Daily Archive: 08/01/2013

Aug 01 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker: What Is ‘Seinfeld’ Worth?

THE tinkering of federal government accountants is rarely newsmaking stuff. But after a few tweaks to the way the Bureau of Economic Analysis calculates the gross domestic product, those accountants have pulled off something seemingly remarkable: in the blink of an eye this week, they made the size of the American economy grow by $560 billion.

Not only is this a big change – that output, 3.6 percent of the total, lifting the economy to $16.6 trillion this year, is like adding a New Jersey to the nation’s economy – but it raises important questions about what we consider economic value and costs, and what we leave out.

New York Times Editorial Board: More Fog From the Spy Agencies

The Obama administration released narrowly selected and heavily censored documents and sent more officials to testify before Congress on Wednesday in an effort to defend the legality and value of the surveillance of all Americans’ telephone calls. The effort was a failure.

The documents clarified nothing of importance, and the hearing raised major new questions about whether the intelligence agencies had been misleading Congress and the public about the electronic dragnet. At the end of the day, we were more convinced than ever that the government had yet to come clean on the legal arguments and court orders underlying the surveillance.

John Glaser: Bradley Manning Revealed Crimes Far Worse Than the Ones He Supposedly Committed

WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning has been acquitted of the most serious charge against him, that of aiding the enemy. But the 20-something other charges, including espionage, have stuck and could land him a sentence of more than 100 years in prison.

In the media world, even national security hawks like The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake concede that Manning’s leaks had “a lot of public benefit.” But very few have argued Manning should go free.

Did Manning break the law? According to the letter, yes he did. But since when did we presume to hold people in government accountable to the law?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Bankers: The Real House Thieves of New Jersey

Write a cookbook, go to jail?

David Dayen points out the absurdity and hypocrisy behind the Obama/Holder Justice Department’s decision to indict two stars of The Real Housewives of New Jersey on charges of mortgage fraud while Wall Street’s crooked bankers still go unpunished.

Dayen points out that Wall Street bankers illegally foreclosed on 244,000 customers, for a total he estimates at $48 billion, and provides more detail on the scope of bankers’ foreclosures crimes.

But that’s barely scratching the surface. Bankers also defrauded mortgage investors, manipulated energy prices, and fraudulently tampered with lending rates, at a total cost that may well run into the trillions.

Robert Sheer: Gag Me With Lawrence Summers

The idea that Barack Obama would still consider appointing Lawrence Summers to head the Federal Reserve rather than order an investigation into this former White House official’s Wall Street payments, reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal, mocks the president’s claimed concern for the disappearing middle class. Summers is in large measure responsible for that dismal outcome, and twice now, after top level economic postings in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, he has returned to gorge himself at the Wall Street trough.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: Can Gays Help Save Marriage?

The rapid evolution of attitudes toward gay marriage is a wonder to behold. On few issues has public opinion moved as quickly or decisively. Many who are against the formal recognition of homosexual unions are now resigned to the reality they will eventually become commonplace.

The main drivers of this transformation are obvious. Most Americans now know that people they care about are gay or lesbian, and empathy can do wonderful things. Partly because of this, younger Americans overwhelmingly favor same-sex marriage. They will dominate the electorates of the future.  

Aug 01 2013

Stasi on Steroids

Revealed: NSA program collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Wednesday 31 July 2013 08.56 EDT

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.



“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisa warrant only if the target of their surveillance is a ‘US person’, though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.



The system is similar to the way in which NSA analysts generally can intercept the communications of anyone they select, including, as one NSA document put it, “communications that transit the United States and communications that terminate in the United States”.

One document, a top secret 2010 guide describing the training received by NSA analysts for general surveillance under the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, explains that analysts can begin surveillance on anyone by clicking a few simple pull-down menus designed to provide both legal and targeting justifications. Once options on the pull-down menus are selected, their target is marked for electronic surveillance and the analyst is able to review the content of their communications:



Beyond emails, the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.



