Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Dead Cat Bounce

This has to be my new favorite economic term. Today's bounce back in the Dow caused some to wonder if things ain't so bad after all. Alas, such people may not have heard of the dreaded Dead Cat Bounce. It seems even a dead cat will bounce off the pavement if dropped from a sufficiently high point.
Meanwhile, over at Marginal Revolution, libertarian economist Tyler Cowan gives his take on the possible consequences, positive and negative of the yesterday's bailout failure. Check out his best case and worst case scenarios. "Best case" is plently bad enough. Chilling.

Monday, September 29, 2008

a father's gift

Went golfing on Sunday with my brothers and my father. As I've mentioned before I am the weak link in this foursome though lately I've been gaining a little ground. My father who is in his 70's continues to age well both as a person and a golfer. He opened with 39 on the front nine. I had a 43 which on most days would make me almost giddy. We made the turn and somewhere around the 14th hole, my dad strained his back while swinging. He struggled gamely through that hole, but he had to get on his hands and knees to retrieve the ball from the cup (we were quicker after that and managed to help him with that chore). My brothers and I watched him, knowing that in all likelihood he would finish the round, even if it killed him. He lifted up his shirt and cinched up his back brace even tighter. He took easier swings and still managed to collect pars. At sixteen he seemed to remember something, and he said that he'd forgotten about my birthday a few days earlier but that he'd buy me lunch after the round as birthday gift.

I looked at him and said, "Why don't you just let me beat you this round. That can be my present."

Dad looked at me for a second, then with a sly grin he said, "I'll buy you lunch."
That memory is a keeper. I couldn't have asked for a better gift than that.

p.s. he beat me by five strokes

the self bailing economy?

Maybe we're gonna find out if the market can bail itself out. I don't claim to see all the angles to this crisis, and I'll confess to being somewhat sympathetic to the House Republican antagonism to the bailout plan put forward by Bush and revised by Boener, McCain, Pelosi, Dodd, Frank, Paul et al...
I've read economists from the left and right who've come down on all sides of this puppy. It's perfectly plausible to me that reasonable people with the nation's best interests at heart are seeing this crisis in starkly different terms. The truth seems to be that nobody knows.
So I'm going to brace myself for the coming correction and/or intervention (seems likely there'll be a Plan B, assuming the Democrats don't pick up their toys and go home).

Meanwhile, we are all being treated to an especially pathetic brand of political posturing from McCain, who when this crisis first broke invoked "all hands on deck" and charged up to Washington where the cameras were and proceeded to take credit for bringing the House Republicans on board. When it turned out they weren't on board after all, McCain this morning blamed first Pelosi for saying mean things in a speech and then named Obama as the culprit. Then in the space of a couple of hours, he stood before press cameras once again and, his memory and possibly his conscience thoroughly airbrushed, he denounced the blame game and called for bipartisan solutions.

Look I don't blame McCain for not knowing what the answer to all of our problems is, I just wish he didn't feel the need to be such a drama queen.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

culture wars and teaching science

There's a well organized, well funded, and determined movement out there trying its level best to hijack the way science, especially biology, is taught to our young people. It is itself not a scientific movement; it is not a movement that even contributes to research in biology. It is an activist group with a purely cultural/political agenda. All it really cares about is substituting theology for biology.

Anyone who thinks that this phenomenon is a mere tempest in a teapot, or some kind of sideshow, should perhaps consider the ascendancy of one Sarah Palin, herself a creationist, to the rarefied level of VP nominee.

But forget Palin. Here's what I find worrisome. The Discovery Institute, the so-called scientific organization fronting for the teaching of Intelligent Design Movement in American classrooms, has recently published its own science textbook which it hopes to see placed in schools across the country. It's called Explore Evolution. Click here to learn more about this textbook.

What I find most objectionable about the Intelligent Design Movement is its hostility to science which is of course not so cleverly cloaked in the rhetoric of "open mindedness". Science education should train children about how scientists think, how they acquire knowledge of the world, and how they add to and subtract from that body of knowledge over time. As such it should be the province of the people who do science, we call them scientists. Music ideally should be taught by musicians and so on... But Intelligent Design suggest a different criteria, namely that biology is best understood through the a priori assumptions of Christianity.

I recently met someone who after having taught for years in the public schools, took a position teaching science in a small private Jewish school in Portland. It's affiliation is Orthodox Jewish, Hassidic Jew to be precise. These folks are as conservative theologically as they come. Many of them believe that the earth is no older than 7,000 years old, based on a literal reading of the Old Testament. All students in this school are required to take two hours of religious instruction each day.

On the first day my acquaintance began his Biology course in this school he reflexively anticipated possible objections to the teaching of evolution and he offered alternative assignments to any student uncomfortable with the material. That very afternoon he was summoned to the principal's office. The headmaster had already heard of the teacher's offer of accomodation, and he was none too pleased about it. "We hired you to teach science. Our patrons want their children to be taught science the way science should be taught. Leave the religion to us and do your job." The teacher left the room somewhat chagrined but also elated. He put aside his inhibitions and focused on teaching science the best way he knew how to do it.

I love this story because it highlights how the reverence for knowedge, be it religious or scientific, depends on a kind of integrity. Where that integrity abides, learning can flourish in multifaceted and even paradoxical way that enriches and enlivens us. Where that integrity is absent, learning becomes little more than a soporific.

Demand better.

Friday, September 26, 2008

the senator just doesn't understand...

That seemed to be McCain's favorite go to line in the debate this evening. Let's take a couple of examples and see how the claim holds up.

"The senator doesn't understand that Pakistan was a failed state when Mussaraf took control."
In case anybody was wondering if in fact McCain was right, you might consider that Pakistan was actually a functioning parliamentary democracy with an elected prime minister when Musharaf staged his coup. "Failed state" seems a bit of a leap here especially when it is typically used with states like North Korea. Perhaps McCain meant "dysfunctional state" in which case he might have to include the United States.

