Friday, October 31, 2008

WaPo; McCain Is An "Idiot Wind"

Looks like McCain's pressing of the Obama-Khalidi connection has even made Fred Hiatt say he's had enough. The header of today's lead editorial:
An 'Idiot Wind'
John McCain's latest attempt to link Barack Obama to extremism
That pretty much sums up the editorial.

But I think we need Bob Dylan to sum up McCain:
Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ruth Marcus: Forget Substance - Tone Is Everything


Barack Obama this week unveiled the closing argument of his presidential campaign. It seemed more like a reminder of his unfinished business.

I'm not referring to Obama's specific plans. Policy goodies such as health care and renewable energy, billions for this and credits for that, are inherently future "deliverables," contingent on election.

Well, of course not. You're a pseudo-centrist WaPo pundit. You'll take advantage of any excuse to discuss intangibles rather than issues, and where the opposing candidates or parties stand on them. Substance isn't your forte. To steal from Edie Brickell, "shove me into shallow waters" should be your motto.

I'm talking, rather, about Obama's entrancing promise of ushering in a new politics, one that rises above entrenched partisan rifts to unite a divided country.
But this is not -- although it could have been -- the way that candidate Obama has run his campaign or the message he has run it on. I believe he sincerely would have preferred that it be different: more elevated and more honest, less beholden to party orthodoxy and less slashing toward opponents.

Yet Obama has run a rather standard Democratic campaign, largely obeisant to party constituencies and allergic to difficult choices. Run it brilliantly, yes, but not with much more than a passing hint of the new politics he envisions. Better angels, it seems, do not make the best campaign strategists.

Accepting his party's nomination in Denver, Obama decried the use of "stale tactics to scare voters." A few weeks later, he was airing ads warning that John McCain wanted to privatize Social Security and would slash seniors' benefits almost in half. You can't get much staler than that.

Stale, perhaps. But was it true?

I know, Ruth, that's substance. Sorry. But McCain has, in fact, been on record for quite some time as favoring Social Security privatization. And that would involve benefit cuts now, or in the near future.

Certainly, McCain did not shy away from the cheap shot or the divisive argument; the palling-around-with-terrorists, Obama-as-socialist themes were not the elevated campaign that he, too, pledged to run.

I don't blame Obama for responding in kind as much as I bristle at his simultaneous posture that he is above that sort of gutter politics.
What gutter politics? What Obama has consistently demonstrated is that he's a counterpuncher. He doesn't pick any fights, but if he's attacked, he uses the attack itself as the basis of his counterattack. It's hardly going into the gutter to use an opponent's own attack, his own words, against him.
Even more, I question his assumption that the pressures that led him to such campaign tactics will somehow melt away after the election. What evidence is there that a President Obama would govern differently than candidate Obama campaigned?
Does he have some magical, Republican-whisperer ability to quell a political opposition that will be determined from Day One to frustrate his program and regain power?
This is where Obama's counterpunching will stand him in good stead. If he makes a good-faith effort to reach across to Republicans, and pass the programs we need to fix America's problems in a bipartisan manner, and the GOP filibusters his every move, then you can bet he'll figure out how to use that fact against them - and have the support of the American people as he does so.

Would a President Obama press policies -- on teacher accountability, on climate change, on trade -- that discomfit Democratic Party interest groups? Does he have the spine to stand up to the inevitably overreaching demands of congressional Democrats?

1) He has in the past.

2) Even more important, I bet he's got the spine to stand up to - or simply ignore - the ridiculous demands of the Beltway pundit class. They always want Dems to demonstrate their fortitude by standing up to someone else - usually working Americans - but never to them.

I suspect Marcus, Broder, Samuelson, Cohen, Applebaum, and all the rest of that crowd, are in for a surprise in January.

Anne Applebaum, WaPo's Stupidest Pundit?

Since I've written this critique of Anne Applebaum in comments at Brad DeLong's blog, I should publish it in my own, too.

Anne Applebaum, yesterday:
I am one of these elusive independent female voters, and I have the credentials to prove it. For the past couple of decades, I've sometimes voted Democratic, sometimes Republican. I'm even a registered independent, though I did think of switching to vote for John McCain in 2000. But because the last political party I truly felt comfortable with was Thatcher's Conservative Party (I lived in England in the 1980s and 1990s), I didn't actually do it.
Since 1994 at the very latest, the enormous philosophical gulf between the two parties has been self-evident. To be an independent, undecided voter over that much time is to be torn, for all those years, between two fundamentally incompatible worldviews, both in terms of policy and their respective approaches to politics.

One expects that sort of cluelessness from a low-information undecided voter, but the only reason to put Applebaum on an op-ed page is if she happens to be one of the sharper tools in the shed. And boy howdy, does she ever fail that test.

I go back to the morning after the 2004 election for the moment I became totally convinced of her cluelessness:
The worst possible outcome would be, and will always be, a repeat of Florida 2000: lawyers, spin doctors, courts and protests that would drag out the result past this evening. That is because a disputed outcome, whoever is doing the disputing, would do far more damage to the country in the long term than anyone's worst Bush nightmare or anyone's worst-case Kerry scenario, whether a declaration of war against Syria or the nationalization of private medicine.
Let's face it: If it's really that close, as it was in 2000, either candidate could plausibly be declared the victor. And the best outcome for the country will always be for the apparent loser to concede and for the nation to hand victory, quickly, to whoever the apparent winner might be.
It's hard to see how a smart person could look back at Florida 2000, look again at the total mess we'd made of Iraq in 2003-4, and somehow be convinced that the former was worse than the latter.

Getting back to Applebaum today:
The larger point, though, is that if I'm not voting for McCain -- and, after a long struggle, I've realized that I can't -- maybe it's worth explaining why, for I suspect there are other independent voters who feel the same. Particularly because it's not his campaign, disjointed though that has been, that finally repulses me: It's his rapidly deteriorating, increasingly anti-intellectual, no longer even recognizably conservative Republican Party. His problems are not technical; they do not have to do with ads, fundraising or tactics, as some have suggested. They are institutional; they have to do with his colleagues, advisers and supporters.
If the qualities of the GOP are the deal-breaker for Applebaum, then once again, this GOP has pretty much been the same party for quite a few years now. Even the pseudo-intellectual overlay that Gingrich provided has been absent for some time. This isn't a party with any new ideas, just more tax cuts for the rich in a time of mounting deficits, fewer regulations in an era where the lack of oversight of everything from baby food to our financial markets has been our undoing, and of course more saber-rattling when our troops are still tied down in two interminable wars, with no way out.

This is only a surprise to Anne Applebaum.
Another thing I liked about McCain was the deliberate distance he always kept from the nuttier wing of his party and, simultaneously, the loyalty he's shown to a recognizably conservative budgetary philosophy. Fiscal conservatism, balanced budgets, sober spending -- all of these principles have been brushed away as so much nonsense for the past eight years by Republicans more interested in grandstanding about how much they hate Washington. McCain was one of the few who kept talking about them. He was also one of a shockingly few to understand that there is nothing American, let alone conservative, about torture, and that a battle for civilized values could not be won by uncivilized means.
McCain may talk about balanced budgets, but the rest of us noticed that McCain switched from a critic to an endorser of the Bush tax cuts a few years back. That completely undermines the sincerity of his talk about balanced budgets. Applebaum apparently didn't notice. Nor did she notice when McCain cozied up to the nuttiest of the widely-known right-wing preachers, the late Jerry Falwell, a few years ago, nor did she notice when he followed that act by befriending the equally nutty Rod Parsley and John Hagee. So much for keeping distance from the wingnuts. And while he was willing to speak against torture, it seems his vote was MIA in that battle.

One can only conclude that Applebaum let herself be completely taken in by posturing. Again, one expects that of low-information voters. Applebaum has failed to distinguish herself from that class.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

WaPo to Frum: Go Ahead, Hack Off All Over Our Outlook Section

Hope you don't mind the new verb form: to hack off is to spout a bunch of nonsense that is so far from objective truth that nobody besides a party hack would be caught dead saying stuff like that.

Which brings us to GOP hack David Frum's lengthy piece in today's Outlook section.

The first half is an unobjectionable argument for the GOP letting McCain sink or swim on his own, and putting all its resources into close Senate races. I've got no dog in that fight.