The quantity of communications accessible through programs such as XKeyscore is staggeringly large. One NSA report from 2007 estimated that there were 850bn “call events” collected and stored in the NSA databases, and close to 150bn internet records. Each day, the document says, 1-2bn records were added.

William Binney, a former NSA mathematician, said last year that the agency had “assembled on the order of 20tn transactions about US citizens with other US citizens”, an estimate, he said, that “only was involving phone calls and emails”. A 2010 Washington Post article reported that “every day, collection systems at the [NSA] intercept and store 1.7bn emails, phone calls and other type of communications.”



While the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008 requires an individualized warrant for the targeting of US persons, NSA analysts are permitted to intercept the communications of such individuals without a warrant if they are in contact with one of the NSA’s foreign targets.

The ACLU’s deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the Guardian last month that national security officials expressly said that a primary purpose of the new law was to enable them to collect large amounts of Americans’ communications without individualized warrants.

“The government doesn’t need to ‘target’ Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications,” said Jaffer. “The government inevitably sweeps up the communications of many Americans” when targeting foreign nationals for surveillance.



In a letter this week to senator Ron Wyden, director of national intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that NSA analysts have exceeded even legal limits as interpreted by the NSA in domestic surveillance.

Acknowledging what he called “a number of compliance problems”, Clapper attributed them to “human error” or “highly sophisticated technology issues” rather than “bad faith”.

However, Wyden said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: “These violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling.”

Aug 01 2013

Another Bad Bargain

Radicals

Jay Ackroyd, Eschaton

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Village and the Democratic leadership really is embarked on a radical restructuring campaign, to gut the social insurance programs, lower wage rates and establish long-term partnerships between powerful private interests and powerful public sector agencies.

Doing this is really unpopular, and so can’t be brought directly to a vote–hence the Gangs, and the Commissions, the classified trade talks, and the terrifying debt crises and, sadly, the 60 vote Senate. None of this has worked so far.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.

Zombie rising

by digby, Hullabaloo

Monday, July 29, 2013

Apparently, no matter how low the deficit goes or how much the president publicly repudiates the deficit framework,  the White House is still offering what it offered back when the deficit was widely considered the greatest threat the world has ever known:



The president admitted in his NY Times interview that the deficit “framework” has been “damaging” and perhaps he finally believes that. But that means he must really believe that the elderly are living high on the hog on their Social Security and need to be forced to shop a little more smartly. How else to explain why they continue to offer this deal?



The Villagers are far from willing to give up their favorite stale tropes. They never are. Remember, there was a time not long ago when the deficit was gone and we had a projected surplus. They still fretted about the old people stealing the food out of baby’s mouths.



(T)he wealthy celebrities and aristocrats of the Village will never stop fear mongering that these programs are going to swallow up everything.  If the president is on the same page then he could very well have been saying in his interview that “austerity” is damaging while still believing we need to destroy these programs in order to save them. This belief is not a policy in Washington DC — it’s a religion.

Anti-Tax Republicans Once Again May Save Social Security

By: Jon Walker, Firedog Lake

Tuesday July 30, 2013 7:02 am

Despite a half dozen failed tries to get a grand bargain, President Obama is still working hard at a new attempt. Fortunately, this latest effort seems likely to fail for the same reason as all the others.



If insanity is trying to do the same thing over expecting different results, than the administration is clinically ill.

Given that there is a fundamental and unbridgeable disagreement on this issue the administration should have moved on to basically anything else, but it has become Obama’s white whale. It is the dangerous obsession which has repeatedly brought needless destruction.

The article goes on to remind everyone that Obama is both open and even eager to cut Social Security benefits as part of a deal. The only thing that has repeatedly saved the program is Republicans refusal to increase taxes.

Is a grand bargain out of reach?