"I've known Kissinger for 35 years. He didn't say that. The senator is naive and doesn't seem to understand."
Kissinger, speaking Monday at George Washington University along with four other former U.S. State Department secretaries, said the next president should initiate high-level discussions with Iran "without conditions," ABC News reported.

"The senator is naive or he doesn't understand that you don't say such things in public."
McCain's point seemed to be that we need Pakistan's cooperation and since we don't currently have their trust we must tread lightly and not risk offending them. I wonder if he feels the same way about the Saudis? I wonder if he feels the same way about Russia or is that different because we really have no leverage over there at all so it's okay to rattle sabres all you want since everyone knows there's nothing you can do about it. It's striking that Obama makes precisely the same argument concerning Russia as McCain makes concerning Pakistan.

Overall, both men showed they have game. But this was supposed to be McCain's home turf. Obama more than held his own. No big losers here, but Obama wins a close one.

conservative scruples, part 5

Daniel Larison, hardly an Obama supporter, writes this column in the American Conservative. It seems to be sinking in...enough!
money quote:
So, given the alternatives between someone who instinctively adopts a terrible position and someone who grudgingly makes his way to the same position, we are still provided with a pretty striking contrast between the candidates. McCain will have us on tenterhooks on a daily basis wondering whether he will call for impeaching the Supreme Court or bombing Uruguay and he will denounce anyone who questions his proposal as a selfish and corrupt villain, and while Obama might adopt equally awful views he will do so more slowly and allow the rest of us time to organize opposition and rational counterarguments that might actually prevail.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

an economist's take

Brad Delong is an economist at Cal-Berkely. While he is admittedly left leaning, he is an independent thinker. He is, for example, a critic of cap-and-trade proposals put forth by both Obama and McCain. Here's a quote from Delong on that subject:
His anti-corruption sensibilities do not seem to have given him reservations about his other high-profile defection from Republican orthodoxy. McCain supports a cap-and-trade system as a means to control emissions. Unfortunately, cap-and-trade would produce levels of congressional corruption not seen since the Gilded Age and make all of the earmarking abuses seem mild in comparison. A cap-and-trade system would set a limit on production in the United States and then issue emission credits that could be bought and sold.... The problem is that Congress would establish the allotments! Every business in America, along with the affected workers and local politicians, would frantically lobby their senators and representatives for additional allotments. In exchange for campaign contributions, more allotments would be forthcoming.

This system would be a nightmare of corruption and inefficiency. Economists have been sounding the warning about this for some time and pointing out that a simple carbon tax with the proceeds going to the U.S. Treasury or an auction of allotments would be far more efficient....

On this blog post he furnishes some interesting graphs.
The first one represents graphically the size of earmarks in the general budget. You may be surprised to see it and then ponder how McCain proposes to use savings from this area to eliminate the budget deficit. Take a look. It's reality check.
The other graphs on the post offer indexes of economic prosperity or the lack thereof in past presidential administrations dating back to Roosevelt. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

trust me

Circulating on Wall Street:








Tuesday, September 23, 2008

conservative scruples, part 4

Read this column by George Will. Enough said.

Feeling good at 54

Forgive me. It's my birthday, and I'm thrilled to be alive.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is a little coherence too much to ask for?

Came across this little nugget on Brad Delong's economics blog. Here is the video clip in question.

For the past week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been railing against Wall Street “fat cats” and pledging to “stop multi-million dollar payouts to CEOs who have broken the public trust.”

This principled stance against excessive executive compensation, however, is undermined by the fact that McCain’s senior economic adviser and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina received $42 million dollars in compensation after being fired from HP. On NBC this morning, host Meredith Vieira noted that Fiorina “is an example of exactly the kind of person you say is at the root of the problem.” McCain replied, “I don’t think so”:

McCAIN: I don’t think so. … Because I think she did a good job as CEO in many respects. I don’t know the details of her compensation package. But she’s one of many advisers that I have.

Q: But she did get a $45 million dollar golden parachute after being fired while 20,000 of her employees were laid off.

McCAIN: I have many of the people, but I do not know the details of what happened.

“How can you not know the details of her past? I mean, that would be awfully important,” Vieira responded.... Nor is McCain’s statement that Fiorina did a “good job” as CEO of Hewlett-Packard quite accurate. The board of HP fired Fiorina in 2005, concluding “that she was spending too much time on the road, neglecting the nuts-and-bolts execution of her own strategic ideas,” according to the New York Times. “[H]er superstar status was also her undoing.”

AS CEO, Fiorina parked profits overseas using tax shelters, even though it negatively impacted the economy. The company held more than $14 billion overseas in 2004, according to the Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal noted that her tenure was “marked by a drop in morale at a company with a legendary history of a collegial culture.”

Fiorina’s golden parachute and her rocky tenure at HP, however, don’t seem to matter to McCain, who does “not know the details of what happened.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Obama behaving like an adult. He didn't fly off half-cocked, and he didn't pretend that the problem had a simple fix. Meanwhile McCain can't seem to decide what he believes or who he should fire. I suspect he's boning up on the subject right now with his economic guru, Phil Gramm.

Barack Obama: Principles for the Nationalization of Mortgage Finance

  • No blank check. If we grant the Treasury broad authority to address the immediate crisis, we must insist on independent accountability and oversight. Given the breach of trust we have seen and the magnitude of the taxpayer money involved, there can be no blank check.

  • Rescue requires mutual responsibility. As taxpayers are asked to take extraordinary steps to protect our financial system, it is only appropriate to expect those institutions that benefit to help protect American homeowners and the American economy. We cannot underwrite continued irresponsibility, where CEOs cash in and our regulators look the other way. We cannot abet and reward the unconscionable practices that triggered this crisis. We have to end them.

