortune 500 in history. He swindled clients out of billions of dollars, including the life savings of individuals and the operating capital of charitable organizations. The scandal has already led to at least one suicide, that of a French money manager who lost $1 billion of his clients' (and his own) money

Instead of being thrown in jail like your average crook caught shoplifting a candy bar at Wal-Mart, Mr. Madoff is under "house arrest" in a $7 million New York City penthouse suite. Of course, the courts ordered that his assets be frozen until officials can figure out exactly where all the stolen money went and why the government didn't get its cut of the loot.

But far be it for Madoff to consider himself lucky that he doesn't have it nearly as bad as your average crook who steals far less--or, perhaps, even show some kind of remorse. Madoff is still testing the limits of what he can get away with. From his luxurious apartment, prosecutors are now saying he tried to dispose of assets by mailing millions of dollars worth of diamonds, precious stones, and jewelry to friends and relatives.

As a result, officials are asking a judge to send Madoff to jail--you know, the place where they put the criminals. Deciding to send a criminal to jail after he steals billions of dollars, causes a man to kill himself, and violates the terms of his release is apparently too complicated of a decision for the judge assigned to the case. So the judge is weighing the issues and meanwhile Madoff is still free to live in luxury. Ah, if only your common hoodlum who writes a bad check (possibly out of desperation to feed his family) could get such a good deal.

But wait! There's more! If you invest now, we'll also give you the story of the Madoff "victims" who actually reaped considerable profits from this little scam and are now having to deal with the realization that those "profits" are simply money stolen from other investors. Ah, so now we really have an interesting little pickle here: what does one do with the knowledge that they have "profited" from ill-gotten gains? Give the money back? Be very quiet and hope no one notices? Get in line with the other "victims" for restitution, perhaps? My my...decisions, decisions.

Don't you just love capitalism run amok? And here some of you thought the crash of the stock market was entertaining...

(cross-posted to theleftunited and my personal journal.)

Anyone want to make some waves?

Someone who is a resident of Illinois should file a lawsuit in federal court. The grounds are that Senate Democrats, by refusing to seat Senator Burris, are improperly depriving residents of Illinois of the full representation in Congress to which they are entitled by the Constitution. The whole idea of the Senate is that every state gets equal representation.

Yes, Rod Blagojevich is a jerk, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a legal appointment, since the governor has not been removed from office.

Saturday Evening Amusement

(Yanked from politicsforum. Cross-posted to my personal journal.)
President-Elect Obama has started naming members of his economic team, including New York Fed President Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury. Among his appointments were Lawrence Summers, a former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary and Harvard University president, as his chair of the White House National Economic Council. The appointment of Summers presents a serious problem: namely that in a speech as Harvard President, he made comments disparaging the ability of women to handle careers in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences. His remarks struck me at the time as being remarkably similar to the pseudo-scientific nonsense spouted in the book The Bell Curve about the "inherent lower intelligence" of racial minorities.

The Boston Globe article on Summers' remarks noted that Summers was invited to the conference of the National Bureau of Economic Research as a prominent economist and not as the president of Harvard. In that case, it's interesting that one can find a copy of the full speech posted on the web site of the Office of the President at Harvard. I also find it interesting that in his role as a mere "top economist", the problem of discrimination against women in academia and the sciences is considerably outside his area of expertise. According to Wikipedia:

As a researcher, Summers has made important contributions in many areas of economics, primarily public finance, labor economics, financial economics, and macroeconomics. To a lesser extent, Summers has also worked in international economics, economic demography, economic history, and development economics. His work generally emphasizes the analysis of empirical economic data in order to answer well-defined questions (for example: Does saving respond to after-tax interest rates? Are the returns from stocks and stock portfolios predictable?, Are most of those who receive unemployment benefits only transitorily unemployed?, etc.) For his work he received the John Bates Clark Medal in 1993 from the American Economic Association.

But regardless of the context in which Summers made his comments, it seems problematic to appoint someone who has made such remarks to a high level post in the Obama White House. The Obama Administration, in my understanding, is supposed to be one of diversity and inclusion and his election is supposed to represent the ascent of an ideal that America is a country for everyone. The appointment of someone to a high-level post who would air such sexist viewpoints at a high-profile economic conference while the President of a major university (which has had considerable problems as far as equal opportunity for women) seems to undermine that message.

