Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Yglesias Asks: Where's Corporate America?

Damned good question.
especially on the right, normally when there’s an issue that’s perceived to be important to American business, corporate America makes its views known and conservative legislators, when asked to jump, say “how high?”
But as Matt points out, GOP legislators clearly aren't being given pro-bailout marching orders by the Chamber of Commerce or the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Yet the members of such organizations are supposedly the first wave of casualties in a credit crunch.

As Matt acknowledges, this doesn't mean the crisis is fictitious. But it sure makes you wonder what the game is, doesn't it?

My WAG is that the lobbyists for the C-of-C, the NFIB and all the rest, were in from the beginning on the whole Lucy-and-the-football stunt that the GOP was pulling over the past few days: get the Dems to Be Responsible, sucker them into a bad compromise, then pull out, stick them with the blame, and run against them. They felt safe in assuming a bailout was coming, so they were willing to protect their own, rather than needlessly make them vote for a very unpopular bill.

Like I say, this is no more than a wild-ass guess. But it wouldn't surprise me to find out that it was true.

My Email to Steny Hoyer

Yep, Steny's my Congresscritter. I sent him this email this morning:
Dear Rep. Hoyer,
The EESA has failed. Time to forget bipartisanship, and pass a strictly Democratic alternative.

If you try to compromise with the GOP, all you get is a bad bill (like the EESA in its present form) that will spend hundreds of billions, but may not actually fix the problem. (How WAS it supposed to work, anyway?) And they may not vote for it anyway, as you found out Monday.

Not to mention, the American people will see it as a bailout for Wall Street, but not a bailout for THEM.

So get the Dem caucus together, and see if everyone can agree on a bill that (a) will work, in the sense of keeping credit from freezing up, and (b) helps the American people directly as well.

Bush can't veto a bill like that, because he says we need a bailout NOW. A veto would make a liar of him. And I bet this is one time when the Senate Republicans don't dare filibuster. So a strictly Dem bailout bill can be enacted. You've got the leverage - USE it!

a) A bill that would work: the 'Swedish plan.' They faced a similar situation in 1992, and it worked. Ask Brad DeLong or Paul Krugman or a host of other economists for details.

b) Helping the American people: extended unemployment benefits, expanded food stamps, spending on infrastructure, maybe even include the SCHIP expansion.

Then pay for it all with a tax on the super-rich - e.g. a 45% bracket on incomes above $10 million.

Think you and your fellow Congresscritters can sell that to the American people? It should be a much easier sell than the current EESA. And I can't see why any actual Dems would be against it. This should be doable. So do it!

[low-tech cyclist]
Just putting in my 2¢ worth. I've sent variations on this to Sens. Cardin and Mikulski.

Yeah, I know - I'm bailout-obsessed. But right now, it seems more important than dissecting WaPo op-eds.

Monday, September 29, 2008

No Bailout, For Now

It looks like there may not be a bailout until after the election:

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) just told The Post's Paul Kane there will be no more votes today on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout rejected earlier this afternoon by the House.

The members have left the House and headed to the airports for a scheduled recess. Boehner said he had no idea when there could be a new vote.

The House is now supposed to be adjourned until at least after the elections.
It's hard to bring the Congresscritters back, once they're gone.

Roll call tally here.

Bush: Right Down There With Nixon

For decades, 26% has been my gold standard for a President who'd lost the support of all but the hard core. This was Nixon's level of support throughout most of the Watergate year of 1974. Everybody in the world knew Nixon was lying and covering up, except for those Americans who clung to a state of denial due to party loyalty.

So when the three most recent polls all have Bush's approval rating at 26-27%, it's a landmark. Here's the polls, dates that they were in the field, and their Bush approval ratings:

USAT/Gallup - Sept 26-27 - 27%
CBS/NYT - Sept 21-24 - 26%
FOX - Sept 22-23 - 26%

Nixonian. In more ways than mere approval ratings.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Broder's Fiscal Inanity

Broder is upset that neither candidate said how he was going to trim his proposals to take into account the cost of the Big Bailout.

[Obama and McCain] were even more evasive when Lehrer pressed them to say how they would adjust their ambitious plans to accommodate the budgetary effects of that massive government expenditure.

It was Never-Never Land, as Obama and McCain struggled to avoid the full implications of this economic policy calamity. McCain finally threw out the possibility of a freeze on all federal expenditures except defense, veterans' care and entitlements -- but Obama immediately objected, citing his eagerness to boost early childhood education.

Perhaps the next two debates will offer opportunities to pin these artful dodgers down on how they would operate under the burdens the Bush administration will leave behind. Otherwise, the voters may go to the polls with only the vaguest idea of the truly tough choices the next president will face.

Broder also expressed his deep displeasure that Congress hasn't proposed to pay for the bailout with a tax hike.

Ha ha! Just kidding! Broder, of course, did no such thing. Broder's perfectly OK with this Administration's and this Congress' simply borrowing $700 billion for the Big Bailout, then sticking the next Administration with the bill.

But that Administration, of course, had better be fiscally prudent, on account of the debt that they're being stuck with.

That's how fiscal responsibility works in Broder's universe. If there's any sort of rhyme or reason to this, other than "Democrats are expected to be fiscally responsible, but Republicans aren't," I sure don't see it.

Broder Thinks McCain Was the Alpha Male in Friday's Debate

No, really!

It was a small thing, but I counted six times that Obama said that McCain was "absolutely right" about a point he had made. No McCain sentences began with a similar acknowledgment of his opponent's wisdom, even though the two agreed on Iran, Russia and the U.S. financial crisis far more than they disagreed.

That suggests an imbalance in the deference quotient between the younger man and the veteran senator -- an impression reinforced by Obama's frequent glances in McCain's direction and McCain's studied indifference to his rival.

Whether viewers caught the verbal and body-language signs that Obama seemed to accept McCain as the alpha male on the stage in Mississippi, I do not know.