  • Taxpayers should be protected. This should not be a handout to Wall Street. It should be structured in a way that maximizes the ability of taxpayers to recoup their investment. Going forward, we need to make sure that the institutions that benefit from financial insurance also bear the cost of that insurance.

  • Help homeowners stay in their homes. This crisis started with homeowners and they bear the brunt of the nearly unprecedented collapse in housing prices. We cannot have a plan for Wall Street banks that does not help homeowners stay in their homes and help distressed communities.

  • A global response. As I said on Friday, this is a global financial crisis and it requires a global solution. The United States must lead, but we must also insist that other nations, who have a huge stake in the outcome, join us in helping to secure the financial markets.

  • Main Street, not just Wall Street. The American people need to know that we feel as great a sense of urgency about the emergency on Main Street as we do the emergency on Wall Street. That is why I call on Senator McCain, President Bush, Republicans and Democrats to join me in supporting an emergency economic plan for working families – a plan that would help folks cope with rising gas and food prices, save one million jobs through rebuilding our schools and roads, help states and cities avoid painful budget cuts and tax increases, help homeowners stay in their homes, and provide retooling assistance to help ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built in America.

  • Build a regulatory structure for the 21st Century. While there is not time in a week to remake our regulatory structure to prevent abuses in the future, we should commit ourselves to the kind of reforms I have been advocating for several years. We need new rules of the road for the 21st Century economy, together with the means and willingness to enforce them.

conservative scruples, part 3

Listen to George Will in this video clip. When he can get a word in edgewise, he articulates the death rattle of the McCain campaign. His quotes are below the clip.

I suppose the McCain campaign’s hope is that when there’s a big crisis, people will go for age and experience. The question is who, in this crisis, looked more Presidential: calm and unflustered? It wasn’t John McCain, who (as usual) substituting vehemence for experience, said “Let’s fire somebody!” and he picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration, Chris Cox, and for no apparent reason — or at least none he’d vouchsafe — said “Fire Chris Cox at the SEC.” It was unpresidential behavior by a presidential aspirant.

Then Sam Donaldson weighs in: "The question of age is back on the table."

And somewhat later Will concludes: "John McCain showed his personality this week, and it made some of us fearful."

Conservatives, are you paying attention?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Medical Care and Market Forces

Two worthwhile readings on the subject of how medical care affects and his affected by market forces.
Here's an abstract of a Harvard study examining the role of medical costs in home foreclosures. Given the current crisis on Wall Street, it's understandable that unrealistic consumer debt, bad loans and shifty lending practices are under the microscope. Health care costs continue however to be an important factor in home foreclosures.
Next I recommend a column by John Geyman titled Market Mythology in Health Care. Geyman analyzes the rationale for believing that the market is a reliable corrective for problems in our health care system. He is himself a physician who served as Chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington from 1976-1990. More recently he has authored several books on the state of health care in the US.

Picture day

Beth got some clippers and went after Colm and Tess a couple of days ago. We've needed clippers for some time, but this week sort of precipitated the purchase.

One week ago, Beth read to the kids a Junie B. Jones book in which she surreptitiously gets some scissors and cuts her hair. The very next day, Tess did the same thing, whacking her bangs down to stubs. It was a pretty strong look, but Tess seemed okay with it so I didn't pay it much mind. Then on Monday morning Tess and I walked to school together. Tess was in a fine mood until we got to the high school office for our ritual greeting of the secretaries before continuing on to the elementary school. One of the women noticed Tess's hair and without missing a beat began to praise it effusively. A funny thing happened to Tess. Instead of being pleased, she seemed to realize for the first time that people were going to notice. I watched Tess go into the tank. By the time we reached the exit door, Tess was crying and begging me not to take her to school. It took us ten minutes to walk the last one hundred yards. I had to pry her loose from my legs and make her walk alongside me instead of hiding. I tried every tack I could think of until finally I asked her, "Do you want people to stare at you today?"
"No," she blubbered.
"If you cry in front of them, that's exactly what they'll do. They'll wonder what's wrong and they'll look at you."
I felt bad putting it that way, but it seemed to make Tess try to get a hold of herself. I added, "Let them see your beautiful smile and that's all they'll notice, okay?" She nodded. Before I left her in her classroom, I pulled her teacher aside and gave her the scoop. I went to work hoping that her day wouldn't be too hairy.
I'm happy to report that everything went fine. I also learned that this week is picture day. Beth bought some clippers and did what she could to clean up the rough edges. I actually like this hairstyle.


The comments on this blog have recently picked up in both quantity and quality of expression. Here's a quote from Phil W:
I believe you are vastly underestimating the power of the presidency. By stating that the power is limited to veto power and supreme court nominations, you ignore (1) how great veto power is (if McCain were elected, you can expect that none of the legislative agenda you are supporting would get passed), (2) the real power of the court system (the perspective of R judges and D judges is, quite different, having sweepeing implications over every aspect of our society from civil liberties to environmental protection--and most of these decisions are made at the Disctrict Court level with only one person deciding the case) and (3) the power of appointment over every other branch of government (for instance, the Bush Dept. of Interior sued a cattle ranch becasue the ranch was testing all of its cattle for mad cow. DOI argued that this was unfair to the comptition and won (probably in front of R appointees)--).

Temperment and competence are really shiboliths that candidates with unpopular policies use to sway people to vote agaisnt their interest.

I think his analysis of the power of the presidency is spot on. I don't accept the shibboleth claim however (though I dearly love the word). Temperament, in my opinion, has everything to do with how a person will attack problems, how he will view and react to divergent points of view, where he will go for advice when pressed for solutions. Look at Bush, look at Cheney, their disdain for the Constitution seems to me based in part on an an almost messianic complex. They know better than the rest of us; they will save us from ourselves, and they will do it largely without our consent or even knowledge.
Having said that, I would concede that temperament is a tricky thing to judge.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Servin' up a surprise

Backyard entrepeneurs. Unregulated good stuff.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Conservative scruples (continued)

The ranks of conservatives jumping over to Obama continue to swell.
Wick Allison, the former publisher of the National Review, endorsed Barack Obama. Here's a quote from his column.

Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

Elizabeth Drew who in 2002 authored a positive book about McCain entitled "Citizen McCain" just penned this column "How McCain lost me." Read the whole thing.

Richard Riordan, former Republican mayor of Los Angeles endorsed Obama too.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a maverick Republican from Maryland, endorsed Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president in an interview Wednesday with WYPR, Baltimore's National Public Radio station. Gilchrest said that "we can't use four more years of the same kind of policy that's somewhat haphazard, which leads to recklessness."

Enough is enough!

memo to Palin: Words are fun but not fungible

Here's what America's foremost expert on energy (according to John McCain anyway) had to say today in response to a softball question on oil export bans tossed her way in an invitation only town hall meeting in Michigan.

"Of course, it's a fungible commodity and they don't flag, you know, the molecules, where it's going and where it's not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it's Americans who get stuck holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It's got to flow into our domestic markets first."

Got that?...me neither.Then again I'm not an expert.
Palin is right that oil is fungible, just like the electrons that make this blog possible, but I wonder if she thinks words are fungible too. Maybe that would account for the way she uses them.

My beamish boy

It's Colm's turn to go to school.

Lucky for Beth it's only half a day.

Colm is eager to go but we keep thinking, not so fast.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Taxes - the burden

Here's a graph that even I can read and learn something from. It displays in crystal clear terms each candidates proposals for taxes. I urge you to look at it.

I understand that reasonable people do disagree on tax rates and also on progressivity (or at least degrees of progressivity). If you want to hear Obama defend his tax plan against a tough interviewer, go watch this clip of him talking to Bill O'Reilly. Again, you don't need to agree with him to see that he understands the conservative critique and he even sympathizes with parts of it.

It's hard to imagine McCain being so comfortable with an equally voluble and critical interviewer. Forget about Palin. She's not allowed to talk to mean guys. Deference isn't what's needed. Tough questions and substantive answers.


Yet another defector from the McCain fan club. It's Richard Cohen from the Washington Post. Money quote:
Following his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain did something extraordinary: He confessed to lying about how he felt about the Confederate battle flag, which he actually abhorred. "I broke my promise to always tell the truth," McCain said. Now he has broken that promise so completely that the John McCain of old is unrecognizable. He has become the sort of politician he once despised.
This is an interesting and revealing tidbit. Consider first of all the lie that McCain told. He spoke in favor of something that he actually abhorred. You can't go against your core principles any more directly than that. Now ask yourself what motivated McCain to repudiate his values in this way? To win an election. It's shameful, but it's also human. McCain's confession came at the failed conclusion of his presidential bid.

Some people have a soft spot in their hearts for people who sin and then repent in a public way. But repentence is no guarantee of reformation. Think of Jimmy Swaggert, "I have sinned!" In fact, people are probably more likely to revert to form under stress than to change. It's a cycle that becomes a pattern. McCain may well one day repent of things he has said in this campaign, and if he does, he'll probably feel better, but it'll be too late to do the American people any good.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Conservative scruples

The list of conservatives who have grown weary and wary of the McCain campaign is growing. Click on this link to read what law professor Russell Korobkin at The Volokh Conspiracy wrote. Then there's David Frum at the National Review who wrote this column on McCain's VP pick. Obama's ability to attract a sympathic hearing from some conservatives may have its origins in his experiences as a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, a conservative law school. You can read here what students and colleagues had to say about professor Obama. Here's a quote from Daniel Fischel, the dean of the school when Obama was there. He has never voted for a Democrat, but he says that Mr. Obama is “the first one I might vote for.”

“He’s much more intellectual, much more thoughtful, much more interested in discussion, debate, and dialogue than the typical politician. And that gives me some confidence about him, even though from my perspective he’s much too liberal.”

Some lifelong conservatives have decided back Obama for president. Here are a few.
  • Jeffrey Hart, longtime National Review editor and former speechwriter for both Nixon and Reagan.
  • Andrew J. Bacevich's whose pro-Obama piece, published in March in The American Conservative, is the "seminal Obamacon manifesto."
  • Andrew Sullivan, author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back.
  • Susan Eisenhower is more than just another disappointed Republican. She is also Ike's granddaughter and a dedicated member of the party who has urged her fellow Republicans in the past to stick with the GOP. But now Eisenhower, who runs an international consulting firm, is endorsing Barack Obama. She has no plans to officially leave the Republican party. But in Eisenhower's view, Obama is the only candidate who can build a national consensus on the issues most important to her--energy, global warming, an aging population and America's standing in the world.
  • Lifelong Republican Tricia Moseley, a former staffer for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, the one-time segregationist from South Carolina. Now a high-school teacher, Moseley says she was attracted to Obama's positions on education and the economy.
  • Former U.S. senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island.
  • Tony Campbell, spokesperson for RepublicansforObama.org., voted for Reagan in 1984, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. His only vote for a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1992, when he voted for Bill Clinton.
  • Gilbert Hodges, a Republican, was a deputy assistant secretary of State in the elder Bush's administration in the late 80's. He once worked for U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, one of the Senate's most prominent and respected Republicans, as well as working at the White House during the Reagan years.
  • Former senator Edward Brooke, the first black person to be elected by popular vote to the Senate in the nation's history. Brooke, a Republican, gave Obama his blessing and unintentionally foretold the Obamacan trend. "I think he's a very formidable candidate," Brooke said. "He's a Democrat and I'm a Republican, but that doesn't matter to me."
  • Douglas Kmiec, currently teaches law at Pepperdine, was a former senior Justice Department official under President Reagan and senior legal adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Here's a quote from Kmiec.

