Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Annals of University Bureaucracy

The following is an email message, in its entirety, sent to "undiscolosed recipients"—presumably everyone— at California State University, Los Angeles. The spacing is as it was in the original.

from Office of the Vice President of Administration and Finance and CFO
to undisclosed-recipients
date Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 2:44 PM
subject Administrative Procedure 019 - Use of Alcoholic Beverages on Campus
mailed-by cslanet.calstatela.edu

hide details 2:44 PM (8 hours ago)


Campus-wide email – Do not reply

The following Administrative Procedure has been uploaded to the CSULA web site:

AP 019, Use of Alcoholic Beverages on Campus, effective date 09/18/08

Please update your department manuals accordingly.

No attachements; no web links. Just this message.

Revolt of the Nihilists

David Brooks has been writing some fairly reasonable columns. But he's a Republican, and he can't seem to bring himself to acknowledging the value of government regulation. Here's the best he seems able to do.
What we need in this situation is authority. Not heavy-handed government regulation, but the steady and powerful hand of some public institutions that can guard against the corrupting influences of sloppy money and then prevent destructive contagions when the credit dries up.
In other words, we don't want government regulation—and especially not "heavy-handed government regulation." What we need instead is "the steady and powerful hand of some public institutions." Would you like to clarify the distinction you're making David? You're beginning to sound like Sarah Palin.

50 characters for Sarah Palin

What should California say to Sarah Palin in 50 characters or less?

Here's my suggestion.
Sarah Palin: embarrassing herself and the country.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout bill

According to the Washington Post's "Breakdown of the Final Bailout Bill," there are quite a few positive provisions.
Section 101. Purchases of Troubled Assets.
Authorizes the Secretary to establish a Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP") to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions. Establishes an Office of Financial Stability within the Treasury Department to implement the TARP in consultation with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the FDIC, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Requires the Treasury Secretary to establish guidelines and policies to carry out the purposes of this Act.

Includes provisions to prevent unjust enrichment by participants of the program.

Section 102.
Insurance of Troubled Assets.
If the Secretary establishes the TARP program, the Secretary is required to establish a program to guarantee troubled assets of financial institutions.

The Secretary is required to establish risk-based premiums for such guarantees sufficient to cover anticipated claims. The Secretary must report to Congress on the establishment of the guarantee program.

Section 103. Considerations.
In using authority under this Act, the Treasury Secretary is required to take a number of considerations into account, including the interests of taxpayers, minimizing the impact on the national debt, providing stability to the financial markets, preserving homeownership, the needs of all financial institutions regardless of size or other characteristics, and the needs of local communities. Requires the Secretary to examine the long-term viability of an institution in determining whether to directly purchase assets under the TARP.

Section 104. Financial Stability Oversight Board.
This section establishes the Financial Stability Oversight Board to review and make recommendations regarding the exercise of authority under this Act. In addition, the Board must ensure that the policies implemented by the Secretary protect taxpayers, are in the economic interests of the United States, and are in accordance with this Act.

The Board is comprised of the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of the Federal Home Finance Agency, the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Section 109. Foreclosure Mitigation Efforts.
For mortgages and mortgage-backed securities acquired through TARP, the Secretary must implement a plan to mitigate foreclosures and to encourage servicers of mortgages to modify loans through Hope for Homeowners and other programs. Allows the Secretary to use loan guarantees and credit enhancement to avoid foreclosures. Requires the Secretary to coordinate with other federal entities that hold troubled assets in order to identify opportunities to modify loans, considering net present value to the taxpayer.

Section 110. Assistance to Homeowners.
Requires federal entities that hold mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, including the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve to develop plans to minimize foreclosures. Requires federal entities to work with servicers to encourage loan modifications, considering net present value to the taxpayer.

Section 111. Executive Compensation and Corporate Governance.
Provides that Treasury will promulgate executive compensation rules governing financial institutions that sell it troubled assets. Where Treasury buys assets directly, the institution must observe standards limiting incentives, allowing clawback and prohibiting golden parachutes. When Treasury buys assets at auction, an institution that has sold more than $300 million in assets is subject to additional taxes, including a 20% excise tax on golden parachute payments triggered by events other than retirement, and tax deduction limits for compensation limits above $500,000.

Section 113. Minimization of Long-Term Costs and Maximization of Benefits for Taxpayers.
In order to cover losses and administrative costs, as well as to allow taxpayers to share in equity appreciation, requires that the Treasury receive non-voting warrants from participating financial institutions.

Section 114. Market Transparency.
48-hour Reporting Requirement: The Secretary is required, within 2 business days of exercising authority under this Act, to publicly disclose the details of any transaction.

Section 120. Termination of Authority.
Provides that the authorities to purchase and guarantee assets terminate on December 31, 2009. The Secretary may extend the authority for an additional year upon certification of need to Congress.

Section 124. Hope for Homeowners Amendments.
Strengthens the Hope for Homeowners program to increase eligibility and improve the tools available to prevent foreclosures.

Section 125. Congressional Oversight Panel.
Establishes a Congressional Oversight Panel to review the state of the financial markets, the regulatory system, and the use of authority under TARP. The panel is required to report to Congress every 30 days and to submit a special report on regulatory reform prior to January 20, 2009. The panel will consist of 5 outside experts appointed by the House and Senate Minority and Majority leadership.

Section 134. Recoupment.
Requires that in 5 years, the President submit to the Congress a proposal that recoups from the financial industry any projected losses to the taxpayer.

Section 302.
Special Rules for Tax Treatment of Executive Compensation of Employers Participating in the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
Applies limits on executive compensation and golden parachutes for certain executives of employers who participate in the auction program.

Section 303. Extension of Exclusion of Income From Discharge of Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness.
Extends current law tax forgiveness on the cancellation of mortgage debt.
Of course, the detailed language and the actual administration will make all the difference. But from the summary, it isn't necessarily a bad bill. As Krugman said, it's not good, and it probably won't end the crisis, but it may be worth passing.

The Progress Report on the Bailout bill

From the Progress Report.
BETTER THAN THE ALTERNATIVES: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes today, "The bailout plan released yesterday is a lot better than the proposal Henry Paulson first put out -- sufficiently so to be worth passing. But it's not what you'd actually call a good plan, and it won't end the crisis." Indeed, the bill does provide some important improvements over prior proposals. Instead of giving $700 billion to the Treasury all at once, the money will be doled out in three installments: an initial $250 billion, another $100 billion "upon a Presidential certification of need," and the final $350 billion if the President submits a written request to Congress, which Congress can deny within 15 days. The bill also establishes a Financial Stability Oversight Board "to review and make recommendations regarding the exercise of authority" and "ensure that the policies implemented by the [Treasury] Secretary protect taxpayers." By contrast, the initial Bush administration proposal included no oversight mechanism. The bill also includes provisions limiting compensation for senior executives, "with especially severe limits on 'golden parachutes' at failing firms." It allows the Treasury to conduct reverse auctions of securities, which means "firms that can afford to will dump their toxic waste at low prices, the way some already have on the private market, and taxpayers may end up making money in the end." The proposal does not include some of the more radical ideas put forward by the Republican Study Committee -- and backed by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich -- like removing the capital gains tax, which favors wealthy investors while doing nothing to correct the financial crisis.