The second half of the piece is about what the GOP should say to the voters to win those races, and that's where the hackery comes in.
That's especially true because of two unique dangers posed by the impending Democratic victory.

First, with the financial meltdown, the federal government is now acquiring a huge ownership stake in the nation's financial system. It will be immensely tempting to officeholders in Washington to use that stake for political ends -- to reward friends and punish enemies. One-party government, of course, will intensify those temptations. And as the federal government succumbs, officeholders will become more and more comfortable holding that stake. The current urgency to liquidate the government's position will subside. The United States needs Republicans and conservatives to monitor the way Democrats wield this extraordinary and dangerous new power -- and to pressure them to surrender it as rapidly as feasible.

If you're going to talk about the dangers of one-party government rewarding its friends and punishing its enemies, then remind me, David, of your opposition to: Tom DeLay's K Street Project, the steering of Iraq contracts to GOP-friendly firms who were never held accountable when billions just plain disappeared, the use of the Department of Justice as a partisan cudgel, the staffing of the Coalition Provisional Authority with Heritage Foundation interns, and so forth.

And also remind me of how the current GOP minority has used its filibuster power to rein in Dem power grabs, such as SCHIP expansion and a minimum wage hike.

I have no doubt that if the Dems are in power for long enough, they'll abuse it. But this is nothing but projection - Frum knows what his side did, and automatically assumes the Dems will approach government the same way.

Eventially, maybe. But now? Gimme a break. There's nothing in what we've seen in the past two years to suggest that Pelosi and Reid are iron-fisted rulers, pushing unpopular legislation through Congress. Quite the opposite: they've pushed legislation favored by large majorities of the public, but have lacked the ruthlessness to turn it into law.

There's just no connection between reality and the dangers Frum describes.
Second, the political culture of the Democratic Party has changed over the past decade. There's a fierce new anger among many liberal Democrats, a more militant style and an angry intolerance of dissent and criticism. This is the culture of the left-wing blogosphere and MSNBC's evening line-up -- and soon, it will be the culture of important political institutions in Washington.

Unchecked, this angry new wing of the Democratic Party will seek to stifle opposition by changing the rules of the political game.

And what color is the sky in this world?

It's not that there aren't angry people on the left; of course there are. It's just that we tend to get angry about things like the thousands of Americans and Iraqis dead in a needless, senseless war; the fact that the U.S., by far the richest country in the world, is the only advanced democracy that doesn't provide health care for all of its citizens; the giveaway of hundreds of billions of dollars to the people in our society who already have the most; and acts of torture committed in the name of the United States of America.

The GOP gets angry about trivia, and often fictitious trivia at that: lapel pins, Bill Ayers, Obama being a Muslim or a terrorist or a socialist or a Nazi.

There's a big difference about being angry about major injustices, and being angry for the sake of being angry.

I don't blame Frum for taking advantage of the forum the WaPo gives him to push his hackery. He's a party hack; hackery what he does. The problem here is the WaPo giving him an acre of space in its Outlook section to spread bullshit memes like this. Frum is entitled to his opinions, but not every opinion deserves the assist it gets by being put in the WaPo opinion pages. It's the WaPo Outlook editors who've dropped the ball here.

Broder: Save the Endangered Rising GOP Stars!


[GOP Sen. John Sununu] has a fan club on both sides of the aisle and is talked about in Republican circles as a potential presidential candidate.

The youngest member of the Senate has found himself running for reelection in one of the toughest years that Republicans have faced since 1974 -- when Democrats elected their big class of "Watergate babies."

His timetable is in serious jeopardy.

All together, now: Awwwwwwwwwww.

Sununu, like McCain, has struggled to convince voters that while he voted 90 percent of the time for Bush policies, he really is independent. He cites his opposition to an early Bush energy bill and his successful fight to add civil liberties protections to the Patriot Act.

It's a bit harder than it used to be a party-line man in Washington, then pass yourself off back home as an independent on the basis of a handful of votes. Maybe he should have just not voted with Bush 90% of the time.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Corner, Unhinged

Starting at the top and working down:

Apparently the Obama campaign reduced some security setting on their website, so now it's possible to enter your name as "Saddam Hussein" and donate money with your credit card. Mark Steyn is outraged at the fraudulent contribution possibilities. Dude: the credit card numbers are a bit harder to fake, and they have names and addresses that go with them.

K-Lo is still excited about some new Fred Thompson video. Maybe it would help my insomnia - it's worth a shot.

Stanley Kurtz has an outraged but unintelligible post about Obama, the New Party, and a website called "Fight the Smears." Does anybody really know what he's talking about? Does anybody really care? If so, I can't imagine why...

Stanley Kurtz is also all over the "Obama-Ayers-Khalidi connection"
like flies on horseshit. So if horseshit is your thing, you know where to go.

Ken Adelman's become one of Obama's most unlikely endorsers. Jonah sez: "I just wish he'd offer something that approached an intellectually defensible explanation. Because this ain't it." "This" being:

Granted, McCain's views are closer to mine than Obama's. But I've learned over this Bush era to value competence along with ideology. Otherwise, our ideology gets discredited, as it has so disastrously over the past eight years.

McCain's temperament -- leading him to bizarre behavior during the week the economic crisis broke -- and his judgment -- leading him to Wasilla -- depressed me into thinking that "our guy" would be a(nother) lousy conservative president. Been there, done that.

I'd rather a competent moderate president.
Seems straightforward enough to me. Dunno what Jonah's having a hard time grasping.

Andy McCarthy also goes batshit about the "Obama-Ayers-Khalili connection." As the old caving ditty goes:

I smell batshit, oh yes batshit,
it's not rat shit, it's batshit for sure,
it's not cat shit, and it certainly isn't horse manure.

Bonus points for guessing the tune.

In Maggie Gallagher's tiny brain, people who want gays to have the right to get married are marriage opponents, and people who want to prevent them from getting married are marriage supporters.

And in other news, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

At least Maggie's discussing an actual issue of some significance in the lives of real human beings, even if she's on the wrong side of it. That's more than can be said for her fellow Cornerites, who are off chasing bizarre conspiracy theories and the like.

And finally (i.e. that's about as much Corner insanity as a guy should inflict on himself at one sitting), Andy McCarthy angrily defends having been more gullible than Michelle Malkin, with respect to the McCain volunteer who falsely claimed to have been attacked by a large black man. Sucks to be a sucker, doesn't it? Skepticism is good.

The WaPo 'Gets It' on ACORN and Vote Fraud/Suppression

Pleasant surprises in the unsigned editorials are always welcome.
What Mr. McCain's alarmist attack ignores, however, is the enormous gulf between improper voter registration -- whether fraudulent or merely erroneous -- and actually committing fraud at the ballot box. Evidence of fraudulent voting is scant, though there is always a risk. But there is a far greater risk of citizens entitled to vote being turned away from the polls -- and the real threat to the "fabric of democracy" is the McCain campaign's effort to stir up unfounded suspicions of massive voter fraud, casting unwarranted doubt on the legitimacy of the election.
Emphasis mine. Good on ya, WaPo.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Banks Buying Other Banks With Bailout Money

Nobody seems to be saying much about this. But I really don't understand why we just threw $250 billion at a group of large banks to unlock the credit markets, if we're going to let them use it to buy up other banks instead:
Several major U.S. banks are leaning toward spending a portion of their federal rescue money on acquiring other financial firms rather than for issuing new loans, the primary purpose of the government's $250 billion initiative to invest in banks.
There is a growing consensus among Treasury and other federal officials that allowing healthy banks to use the money to acquire banks in jeopardy of failing could stabilize the economy and bolster confidence in banks. This could also save money for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. confirmed yesterday that some banks may use the capital they receive through the Treasury program to buy weaker banks and that this could benefit the financial system.

In an appearance on "Charlie Rose," Paulson said acquisitions were "not the driver behind this program. The driver is to have our . . . healthy banks be well-capitalized so they can play the role they need to play for our country right now."
Healthy banks?? We were bailing out healthy banks?? WTF?
When the Treasury's program was announced last week, some bank executives said they didn't need the money and resented the federal intrusion. But in a number of earnings calls and interviews in recent days, several bank executives were more receptive.

The federal deal is relatively sweet in financial terms -- it requires banks to pay 5 percent interest annually on the investment over the first five years -- and some bankers said they would not pass it up.

