Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cliburn Piano Competition Now in Semi-Finals

As Tony the Tiger used to say, "It's g-r-r-r-r-eat!" You can watch online at Or YouTube has a Van Cliburn Channel with highlights. Since I can't listen on my local NPR station or watch on PBS, I sure am glad the Van Cliburn Foundation is webcasting it all...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Michael Holman on Dambisa Moyo

From the Financial Times Arena blog:
Of course aid corrupts. The evidence is there, from Congo to Kenya. And who can doubt that most aid to Africa does not work: a greater percentage of Kenyans today live in poverty than at independence some 45 years ago, despite billions of dollars of foreign assistance.

But the consequences of aid are more insidious and more damaging than the pro-aid lobby realises. It undermines the expectations of citizens, and erodes the management capacity of the state. And it destroys the social contract that is at the heart of governance. In return for citizens’ loyalty, expressed in the form of paying tax and defending the state when called on, the citizen expects the provision of basic services: roads, water, clinics and schools.

It is precisely these areas in which foreign non government organisations are most active. If you want a road re-graded, books for your school, drugs for the clinic, or a well for water, you lobby an NGO, for it is more likely to deliver.

The result: the responsibility of the state is diminished, its management capacity ossifies and withers … and the social contract is eroded to the point of collapse. And every year some 100,000 foreign “experts” flock to Africa to administer a system that fails the very people it is supposed to help; and every year some 60,000 of Africa’s best and brightest officially emigrate.

Aid to Africa: not only mad and bad, but dangerous to receive!

Michael Holman is a former Africa editor of the FT

Catholic League Chief Rooting for Sotomayor Confirmation

Writes Stephen Waldman on (ht Huffington Post). He quotes this email from Bill Donahue, head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights:
"I like the fact that she is not brandishing her religion. I do not want Catholic judges to rule as Catholics but as judges. I am all for Catholic legislators having a Catholic-informed opinion, but a judge has a different charge. Unless something pops that we don't know about, I am not going to oppose her. Indeed, the experiences I had working with the Puerto Rican community lead me to quietly root for her."
IMHO, that's as good as a blessing from the Cardinal...

UPDATE: Another endorsement from Donahue, in The Washington Times:
"If the Republicans are smart, they would not fight this one," he told The Washington Times in an interview...

..."I am looking at this pool of likely competitors, and, far and away, Sotomayor is the best candidate," he said.
According to Donohue's column on the Catholic League website, it may be that he supports Sotomayor because she is Catholic:
Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments today on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court:

When John Roberts was nominated to be on the high court, Senator Dick Durbin told CNN that he considered it fair game to probe Roberts about his Catholicism. Durbin released a glowing statement yesterday on Sotomayor that never mentioned her religion. When Roberts was questioned by Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Dianne Feinstein, they both asked him whether he agreed with President John F. Kennedy about separation of church and state. Neither even mentioned Sotomayor’s religion in their respective statements yesterday.

When Roberts was nominated, Dahlia Lithwick, legal analyst for Slate, said, “I wouldn’t underestimate the influence of his religion”; when Samuel Alito was nominated, Lithwick said that “People are very, very much talking about the fact that Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court if confirmed.” Yesterday, Lithwick posted a lengthy piece on Sotomayor that never mentioned her religion. When Roberts was nominated, NPR’s Nina Totenberg said that his wife was “a high officer of a pro-life organization. He’s got adopted children. I mean, he’s a conservative Catholic.” Yesterday, she simply mentioned that Sotomayor attended Catholic schools without ever raising it as an issue. When Roberts was nominated, journalist Adele Stan noted his religion and said, “Rome must be smiling.” Yesterday, in her positive assessment of Sotomayor, she never mentioned her religion.

What’s going on? Are liberal Catholics Catholic? Obviously not, at least according to liberals. After all, if Sotomayor were known as a practicing Catholic, those who fretted over Roberts and Alito would have called 911 by now. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, however, put their worst fears to rest yesterday when he said of the Puerto Rican jurist, “I believe she was raised Catholic.” If this is true, then the telling verb “raised” would explain why liberals like Sotomayor—she’s one of those Catholics they can trust. Let’s hope they’re wrong.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why I Like the Internet...

Blogger John Lester found a post written by yours truly four years ago about a tour of Mosfilm movie studios, and linked to it on his Russian-themed blog just a few days I discovered that Mosfilm has setup a very nice website, in English, in the meantime. Still no individual Universal Studios-style tours available, yet...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Post on President Obama's Open Government Dialog

From the National Academy of Public Administration's Open Government Dialog (ht FOIABlog):
To Make FOIA Work, Costs of Non-Disclosure Must Be Greater than Benefits
lajarvik a few seconds ago

Charge agencies daily substantial penalties for each day past statutory deadlines on FOIA request, this may be done by executive order, I believe. Charges should come from overall budget of agency, not FOIA department. Failure to answer FOIA requests by government officials should also be punished by individual reprimands and other administrative sanctions. These guidelines could be worked out by OPM across all agencies to be fair and reasonable--and to provide reasonable incentives for agencies to disclose whenever possible (rather than deny access, now the CYA default).

Why Is This Idea Important?

Right now, the only penalty in a FOIA case for non-compliance is the award of legal fees to the requester...the lawyer's time is worth money under statue, the agency's time is worth money (reasonable fees may be charged for search and copies), yet the requester's time is not worth money. But information, especially time-sensitive information, has value--and often the requester has a time value for the information. Information in 20 days may be worth more than information in 2 years, especially regarding matters of public interest that affect policy. If information may only be revealed after the issue is moot, especially in controversial matters, what was the point of FOIA in the first place? Any official doing a cost/benefit analysis right now must calculate that the risk of disclosure outweighs the risk of denial. That calculus must change for FOIA to become more effective.

Washington Post: A Granddaughter Returns to Her Lost Shanghai Home

Maureen Fan's memoir, in today's Washington Post style section makes for interesting reading:
I come from a family of architects, and so the buildings matter to us. My grandfather was one of the most prominent architects in Shanghai, and designed the Nanking Theater, now the Shanghai Concert Hall; the Rialto, Astor and Majestic movie theaters; the YMCA building on Xizhang Road South; numerous university buildings and private residences; and the Railway and Health ministries in the southern city of Nanjing. But the buildings that drew me most were the ones my family once lived in.

In particular, I kept returning to the house at 1292 Huaihai Rd., the last house my grandfather Robert Fan (or Fan Wenzhao) owned before he left China in 1949, just as the Communists took power. He and my grandmother lived here with their four children, including my father, and a handful of servants.

I first visited this house in 1986, just after college, and again in 2002. I stand before it now, trying to read the history of my family in its sprawl.

My father and mother are also architects, retired from their San Francisco practice since the 1990s. I'm a journalist, raised in suburbia with only an academic understanding of China until I came back in 2005 to study Mandarin and work as a correspondent for The Washington Post.

Fifty years after he left, my father came back to the house he lived in on Huaihai Road, but he refused to go inside. He stood on the sidewalk staring at the house, his eyes red. He didn't want to change the meaning it held from his childhood.
You can also watch a video:

Washington Times: How to Deal with North Korea

From today's Washington Times editorial:
American policymakers would be wise to remember U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, passed a week after the 2006 nuclear test. The resolution strongly condemned the North Korean nuclear test and imposed extraordinary financial sanctions. It called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs and authorized member states, including the United States, to intercept ships bound for North Korea to inspect them for nuclear components.

The United States also can take action under the 2006 North Korea Nonproliferation Act, which authorizes punishing foreigners trading in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea.

So far, the United States and other countries have failed to press North Korea to the limit of these U.N. measures, preferring diplomacy over action. This has only served as a means for North Korea to pursue its nuclear ambitions while the West mouths empty words.

This issue is not limited to the Korean peninsula. North Korea has emerged as the world's leading nuclear proliferator state. The "axis of evil" is alive and well despite the loss of Iraq as one of its charter members. North Korea and Iran have had a long-standing cooperative relationship in nuclear and missile technology.

As is well known in the intelligence community, Iranian technicians were present during North Korea's 2006 nuclear test. North Korean nuclear specialists were covertly videotaped at the secret Syrian nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in September 2007. The reactor reportedly was underwritten by Iran as a means of carrying out nuclear-weapons development outside the country, thus evading the United Nations and other inspection regimes. Iranian missile experts were in North Korea helping prepare for the April 2009 missile launch, and according to Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper, they brought a letter for Kim Jong-il from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserting the importance of mutual cooperation on missile programs, euphemistically referred to as "space technology."

Iran seems to be using North Korea as a platform for nuclear-weapons research and development, keeping away from prying eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Israel's reach. Recent reports of nuclear cooperation between Iran and Venezuela raise the specter of the evil axis extending into the Western Hemisphere.

North Korea has demonstrated a dogged immunity to sanctions. It already is one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are few remaining economic levers at the world's disposal. The communist leadership is willing to pay any price, bear any burden to become a nuclear power, regardless of the cost to its economy or the suffering of its people.

If the six-party talks are to mean anything, China must become more active by restricting fuel and electricity exports to North Korea and ending economic support.