Michael Moore on the bailout

In The Rich Are Staging a Coup This Morning Michael Moore claims that
[we are being lied to about executive salary caps, that the bailout bill says] NOTHING about what these executives and fat cats will make in SALARY. According to Rep. Brad Sherman of California, these top managers will continue to receive million-dollar-a-month paychecks under this new bill.
He also claims that
there is no direct ownership given to the American people for the money being handed over.
If that's the case, I urge that the bill not be passed. As I've said before, my solution is to let the Federal Government serve as investor of last resort.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Palin on … who knows what

And here's what Andrew Sullivan said about the SNL parody.
Yes, I saw Tina Fey and Amy Poehler last night. And, of course, the amazing thing is that a whole section of the script was directly transcribed from Palin's actual attempted interview with Katie Couric. There is no way Saturday Night Life could make more fun of Palin than she made of herself. How does McCain win an election with a national joke as his running-mate?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini agree with me

Here's how Krugman put it.
Nouriel Roubini has a characteristically scathing takedown of the Paulson plan, and here’s the thing: language aside, his economic analysis is similar to mine. The fundamental problem in the financial system is too little capital; bizarrely, the Treasury chose not to address that problem directly, by (say) purchasing preferred shares in financial institutions. Instead, the plan is premised on the belief that toxic mortgage-related waste is underpriced, and that the Treasury can recapitalize banks on the cheap by fixing the markets’ error.

The Dodd-Frank changes make the plan less awful, mainly by creating an equity stake. Essentially, this makes it possible for the plan to do the right thing through the back door: use toxic-waste purchases to acquire equity, and hence inject capital after all. Also, the oversight means that Treasury can be prevented from making the plan a pure gift to financial evildoers. But it’s still not a good plan.

The credit squeeze

As I understand it, one of the primary problem with today's market is that lending institutions are afraid to lend money to each other on a short term basis. It would seem that one way to alleviate this problem is for the Federal Government to guarantee some of those short term loans. Since the FDIC knows a lot about the state of various banks, it should be able to determine which can be backed by a Federal guarantee. (Of course, that would put those not on the list in jeopardy of a run.) It might also make a similar determination about other elements of the monetary and banking structure.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How John McCain lost me

A long piece by Elizabeth Drew, New Yorker writer and a former McCain admirer. Here's the last paragraph.
McCain’s recent conduct of his campaign – his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the vice-presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition – has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man.

In fact, it’s not clear who he is.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Palin on foreign policy

I still like my plan: the federal government as investor of last resort

Any company may value itself at 50% of its lowest market price from January 1, 2008 until the date of the valuation. The company may then issue new stock—thereby diluting the existing stock. The government would buy the new stock as if it were a venture capitalist investing in the company at the 50%-under-market-price valuation.

This would allow companies to keep whatever they have on their books for as long as they like, thereby relieving pressure on the mortgage-backed-securities market and allowing it to find a true hold-to-maturity price.

This would also give the Federal government—and the taxpayer—an opportunity to invest in the US economy. Bush has claimed that we should invest our social security funds in the stock market. Here's his chance. We would be investing at 50% off a reduced price. What could be better? If things get better, perhaps the government will make enough money that it will be able to reduce taxes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain Seeks to Delay First Debate Amid Financial Crisis

My guess about why McCain wants to delay the first debate is (1) it's about foreign policy, presumably his strong point, but no one will be thinking about foreign policy and (2) he wants to neutralize Obama's strength on the economy by looking bi-partisan.

And speaking of the bail out

It seems to me that the big failures (the investment banks, Fanny and Freddie, AIG, etc.) are behind us. Paulson says that if he isn't given $700 billion immediately, the world will come to an end. I'm willing to risk it. Let them fail one at a time. The market (wonder that it is) can handle it. In addition, let companies that need capital get it by selling themselves at a reduced price.

McCain: Let's do for health care what we've done for banking.

In a feature article in the Sep/Oct 2008 issue of Contingencies, the Journal of the American Academy of Actuaries, McCain makes a somewhat plausible case for replacing the current health care system with one funded by tax credits. His proposal deserves a place in the discussion of the future of health care.

What McCain ignores is that his plan will encourage the young and healthy to forgo health care insurance thereby crippling the system. There are a number of other significant difficulties with it that deserve more space for discussion.

The point here, though, is that McCain thinks that markets cure all ills. Here's how he put it (page 30, top of the second column) when comparing his health-care proposal to the deregulation of the banking industry.
Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, [emphasis added] would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.
Actions of this sort almost always have unintended consequences—as we have learned from our experience in deregulating the banking industry. With the banking industry we were just playing with the world's economy. In health care, we are playing with people's lives. McCain apparently thinks that's fine. A few deaths will be a prod to the market to get itself in shape. That's the way markets work. If enough people die, the companies responsible will lose market share.

Although that's theoretically true (but see below), it's ceratainly not the way to structure a system as important as health care. But McCain is apparently too dense or too much in the thrall of his rich buddies to understand that.

Furthermore, given the power of advertising and self-promotion, failed companies manage to sell themselves anyway, and market mechanisms often don't work the way they should. After all, look who's now in charge of the Treasury of the United States: the man who ran a company that was one of the primary culprits in selling trash mortgage backed securities. Yet has Mr. Paulson taken any (any!) responsibility for what he and his company have done? Not as far as I know. Not only has he not taken any responsibility, he is now asking the US taxpayer to give him unlimited authority to bail out his former company (in which he probably still have a significant ownership interest) and the companies of his equally guilty buddies.

McCain is also insisting that the bailout not be accompanied by salary caps because — get this — we need the skill and wisdom of high priced executives. Is anyone stupid enough to buy that? (I'm sure McCain is. I'll bet Palin is also.) The best that greed can buy created this mess. So now McCain is arguing that we use the same incentives to hire the next batch of executives. Isn't he capable of learning anything?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Limit executive pay?


Any company (or successor or subsidiary) that gets any sort of bailout from the government should go on a special list. A tax law should be written that says that gross income in excess of the salary of the President of the US of anyone who works for any company on that list is taxable at a rate of 100%.