I thought Paulson was supposed to drive hard bargains with troubled banks, rather than offering deals to healthy banks that were too good to pass up.

And of course, there's the "too big to fail" problem:
According to some analysts, an excess of mergers and acquisitions in the financial sector over the past decade created too many institutions deemed "too big too fail," meaning that the government would be obliged to rescue them if they faltered. Now, some worry the government's program will continue to drive that trend.

"I think it's a very serious problem, and I think it's part of a general failure to enforce antitrust laws in the last few years," Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee yesterday. "So one of the things I think is part of your exit strategy is that we have to think about breaking up some of the big banks," added Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor.

I think I have at least a sketchy understanding of what this is all about, but the "bailout" is making absolutely no sense to me. Except for the possibility that it's really just one more way for the Bushies to throw money at the rich. I hate to be cynical about it, but I feel like I'm running out of alternatives.

WaPo: The Importance of Bringing Home the Boodle

It had better be a long time before the WaPo jumps on the pork-and-earmarks bandwagon, if they're going to write editorials like this one. The importance of bringing home the boodle is front and center in their endorsements in all three area Congressional races on the Virginia side.

Gerson: McCain's Thwarted Greatness, Redux

John McCain won the nomination of his party, in large part, as a vindicated prophet.
I think this is called the "Jeane Dixon effect." If you make enough prophecies, some of them are bound to be right, and the gullible forget about the predictions that bombed, such as McCain's claims that the Iraq war would be quick and easy, and that we would be greeted as liberators.

Hell, McCain can't even predict the past: less than three months ago, he claimed we were greeted as liberators.

Of course, with McCain having been on every side of every issue, one would have to hope that he'd gotten a few right, just by blind chance.

Gerson, mirroring Krauthammer, does the same "the surge worked" dance. Once again: no, it didn't. The program was: (1) increase troop levels (2) to reduce the violence to make space for (3) political reconciliation that will provide the foundation for (4) a reduction in violence not dependent on American troops (5) that will enable us to gradually withdraw without having to worry about whether Iraq will blow up again.

The Surge is still stuck in Step 2. Claims that the Surge has succeeded, Mike, are your brain on amnesia, gullibility, and wingnut Kool-Aid. Any questions?

Gerson, again mirroring Chucko, criticizes Obama's opposition to the Surge. But that raises the question: was it a good gamble at the time? Was there any reason not to believe it was one more Bush 'Hail Mary' pass to try to pull victory from defeat (or at least forestall his critics for another year), regardless of its chances for success?

What was supposed to be different about the surge? Oh, that's right" "Clear, hold, and build." But we were told we'd already been doing that for 15 months:

Casey also found himself at odds with others in the administration. Once, when he had called the number of civilian personnel who had volunteered to serve in Iraq "paltry," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had chided him. General, she had said, you're out of line.

On another occasion, in late 2005, he butted heads with Rice after her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which she offered a succinct description of the U.S. military strategy in Iraq -- "clear, hold and build: to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely and then build durable Iraqi institutions."

"What the hell is that?" Casey asked his boss at U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid.

"I don't know," Abizaid said.

"Did you agree to that?"

"No, I didn't agree to that."

When Rice next came to Iraq, Casey asked for a private meeting with her and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

"Excuse me, ma'am, what's 'clear, hold, build'?"

Rice looked a little surprised. "George, that's your strategy."

"Ma'am, if it's my strategy, don't you think someone should have had the courtesy to talk to me about it before you went public with it?"

So why should anyone have given any credence to the idea that a little more 'clear, hold, build' than we had already supposedly been doing for well over a year would have worked?

If the Administration hadn't been lying to us (yeah, the Administration you were working for at the time, Mike), we might have known, in January 2007, that we hadn't been pursuing a 'clear, hold, build' approach, so actually trying it might actually reduce the violence.

But blaming others for not seeing through your own bullshit, Mike, is bullshit.

McCain Regains Krauthammer...So What?

Contrarian that I am...
No, really - that's the opening of his column today.

That's how our favorite knee-jerk neocon sees himself. Contrarian.

Epic fail right there, dude.
I stand athwart the rush of conservative ship-jumpers of every stripe -- neo (Ken Adelman), moderate (Colin Powell), genetic/ironic (Christopher Buckley) and socialist/atheist (Christopher Hitchens) -- yelling "Stop!" I shall have no part of this motley crew. I will go down with the McCain ship. I'd rather lose an election than lose my bearings.
Good for you, Chucko. So, what are those bearings?
McCain the "erratic" is a cheap Obama talking point. The 40-year record testifies to McCain the stalwart.
Wonder if Steve Benen's list of McCain flipflops during this campaign season has broken into three figures yet. (I think Benen stopped maintaining that list a few months ago, when he became the Washington Monthly blogger-in-residence. But if it hadn't been for that, the list would go well beyond the 76 flipflops listed there. As Benen pointed out just yesterday, McCain's reversed himself five times on his balanced-budget promise. He started off saying he would balance the budget by 2013, then he wouldn't, then he would, then wouldn't, then would, now wouldn't.)

McCain, the stalwart. Yeppers.
McCain's critics are offended that he raised the issue of William Ayers. What's astonishing is that Obama was himself not offended by William Ayers.
If we're going to dive into that well, McCain's not offended by Gordon Liddy, who was willing to firebomb buildings and assassinate people for Richard Nixon.

But the real criticism of McCain here was his attempt to make the election turn on such trivia, rather than our current economic tsunami, or Iraq and national security, or global warming, or health care. At this point, nobody's got any doubt as to which candidate is more focused on the issues that will make a difference in Americans' lives.

Who do you want answering that phone at 3 a.m.? A man who's been cramming on these issues for the past year, who's never had to make an executive decision affecting so much as a city, let alone the world?...Or do you want a man who is the most prepared, most knowledgeable, most serious foreign policy thinker in the United States Senate?

McCain's such a well-prepared, deep thinker on foreign policy that he was advocating invading Iraq in the fall of 2001, despite knowing little about it, and despite its lack of connection to the then-recent attacks on America. He thought we'd be greeted as liberators, and that the Iraq war would be quick and easy.

There's little indication that McCain has more than a cartoon view of the world, that his understanding goes much deeper than "Og smash!" He's the sort of guy who'd have been willing to commit troops to Georgia, even as we barely had enough desperately overworked, overstretched troops to cover our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Krauthammer identifies Georgia as a test that McCain passed and Obama flunked, but Obama recognized the limits of our military power, while McCain was oblivious to them. Seems like a slamdunk to me - the other way.

And no, Chucko, the Surge still hasn't worked. We knew we could reduce violence temporarily by throwing troops at the problem, but eventually we'd have to reduce our commitment. The whole point was to create a window for political reconciliation, which our man Maliki has been adamantly opposed to, knowing we've got his back. The conflicts are still there. The 'success' of the Surge has merely obligated us to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq until doomsday to keep the lid on things. That's not success. Sorry, Charlie.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ramesh Ponnuru in the WaPo: All Wrong

For some inexplicable reason, the WaPo has given Corner denizen Ramesh Ponnuru space on its website to editorialize. Here's his latest:

The prevailing media take on Senator Biden has been that he is a wise statesman with the charming if unfortunate habit of committing gaffes. I suspect that if Biden were not a liberal Democrat and had not spent decades in Washington, journalists would be considerably more negative: that they would portray him as something of a buffoon.

During the campaign, Biden's been flying under the national radar, much like Edwards in 2004, giving speeches around the country that the national press has little reason to play up.

Palin's a whole 'nother story, of course: she's the star on the GOP side, right now. If she and McCain appear together, people start leaving once she's done speaking and McCain starts.

If that's a double standard, that's just life in the fast lane. And that's where Ponnuru's going:

His latest gaffe was to say on Monday that some foreign power would "test" Obama early in his term and that people would not, at first, think that Obama had reacted well to that test. The McCain campaign pounced on it, but the press has played it down: The story rated five paragraphs on p. A4 of yesterday's Washington Post.

The wingnuts are trying to play this one up; so is Palin. As a Dem, I'm all for that; I'm still trying to figure out what's so bad about this statement.

Somehow I think it would be a bigger story if Gov. Palin had said something similar--or had said, as Biden has, that "J-O-B-S" is "a three-letter word," and that FDR went on national television after the stock-market crash.