Sorry, Broder, but this was McCain desperately trying to be alpha male, and totally failing. Ignoring a would-be challenger only works as an alpha-male strategy if the challenger can genuinely be brushed off, like a grownup ignoring a kid who wants to be a part of the grownups' conversation. But as the Bush years have demonstrated, ignoring intelligent, able people is a sign of serious weakness, not strength.

Of course, Broder regarded Bush as an alpha male, long after Bush conclusively demonstrated he wasn't. Gotta wonder what color the sky is, in Broder's world.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some Questions for the Dem Leadership About the Bailout

OK, now some questions for Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Hoyer, Dodd, Frank, and any other Dem leaders who are in on the talks.

1. Do you really think you're going to get a lot of GOP cover for your bailout plan, unless it's something that doesn't do anything to directly help anyone not on Wall Street?
2. You realize how the American public feels about this bailout, right?
3. You know you're going to Be Serious and pass a bailout plan that Bush won't veto, right?
4. And when you do, you know that the GOP will run against both you and Bush at the same time, right?

Good. Now:

5. So why don't you stop worrying about getting Bush's support, or about getting GOP votes, and put together the best, most populist bailout package you can possibly come up with - one that may not get any GOP support, but one that you're not afraid to sell to the American people?

Then, one of two things will happen:

A) It'll pass, and you'll have saved the day and helped the American people in all sorts of good ways. This isn't a very likely outcome, but you'll have tried - on your terms.


B) The GOP will have proven to the American public that denying any relief to the people is more important than saving our economic system. Which is the absolute truth, of course. Then you can run against the GOP for Not Being Serious about the bailout, and hating the American people, too. Politically, it just doesn't get any better than that.

So, what would such a bailout look like?
  1. Mandate the restructuring of mortgages in all cases where banks loaned people more than they could have reasonably been expected to pay. (IMHO, this is all the bailout that is needed: this puts real value back in all those questionable mortgage-backed securities, which is the key to unlocking everything else.)
  2. Include the outline of a new regulatory regime to cover anything remotely bank-like.
  3. Repeal as much of the Bankruptcy Act of 2005 as you can get that K-Street pawn, Steny Hoyer, to go along with.
  4. Include the 'second stimulus' package of extended unemployment benefits and so forth, targeting people who will spend the money because they have little choice.
  5. Include the SCHIP expansion that the GOP defeated last year. Repeal Bush's 2003 tax cut on dividends and capital gains to pay for it.
  6. To the extent that the bailout still involves paying more for questionable securities than any private investors are willing to do, also do the following:
  7. Increase income and estate tax rates on the rich and super-rich to pay for the bailout.
  8. Demand transparency of any firm that Uncle Sam overpays for assets from: if you aren't in enough trouble to open your books in order to be rescued, then you aren't in enough trouble to be rescued.
  9. Do all the other things that are in the Dem bailout package already: an equity stake, limits on CEO compensation, and all that.
Seriously, guys, forget selling this to the GOP. Sell this to America. Be freakin' Democrats for once.

Some Questions About the Bailout

Yesterday, the WaPo gave page A-4 entirely over to ask and answer "8 Questions About the Debates." The debates are important, of course, but the bailout is freakin' HUGE.

But can they make space for "8 Questions About the Bailout"? Fuck, no.

So here's a few of mine. Mind you, this is the list I'd like to see the WaPo run. I've got a few additional questions, as a Democrat, for the Democratic leadership, but I'll put them in a separate post.

1. What happens if we do nothing, and why?
2. How will Paulson's (or the Democrats') bailout proposal keep that bad stuff from happening?
3. Is it the end of the world if Congress waits until after the election to deal with the bailout?
4. Who is getting bailed out, and why them? If Lehman's already gone bust, Bear Stearns, AIG, and Fannie/Freddie have already been bailed out, Merrill Lynch has been bought by Bank of America, and Warren Buffett's just put $5 billion into Goldman Sachs, that just leaves Morgan Stanley, and they can't possibly need $700 billion worth of rescuing, right?
5. Why $700 billion? How'd they come up with that? ("It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number." OK, I guess we know the answer to that one.)
6. The Paulson and Democratic bailouts both depend on Uncle Sam paying a good deal more for
mortgage-backed securities (MBS) than anyone else wants to pay for them. What sort of sense does this make? The assumption seems to be that, post-bailout, they'll be worth enough so the government will come out OK in the end. Does Uncle Sam really know more about how to value these things than the market does, especially given that a year ago, Uncle Sam didn't even see this coming?
7. Why not do a bottom-up bailout, by mandating a nationwide renegotiation of excessive mortgage rates? To the extent that the underlying problem is a big pile of MBS which may not have much value because people are unable or unwilling to make the payments, just force a writedown that enables people to make the payments. (If your house payments are greater than, say, 38% of what your income was at the time you got the loan, then mandate the conversion into a 30-year fixed mortgage with the payments set at the 38% level.) This would cost the government nothing, but it would keep people in their homes, and it would stabilize the value of the mortgage-backed securities at a decent level, thereby unfreezing the credit markets. The holders of the MBS would take a bit of a writedown, but right now those securities are nearly worthless.
8. Rather than borrowing the $700B for the bailout, why don't we decide upfront who's going to pay for it through tax increases? Why should Joe and Jane Sixpack be stuck with the bill down the road by default if the bailout doesn't miraculously pay for itself?
9. Why is the GOP so strongly opposed to restructuring people's mortgages, even when they favor a bailout for the banks?
10. How would the Boehner plan work? (Would it work?)
11. James Galbraith has proposed a plan. How would it work, and would it work?
12. If we're going to commit to spending $700 billion, there are probably a number of alternative plans that might accomplish the underlying objective of preventing the credit markets from freezing up. Why isn't the discussion ranging a bit wider than it is?

Instead, what we get is Serious People Are Doing Important Things That Must Be Done, That Will Cost a Lot of Your Money, But That You Wouldn't Understand. It's the perfect Broder-Hiatt crisis.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How Should We Pay For the Big Bailout?

Rich people got us into this; rich people should pay for it.

That may seem simplistic, but ask me if I care. There's no reason why Joe and Jane Sixpack should pay for the Big Bailout.