Do you think these companies will suffer? That they won't be able to hire competent executives? I doubt it. They certainly couldn't do worse than they've done with the current crop of high priced executives! But I'll go even further. If such a law were in place, I'll bet that a comparison after five year of companies on that list to matched companies not on the there will show no statistically significant difference with respect to company performance.

This is an experiment I want the country to try.

Why should anyone believe Paulson and Bernanke?

They claim that the world will fall apart if the US government doesn't give them a $700 billion blank check (in a "clean" bill) by the end of the week. Given their record so far of analyzing the economy and predicting what will happen, there is absolutely no reason to believe them about this. We certainly shouldn't give people with their record of failure $700 billion.

If you think about it, the big failures are already out of the way. It doesn't look to me like we are on the edge of a precipice. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be steamrollered into a decision of this sort by Paulson and Bernanke.

Paulson especially. He was one of the villains. Were it not for people like him, we wouldn't be in this situation to begin with. Why in the world should he be trusted? And by the way, has he acknowledged his role in this fiasco? If he has, I haven't heard about it. The first step to healing is acknowledging one's failures. So far he hasn't taken that step.

The real antichrist

Do you remember this post reporting on the religious right movement to declare Obama the Antichrist. I finally realized who the real Antichrist is. It's obviously John McCain, who has clearly sold his soul to the devil. We can only hope that the devil doesn't deliver on his end of the bargain.

My bailout plan

Here's my proposed bailout plan. It has provisions to help corporations, homeowners, and mortgage holders.

For corporations that want to raise capital. Any company may value itself at 50% of its lowest market price during the past 6 months. The company may then issue new stock--thereby diluting the existing stock. The government would buy the new stock as if it were a venture capitalist investing in the company at the 50%-under-market-price valuation. No company would be required to participate. This would allow companies to keep whatever they have on their books as long as they like. All they need is additional capital.

For homeowners and mortgage holders. Homeowners and mortgage holders would agree to a reduction in the mortgage. The government would give the mortgage holder half the difference between the current appraised value and the reduced mortgage principle balance. In exchange the government would own a share of the house proportional to the difference between the appraised value and the new principle balance.

As an example, imagine a house with an appraised value of $300,000 and with a mortgage also of $300,000. The mortgage holder and the homeowner agree that (a) the mortgage principle balance would be reduced to $200,000; (b) the government would give the mortgage holder $50,000; (c) the homeowner would give the government a 1/3 interest in the house. This would leave the homeowner with a $200,000 loan, which would presumably be affordable, but with no equity. The mortgage holder would have lost $50,000 instead of $100,000. The government would have paid $50,000 for a 1/3 interest in a house that is appraised for $300,000.

And if they simply go ahead with the $700 Billion bailout, here's how I would raise the money.

A special assessment. When a home-owners association gets into trouble, it typically declares a special assessment. Well, the country is in trouble. So let's do the same thing. I don't know how much the total privately held assets in this country are, but whatever they let's do the following. For any privately held asset, deduct $1,000,000 from the asset value and then assess the remainder the percentage needed to cover the bailout costs. The assessment percentage would be the same across the board after a standard $1,000,000 deduction.

McCain Lies

McCain Lies: "I've Bought American Literally All My Life"

During a September 7 interview with Detroit's WXYZ-TV McCain said, 'Cindy and I own an automobile that's American-made' Of course what he didn't say is that he owns 13 cars, at least 2 of which are foreign. Besides those 13 cars, his wife's beer distributorship owns a Lexus.

McCain Aide’s Firm Was Paid by Freddie Mac

From the NYTimes.com
One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain’s campaign manager from the end of 2005 through last month, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement. The disclosure contradicts a statement Sunday night by Mr. McCain that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had no involvement with the company for the last several years. Mr. Davis’s firm received the payments from the company, Freddie Mac, until it was taken over by the government this month along with Fannie Mae, the other big mortgage lender whose deteriorating finances helped precipitate the cascading problems on Wall Street, the people said.
But is it really news that McCain and his staff are a nest of liars? The picture is of McCain and Davis at the Republican convention — just in case McCain wants to claim that he doesn't remember knowing Davis.

Is it mitigating that it was also reported that Mr. Davis didn't do
much substantive work for the company in return for the money [and that Mr Davis's firm] was kept on the payroll because of Mr. Davis’s close ties to Mr. McCain.

Mr. Davis took a leave from Davis & Manafort for the duration of the campaign, but as a partner and equity-holder continues to share in its profits.

What is McCain hiding?

Monday, September 22, 2008

McCain Camp Takes Issue With Times Coverage

The NYTimes.com reports on a McCain attack on the NY Times. (Would the McCain campaign put the Times article or a reference to it on its web page? That would be only fair.)
In a conference call with reporters, Steve Schmidt, Senator John McCain’s senior campaign adviser, was asked about an article in The Times on Monday reporting that Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, had been paid nearly $2 million by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac to head a group devoted to defend the mortgage giants against the imposition of stricter regulations.

Asked about the article, Mr. Davis, who was on the call, said the group’s sole function was to promote home ownership. But Mr. Schmidt criticized The Times for its coverage.

“Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization,” Mr. Schmidt said.
As usual the Republicans reply to critical comments by attacking the messenger. Also, they seem to be perfecting the art of accusing everyone else of their own failings. Instead of acknowledging how far McCain has slid from his once believable level of honor, they attack the Times for being dishonorable. I guess it's all in a day's work for the sleaze buckets McCain has chosen as advisers.

We're not dumb enough to fall for this sort of thing any more. Are we?

Thanks to Bob Weber for passing it on and enhancing it.

Dear Uncle Sam (I hope you don't mind my taking the liberty of being familiar),

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had a crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Graham, lobbyist for the European bank UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with your bank account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully
Minister of Treasury

Do you recall that we won the cold war? But do you also recall that Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would inevitably destroy itself? I'm sure he's having a good laugh right now.

Text of Draft Proposal for Bailout Plan

The primary provision of the Mortgage-Related Securities Bailout Plan is apparently the following.
The Secretary is authorized to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and conditions as determined by the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any financial institution having its headquarters in the United States.
It says nothing about how the Secretary will decide what price to pay for these securities. The ostensible purpose of this plan is to clear the decks and put this problem behind us. It sounds like the plan is to allow companies holding these securities to sell them to the US Government on terms to be negotiated by the Secretary. Why should we allow that?
Update2: Slate's Daniel Gross invited readers to write in with suggestions. Here's what I wrote.
Many of the companies looking for a bailout need additional capital. Unfortunately we don't know what these companies are really worth. So let's allow the government to provide the additional capital by buying stock but with a margin of safety.

Specifically my suggestion is to allow any company to value itself at 50% of its lowest market price during the past 6 months. The company would then issue additional stock--thereby diluting the existing stock. The government would buy the new stock as if it were a venture capitalist investing in the company at the 50% under market price valuation. Any company that thought it was worth more than that would not be required to participate.

