Ezra Klein (AKA Beltway Bob) is really coming up in the world. He somehow managed to get a gig writing a review of Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men for the New York Review of Books. I’m impressed, I must admit.
As you probably guessed already, Klein is quite critical of the book. In fact he thinks Suskind should have written a completely different kind book instead–maybe even a couple of different kinds of books.
As I see it, Suskind set out to write an interesting and entertaining political book about Obama’s economic advisers, how they interacted with each other and the President, and how administration economic policy took shape over the first couple of years. The book is gossipy and very much focused on the people involved and their relationships with each other. As a psychologist, I found it fascinating to read Suskind’s insights.
Klein admits that
The work that went into Confidence Men cannot be denied. Suskind conducted hundreds of interviews. He spoke to almost every member of the Obama administration, including the President…He takes you inside…the Oval Office. He heads to Wall Street and back. He quotes memos no one else has published. He gives you scenes that no one else has managed to capture.
But that isn’t good enough. Klein disapproves of the gossipy, personality-centered tone of Confidence Men. He wants Suskind to provide evidence for his personal assessments of people. For example, Klein objects to Suskind’s description of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s appearance at Obama’s announcement that Elizabeth Warren would be working with Geithner to set up a consumer agency that she had first conceived of and then fought for. Although Warren didn’t know it yet, she would never head the agency, because Geithner had already made a deal with the bankers: they would accept a consumer agency as long as Warren wasn’t put in charge.
Here’s the passage that Klein found offensive:
This has caused discomfort not only for the president, but also for his top lieutenants, including the boyish man in the too-long jacket at Obama’s right hip, bunched cuffs around his shoes, looking more than anything like a teenager who just grabbed a suit out of dad’s closet. That’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, looking sheepish.
Klein so objected to this paragraph that he felt he had to go watch the announcement again himself, to see if Suskind’s description was accurate.
I prefer to verify. So I went back to the tape. I rewatched the September 2010 press conference where Obama introduced Warren to the country. I paid special attention to Geithner. Suskind’s right: his suit is too big. But he doesn’t look sheepish or ashamed. He looks, by turns, bored and interested. He clasps his hands behind his back. He nods attentively. He tries not to fidget. He looks like every experienced bureaucrat looks when they’re asked to stand like a prop near the president. Blank, and trying not to make any news. He failed.
But Klein doesn’t offer any evidence for his observations either. How can he know what Geithner was thinking–that he tried “not to fidget” and tried “not to make any news?” He can’t. Klein has shared his own observations and interpretations, just as Suskind did. But Klein finds it annoying. He didn’t want to read a book about people, based on the close observations and opinions of its author. No, Klein wanted a book about policy, and he felt that
…any account of what he [Obama] has done wrong, or what he could do right, needs to provide, first and foremost, a persuasive case of how the White House could have done more to promote an economic recovery over the last three years, or could do more to accelerate one now.
Klein wanted a wonky book, heavy on policy and light on human interest, and he can’t understand why Suskind wrote something different. Quite honestly, I think Klein should go right ahead and write a book like that if he wants to. It wouldn’t be as much fun to read as Suskind’s book, but it might make people like Matt Yglesias and Brad DeLong happy.
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Well, today I’m starting with a quote from Robert Kuttner for The American Prospect about Larry Summers’ appearance at the INET conference. INET is the acronym for the Institute for New Economic Thinking. It was created with a $100 million grant from George Soros and no, I wasn’t invited and I didn’t attend. Mark Thoma and Brad De Long did. You can read their blogs if you want other views.
Larry Summers, now back at Harvard, was the after-dinner entertainment, interviewed by the prodigious Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, the world’s most respected financial journalist.
Summers was terrific, acknowledging that the stimulus of February 2009 was too small, that the idea of deflating our way to recovery is insane, that de-regulation had been excessive, and that much of the economics profession missed the developing crisis because its infatuation with self-correcting markets.
If only this man had been Obama’s chief economic adviser!