President Obama should order the U.S. Navy, acting under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, to inspect all shipping in and out of North Korea. Measures also should be taken to inspect all aircraft and ground transport. If more resolute action is not taken, North Korea will hold a knife to the throat of the world - forever blustering demands into its frightened ear.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bronxite Nominated to Supreme Court

No Bronx cheers, this time! According to the Huffington Post,Judge Sonia Sotomayor grew up in the South Bronx. My aunt Lucy lived on Southern Boulevard for 50 years, and we used to visit her there, until she moved to Co-Op City, also in the Bronx . My father worked at Albert Einstein Medical School next to Jacobi Hospital in the Northeast Bronx. We lived in the West Bronx, in Riverdale, during most of my childhood. Although I was born in Manhattan, I was raised in the Bronx, attending classes at P.S. 24 & J.H.S. 141. I can say that while Manhattanites may be more sophisticated and Brooklynites tougher, Bronxites have a special quality not found elsewhere--they are from the Bronx!

You find a list of famous Bronxites on the New York Public Library website, here (it includes people born or who lived in the Bronx). One of my favorite authors is on the list:
Wouk, Herman: grew up in Hunts Point in the 1930s and 40s. His service in the Navy in World War II provided some basis for his great novel, "The Caine Mutiny," and for the later "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance." His experiences in The Bronx, however, provided memorable scenes in two other novels, "City Boy," and "Inside Outside." With a great productive output, Herman Wouk is considered a major American novelist today.
Now, Bronxite Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States--another good sign from the Obama administration.

The NY Daily News has more on the Bronx angle, here.

Dambisa Moyo: How Jeffrey Sachs Keeps Africa Down

In today's Huffington Post, Dambisa Moyo obliquely accuses Jeffrey Sachs of racism in his approach to African aid:
We also know that there is no country -- anywhere in the world -- that has meaningfully reduced poverty and spurred significant and sustainable levels of economic growth by relying on aid. If anything, history has shown us that by encouraging corruption, creating dependency, fueling inflation, creating debt burdens and disenfranchising Africans (to name a few), an aid-based strategy hurts more that it helps.

It is true that interventions such as the Marshall plan in Europe and the Green Revolution in India played vital roles in economic (re)construction. However, the key and (often ignored) difference between such aid interventions and those plaguing Africa today is that the former were short, sharp and finite, whereas the latter are open-ended commitments with no end in sight. The problem with an open-ended system is, of course, that African governments have no incentive to look for other, better, ways of financing their development.

Mr Sachs knows this; how do I know? He taught me while I was studying at Harvard, during which he propounded the view that the path to long-term development would only be achieved through private sector involvement and free market solutions.

Perhaps what I had not gleaned at that time was that Mr. Sachs' development approach was made for countries such as Russia, Poland and Bolivia, whereas the aid- dependency approach, with no accompanying job creation, was reserved for Africa.

Mr. Sachs chooses to ignore that relying on aid at a time when the United States is facing 10 percent unemployment rate and Germany (another leading donor) could contract by as much as 6 percent, is a fool hardy strategy. The aid interventions that Mr. Sachs lauds as evidence of success are merely band aid solutions that do nothing to lift Africa out of the mire -- leaving the continent alive but half drowning, still unable to climb out on its own.

Yes an aid-funded scholarship will send a girl to school, but we ought not to delude ourselves that such largesse will make her country grow at the requisite growth rates to meaningfully put a dent in poverty. No surprise, then, that Africa is on the whole worse off today than it was 40 years ago. For example in the 1970's less that 10 percent of Africa's population lived in dire poverty -- today over 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than US$2 a day.

There is a more fundamental point -- what kind of African society are we building when virtually all public goods -- education, healthcare, infrastructure and even security -- are paid for by Western taxpayers? Under the all encompassing aid system too many places in Africa continue to flounder under inept, corrupt and despotic regimes, who spend their time courting and catering to the demands of the army of aid organizations.

Like everywhere else, Africans have the political leadership that we have paid for. Thanks to aid, a distressing number of African leaders care little about what their citizens want or need -- after all it's the reverse of the Boston tea-party -- no representation without taxation.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some Thoughts On Memorial Day...

From Wikipedia:
Memorial Day formerly was observed on May 30. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocate returning to this fixed date,... The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address:

“Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.[3]”

Since 1987, Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, has repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional date.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New NASA Chief Vietnam and Four-Time Space Shuttle Vet

The BBC reports that Charles Bolden is both a war hero--Naval aviator, Annapolis graduate, trained in Pensacola--and an addition to being the first African-American nominated to head the troubled US space program. Another good sign from the Obama administration. Here's what the BBC had to say:
Maj-Gen Bolden grew up in segregated South Carolina and flew on more than 100 combat sorties in Vietnam. He joined Nasa in 1980 and is a veteran of four space shuttle flights, commanding the mission that launched the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in 1990.

He inherits the space agency at a critical time in its history. In 2004, President George W Bush instigated ambitious plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020, necessitating the replacement of the shuttle by a new space vehicle. However, the new Ares-Orion vehicle is not expected to be ready until 2015. So for five years after the shuttle's retirement in 2010, American astronauts will be dependent on Russia to fly them into orbit on their space capsule, Soyuz.

In addition, some of Nasa's biggest science programmes are over-budget. This month, the White House ordered a sweeping review of Nasa's manned spaceflight strategy.
Official NASA biography here:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Van Cliburn Competition Blog

The Ft. Worth, Texas piano competition is underway, and being covered by it's own blog, here: There's also a live video webcast available, here: Plus a YouTube Channel, here:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Huffington Post: Intellectuals Protest Incoming UNESCO Chief

The intellectuals are Bernard Henri-Levy, Claude Lanzmann, and Elie Wiesel, according to the Huffington Post, which published their manifesto opposing UNESCO's selection of Egyptian abstract painter and culture minister Farouk Hosny today:
Who declared in April 2001: "Israel has never contributed to Civilization in any era, for it has only ever appropriated the contributions of others" -- and added almost two months later: "the Israeli culture is an inhumane culture; it is an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture based on one simple principle: steal what does not belong to in order to then claim its appropriation"?

Who explained in 1997, and has repeated it since in every way possible, that he was the "archenemy" of all attempts to normalize his country's relations with Israel?

Or who, as recently as 2008, responded to a deputy of the Egyptian parliament who was alarmed that Israeli books could be introduced into the Alexandria Library: "Burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you"?

Who said in 2001 in the newspaper Ruz-al-Yusuf that Israel was "aided" in its dark intrigues by "the infiltration of Jews into the international media" and by their diabolical ability to "spread lies"?

To whom do we owe these insane declarations, this anthology of hate and error, and this frenzy of conspiracy theories?

To Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian Minister of Culture for the past fifteen years and undoubtedly the next Director General of UNESCO if nothing is done before the May 30 deadline for nominating candidates to stop his apparently unstoppable march to one of the most important posts of cultural responsibility on the planet.

Even worse: the words that we just cited are only a few -- and not even the most nauseating -- of the innumerable declarations of the same tenor that punctuate the career of Mr. Farouk Hosny over the past fifteen years and that, consequently, precede him as he aspires, even today, to a role on a worldwide scale.

The evidence is there: Mr. Farouk Hosny is not worthy of this role; Mr. Farouk Hosny is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue, and culture; Mr. Farouk Hosny is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds. There is only little, very little time left to avoid committing the major mistake of elevating Mr. Farouk Hosny above others to this eminent post.

We thus call on the international community to spare itself the shame that would be the designation, already all but claimed by the candidate himself, of Mr. Farouk Hosny to the post of Director General of UNESCO.

We invite all countries dedicated to liberty and culture to take the initiatives necessary to avert this threat and avoid the disaster that would be his nomination.

We invite the Egyptian President himself, in remembrance of his compatriot Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature who must be spinning in his grave right now -- we invite him, for the honor of his country and as an heir of his great civilization, to become aware of the situation, and, with all urgency, to disown his minister and withdraw his candidacy.

UNESCO has certainly made other mistakes in the past -- but this particular abuse of authority would be so great, so abominable, so incomprehensible. It would be an obvious provocation so transparently contrary to the proclaimed ideals of the UN that UNESCO would not recover.

There is not a minute to lose in order to prevent the irreparable.

We must, without delay, appeal to everyone's conscience to keep UNESCO from falling into the hands of a man who, when he hears the word "culture," responds with a book burning.

Claude Lanzmann
Bernard-Henri Lévy
Elie Wiesel

Translated from the French by Sara Phenix.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wall Street Journal on Sri Lanka's Victory Over Tamil Tigers

I never understood why the US and the so-called "international community" insisted that Tsunami aid be funneled to the Tamil Tigers, thus reviving a moribund terrorist movement a few years back. We visited Colombo in 2003 and saw the roadblocks, heard of the 60,000 dead in the civil war, visited the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy where terrorists had machine-gunned worshippers. The Tamil Tigers invented suicide bombing, were trained by the PLO and supported by the USSR, and for a while by India (there is already a Tamil state in India). When the Soviet Union collapsed, it looked like the end...but instead so-called "humanitarian" NGOs and Western governments rushed to their support in the wake of the Tsunami... and prolonged a horrible civil war until its end (we hope) a few days ago by a decisive and crushing military attack.

Strangely, even the Wall Street Journal doesn't seem to understand that the West is partly responsible for the problem, that ongoing negotiations with the Tamil Tigers just made matters worse. Crushing them--and backing the Sri Lankan government--should have been PLAN A, not PLAN B, IMHO. Nevertheless, the paper has the only halfway reasonable commentary that I've read to date, so here's an excerpt from today's editorial:
How Sri Lanka got here is worth recounting. The island's conflict started in 1983. After Sri Lanka's independence from Britain, the ethnic Sinhalese majority pursued many discriminatory policies against the Tamil minority: a Sinhala-only language policy, preferences for Sinhalese in university admissions and government hiring, and the exclusion of Tamils from the police.

