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Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2008

OBAMA INTRODUCES HIS ECONOMIC TEAM.... For all the talk we've heard in recent weeks about possible cabinet selections, today was the first and most meaningful announcement to date about the president-elect's team.

President-elect Barack Obama said Monday that the country is facing an "economic crisis of historic proportions," and unveiled the team he has chosen to help get the economy back on track.

Obama said he sought leaders who share his fundamental belief that "we cannot have a thriving Wall Street without a thriving Main Street." [...]

Details of the plan are still being worked out by his economic team, Obama said, but he hopes to sign the two-year, nationwide plan shortly after taking office January 20.

The president-elect said Monday that he has asked his newly formed economic team to develop recommendations for his plan and to consult with Congress, the current administration and the Federal Reserve on immediate economic developments over the next two months.

To that end, Obama announced his selection of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury; Lawrence Summers as the Director of our National Economic Council; Christina Romer as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors; and Melody Barnes as Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Geithner and Summers are fairly well established figures and have been slated for these positions since last week, but Romer and Barnes are arguably less well known. Mike Allen and Jackie Calmes had helpful items on Romer's background.

But it's Barnes, moving to the White House by way of the Center for American Progress, who's of particular interest. Yglesias had a good post on Barnes and the Domestic Policy Council.

The DPC is in charge of interagency coordination and policy formation for such topics as education, immigration, criminal justice, and health care -- in short, domestic policy. This hasn't been a very high-profile role under the Bush administration since Bush doesn't really believe in domestic policy aside from tax cuts, but for an administration that's trying to play a constructive role in American life it's a very important job. [...]

Barnes has some of the liberal credentials that people have seen lacking in some other Obama appointments. She served as Chief Counsel to Ted Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2003, was CAP's Executive Vice President for Policy, and then left to join Obama's campaign as policy director.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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Seeing the Fed has pledged approximately $7.5 trillion to cover this financial mess, and as all outstanding first mortgages in the US amount to approximately $9.5 trillion, the Obama team need only come up with $2 trillion more and simply pay off all outstanding first mortgages. This would resolve most of the subprime problem, create a whole new group of people who can start spending their new-found excess monthly income to help jump start the economy, help both wall street and main street, and allow many folks to start the credit chase all over again, further boosting the economy.

Posted by: bubba on November 24, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Please. It’s Larry and the Seven Dwarves, along with Kool-Aid drinkers trying to explain away this non-ironic irony alert pull quote, from the Head Cheese:

Obama said that recent news “has made it even more clear that we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions.”

And, his economic puppetmaster is the guy who, more than any other single alleged Democrat, yes, even more than Robert Rubin, is responsible for this “economic crisis of historic proportions.”

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you need to read through the comments to Iglesias' post, to get a contrary view about Barnes, too:

Melody Barnes is one of the slowest, least impressive liberal minds out there. You all must remember her from the OJ Simpson trial days. She was one of CNN’s talking heads, a lawyer brought on to opine on the day-to-day testimony with Leo Terrell. Her insights and how she presented them were so shallow and muddled that by the end of the trial her appearances had been all but phased out.

This is really astonishing, and we should all be demanding in-depth explanations from Obama about his intentions. Yeah, it should have happened during the campaign, but we let the media and Obama (and McCain) control what we should know.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

The otehr good thing about Barnes is she is a recognized scholar on the New Deal, so if there's anyone around Obama likely to "get it" about how FDR didn't do enough (as has been discussed elsewhere on the blog), she's it, and she's well-placed to act on that belief.

Posted by: TCinLA on November 24, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Ain't gonna fly Orville.

"...we cannot have a thriving Wall Street without a thriving Main Street."

Main Street is being asked to shoulder, like ancient Atlas, gobs and gobs of pretend money Wall Street has manufactured out of thin air for years. We are being asked to shoulder trillions upon trillions of Grade F trash. No one knows the extent of the re-packaged, re-levered, re-multiplied, re-derived, re-sold bullshit. This isn't turtles all the way down... more likely it is a bottomless pit of turtleshit.

Bottom line:

Main Street isn't strong enough. We are a debtor nation. We've lost our manufacturing base. We've got less than nothing. The whole stinking house of cards is coming down. And nothing can be done to stop the shouting. Peter Schiff has got it right: Buy Gold Wilbur.

Posted by: koreyel on November 24, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

TCinLA, and Steve --

Romer is a politically-driven economic book cooker, or potentially so. Per the Politico link:

Romer and her husband David Romer, also a Berkeley economist, were both campaign economics advisers to Obama.

In March, National Journal had this précis on the couple: “As professors at the University of California (Berkeley), they are well-known macroeconomists — experts on the workings of the U.S. economy — who jointly hold one of six spots on the academic committee of economists that decides when recessions begin and end.”

In other words, she's on the committee that caves to politicians, election calendars, etc., who decide when recessions start and end.

She's also on the committee that, per Kevin Phillips' latest book, hasn't protested how DC insiders of both parties have continually changed the numeric definition of what constitutes a recession.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

So, SG, other than living up to your name by having negative views on everyone Obama names, I'm curious who you think Obama should have put in these positions that lives up to your standards?

Put differently, if progressives can't trust Kennedy's CoS on domestic policy, who can they trust?

Posted by: zeitgeist on November 24, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Zeitgeist, first, I'm far from alone on lamenting Obama's lack of progressive appointments.

Second, Joe Stiglitz has already, before today, come to mind. See, that wasn't hard. In fact, it was easy, and others who have lamented the neolib weight inside Obama's economic advisors have also suggested him.

But, Stiglitz has loudly lamented the shortfalls of neoliberalism the last few years. The fact that he wasn't even on Obama's short list indicates just where Obama's thinking is, IMO. (The second glass of Kool-Aid looking tasty?)