If the point is to allow the companies to get these securities off their balance sheets, they can do that simply by marking them as worthless. Then they will be off their balance sheets. Of course, if they do that they will take tremendous losses. Some may even become insolvent. Why is that the obligation of the US Government to fix?

The argument is presumably that if we let the companies that own these securities go bankrupt, the entire economy will collapse. If that's the case, and if the solution is a government bailout, then perhaps the companies on the brink of bankruptcy should be taken over by the Federal government. At the least their shareholders should lose all their money. Whatever assets remain should then be sold off and the proceeds distributed to the American citizens on some equal share basis. Then we can start rebuilding. While that is happening, the government can run the bankrupt companies in the same way that the FDIC runs banks that become insolvent until their asserts are dealt with.

One way to tell Congress not to sign on to this give-away—at least without far more planning, oversight, and justice than is being proposed— is here and here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

George Will against McCain

This week on ABC George Will said the following. (See the video.)
  • The question is, who in this crisis looked more presidential, calm, and un-flustered? It wasn't John McCain who, as usual, substituting vehemence for coherence, said 'let's fire somebody.' And picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration, Chris Cox, and for no apparent reason.
  • Populism is always pandering, and pandering is never leadership.
  • McCain showed his personality this week, and it made some of us fearful.

Watching History Unfold

A nice post by Jared Bernstein Some lessons to be learned from recent events. (The posts by David Sloan Wilson and Thomas Friedman below says the same thing from other perspectives.)
--Deregulated markets cannot police themselves; they tend toward speculation, vastly underpriced risk, and deeply damaging bubbles;

--An economy that generates growth while leaving most families behind is a broken economy;

--We can neither achieve broad prosperity nor compete globally without robust growth in key sectors which we have ignored or underfunded, including manufacturing, green production, and cradle-to-retirement public education; crafting evermore clever financial instruments will not pave the way to dependable, broadly shared growth;

--No private sector firm should be too big to fail; any firm of that magnitude must be nationalized;

--Capital markets are dysfunctional; borrowing and lending standards are ignored; lax capital requirements lead to constant over-leveraging; shadow accounts thwart transparency;

--We apparently can quickly find (or borrow) the money to do the stuff the authorities deem necessary, be it war or bailout; thus, we can also find the money we need for investment in people, from health care to education to infrastructure, etc.

--Supply-side, trickle-down economics does not work; it exacerbates already excessive levels of market-driven inequalities and defunds government, which leads to:

--Clearly, we need government to be amply funded; as is the case today, we will always turn to federal government to meet the toughest challenges, and if the money isn't there, we'll borrow from the future. This means taxes cannot only be lowered; they must sometimes be raised.

Two good columns

Frank Rich

Maureen Dowd

Is Obama the Antichrist?

Nicholas Kristof.
Here’s a sad monument to the sleaziness of this presidential campaign: Almost one-third of voters “know” that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be.

In short, the political campaign to transform Mr. Obama into a Muslim is succeeding. The real loser as that happens isn’t just Mr. Obama, but our entire political process. …

Just imagine for a moment if it were the black candidate in this election, rather than the white candidate, who was born in Central America, was an indifferent churchgoer, had graduated near the bottom of his university class, had dumped his first wife, had regularly displayed an explosive and profane temper, and had referred to the Pakistani-Iraqi border ...

In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian. …

In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously.

John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that about 10 percent of Americans believe we may be in the Book of Revelation’s “end times” and are on the lookout for the Antichrist. A constant barrage of e-mail and broadcasts suggest that Mr. Obama just may be it.

The online Red State Shop sells T-shirts, mugs and stickers exploiting the idea. Some shirts and stickers portray a large “O” with horns, above a caption: “The Anti-Christ.”

To his credit, Mr. McCain himself has never raised doubts about Mr. Obama’s religion. But a McCain commercial last month mimicked the words and imagery of the best-selling Christian “Left Behind” book series in ways that would have set off alarm bells among evangelicals nervous about the Antichrist.

Mr. McCain himself is not popular with evangelicals. But they will vote for him if they think the other guy may be on Satan’s side.

Nice post by David Sloan Wilson about the naturalness (and necessity) of regulation

David Wilson, on the Huffington Post.
I hope that our economy recovers, but the time has come to declare its guiding metaphor dead. This is the metaphor of the invisible hand, which makes it seem as if the narrow pursuit of self-interest miraculously results in a well-functioning society. …

Rational choice theory takes the invisible hand metaphor literally by trying to explain the length and breadth of human behavior on the basis of individual utility maximization, which is fancy talk for the narrow pursuit of self-interest. For the general public, unfettered competition has been turned into a moral virtue and "regulation" has become a sin.

The collapse of our economy for lack of regulation was preceded by the collapse of rational choice theory. It became clear that the single minimalistic principle of self-interest could not explain the length and breadth of human behavior. Economists started to conduct experiments to discover the actual preferences that drive human behavior. The field of experimental economics was born and two of its founders (Vernon Smith and Daniel Kahneman) were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002.

Actual human preferences are all about regulation. A microcosm of America's economic collapse can be created in the laboratory in a single afternoon. Yank a group of people off the street, give them a task that requires cooperation, and most of them will play along as solid citizens. Unfortunately, a few will game the system if there is any way to cheat. Once the solid citizens realize that they're being ripped off, they withdraw their cooperation as their only defense. Provide them with an opportunity to punish the cheaters, and some (but not all) punish with zeal. Even the cheaters punish other cheaters with zeal! Once the capacity for regulation is provided in the form of rewards and punishments that can be implemented at low cost, cooperation rises to high levels. Regulation is required or cooperation will disappear, like water draining from a bathtub.

These social preferences go beyond our own species. Cooperation and cheating are behavioral options for all social species, even bacteria, and cooperation survives only to the extent that it is protected against cheating. The eternal conflict between cooperation and cheating even takes place within our own bodies, in the form of genes and cell lineages that manage to game the system at the expense of the organism upon which they depend. We call them diseases, but they are really the failure of a vast system of regulations that enable us to function as organisms as well as we do.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.

Yet another great column by Tom Friedman.
Of all the points raised by different analysts about the economy last week, surely the best was Representative Barney Frank’s reminder on “Charlie Rose” that Ronald Reagan’s favorite laugh line was telling audiences that: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ”

Hah, hah, hah.

Are you still laughing? If it weren’t for the government bailing out Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and A.I.G., and rescuing people from Hurricane Ike and pumping tons of liquidity into the banking system, our economy would be a shambles. How would you like to hear the line today: “I’m from the government, and I can’t do a darn thing for you.”