Maybe, Ramesh, you should sum up the national coverage of Troopergate, and be glad the media have been as kind to Palin as they have. Anyway, at this point, Palin's said so many crazy things that such gaffes would be lost in the white noise.

I don't think that the double standard in the coverage is purely a function of liberal-media or inside-Washington bias. But whatever the reasons for it, the double standard exists--and the press ought to be tougher on Senator Biden.

Ramesh, if you want to argue that the press should be paying more attention to Biden, and give more ink to both the good and the bad, you might have an argument. Your real problem there, though, is that you're running against your own candidate's star quality. But Biden's been drawing little coverage, period, so why should his occasional gaffe be any different?

P.S. Biden also proposed sending $200 million, "no strings attached," to Iran after September 11. Ever hear about that? Didn't think so.

Yep, stupid idea. But at the time, Iran was helping us in the War on Terror, as has been well documented. And $200 million is chump change in international relations anyway.

This is the essence of a 'gaffe,' something that sounds bad but really isn't particularly. And it's seven years old. So why should the press be pushing this one? Ramesh, if you think it's a story, you've got the National Review at your disposal, don't you? Go for it.

This Morning's Broder and Will

For once, Broder isn't at all bad. He visits the campaign offices of McCain and Obama in the longtime GOP stronghold of Wooster, Ohio. Things are quiet at the McCain office, but the Obama office is running full-tilt.

George Will, on the other hand, is his usual sloppy self. He's upset that leftists like Sen. Charles Grassley think that maybe universities that have accumulated endowments in the billions should perhaps be required to spend some of that money making sure that students who are admitted to those universities can afford to go there.

And he's also upset that California legislators want to require large California foundations to report the race, gender and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff and grant recipients.

He says this sort of thing will cost far more than the $700 billion of our bailout. I'm serious:

Hundreds of billions of dollars that the political class would have liked to direct for its own social and political purposes have been otherwise allocated. That allocation, by government fiat rather than by market forces, must reduce the efficiency of the nation's stock of capital. Which in turn will reduce economic growth, and government revenue, just as the welfare state -- primarily pensions and medical care for the elderly -- becomes burdened by the retirement of 78 million baby boomers.

As government searches with increasing desperation for money with which it can work its will, Willie Sutton Moments will multiply. Government has an incentive to weaken the belief that the nation needs a vigorous and clearly demarcated sector of private educational and philanthropic institutions exercising discretion over their own resources.

So the frequently cited $700 billion sum is but a small fraction of the cost, over coming decades, of today's financial crisis. The desire of governments to extend their control over endowments and foundations is a manifestation of the metastasizing statism driven by the crisis. For now, its costs, monetary and moral, are, strictly speaking, incalculable.

I'd have to say he's kidding, except he isn't.

This is what happens when one gives the equivalent of lifetime tenure to national pundits. George Will can't say anything sufficiently idiotic to knock him from his perch.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gerson: Beware of Radical Democrats!

Following an electoral victory, Obama is likely to face a massive challenge: The least responsible, least respected, least popular political institution in America -- the Democratic-led Congress -- would also be the most emboldened. Democratic leaders with large majorities would be pushed by conviction and hubris, and pressured by Democratic constituencies, toward divisive measures that punish and alienate businesses, seek backward-looking political vengeance and impose cultural liberalism. This predictable story of overreach, backlash and bitterness easily could destroy Obama's presidency, even before his first achievements -- unless he can suddenly find the ability to shape, tame, even fight, the self-destructive tendencies of his own party.
We're talking about a Democratic Party that's still afraid of its own shadow. If the Dems wake up two weeks from now with a dozen new Democratic Senators, and 40 new Dems in the House, they'd still not have the instinct for boldness; they'd still be worried about moving too far, too fast, and offending the voters that elected them, or the pundit class, or someone.

There's no Lyndon Johnson here, ready to arm-twist extensive legislation through the Senate. There's only Harry Reid. There's no lefty equivalent of Newt Gingrich in the House, only Nancy Pelosi - constrained by Steny Hoyer (D-K Street) and his Blue Dogs.

If we were to see the total collapse of the GOP as we know it in the next few years, it would still take five years afterwards for the Dems to realize they had a clear field ahead of them, and get up the gumption to pass the sorts of programs they'd like.

Lay off the hallucinogens, Mike. For your own good.

Samuelson: None So Blind

Because Robert J. Samuelson's column, "Young Voters, Get Mad" is desperately in need of one. Plus some basic honesty. His column begins:

To: Voters Under 35

Subject: Your Future

Recommendation: Get Angry

You're being played for chumps. Barack Obama and John McCain want your votes, but they're ignoring your interests. You face a heavily mortgaged future. You'll pay Social Security and Medicare for aging baby boomers. The needed federal tax increase might total 50 percent over the next 25 years.
"Social Security and Medicare." If there's one phrase that is a dead tipoff that a 'centrist' pundit is lying to you, that's it. Conflating Medicare and Social Security as fiscal problems is like lumping together North Korea and, who knows, maybe Monaco as foreign-policy problems.

Social Security is a non-problem. The trust fund whose purpose is to insure the baby boomers is currently expected to run out in 2049, when most of them will be dead anyway, and when it does, the revenue stream from the existing payroll tax will pay for benefits that are as good as beneficiaries get today.

Here's what to do about Social Security: check back in 10 years to make sure any problems are still decades away. And in the meantime, deal with pressing challenges like climate change, health care, jobs, the economy, education - real stuff.
There are three basic ways of reducing the costs of Social Security and Medicare: increase eligibility ages; trim benefits; and require recipients to pay more for their Medicare benefits (higher premiums, co-payments or deductibles). In his talk, Obama effectively rejected all three.
And good on him. Medicare is a problem, because in America, health care costs for everybody keep on going up. But that's unique to America, among the advanced democracies.

Once, just once, I'd like to see a WaPo pundit seriously consider what other countries in our peer group, so to speak, are doing to keep health care costs in check. Because as Ezra Klein points out in "The Health of Nations" (read it if you haven't), they're doing a damned good job of it, while providing pretty good care to everyone. And they're doing it in a variety of different ways. The main thing that seems to save money, as Ezra notes here, is integration.

Unified systems that handle all aspects of health care for a particular group of people don't have the tremendous inefficiencies that pile up at every step of the way in a non-system like ours, where "it's your insurance company negotiating with an urgent care ward that sends you to a hospital who prescribes a follow-up with a private specialist who tells you to pick up a prescription at the drug store of your choice which gives you a reaction which sends you to the emergency room which then puts you in touch with yet another private specialist," to quote Ezra again.

Even domestically, private integrated health care systems like Kaiser Permanente and public ones such as the Veterans' Administration do a much better job of containing costs than the rest of the health care sector does. And across the pond, entire nations that have single-payer systems pay 40% to 60% of what we do on health care, per capita, to cover everybody.
There can be no "rewriting of the social contract" without benefit cuts, because paying today's benefits inevitably involves much higher taxes, massive deficits or draconian cuts in other government programs. Even with sensible benefit cuts, taxes will have to rise and there will be pressure on other programs.
The problem is, we've got a screwy health care system that's unlike what anyone else in the world has. And Samuelson isn't even aware of that. He pretends to write knowledgeably about this topic, apparently without having ever stuck his head out of the U.S. and seeing how the rest of the world works, without ever getting an clue of just how abnormal and dysfunctional our system is by comparison.

Samuelson is ignorant. Ignorance can be cured, but one has to pull one's head out of one's ass first.

One more thing:
People live longer; they can work longer.

Many of us can work longer. I sit at a computer all day; my work doesn't tax my body at all. I can work a long time.

My father-in-law spent most of a lifetime crawling around industrial refrigeration units. By 62, his body was worn out and used up. If he'd had to work until 65, I'm not sure he'd have made it. Plenty of other people on the bottom level of our service economy are on their feet all day - waitresses, the people who change the sheets and towels in hotel rooms, the women who clean and empty the wastebaskets in my office building, and the like. Just because they live longer, doesn't mean their legs don't give out just as soon.

I doubt that Samuelson even sees these people as they do their jobs, though he surely benefits from their labors. He clearly doesn't think about them. In his mind, people like him are typical. But they're not.

As the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see. And there are few better examples than Robert J. Samuelson.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sorry, Saxby! You Forgot to Register Saxby-Chambliss.Com!

Neil (the Ethical Werewolf) Sinhababu got there first. Check it out - it's pretty good!