The war quickly became more about Prabhakaran's determination to form an independent Tamil state under the exclusive control of his Marxist Tigers than about those Tamil grievances. The Tigers killed many moderate Tamil politicians who would have been willing to cooperate politically with Colombo.

Prabhakaran made extensive use of suicide bombers -- including a teenage girl who blew herself up to assassinate former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 -- and relied heavily on child soldiers. Sri Lanka's conflict has claimed 70,000 lives by most counts. It should have been clear early on that government negotiation would go nowhere with such a committed killer.

Mr. Rajapaksa, elected in 2005, put an end to the "peace process" with Prabhakaran and focused on winning the military fight. In 2007, with the help of a Tiger splinter group, the government subdued the Eastern Province; the first elections were held there last year. The fighting then moved to the North. It has not been cheap or easy. Military spending in the 2009 budget is $1.7 billion, 5% of GDP and 20% of the government's budget.

Colombo also learned lessons from its earlier failures. The military improved its training in counterinsurgency tactics, and Colombo invested the resources to enable the army to hold territory it won. Moves by the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries to freeze Tiger fundraising among the Tamil diaspora helped weaken the Tigers. Mr. Rajapaksa wisely ignored international calls for a ceasefire as he got closer to victory, including threats from the Obama Administration to block $1.9 billion in International Monetary Fund aid money.

The government now faces a potential humanitarian crisis in housing, feeding and clothing the more than 200,000 Tamil civilians who have fled the fighting. Sri Lanka has to more fully address the political grievances of moderate Tamils and ensure that there are economic opportunities for all Sri Lankans. After decades of socialism, several rounds of liberalization have since paved the way for 6% to 8% annual growth even amid a civil war.

As Colombo starts to grapple with those post-conflict problems, everyone else can take note: Thanks to a strategy of defeating the insurgency, Sri Lanka is now in a position to talk seriously about peace and economic growth. When negotiating with terrorists doesn't work, Plan B is defeating them.
More on Sri Lanka from the BBC website, which describes how Western aid to Tamil Tigers has affected "hearts and minds" of the Sinhalese:
Beijing has provided huge stocks of weapons to Sri Lanka in the last few years, at the same time as it has been building a new deep water port on the island's southern coast.

It has not gone unnoticed that China's oil supplies from the Middle East pass through the waters of the Indian Ocean, along the sea lanes just south of Colombo.

Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict has lasted nearly three decades

And now that China has helped Sri Lanka defeat the Tamil Tigers, it may be looking to call in a few favours, as it slowly extends its influence across the region.

All this at a time when the Sri Lankan authorities are casting around for new friends.

They have bitterly resented Western criticism of their conduct of the war.

Suggestions that the treatment of civilians demands an investigation into possible war crimes are angrily rejected.

Those who speak out are quickly condemned, no matter who they are. A few days ago an effigy of UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband was burnt outside the British High Commission in Colombo.

"Tamil Tiger Headquarters" said the graffiti spray-painted onto the wall.
UPDATE: Christopher Hitchens has some reasonable points to make about Sri Lanka in Slate:
I also became vaguely aware that, behind the general litany of Tamil complaints and grievances, many of them justified, there was another force altogether. It was referred to in rather hushed tones as "the Tigers," and its sympathizers could often be detected by their habit of referring not to Sri Lanka or even to Ceylon but to "Eelam": the name of a future Tamils-only state. Unwittingly, I was present during the early stirrings of this organization—which had a good deal of support, as irredentist and ultra-nationalist movements so often do, among the diaspora. There are many high-earning communities of Tamils in other countries of the British Commonwealth as well as in Europe and North America, and their support was a major contributing factor to the duration of Asia's longest insurgency or (if you prefer) civil war: one that may possibly just have ended.

Even if you add the two recognized Tamil populations of Sri Lanka together, they do not amount to even one-fifth of the overall population. But at the height of their desperado militancy, a decade or so ago, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, controlled perhaps one-third of the country's territory, including the Batticaloa-Trincomalee coastline in the east and the Jaffna peninsula in the north. There was never any possibility that the Sinhala parties, or indeed many of the urban Tamils, would accept such a fait accompli. Nor was there any chance that China and Pakistan would allow such an obviously strategic island, with its former Royal Navy harbors and ports, to become partitioned in favor of a minority with such strong links to India.

Under the leadership of the late Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE enormously overplayed its hand. It established a dictatorship in the areas it controlled and recruited both child-soldiers and suicide-bombers. One of the latter even assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991: a truly suicidal thing to do, given the need of the Tamils for Indian sympathy. The hardening of Sinhala sentiment, the inevitable splits and defections that arose from the Jonestown style of Prabhakaran, and, perhaps above all, the acquisition of warplanes and other materiel from China and Pakistan eventually gave traction to the central government in Colombo. Deciding to fight as a conventional army that belonged to a separate state, the LTTE has now been defeated as a conventional army, and its state has ceased to exist. Not since the British defeated the Malayan Communists, who were too much restricted to the Malay Chinese population, in the 1940s and 1950s, has any major Asian rebellion been so utterly defeated.

There remains, as there always did, the question of the Tamil population itself. It doesn't seem overwhelmingly likely that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's victorious regime, currently engaging in a spasm of triumphalism, is in the strongest position to offer a hand to the civilian Tamil leadership. But it would be a very agreeable surprise if it did.

It's just not true, as some liberals tend to believe, that insurgencies, once under way, have history on their side. As well as by nations like Britain and Russia, they can be beaten by determined Third World states, such as Algeria in the 1990s and even Iraq in the present decade. Insurgent leaderships often make mistakes on the "hearts and minds" front, just as governments do, and governments are not always stupid to ban the press from the front line, tell the human rights agencies to stay the hell out of the way, and rely on the popular yearning for law and order. It can also be important to bear in mind, as in Sri Lanka became crucial, that majorities have rights, too.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Did You Ever Want to Play Like a Cuban Drummer?

Now you can learn percussive secrets of the Pearl of the Antillies, from Agustin Blazquez's latest music video, available on YouTube: Rafael Clave Behind The Scenes

Daniel Pipes on Today's Obama-Netanyahu Summit

Some predictions: (1) Iran being Netanyahu's top priority, he will avoid a crisis by mouthing the words "two-state solution" and agreeing to diplomacy with the Palestinian Authority. (2) Democrats too will be on their best behavior, checking their alienation through Netanyahu's visit, momentarily averting a meltdown. (3) Obama, who has plenty of problems on his hands, does not need a fight with Israel and its supporters. His move to the center, however tactical, will last through the Netanyahu visit.

Short term prospects, then, hold out more continuity than change in U.S.-Israel relations. Those concerned with Israel's security will prematurely breathe a sigh of relief – premature because the status quo is fragile and U.S. relations with Israel could rapidly unravel.

Even a lack of progress toward a Palestinian state can prompt a crisis, while an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure contrary to Obama's wishes might cause him to terminate the bond begun by Harry Truman, enhanced by John Kennedy, and solidified by Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Gerard: Margo Lion Behind Rocco Landesman NEA Choice

According to this article on, the choice of Rocco Landesman resulted in part from $500,000 in campaign contributions raised by an adunct professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts:
When President Barack Obama announced his plan to nominate Rocco Landesman as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, I figured Margo Lion had a hand in it. So I called her up.

Lion, a Broadway producer, shares an office with Landesman, the loquacious, combative owner of five Broadway houses called Jujamcyn Theaters.

More to the point, she’d joined the Obama bandwagon early, raised more than $500,000 for the candidate and helped shape his arts agenda. She was well-situated to put forward Landesman, 61, for the NEA slot. He’s a brilliant choice.

“The president said, ‘Let’s find a game changer,’” Lion told me. “I didn’t have long-held plans, it wasn’t a strategy. But Rocco’s an unusual leader. He combines an impressive intellect, bravery and humor with a talent for getting the best out of people.”
Margo Lion's website provides more background:
Margo Lion was a member of President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee and served as Co-Chair of his Arts Policy Committee during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. Margo produced the Barack on Broadway fundraiser on September 9, 2007 and the Women for Obama Central Park Rally on February 2, 2008.
Here's a link to a campaign letter from Lion and George Stevens about Obama's arts policy goals: A glance at Wikipedia tells us that Ms. Lion's first major hit was the musical adaptation of John Waters' Hairspray and that she hails from Charm City--Baltimore, Maryland...

Memo to President Obama: Use Federal Stimulus Funds to Bury Urban Power Lines

TO: The President
RE: Using Stimulus Funds to Bury Power Lines
DATE: May 18, 2009

The night before last, a big thunderstorm knocked down some trees that cut power to our urban block in the Nation's Capital. We were without power for some 10 hours before repair crews fixed the problem. The experience reminded me of complaints from participants in a seminar that I teach for families of international diplomats. Every year, some of the foreigners posted here express shock and dismay that their power goes out during storms in Washington, DC. Europeans and delegates from the former Soviet block simply cannot believe that the richest and most powerful country in the world allows its capital to suffer power cuts and blackouts "like a third-world country." I used to just shrug my shoulders and repeat the mantra that "burying power lines is very expensive..."

However, given the massive spending on the stimulus package and the need to create jobs in the USA, it would seem to me that there would be no better time than right now for the Obama administration to announce a federal program to bury power lines in urban areas. These are jobs that can't be moved to China or India, and the benefits will be felt as soon as residents of Washington, DC no longer need to stock up on candles and flashlights every time there is a bad weather forecast.