In this age of globalization, government matters more than ever. Smart, fiscally strong governments are the ones best able to empower their people to compete and win. I was just in Michigan to give a talk on energy. I can’t tell you how many business cards I collected from innovators who had either started renewable-energy companies or were working for big firms, like the Dow Chemical Company, on clean energy solutions.

It just reminded me how much innovative prowess and entrepreneurial energy is exploding from below in this country. If it were channeled and enhanced by better leadership in Washington, no one could touch us.

If I were to draw a picture of America today, it would be of the space shuttle taking off. There is all this thrust coming from below. But the booster rocket — Washington — is cracked and leaking energy, and the pilots in the cockpit are fighting over the flight plan. So we can’t achieve escape velocity to enter the next orbit — the next great industrial revolution, which is going to be E.T., energy technology.

In many ways, this election is about how we get our groove back as a country. We have been living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. President Bush has nothing to offer anymore. So that leaves us with Barack Obama and John McCain. Neither has wowed me with his reaction to the market turmoil. In fairness, though, neither man has any levers of power to pull. But what could they say that would give you confidence that they could lead us out of this rut? My test is simple: Which guy can tell people what they don’t want to hear — especially his own base.

Think how much better off McCain would be today had he nominated Michael Bloomberg as his vice president rather than Sarah Palin. McCain could have said, “I’m not an expert on markets, but I’ve got one of the best on my team.” Instead of a V.P. to re-energize America, McCain went for a V.P. to re-energize the Republican base.

So what would get my attention from McCain? If he said the following: “My fellow Americans, I’ve decided for now not to continue the Bush tax cuts, because the most important thing for our country today is to get the government’s balance sheet in order. We can’t go on cutting taxes and not cutting spending. For too long my party has indulged that nonsense. Second, I intend to have most U.S. troops out of Iraq in 24 months. We have done all we can to midwife democracy there. Iraqis need to take it from here. We need every dollar now for nation-building in America. We will do everything we can to wind down our presence and facilitate the Iraqi elections, but we’re not going to baby-sit Iraqi politicians who don’t have the will or the courage to reconcile their differences — unless they want to pay us for that. In America, baby sitters get paid.”

What would impress me from Obama? How about this: “The Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers union want a Washington bailout. The only way they will get a dime out of my administration is if the automakers and unions come up with a joint plan to retool their fleets to get an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2015 — instead of the 35 m.p.g. by 2020 that they’ve reluctantly accepted. I am not going to bail out Detroit with taxpayer money, but I will invest in Detroit’s transformation with taxpayer money, provided the management and unions agree to radical change. At the same time, while I will go along with the bailout of the banking system, it will only be on the condition that the institutions that got us into this mess accept sweeping reforms — in terms of transparency and limits on the leverage they can amass — so we don’t go through something like this again. To help me figure this out, I’m going to keep Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on the job for a while. I am impressed with his handling of this crisis.”

Those are the kind of words that would get my attention. The last president who challenged his base was Bill Clinton, when he reformed welfare and created a budget surplus with a fair and equitable tax program. George W. Bush never once — not one time — challenged Americans to do anything hard, let alone great. The next president is not going to have that luxury. He will have to ask everyone to do something hard — and I want to know now who is up to that task.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not strong enough

Here's Obama's latest ad.

The Washington old boy's network is a McCain staff meeting. Clever. But not strong enough. The message is McCain lies. He didn't say it.

McCain lies, again

Last March in an interview with the Wall Street Journal McCain said, "I am always for less regulation." Now that the banking system has fallen apart due to lax regulation he says, "We need strong and effective regulation."

Obama's reply seems to be that he was there first and would be a better regulator because he really believes in it.

Obama's message should be that McCain lies again. That's got to be his message from here on. McCain lies. Say it over and over. It's no longer about policy. McCain will take any policy stand he thinks will win votes. He's for change. He's for regulation. He's for ending the war. He's anti-Bush. Etc. You can't beat him on policy grounds because he has no policy. He'll be whatever you want him to be. You have to beat him by making sure the public sees him for what he is: a shameless hypocritical liar.

Here is the choice the country faces: a , incompetent, dishonorable, not-very-bright Republican white man who has converted himself from a straight-talking maverick into a farce and who wants to continue the policies in place for the past 8 disastrous Republican years or a competent, intelligent, honorable African-American. I think the country actually understands that this is the choice. Yet I'm so afraid the country will chose the white man. I'm sorry to have to put it this way but it seems to me that the only way to turn this around is to make McCain so ugly that even an African-American will look better.

Palin on government subsidies

By Timothy Egan
Timothy Egan worked for 18 years as a writer for The New York Times, first as the Pacific Northwest correspondent, then as a national enterprise reporter. In 2006, Mr. Egan won the National Book Award for his history of people who lived through the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time. In 2001, he won the Pulitzer Prize as part of a team of reporters who wrote the series How Race Is Lived in America. Mr. Egan is the author of five books, including "The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest," and "Lasso the Wind, Away to the New West." He lives in Seattle.
A few years ago, I met Harvey Baskin, one of the last of Alaska’s taxpayer-subsidized dairy farmers, at his farm outside Anchorage. The state had spent more than $120 million to create farms where none existed before. The epic project was a miserable failure.

“You want to know how to lose money in a hurry?” Harvey told me, while kicking rock-hard clumps of frozen manure. “Become a farmer with the state of Alaska as your partner. This is what you call negative farming.”

That lesson was lost on Palin. As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, Governor Palin overturned a decision to shutter a money-losing, state-run creamery — Matanuska Maid — when her friends in Wasilla complained about losing their subsidies. She fired the board that recommended closure, and replaced it with one run by a childhood friend. After six months, and nearly $1 million in fresh losses, the board came to the same conclusion as the earlier one: Matanuska Maid could not operate without being a perpetual burden on the taxpayers.

This is Heckuva-Job-Brownie government, Far North version.

On a larger scale, consider the proposal to build a 1,715-mile natural gas pipeline, which Palin touts as one of her most significant achievements. Private companies complained they couldn’t build it without government help. That’s where Palin came to the rescue, ensuring that the state would back the project to the tune of $500 million.

And let’s not talk about voodoo infrastructure without one more mention of the bridge that Palin has yet to tell the truth about. The plan was to get American taxpayers to pay for a span that would be 80 feet higher than the Brooklyn Bridge, and about 20 feet short of the Golden Gate — all to serve a tiny airport with a half-dozen or so flights a day and a perfectly good five-minute ferry. Until it was laughed out of Congress, Palin backed it — big time, as the current vice president would say.

Why build it? Because it’s Alaska, where people are used to paying no state taxes and getting the rest of us to buck up for things they can’t afford. Alaska, where the first thing a visitor sees upon landing in Anchorage is the sign welcoming you to Ted Stevens International Airport. Stevens, of course, is the 84-year-old Republican senator indicted on multiple felony charges. He may still win re-election thanks to Palin’s popularity at the top of the ballot.