By MANU RAJU and JOHN BRESNAHAN, Politico

7/29/13 7:33 PM EDT

Republicans and the White House both agree on proposals to cut Social Security known as chained CPI, referring to reduced payments to beneficiaries because of how annual cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. And the two sides seem to be on the same page regarding reducing benefits that wealthy seniors now receive from entitlement programs, a proposal known as means testing.

But the White House wants new taxes in exchange for those entitlement cuts, something at which the GOP continues to balk. And Republicans have pushed for the two sides to agree on going beyond the typical 10-year budget projections and instead examine how much the budget picture will worsen over the next 30 years. But the White House is resisting a 30-year budget projection, believing the numbers are unrealistic.



Even if the group reaches a deal with the White House, it’s hardly clear new taxes could win over any additional Republicans – in the House and Senate. And a White House offer on entitlements would turn off scores of Democrats who have vowed to protect the social safety net programs.

Without a grand bargain, to cut deficits by about $4 trillion over the next decade, Congress and the White House may instead simply try to find a way to prevent the government from shutting down in October. But the House GOP and the Senate Democrats remain tens of billions of dollars apart. And as Republicans are demanding fresh spending cuts in order to increase the debt ceiling, the White House and Senate Democrats say they will only pass a debt ceiling increase with no strings attached.

Obama proposal would cut corporate taxes, boost spending

By Jonathan Easley and Justin Sink, The Hill

07/30/13 02:19 PM ET

Obama’s plan would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, with a preferred rate of 25 percent for manufacturers. It would also allow small businesses to write off $1 million in investments.

Obama also wants Congress to sign off on new infrastructure spending, aid to community colleges, and investment in manufacturing hubs. The White House did not say how much Obama wants to spend.

To pay for the infrastructure investments and other spending, Obama proposed that companies be able to repatriate foreign earnings back to the U.S. subject to a one-time “transition fee.”

Obama Offers to Cut Corporate Tax Rate as Part of Jobs Deal

By MARK LANDLER and JACKIE CALMES, The New York Times

Published: July 30, 2013

The terms of Mr. Obama’s tax plan are those that Timothy F. Geithner, his former Treasury secretary, first proposed in early 2012, as the presidential campaign was getting under way: the corporate tax rate would be reduced to 28 percent, from 35 percent, with a lower rate of 25 percent for manufacturers.



For two years, Republicans have rejected the bulk of Mr. Obama’s initiatives to create jobs by investing in public-works projects, higher education, advanced manufacturing and scientific research. A big reason was that he previously has paired those ideas – to offset the spending and avoid adding to annual budget deficits – with proposals to repeal or reduce tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations, especially oil companies, that Republicans reject.

Obama Proposes ‘Grand Bargain’ for Jobs

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: July 30, 2013 at 11:52 AM ET

The president has previously insisted such business tax reform be coupled with an individual tax overhaul. His new offer drops that demand and calls only for lowering the corporate rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, with an even lower effective tax rate of 25 percent for manufacturers.

Obama wants those rate changes to be coupled with significant spending on some sort of job creation program, such as manufacturing, infrastructure or community colleges.

Congressional Republicans have also long insisted on tying corporate and individual tax reform so that small business owners who use the individual tax code would be offered cuts along with large corporations. But they oppose using the revenue generated from changes in the corporate tax structure for government spending programs.



Senior administration officials described the corporate tax proposal as the first new economic idea Obama plans to offer in the coming months, with budget deadlines looming in the fall. Administration officials wouldn’t put a price tag on the proposal or say how much would be a “significant” investment in jobs since the dollar figures would be part of negotiations with Congress. But in an example from this year’s State of the Union address, Obama proposed $50 billion to put Americans to work repairing roads and bridges and other construction jobs.

Obama Urges Business Tax Rewrite to Help Spur New Jobs

By Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg News

Jul 30, 2013 2:15 PM ET

Under the proposal, Obama would seek a business tax change that produces a one-time revenue gain, and that would be earmarked for the repair of roads and bridges or other public works, innovation centers for manufacturing and community college training to close skill gaps.