Furthermore, from a national security point of view it would seem to be a no-brainer that buried power lines are less subject to disruption from terrorism than those hanging on flimsy telephone poles. Needless to say, if climate change predictions are correct, increasingly severe weather would result in more power outages affecting above-ground transmission wires. Not to mention the disruption power cuts cause to the disabled dependent on electrically-powered medical equipment.

Burying power lines with stimulus funds would create jobs, improve national security, and enhance the quality of life in urban areas. At the same time, the latest FiOS and other high-tech connections could be installed, providing infrastructural improvements requisite for the industries of tomorrow where people are living today, perhaps lowering electricity rates in the bargain..Last but not least, it would no doubt help improve the image of America in the hearts and minds of diplomats posted here from around the world.

To those who say it can't be done, let us remind them of your campaign slogan: "Yes, we can!"

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Van Cliburn Piano Competition on Your Laptop...

Thanks to an ad on, I found the Van Cliburn Competition live streaming video website. More info:
Welcome to the Cliburn Competition Webcast!

You will soon enjoy watching the entire competition here at Starting May 22, all performances will be streamed live eleven hours per day, and then archived for “on-demand” viewing.

In the meantime, we invite you to download the Silverlight program today and launch the webcast player to ensure that it functions properly. During this testing period, you will be able to watch two performances from our 2001 Competition archives featuring gold medalists Stanislav Ioudenitch and Olga Kern.

This player will offer extensive functionality with an array of interactive features, including an online audience vote after each round, an “email the competitor” option, and a blog. Online audiences will also have special access to rehearsals between the Takács Quartet and the pianists, the private sessions between the pianists and the conductor, and orchestra rehearsals with the conductor and the six finalists.

Yet another innovative feature will be a commentary at the bottom of the screen, which will offer pointers and alert the viewer what to listen for during each piece.

We encourage you to sign our guest book so you will be notified when we go live on May 22.

To view the concertos from the 2001 competition archive, you must install the Silverlight 2 plugin. Once installed, click the button below that reads "Click here to launch the player". If you install the plugin and this button is still grayed out, refresh this page and then click it to view the concertos.

We look forward to sharing this extraordinary musical event with you via the Internet.

David Gardner: Saudi Arabia--Laboratory of Jihad

Ali Alyami of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia sent me David Gardner's interesting article about Wahabism in Saudi Arabia from the current issue of The New Statesman. An excerpt:
It is inescapable, however, that the al-Saud need to curb the corrosive power of the religious establishment and lead the kingdom towards a form of modernity that its religious heritage can sustain. And the most feasible way forward is to enlist Islamist progressives.

This loosely connected group of Islahiyyun or “reformers” has rediscovered the thinking of Islamic revivalists and reformers of more than a century ago, and turned it into a devastating critique of Ibn Abdul Wahhab.

Encouraged by Abdullah, the newspaper al-Watan (the nation, or homeland) became a forum for this debate, as did internet discussion groups, such as Muntada al-Wasatiyya, set up by the dissident Islamist Mohsen al-Awajy.

This still embryonic force has already achieved three major changes. First, the groups have presented their demands collectively, instead of petitioning individually at the majlis or court of the prince. The turning point was a 2003 petition signed by leading Islamist reformers and liberals. Second, the document proposed allowing diversity in matters of faith and politics – in a country where uniformity on both has long been imposed. And third, it broke the taboo about speaking against Wahhabism, and implied that it was this distorted form of Islam that was preventing Saudi Arabia from becoming a successful modern state all its citizens could easily support.

It is important to realise that the petition, titled “A vision for the present and future of the homeland”, draws on sources of renewal that are and will remain Islamic and, in important ways, Islamist. However alien this fusion of religion and politics may seem to secular westerners, it is key to any possibility of change, because it provides reformers with an authenticity and a legitimacy that deflects charges of foreign influence and intrusion. Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Qassim, a former Saudi judge and reformer, is an authority on this. “Al-Qaeda and the clergy are essentially doing the same thing in different ways – putting pressure on the House of Saud for being less devout than it should be. This paralyses reform,” he tells me. “The only way out is to dilute the link with Wahhabi fanaticism.

“The only way forward is to win the legitimacy of society itself – through political reform that does not depend on the approval of the clergy. If you make society part of reform you can overcome the clergy. It is the only way.”

The demands of the Islamist reformers include free elections, freedom of expression and association, an independent judiciary, a fairer distri bution of wealth, and a clearer foreign policy arrived at through open debate – in short, a constitutional monarchy, if nowhere near a bicycling monarchy. “We are limiting our demands to very specific issues, and reiterating the al-Saud’s right to stay at the top of the tree,” says Mohsen al-Awajy. “They think it’s for tactical reasons, but the fact is there is no real alternative.”

Just how fundamental it is that liberals and Islamists take on Wahhabism cannot be overstated. But the liberals are an infinitesimal minority, tainted in the eyes of the masses with corruption and decadence. As one senior prince puts it, with a certain melancholy: “We liberals sit around a bottle of scotch and complain to each other, and then, the next morning, do nothing. Yet if we don’t get real progress, economically, socially and politically, we are going to be in a terrible mess in five to ten years.”

He, at least, shows an awareness alien to much of a bloated royal family that affects not to understand where a privy purse ends and a public budget begins, and continues to squander fabulous public wealth. Military spending, for example, is about three times the average for a developing country and is used as a mechanism for distributing power and wealth within the top ranks of the House of Saud – which is more than 5,000 princes strong.

No wonder that it is the Islamist reformers, numerically and ideologically, who are the real force for change. They can credibly argue that they intend no separation between mosque and state, but a redefinition of the relationship between the al-Saud and the al-Sheikh.

“Saudi Arabia has to be an Islamic state; it is the birthplace of Islam. The question is which Islam?” says Jamal Khashoggi, editor of al-Watan and adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington and London. “The alliance should be between the state and Islam, not between the House of Saud and the House of al-Sheikh.”
Awajy, whose candour lost him his job as a university professor, argues: “The contract between the two houses is no longer in the interests of the Saudi people; if we tolerated it in the past it does not mean we will in the future. Real reform cannot take place within the Wahhabi doctrine.”

The Wahhabi establishment has pumped the poison of bigotry into the Saudi mainstream throughout the existence of the kingdom. After the attacks of 11 September 2001, it became impossible to ignore that its ideas and al-Qaeda’s were pretty much the same. It is hard to imagine how the House of Saud will survive unless it breaks decisively with these ideas. Or, as one Saudi reformer put it: “If this clerical establishment is incapable of imagining the solutions we need to modern problems, then the answer is clear – we have to find another establishment.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Good Sign from the Obama Administration....

The nomination of Broadway producer Rocco Landesman to head the National Endowment for the Arts...

Why? Because Landesman published a controversial article in the New York Times in 2000 that shows he doesn't shrink from controversy and sticks to his guns. Broadway: Devil or Angel for Nonprofit Theater?; A Vital Movement Has Lost Its Way, reveals an awareness of conflicts between for-profit and non-profit arts organizations--and concludes with a call for vigorous in which I hope to take part should he be confirmed:
As for the so-called nonprofit theaters, many of the best and most successful ones, like Lincoln Center Theater, Roundabout Theater Company, Manhattan Theater Club, Joseph Papp Public Theater, and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, produce frequently on Broadway. They are often better at commercial producing than some of us veteran Broadway producers.

But what happened to what used to be called the resident theater movement? What had been a cause seems now to be mostly a marketing campaign. The subsidies that once enabled nonprofit theaters to take artistic risks are now increasingly apportioned according to box office and critical success (not to mention the advancement of multiculturalism).

AT one time, theatrical institutions established their identities according to the ways they chose to serve and advance the art. Playwrights Horizons and the Second Stage Theater are dedicated to the playwright; Steppenwolf in Chicago and the Atlantic Theater Company are identified with particular acting styles; the Goodman in Chicago and the Guthrie in Minneapolis are director-centric, and the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., is dedicated to the repertory ideal.

These and other institutions continue to do compelling work, but increasingly the template of success comes from the commercial arena, which is, in the end, not dedicated to the art so much as to the audience. The uber-model for this trend is ''the American Airlines Roundabout Theater,'' whose artistic director, Todd Haimes, saved a bankrupt institution by adapting contemporary, market-savvy, the-audience-is-king techniques of modern corporations. Pleasing the customers, giving them what they want in the form they expect, works for Coca-Cola -- and it works for subsidized theaters, too. Provide a familiar product (a well-known play with a well-known star) in a congenial setting (singles nights, comfortable seating), add a powerful corporate sponsor, and you will have a subscription that is the envy of every theater in America. It would, I suppose, be hyperbolic to say that Todd Haimes has had a more pernicious influence on English-speaking theater than anyone since Oliver Cromwell (and it wouldn't be nice, either, since Mr. Haimes is a personable and honorable man), but it can be reasonably argued that the forces of the marketplace through the years have been just as effective a censor as government edicts.

CHEKHOV wrote that, ''We must strive with all our powers to see to it that the stage passes out of the hands of the grocers.'' Because he wrote this in 1895 he could not have known that the threat would come not from a supermarket chain but from the automobile and airline companies that are now branding our marquees and ''enhancing'' revenues. Is it wrong to succeed? That question, unthinkable now, was a subject of much discussion at Princeton in 1974.