Alaskans will get $231 per person in federal earmarks — 10 times more than people in Barack Obama’s home state. That’s this year, with Palin as governor.

If Palin were a true reformer, she would tell Congress thanks, but no thanks to that other bridge to nowhere.

Yes, there is another one — a proposal to connect Anchorage to an empty peninsula, speeding the commute to Palin’s hometown by a few minutes. It could cost up to $2 billion. The official name is Don Young’s Way, after the congressman who got the federal bridge earmarks. Of late, he’s spent more $1 million in legal fees fending off corruption investigations. Oh, and Young’s son-in-law has a stake in the property at one end of the bridge.

Some of these projects might be fully explained should Palin ever open herself up to questions. This week she sat down for her second interview — with Sean Hannity of Fox, who has shown sufficient “deference” to Palin, as the campaign requested.

One question: When Palin says “government has got to get out of the way” of the private sector, as she proclaimed this week, does that apply to dairy farms, bridges and gas pipelines in her state? I didn’t think so.

Palin's church

This documentary video on Palin's church was the subject of a story in the Huffington Post.

Sarah Palin's Churches and The Third Wave from Bruce Wilson on Vimeo.

What is your explanation for why the McCain campaign hasn't vaporized by now?
  • The current Republican administration is despised;
  • Palin and McCain have both been shown to be manifestly incompetent;
  • Palin is a right wing religious nutcase;
  • McCain is a hypocritical and baldfaced liar;
  • McCain is a hothead who thinks war ("I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars.") is the solution to most problems and who is likely to keep us in the current one and get us into another one;
  • McCain's economic, health care, and other internal policies are essentially a copy (or worse) or Bush's;
  • Obama is a strong, intelligent, believable candidate.
In any other year, the Republicans would have melted down by now. Yet the polls show them as tied, with Palin perhaps even more popular than McCain. Certainly McCain and Palin have significant personal appeal. But it can't be just that? Can it? Are the American people that stupid? Besides, as the McCain campaign noted with envy, Obama has significant personal appeal as well. Or is it really just simple racism, with a significant portion of the population grabbing at any straw to avoid voting for an African American for president?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Clever spam attempt

I just received this message. (No images were included.)
You are receiving this email because you or someone else subscribed your email address to an email database that sends out information about swinger lifestyle and erotic events.

If you did not subscribe to this email database and want to be removed from it, please unsubscribe below, so your email address is removed.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation.
Since I didn't subscribe to this mailing list, and since I don't believe anyone else submitted my email address, I'm assuming that the message is an attempt to verify email addresses for a spam mailing list. I didn't reply although one can see how people would be tempted to do so to get their names of the list.

Demand "The Debate We Need"

Please email the moderators of the up-coming presidential and VP debates — Tom Brokaw, Gwen Ifill, Jim Lehrer, and Bob Schieffer. Urge them to help move America beyond the gossip, the gotcha politics, and the horse-race journalism and refocus the debate on the issues that matter most to most Americans.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why Experience Matters

Even conservatives like David Brooks think that McCain was a fool to pick Palin.

Brooks is a certified conservative. The fact that he is willing to write an opinion piece that can be used to criticize McCain's judgment and to argue against voting for Palin as VP means that he would rather lose the election than risk 4 years of McCain-Palin.
Philosophical debates arise at the oddest times, and in the heat of this election season, one is now rising in Republican ranks. The narrow question is this: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be vice president? Most conservatives say yes, on the grounds that something that feels so good could not possibly be wrong. But a few commentators, like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat demur, suggesting in different ways that she is unready.

The issue starts with an evaluation of Palin, but does not end there. This argument also is over what qualities the country needs in a leader and what are the ultimate sources of wisdom.

There was a time when conservatives did not argue about this. Conservatism was once a frankly elitist movement. Conservatives stood against radical egalitarianism and the destruction of rigorous standards. They stood up for classical education, hard-earned knowledge, experience and prudence. Wisdom was acquired through immersion in the best that has been thought and said.

But, especially in America, there has always been a separate, populist, strain. For those in this school, book knowledge is suspect but practical knowledge is respected. The city is corrupting and the universities are kindergartens for overeducated fools.

The elitists favor sophistication, but the common-sense folk favor simplicity. The elitists favor deliberation, but the populists favor instinct.

This populist tendency produced the term-limits movement based on the belief that time in government destroys character but contact with grass-roots America gives one grounding in real life. And now it has produced Sarah Palin.

Palin is the ultimate small-town renegade rising from the frontier to do battle with the corrupt establishment. Her followers take pride in the way she has aroused fear, hatred and panic in the minds of the liberal elite. The feminists declare that she’s not a real woman because she doesn’t hew to their rigid categories. People who’ve never been in a Wal-Mart think she is parochial because she has never summered in Tuscany.

Look at the condescension and snobbery oozing from elite quarters, her backers say. Look at the endless string of vicious, one-sided attacks in the news media. This is what elites produce. This is why regular people need to take control.

And there’s a serious argument here. In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.

Experienced leaders can certainly blunder if their minds have rigidified (see: Rumsfeld, Donald), but the records of leaders without long experience and prudence is not good. As George Will pointed out, the founders used the word “experience” 91 times in the Federalist Papers. Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.

McCain’s Radical Health-Care Agenda

A good column by Bob Herbert
Talk about a shock to the system. Has anyone bothered to notice the radical changes that John McCain and Sarah Palin are planning for the nation’s health insurance system?

These are changes that will set in motion nothing less than the dismantling of the employer-based coverage that protects most American families.

A study coming out Tuesday from scholars at Columbia, Harvard, Purdue and Michigan projects that 20 million Americans who have employment-based health insurance would lose it under the McCain plan.

There is nothing secret about Senator McCain’s far-reaching proposals, but they haven’t gotten much attention because the chatter in this campaign has mostly been about nonsense — lipstick, celebrities and “Drill, baby, drill!”

For starters, the McCain health plan would treat employer-paid health benefits as income that employees would have to pay taxes on.

“It means your employer is going to have to make an estimate on how much the employer is paying for health insurance on your behalf, and you are going to have to pay taxes on that money,” said Sherry Glied, an economist who chairs the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Ms. Glied is one of the four scholars who have just completed an independent joint study of the plan. Their findings are being published on the Web site of the policy journal, Health Affairs.

According to the study: “The McCain plan will force millions of Americans into the weakest segment of the private insurance system — the nongroup market — where cost-sharing is high, covered services are limited and people will lose access to benefits they have now.”

The net effect of the plan, the study said, “almost certainly will be to increase family costs for medical care.”