Because I Was Bored, I Went Down To The Corner

And who did I run into?

John J. Miller, pimping an author who writes fiction about the War On Terror. Fictional universes are great - wingnuts can create alternate realities where the GWOT can be won militarily, and the libruls, who are always wrong, get their comeuppance.

Whatever fantasy flicks your Bic, dude.

Mark Steyn says the Corner's readership is noticing the dearth of posting as The End approaches.

Well yeah, because unlike fictional fantasy worlds where the libruls get their comeuppance, reality kinda sux for the wingnuts right now. Too bad, so sad.

Amy Holmes notes, "Drudge is reporting that Oprah may be offering to help Obama produce his half hour infomercial." From this, she spins a hypothetical where (a) Obama accepts the offer, and (b) Oprah forces her employees to work on the infomercial, whether they want to or not. She then discusses how crummy Obama and Oprah would be if they were to do this.

The appropriate response seems to be to discuss what we'd think of Amy Holmes if she had sex with goats in public, since that hasn't happened either.

Maggie Gallagher demonstrates that she doesn't understand the concept of a 'Kos Diary' - that there's really no difference between a Kos diarist whose diary hasn't been promoted to the front page, and a random left-of-center blogger that nobody's ever heard of.

Maggie, dear, anybody can write those things. And does. It's "from The Daily Kos" in the exact same sense that, if I post a comment on the WaPo website about one of their articles, that comment is "from the Washington Post." This is really quite old news. Please do something about that learning curve.

In consecutive posts, Jonah Pantload celebrates "the well-deserved beat down of Jacob Weisberg's amazingly silly epitaph of libertarianism," and, demonstrating the Corner's commitment to libertarian conservatism, Maggie Gallagher roots for California's Prop 8, which would deny marriage rights to gays.

Argue it out amongst yourselves, guys, and get back to us afterwards.

And via Byron York, Sarah Palin says “Rose the teacher” is among those who can expect to have their “dreams dashed by the Obama tax increase.” Aside from coaches of major sports at big universities, how many teachers earn over $250K per year? Good luck finding one. But if York's skeptical, he isn't saying.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Broder, Bush, and Katrina

Krugman resurrected this September 4, 2005 Broder column from the wastebasket of history, so I thought I'd just quote some of the good parts.
It took almost no time for President Bush to put his stamp on the national response to the tragedy that has befallen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
All too true - just not exactly in the way Broder meant.
We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.
Well, that would be the important part, wouldn't it? The "devastating human and economic consequences" of Katrina, for Broder, are only the backdrop for what it might do for Bush's approval ratings.

Of course, Broder was just a wee bit off about that, too.
The challenges posed by this natural disaster are in some ways even more difficult than those of the terrorist attack, with anger and frustration now being expressed about the response of governments at all levels. But for a president who believes that actions speak louder than words, this is an advantageous setting.
'Nuff said.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More L'il Debbie: "Journalists Question the Powerful"

Gimme a fuckin' break, Debbie.
Once there's a new president -- or governor or city council chairman -- one of the dominant rules of journalism kicks in: Question authority. Journalists love a good fight or a scandal. Republican readers today forget the aggressive coverage The Post gave to Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
And readers of a more liberal persuasion remember all too well that the WaPo's coverage of the Lewinsky scandal in 1998 was far more aggressive and all-encompassing than the WaPo's coverage of all the Bush scandals put together - scandals that were much more serious. Question authority? When it comes to Bush, the WaPo has given him the benefit of every doubt. (Until just the past few months, when it's admitted - too late to need to actually do any investigative reporting - that his Presidency has been an unmitigated disaster.)
Journalists question the powerful, often side with the underdog and love the new more than the old. The new politician is more interesting. Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush over Al Gore. That shows in Post political coverage this year. Barack Obama is the new thing. So is Sarah Palin. They get more ink.
Yeah, I remember how intensely the WaPo scrutinized Bush when he first took office. (Oh, wait.)

OK, let's give the WaPo a do-over. Take the new and interesting Sarah Palin's Troopergate scandal, which one would think would have entirely disqualified her from being the Vice-President. It was a one-day story in the WaPo. Guess that new candidate doesn't get such aggressive coverage after all.
One of the great things about journalism in this country -- yesterday and today -- is that it's hard to suppress a story that needs to be done.
Like the way the WaPo ignored, for many months, the story of the seven U.S. Attorneys who were fired because they weren't willing to prosecute essentially nonexistent vote-fraud cases in 2006. Or the way the WaPo yawned at the Scooter Libby trial, and Bush's pardon of Libby.
When I came to this job in October 2005, I heard more from Democrats who thought The Post was in George W. Bush's back pocket. The Post was "Bush's stenographer." Now I hear mainly from Republicans who think The Post is trying to elect Barack Obama president.
The WaPo was Bush's stenographer. Nobody's bothering to write in about it anymore, because Bush is pretty much irrelevant right now; nobody's paying attention to whether the WaPo is Bush's stenographer anymore, because it doesn't matter.

There's a reason I call Deborah Howell the Washington Post Apologist.

Simple Answers to Simple Questions, L'il Debbie Edition

Deborah Howell, the WaPo Apologist, asks:
But then along comes a financial crisis, and where besides major newspapers and their Web sites can readers get authoritative coverage of what is engulfing us?
The answer would be: blogs.

I hate to tell you, Debbie, but until just this past week, when the WaPo finally published a fairly comprehensive explanation of the current financial meltdown, it had been MIA in that department. (I'd made my feelings known to Howell via email and phone messages.)

Unfortunately, this came two weeks after the final Congressional votes on the bailout.

At the time that Congress was considering the different bailout packages, the WaPo was completely useless. It took the position that we should hand over a rather astronomical sum of money to the Serious People to give to the Big Non-Banks, and anyone who objected was wrongheaded. Our comprehension wasn't required, only our checkbook.

What understanding of the crisis I had was gleaned entirely from blogs: from DeLong and Krugman, from Atrios and Calculated Risk. It helped that Brad DeLong had been writing about the housing bubble for years, and that Atrios had been writing about the Big Shitpile of toxic securities since sometime last year. (I'd love to know when he first used the term.)

The truth is, whenever a newsworthy issue could use a bit of intelligent analysis, I turn to blogs, not newspapers. What newspaper has explained the problems with our current healthcare system, the impact of the various candidates' proposals, and what other countries are doing, nearly as well as Ezra Klein has done all by himself?

During the past week or so, as McCain and the wingnuts have been trying to make an issue of ACORN, who has done a better job of explaining the facts than TPM? (And who was on the closely related story of the U.S. Attorney firings back at the beginning of 2007, when the WaPo and most of the major media outlets were saying there was no story there?)

As gasoline prices continue to fluctuate wildly, where are the media outlets that have had a decent discussion of the potential benefits of improved mass transit, and the roadblocks to those benefits (like parking requirements) like I've been reading over the past few months at Matt Yglesias' and Ryan Avent's and Atrios' and Ezra's blogs?

Blogs have been stepping up on all of these issues, and on many more, while our 'elite' newspapers have been dropping the ball.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Michael Demmons Hammers the Kraut

I have no idea who Michael Demmons is (other than some guy John Cole trusts enough to turn the keys of Balloon Juice over to), or whether he even read Krauthammer's column this morning before writing this post at Balloon Juice. Either way, I'm gonna outsource the rest of this post to him.

Let me get this straight. A couple of agitated yahoos in a rally of thousands yell something offensive and incendiary, and John McCain and Sarah Palin are not just guilty by association -- with total strangers, mind you -- but worse: guilty according to the New York Times of "race-baiting and xenophobia."

You might be excused if you said placing Obama’s face on a $10 food stamp with a bucket of fried chicken, watermelon, ribs, and Kool-Aid was an isolated act.

When a major right-wing network calls Michelle Obama, “Obama’s Baby Mama,” you could dismiss it as as an overzealous producer who just thought it was funny and didn’t mean it to say that black women are just baby machines for black men. You could, I suppose.

You might even get a pass if you thought a Web site that depicted Obama and the word “Waterboard Him” was just created by an obscure group that didn’t represent all Republicans – although you would be wrong.

If a picture of Obama was Photoshopped to make him look a little bit like Osama Bin Laden, you could pass it off as the work of a few idiots on the right. It could be, right?