So how should we pay for it, and how can we get Dem Congresscritters to think in terms of sticking the upper class with the bill for their own party?

Let's attack the first question first. Here's some ideas:

1) Super-high income tax brackets. Currrently, the tax rates top out at 35% for income over $357,701. Let's let the brackets keep on going, maybe like this:

40% on income over $1 million,
50% on income over $5 million,
60% on income over $20 million,
70% on income over $80 million,
80% on income over $250 million, and
90% on income over $1 billion.

Let the rich people and their GOP toadies whine, and see how much sympathy they get.

2) Same thing with the estate tax. Currently the estate tax amounts to a flat 45% tax on everything over the first $2 million. So how about:

50% on all assets over $10 million,
60% on all assets over $50 million,
70% on all assets over $ 200 million,
80% on all assets over $500 million, and of course,
90% on all assets over $ 1 billion.

3) Tax short-term capital gains prohibitively; tax long-term capital gains like regular income.

If you hold onto a stock or other security n days before selling it, your tax rate is (99-n)%, or your regular income tax rate, whichever is greater.

So if you buy and sell a security the same day, the government gets 99% of the gain. If you hold it for 35 days, the tax rate on your gain is 99-35 = 64%. If you hold it for 90 days, you'll almost surely pay your regular income tax rate on it, because 99-90=9%, and that's surely less than your regular income tax bracket.

And let's make sure this applies to all financial investment instruments - common and preferred stocks, derivatives, securitized packages of loans, you name it. If there's a market for them, we tax 'em.

4) Impose a transaction tax on security transfers, maybe 1/10 of 1% of the sales price of the security.

If the stock market's mostly a big casino, let's skim a bit off the top to help pay for the Big Bailout.

No, I don't know how much these taxes would raise. I guess there's calculators for these things somewhere, but I can't seem to Google them. At any rate, the amounts should be adjusted to reflect the more pessimistic guesses at how much Uncle Sam will be in the hole as a result of cleaning up after the Masters of the Universe.

Now, how do we get the Democratic leadership in Congress to buy in to this, rather than just say, "sure, bail 'em out, we don't care where the money comes from."

Damned if I know. Anybody got any ideas?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Krauthammer On Bush's 'Equanimity'


When I asked President Bush during an interview Monday to reflect on this oddity, he cast himself back to early 2001, recalling what he expected his presidency would be about: education reform, tax cuts and military transformation from a Cold War structure to a more mobile force adapted to smaller-scale 21st-century conflict.

But a wartime president he became. And that is how history will both remember and judge him.

Getting a jump on history, many books have already judged him. The latest by Bob Woodward describes the commander in chief as unusually aloof and detached. A more favorably inclined biographer might have called it equanimity.

In the hour I spent with the president (devoted mostly to foreign policy), that equanimity was everywhere in evidence -- not the resignation of a man in the twilight of his presidency but a sense of calm and confidence in eventual historical vindication.

So he's good at fooling himself, Chuckles.

Wouldn't it have been helpful of him to share this equanimity with the rest of us over the past several years? Instead, he's used the fear card over and over again to attain his political ends.

In doing so, he was not only an amoral political manipulator - he was Osama bin Laden's #1 ally.

The goal of terrorism, after all, is to terrorize. And Bush, by keeping the American people wound up about the terrorist threat for years, worked bin Laden's will.

By contrast, the Clinton Administration's concern about terrorism is clear in retrospect. But they fought their war behind the scenes. Their track record in fighting terrorism can be debated, but the American people weren't terrorized during Clinton's Presidency.

If the 1990s seemed like a "holiday from history" to you, Chuckles, it's because Clinton was doing his job.

It is precisely that quality that allowed him to order the surge in Iraq in the face of intense opposition from the political establishment (of both parties), the foreign policy establishment (led by the feckless Iraq Study Group), the military establishment (as chronicled by Woodward) and public opinion itself.

Or it might have just been that Bush himself had nothing to lose by rolling the dice one more time. Bush wasn't going to pay the price, in blood and treasure, of the escalation of the war. For him, it was a risk-free gamble: if the surge worked, he'd gain some vindication. If it didn't, he'd look little worse in the eyes of history than he otherwise would have.

And the argument over the surge still comes down to this: the Iraq War has been a freakin' disaster, for both America and Iraq. Mitigating somewhat the disaster you went out of your way to bring about (speaking of playing the fear card) isn't exactly something to brag about. It's saying to Iraq: we cut your arm off, but we finally managed to keep you from bleeding to death.

The surge then effected the most dramatic change in the fortunes of an American war since the summer of 1864.

So much for Normandy and Midway.

Besides, the reduction in violence in Iraq was mostly due to two things: (1) the Anbar Awakening, the fortunes of which are discussed on the DoD website as early as September 2006 - four months before Bush announced that the surge was coming; and (2) al-Sadr's cease-fire of August 2007, which, according to various news articles, owed its success to black-arts techniques (intelligence and special forces operations) that would have worked with or without the surge.

Besides, unlike Normandy and Midway, the surge has yet to accomplish its ultimate objective of political reconciliation. Even after two years of good behavior by the Anbar Awakening groups, Maliki still refuses to incorporate them into Iraq's security forces, and refuses to give the Sunnis any share of power in his government. Similarly, Maliki regards the Sadrists as military opponents to be crushed, rather than political adversaries to be negotiated with.

Absent a political reconciliation, Iraq's in trouble as soon as we pull out - so we've got to stay there indefinitely to prop up Maliki's tinhorn dictatorship.

The Union victories of the summer of 1864 led almost inevitably to the defeat of the Confederacy. Nothing like that can be said about the surge.

Krauthammer: 9/11 "Came Out Of the Blue"

For the past 150 years, most American war presidents -- most notably Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt -- have entered (or reentered) office knowing war was looming. Not so George W. Bush. Not so the war on terror. The 9/11 attacks literally came out of the blue.
Literally, but not figuratively, Chuckles.

Bush got that "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S." PDB five weeks before 9/11, and told the briefer that he'd covered his ass, now he could run along. This was just weeks after Bush had attended a European summit at which there had been heightened concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack from the air.