“It represents an unmistakable signal that the president has backed away from his campaign-era promise to corporate America that tax reform would be revenue-neutral to them,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

The jobs-related programs would be funded by a one-time transition fee associated with the $2 trillion in foreign earnings that are currently held overseas, said an administration official who asked not to be identified to discuss details before the speech.

The officials declined to specify how much money would be generated and didn’t detail how it would be structured.



Obama, in February 2012, proposed reducing the top corporate rate for most companies to 28 percent from 35 percent. The plan would eliminate tax breaks and change core tax-code features such as interest deductibility. He’s also proposed lowering the rate for manufacturers to 25 percent and expanding and making permanent the research-and-development tax credit.



The idea of taxing approximately $2 trillion in accumulated overseas earnings as a transition to a new system resembles a proposal from Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Spending the proceeds on jobs programs, though, may run counter to the Michigan Republican’s goal of a revenue-neutral approach.

Camp’s 2011 draft would require companies to pay 5.25 percent on all offshore funds, regardless of whether they are brought home. He plans to include that in legislation he wants to move through his committee this year.

Under the current tax system, U.S.-based companies must pay the U.S. rate of 35 percent on all the income they earn around the world. They get tax credits for payments to foreign governments and don’t owe the U.S. unless they bring the profits home. Companies such as Caterpillar Inc. and United Technologies Corp. have called for the U.S. to switch to a so-called territorial system that wouldn’t tax most future offshore earnings.



Even as the economy continues to expand and add jobs four years into the nation’s recovery from its worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans at the middle of economic ladder haven’t regained lost prosperity.

The economy grew at a 1.8 percent rate during the first three months of the year, more slowly than its 2.5 percent average pace during the last two decades. The unemployment rate, at 7.6 percent in June, remains above its 6 percent average over the past 20 years.

While the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index is up more than 18 percent this year and has almost doubled since Obama took office in 2009, the median household income of $51,500 in May is 5 percent lower than in June 2009, the official end of the recession, according to estimates by Sentier Research.

President Obama’s ‘grand bargain’ for the middle-class

By Jamelle Bouie, Washington Post

Published: July 30 at 11:04 am

The details of the proposal are straightforward: For Republicans, he offers a cut to corporate income taxes, from 35 percent to 28 percent, along with fewer loopholes and a preferred rate for manufacturers. And to gain Democratic support, he includes a series of projects meant to “invest” in the middle-class and boost the economy.

While it’s hard to say how much ordinary Americans would gain from the proposal if it were to become law, what is apparent is the extent to which this “grand bargain” is a boon for business, which wants tax cuts and new investments in infrastructure (which makes it easier to conduct business). Indeed, if Amazon is any indication, the kinds of jobs that might come out of this “better bargain for the middle class” aren’t great.

Aug 01 2013

On This Day In History August 1

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

August 1 is the 213th day of the year (214th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 152 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1981, MTV, Music Television, goes on the air for the first time ever, with the words (spoken by one of MTV’s creators, John Lack): “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video to air on the new cable television channel, which initially was available only to households in parts of New Jersey. MTV went on to revolutionize the music industry and become an influential source of pop culture and entertainment in the United States and other parts of the world, including Europe, Asia and Latin America, which all have MTV-branded channels.

In MTV’s early days, its programming consisted of basic music videos that were introduced by VJs (video jockeys) and provided for free by record companies. As the record industry recognized MTV’s value as a promotional vehicle, money was invested in making creative, cutting-edge videos. Some directors, including Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Three Kings) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), worked on music videos before segueing into feature films. In the 1980s, MTV was instrumental in promoting the careers of performers such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince and Duran Duran, whose videos played in heavy rotation.

Aug 01 2013

XKeyscore: Another NSA Program Exposed

As a hearing on reining in the secret surveillance program was taking place, another “tool” in the NSA’s collection of on-line data was revealed to the public.