    "People have asked, 'How can someone who worked for Ronald Reagan support Barack Obama?' And the answer is simple: Both are natural leaders and have a great gift for communicating. Ronald Reagan used to tell me that his greatest achievement was to make Americans feel good about themselves again. But there has to be a genuine reason to feel good about ourselves, which there hasn't been in a while...Mr. Obama is calling us to what Ronald Reagan called us to, which is the better nature of our capacities and ourselves'

All of the people mentioned in this post should serve to remind us that there is an important distinction to made between conservatism and republicanism. The former is about values and principles, the latter is lately all about gaining and holding power.

The Enough Club

Remember when McCain used to quip how the press was his base? It's no secret that over the years he's had a cozy relationship with the press that most politicians would kill for. But now a few columnists who used to love or at least like McCain seem to have soured on his campaign.

Kevin Drum has collected a few examples (eight and a half, he says) and tabbed the group the Enough Club. This morning Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly posted a new member, Steve Chapman, from the Chicago Tribune. Just last week the McCain campaign quoted one of Chapman's columns in an ad. Needless to say they won't quote this one.
Then one of Benen's readers dug up four new members to add to the Enough Club.
Enough!...works for me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Compare and Contrast their records in Congress

Let's step away from the campaigns for a brief time and focus instead on comparing the legislative records of Obama and McCain. Here's a link to a thorough and condensed summary of all the legislation sponsored by each man during the 109th and 110th Congresses (the period of time both men have been there together). When you're finished with that material you can then read the subsequent post on legislation each man co-sponsored with some other senator(s) (the 110th Congress only).

This painstaking work was undertaken by Hilzoy a blogger who writes for the Washington Monthly blog called Political Animal. She also contributes to the blog Obsidian Wings. You can't find this kind of information very easily, not unless your prepared to scour the Congressional Record yourself. It's raw data and as such a bit tedious. Hilzoy refrains from editorializing in her post and leaves it to the reader to sift the information. A bit like reading tea leaves, but I found it very interesting.


My favorite time of year. I always get a bit sentimental as fall arrives. Willie Nelson knows how I feel.

a new yardstick?...Thou shalt not bear false witness

Way back in the beginning, both candidates, Obama and McCain pledged themselves to a new kind of politics. McCain said that the American people want and deserve a campaign that is honorable and respectful.
Now might be a good time to assess how well each man has lived up to this admittedly high standard.
I propose the following method. First, let us confine ourselves to statements made by the candidates themselves and ads to which they have affixed their personal approval. We will exclude surrogates for the time being and just try to see whether each man has shown the will and the commitment to personally live up to his promise to the people. The premise here is that the candidate should be held accountable at the very least to his own statements.
I would like to invite McCain supporters to submit material so as to ensure a somewhat comprehensive look at both men. The question at hand is simple and direct. How truthful has each man been?
I would further suggest that this might be a worthwhile yardstick for deciding who to vote for.

McCain's lies:
Exhibit A
Sarah Palin in her very first speech to Americans at the RNC (a speech she presumably had time to fact check before delivering) told the nation that she said to Congress, "Thanks but no thanks. If we want that bridge, we'll build it ourselves."

I don't know what's worse. The fact that she told this lie on her very first chance to present herself to the American public, or the fact that she went on to repeat it several times in subsequent speeches. She finally conceded in her interview with Charlie Gibson that she had supported the bridge (though she euphemistically referred to the bridge as "infrastructure"). Did anybody notice how even as she repackaged her story she still didn't come clean about the original lie? It was as if the press were to blame for inconveniencing her with the facts.

Exhibit B
McCain claimed in a very recent interview on "The View" that his running mate never sought federal funds for state projects. When pressed about Palin's record of requesting and accepting such money for Alaska, McCain ignored the record and said: "Not as governor she didn't."

Umm...yes she did. In fact, while Palin has significantly reduced the state's earmark requests, she asked for nearly $200 million in targeted spending for the 2009 fiscal year.

Not only did McCain lie, but he lied twice, first on the initial question and then on the subsequent follow up. This undermines any possible claim that maybe he just misspoke. What seems clear here is that when McCain is faced with a choice between telling an inconvenient truth and telling a convenient lie, there's really no choice. Lets be clear here. What Palin did as mayor and governor is standard operating procedure all across the country...it's called bringing home the bacon. Nothing wrong with that unless you're trying to paint yourself as a brave new pork reformer.

Exhibit C
McCain bragged in several speeches following the RNC that Palin sold the governor's private jet on Ebay for a profit. "You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay — and made a profit!"

Another lie. While the jet was put on Ebay along with about thirty other items (a practice established in Alaska well before Palin became governor, by the way, though you'd never guess that from the way McCain was presenting her as an innovator and reformer). The jet was never sold on Ebay however. It was sold through a broker for less than the asking price and less than the original price. It must be maddening for McCain to be nitpicked by the truth this way.

Exhibit D
July 27, 2008
"I didn't use the word timetable."
McCain said this in response to Geornge Stephanopoulus
Rewind two days to July 25, 2008
BLITZER: Why do you think [Maliki] said that 16 months is basically a pretty good timetable?

MCCAIN: He said it's a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground. I think it's a pretty good timetable.

Look, I don't blame people for sometimes being careless with words but this is a case of McCain lying not being careless. Here's why. In a January 30 debate with Mitt Romney, McCain castigated his opponent for using the word "timetable". "Timetables was the buzzword for those that wanted to get out," he scoffed. He laid down the bar himself and used it to hammer his opponents. What's really disingenuous here is that McCain doesn't really oppose the concept of timetables he just wants to make the word off limits and radioactive to whoever utters it.
Until of course he says it himself. Notice how when that happens, and he's called on it in public, his first reaction is to deny it. In essence he calls Stephanopoulus a liar. This is what is what people who have become addicted to lying do. They don't recant, they double down.