It is disappointing enough that those of us in the commercial theater have long ago abdicated any purchase on sustained artistic enterprise. The idiosyncratic giants of an earlier day have given way, by and large, to syndicates of producers and corporations. Big Broadway successes are more often the product of well-crafted nostalgia brilliantly marketed than of bold and intrepid producing (''Chicago'' and our own ''Smokey Joe's Cafe'' are recent examples). The road presenters poll their audiences' response to various titles and stars before deciding on their seasons. The stakes (read costs) have simply become too high to assume undue risks. There is still a quotient of wonderfully reckless independent producers, but those careers usually don't last long.

And now, in the nonprofit theater, too, the forces of risk control are at work. The managing directors, with their good board relationships, audience development campaigns and marketing strategies, are asserting their clout as the pressures to ''succeed'' increase.

In my hometown, where the artistic director of the St. Louis Rep was challenging audiences and generally causing trouble, the board simply hired their managing director to replace him. In most institutional theaters today the model of, say, the Public Theater, where the artistic director and producer (Joseph Papp, George C. Wolfe) is lord of the manor, is giving way to at least equal partnerships between the artistic and managerial sides.

The planners of ACT II have been advised by consultants that the conference should be ''managed'' with certain objectives and results in mind so that we can have some accomplishments to show for our efforts. No doubt we'll talk about how the commercial producer relates to the nonprofit theater in which he is developing his musical. We'll share insights about labor relations, and we'll talk about a nationwide, 10-cent-per-ticket assessment to finance a national marketing campaign (the beef and milk industry ads were great!).

My fervent hope, however, is that sometime during the conference, lines will be drawn, voices will be raised, someone's integrity will be challenged, and we will remember, if only briefly, that we are different from one another, with opposing, maybe irreconcilable views of what theater should be; that we are essentially unmanageable and that whatever pieties about our common purpose we endorse, there is still a hell of an argument to be had. So far, that session has not been scheduled.
After the pablum and corporate PR of Bush-NEA head Dana Gioia, under whose guidance the arts vanished from national consciousness, arguments of the type suggested by Rocco Landesman (with quotations from Chekhov, no less) are to be welcomed...and so is President Obama's selection of Rocco Landesman to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

AAAARGH: Stop PBS Bureaucrats Before They Kill The Newshour...

Don't like proposed chances to PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, as announced by Elisabeth Jensen in the NY Times today...don't like Tom Bettag as consultant, don't like the market research, don't like the collaboration with Frontline...the original concept was to give PBS viewers a seat at one of Perle Mesta's dinner parties--not to duplicate network news or documentaries (originally they banned taped packages). Time for a RESET.

Only thing in the proposal that sounds OK is a return to the dual anchor concept. Personally I think Ray Suarez is the best after Lehrer, followed by Gwen Ifill. Judy Woodruff makes me nervous, and Jeffrey Brown lacks gravitas, IMHO...and what about rotating Kwame Holman or Paul Solman as well?

Link to PBS press release here.

Say it ain't so, Jim...

Joshua Foust on the Firing of General David McKiernan in Afghanistan

The Pentagon just announced the surprise replacement of General David McKiernan with Lt. General Stanley A. McChrystal, who commanded JSOC from 2003-2008. The replacement, which comes eleven months into a typically 24-month tour for McKiernan, is very sudden, and potentially indicative of a serious lack of confidence in McKiernan’s abilities by the Obama administration.

LTG McChrystal received much praise for his command of the Joint Special Operations Command, which was credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of 2003, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. As such, he carried a great deal of clout for his methods in prosecuting what many saw as the somewhat scattered successes of pre-Surge Iraq. Bob Woodward also credits JSOC under McChrystal’s command with lowering violence before and during the Surge.

General McChrsytal carries with him a dark side as well. One unit under his command, the now-notorious Task Force 6-26, which was assigned to find HVTs, or High Value Targets in Iraq, is credited with the ultimate death of Zarqawi. The problem is, along the way they faced accusations of running a secret camp that tortured prisoners, and they were implicated in at least two detainee deaths during torture sessions. Their camp, called Camp Nama, became something of a lightning rod after a “computer malfunction” destroyed upwards of 70% of their records and an investigation into their conduct stalled out.

More relevant to Afghanistan is GEN McChrystal’s involvement in the shameful coverup of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death. While he was named among the list of high-ranking military personnel believed to have covered up the circumstances of Tillman’s death, GEN McChrystal was “spared because he had apparently drafted a memo urging other officials to stop spreading the lie that Tillman died fighting the Taliban. He drafted that memo, however, after signing the award for Tillman’s posthumously-awarded Silver Star, the commendation for which claims, in part, that he was leading the charge against a Taliban assault. GEN McChrystal has never clarified why he signed an award for Tillman dying under enemy fire right before begging his colleagues and superiors to stop lying about Tillman dying under enemy fire.

In either case, GEN McChrystal’s appointment is a jarring shift for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, which are currently transitioning commands between the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. It is unclear what having a Special Operations commander in charge will do the overall country strategy, just as it is unclear what two major changes of commands in a short period of time will do to the current units who are deployed there. As more information becomes available about this, we’ll post updates.

Anecdotal Evidence: `The Precipice On Which We Stand'

Someone I know told me about a stand against vandalism of books that seems to be trendy in museums today, in a blog post called Anecdotal Evidence: `The Precipice On Which We Stand'
Another art museum from which art is banished, another exhibit celebrating the whimsical destruction of books. The Nazis took book burning seriously -- though they surely enjoyed reducing language and thought to ashes -- but I doubt they pretended their desecrations were works of art. We visited the Bellevue Arts Museum for the first time on Friday and saw the usual conceptualist bric-a-brac – a decorated meter maid’s cart, a stack of steel chairs, wall hangings that resembled soiled toilet paper, and “The Book Borrowers: Contemporary Artists Transforming the Book.” The closest thing to art on display was a room hung with quilts.

Thirty-one artists, using books as their medium, have made unbook-like objects – a Buddha head, a recumbent human body, a scale-model of a canyon, a circular object resembling a cross-section of tree trunk, you name it. The poster at the entrance tells us:

“These days much of the reading we do is done on a computer screen, and as we shift towards the digital as our primary means of conveying information, it seems timely to examine the precipice on which we stand.”

You will, of course, note the graceful flow of the prose. We had the echoing galleries to ourselves, except for a sleepy-looking guard. The kids wondered why somebody had wrecked so many books. “You can’t read them now,” our 6-year-old observed, and I wondered if any of the artists had read their books before destroying them, or if they read any books at all. One artist, Casey Curran, betrayed a glimmer of talent. His works, “The Whale” and “Pretence,” reminded us of Joseph Cornell’s boxes. The former includes a wire model of a whale and pages cut from Moby-Dick and pasted into a collage. I noticed the opening of Chapter 108, “Ahab and the Carpenter”:

“Drat the file, and drat the bone! That is hard which should be soft, and that is soft which should be hard. So we go, who file old jaws and shinbones.”

A handsome old copy of Ben-Hur was inlaid into “Pretence,” as well as a horoscope cast for someone born at 9:30 a.m. PDST, on July 9, 1951. Curran’s work showed some wit and draftsman-like care in execution. In the museum gift shop I asked to look at a copy of the catalogue for “The Book Borrowers.” The clerk said they were sold out, more were on order, would I like to put one on hold?

When presumably educated people mangle books and turn them into ugly objects, and other presumably educated people pay money to look at those ugly objects, and critics flatter themselves into appreciating their Duchampian daring, who is left to read books and look at pictures? The museum had on display not a single oil painting, watercolor or acrylic; no still lifes, portraits or landscapes; no figurative or abstract sculptures. Most of the galleries were as empty as the parking garage where we left the car. Is there room for those semi-mythical beasts, the art lover and common reader?

“You can’t read them now,” our 6-year-old observed.

Boston Globe: Goldman Sachs' Massachussetts Settlement Not Good Enough

Scott Van Voorhis of the Boston Globe says Massachussetts' plea deal is letting Goldman Sachs off too cheaply:
Attorney General Martha Coakley has managed to wring $60 million out of Goldman Sachs for its role in subprime mortgage mess.

Ho hum.

I am sure it wasn’t easy, but don’t expect those Wall Street types to be running for cover.
Goldman, like other Wall Street firms, made a lot of money securitizing subprime loans and selling them to investors.

We all know how that worked out.

Anyway, while $60 million may be a lot to most normal people, it’s lunch money on Wall Street
Bloomberg puts it into perspective.

It’s about what Goldman Sach’s fixed-income currencies and commodities division made in a day and half back in 2006, the news service reports.

That same division raked in an astonishing $14.3 billion in revenue that year.

Arianna Huffington: Listen to Cassandra

From the Huffington Post:
And, yes, it's not fun feeling like Cassandra. But remember: Cassandra turned out to be right and the cheerleading Trojans very seriously wrong. And very seriously dead.

The other problem with "the pathological weakness of the financial memory" is that it causes us to forget, along with the Trojan War and the last economic crisis, all the things we could have done with the massive amounts of money we spent bailing out the banks -- things like foreclosure relief, job creation, infrastructure repair, health care reform, and improving education.

It's time to stop pretending that the Wall Street economy is the same as the real economy. The Wall Street economy may be showing signs of life -- thanks to the hundreds of billions we have poured into it -- but the real economy isn't.

"Don't tell me about the stock market," wrote Bob Herbert last week. "Don't tell me about the banks and their perpetual flimflammery. Tell me whether poor and middle-income families can find work. If they can't, the country's in trouble."