Senate Panel Presses N.S.A. on Phone Logs

by Charlie Savage and David E. Sanger, The New York Times

Senators of both parties on Wednesday sharply challenged the National Security Agency’s collection of records of all domestic phone calls, even as the latest leaked N.S.A. document provided new details on the way the agency monitors Web browsing around the world.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the chairman, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, accused Obama administration officials of overstating the success of the domestic call log program. He said he had been shown a classified list of “terrorist events” detected through surveillance, and it did not show that “dozens or even several terrorist plots” had been thwarted by the domestic program.

“If this program is not effective it has to end. So far, I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen,” Mr. Leahy said, citing the “massive privacy implications” of keeping records of every American’s domestic calls.

XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’

by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

• XKeyscore gives ‘widest-reaching’ collection of online data

• NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches

• Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history

• NSA’s XKeyscore program – read one of the presentations

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian’s earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

All In host Chris Hayes talks about the new efforts at transparency and the latest NSA revelations courtesy of Edward Snowden with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.

With the crackdown on whistleblowers and failure to pursue the crimes they revealed, one wonders just how far is the US from becoming the Soviet Russia of the 21st century.

Aug 01 2013

Their Silence Killed

There is no justice in following unjust laws.

~Aaron Swartz~

Aaron Swartz photo imagesqtbnANd9GcSri_QsacSc5jhQFcunN_zps1a2d5300.jpgThe long awaited internal report (pdf) of its roll of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the federal prosecution of Aaron Swartz for hacking into its computer system has been finally been released. Aaron was being charges by federal prosecutors with 13 counts of violating the Computer Frauds Act. He was facing a $1 million fine and up to 35 years in prison when he committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment in January of this year. Aaron also suffered from severe depression.

The report found that MIT did not press for prosecution of Aaron for downloading several million academic articles from the JSTOR database through the MIT computer network, which were returned. However, the school did nothing to stop the over zealous prosecution.

In a Guardian article written by Amanda Holpuch, the report stated that the school viewed that US v Swartz was “simply a lawsuit to which it was not a party.” Yet, they told the prosecutors that that it was not seeking punishment for Swartz but never actually said that they were opposed to jail time. How these people thought that that they were “not party” to Aaron’s prosecution is simply beyond belief.

According to the report, prior to his death, “the MIT community paid scant attention” to Swartz’s prosecution and few people expressed concerns to the administration about the case. However, Swartz’s father, a consultant to the MIT lab and former student there, asked MIT to aid efforts to have the charges dropped or to get a plea deal that would not have jail time. Two faculty members advocated a similar appeal.

In choosing the position of neutrality, the report says the school did not consider Swartz’s contributions to internet technology and was not critical enough of the US government’s “overtly aggressive prosecution.” MIT also did not account for Swartz’s prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which the report called ” a poorly drafted and questionable criminal law.” That law has been widely criticised since Swartz’s death. [..]

Friends and family have been harshly critical of the report with Aaron’s partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, calling the report a “whitewash” on her blog.

She also criticized the school for objecting to a Freedom of Information Act request for the secret service files on Swartz’s case. The school took the unusual step of intervening in the request for government documents after a judge ordered the documents to be released in July.

The Wired reported that while MIT claimed it was “neutral,” it is very clear from the report that they willingly cooperated with the prosecution’s investigation:

MIT police called the Cambridge police, who showed up with a Secret Service agent from the New England Electronic Crimes Task Force – sparking the federal investigation.

The report says that MIT officially adopted a neutral posture with respect to the federal criminal case, treating it as an outside matter. But it also details extensive cooperation between MIT officials and federal agents and prosecutors.