Under the McCain plan (now the McCain-Palin plan) employees who continue to receive employer-paid health benefits would look at their pay stubs each week or each month and find that additional money had been withheld to cover the taxes on the value of their benefits.

While there might be less money in the paycheck, that would not be anything to worry about, according to Senator McCain. That’s because the government would be offering all taxpayers a refundable tax credit — $2,500 for a single worker and $5,000 per family — to be used “to help pay for your health care.”

You may think this is a good move or a bad one — but it’s a monumental change in the way health coverage would be provided to scores of millions of Americans. Why not more attention?

The whole idea of the McCain plan is to get families out of employer-paid health coverage and into the health insurance marketplace, where naked competition is supposed to take care of all ills. (We’re seeing in the Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch fiascos just how well the unfettered marketplace has been working.)

Taxing employer-paid health benefits is the first step in this transition, the equivalent of injecting poison into the system. It’s the beginning of the end.

When younger, healthier workers start seeing additional taxes taken out of their paychecks, some (perhaps many) will opt out of the employer-based plans — either to buy cheaper insurance on their own or to go without coverage.

That will leave employers with a pool of older, less healthy workers to cover. That coverage will necessarily be more expensive, which will encourage more and more employers to give up on the idea of providing coverage at all.

The upshot is that many more Americans — millions more — will find themselves on their own in the bewildering and often treacherous health insurance marketplace. As Senator McCain has said: “I believe the key to real reform is to restore control over our health care system to the patients themselves.”

Yet another radical element of McCain’s plan is his proposal to undermine state health insurance regulations by allowing consumers to buy insurance from sellers anywhere in the country. So a requirement in one state that insurers cover, for example, vaccinations, or annual physicals, or breast examinations, would essentially be meaningless.

In a refrain we’ve heard many times in recent years, Mr. McCain said he is committed to ridding the market of these “needless and costly” insurance regulations.

This entire McCain health insurance transformation is right out of the right-wing Republicans’ ideological playbook: fewer regulations; let the market decide; and send unsophisticated consumers into the crucible alone.

You would think that with some of the most venerable houses on Wall Street crumbling like sand castles right before our eyes, we’d be a little wary about spreading this toxic formula even further into the health care system.

But we’re not even paying much attention.

The Ugly New McCain

A column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post.
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.

The precise moment of McCain's abasement came, would you believe, not at some news conference or on one of the Sunday shows but on "The View," the daytime TV show created by Barbara Walters. Last week, one of the co-hosts, Joy Behar, took McCain to task for some of the ads his campaign has been running. One deliberately mischaracterized what Barack Obama had said about putting lipstick on a pig -- an Americanism that McCain himself has used. The other asserted that Obama supported teaching sex education to kindergarteners.

"We know that those two ads are untrue," Behar said. "They are lies."

Freeze. Close in on McCain. This was the moment. He has largely been avoiding the press. The Straight Talk Express is now just a brand, an ad slogan like "Home Cooking" or "We Will Not Be Undersold." Until then, it was possible for McCain to say that he had not really known about the ads, that the formulation "I approve this message" was just boilerplate. But he didn't.

"Actually, they are not lies," he said.

Actually, they are.

McCain has turned ugly. His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most. He has contempt for most of his colleagues for that very reason: They lie. He tells the truth. He internalizes the code of the McCains -- his grandfather, his father: both admirals of the shining sea. He serves his country differently, that's all -- but just as honorably. No more, though.

I am one of the journalists accused over the years of being in the tank for McCain. Guilty. Those doing the accusing usually attributed my feelings to McCain being accessible. This is the journalist-as-puppy school of thought: Give us a treat, and we will leap into a politician's lap.

Not so. What impressed me most about McCain was the effect he had on his audiences, particularly young people. When he talked about service to a cause greater than oneself, he struck a chord. He expressed his message in words, but he packaged it in the McCain story -- that man, beaten to a pulp, who chose honor over freedom. This had nothing to do with access. It had to do with integrity.

McCain has soiled all that. His opportunistic and irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his political heir -- the person in whose hands he would leave the country -- is a form of personal treason, a betrayal of all he once stood for. Palin, no matter what her other attributes, is shockingly unprepared to become president. McCain knows that. He means to win, which is all right; he means to win at all costs, which is not.

At a forum last week at Columbia University, McCain said, "But right now we have to restore trust and confidence in government." This was always the promise of John McCain, the single best reason to vote for him. America has been cheated on too many times -- the lies of Vietnam and Watergate and Iraq. So many lies. Who believes that in Afghanistan last month, only five civilians were killed by the American military in an airstrike, instead of the approximately 90 claimed by the Afghan government? Not me. I first gave up on the military during Vietnam and then again when it covered up the death of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger and former NFL player who was killed in 2004 by friendly fire.

McCain was going to fix all that. He was going to look the American people in the eyes and say, not me. I will not lie to you. I am John McCain, son and grandson of admirals. I tell the truth.

But Joy Behar knew better. And so McCain lied about his lying and maybe thinks that if he wins the election, he can -- as he did in South Carolina -- renounce who he was and what he did and resume his old persona. It won't work. Karl Marx got one thing right -- what he said about history repeating itself. Once is tragedy, a second time is farce. John McCain is both.
See also Krugman and Sullivan on McCain's self-debasement.

Testing Your Approximate Number Sense

Neat test. Apparently one's ability to make number approximations correlates with one's ability to do abstract mathematics. Take the test.

Call in to object to smears against Obama

Thanks to Kathleen Engman for forwarding this.
From the Obama Action Wire.
The author of the latest anti-Barack hit book is appearing on WGN Radio in the Chicagoland market tonight. Your help is urgently needed to make sure his baseless lies don't gain credibility.

David Freddoso has made a career off dishonest, extreme hate mongering, even calling legislation to protect people from hate crimes the "Thought Police."

And WGN apparently thinks this card-carrying member of the right-wing smear machine needs a bigger platform for his lies and smears about Barack Obama -- on the public airwaves.

Freddoso will be on WGN tonight from 9:00 to 11:00 to promote his new attack book against Barack.

Tell WGN that by providing Freddoso with airtime, they are legitimizing baseless attacks from a smear merchant and lowering the standards of political discourse.