The media seems to pay little attention to Summers' blatantly misogynist views. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had been elected president and appointed someone to a high-level post who had such attitudes about African-Americans, such as one of the authors of The Bell Curve. My guess is that there would be an outrage from African-Americans and other activists who had supported her--and rightly so. There should be no less outrage about this appointment to the Obama Administration.

While I have been an enthusiastic supporter of President-Elect Obama and celebrated his election as much as anyone, I have also offered the word of caution that those of us who supported him must hold him accountable for staying true to the ideals that we elected him for. Now, in my view, is one of those times. The activist community should make it very clear to the President-Elect that there is no room for someone like Larry Summers in the Obama White House.

(cross-posted to ljdemocrats, theleftunited, obama_2008, happy_feminists)
Reports are that President-Elect Obama has decided to nominate New York Fed President Timothy Geithner to be his Secretary of the Treasury. There are conflicting reports that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will accept the Secretary of State post. The President-Elect also seems to be considering an assortment of activists for other key posts, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and the Department of Labor. Many of the people reportedly under consideration have been highly critical of Republican policies and strong advocates for increased budgets and more powerful regulatory roles for federal agencies.

Obviously, one of the incoming administration's first priorities has to be getting a handle on the economic crisis. But as the Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib writes, the economic crisis could amount to a huge opportunity for the President-Elect to push major parts of his agenda. For my part, I am hopeful that in addition to universal health care, the President-Elect moves swiftly on card check for union membership and a major overhaul of federal regulatory agencies. I also think the EPA should be scrapped and its functions transferred to a new Cabinet-level Department of the Environment. This would send a strong signal that the U.S. government is serious about being a world leader on addressing climate change.

How the Obama Administration seems to be shaping up so far:

White House Chief of Staff: Rahm Emanuel
White House Senior Adviser: David Axelrod
White House Senior Adviser: Pete Rouse
White House Senior Adviser: Valerie Jarrett
White House Counsel: Greg Craig
White House Political Director: Patrick Gaspard
Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs: Phil Schiliro

Secretary of State: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of Defense: Robert Gates
(The President-Elect is reportedly leaning toward keeping Secretary Gates for the time being before replacing him with someone like Richard Danzig or Chuck Hagel)

Secretary of the Treasury: Timothy Geithner

Attorney-General: Eric Holder

Secretary of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano

(Currently the governor of Arizona, Ms. Napolitano first gained national prominence as a lawyer for Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in the early 1990's. She has also served as a United States Attorney and Attorney-General of the state of Arizona. In addition to her strong law-enforcement background, she is known for supporting harsh penalties against businesses who employ illegal workers while vetoing measures that are tough on immigrants themselves--in my opinion, a pragmatic approach to the immigration issue.)

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle
(Former U.S. Senate majority leader)

Secretary of Commerce: Bill Richardson
(Currently governor of New Mexico. Formerly served as US Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy. A former Democratic candidate for President.)

Federal Aviation Administration: Duane Woerth
(Not confirmed, but he has been in discussions with Congressional leaders. He is former head of the airline pilots' union)

Environmental Protection Agency: Mary Nichols
Again, not confirmed, but there's been a lot of speculation. She is the head of California's Air Resources Board and has been aggressive in pushing state limits on CO2 emissions--for which she has been in constant conflict with the EPA.)

What's Next?

Well, yesterday was pretty amazing. Here in Chapel Hill, NC, students and other community members rushed the streets of downtown celebrating the Obama victory. Although the presidential race in North Carolina is still too close to call, it hardly matters, since Senator Obama has already won a decisive victory. Still, after 30 years of North Carolina being a reliably Republican state, we've at least succeeded in turning in purple.

Senator Obama managed to flip nine states that Bush won in 2004: Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and I'm going to be optimistic and say North Carolina as well.

Democrats will have at least a 56-seat Senate majority, possibly more, depending on the outcome of a few undecided races. In the closely watched Minnesota Senate race, incumbent Norm Coleman is ahead of former Air America radio host Al Franken, but only by about 700 votes, so that may change, who knows. Some prominent incumbent Republicans are gone, including North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole, who's been a staunch ally of President Bush.