Exhibit E
August 20, 2008
McCain responds to Obama's declaration that he will not let anyone question his love of country.
Let me be clear: I am not questioning his patriotism; I am questioning his judgment.
The words "Let me be clear. " Is this some kind of plea to us or a prayer to God to grant him the gift of lucidity or his asking us only to take his words seriously when he prefaces them with the phrase, "let me clear"?
Here's what McCain said (on more than one occasion if I'm not mistaken).
Apparently Sen. Obama, who does not understand what’s happening in Iraq or fails to acknowledge the success in Iraq, would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.
How can someone rather lose a war than a campaign and still be called a patriot? It's simple; they can't. McCain knows exactly what he's suggesting here. Whether he actually believes it or not is immaterial. He knows how it will land in the ears of certain voters.

Exhibit F
In McCain's "lipstick ad" he accuses Obama of sexist comments against Palin. Today in an interview on "The View", when given a chance to step back from the ad, McCain insists "they aren't lies." He is then reminded that he himself used the selfsame lipstick phrase only a few months ago and he says, "Yes but I was referring to Senator Clinton's health care plan."

Even classier. Here's what Obama said. You be the judge.
OBAMA: Let's just list this for a second. John McCain says he's about change, too. Except -- and so I guess his whole angle is, "Watch out, George Bush, except for economic policy, health-care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy, and Karl Rove-style politics. We're really gonna shake things up in Washington." That's not change. That's just calling some -- the same thing, something different. But you know, you can -- you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig.
Incredible. McCain either doesn't cares what the truth is or is it that he just can't help lying. Wasn't it McCain who accused Obama's campaign of playing the race card? I guess it's Obama's fault then that McCain stooped so low as to play the gender card. In his interview on "The View" McCain persisted in his claim about Obama by saying, "Obama chooses his words very carefully." This is an interesting angle since it implies that McCain by contrast chooses his words casually and should be forgiven for his sometimes imprecise formulations (lies). Notice again how McCain is perfecting the double standard, hold everyone else accountable for their words, and then plead for understanding when your own words are quoted back to you.

Exhibit G
In a recent ad McCain asserts that Obama's "one accomplishment" as a legislator in Illinois was to create legislation that would teach kindergartners sex before teaching them to read.

It's hard to know where to begin with this one except to point out that it marks a new low in sleaziness. To quote McCain a few years ago when he wagged his finger at Gov. Bush during a debate in South Carolina, "You should be ashamed." Tug on any word or phrase and the thing unravels before your eyes. Go to FactCheck.org and see for yourself. Lets remember too that this is the same campaign that has railed against the lack of respect and deference shown toward their candidates and surrogates. Classy.

Exhibit H
McCain just launched a thirty second ad aimed at Hispanic voters. Here's the text.
"The press reports that their efforts were 'poison pills' that made immigration reform fail," the ad charges. "The result: No guest worker program. No path to citizenship. No secure borders. No reform. Is that being on our side? Obama and his congressional allies ready to block immigration reform, but not ready to lead."
What's wrong: Media accounts cited two votes as effectively killing immigration reform last year — and Obama was on the same side as McCain in both. Click on the link read a fuller account of this.

To sum up: lies big and small constitute a pattern of deceit that directly contradicts the "straight talk" that McCain has promised us. Truthfulness is something that matters to me as a voter. Why not apply the commandment "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" as a yardstick? I want our next president to be in the habit of telling the truth, to be committed to telling it. This is, in my opinion, a major character issue in this campaign. If I judge this wrongly, I await new information.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Speaking of football