As for Treasury AND other top financial positions, I can say (beyond thinking Stiglitz would have been very good) he should not have appointed any Goldman Sachs alum, given their track record. Beyond that, as I also wrote in a column at my newspaper company, I suggested an academic not connected closely to Wall Street. Without me naming names, there's plenty out there that would fit the bill.

As for "negative views on everybody Obama names," contrarians and critics are necessary.

Besides, I'm not even a Democrat. I voted Green in both 2004 and 2008, and today's event underscores why I made the right vote. (Texas doesn't have a Socialist or Social Democratic party, so that wasn't an option.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Zeitgeist, also, I don't know Barnes' body of work for Kennedy well myself. I'm just passing along one person's observation from some time ago.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

God, the level of comments (both in number and quality) have really fallen off since the election. Yes, I am talking to you SoGad. The good thing about this site is that the people who comment here are thoughtful and are able to express a point of view in an appropriate conversational manner. Politico is full of this SoGad, ad hominum-styled crap, and it makes that site unbearable. Please don't bring it here. If you want to troll or play contrarian, do so intelligently. Maybe NTodd could take you on as a mentee.

Posted by: Scott F. on November 24, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Let's see now, -- The dollar is bound to fall in world markets. Supposing world markets don't fall also, foreign goods in the USA should cost much more. How about $125,000 for a Toyota Camry sedan. How about $40,000 for a comparable Ford. That should heal US auto makers pretty quick.

Posted by: Thomas R. Brotherton on November 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

The extent of this economic crisis I think is vaster than most people realize.

No one individual will be able to sort out Bush's mess.

The key is to have leadership, not dictatortypeship, inspiring people to rise to the occasion and make the sum greater than the total of the parts.

I think Obama will serve as a leader.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

I just hope they come up with a plan that features investment in the future, not current consumption as the remedy, for whatever this economic crisis is, three parts hysteria and four parts real, or maybe four and three.

Our GDP is already 70% consumption, and that's just too much. We can't last as a viable nation if everything we do economically is to borrow money from the Chinese to buy their products, and gasoline to get to WalMart, and all the rich do with their trillions of capital is gamble it away on Wall Street, creating nothing but phony wealth which implodes every once in a while.

We need to develop a real, tangible economy. Please, not yet another tax rebate. Build something, dammit. And put people to work doing it.

Posted by: hark on November 24, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly--reading further in the comments, it appears the commenter you cited was confusing Melody Barnes with Melanie Lomax; Googling confirms that Ms. Lomax did appear on shows to discuss the Simpson case, but AFAICT Ms. Barnes never did.

Posted by: JanglerNPL on November 24, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Umm, Socratic Gadfly, I think you should go check that Ygleslias thread again. "One person's observation" seems to have turned out to have been an embarrassing case of "all black folks look alike", e.g. the critic appears to have mistaken Ms. Barnes for someone else.

Posted by: cxs on November 24, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Second, Joe Stiglitz has already, before today, come to mind.

Call me suspicious, but lets just say I dropped by a thread with "hot breaking rumor" about a major Obama economic appointment. I didn't have a name, but I'd heard he was an older white male from a traditional east coast powerhouse school, he served on Clinton's CEA for a term, and worked for frequent tartget of liberal scorn the IMF.

I suspect you'd be the first person screaming that this was evidence of an Obama sellout. Even though it would turn out to be Stiglitz.

Perhaps we should give Obama's team a chance to develop its own dynamic under his leadership before we judge it by its cover?

Posted by: zeitgeist on November 24, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

How surprising that SocraticGadfly has not been back to respond to the lastest bubu from his posts!

Posted by: GOD on November 24, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

How surprising that SocraticGadfly has not been back to respond to the latest bubu from his posts! -- GOD, @19:20

Oh, I don't know... Perhaps it drank hemlock on realising how foolish it had been. And, anyway, real Texans never recant anything (vide W).

Anyone who thinks that voting for Cynthia McKinney (the Green candidate) rather than Obama was a smart choice cannot be taken seriously, except as a patient at the Cuckoo's Nest Retreat.

Posted by: exlibra on November 24, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is committing a grave blunder in appointing only rank amateurs like incompetent bureaucrats and bearded (or clean-shaven) professors from weed-infested campuses (who might not even be able to read and make sense of their monthly checking account statements) to man his economic management team and expect them to go about solving the present crisis in an expeditious manner. If you are the owner of a bank, the vault of which has just been broken into and plundered, the smart thing for you to do is to turn for advice to a retired and truly repentant bank robber who would know what made the break-in possible in the first place and what should be done to guard against similar security failures in future. I have in mind the ex-CEOs of the failed home mortgage corporations and similar financial institutions in this regard. It would be unwise to ostracize such people totally by branding them as villains. Of course, they were the prime architects of the credit crisis tsunami which is presently ravaging the global financial system but they are the people who have the first-hand knowledge of which of their acts of commission and omission caused it and what steps should be taken and what regulations should be put in place to prevent such disasters from striking again. Of course, it is necessary to put up, for the sake of public facade, respectable and less-tainted faces as the Secretary of the Treasury and heads of other agencies in the federal government. Also, it would not be feasible, for political reasons, to appoint individuals who are perceived as primarily responsible for the on-going turmoil in the financial system and global economic meltdown to any positions visible to the public eye. But, at the same time, it is imperative that their wealth of experience, both positive and negative, is not allowed to go to waste but be harnessed and put to effective use by appointing them at least as whole-time advisors lest all the high-profile appointees should turn out to be just babes in the wood and remain nothing more than just high-profile!

Posted by: rAJ on November 25, 2008 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK



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