And that trouble is only growing worse, even if the media are full of Wall Streeters over the moon because the Dow just went up 100 points.

There aren't going to be reasons for optimism -- or cause for celebration -- unless "the new rules of the game" Geithner promised are moved from the realm of rhetoric to the arena of action. The window for reform is closing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wall Street Journal: Growing Friedman-Goldman Sachs Scandal Endangers Federal Reserve

Even though Journal editors appear to be pulling their punches somewhat, today's Wall Street Journal editorial calls for the resignation of Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn, who approved NY Fed chair Stephen Friedman's ethics waiver that permitted him to remain on the Goldman Sachs board and trade their stock. The Journal concludes:
The problem is the politics of all this. Half of the financial world already thinks Goldman runs the U.S. Treasury and Fed, however unfairly. The American public is furious about the bailouts of AIG and banks, engineered by the Fed and Treasury, that have helped the likes of Goldman Sachs. And guess who Mr. Friedman's search committee picked as Mr. Geithner's successor when he left to run Treasury? Another Goldman alum, William Dudley. Yet with all of this in the political air, Mr. Friedman tried to stay in the New York Fed post at least through the end of 2009, and Mr. Kohn granted the waiver. It's hard to imagine a more politically obtuse judgment.

Their behavior has handed a sword to those in Congress who have long wanted to exert more political control over the 12 regional Fed bank presidents. Unlike Federal Reserve governors, the regional presidents aren't appointed by the U.S. President and confirmed by the Senate. They are appointed by their regional bank boards. They nonetheless serve, on a rotating basis, on the Fed's Open Market Committee that sets monetary policy, and the New York Fed president is Vice Chairman of the FOMC. This structure was designed under the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to help insulate the Fed from political pressure, and it has worked well.

This insulation is especially important now, given how Mr. Kohn and Chairman Ben Bernanke have made the Fed an arm of the Treasury over the last 18 months. The Washington Fed has immersed itself deeply into fiscal policy and recently decided, for the first time since the early 1950s, to directly monetize U.S. debt by buying Treasury securities. Barney Frank would love to get more control over the regional banks to make them more amenable to political pressure as well, and the Friedman flap has given the politicians an opening.

At least Mr. Friedman is gone, but for all the harm he has done to the Fed's political independence, Mr. Kohn should resign too.
Unfortunately missing from this editorial: a demand for an SEC investigation into insider trading at Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve of New York...IMHO, necessary to begin to restore some confidence in the system.

More on this story from Robert Scheer at the Huffington Post, here...and Michelle Malkin, here,

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Good Sign from the White House...

The director of White House Military Affairs has resigned in the aftermath of the NYC Air Force One flyover fiasco. I can't remember Bushies or Clintonites doing the decent thing like this (remember Janet Reno "taking responsibility" for Waco but keeping her job?). Let's hope we see more such resignations in future...starting with Timothy Geithner.

Friday, May 08, 2009

FOIABlog: Update on Jarvik v. CIA

From FOIABlog:
Last fall, journalist Laurence Jarvik sued the CIA for a second time (his first suit revolved around a fee waiver). The CIA has now denied the request in full and Jarvik has sought an in camera review by the court. His most recent filings can be found here.

Happy V-E Day!

Wikipedia has the story,

Ideoblog: Investigate Friedman's Insider Trading

From Ideoblog:
Friedman says he wasn’t involved in the Fed's decision to give AIG an $85 billion bailout, part of which was used to repay debts to Goldman. Well, maybe. But the rule against insider trading is supposed to be a prophylactic and its application doesn't depend on whether the insider participated in a particular corporate decision.

Even if there’s no problem with Friedman’s initial GS share position, the additional purchases are a different matter, particularly since Friedman never told the Fed about those purchases and never asked for a waiver.

Friedman says he bought the shares because they were “cheap.” What does that mean? In an efficient market, shares are “cheap” only if you know something. What did Friedman know? He bought shares in a bank while he was working for a branch of the agency that was running banking (not to mention the rest of the economy). Could he have known something?

As it turned out, Friedman bought the shares at prices ranging from $66 to $80/share which were trading at $127.08 on Friday, for an accrued gain of $2.7 million.

While Congress and the SEC are investigating those hedge funds, do you think maybe they could find some time for Mr. Friedman?

Text & Legislative History of Hawaii's "Islam Day" Law

I couldn't find this in the news articles on the web, so downloaded the text of HCR 100 from the Hawaiian Capitol webpage to read it without journalistic filters:
H.C.R. NO. 100



1 WHEREAS, Hawaii is known for the wealth of its cultural and
2 religious diversity and the harmony with which people of many
3 cultures and religions live together; and


5 WHEREAS, Muslims constitute an ethnically diverse part of
6 Hawaii's cultural fabric, with around 3,000 practicing members;
7 and
9 WHEREAS, the Prophet Mohammad left his house to migrate to

10 Madinah and reached Quba in the vicinity of Madinah on the 12th

11 day of Rabi ul-Awwal according to the lunar calendar, or

12 September 24th according to the Gregorian calendar, thereby

13 marking the birth of Islam; and


15 WHEREAS, Islam, a religion with a long and noble history,

16 is the second largest religion in the world, with over one

17 billion followers spread across every continent, and including

18 members of many nations and cultures; and


20 WHEREAS, the Islamic world preserved and made original

21 contributions to works of science and philosophy during the

22 Middle Ages when these disciplines were threatened by bigotry

23 and prejudice in other parts of the world; and


25 WHEREAS, Islamic artists, scientists, and philosophers have

26 a rich history of contribution to world literature and our

27 collective scientific understanding; and


29 WHEREAS, the Islamic faith shares common teachings found in

30 the texts of both Christianity and Judaism, whose followers are

31 respected and considered "People of the Book"; and

HCR100 HD1 HMS 2009-3797

Page 2 100


H.C.R. NO.
1 WHEREAS, Islamic doctrine encourages generosity in its
2 adherents, maintaining that those who possess much have a
3 responsibility to care for those in need; and


5 WHEREAS, Islam, along with its monotheistic counterparts,
6 holds that peace is a divine quality and necessary for
7 collective human happiness; and
9 WHEREAS, Islam strives for a world-wide community which, in

10 the words of one Islamic poet philosopher, "does not recognize
11 the superficial differences of race, or history, or
12 nationality"; and
14 WHEREAS, the United States and countries of the Islamic
15 world hold in common many beliefs and values including concepts
16 of world community and'mutual responsibility; and
18 WHEREAS, international understanding and peace, as well as
19 understanding and peace in our local communities, are
20 strengthened by free and open communications among everyone
21 representing various cultural and religious traditions; and
23 WHEREAS, the 96th United States Congress officially
M recognized the noble qualities of Islam in a concurrent
25 resolution on October 15, 1979 (SCR 43), honoring the religion's
26 14th centennial; now, therefore,
28 BEIT RESOLVED by the House of Representatives of the
29 Twenty-fifth Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session
30 of 2009, the Senate concurring, that September 24, 2009, shall
31 be known as "Islam Day" to recognize the rich religious,
32 scientific, cultural, and artistic contributions Islam and the
33 Islamic world have made since their founding; and
35 BEIT FURTHER RESOLVED that certified copies of this
36 Concurrent Resolution be transmitted to Hawaii's congressional
37 delegation, the Governor, and the Board of the Muslim Association of Hawaii.

HCR100 HD1 HMS 2009-3797
Legislative History:
Hawaii State Legislature
2009 Regular Session
HCR100 HD1
Report Title: Islam Day
Companion: HR79
Package: None
Current Referral: EDT
Introducer(s): BERG, HANOHANO, Belatti
Date Status Text
3/4/2009 H To be offered.
3/5/2009 H Offered
3/6/2009 H Referred to TCI, referral sheet 25
4/8/2009 H Resolution scheduled to be heard by TCI on Thursday, 04-09-09 9:30am in conference room 312.
4/9/2009 H The committee(s) recommends that the measure be deferred.
4/14/2009 H Resolution for decision making on Thursday, 04-16-09 10:00AM in conference room 312.
4/14/2009 H This measure has been deleted from the meeting scheduled on Thursday 04-16-09 10:00AM in conference room 312.
4/16/2009 H Scheduled for decision making on Thursday, 04-16-09 2:00 PM in conference room 423.
4/16/2009 H The committees on TCI recommend that the measure be PASSED, WITH AMENDMENTS. The votes were as follows: 7 Ayes: Representative(s) Manahan, Tokioka, Berg, Choy, Evans, Tsuji, Wooley; Ayes with reservations: none; Noes: none; and 3 Excused: Representative(s) McKelvey, Wakai, Marumoto.
4/16/2009 H Reported from TCI (Stand. Com. Rep. No. 1776) as amended in HD 1, recommending adoption.
4/17/2009 H Adopted as amended in HD 1 with none voting no and Keith-Agaran, Takai excused.
4/17/2009 H Transmitted to Senate.
4/20/2009 S Received from House (Hse. Com. No. 615).
4/21/2009 S Referred to EDT.
4/23/2009 S The committee(s) on EDT has scheduled a public hearing on 04-28-09 2:00PM in conference room 423.
4/28/2009 S The committee(s) on EDT recommend(s) that the measure be PASSED, UNAMENDED. The votes in EDT were as follows: 3 Aye(s): Senator(s) Fukunaga, Baker, Ige; Aye(s) with reservations: none ; 1 No(es): Senator(s) Slom; and 1 Excused: Senator(s) Hee.
5/5/2009 S Reported from EDT (Stand. Com. Rep. No. 1557) with recommendation of adoption.
5/5/2009 S One Day Notice 05-06-09.
5/6/2009 S Report and Resolution Adopted. Ayes, 22; Aye(s) with reservations: Bunda. Noes, 3 (Green, Hemmings, Slom). Excused. 0 (none). Transmitted to House.
5/6/2009 H Returned from Senate (Sen. Com. No. 783).
5/6/2009 H Resolution adopted in final form.
Sponsors BERG & HANOHANO bios:
Lyla B. Berg, Ph.D.