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How I choose

I'm going to try to lay out my personal criteria for voting for president. I list them in order of importance. It's rather long ...apologies, but maybe some of you could think about your own criteria (Jer and the other K, for example) and weigh in.
  1. - temperament Since the president is commander-in-chief with very broad powers to unilaterally deploy military forces and wage military actions if not official war, I want a president with a strong and stable inner core that he can rely on in times of stress. In my book Obama while the newcomer to the scene has consistently shown over the last eighteen months an almost preternatural calm and poise in the face of incredible media scrutiny and criticism. The president must also be able to use his bully pulpit to mobilize public opinion. Here Obama is potentially peerless but not just because he is a gifted orator. More impressively he has been fearless in his willingness to submit to interviews and inquiries and to engage in debate. He clearly relishes listening to disparate points of view and has shown again and again that he has a penchant for compromise (his endorsement of the bipartisan drilling compromise, his support for the revised FISA bill as two examples). Finally, he has shown remarkable discipline as a campaigner. His choice of VP reflected I think a mature and serious desire to find someone who can help him govern well. This latter choice seems a clear case of putting the welfare of the country ahead of political calculations. The same cannot be said of McCain's choice or of his process in making his choice. A final irony here. I feel that Obama, a political liberal to be sure, displays a conservative temperament in the way he conducts his life. His beliefs, especially with regard to culture always hearken back to traditional values, strong family, fathers's obligations to their children, community service etc.. McCain by contrast is a political conservative whose temperament is anything but conservative. I trust the conservative termperament much more than the impulsive one.
  2. competence - This job requires, I think, a special skill set. Regardless of what anyone says, I suspect that no one is ready to be president on day one. There can't be any other job like it in the world. Whoever sits in the Oval Office needs to be skilled in seeing the big picture, skilled in discerning what is essential from is merely extraneous, skilled in assessing the true nature of the challenges we face, skilled in mobilizing people and resources, and skilled in assessing our successes and failures. Bush to me epitomizes the hands off CEO model who delegates everything and immunizes himself from criticism while letting his policies drift in the hands of underlings. Jimmy Carter may represent the other extreme, the micromanager, the policy wonk, who is similarly cut off from the people by his immersion in small things. Here again I give Obama the clear edge. Neither man has much executive experience, but Obama has run a campaign machine or almost two years that has rewritten the manual on efficiency and effectiveness and enthusiasm. He has shown a tremendous ability to adapt, to learn, to take advantage of current tools, media and resources and to mobilize unheard of numbers of people. McCain has fired his campaign staff at least twice. Most recently he has handed it off to former Rove staffers who appear to have hijacked the campaign from the candidate and launched an all out culture war and misinformation compaign. McCain does not appear to me to be the man in charge either of his ads or of his message. His repeated posture of rising above his own campaign's tactics strikes me as disengenuous at worst and disorganized at best.
  3. legislative agenda - Here's where political agendas hold sway. I rank this last in importance for one simple reason. It's the legislative branch that writes legislation not the president. No question that the president if he is popular can influence and even set priorities but his greates power is the veto. His other great power is to nominate judges to the Supreme Court. If you think Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia are the judges this country needs more of then your choice is clear. I understand the argument that a Congress run by one party and a presidency run by another is a kind of guarantee against legislative excess. I'm actually sympathetic to that argument. Whoever is president is going to have to deliver on a promise of a new spirit of bipartisanship. What are the big issues? Health care, the debt, the environment, jobs, and national defense. Who has the best shot of moving the middle toward something better? I don't see McCain even showing up on health care. Obama by contrast will pitch one plan and settle for something less. Neither candidate has much hope of doing much about the debt and here it's important to notice that McCain is not materially better on this than Obama even though he is supposed to be the fiscal conservative. Regarding the environment, McCain used to advertise himself as one committed to doing something about climate change (strange that he would choose a VP who has declared herself a skeptic on this subject). His support for alternative fuel research seems largely theoretical given that he's voted against allocating money to it on several occaisions. Still, there might be something there. I have environmentalist friends who think so anyway. He is for cap and trade policies, or at least he was last time I checked. So is Obama. Obama strikes a more grandiose pose on this issue, a call to arms in the style of JFK's Moon Shot. Again, I see Obama as a consumate deal maker. He'll push for the moon and settle for something that moves us forward. Jobs are impossible. Presidents always get credit they don't deserve and blame they don't deserve for rising or falling employment. Business and economic cycles are always out of phase with political cycles. I don't pretend to understand either. Both candidates have tried to get outside their respective boxes. McCain proposed the gas tax holiday and he criticized CEO salaries. Obama proposed eliminating the capital gains tax for small businesses. I'm not sure how to evaluate them as free traders. On job training and education, McCain curiously wanted to talk about education in his RNC speech even though he has no proposals anywhere regarding a federal role in education (years ago he even supported eliminating the Dept. of Ed). Obama has spoken of merit pay for teachers, and of rewarding national service with college tuition subsidies. Finally, on national defense Obama proposes taking off the training wheels of the Maliki government. He speaks of getting out more carefully than we got in. Interestingly, today General Petraus said that he would not necessarily envision using the word "victory" to describe the eventual outcome in Iraq. I find the general's words to be refreshingly candid and nuanced. Nuance is something utterly lacking in McCain's pronouncements on this war. Forgetting his multiple and embarrassing misstatements about the parties involved there, McCain insists on casting every policy difference as a debate between surrender and victory, patriotism and politics. I've yet to hear McCain describe in concrete detail what victory in Iraq means to him and how close we are to getting there. My biggest concern with McCain is his reflex for bluster and his seemingly unshakeable belief that wars are necessary and inevitable. Are we all Georgians? Think about that for a minute. I take McCain at his word. He wants us to take up arms in defense of Georgia, to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. No doubt we'll also be occupied in other parts of the world, like Iran, and North korea. McCain seems unfazed and unperturbed by all of this. He speaks about "defeating evil" as if evil has an address and a name. Surely any serious Christian sees the folly of such a statement. It is not man's perrogative to defeat evil, only to wrestle with it. In other words, evil will always be with us; therefore a little humility is in order. His world view is way too simplistic for my liking. When I listen to Obama, I get the sense that he understands the power of humility and the power of example. I haven't the slightest idea what war awaits America, but I trust Obama more than McCain not to be carried away by delusions of grandeur or nostalgia for some nonexistent past glory.
  4. biography - maybe this shouldn't be on the list but I'd be lying if I claimed it doesn't affect how I judge a candidate. Both men have compelling life stories that they can be proud of. McCain's history seems to me to be marked by more privilege than that of Obama's. Both men have in their youth displayed a lust for life that I think humanizes them. Both men have nurtured personal ambitions for a long time. When it comes to biographies, it's like talking about novels or films. People like what they like. I like Obama's story more than McCain's although McCain's experience in Hanoi is more harrowing than anything I can imagine. Because McCain has lived so much longer, he has had time to tarnish the golden boy reputation. Obama may come to a similar fate. Only time will tell. K

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who are those guys?

Just to continue along the lines of the previous post and comments (note to Jerry - hijack my blog anytime you feel the urge). I used to like McCain back in his heyday, he seemed committed to reform and to crossing the aisle to get it done. That's not to say he was squeaky clean - remember the Keating Five scandal which cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money? But since McCain began running seriously for president, the more I've watched him the more pathetic a character he has become for me.

It began with the way Bush/Rove destroyed him in South Carolina. From that point on, it seemed that McCain became infected by the most craven and sleazy impulses of his party and of Washington in general. He's almost a tragic figure, a hero undone by his own ambition. He's what we call in the Lit biz a complex figure, and, like all complex figures, he's not without his sympathetic qualities. What's remarkable to me is how starkly his different sides now stand in contradiction to one another. Maverick meet mainstream establishment. Honorable soldier meet panderer and slanderer.