OK, that was after Bush took office, if you want to nitpick, Chuckles. So, what warnings did Bush have as he took office in 2001?

The outgoing Clinton Administration did its best to warn the incoming Bushies that they should prepare to be focused on terrorism. The Bushies may not have wanted to hear it, but they were warned. They chose not to know.

And even before that, there had been the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in the fall of 2000, and of course the original attack on the World Trade Center towers in 1993. Plus there was a significant instance of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

These things were in the papers. We all knew about these attacks. And presumably Bush, during the transition, was briefed about attacks that had failed, such as the Millennium Bombing plot of 1999/2000.

Maybe Bush didn't see the approaching threat of terrorism. But that's not because the signs weren't there, or because he wasn't warned.

No, Chuckles, it was because Bush was a fucking idiot.

Broder Gets Lost In the Horse Race Again

Shorter Broder: the important thing about the current financial meltdown is that it's bad for McCain.
The larger effect [of the events on Wall Street] is the psychological damage to an electorate already struggling to maintain any optimism about the country and its future. For all the excitement Palin has generated, the national mood is still a major barrier for McCain and the Republicans.

There may be other external events that jolt the presidential race -- and the debates are still to come. But for now, Wall Street and its woes are causing big problems for John McCain.

Bolding mine. Good job of keeping your eye on the ball, Broder. Can't have anyone thinking that what's happening is important in and of itself; what's important is the horse race.

George Will, Low-Information Voter

What else can one make of this?
Palin is as bracing as an Arctic breeze and delightfully elicits the condescension of liberals whose enthusiasm for everyday middle-class Americans cannot survive an encounter with one.
I guess Will has missed her habitual lying, her running a small town like a martinet, her refusal to cooperate with a governmental investigation, her firing of officials who refused to participate in her personal vendettas against members of her family, and her seeking of hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal handouts for genuinely worthless and idiotic projects.

Or maybe those are the sort of small-town American values that Will finds so refreshing. Hard to tell.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another 'Light Posting Ahead' Warning

As I mentioned a few weeks back, my wife and I are trying to adopt a child from Russia. The prospective trip I mentioned then fell through, but we just got another call from the adoption agency. We may be traveling in a couple of weeks, and posting is likely to be light while we're getting ready to go.

None of this is certain, as we learned the week before last. But we've got photos (damn, that kid is cute!) and a medical report (confusing, but that's the norm in Russian adoptions) this time, which is more than we had the last time.

If this goes through, we'd be traveling to Tomsk, which is the other side of Kazakhstan, and just this side of Mongolia.

McCain's Acceptance Speech - The Unexpurgated Version

This is a bit off my usual beat, but this little glitch during McCain's speech got almost no media attention for some reason:

Thanks to The Margins of Error for pointing this out.

Cliff May Stands Up For Concern Trolling

Nothing all that terrible on the WaPo op-ed page today: maybe yesterday's events have everyone talking some sort of sense for once. But yesterday I wandered over to The Corner and found this Cliff May nugget:

Helping Hands [Cliff May]

I was just listening to Karl Rove on Fox News Sunday offering serious and, I would think, useful advice to Obama on how to win the election.

And earlier, I was reading this piece by Peggy Noonan telling Democrats the strategies they need to adopt in order to prevail.

I could find other examples without trying hard.

Do Democrats ever do this – offer serious and useful counsel to their enemies?

I don’t think so.

Beyond "abandon your worldview," I'm not sure what advice we could give.

But does Cliff May really believe this is "serious and useful counsel"? Gimme a break.

He doesn't link to Rove, but here's some excerpts from Noonan's piece:
There is no denying that Mr. Obama is in a bad place, that he must now be considered the underdog, that he's wearing Loser-Glo. The slide started with the Rick Warren interviews in August, just as America was starting to pay attention. Verdict? McCain: normal. Obama: odd.
And what color is the sky in your world, Ms. Noonan?

Then Mrs. Palin, and the catastrophe of the Democratic and media response to her. Books will be written about this, but because it's so recent, and so known, we're almost not absorbing how huge it was, and is. Here was the central liberal mistake: They used the atom bomb just a few days in. They used it so brutally, and yet so ineptly, in a way so oblivious to the true contours of the field, that the radiation blew back over their own lines. They used it without preliminary diplomatic talks, multilateral meetings or Security Council debate. They just went boom. And it boomeranged.

The atom bomb was personal and sexual perfidy, backwoods knuckle-draggin' ma and pa saying, Tell the neighbors the baby's ours. Then the ritual abuse of the 17-year-old girl. Then the rest of it—bad mother, religious weirdo. (On this latter it must be noted that Mrs. Palin never told a church that the Iraq war was God's will; she asked them to pray that it was God's will. It wasn't the sound of Republican hubris, it was the sound of Christian humility: We can't know the mind of God, we can only pray we are in accord with it.)

Except that the baby coverup story was nothing more than an internet rumor. Even to this day, the most notable voices publicizing it have been GOP partisans like Noonan. The abuse of Bristol Palin never happened, except in the heads of the Republicans who decided to play the victim card anyway.

And even the prayer - if you aren't open to God's letting you know that he doesn't bless your planned course of action, if you're not going to change what you're doing, no matter how big a clue-by-four God smacks you in the head with - then your prayers are just a bullshitting of God, mankind, and yourself.

But getting back to the main theme: this isn't "serious and useful counsel." This is the usual GOP mudslinging, thinly masquerading as advice. I'm not sure it even rises to the level of concern trollery; it's just simple trollery for the most part.

Anyway, there's a reason Dems don't offer similar advice to Republicans: we don't have any corner on wisdom, but we aren't that full of shit.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Same S***, Different Pundit

"Nobody in the game of football should be called a genius. A genius is somebody like Norman Einstein."
-Joe Theismann

Shorter Norman Ornstein: the next President will need to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and he'll need the help of Washington insiders to get that done.
The key initiatives have to come in reforming our large entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- to cope with explosive growth in the number of older people. Change to these programs would mean pain for large numbers of voters.
Yep, same drum, different banger. You're not 'serious' unless you cut the programs that most Americans count on.