MIT sniffed network traffic from Swartz’s computer and provided logs voluntarily to the government, without demanding a subpoena. And MIT did not offer to give Swartz’s defense team access to the employees interviewed by prosecutors. “The choice not to do this was based on a judgment that the criminal process was sufficiently fair, without the need for it to provide equality of outcome,” the report notes.

“The report makes clear that MIT was not neutral,” says Robert Swartz, who’d met with MIT repeatedly during the prosecution to plead for his son. “But they should not have been neutral. They should have advocated of Aaron’s behalf, because the law under which he was charged was wrong.”

“They cooperated with prosecutors in endless ways, and they were fundamentally opaque to us.”

My fervent hope that the people at MIT who decided to cooperate with the aggressive prosecution of Aaron sleep at night haunted by his face.

Aug 01 2013

My Summers Vacation

So what did they talk about at that hastily called Congressional Democrat/Presidential caucus designed to eclipse Alan Grayson’s hearings on NSA spying during the last day before the August recess?

Why, what a swell guy Larry Summers is of course.

Obama defends Summers to congressional Democrats, says he’s not close to Fed chair decision

By Ed O’Keefe, David Nakamura and Paul Kane, Washington Post

Updated: Wednesday, July 31, 2:40 PM

In a tense exchange with Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) during a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, Obama defended Summers’ role in helping to restore the U.S. economy and “expressed frustration” with a growing negative campaign against him, according to one lawmaker who was present.



The potential Summers nomination came up in separate meetings with both House and Senate Democrats, according to attendees. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Obama only discussed Summers when asked about the Fed selection process.

“It wasn’t really about Larry Summers – it was about how important this decision is, the ramifications of who the chairman of the Fed is and is there for a long time to come and recognizing that there are differing views in our caucus on the subject and how we go forward, but understanding that whoever the president chooses will be received with great respect by our caucus,” Pelosi told reporters.

Obama also faced questions about Summers during a more than hour-long session with Senate Democrats. According to one Democrat present, the president appeared to grow frustrated at the questions about Summers and Yellen. Obama described their ideological differences on economic policy as “paper thin,” the senator said, requesting anonymity to describe the president’s private discussion.



White House press secretary Jay Carney later said Obama was defending Summers as a valued former member of his economic team that helped craft policy to help the nation recover from the Great Recession.

Obama defends Summers, tells Dems: Don’t believe everything in HuffPost

By Mike Lillis and Peter Schroeder, The Hill

07/31/13 01:31 PM ET

“He gave a full-throated defense of Larry Summers and his record in helping to save the economy in the dark days of ’09,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said after the meeting. Obama, Connolly added, “felt that Larry had been badly treated by some on the left and in the press.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said Obama told the Democrats “not to believe everything you read in The Huffington Post,” a reference to the liberal website that’s been critical of Summers’s record.



After Obama held a similar meeting with Senate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged that Democrats have differing opinions about which candidate is best-suited to replace Bernanke. But he was quick to emphasize that the choice is ultimately Obama’s to make.

“That decision comes from the president,” Reid told reporters in the Capitol. “And whoever the president selects this caucus will be for that person.”



Pelosi added she would ultimately back whomever the president selects. On Wednesday, Pelosi downplayed the Summers discussion.

“It wasn’t really about Larry Summers,” Pelosi told reporters after the meeting. “It was about how important this decision is, the ramifications of being chairman of the Fed will be there for a long time to come, recognizing that there are differing views in our caucus on the subject and how we go forward, but understanding that whoever the president chooses will be received with respect by our caucus.”

At the meeting, Obama also argued that “it’s unfair to criticize Summers for the fact that the stimulus bill wasn’t even larger, because who amongst us thinks that you could have passed a larger stimulus bill?” Sherman said.

Don’t send Summers to the Fed

Felix Salmon, Reuters

Jul 24, 2013 14:59 UTC

The arguments for Yellen are very strong; the arguments against Summers are strong; the arguments for Summers are weak; and the arguments against Yellen are all but nonexistent. (While there are lots of people who think that Summers should not be Fed chair, there’s pretty much no one who feels the same way about Yellen.)