He’s referring to this:
Also worth mentioning is this op-ed by former Obama economist Christina Romer on why we have abysmal unemployment. If you read and listen to both of them, it’s going to be obvious that Obama must not have listened to either of them. No wonder they quit so early on. That leaves Timothy-in-the-well Geithner holding the bag for this miserable recovery, imho. Evidently, the two of them thought what most economists were thinking for several years now but it just wasn’t evident from policy. I guess if I heard this austerity crap was coming down the hopper during this miserable recovery, I’d have bailed before my professional credibility went to the crapper too. Guess Timothy always has the shadow banking industry to keep him warm. Meanwhile, Summers continues his apology tour and Romer clarifies the unemployment situation.
Strong evidence suggests that the natural rate of unemployment actually hasn’t risen very much. Instead, the elevated unemployment rate appears to reflect mainly cyclical factors, particularly a lingering shortfall in consumer spending and business investment.
Okay. The important phrase here is “lingering shortfall in consumer spending and business investment”. That means none of these idiotic tax cuts worked. It also means the stimulus was woefully small and ill-directed. It also means that it’s absolutely no time to worry about austerity unless you want yet another recession. Frankly, I think the Republicans are secretly trying to bring one on and Obama is just not that informed about economics and more concerned about chasing the mythical bi-partisan unicorn to wake the frick up.
Since BB knows that I’m a wannabe astrophysicist (or Egyptologist depending on the day of the week), she sent me another kewl science link about a star torn apart by a blackhole! NEATO!!!
On March 28, 2011, NASA’s Swift satellite caught a flash of high-energy X-rays pouring in from deep space. Swift is designed to do this, and since its launch in 2004 has seen hundreds of such things, usually caused by stars exploding at the ends of their lives.
But this time was hardly “usual”. It didn’t see a star exploding as a supernova, it saw a star literally getting torn apart as it fell too close to a black hole!
The African Union’s been chatting up their “Brother Leader” Whacko Ghadafo and have announced the possibility of an end to the fighting in Libya. And, raise your hand if you’d like to buy the Crescent City connection because I’m entertaining offers since the Brooklyn bridge sold so well last week.
“We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader’s delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said.
The AU mission, headed by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Mauritanian president, arrived in Tripoli on Sunday.
Besides Zuma and Abdel Aziz, the delegation includes Amadou Toumani Toure, Denis Sassou Nguessou and Yoweri Museveni – respectively the presidents of Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
Gaddafi made his first appearance in front of the foreign media in weeks when he joined the AU delegation at his Bab al-Aziziyah compound.
The committee said in a statement that it had decided to go along with a road map adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, “diligent conveying of humanitarian aid” and “dialogue between the Libyan parties”.
Speaking in Tripoli, Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, said the issue of Gaddafi’s departure had come up in the talks but declined to give details.
Why is it I want to sing I wanna zooma zooma zooma zooma zoom every time I read something about South Africa these days? Well, as long as it’s not one of those horn thingies that ruined the world cup this last time out.
More crap from Crazy Republicans via Think Progress: Cantor Sees Current Medicare and Medicaid Programs As A ‘Safety Net’ For ‘People Who Frankly Don’t Need One’
Today on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace questioned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) support for a plan in which Americans “pay more out of pocket.” Defending the proposal, Cantor argued that these programs sometimes provide a “safety net” for “people who frankly don’t need one” and that the shift of the burden from the government to the beneficiary will teach government “to do more with less”:
CANTOR: We are in a situation where we have a safety net in place in this country for people who frankly don’t need one. We have to focus on making sure we have a safety net for those who need it.
WALLACE: The Medicaid people — you’re going to cut that by $750 billion.
CANTOR: The medicaid reductions are off the baseline. so what we’re saying is allow states to have the flexibility to deal with their populations, their indigent populations and the healthcare needs the way they know how to deal with them. Not to impose some mandate from a bureaucrat in washington.
WALLACE: But you are giving them less money to do it.
CANTOR: In terms of the baseline, that is correct…What we’re saying is there is so much imposition of a mandate that doesn’t relate to the actual quality of care. We believe if you put in place the mechanism that allow for personal choice as far as Medicare is concerned, as well as the programs in Medicaid, that we can actually get to a better resolve and do what most Americans are learning how to do, which is to do more with less.