Dr. Berg is the owner of Lyla Berg & Associates, a company that provides consulting, training, and facilitation services on leadership development, effective communication skills, interpersonal relationships, and customer service. Her clients include financial and educational institutions, retail businesses, non-profit organizations, state agencies, and companies engaged in the visitor industry. Lyla integrates Hawaiian values and concepts in her custom-designed sessions with the belief that "thinking with a heart of ALOHA is the avenue to a successful organization." She believes that an organization's performance excellence is linked directly to its human assets and that the long-term prosperity of that organization is directly impacted by how the people of that organization interact with one another in their response to change. (source:

Faye P. Hanohano
4th Representative District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 303
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
phone 808-586-6530; fax 808-586-6531
From the Big Island, toll free 974-4000 + 66530
Born and raised in Pahoa, Hawaii on December 21, 1953
Married to Leslie Kalani Jaime Julian
University of Phoenix - MBA
University of Hawaii at Hilo - BA in Sociology
Hawaii Community College - AD in Political Science
Kamehameha Schools - High School Diploma
Political Office
Hawaii State House of Representatives, 2007 - present
District 4 ( Puna, Pahoa, Hawaiian Acres, Kalapana)
- Assistant Majority Floor Leader
Retired after 25 years from Kulani Correctional Facility
-Adult Corrections Officer - Acting Captain/Administrative Lieutenant
Former State Secretary-Treasurer of United Public Workers
- Also, negotiation chairperson for Unit 10 contract
DOE Substitute Teacher
Hawaiian Studies Lecturer at HCC
Program Coordinator at Kalani Honua and Honua Hawaii
Elected to the House: 2006 - Present (source:

NY Fed Chairman Stephen Friedman's "Insider-Type" Trading

From reading Simon Johnson's BaselineScenario blog today it looks like Goldman Sachs' man at the NY Federal Reserve may be guilty of an offense that sent Martha Stewart (among others) to jail. Will he get away with it?:
The idea of a stress test, of course, is to see what goes wrong under pressure. We do this for banks with hypothetical scenarios, but when you go to see the cardiologist you need to step on a treadmill and actually get your heart rate up. The stress test for bankers is very relevant for thinking about our future financial system in three ways:

1.We are now seeing how they behaved during a boom, both in terms of compensation system and insider-type transactions.
2.We can see what happened during a crash and attempted recovery; part of which is about massive taxpayer provided subsidies (do the bankers even have the manners to say thank you?) and much of which is about tilting the playing field towards pre-provision earnings (for which Jan Hatzius of Goldman has the most eloquent exposition).
3.Most interesting, of course, is how bankers think. They regard themselves as entitled to outsized compensation that encourages excessive risk taking. They think that insider trading rules apply to other people. And they are convinced that only they – and their friends – are capable of running government in boom or bust (or in ways that boom leads to bust, at which time you buy low and then recover through large implicit support from the government.)

Really what we have seen over the past two years (a great Freudian slip from the Comptroller of the Currency on NPR last night) is a stress test of our bankers. If you think they basically did fine, then we can go about our business with essentially the same financial system that has developed in the last couple of decades.

If you have concerns about how they behaved and the potential consequences of such behavior down the road, then we need to talk further. The banks passed their stress tests, in part because these were designed by bankers and people friendly to bankers (we could also think about how our regulators have done over the past two years). But are the bankers passing their stress tests?
Also this tidbit, from today's Wall Street Journal profile:
Mr. Friedman preferred to keep a lower profile than Mr. Rubin, leading some analysts to refer to him as Goldman's "Mr. Inside."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Enron Economy

Our hosts in Chicago screened Alex Gibney's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room while we were visiting. I had heard about this 2005 film from my business communication students, who apparently had been required to watch it for ethics training. What struck me about the documentary--which did a good job of capturing the psychopathic leadership and corporate culture of Enron--is that far from being a "wake-up call," Enron seems to have served instead as a model for what followed in American capitalism. Indeed, if the scandal happened today, after "stress tests," one might hear Secretary Geithner arguing for a government subsidy for Ken Lay and his cronies because the company were "too big to fail" (it was the largest energy company in the US at one point). Watching Enron's executives, listening to their voices on tape, I could only think of AIG, Halliburton-KBR, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Moody's, Madoff, General Motors and the long list of corporate scandals involving bribery, fraud, bonuses, skimming, and corruption of various kinds that festoon our newspapers . Indeed, by comparison with today's crisis, Enron looks like nothing much. And at least the Enron story had a happier ending than we see today: Arthur Andersen went out of business, Enron collapsed and disappeared, Fastow and Skilling were convicted, and Ken Lay may have killed himself...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Why America is Angry Hamid Karzai Picked Mohammad Qasim Fahim

Perhaps because it represents an Afghan tilt towards Russia, and away from the United States (which has been "distancing" itself from Karzai)?

Some hints from Wikipedia's profile of the Afghan official:
Two views exist in regards to Fahim's past, first view holds that Fahim is the son of Abdul Matin from the Panjshir Valley. He is reported to have finished his studies in Islamic Sharia at an Arabic institute in Kabul in 1977. He went to Peshawar, Pakistan in 1978 where upon returning to Afghanistan joined Ahmad Shah Massoud in the Panjshir Valley. With the collapse of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul in 1992, Fahim was appointed head of KHAD under interim president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi and continued to serve under president Burhanuddin Rabbani. (Bhatia, 2007[2];Brown & Oliver, 2001[3]; also [1][2][3][4][5][6]

The second views holds that, Fahim began his career as a Soviet-trained intelligence officer in the KHAD secret police in the 1970s and 80s, [7] [8] becoming deputy to future president Mohammad Najibullah. Adding that Fahim abandoned Najibullah when his government fell in 1992, and joined the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud, [9]. In addition, he maintained close ties to Moscow (and also reportedly the Communist Party of Tajikistan)[10]

Palette & Chisel

Walking down Dearborn on our way from the Chicago Historical Society to lunch at the Arts Club of Chicago--after a bitter disappointment in front of a padlocked entrance to the now-shuttered Three Arts Club recommended for its courtyard in our 2006 Rough Guide to Chicago--someone I know and I stumbled across The Palette & Chisel Club, located in a beautiful old townhouse, perfectly preserved, as if in amber, with an art gallery instead of living and dining rooms. Definitely worth a visit. Official description on their website:
The founding members were evening students at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1895. They wanted to paint from the model under daylight, which was rather difficult since most of them worked six days a week and the Art Institute did not offer Sunday programs. Charles J. Mulligan, a member of this group, was an assistant to sculptor Lorado Taft. He was able to persuade Taft to rent the fledgling organization part of his seventh floor studio in the old Athenaeum Building on Van Buren Street in Chicago. Taft was in the habit of maintaining large, ostentatious studios - more to impress prospective clients than from need for such space. Within a short time, the Palette & Chisel membership multiplied.

In 1921, to accommodate their burgeoning numbers, members pooled their money and purchased a three story Italianate mansion at 1012 North Dearborn. It was one of the first buildings to be built in the neighborhood after the great fire of 1871. Founding member Fred Larson and several others guaranteed the mortgage using their own homes as collateral.

Early supporters of the organization included: Charlie Russel, Alphonse Mucha (a leader of the art nouveau movement), William Merrit Chase and George Bellows. Though largely a group of amateurs, the Palette & Chisel quickly began to produce artists with their own singular vision. Walter Ufer, Victor Higgins, and Martin Hennings began their art careers at the Palette & Chisel and later became famous in the West as painters in the Taos School. Later, the Palette & Chisel served as the artistic home of J. Jeffrey Grant, James Topping, Rudolph Ingerle, Eugene Savage and muralist Otto Hake. The first woman member, Ruth Van Sickle Ford, was accepted in 1961.

A contemporary survey of members would include: internationally recognized artist Richard Schmid, who served as president of the Palette & Chisel from 1986-1989; marine painter Charles Vickery; super-realist George Fischer; sculptors Margot McMahon and Patrick McKearnon.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Chicago Sculpture Album

Saint-Gaudens' Abraham Lincoln:

From the entrance arch to the Chicago Stockyards in the Historical Society Cafe:

And a sign of the times:

Carl Holzman at the Triangle Gallery of Old Town

At the opening of his new show in Chicago, last Sunday, in front of his Sunflowers in a Talavera Pot and Fresh Pasta with Parmesan:

Daniel Pipes: Why I Supported Steven J. Rosen

On the other hand, he (along with his AIPAC colleague Keith Weissman) stood accused by the Bush administration of breaching the ominously-named Espionage Act of 1917, and faced criminal charges that could have landed him in jail for years. Although he was not accused of spying, his (and our) opponents reveled in calling him an "accused spy"; and, of course, we worried about the ramifications for us if he were found guilty.