As a result, if Obama picks Summers, it won’t be on the merits; instead, it will be on the grounds that Obama likes Summers, and is in awe of his intelligence. (Summers is, to put it mildly, not good at charming those he considers to be his inferiors, but he’s surprisingly excellent at cultivating people with real power.)

What’s more, the move would be a calculated snub to bien pensant opinion. Never mind the utter shambles that Summers made of Harvard, or the way he treated Cornel West, or his tone-deaf speech about women’s aptitude, or the pollution memo, or the Shleifer affair, or the way he shut down Brooksley Born at the CFTC, or his role in repealing Glass-Steagall, or his generally toxic combination of ego and temper – so long as POTUS likes Larry, and/or so long as Summers is good at working key Obama advisors like Geithner, Lew, and Rubin, that’s all that matters.

The choice of Summers would also be the clearest signal yet that Obama feels that he did what needed to be done to deal with the financial crisis, and that financial reform is, for the rest of his presidency, going to be a very low priority. Summers is a deregulator in his bones; he didn’t like the consumer-friendly parts of Dodd-Frank, and his actions have nearly always erred on the side of being far too friendly to Wall Street. He considers monetary policy to be largely irrelevant in a zero interest rate environment, and there is no chance whatsoever that he would take a robust leadership role with respect to the Fed’s other big job, which is regulation. If you want to repeat all of the Clinton-era mistakes of financial regulation, you can’t do better than appointing Clinton’s very own Treasury secretary.

Not Even Wall Street Wants Larry Summers at the Fed

By: Jon Walker, Firedog Lake

Monday July 29, 2013 7:59 am

One of the few potential justifications for President Obama picking Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve, despite the strong opposition to him from many liberals, was that Wall Street preferred him. According to a CNBC poll, though, this is not the case. Summers is even less popular with Wall Street than he is with liberal bloggers and Democratic senators.



It seems the only real qualification Summers has going for him is that Obama really likes him. He is not the most experienced, the best qualified, the most popular, the easiest to confirm or the politically smartest choice.

Yellen/Summers and the Twilight of the VSPs

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

July 31, 2013, 6:31 am

Whatever happens with the Fed succession – and boy, did Obama’s inner circle make a gratuitous mess of this one – it’s been one heck of a revealing episode, and not just because of the sexism on display, which started out with thinly-veiled talk of “gravitas” and eventually went into full-blown masculinity panic.



Anyway, it’s also clear that Summers made some pretty big mistakes in his campaign. Neil Irwin points to his silence on monetary policy, which was supposed to be cagey but ended up looking slippery; John Cassidy points to his failure to offer any kind of mea culpa for past errors, which arguably was about preserving gravitas but ends up making him seem unreformed.

But why did Summers make these errors? In part because he is a whip-smart academic, the terror of the seminar room, who likes to play political operator – and as a political operator, he’s a great academic. But there is, I’d argue, a larger issue: Summers did not recognize the extent to which the political world has changed. He’s been carefully cultivating an image as a Very Serious Person, in a world where VSPness has gone from a source of cachet to being a liability on both right and left.

Think about it. Carefully cultivating a reputation for Seriousness does you no good on the right in a world where the Republican Party is more or less officially committed to crank economic doctrines, and where the GOP’s universally acknowledged intellectual leader is an obvious flimflam man.

Meanwhile, many if not all Democrats are well aware that the VSPs have been wrong about everything for the past decade or more, from the risks of financial deregulation to the fear of nonexistent bond vigilantes. Coming across as the return of Robert Rubin may have seemed savvy back in, say, 2008; it’s worse than useless now.

I suppose Summers might still get the job – but if so, it would be purely because the president is willing to spend a substantial amount of political capital on his behalf. The point is that behavior that was supposed to make Summers a safe choice has actually ended up making him unappealing to both sides.