Hot-Air Emissions

Insults are flying in Washington while markets show a heartbeat.

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It’s another day of only-in-Washington trash talking. Rep. Barney Frank calls Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a homophobe. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez calls President Obama ignorant. And a couple of Republicans are calling for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s ouster. But all the bullying aside, it’s a good day for the White House. In light of some major AIG execs giving back their bonuses, the markets surging, and a promising move on climate-change policy, Obama and his cohorts earn a 40 on the Change-o-Meter today.

New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced last night that he has already cajoled 18 of the top 25 AIG executives into giving back their bonuses, a not-so-random act of kindness adding up to $50 million so far. Cuomo presented the execs with a simple choice: return the bonus checks or have their names released to the angry mob with pitchforks on the sidewalk outside. The news is good for everyone: Congress is putting a hold on the highly reactionary bonus-busting legislation drafted last week, and the public will keep the money it meant to spend on tar and feathers. From the ‘Meter’s standpoint, Obama wins points for managing to keep his hands clean. It awards 15 points for a reasonably tidy solution to the AIG mess—for today, anyway.

Despite early rumblings from the peanut gallery, markets rallied yesterday at the announcement of the Treasury Department’s plan to buy up banks’ toxic assets, with the Dow soaring 6.8 percent to its highest level in months. At a time when whispered words like resignation are whistling through Geithner’s office, this marked show of confidence on the trading floor should cheer Obama, who was asked on Sunday whether he might consider getting himself a new treasury secretary. Fifteen points for signs of renewed confidence after a solid week of dubious glances toward the Treasury.

Finally, the new leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency is pressing the White House to decide how to regulate greenhouse gases, a decision that the Bush administration craftily avoided when the Supreme Court asked for it in 2007. Obama has stated pretty explicitly that he hopes to cap greenhouse-gas emissions, despite warnings from critics that the effect of such regulation could be politically treacherous. The proposal from the EPA is just the first of many steps in the process to limit emissions, but the ‘Meter awards 10 points for the long-overdue action.

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