Archive for August, 2009

Bank bailout: success comes with ‘moral hazard’

So far, so good. The taxpayers are reaping a nice little profit from the bailout of the banks last fall, according to The New York Times. The paper reports that eight of the biggest banks have fully repaid their bailouts, for a total of $4 billion — or an annual rate of return of 15 percent.

That’s a return Bernie Madoff would have envied.

And a whole lot better than many bailout critics were predicting. (You’d think the Obama administration would be out there trumpeting this success.)

These are early results, of course. Citigroup and Bank of America still haven’t repaid their bailout money; they’ve got a ways to go before their balance sheets look healthy enough for them to do so. Still, the early profits are a lot better than Congress and the Treasury Department dared to hope a year ago, when they launched the bailout of the banks to try to unlock the frozen credit system.

The cloud hovering around this silver lining might be this: Moral hazard. Because former Treasury …

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Kennedy’s politics moved the nation to the left

Edward M. Kennedy may have been the Senate’s last liberal.

Oh, there are others in the Senate who would support the same policies – universal health care and expanded civil rights and a higher minimum wage. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Barbara Boxer of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist, can usually be counted on to uphold the standards of the left.

But most on the left have abandoned the word “liberal” for the term “progressive,” an effort to escape the perverted and seamy notions that rightwing talk show hosts have attached to the L word. Kennedy, though, was always a proud liberal.

And why not? Many of the policies he supported during his long legislative career are now taken for granted as touchstones of American political and cultural life.

After Barack Obama’s election – aided by Kennedy’s endorsement during the Democratic primaries – Republicans rushed to reassure themselves by taking to the airwaves and newspaper pages …

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Bookman says it well on odious “black agenda” memo

To those of you who were wondering whether I was going to comment on the “black agenda” memo that has created a huge controversy in the Atlanta mayor’s race, I defer to my colleague Jay Bookman, who has written a brilliant post on the subject. I agree with every thing Bookman says.

Since my move to Washington, I haven’t kept up with local politics as much as I used to. But I find the memo deeply disturbing. It has no place in current-day politics.

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In this country, even crazies like Glenn Beck have their say

So now comes word that Glenn Beck’s ratings have surpassed those of the great Bill O’Reilly in the highly sought-after 25-34 year-old age group. Well, how surprising can Beck’s popularity be, really?

I occasionally watch Beck myself just to see what lunacy he’s committing. You know how it is: It’s like watching a bad car accident. You know you shouldn’t, but. . .

Some advertisers have found him too odious to represent their products, so they have pulled their ads. But he’s still pulling in viewers. So let’s all celebrate the First Amendment, which permits even crazies to have their say.

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Jenkins’ “great white hope” no great crime

In an era of YouTube, cell phone cameras and blogs (like this one), the dumb utterances of public figures get magnified well beyond their real significance. So it is with a dumb remark made by a Kansas Congresswoman recently.

In answer to a question from a conservative constituent (understandably) concerned about the future of the GOP, freshman Republican Lynn Jenkins said: “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope. I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.” She then went on to name a handful of younger Republicans who are, well, white.

The remark has made the rounds of talk shows and blogs, and Jenkins has been harshly criticized for stupidity and insensitivity if not outright racism.

I’m inclined to cut Jenkins some slack. I doubt she meant “great white hope” literally, and she probably had no idea about its troubled origins. The phrase was coined by writer …

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The ‘government’ did okay with ‘Cash for Clunkers’

I’d give the Obama administration a solid “B” for the cash for clunkers program. It was a government stimulus program that was easy for the public to understand; it probably saved about 39,000 jobs, according to one analyst; and it had an environmental benefit besides. It got older, gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing cars and trucks off the roads and replaced them with more fuel-efficient models.

The program wasn’t perfect. It has taken dealers a very long time to get paid,  and that works a hardship on smaller, cash-strapped businesses. The Transportation Department was caught up short by demand for the program and didn’t have enough workers in place to process applications.

But automobile dealers, who tend to be cowboys of capitalism, ought to be pleased.

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John McCain could be the Senate’s new Ted Kennedy

On Sunday, John McCain told George Stephanopoulos that “health care reform might be in a very different place today” if Teddy Kennedy were well enough to participate in the negotiations.

“He had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions, which really are the essence of successful negotiations, so it’s huge that he’s absent,” McCain said on “This Week,” mentioning his “personal affection” for Kennedy.

Over the last 24 hours, many other observers have noted Kennedy’s reputation for reaching across the aisle. Interestingly, the same used to be said about McCain.

When he ran for president, McCain’s reputation for a principled bipartisanship was intact. But since his defeat, he has bowed to the harsh nihilism that seems to be all that Republicans represent these days. They just want to defeat Obama and his policies. They don’t care about getting anything done.

If McCain really has such “personal affection” for Kennedy — or if he has a …

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Health care reform as a tribute to Edward Moore Kennedy?

The republic is better off because of the service of Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose signature graced every significant piece of liberal legislation over the last 40 years. (Yes, I used the “L” word. Kennedy never shrank from it.)

He pushed for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is now so much a mainstream part of the culture that we take it for granted that persons in wheelchairs should have access to public buildings. He pushed for Title IX, which gave female athletes increased access to college scholarships. We now take that for granted, too.

But his signature legislation was always health care; he started pushing for increased access to health care in the 1960s.

Kennedy had significant flaws, of course. He was a drinker and a womanizer. He never publicly took responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the way that he should have (a death that was probably related to drinking and womanizing.) He paid for her death with the loss of his presidential hopes.

Still, he …

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Obama administration couldn’t ignore evidence of torture

“A government of laws, not of men.” — John Adams

Attorney General Eric Holder doesn’t seem to have any enthusiasm for revisiting the torture controversies of the Bush era. Neither does his boss, President Obama. Contrary to the view of some conservatives, Obama and his team are not interested in making any political points with the liberal base by prosecuting CIA operatives for abusing detainees.

But Obama and Holder had no choice. There is enough evidence that laws were broken and international treaties were violated that Holder had to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He would have been remiss in his responsibilities as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer if he had done otherwise.

The appointment of John Durham, a registered Republican and veteran prosecutor, doesn’t automatically mean that CIA employees or contractors will eventually be indicted. (It seems unlikely the investigation will ensnare …

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My insurance won’t pay for the doctor I want

As he tries to put to rest several outrageous lies about health care reform, President Obama has said repeatedly that consumers who already have a health care plan they like, can keep it. And you can continue to choose your doctors. No one is going to interfere with the relationship between you and your doctor, he says.

Unfortunately, the president isn’t quite telling the truth. He’s fudging a bit. The simple truth is, he can’t guarantee that you get to keep your insurance. Under certain conditions, you could lose your insurance today, without health care reform. That’s the way the system works.

Nor can he guarantee that you get to choose your doctor. You don’t get to choose your doctors today, without health care reform. That’s the way the system works.

Let me illustrate with a personal example. First off, let me say that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a pretty comprehensive health insurance plan. We are self-insured. The plan is managed by Aetna. And Aetna, like …

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