During extensive consultations with the MEF's board of governors, I found a consensus on wishing to bring on board so formidable an analyst in his hour of need mixed with apprehension about the criminal case.

Two developments resolved the dilemma for us in September 2008. Our study of the government's case convinced us of its injustice, shoddiness, arbitrariness, hollowness, and futility. Certain of Mr. Rosen's innocence, the lawsuit against him would not stop us from hiring him.

Second, world events kicked in. Seeing the Iranian drive to get the bomb as the single greatest danger both to the Middle East and to the United States (in the later case, via electro-magnetic pulse), we realized that the outgoing Bush administration would not take steps to stop the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons; and that Barack Obama, with his soft approach to Iran, would likely win the election.

Accordingly, the Forum in October 2008 began funding Mr. Rosen to work on ways to stop the Iranian march to nuclear weapons. He is ideal for the job, having begun efforts to stymie Iranian nuclear ambitions fifteen years ago – long before these became a general concern. Working behind the scenes, for example, he initiated efforts to develop leverage over Tehran through graduated economic sanctions by securing two presidential orders in 1995, followed by the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 which laid the foundation for all subsequent efforts to bring economic pressure to bear against the Iranian government. He has been active in this arena ever since.

Following the inauguration, the Forum brought Mr. Rosen formally on board as a visiting fellow. In his brief time in this capacity, he initiated a Washington Project with his influential weblog, "Obama Mideast Monitor," and a new publication series called The Policy Forum. Notably, Mr. Rosen's blog started the chain of events that caused Charles Freeman to withdraw his name for consideration as chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

Then, on May 1, came the welcome news that the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its case against Messrs. Rosen and Weissman. In the words of the Washington Post, this decision amounted to "a stunning vindication" for them. Beyond that, it confirms the limits on arbitrary and prejudicial government actions.

Arianna Huffington: Geithner's "Stress Tests" Mean More Insider Trading Scandals

From today's Huffington Post:
The reason is, the banks are using this time to negotiate how much information about their portfolios the hoi polloi will be privy to, and are trying to get the government to reconsider its analyses (which are already iffy, since they are based on the banks' own estimates and on assumptions about the economy - including unemployment rates, and cumulative real estate and credit card losses -- that are hardly stress-inducing). This is the equivalent of a teacher giving a student a look at his grades and allowing the student to try to cut a better deal before report cards are sent home to mom and dad.

It shows how out of whack the power dynamic is when it comes to the administration and Wall Street. In the natural pecking order, regulators are above the regulated. They don't ask for permission. And they certainly are not worried about ruffling any feathers.

But for some reason -- the Wall Street-centric bias of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, perhaps, or, as Joseph Stiglitz puts it, the government's confusion of "the notion of too big to fail with the notion of too big to be financially reorganized" -- the banks continue to hold the upper hand (see the cramdown debacle).

The delay in releasing the test results also opens the door to potential funny business, with some troubling insider-trading scenarios and a huge payoff, as David Min at the Center for American Progress points out.

We've already seen Goldman Sachs raise eyebrows with its sale of $2 billion in non-government-guaranteed bonds last week -- a move that sidestepped its agreement with the government not to disclose the results of its stress test, instead sending a signal to investors that there was no bad news in the stress test for Goldman. Of course, Goldman's receipt of $10 billion in TARP funds and $29 billion in bonds backed by the FDIC might have something to do with how well it is doing.

Goldman is typical of the banks' have-it-both-ways approach. By announcing its intention to repay the TARP money it received (thus freeing itself from government compensation restrictions) while continuing to issue government-backed bonds, the banking giant is acting like a man who wants all the benefits of being married while still being able to slip off his ring and have an affair anytime he feels the urge.

And then there is the trouble with the assumptions at the heart of the stress tests. As Nouriel Roubini put it: "These are not stress tests but rather fudge tests... The results of the stress tests -- even before they are published -- are not worth the paper they are written on."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Arianna Huffington: Stop the Banking Lobby!

From today's Huffington Post:
Just this week, the bankers and their lobbyists -- who you might have reasonably thought would be the political equivalent of lepers in the halls of power these days -- have kneecapped substantive bankruptcy reform in the Senate, helped pull the plug on a government-brokered deal with Chrysler, and tried feverishly to throw up a roadblock in the way of credit card reform in the House.

You heard me right. America's bankers -- those wonderful folks who brought us the economic meltdown -- are still being treated as Beltway royalty by those in Congress.

According to Sen. Dick Durbin, the banks "are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

When it comes to reforming our financial system, we are truly through the looking glass. I mean, since when did it become "to the vanquished go the spoils"? How do the same banks that have repeatedly come to Washington over the last eight months with their hats in their hands, asking for billions to rescue them from their catastrophic mistakes, somehow still "own the place"?

But the banks continue to be rewarded for their many failures.

Let's start with bankruptcy reform. The banks scored a lopsided victory on Thursday when the Senate rejected an amendment that would have allowed homeowners facing foreclosure to renegotiate their mortgages under the guidance of a bankruptcy judge. The measure would have helped 1.7 million homeowners keep their houses, and preserved an additional $300 billion in home equity.

Given the tidal wave of foreclosures that have so destabilized our economy, this seems like a no-brainer piece of legislation. There were over 800,000 foreclosures in the first three months of 2009 -- more than 341,000 in March alone.

But the banking lobbyists went after it with guns a-blazing - even after Durbin and the measure's other backers seriously diluted the bill. These concessions did nothing to sway the Mortgage Bankers Association (whose members' subprime schemes have helped bring us to the point of collapse), the Financial Services Roundtable, and the American Bankers Association, among other hired guns (check out this video of the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual meeting, held the night before the cramdown vote, and note the overpowering scent of self-congratulations).

And their aim was true -- and deadly. Heading into the vote, those pushing for reform hoped to gather the 60 supporters needed to bring the cramdown amendment to a final vote. Instead, Durbin struggled to find 45 Senators willing to side with consumers. The final tally: Bankers 51, Consumers 45.

Twelve Democrats sided with the banks -- Max Baucus, Michael Bennet, Robert Byrd, Tom Carper, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, Arlen Specter, and Jon Tester -- as did every Republican who voted.

As HuffPost's Ryan Grim reported, some of the key Democrats who voted against the measure have been on the receiving end of major banking industry campaign contributions:

The banking and real estate industry have funneled roughly $2 million into Landrieu's campaign coffers over her 12-year career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The financial sector is Nelson's biggest backer; he's taken $1.4 million from banks and real estate interests... Tester has fielded roughly half a million in his two years in office. Lincoln has taken $1.3 million from banking and real estate interests.
In the run-up to the vote, Durbin called it a "test": "Who is going to win this debate?" he asked. "The mortgage bankers and the American Bankers Association or the consumers across America?"

We just got our answer.

The shocking swagger of those in the financial sector was also evident in the negotiations that resulted in Thursday's announcement that Chrysler would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

For much of the back-and-forth between Chrysler, its lenders, and the Treasury Department, those lenders (comprised of banks, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JP Morgan -- all recipients of bailout money -- and private equity firms) were playing hardball. They repeatedly rejected attempts by Treasury to get them to lower the amount of Chrysler's debt.

The car company owes its creditors $6.9 billion. Treasury proposed that the banks and private equity firms accept 15 percent of what they are owed. The creditors scoffed at that and suggested they'd settle for getting 65 percent of what they are owed (around $4.5 billion), plus a 40 percent stake in Chrysler and a seat on the company's board.

Picture this for a moment. On one side you have the Treasury, which has helped funnel tens of billions of dollars to these banks, making what it considers an equitable proposal. On the other side, you have the bankers, the recipients of that government largess, showing their gratitude by scoffing at Treasury's proposal and demanding a much, much better deal. Clearly, Goldman has gotten way too used to sweetheart deals like the 100-cents-on-the-dollar payout it received as part of the AIG bailout.

Treasury eventually upped the proposal to $1.5 billion (22 percent of what the creditors were owed) and a 5 percent equity stake in the carmaker. Again the bankers scoffed, before finally, at the 11th hour, agreeing to accept $2 billion (around 29 percent) and a small equity stake.

A Treasury official took a victory lap, calling the deal "an exceptional accomplishment in line with the President's firm commitment that all stakeholders sacrifice to make this deal succeed."

Then the 12th hour arrived and the hedge fund managers, who hold around 30 percent of the Chrysler debt, decided they didn't want to sacrifice that much after all and refused to sign off on the deal -- even after the offer was sweetened with an additional $250 million. At least the hedge funds had not improved their balance sheets with billions in taxpayer dollars and government loan guarantees before scuttling the deal.

As for credit card reform, the House's resounding 357-70 passage of Carolyn Maloney's Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights would seem like a rare defeat for the banking lobbyists who furiously opposed it. But a number of elements of the legislation demonstrate that even when the bankers lose, they still win. For instance, despite the desperate urgency of the situation, all but one of the consumer-friendly provisions of the bill won't take effect for a year. And the bill doesn't contain any cap on credit card interest rates -- an amendment to cap rates at 18 percent never got any traction. And, of course, the bankers will get another crack at derailing credit card reform when the Senate takes up its version of the bill, sponsored by Chris Dodd, later this month.

So no matter how badly the banking industry fails and how much its failures cost us, it continues to be Washington's 800 lb gorilla -- and the greatest risk to Barack Obama's presidency.

At his press conference, Obama bemoaned the fact that he "can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want."

It's too bad the same can't be said for the bankers, who keep pressing Congress's buttons, and getting pretty much what they want.