He may not be the man he once was, but he once was someone unlike the man he now is. This may well be what accounts for his continued appeal for some voters. Leaving aside those who are simply voting against Obama on general principle, be it political or cultural or racial, there are people who drawn to McCain. For these people, McCain represents a leap of faith. It is the faith that he is not who he now seems to be. They believe that the old McCain will be resurrected when he is inaugurated. This is, it seems obvious to me, nothing more or less than a question of faith; it is, therefore, quite beyond the appeals of reason.

When I hear Obama supporters express incredulity at the idea that a majority of Americans might vote for McCain, when I hear them wondering what kind of electorate actually comprises this country, and when I hear them utter dark prophecies about what this election portends, it is as if I'm hearing people confess that their own neighbors are complete strangers to them, that they really don't know who their fellow Americans are, that we may as well be living side by side with Cylons. We look across the political divide and see the gathering multitudes, and we mutter a la Butch Cassidy and Sundance, "Who are those guys?"

I hate campaigns predicated on culture wars, yet I look around and see that we are so very susceptible to life in the trenches. My fondest hope is that Obama (or McCain) will embolden and enable us to climb up and meet in No Man's Land.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

There there...

It sure seems like quite a few Obama supporters are nervous these days. Some of them seem almost ready to panic.
I have a colleague who is literally dying to see Obama win. He can hardly stand to read the news because he'll see a poll number that makes him nervous or a new ad that puts yet another lie about Obama. It almost affects his well being. I don't get it personally. With eight weeks to go Obama is at worst tied in the polls and by all accounts ahead in the electoral college projections. When I tell my coworker these things, he always looks at me and says, "Thanks, man. I needed that." Then he asks me if I'll tell him something good every day until election day.
Some people don't know how to deal with being in a position to win; they want a landslide; they want an awakening. Ain't gonna happen.
My friend who is also a huge football fan can't deal with a close game in politics. He gets chest pains when he thinks about McCain winning. Before I went home today, I stopped by his room and said, "He's gonna win Pennsylvania. Don't worry." He laughed and then he said, "Cahill, if Obama pulls this out, I'm gonna kiss you...on the lips!"
I told him thanks for the warning.
Let me go out on a limb here and make a prediction- Obama wins this thing decisively. Something to look forward to, I guess.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Barn on fire

Just the molten light of the setting sun really.

Cricket Flats, NE Oregon, Labor Day weekend.

First Day; Second Grade

It just doesn't get any easier for me to watch this girl grow up and walk off into her own life.

All I want is for every moment to last...


O'Reilly on Obama

Bill O'Reilly wrote a column about the interview he had with Obama last night on Fox TV. O'Reilly has never been one of my favorites, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit surprised by his assessment. Here are the final paragraphs:
On the foreign policy front, Obama has convinced me that he is tough but cautious. He rose up quickly because he vehemently opposed the Iraq war. But now I see a man who understands the victory that has taken place in Iraq. I don't believe he wants to screw that up. I could be wrong.

After going mano-a-mano with Obama on television, I am also persuaded that he is a sincere guy—that he wants the best for all Americans. He's an ideologue, but not a blind one. He understands that his story is incredible, and, I have come to believe, he is grateful to the American system for allowing it happen.

It is true that we don't know whether Senator Obama has the ability to solve complex problems, but you can say that about all presidential contenders.

Like most politicians, Obama has used guile and good luck to accumulate his power. He can be ruthless, kind, unfair, and generous. In short, he's a real person trying to achieve an unreal position—that of the most powerful person in the world.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Cognitive dissonance at the RNC

In the spirit of simply wishing folks would stop inventing facts, here's a short list of nonfactual assertions we heard this evening at the RNC. To get to the facts click on the links provided.

"The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars." Sarah Palin
Here's a dirty little secret- neither McCain's nor Obama's plans will balance the budget... the truth is so damned inconvenient to the narratives we love to tell ourselves.

"This is not a personal attack....it's a statement of fact - Barack Obama has never led anything. Nothing. Nada." Rudi Giuliani
Some guys don't know nothing from nothing. Maybe if he knew what it means to run an effective campaign organization, he'd be the Republican nominee. Oh, and when Rudi says it's not a personal attack, better duck.

"She got more votes running for mayor of the town of Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States," Mike Huckabee.
Funny maybe, got quite a few laughs, but the really funny thing is... it's a lie.

"I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere." Palin
Umm... a conservative's wet dream, but like all fanstasies it's fiction

"There is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform _ not even in the state senate." Palin
not content with a medium sized lie, she tells a whopper

"Did you hear any Democrats talk last week about the threat from radical, violent Jihad?" Mitt Romney
Is Romney trying to be clever like Bill Clinton when he deadpanned "depends on what 'is' is"? If you're searching for the exact phrase, "radical, violent Jihad", in the Democrats' speeches it may well not have been there. Then again, that particular phrase didn't show up in any Republican speeches either until Romney uttered it. Maybe it's because people have taken to saving their breath and taken to using the simpler term "terrorism". It so happens that most if not all of the speeches did talk about terrorism...Romney's cleverness extends a bit further...technically this may not be a lie since it is a rhetorical question but since the entire audience shouted, "No!" in response we should probably just lump the whole damn lot of them together and hold them all accountable for this totally bogus claim.

"We need change, all right _ change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington _ throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin." Mitt Romney former governor of the east coast elite state of Massachusettes
Aside from the painful cognitive dissonance that this must have triggered inside Romney's quite possibly empty head it is a testament to his party loyalty that he was able to deliver this (unwittingly?) ironic line without laughing out loud. Did you see the faces of some of the delegates who, even as they were cheering appeared to be wondering, "Is he talking about us?"

Don't know about you, but I can't wait for tomorrow.

Things fall apart...apologies to Yeats

the center cannot hold,

mere anarchy is loosed on the world

the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

the ceremony of is drowned

the best lack all conviction

while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

note: yes, Lieberman did give both speeches