It looks like Democrats will pick up somewhere around 20 seats in the House of Representatives, which will make Nancy Pelosi the most powerful speaker we've seen in some time.

Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of Obama's victory is that he did not just eke out a narrow win in Democratic states along with a hard-fought swing state or two as Senator Kerry tried to do. His victory is national and decisive. He's not only held on to Democratic states, but also expanded Democratic gains to the southeast, midwest, and mountain west. His national popular vote majority is the largest we've seen in a long time, the first Democrat to win a national majority since Jimmy Carter.

Other than the passing of California's Proposition 8 banning gay marriage, it was a pretty good night. I hope you all have taken time to celebrate and enjoy the moment. Tell us about it.

But after a night and a day savoring victory after a long dark eight years, it's time to think about what comes next. Democrats have to now think about governing instead of being the opposition. Progressives and other activists have to think about how we hold this new Democratic majority in Washington to the promises and ideals that made us all vote them in.

Now is not the time for the activist community go to sleep. We have a hard road ahead. All of the things we wanted from an Obama Administration are not going to happen without some pretty stiff opposition from some very powerful, well-funded, and well-entrenched people. Obama will need our support to push his agenda and he will need our critical eye to hold him to task for implementing a true progressive agenda.

So...what's next?

1. Obama has a huge well-organized and well-founded ground operation all across the country. It would be a waste if it were to simply fade away. There has to be more good that can be done with all this energy and passion and infrastructure besides just getting Obama elected. But what should be done with it, what should the next goals be?

2. A lot of government positions have to be filled. It looks as the White House chief of staff job is going to Representative Rahm Emmanuel, a member of the Democratic House leadership. Who might be good for other positions? Secretary of the Treasury will be particularly important. George Soros? Paul Volcker? Larry Summers? Someone else?

jajy1979 and I have talked about how we'd like to see administrative positions be expanded to include more than just prominent Washington figures, particularly agency heads and the administrative levels just below Cabinet rank. Let's get some businessmen, teachers, emergency responders, ordinary workers, college professors, and other smart people we're going to need to truly come up with comprehensive solutions to pressing problems.

3. We can't forget that huge corporations and other special interests who oppose progressive ideals have huge well-funded lobbying efforts who spend every hour of every day trying to influence people at all levels of government. We need to make sure that our leaders, from President Obama on down, are listening to the people who put them in office. How do we do this? How do we counteract the corporations and lobbyists?

4. What do you want out of an Obama administration? We've had a large and diverse coalition that's been focused for the most part on winning. But now that's been achieved, so what is it we want to achieve next?

What if...?

The following was passed on to me by a friend from an Episcopal mailing list. While I don't deny that society has made a lot of progress, it's also true that we have a long way still to go.

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(cross-posted to my personal journal, theleftunited, and ljdemocrats)

Meet Joe the Plumber

I saw the clip of Senator Obama's conversation with "Joe the Plumber" from Toledo, Ohio. Something about it struck me as odd. Then I watched the debate and started getting annoyed by all the times McCain was bringing him up. I started thinking that something was not quite right here, starting with the fact that not too many plumbers I know of make over $250,000 per year in taxable income. And then it hit me: I would bet that Joe the Plumber is a Republican plant.

After the debate, some folks did some checking, including some of the people over at DailyKos. And of course, as it will not surprise many people to learn, you never actually get the whole truth from Republicans. There's some things about Joe the Plumber that the voting public might be interested to know: he's not a registered plumber, he doesn't seem to be undecided at all, he's a registered Republican, he's behind on his personal income taxes (which might have more to do with him not being able to buy a business than Obama's tax plan), and, like John McCain, he has ties to the Keating Five. Not only that, he's been trying for six years to pass the certification tests for his plumber's license. In the infamous words of Stan Rothenstein in My Cousin Vinny--that's a lot of studying.

Also, CNN has a great article that thoroughly debunks the claim that Obama wants to raise taxes on small business. In fact, Obama's claim that his tax policies will give 95% of Americans a tax cut is a little off--it's closer to 98%.

(Thanks to jajy1979 and the folks over at DailyKos and Left in Alabama for all the fact-checking.)