You know what, Norm? Social Security is fine. Medicare and Medicaid face problems, but it's because of the explosion in health care costs, not the explosion in older people. The rest of the advanced democracies have solved this problem, while providing health care to everyone. If you were a genius, or even a reasonably smart person, rather than an AEI hack, you'd look across the Atlantic, or even north of the border, and see how different countries are managing this feat.

The question you should be asking is, "how come we're the only country that can't do this?"

But you're an AEI hack, and you're just one more well-paid foot soldier in the WaPo's war on Social Security and Medicare.

Can't ignore your conclusion, Norm:
The change that Washington needs will require the deep deployment of people who know how to move the levers of power from the inside. The presidential bully pulpit is a powerful weapon in a president's arsenal. But it's no substitute for knowing how to get things in Washington.
Yeah, we've noticed. Maybe that's why it's time to cut you guys out of the action.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Question or Two for Palin's Evangelical Supporters

(Not that any of them are likely to read these questions, but WTF.)

1) You guys are falling all over her like she was the second coming of the Left Behind series, or some such. You've definitely decided she's One Of You, and whatever minor faults she might have, she's just peachy with you overall.

2) You have to have noticed by now that she's a habitual liar. She's lied about (a) her support for earmarks in general, she's lied over and over again about (b) the Bridge to Nowhere, she's even lied about (c) having been to Iraq (and Ireland too, for what it's worth), and if she hasn't outright lied about selling the state jet on eBay, she's certainly (d) gone out of her way to leave the impression that she sold the plane on eBay, which she hadn't.

3) Each of those constitutes what the Commandments (you know, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with stone tablets*) call 'bearing false witness.' Doesn't that bother you?

Especially because:

4) If you folks can't be trusted to tell the truth about the things of this world, how can you possibly expect anyone to believe you about things that aren't of this world?


*When a not particularly religious gay man thinks your memory needs jogging about the basics of your faith, maybe your memory needs jogging about the basics of your faith.

You might want to read what he says about evangelicals and torture, too. If I may be so crass as to use this choice of words, you're not exactly doing great things for the Lord's 'brand.'

Michelle Malkin Might Want To Rethink These Words

Y'all remember Graeme Frost, the seventh-grader that the Dems put on the air last fall to give their response about SCHIP. And you remember his quick Swiftboating by the wingnuts, complete with wingnut bloggers skulking around the shrubbery of his home, trying to peep through windows. But I'd forgotten that Michelle Malkin quoted Mark Steyn with approval when Steyn* said this:
The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game. As it is, the Dems do enough cynical and opportunist hiding behind biography and identity, and it’s incredibly tedious.
I'm not sure I even need to comment. What are McCain and Palin running on, other than "biography and identity"? And funny how, all of a sudden, any close investigation or questioning of their Vice Presidential candidate is sexist or something.

An eleven year old kid is expected to take whatever's thrown at him if he dares to speak out in public, but according to Malkin, a 44 year old woman who's running for the nation's second-highest office...should be exempt from the usual oppo research , and MTV and US Magazine shouldn't dare say bad things about Alaska's Hothouse Flower. Lord help her if a lefty version of Karl Rove, Steve Schmidt, or Tucker Eskew were ever sicced on her.

I guess all of a sudden, politics is supposed to be beanbag after all!

Ms. Malkin, will you be my situational ethics tutor? I want to learn this art from a master!

*Words in italics added after the fact. Don't ask me how I didn't notice that she was quoting someone else. It doesn't affect the point, fortunately, but facts are still important to get right. It makes me wonder what Steyn has been saying about Palin Protection lately, though.

The Soft 'POP' You Just Heard Was the Sound of My Head Exploding

The TPM header reads: McCain's Lying Has Gone Too Far, According To ... Karl Rove!

Regular posting will resume after I gather and reassemble the scattered pieces of my brain.

OK, LTC, What's Your Solution For Our Schools?

If I'm going to tell George Will that the schools he's so in love with are nice, but aren't a solution, it's only fair to ask: hey, bucko, you got any better ideas?

Glad I asked. Because as a matter of fact, I do. It's deceptively simple, too:

Good jobs.

Study after study after study, across the decades, has shown that the main determinant of how kids do in school is how their parents are doing. So let's fix that.

If we're living in a world where big corporations simply use up their employees and spit them out when they've extracted all the value they can get, then of course we're going to have problems with our schools. If Mom and Dad both need to work just to pay the bills, and they have to be available to put in overtime whenever the boss says so, then the schools aren't going to be able to fill the void their absence leaves. If kids come from environments where not many people work, and the jobs those people have are dead-end jobs, then they're going to wind up on the streets. Maybe Cristo Rey can rescue some of those kids, but it's a losing battle.

We need jobs where parents work hard for eight hours a day, then go home and look after their kids. We, as a society, have to say that employers only have a claim on a limited number of hours, so that those employees have plenty of time to raise their children, so they can be family members and community members the rest of the time.

We need for those jobs to pay enough so that a single parent can support a kid or two on one job, or so that one parent working full-time and one parent working part-time can support a family without difficulty.

We need universal health care so that parents don't have to worry about making sure their kids get to the doctor, and so that the parents themselves can stay healthy and stay productive. Not to mention, so that increases in health costs don't come out of Mom and Dad's paychecks.

We need enough decent jobs so that people who would like a job but have given up looking, come back into the workforce. We need enough decent jobs so that people whose lives have been only marginally connected to the working world become regular workers, and pass those habits to their kids. Not to mention, so that they believe education's not a waste of time and energy, and lean on their kids to learn in school. To shrink the void that the streets fill.

There's one additional thing, unrelated to jobs, that might also help. This 'War On Drugs' business - can we admit that it's been a failure, that the WOD itself is what makes illegal drugs such a profitable enterprise, and that drug money is what makes the streets more compelling than the schools - not to mention, what causes too many young black men to end up dead or in prison, instead of raising their children.