Supporters who carry racist Obama Monkey Dolls to your rallys are people who don’t represent your campaign. You could argue that.

Of course, this is just a moron on the fringe, right?

What about when a high-level Republican fundraiser sends out an email that includes a joke with the punchline, if an airplane carrying Obama and his wife were blown up “it certainly wouldn’t be a great loss, and it probably wouldn’t be an accident either.”? Sure, you could pass it off as the act of a random dumbass.

If, in response to your question, “Who is Barack Obama?” someone yelled “Terrorist!” you could say that was just one idiot in the crowd and was not indicative of the general sentiment. It’s plausible.

In fact, you could cite dozens of examples of these racist, divisive, dillusiuonal attacks on Barack Obama and conclude that they are just elements of the fringe and don’t represent mainstream Republicans.

Sooner or later though, you will have to acknowledge that this “fringe” is very widespread. You’ll have to come to grips, eventually, with the fact that this “fringe” has become the very definition of the your party.

Chuckles, I think Michael Demmons nailed your sorry ass.

Shorter Broder: Bush Beat McCain, Obama Did Nothing

It's easy for Broder to dump on Bush now, now that he's essentially irrelevant:

The public distemper with George Bush is so pervasive now that nearly all the candidates running on the Republican ticket -- not just McCain but senators and representatives who thought they were well ahead -- have seen their poll numbers turn sickly.

During the debate, when Obama accused McCain of offering nothing but a continuation of Bush's policies, McCain protested, "I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy in this country."

But his protestations are in vain. So far as the voters I've interviewed are concerned, there has been only one economic policy for the past eight years, and it bears Bush's name. Even now, with the bankruptcy of that policy, the Republican White House is calling the signals.

It's a bit late to admit Bush's failings, old man. He's been a terrible President for seven years and nine months; you conveniently overlooked that fact until seeing it would show McCain in a better light, and Obama in a worse one:
Given the near-impossibility of McCain's position, Obama should be enjoying a near-waltz through every possible challenge.

McCain's real opponents in this race are the economic collapse and the shattered political reputation Bush has inflicted on Republicans.

But Obama has done his part by avoiding any errors and presenting a minimal target to the opposition.

McCain's lost because he's been fighting against history. Obama's won by doing nothing. Just call him Fortinbras.

I think we've heard this meme before, but mostly from hacks like Gerson. Looks like Broder's finding his level.

In a fairly detailed look at Wednesday night's debate, Broder managed to say nothing about what was, for many commentators besides yours truly, the defining moment - the abortion discussion. How do you say:
Despite the fact that he was playing on the Democrats' turf, McCain made a spirited case for himself on all these subjects.
when McCain basically looked like he wanted to bite through somebody's jugular over the idea of a "health of the mother" exception to a late-term abortion ban? Yeah, it was 'spirited,' alright - in about the same way that Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat was 'spirited.'

And the notion that Obama has an easy ride in this race? I don't think so. In order to win this thing, Obama still has to be the least angry, the least aggrieved, black man in America. Like Jackie Robinson in that first incredibly difficult season, he's had to maintain his composure at all times, under all circumstances. He makes it look so easy. But that doesn't mean it didn't take a lot of work to make that happen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gerson: History's Unfair To McCain


Shorter Gerson: We're in an economic crisis, and people turn to Dems in an economic crisis. McCain's a great man and has run a fine campaign, but couldn't have been expected to win under those circumstances. To win, Obama just had to look good while doing nothing.

Dude, you're sooooooooo kidding. But you're only fooling yourself and other Kool-Aid drinkers.

Previous to this economic free fall -- and after his transformative vice-presidential choice -- McCain was about tied in a race he should have been losing by a large margin. The public clearly had questions about Obama's leadership qualities. But the McCain campaign also proved itself capable of constructing an effective narrative: Obama as lightweight celebrity, McCain as maverick reformer. Until history intervened.

Golly - McCain's team was able to construct an effective narrative. That definitely qualifies him for the White House, doesn't it? I'm sure impressed. Maybe our next President should be a bestselling novelist, what with narrative being so important.

As a political tool, narrative is genuinely important. But it's got to match up closely enough with reality that everybody plausibly fits with their places in your narrative. Otherwise, the whole thing falls to pieces.

The problem for McCain was, he abandoned his "maverick reformer" ways when he endorsed Bush for President in June 2004. I should make myself clear, though: even a maverick reformer is quite reasonably expected to endorse the Presidential candidate of his own party. But from that point forward, McCain turned into a good GOP soldier and reliable supporter of the Bush/GOP party line. Wrapping Bush around McCain's neck wasn't going to be much of a challenge for the Dem nominee, whoever s/he turned out to be.

And then reality intervened, which gave McCain a chance to demonstrate he was both a maverick reformer and an experienced, steady leader in a crisis.

Following the onset of the crisis, McCain was left with flawed options. He reasonably chose to work for a responsible bailout while hoping the markets would stabilize quickly. Instead, the bailout proved politically unpopular and the markets gyrated like the Pussycat Dolls.
Try again, Mike: like I said, you're only fooling yourself. How about: McCain first said the fundamentals of our economy were strong, then continued campaigning while Congressional negotiatiors tried to reach a deal, and Obama listed four points that he said belonged in any bailout plan. Then when Congress was near a deal, McCain 'suspended' his campaign (but not really), then barged in on the negotiations, causing the deal to fall through. When it was reassembled and put to a vote the following week, McCain took credit for its passage prior to the vote where it was defeated. He later took credit for killing the deal, and was not particularly visible when the deal was revised to the form that passed Congress.

In short, he's been on every possible side of the bailout issue. No steady leadership, no maverick reformer, no nothing.
Then McCain raised Obama's past association with William Ayers -- a valid attack if properly raised....But this accusation naturally looks small compared to the nation's outsized economic fears.

So why was he raising it? The problem wasn't that it was valid - the problem was, it was trivial. Nobody held a gun to John McCain's head and forced him to treat it as a major issue. He did that all on his own. History gave him a Churchillian moment, and he chose to be small. He could have demonstrated leadership and independence by coming up with a coherent alternative to the Bush bailout plan. He didn't. His bad.

Obama's task has been easier. He needs only to ride a historical current instead of fighting it. And this plays to his greatest political strength: the easy, laid-back self-assurance of a 1940s crooner. During the financial crisis Obama has contributed nothing of note or consequence.
Early on, he listed four points that belonged in a bailout plan, and stuck with them. He was a consistent supporter of the Paulson-Dodd-Frank bailout plan. A number of Blue Dog Democrats credited Obama with changing their votes to support the bailout plan that passed Congress, after they'd voted against the first House bill. That may not be leadership worthy of Churchill, but it is far above and beyond what McCain has demonstrated.

Couldn't resist this bit of catnip:

Can anyone doubt that the past political association of McCain with a right-wing terrorist would attract some attention?

Yes, I sure can:

AP: McCain was on the board of directors of the U.S. Council for World Freedom, part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America.

Sarah Palin's hubby was a member of a right-wing secessionist political party.

Neither of these facts has gotten much play. This is not a complaint on my part: on the scale of the issues we're dealing with, these are small potatoes. We don't have time for 'issues' like these, just like we don't have time for our political discussion to be about Bill Ayers. Gerson's wrong, that's all.

Maybe [McCain] is a great man running at the most difficult of times.

And maybe the images in the funhouse mirrors are reality, and what we see every day is the illusion. But I wouldn't bank on it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Steven Pearlstein Loses An Argument With Himself

After reading his column today, I have to disagree not just with Pearlstein, but with Josh Marshall.

Before I wade into this, let me say that I think Pearlstein's generally pretty sharp. It helps that he's on the business pages, rather than on the op-ed page; he hasn't been infected by the stupidity virus that's rampant in the opinion pages of the A section. But today's column is another story.

He starts off by giving Paulson an extended 'attaboy' for playing this crisis well and confounding his critics, particularly in the latest installment.

But then he turns around and dumps on the execs of the banks that received the biggest infusions of cash:

In putting several trillion dollars in government funds on the line, the country has now done just about everything that Wall Street could have asked to address the financial crisis. The question now, as John Kennedy might have put it, is what Wall Street is ready to do for its country. So far, the answer is not much.

After getting their closed-door briefing yesterday from Paulson on the government's latest initiatives, Wall Street's finest literally ran from the Treasury to their waiting limousines, bypassing a media scrum eager to convey any scrap of wisdom or insight.

