Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Bad behavior

“We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today, after revelations that the world’s most reclusive state showed off its latest advances in uranium enrichment. “They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We’re not going to buy into this cycle.”

Those are sound intentions, although analysts are already predicting the United States will find a way to restart six-party talks in the next six months or so if only as a containment strategy,  despite the fact that North Korea appears completely unwilling to talk seriously about denuclearization.

kimJack Pritchard, a former State Department official responsible for dealings with North Korea who visited the country earlier this month, said Kim Jong-il’s effort to build the credibility of his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, meant “they can’t negotiate away what little leverage they have.”

In a very different arena, it was not a good day for the financial industry. If nearly causing another Great Depression, and then throwing tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans out of their homes without properly verified paperwork wasn’t bad enough, the financial industry now finds itself enmeshed in a far-reaching insider trading scandal.  None of this helps the industry’s lobbyists as they continue their fight to soften the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

And the final rap on the knuckles today was delivered by Human Rights Watch, blaming the governments of Russia, China and the United States for working against a pact signed by 108 countries to ban cluster bombs that kill civilians long after conflicts. The United States, which reported last year that it had a stockpile of 800 million cluster sub-munitions, says it still needs them in some combat situations but has promised to ban them by 2018.

The First Draft: tax torture

The second round of Barack Obama‘s cabinet picks undergo their Capitol Hill hazing today. Who else screwed up on their taxes? Our elected representatives are sure to find out.

USA-OBAMA/ANNOUNCMENTConfirmation hearings today: Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary; Lisa Jackson for the Environmental Protection Agency; Peter Orszag at the Office of Management and Budget; and Erik Shinseki at Veterans Affairs.

Keep an eye on Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. He’s the one who revealed that Timothy Geithner, who as Treasury Secretary would oversee the IRS, made a hash of his tax returns. Will Grassley make the issue more than simply an embarrassment for the Obama administration’s top money man?