Actually, 99% of Americans are doing less with less. One percent of Americans are doing more with the corporate and rich people’s welfare that folks like Cantor have handed them on a golden platter for the last ten years. If you have the stomach for it, the link to the TV interview is over at TP too. Frankly, I’ve been sick enough recently and don’t need to see anything that just makes me sicker.
I don’t know about you, but watching Donald Trump–the man who lost his father’s billions and then ran through government subsidies and finally made some money as a really bad reality TV star–as a potential presidential candidate has been sort’ve a surreal trip. James Polis at Richochet says that Trump is Final Proof that the Political Class Has Failed. Trump’s potential candidacy is like an extension of his reality show with gobs of opportunism, self-promotion and narcissism. It’s bad hair gone wild.
There are two main theories cooperating to explain the Trump phenomenon:
- Donald Trump is today’s best self-promoter and professional opportunist.
- The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.
But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what’s going on. We can’t even turn for supplemental help to subtheories that emphasize the rise of celebreality culture, the fall of Sarah Palin, or The Continuing Story of Bungling Barry. These variables all appear somewhere in the equation that has produced the Trump phenomenon. But none of them explain it.
Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it’s not that Americans ‘lack trust’ in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.
My theory is that he’s just a summer replacement, along with Michelle Bachmann, that will set the stage for fall when the blue suited, pompadour-sporting set take over to bore us to death with talks of tax cuts and subsidies ala President Dementia. Other Republican Presidential wannabes must be thinking we’ll be tired of self-promoting, idea-less hacks by then and that they’ll look refreshing by comparison in a few months. Oddly enough, the P woman is keeping a low profile in all of this. Maybe she’s finally figured out that discretion is the better part of valor for a change or it could be she just has enough money for an excellent summer vacation and has decided to exercise her options.
Okay, so I’m going to move on to something light (weirdly, spinning light, emanating from the patterned Chinese lantern covering the naked bulb in my dorm room while a John Lennon album plays Power to the People on my old turntable … oops, wrong flashback) from New Scientist. Thought mushrooms were just for old hippies and Native American Shaman? Think again. Here’s the headline: Earliest evidence for magic mushroom use in Europe.
EUROPEANS may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.
The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.
Like the objects depicted in the mural, P. hispanica has a bell-shaped cap topped with a dome, and lacks an annulus – a ring around the stalk. “Its stalks also vary from straight to sinuous, as they do in the mural,” says Akers (Economic Botany, DOI: 10.1007/s12231-011-9152-5).
This isn’t the oldest prehistoric painting thought to depict magic mushrooms, though. An Algerian mural that may show the species Psilocybe mairei is 7000 to 9000 years old.
What a long strange ride it’s been ever since.
The Obama administration has fought all attempts by lawyers for detainees to have the Supreme Court review those rulings. And while the news was overshadowed by the administration’s concession that alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-defendants will be tried by a military commission rather than federal jury — a separate issue — the court last week turned away three detainee challenges arising from Boumediene.
One group active in representing the detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, decried what it called the court’s refusal “to defend its Boumediene decision and other precedents from the open defiance of the D.C. Circuit.”
The government told justices that there is no reason for them to believe anything other than “lower courts have properly performed the task that this court assigned them in Boumediene v. Bush.”
“Open defiance” may go a bit far in describing the D.C. Circuit’s rulings, but there is no doubt that the court’s action in Boumediene — and its inaction since — has left few happy.
While detainee advocates complain about the court’s timidity, D.C. Senior Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph has received wide attention for a speech he gave last year in which he compared the justices to characters in “The Great Gatsby,” who have created a mess they expect others to clean up.
You don’t need me to start in on the Supremes this morning since BB did such a great job last night. Please go read her thread on just exactly how bankrupt our government has become. Believe me, it’s not an article on the deficit either.
Here’s an important information on the Koch Brothers, grand wizards of the kleptocracy. Alternet says they’re worse than you thought and they’re the astroturf beneathe the Tea Party’s wings.