Court reporters will tell you they can always tell the innocent from the guilty on these kinds of perp walks, and the Wall Street crowd yesterday looked particularly guilty, unable even to conjure up a soothing word to a nation fretting over its shrunken 401(k)s, or a simple thank you to taxpayers for having saved their bacon. Their silence and invisibility throughout this crisis attests to the moral and political bankruptcy of a financial elite that is the perfect match for the financial bankruptcy they have now visited upon their investors, their creditors and their customers.

After yesterday's "historic" meeting, we are told by industry apologists that we are supposed to be grateful to nine leading banks for having "volunteered" to accept additional capital from the Treasury, along with a government guarantee for newly issued bank debt, even if it means having to accept a dilution of existing shares and a few harmless restrictions on their operations.

Pardon me if I'm less than blown over by this munificent offer, but it hardly seems commensurate either with the severity of the current crisis or the depth of the banks' culpability in fomenting it.

If Wall Street were truly serious about convincing Main Street that we're all in this together, its top executives would have stepped before the cameras yesterday and promised not to cut lines of credits to long-standing business customers who have never missed a payment.

They would have committed themselves not to foreclose on any homeowner who is willing and able to refinance into a new, government-guaranteed, fixed-rate mortgage set at 85 percent of the current value of the property.

They would have offered to suspend dividend payments until capital levels had been restored to pre-crisis levels.

They would have given us their solemn promise not to advise clients to hold on to their own investments while quietly dumping whatever they can from their own portfolios and shorting every security in sight.

With the Treasury now desperate for help in managing its new rescue efforts, they would have volunteered, at no cost to taxpayers, the services of some of those investment bankers and financial wizards who now don't have much else to do.

And the maharajas of finance could have set a wonderful example if they had all gotten together and agreed to work for a dollar a year until the crisis has passed.

There's a word that captures the instinct to take these kind of bold moves in the midst of a national crisis -- it's called leadership. We've seen quite a bit of it these past few weeks from public officials like Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Sheila Bair, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, John Boehner -- even George Bush. Wall Street, by contrast, has served up a nothing sandwich, a lack of leadership that's been stunning.

When he's right, he's right - but what did he expect? These guys are paid to be greedy, to get the best deals possible. What Pearlstein's rant demonstrates is that Paulson was a lousy bargainer, and negotiated a really, really sucky deal on our behalf.

Paulson could have extracted that commitment about maintaining lines of credit to good customers. He could have gotten that nonforeclosure commitment. He could have demanded and received their commitment to suspend dividends until the crisis was clearly history. (In fact, Paulson went the opposite direction here by taking preferred rather than common stock, since the value of preferred stock is almost entirely a function of its first claim on dividends, rather than a function of the success of the company.) Paulson could have required that the execs of these firms keep their total compensation packages in the six-figure range, at least until the emergency has passed. And so forth.

He did none of these things. He drove a lousy bargain. Anyone who expects the lords of Wall Street to do these things out of generosity or patriotism or public-spiritedness, has got to be crazy. They're in it for the bottom line. If they aren't required to do good by law or contract or clear self-interest, they almost invariably won't.

And those who were telling us, a couple weeks back, just what a ferocious bargainer Paulson would be (I'm looking at you, Brad DeLong and Kevin Drum) - guess we found out otherwise.

Richard Cohen's Burning Questions

Like I said last week, if we flipped Richard Cohen to the side of the angels, it would just mean we'd have one truly muddle-headed pundit embarrassing our side. But since he and most of his readers think he's some sort of librul, I guess he already does that. So never mind.

But that brings us to Cohen's column this morning. He's got questions he's just dying to ask the candidates if he were moderating one of the debates. A few of them are decent questions, but boy howdy, do they get lost amidst the fluff. Here's some of the questions he'd ask Obama:

Senator Obama, we all know that lobbyists are not the problem in
Washington; it's the incessant need of politicians to raise campaign funds. Yet
you broke your pledge to accept public financing for your campaign. By doing
that, didn't you contribute to this problem? And a follow-up: If you broke your
word on this, how can we be sure you won't break your word again?

Senator Obama, given the problems facing our country -- a worldwide
financial crisis; a looming recession; the prospect of nukes in Iran and North
Korea; and Pakistan, which already has nukes, coming apart -- isn't it reckless
of you to think that, at your young age, with your limited experience, you can
manage it all?

Senator Obama, did you ever tell Bill Ayers to his face that what he did
was wrong?

Senator Obama, you are sooooooooo cool. Can you tell us, please, the last
time you lost your temper and what about? You have two minutes.

Senator Obama, do you ever wake up in the middle of night for anything?

Senator Obama, have you ever been in therapy? If so, how did it make you feel?

And here's what he'd ask McCain:

Senator McCain, reportedly you have been told to avoid looking at Senator
Obama during debates because he infuriates you and you could lose your temper.
Is this because of Obama's age or his manner or something else entirely?

Senator McCain, ... given your age, isn't [the Presidency] all too much?

Senator McCain, I have a question regarding Sarah Palin: How could

Senator McCain, do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and wonder
if history will forgive you for Sarah Palin?

Senator McCain, you are 72 and have had skin cancer several times. Given
that -- not to mention the usual exigencies of life -- how could you pick a
running mate who is so dismally qualified for the presidency? And please, for
the sake of your own reputation, not to mention your mortal soul, don't say
anything about the Alaska National Guard.

To be fair, Cohen did ask some substantive questions. But they were the exception.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hiatt: McCain's Gone Crazy, But Only Because Obama's Just As Bad

And as the McCain campaign grew uglier last week -- casting Obama as dangerous, dishonest and un-American -- it was tempting to imagine the campaign McCain might have waged if he had based it on the respect for his opponent, and for the process, that he had long professed.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

So let's imagine this hypothetical campaign about the issues. When there's daylight between McCain and President 23%, it's just as often to Bush's right (even deeper tax cuts, even more targeted to the rich, and even more of a hair trigger for war) as towards the center. Obama v. McCain reduces to a generic-D-vs.-generic-R campaign, in a country that's lost its stomach for more Republicanism.

Let's face it, Fred, that just wasn't gonna happen. For several cycles now, Americans really have preferred the Dems' positions to those of the GOP. Hence the standard GOP playbook:

1) Make the race about the candidates, rather than the issues.
2) But for safety's sake, (a) bamboozle the public about the degree of difference between Dems and the GOP on the major issues, and (b) bring up or invent a host of bullshit issues, and make the election about them. This feeds into:
3) Slime the Dem candidate. (The bullshit issues in (2b) were selected with this in mind, of course.)
4) Feed the gullible pundits a few anecdotes demonstrating the GOP candidate's 'character,' and watch them lap it up and sell the American people on it for you.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to the main entree:

I'm sure, in the crazed intensity of a presidential campaign, it's easy to start believing your consultants and television ads -- believing that the other guy is dangerous and that only you can save the country. That must be especially true when the other guy is insulting you. The mud flies both ways in this campaign, with Obama and his allies relentlessly pounding McCain as out of touch, erratic, dishonest and, over and over again, dishonorable.

Nice try, Fred, but anyone watching this thing knows that, when it comes to character issues, Obama has strictly been a counterpuncher. Hit Obama with a flock of 'celebrity' ads, and he'll take advantage of the fact that McCain doesn't know how many residences he owns. Claim he's responsible for teaching sex ed to kindergarteners when the 'sex ed' was more the 'good touch, bad touch' stuff, and he'll make sure the world knows just how dishonest McCain has been, just how low McCain has stooped.

This is NOT about Obama, Fred, not even tangentially. Did McCain release that 'celebrity' ad because the Obama campaign had engaged in character attacks? No, he did so because Obama had had a very successful trip to Europe and the Middle East, and McCain's team was looking for a way to turn the huge crowds in Europe against him. The mud may be flying both ways, but only because Obama hasn't let attacks on his character go unchallenged.

And honor is at the core of McCain's self-image. He's been running for president, more on than off, for almost a decade, but his determination hasn't had much to do with a highly defined ideology, program or set of policies. What underlies his ambition are values: service, patriotism, duty, honor.

It may be that it's easier for such a campaign to get blown off course. In an exceptionally pro-Democratic year, against an exceptionally unflappable opponent, it's not surprising that a campaign without bedrock policy goals would try first one thing, then another, with one of those things being character assassination.