Schools work in the context of a society that supports their mission. Absent that supportive society, the occasional Cristo Rey will rescue some high-risk kids, but it'll be rescue work, and it'll be swimming against the current. What we need to do is get the current flowing in the right direction, to reduce the number of kids that need to be rescued in the first place. And we do that by creating jobs, and making sure they're good ones. And pulling the rug out from under the inner-city drug kingpins.

may continually throw some of the players into prison, but that they're replaced just as quickly? And that the

Shorter George Will: There Are Magical Solutions To What Ails Our Schools

Will's got another piece today about Little Inner-City Schools That Could. Schools like this are great, as individual schools. The last school like this Will described had a former business big-wheel as its head, and teachers who graduated from a bunch of Ivy League and equivalent schools.

The problem with this sort of school, as I pointed out last time, is replicability. There are only so many energetic business executives (or educators who could have prospered in that route) to go around, and there are only so many bright young grads from elite colleges who are willing to teach at inner-city schools.

In today's column, Will dodges that question by simply not talking about how Cristo Rey Jesuit High School is run. He says Cristo Rey can do what it does "because it is not shackled by bureaucracy or unions, as public schools are." I'm all for the Jesuits opening and running as many schools like this as they can manage. But even the Jesuits can only run and staff a certain number of schools (they're opening more schools like Cristo Rey in other cities), especially in a world where the number of Catholics entering holy orders continues to decrease.

So good for Cristo Rey, good for the Jesuits, and good for all the inner-city kids that these two dozen schools on this model will rescue from dead-end lives. But let's not kid ourselves that this is a solution to our schools' problems.

Shorter Broder: Next President, Unlike This One, Will Have To Tame the Deficit First

Yep, after eight years of Bush's and Cheney's wars and tax cuts growing the deficit, Broder says the next President will have to clean up after the elephants, rather than address other national priorities.
the next president, whoever he is, will probably inherit a budget that is at least $500 billion out of balance -- a record sum that will limit his ability to do any of the wonderful things being promised daily in the upbeat rhetoric of the campaign.
It's big, but it's not a record in any sense besides the nominal. The (humongous PDF) FY09 budget historical tables projected a FY09 deficit of about $407 billion, which would have been about 2.7% of GDP. So let's assume that $500 billion will be about 3.4% of GDP. As a percentage of GDP, that's smaller than two of Bush's deficits, smaller than all four of Bush Sr.'s deficits, smaller than five of Reagan's deficits, and smaller than both of Ford's deficits.

On the other hand, it's bigger than all of Carter's deficits and all of Clinton's deficits. Especially since Clinton racked up four surpluses.

There's a lesson there, for anyone with ears to hear. Not that many from the media are likely to point it out.

At any rate, Obama's main goals aren't to provide 'goodies,' even if they will ultimately improve the lives of Americans. He wants to get the U.S. out of Iraq, which will save us about $100 billion a year, starting a couple years down the road. That helps reduce the deficit. He wants to deal with global warming, through fully auctionable cap-and-trade permits. Dealing with global warming is far more urgent than dealing with the deficit (seems worth bolding, since the Broders of the world can't quite grasp this notion), but the cap-and-trade permit auctions will bring money into the Treasury, so they help reduce the deficit too.

Obama also wants to bring us closer to universal health care. With any luck, Congressional Dems will win this debate, and create a genuinely universal system that enables the government to get a handle on costs, just as England, France, Germany, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, etc., etc. have done. So that would also be a twofer.

McCain, on the other hand, wants to hand out even more tax cuts to rich people on top of what Bush has already passed. He would explode the deficit.

So if Broder's all so hep on fiscal responsibility, he's got one pretty good choice, and one absolutely catastrophic choice. But he's too 'evenhanded' to say so.

Shorter Luskin: Americans Only Believe the Economy Is Bad Because Obama and the Media Told Them So

And the Outlook section editor gave the Stupidest Man Alive a pile of space to expand on that thesis, in a piece titled, "Quit Doling Out That Bad-Economy Line."
Overall, the pessimists are up against an insurmountable reality: In the last reported quarter, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.3 percent, adjusted for inflation. That's virtually the same as the 3.4 percent average growth rate since -- yes -- the Great Depression.

Why, then, does the public appear to agree with the media? A recent Zogby poll shows that 66 percent of likely voters believe that "the entire world is either now locked in a global economic recession or soon will be." Actually, that's a major clue to what started this thought-contagion about everything being the worst it has been "since the Great Depression": Politics.

Patient zero in this epidemic is the Democratic candidate for president.
Numero Uno: People are very good judges about how their own lives, and those of their friends and neighbors, are faring. If they say the economy sucks, it's probably because it sucks for them and for people they know and come into contact with.

Numero Two-o: How "the economy" is doing isn't worth a damn to most people. If their paychecks aren't getting bigger, if gas prices have skyrocketed and food prices are going up, if their health insurance leaves gaping holes and they might lose it if they actually use it for anything major, if they're behind in their payments on a house whose value is plunging, then how 'the economy' is doing is meaningless.

The disconnect between the state of 'the economy' and the statistics that give a clue as to how most Americans are actually doing - let alone the polls that show they think the economy's in the crapper - just shows how poorly 'the economy' serves Joe and Jane Sixpack. Don Luskin and his friends are doing great; what's your problem?

Numero Three-o: according to Gallup, people already thought the economy sucked last winter, when it looked like Hillary would still win the nomination. Kinda hard to blame that on Obama.

There's a whole bunch of other horseshit there, but I'll leave it to the economists in the blogosphere to do a more thorough dissecting of Luskin's garbage. I'll just leave you with one more Luskin quote:
McCain campaign adviser and former U.S. senator Phil Gramm was right in July when he said that our current state "is a mental recession."
Yeah, Americans are just imagining the problems they're dealing with. Snap out of it, America! Just ignore what your household budget is telling you - you're doing fine.