Then look at a recent position pushed by Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch (and whose sibling organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, he chairs):
Similarly, Americans for Prosperity supports the House continuing resolution that cuts spending by $61 billion. Those cuts would reduce the budget for the CFTC by one-third. Make no mistake: Gutting the CFTC or limiting its authority would be a boon to Wall Street businesses that use complex financial instruments. But while the result is more profits for oil companies, it means everyone else pays more at the pump.
Okay, now have a look at the Kochs’ recent direct contributions to political candidates:
The Kochs donated directly to 62 of the 87 members of the House GOP freshman class…and to 12 of the new members of the U.S. Senate.
Don’t look now. It’s Atlas Shrugged, the Movie. Bad fiction just refuses to die when it gives erections to obsessive white men. I’m just waiting for next year’s Razzies. It’s the tale of a businessman obsessed. No, not the movie …the making of the movie …
It has taken businessman John Aglialoro nearly 20 years to realize his ambition of making a movie out of “Atlas Shrugged,” the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that has sold more than 7 million copies and has as passionate a following among many political conservatives and libertarians as “Twilight” has among teen girls.
But the version of the book coming to theaters Friday is decidedly independent, low-cost and even makeshift. Shot for a modest $10 million by a first-time director with a cast of little-known actors, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” the first in an expected trilogy, will play on about 300 screens in 80 markets. It’s being marketed with the help of conservative media and “tea party” organizing groups and put into theaters by a small, Salt Lake City-based booking service.
I think I’ll pass. I prefer those nice little British films. I’m anxiously awaiting the redo of Upstairs, Downstairs. I never could make it through that silly John Galt speech even when I was young and my mind was an open book. Now, where are those lights on the ceiling when you need them?
What’s on your blogging and reading list today?
I’ll bet Dakinikat can’t wait to start plowing through the New York Times Magazine’s cover story this week: The White House Looks for Work: Inside Obama’s Struggle to Bring Down Unemployment, by Peter Baker.
Who knew Obama was involved in a struggle over jobs? As far as I can tell jobs are about the last thing on Obama’s mind. But what do I know? Apparently, there has been a life and death struggle going on within the President’s economic team over jobs.
Let me just buy them a clue: the answer isn’t cutting the deficit and wiping out the social safety net. Anyway, back to the Caucus blog’s preview of the upcoming NYT mag story and some of the “surprisingly newsy nuggets” we can look forward to reading on Sunday morning.
Mr. Baker writes that the president’s economic team “fractured repeatedly over philosophy (should jobs or deficits take priority?) and personality (who got to attend which meetings?), resulting in feuds that ultimately helped break it apart.”
The most sensible “tidbit” in the article comes from Christina Romer.
“In Washington, she said, ‘you’re not supposed to say the obvious thing, which is that in retrospect of course it should have been bigger. With unemployment at 10 percent, I don’t know how you could say you wouldn’t have done anything different. Of course you would have made it bigger.’”
— In the article, Ms. Romer said the Obama administration should have gone back to Congress for more stimulus money to bolster the economy when it was clear how bad things really were.
He writes: “‘In my mind,’ she said, ‘the problem was not in the original package; it was in not adjusting to changed circumstances.’ Once it was clear that the situation was deteriorating, she said, the White House should have gone back to Congress for more stimulus money. ‘That was where we could have been bolder,’ she said.”
Duh. For that kind of truth-telling, you get sent to
Siberia UC Berkeley.
There’s a supposedly funny story about Larry Summers that I don’t understand. Can someone explain it to me?
Mr. Baker offers this fun tidbit about Mr. Summers: “Tan from a holiday in Jamaica and trying to get his bearings again at Harvard, where he plans to teach a course on Obama’s economic policy and write a book, Summers sat at a corner table and ordered bisque and — from the lighter-fare menu — a steak ‘as rare as your chef will make it.’”
On second thought, maybe Dak should skip the NYT mag article. If these are the highlights, it sounds like a crashing bore. And I didn’t see anything about jobs in there either.