Think about that, Fred: you're saying here that if honor is the core of your self-image and your campaign, you're more likely to behave dishonorably under stress than if you and your campaign were all about the issues.

Pardon me, but that makes no fucking sense at all.

But that's the sort of stuff you wind up saying, Fred, when you try to excuse the inexcusable.

WaPo: Palin "Does Not Come Off Well" In Troopergate

As I read the WaPo editorial on Troopergate, I kept waiting for it to say that an abuse of power of this sort shouldn't just disqualify Palin from being Veep, but from holding any executive office now or ever again.

Instead, there's this mishmash of faint condemnation:
Meddlesome Sarah Palin does not come off well....Palin's decision to repudiate her earlier pledge to cooperate fully with the inquiry does not offer assurance about how she would conduct herself as vice president....Palin's refusal to cooperate...reflects poorly on her. So, too, does Ms. Palin's mischaracterization of the report....It's unfortunate that Ms. Palin does not understand -- or chooses not to acknowledge -- the seriousness of the mess she helped create.
The weird thing is, the WaPo is pretty clear on what she did:
[T]he report...shows her and her husband pursuing a personal vendetta against the trooper, Mike Wooten, despite repeated warnings that they were impermissibly intruding into internal -- and already concluded -- disciplinary issues.

The amount of attention that the newly elected governor, her husband and her subordinates -- her personnel director, attorney general and chief of staff, among others -- devoted to getting Mr. Wooten fired was extraordinary. Within a few weeks of Ms. Palin's inauguration, her newly installed public safety commissioner, Walter Monegan, was summoned to a meeting with the governor's husband, Todd Palin, at which the "First Gentleman" pressed Mr. Monegan to reexamine the already concluded disciplinary case against Mr. Wooten. The governor herself called Mr. Monegan, e-mailed him and met with him in person to discuss her unhappiness with Mr. Wooten's continuation on the force. Equally extraordinary was the Palins' persistence in the face of warnings that their intervention could run afoul of personnel rules and risked creating precisely the kind of public uproar that ensued.
That's right - she used every tool at her disposal as the Governor of Alaska to pursue a personal vendetta, continuing to lean on underlings to fire her ex-brother-in-law, no matter how many times they said they weren't going to because it was morally wrong, probably illegal, and could expose everybody involved to lawsuits.

And the WaPo thinks that this just "reflects poorly on her," as if other things that show her in a more favorable light could balance the slate. But they can't.

In our system of government, no one, not even the President of the United States, is supposed to be above the law. But this behavior is that of a medieval sovereign saying, "I am the law." This is the sort of behavior that should disqualify Sarah Palin from high office, in the mind of any person who believes in our Constitutional system of government.

But given that the WaPo has been dismissing similar behavior for the past seven years and nine months, I guess it's expecting a bit much to expect them to start taking it seriously now.

Congrats, Paul Krugman!!

Winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Muddled Thinking About Negative Ads

The WaPo also gave Outlook front-page space to a Vandy poli-sci prof named John G. Geer to explain why negative ads are actually good. I can't question his main thesis:

First, negative ads are more likely than positive ads to be about the issues.

Second, negative ads are more likely to be specific when talking about those issues.

Third, negative ads are more likely to contain facts.

And finally, negative ads are more likely to be about the important issues of the day.

I can't help but note the distinction from "the issues" in the first two points, and "the important issues of the day" in the last one. McCain's ads about Obama's association with William Ayers are "about the issues," they're "specific when talking about those issues," and they "contain facts." The problem is, they're not "about the important issues of the day."

And this is where the problem is. Negativity in political ads and other political exchanges is absolutely essential, if by 'negativity' we mean criticism of one's opponent's stands on relevant issues, and pointing out the problems with those positions.

But when it involves the attempt to displace the genuinely serious issues with bullshit issues, or to create bullshit issues out of thin air, that's a whole 'nother thing.

Geer basically ignores this distinction, which is really at the heart of the question he raises.

To Geer: Dude, you're a poli-sci professor. This is your day job. Be better at it.

And I'd suggest that the WaPo Outlook editor learn to distinguish analysis that clarifies issues from analysis that further muddles them, but some things just ain't gonna happen.

Another WaPo "Shape of Earth: Views Differ" Moment

Ross Douthat blames the financial crisis on George Bailey, for providing mortgage lending to people who couldn't quite afford it. The WaPo puts this nonsense front-and-center on the Outlook front page. McClatchy provided a thorough debunking of this notion yesterday, and it's not like they were exactly the first ones to do so.

Shorter WaPo: "Shape of Earth: Views Differ."

Broder, the Official Pundit Rules, and Neo-Hooverism

Broder says that when Obama becomes President, his advisors will surely tell him that he must rein in his preferred programs on account of the huge deficits created by the bailout, and the Blue Dogs will fight for 'pay as you go' rules. Needless to say, Broder doesn't mention the Pentagon's upcoming proposal to increase defense spending by $450 billion over the next 5 years, but then, as others (I'd link if I could remember who) have reminded us lately, defense spending never counts as real spending with these clowns: health care for children has to be paid for, but wars and fighter jets don't.

Brian Beutler says, "Somewhere, buried deep in the stacks of the research library at NBC headquarters is a book of bylaws for American punditry, and one of those bylaws holds that a successful pundit must try--whenever possible, and for reasons unclear--to box politicians into the position of opposing desperately needed entitlement programs and other deficit spending." I'd add the words "non-military" before "deficit spending," and Dean Broder surely writes the bylaws, but other than that, he's nailed it.

And, in keeping with those bylaws, Broder doesn't even consider the prospect of Keynesian countercyclical spending to minimize the effects of the recession we're surely headed into. As Matt points out, this is no time for neo-Hooverism. The pundit class really has no grasp of economics. Lord knows I'm not an economist, but even I understand that much. Along those lines, Moody's has a nice chart rating the bang for the buck that different countercyclical measures would create, which Matt posts here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Krauthammer Fiddles While Rome Burns

The Dow's plunged to 8,500 (wasn't it at 13,000 earlier this year?), the credit markets are freezing up, and Krauthammer wants to talk about Ayers and Rezko and Wright.

My basic take on Krauthammer has been that, unlike many of the WaPo op-ed writers, he's really a pretty smart guy; it's just that he's bought into a wildly different set of assumptions about reality. If you're writing from a world where the sky is green, the water orange, and the trees are purple, you're going to approach things in a different way than if you're a resident of this reality.

But it's hard to envision the alternate universe where Ayers and Rezko and Wright tell us a great deal about Obama, but Mccain's associations (e.g. the flock of lobbyists running his campaign) and Palin's (e.g. crazy anti-witch preacher) tells us nothing about them. Even in good times, this would be sheer political hackery.

But it's not good times. We're in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis unprecedented in my 50+ years. We can let Krauthammer decide, as the hurricane rages, that Obama would hang the pictures all wrong on the living room walls. Too bad the hurricane won't blow Chuckles right off of the nation's op-ed pages.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gerson: Liberals Are Huge Tax Cutters

Gerson's column this morning is titled, "Health Insurance For All: How the GOP Can Frame the Issue."

Look, Mike: people don't give a flip if you can frame the issue, if McCain's health insurance plan doesn't actually work for the people who'd actually need health insurance the most. And Ezra's long since said all that needs to be said about that.

But Mike, you said something else that got me thinking: "Obama breathlessly reveals that the McCain credit "wouldn't go to you. It would go directly to your insurance company." Since the credit is intended for the purchase of health insurance, where else should it eventually go?"

Let's say I currently pay $12,000 in Federal taxes. Under McCain's plan, I get a $5,000 "tax credit." How much do I pay under his plan? $12,000. It just goes somewhere specific now - it goes to pay for my health insurance. (Which is what that money's already effectively doing, since I'm insured through my employer.) How's that a "tax credit," Mike?

By this standard, any government spending is a "tax credit." "Hey, we're giving you a $400 tax credit, and spending it on Interstate highways for you!" "We're giving you a 6.2% payroll tax cut, and putting it into Social Security for you!" "We're giving you a $2300 tax credit, and using it to buy you a piece of the Wall Street bailout!"

Yeah, Mike, I'm sure that's what most people mean by a "tax credit."

Ain't enough rolleyes for stuff like this.