America, F**k Yeah!

Big Pharma kills terrorists:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

Great. Now nationalized health care is screwed.

[via.]

The Tea Leaves of Cabinet Appointments

Republican Rep. Ray LaHood is Obama’s choice for Transpo Secretary. Erica Barnett rounds up the reax here.

Take John Ashcroft. When he was nominated for Attorney General back in 2001, the big concern was that he was a hard-right anti-choice guy. But no one remembers Ashcroft’s tenure at the DOJ for his take on abortion. Instead, questions of detainee rights and the limits executive power dominated his term. And to complicate matters further, while Ascroft seemed to be a hard-core Bushie on those issues as well, we learned after he resigned that he actually took a respectable stand against Bush’s efforts to shred the constitution on at least one occasion (the infamous hospital room incident).

Paul O’Neill, Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, was a similar case. His moderate views on tax policy ended up with him getting shown the door because of his disagreements with White House staff.

Point being, a lot of things can happen in a given realm of public policy that’s far outside the domain of the relevant Cabinet Secretary. World events and White House priorities being among them. Why, for example, did Tom Daschle accept the role of HHS Secretary only under the condition that he would also serve as white house advisor on health care? Because he knew that the Oval Office is where the action is.

That’s not to say that cabinet secretaries are irrelevant. They run massive federal agencies, hire dozens of like-minded deputies to serve under them and carry out policy, etc., etc. But you can’t extrapolate from a single nominee’s record in congress to the kind of policies they’ll carry out as head of an agency. It’s not a straight line at all.

No Labor Pains Here

The unions are stoked about Obama’s choice for Secretary of Labor, Rep. Hilda Solis.

I’m still a bit disappointed that the Labor Secretary wasn’t rolled out with the rest of the “economic policy team” a few weeks ago, but maybe she hadn’t accepted yet. Anyway, the symbol of nominating a latina Congresswoman from East L.A. (as opposed to, say, a white dude from Michigan or Ohio) gives a sense of how much the face of organized labor has changed over the years.

My respect for Obama as a shrewd politician grows daily

Talk about building bridges!

President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday defended his choice of a popular evangelical minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, rejecting criticism that it slights gays.The selection of Pastor Rick Warren brought objections from gay rights advocates, who strongly supported Obama during the election campaign. The advocates are angry over Warren’s backing of a California ballot initiative banning gay marriage. That measure was approved by voters last month.

But Obama told reporters in Chicago that America needs to “come together,” even when there’s disagreement on social issues. “That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about,” he said.

Sure, as a red-blooded blue-stater, I’m mildly offended.  I’ll even turn up my nose and give a little sniff of indignation.

[sniff]

There now.  With that out of the way, I can get back to admiring Obama’s political savvy.  With one fell stroke, he manages to reach out to a group Democrats considered unreachable only, like, five minutes ago.  He also puts the aspersions about the Good Reverend Wright behind him forever.  And the tradeoff?  Offending an interest group that pretty much has no choice but to vote Democratic.  Genius!

I liked Japan a lot better when it was a quaint little town in that Bill Murray movie

Ever wonder what it’s like to live in Japan?  Wait no more:

Going further than analysts anticipated, the [Fed] cut its target for the overnight federal funds rate to a range of 0 to 0.25 percent, a record low, virtually bringing the United States to the zero-rate policies that Japan used for six years in its own fight against deflation.

Elvis has officially left the building vis a vis the U.S. economy.  This is basically the last thing the Fed can do to try and improve the declining fortunes of U.S. business.

It also means that we’re officially in a “liquidity trap” — too many dollars chasing too few profitable investments.  The only way out of this — which is the same way Japan managed to keep its people going during their own crisis — is through fiscal policy.  Any members of Congress who disagree with Obama’s plans for a massive expansion in infrastructure spending should be reviled; their idealogical positions leading them to short-sightedness as criminal as Smoot and Hawley’s.

Going to be a long, strange trip.