Update, Monday morning: I forgot to quote Luskin's " "Turmoil" in the debt markets? Sure, but we've seen plenty worse" remark. With Lehman in Chapter 11, AIG on the ropes, and the possibility of a pretty serious cascade failure of major investment houses, I think it's safe to say that no, those of us too young to have lived through the Depression haven't seen worse.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Point Is, Palin Didn't Know Any Of Them

Dear Chuckles: the point isn't that Sarah Palin wasn't sure which "Bush Doctrine" Charles Gibson meant. It's that she clearly didn't know what it was by any definition. It's not even clear she knew that there was a "Bush Doctrine" until Gibson asked her that question.

As the always excellent James Fallows points out, Palin clearly knows less about foreign affairs than someone who simply follows the news reasonably closely.

And, Chuckles, let's look at those four "Bush Doctrines" you listed. The first, in June 2001, originated from you. But few besides your devoted fans ever heard of it, so can we dispense with that?

The last one you give, "the idea that the fundamental mission of American foreign policy is to spread democracy throughout the world," has long since been laughed out of the public dialogue. Bush has completely abandoned his earlier, exceedingly modest attempts to nudge authoritarian allies towards democracy or even towards less repression of critical speech. They were clearly window dressing at the time, but they gulled those who wanted to be gulled (not naming any names, Chuckles) that Bush's "behave, or I'll ram 'democracy' down your throat" approach to the world was part of a broader push for actual democracy, rather than a transparently flimsy justification for saber-rattling and war.

So nobody takes that one seriously anymore, and the idea that "If I were in any public foreign policy debate today, and my adversary were to raise the Bush doctrine, both I and the audience would assume -- unless my interlocutor annotated the reference otherwise -- that he was speaking about the grandly proclaimed (and widely attacked) freedom agenda of the Bush administration" is total bullshit. Nobody with any connection to the real world would assume such a thing.

You might, Chuckles, but few have accused you of being particularly tethered to the real world.

The second one, the "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists...[f]rom this day forward any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime" doctrine from just after 9/11/01, was (your choice) superseded by the third Bush Doctrine you name, or died a quiet death when Pakistan became Osama bin Laden's safe harbor, which it remains to this day.

The third one, the one used to justify the Iraq war, was of course the one that Gibson was referring to: the notion that we could initiate preventive war against another nation, well before there was any reason to believe they constituted an imminent threat to any other country. That one was not only used to justify the Iraq invasion, but was also alive and well last year when the Bush Administration was saber-rattling at Iran. The threat from Iran wasn't going to be imminent during the remainder of the Bush Administration, but factions within that Administration (can you say Cheney? I knew you could!) wanted to bomb, bomb Iran anyway.

So even if we assumed that Palin actually had any sort of clue about the Bush Doctrine, that's the one she would have had to consider the operative one.

But she obviously had no clue at all. The question implicit in Palin's confused look wasn't "which Bush Doctrine?" but "there's something called a Bush Doctrine?"

Give it up, Chuckles.

And you too, Michael Abramowitz.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Broder Thinks Both Candidates Will Deliver Change

What an idiot.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Change is coming, change you can count on.

That is the simple, central message from the two presidential nominating conventions held in Denver and St. Paul during the past two weeks.

Whether it is Barack Obama or John McCain going to the White House in January, the new president will understand that his mandate from the voters is to cleanse Washington of its excessive partisanship and attempt to break the gridlock that has prevailed on almost all the big issues.

The good news is that Obama and McCain, for different reasons, have about as good a prospect of achieving that change as any two politicians you could find.

McCain wasn't able to cleanse his own convention of its excessive partisanship. If he can't manage that feat in what's basically a political infomercial choreographed by his own people, then it's a safe bet he's not going to even try to 'break the gridlock' in Washington.

Besides, even if McCain can 'break through the partisan gridlock,' his policies won't change anything: like it or not, his policies really are a Bush third term. What's the point of breaking the gridlock, just to do more of the same bad stuff?

And oddly enough, that's the sort of thing that actually matters to people. Broder may be interested in process, but people have tangible concerns they want addressed. Think they'll care if gridlock is broken, if the result is another big tax cut for the rich?

On the flip side, there's no guarantee that Obama will bring change, either, and only Rip van Broder, who's apparently slept through the past 20 years, has no idea why. Everyone else paying attention knows that 41 GOP Senators can, and likely will, sink Obama's legislative agenda, by refusing to let bills come to a vote.

It's called 'blocking cloture,' and the GOP Senators are masters of the art. Next slow day, I'll have to write about cloture and filibusters, because the Dems don't have to take this stuff lying down, the way Harry Reid did these past two years; the question is whether Obama will be any better.

The fact that Broder doesn't even raise the issue of filibusters, but assumes that Obama's desire to bring change can somehow make it happen, shows just how out of touch the old man is. He's still very much frozen in the 1970s and 1980s, when neither side routinely blocked the other side's legislation from coming to a vote. Now that the GOP does so automatically, Broder can't acknowledge it, because it would involve acknowledging that the GOP is primarily to blame for obstruction and gridlock, and Hilzoy channels Broder to explain how that would throw the world out of balance. Read her.

The Triviality of the WaPo Op-Ed Page

Hoagland and Ignatius both decided to focus on the families - the candidates' families, of course - today, and "meaningless drivel" seems a kind description of what they wrote. Let's leave it at that.

Over at the Great Orange Satan, DemFromCT ably summarizes today's George Will column, so that I don't have to:
If you read the right things, and follow the right sports teams, you might well be "better off" than you were four years ago, so don't bother to ask that question. Economics is only statistics and people spend too much time whining about them.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Whatever happened to Will, anyway? Sure, he's always been a wishy-washy royalist conservative (the National Lampoon parodied Newsweek a quarter-century ago, and a column by "George Fwill" was titled "Why I Love the Feudal System"), and his columns have often had a tendency to wander a bit. But these days, his columns not only tend to wander pointlessly, but there's little spark of wit along the way, just the occasional swipe at people or institutions on the left, which isn't the same thing.

For years, I'd been basically ignoring Will because he didn't really seem to have anything new to say, and he wasn't saying it particularly well. But even pundits like Broder and Samuelson at least have a point that they're making, even if it's usually wrongheaded, and have some structure to their columns. Will's so bad, he makes those guys look good by comparison. Yet among the WaPo op-ed columnists, his reputation's probably second only to Broder's.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Laughing With Broder, For Once

At about the 1:40 mark. Credit where credit's due, dammit.

