Encouraging

This sounds like an actual progressive stand Obama might be taking. Who’d a thunk it?

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, preparing to make his second nominee to the Supreme Court, warned Wednesday of a “conservative” brand of judicial activism in which the courts are often not showing appropriate deference to the decision of lawmakers.

Obama made clear that his views on judicial restraint are not the only basis he will use in choosing his next nominee for the high court, a decision expected over the next few weeks.

But his comments underscore just how much he thinks courts are being vested with too much power and are overruling legislative will, a factor that will influence his nominee choice.

Obama already has openly criticized the Supreme Court for a January ruling – one led by the court’s conservative members – that allowed corporations and unions to spend freely to influence elections. Obama has vowed to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens with a like-minded justice who will not let powerful interests crowd out voices of ordinary people.

I was heartened the other day to read that Arlen Specter was encouraging him to pick a fighter:

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who switched parties last year and is now in a tight Democratic primary race for his seat, said Obama shouldn’t shy away from a political fight.

“There has to be a recognition that the Supreme Court conference room is an ideological battleground,” Specter said. The president should pick justices “who can carry forward the ideological battle on his terms.”

Elizabeth Warren

She tells Republicans to choose: Banks — or families?

It’s time for senators — especially the Republicans — to square their upcoming votes on financial reform with their long-professed desire to protect families, said consumer advocate and federal bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday in an interview with the Huffington Post.

“Everyone in Washington claims to be on the side of families and to support reform,” said Warren, a member of the 2010 TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people. “But the test is who votes to paper over problems with another regulatory system designed to fail and who votes for real Wall Street accountability even if it means that some donors will be disappointed.

“I’m tired of hearing politicians claim to support families and, at the same time, vote with the big banks on the most important financial reform package in generations. I’m deep-down tired of it.”

Of all the proposals in the 1,400-page Senate bill attempting to reform Wall Street and protect American consumers, none is more contentious than the one calling for the creation of a consumer-focused agency dedicated to protecting borrowers from abusive lenders.

Reform-minded Democrats want a powerful independent entity able to defend powerless families from the banks and financial firms that squeeze profits out of customers through tricks, traps and outright predatory loans.

Moderates want to say that they voted for a bill that protects consumers — even if it really doesn’t.

Republicans profess a desire to protect consumers, acknowledging regulators’ past failures, but they also don’t want to stem the flow of credit or needlessly harm lenders’ ability to make a buck.

Interesting

I’m sure the reality-based community has all sorts of explanations for this:

Drill, Baby, Drill

I used to like those Gulf coast beaches. Oh well! But the people in charge know better than us, and it’s all gonna be O-KAY!!!!

The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn’t have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.

The lack of the device, called an acoustic switch, could amplify concerns over the environmental impact of offshore drilling after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig, hired by oil giant BP PLC, last week.

BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” that as much as 5,000 barrels of oil a day may be leaking into the Gulf, up from original estimates of 1,000 barrels a day, matching calculations issued late Wednesday from federal investigators. Mr. Suttles said BP and government scientists have to estimate the flow based on what reaches the surface because there is no way to measure the oil pouring out on the seabed. The company also said it welcomes an offer of U.S. military help to get the spill under control.

The accident has led to one of the largest ever oil spills in U.S. water and the loss of 11 lives.

U.S. regulators don’t mandate use of the remote-control device on offshore rigs, and the Deepwater Horizon didn’t have one. With a remote control, a crew can attempt to trigger an underwater valve that shuts down the well even if the oil rig itself is damaged or evacuated.

The efficacy of the devices is unclear. Major offshore oil-well blowouts are rare, and it remained unclear Wednesday evening whether acoustic switches have ever been put to the test in a real-world accident. When wells do surge out of control, the primary shut-off systems almost always work. Remote control systems such as the acoustic switch, which have been tested in simulations, are intended as a last resort.

Nevertheless, regulators in two major oil-producing countries, Norway and Brazil, in effect require them. Norway has had acoustic triggers on almost every offshore rig since 1993.

Charlie Brown, Meet Football

Charlie Brown, will you never learn? You really thought Democrats were actually standing up to the Republicans on financial reform, huh? From Huffington Post:

Threatened with the prospect of having to spend the entire night sleeping on a cot inside the white sepulchre known as the United States Capitol, Senate Republicans have apparently assented to allowing a debate on the financial regulatory reform bill. Victory for Main Street! Unless, of course, Senate Democrats decided to back down on a strong(ish) bill so that the seeds of bipartisanship could be sown. In which case: Victory for David Broder!

No one exactly knows what is happening [Editor’s note: The Washington Post now confirms the deal], buthere’s what the New York Times is reporting:

Republicans insisted that they had won some crucial concessions from Democrats, including the elimination of a proposed $50 billion fund that would be paid for by big financial companies and would be used to help pay for putting failed banks out of business.

The Obama administration also had expressed opposition to the fund, out of concern that it would complicate efforts to deal with more costly failures of financial companies. And the Democrats already had expressed a willingness to remove the fund from the bill.

Oh, well, that’s just great! You know, it seems like only a week ago, Republicans were calling that provision the “permanent bailout fund” because that was the precise lie that Frank Luntz coached them to tell, over and over again. Incensed Democrats complained about this falsehood, over and over again, and actually did pretty well in getting the media on their side. But now, it’s just one more thing that nobody really liked anyway, whatever — hope you enjoyed the Kabuki theater.

Of course, we now have the benefit of viewing Senator Christopher Dodd’s FinReg bill alongside the one put forth by the GOP, and can appreciate the ways in which they parted company. (TheWashington Independent‘s Annie Lowrey has a great comparative analysis of which you can avail yourself.)

Significantly, the two proposals aren’t exactly worlds apart. But one way in which they part company dramatically is in the area of consumer protection. Per Matt Yglesias:

The ugly part of the bill is what it does to consumer protection. On the one hand, it seemingly weakens the independence of the consumer regulator. On the other hand, it has the consumer regulator preempt any and all state regulations. This is a helpful reminder that nobody on the right actually gives a damn about federalism except as a tool to advance conservative substantive policy–federal preemption of strong state regulation is always welcome.

An Annie Hall Moment

I was just telling someone this story today. Since I have so many younger friends, I sometimes assume they get certain cultural references — when they don’t.

Anyway, some years ago, I was at a dinner with a bunch of other people, and a married couple I know was sitting next to me. We were discussing a rather obnoxious person we all knew, and I said brightly (quoting Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall”), “He’s what Grammy Hall would call ‘a real Jew’.”

And they just looked at their plates.

At first, I thought it was funny. “It’s a scene from ‘Annie Hall,'” I said, thinking I just had to jog their memories. (They’re real movie buffs, I couldn’t believe they never saw it.)

And they looked away.

I thought of trying to explain that my own kids were half Jewish and I really wasn’t an anti-Semite, but I just gave up. It was just one of those things. But it’s kind of funny, too.

The pertinent part starts at 2:00…

Sigh

I was so excited to find a can of Campbell’s Pepper Pot soup in my corner store, I neglected to notice I was paying $2.89. For a can of soup.

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