Oh yeah: the Russia trip has fallen through, for reasons that will likely remain unclear. Stuff like this happens when you're trying to adopt. So while we're back to where we were two weeks ago - waiting for a referral - we've gotten our packing lists together, gotten our vaccinations, taken care of a number of things that will stand us in good stead when we finally do travel.

Anyway, blogging may return to something like normal for awhile.

The Onion 1, Debbie Howell 0

Debbie Howell, a few weeks back:

Obama's Edge in the Coverage Race

Democrat Barack Obama has had about a 3 to 1 advantage over Republican John McCain in Post Page 1 stories since Obama became his party's presumptive nominee June 4. Obama has generated a lot of news by being the first African American nominee, and he is less well known than McCain -- and therefore there's more to report on. But the disparity is so wide that it doesn't look good.

In overall political stories from June 4 to Friday, Obama dominated by 142 to 96. Obama has been featured in 35 stories on Page 1; McCain has been featured in 13, with three Page 1 references with photos to stories on inside pages. Fifteen stories featured both candidates and were about polls or issues such as terrorism, Social Security and the candidates' agreement on what should be done in Afghanistan.

This dovetails with Obama's dominance in photos, which I pointed out two weeks ago. At that time, it was 122 for Obama and 78 for McCain. Two weeks later, it's 143 to 100, almost the same gap, because editors have run almost the same number of photos -- 21 of Obama and 22 of McCain -- since they realized the disparity. McCain is almost even with Obama in Page 1 photos -- 10 to 9.

The Onion, two days ago:

Top Story On John McCain Run Out Of Obligation

NEW YORK—Although his lack of charisma and charm has lately prevented the Arizona senator from grabbing front-page headlines, the tenets of journalistic objectivity made it necessary today to publish a top news story on Republican presidential candidate John McCain.


Sources confirmed that the primary placement of the McCain article also serves to bolster the publication's reputation as a legitimate paper of record, one that is above being swayed by the hypnotic effect of other, more dynamic public figures who are younger, more visually pleasing, and more adept at garnering media attention.

"Featuring this article was a bold move, and the result is—though completely uninteresting—quite impressive," media critic Tim Keller said. "They have printed a headline that includes McCain's name, put it in a bolded, 48-point font size, and accompanied it with a significant amount of text and a large color photograph of the senator. It takes a strong sense of professional responsibility to commit to something like this."

"Granted, nobody's actually going to read the story," Keller added.

The completion of the article, however, proved far more difficult than expected. Approximately two-thirds of the way through, the legitimate news content grew thin, and several last-ditch efforts were made to increase the length of the story, including a crude listing of pertinent or interesting facts and background information on McCain.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Real Samuelson DorkCard

Hey, I'm drunk, because the adoption trip seems to be in limbo. So it seemed like a good time to take a weed-whacker to Robert J. Samuelson's latest, "The Real Economic Scorecard."
[T]he conventional wisdom [that the economy sucks for most people] is wrong or, at least, misleading. Here's a more accurate assessment. For most Americans, living standards are increasing, albeit slowly, over any meaningful period.
Median family incomes did increase between the early 1970s and the early 1990s. But one huge factor in that trend was stay-at-home moms going from the norm to a dwindling minority. While this has been a good thing for women's equality, as a society we've traded time for money.

Median incomes also increased during the Clinton years, because we had a President with a clue. Median incomes have been stagnant during the Bush years.
Here are three reasons why [the conventional wisdom on the economy is wrong] (space precludes mentioning others):

First, comparisons are made to an artificially high benchmark -- the late 1990s "tech bubble."

Fair enough. So he compares the pre-'tech bubble' year of 1997 with...the pre-'housing bubble' year of 2004, right? Nope, he compares 1997 with 2007. Three years before the top of one bubble, with the top of the next bubble.

That's gonna get you some balanced comparisons, alright.

Strike one.
Second, immigration distorts commonly cited statistics.
Again, based on the 1997-2007 comparison; compare 1997-2004 or 2000-2007, and his 'evidence' vanishes.

Strike two.
Third, the census figures understate income gains by not counting fringe benefits.
And the biggest culprit is health insurance costs. But that isn't an income gain. That isn't any sort of gain. There's no added benefit that came with that. So how are workers better off as a result?

They aren't. Strike three, he's outta there.

Good thing space precluded him from bringing up even dumber arguments.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Random Thought About Sarah Palin

This is getting a bit off my usual beat, but:

If Sarah Palin is telling us the truth, then there she was, this April, (a) pregnant at age 43, (b) due in less than a month, (c) with a Down's Syndrome baby, and (d) leaking amniotic fluid at 4:00 a.m., on the day she's due to give a big speech in Dallas.

So she: (e) doesn't go to a hospital, (f) gives the speech, (g) still doesn't go to a hospital, (h) boards a plane from Dallas, TX to Anchorage, Alaska, (i) doesn't go to a hospital in Anchorage, but (j) drives 45 minutes to a local hospital just outside Wasilla, where she'd been mayor.

Gambling with the life of her unborn baby, as well as her own to a lesser extent, at every step of the way.

Excuse me, but what definition of 'pro-life' is this consonant with?

And then, to quash the rumors that the baby wasn't really hers, but was instead her daughter's, she doesn't release medical records that would have documented her pregnancy and delivery, thereby quashing the rumors without drawing further attention to her daughter. Instead, she announces to the world that her daughter is pregnant now.

Excuse me, but what definition of 'pro-family' is this consonant with?

Just wondering, you know? I'm sure it would gall Palin to have the privacy of her medical records invaded, but if it's your medical records on display, versus your child's life on display - don't you take the hit yourself?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

What's wrong with this woman? The possibility that the 'babygate' rumor is true - that she faked pregnancy so her daughter's pregnancy could be covered up - is starting to look like the explanation that shows her in the best light, given the possibilities.