Call into the "Extension 720" show with Milt Rosenberg at (312) 591-7200

Here's some background on Freddoso

The Facts on Freddoso's book, The Case Against Barack Obama:

* Freddoso asks Barack, "How many unrepentant Communist terrorists do you have as friends?" [p. 126] This question is so ridiculous it refutes itself. Barack might as well ask Freddoso how many leprechauns he's friends with.
* Claims about taxes are "simply wrong":

• LIE: "Meanwhile, he argues that the wealthy need to pay more in taxes, and in March he voted to raise yours if your taxable income is greater than $32,500 a year." [p. xiii]

• TRUTH: Factcheck.org: The McCain Campaign "Is Simply Wrong To Say Obama Supported Raising Taxes On Those Making 'As Little As $32,000 A Year.'" [Factcheck.org, 7/8/08]
* Freddoso has no understanding of Chicago politics:

• LIE: "When Veteran Cook County Boss John Stroger faced a strong and credible challenge in the 2006 primary election from a reform-minded liberal Democrat, Obama said nothing...Obama's silence had probably saved Cook County's political kingpin." [pp. 8, 14]

• TRUTH: Obama's Neutrality Sent "A Silent Signal" That Was Helpful To Claypool. [Chicago Sun-Times, 3/16/06]

• TRUTH: Stroger Supported Hynes Against Obama In The Primary, Came With Stroger Machine Bodies. [From Promise To Power, pp. 207 - 208]
* Claims about "born alive" bill are completely inaccurate:

• LIE: "Three years later, he would offer this explanation for his opposition to the Illinois legislation in The Audacity of Hope: It mandated lifesaving measures for premature babies (the bill didn't mention that such measures were already the law) - but also extended 'personhood' to pre-viable fetuses, thereby effectively overturning Roe v. Wade. This is not true. Such measures were not already the law in Illinois." [p. 198]

• TRUTH: Illinois Law Stated That A Doctor Must Preserve The Life And Health Of A Fetus If In The Course Of An Abortion, There Is Reasonable Likelihood Of Sustained Survival. [Illinois Compiled Statutes, 720 ILCS 510/6]

A history of vicious partisan attacks:

* Freddoso Accused Hillary Clinton Of Getting Botox Treatments, Said Listening To Bill Clinton Gave Him "Nausea." [Human Events, 7/27/04]
* Freddoso Said John Kerry Used "Anti-American Rhetoric." [Human Events, 9/3/04]

Freddoso Thinks He's an Expert on Everything:

* Freddoso Criticized Mental Health Parity Legislation, Accused Patrick Kennedy Of Using Rehab As A Ploy To Generate Sympathy. [National Review Online, 5/15/07]
* Freddoso Called Hate Crimes Legislation "Thought Police." [Human Events, 6/25/04]
* Freddoso Called SCHIP "Welfare For Those Already Faring Well." [National Review Online, 8/22/07]
* Freddoso Accused Michael Schiavo And The ACLU Of Trying To Starve Terri Schiavo. [Human Events, 11/3/03]
* Freddoso: Kyoto Protocol Will "Destroy Manufacturing [...] And Cause Millions Of Jobs To Be Lost." [Human Events, 12/2/03]

The Obama Action Wire is a grassroots rapid response group for supporters to fight smears, spread the truth, push back on misleading media, and take positive action.

Forward this email to everyone you know or sign up for the Obama Action Wire now.
You can donate to the Obama Action Wire here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Comparing tax plans

From the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Higher bars mean more income after the respective tax plans are put into effect. McCain would give lots and lots of money to the top 0.1% of the population, people like him. Obama would give money to the middle and lower income earners.

Stay on message: McCain lies. It's about branding, not debating.

Here's a paragraph from an AP piece documenting McCain's lies.
'In the last two election cycles, the very notion that the facts matter seems to be under assault,' said Michael X. Delli Carpini, an authority on political ads at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. 'Candidates and their consultants seem to have learned that as long as you don't back down from your charges or claims, they will stick in the minds of voters regardless of their accuracy or at a minimum, what the truth is will remain murky, a matter of opinion rather than fact.' [Emphasis added.]
So Obama should learn the lesson. His message should be: McCain lies. It doesn't matter whether facts support that claim—although they do. What matters is that we say it loud enough and often enough to make it stick in people's minds.

This should become an Obama position, like his economic position, his health position, his position on the war, etc. The point of saying it is not to make McCain admit that he's lying. The point is to get the image of a lying McCain established in the mind of the public.

When I say this to people they often tell me that we need credible, i.e., non-Democratic, sources to say that McCain is a liar. And they must be prepared to back up their statement with solid evidence. That's not the point. It isn't a matter of conveying an honest and believable message or having a credible (to the unthinking) source say that McCain lies. What matters is that the message be repeated over and over and over and over until the people who don't think and who aren't impressed with logic, or evidence, or credible testimony get it drilled into their heads. After all, McCain is not a credible source for information about Obama. But his campaign tells lies about Obama with the objective of having those lies seep into the consciousness of people who don't think. That's the point. It's not a debate; it's a battle of advertising and branding. We must brand McCain as a liar, not convince anyone about it.

Bering Straight Talk

Maureen Dowd
An Arctic blast of action has swept into the 2008 race, making thinking passĂ©. We don’t really need to hurt our brains studying the world; we just need the world to know we’re capable of bringing a world of hurt to the world if the world continues to be hell-bent on misbehaving.

Two weeks after being thrown onto a national ticket, and moments after being speed-briefed by McCain foreign-policy advisers, our new Napoleon in bunny boots (not the Pamela Anderson kind, but the knock-offs of the U.S. Army Extreme Cold Weather Vapor Barrier Boots) is ready to face down the Russkies and start a land war over Georgia, and, holy cow, what business is it of ours if Israel attacks Iran?

The trigger-happy John McCain has indeed found a soul mate. Trigger squared. In Fairbanks on Thursday, at a deployment ceremony for her son who is going to Iraq, Governor Palin followed the lead of McCain and W. in fusing Osama bin Laden’s diabolical work on 9/11 and the mission in Iraq. She told the departing troops, “You’ll be there to defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans. …

Like W., Sarah has the power of positive unthinking. But now we may want to think about where ignorance and pride and no self-doubt has gotten us. Being quick on the trigger might be good in moose hunting, but in dealing with Putin, a little knowledge might come in handy.

The Corner on National Review Online

From the conservative National Review talking about Palin's pregnant daughter.
If the Obamas had a 17 year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if that they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.

Sarah Palin as Sarah Palin

Miss Wasilla, 1984.

Anyone with the nerve to run for VP with as little experience as she has deserves whatever ridicule she gets.

And any country that elects her deserves whatever fate it gets.

Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes

From the NYTimes.com
Gov. Sarah Palin lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.

So when there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.

Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages.

When Ms. Palin had to cut her first state budget, she avoided the legion of frustrated legislators and mayors. Instead, she huddled with her budget director and her husband, Todd, an oil field worker who is not a state employee, and vetoed millions of dollars of legislative projects. …

Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials. …

Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.

Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process.

When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.

“Their secrecy is off the charts,” Mr. Steiner said.

State legislators are investigating accusations that Ms. Palin and her husband pressured officials to fire a state trooper who had gone through a messy divorce with her sister, charges that she denies. But interviews make clear that the Palins draw few distinctions between the personal and the political.

Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend.

“I understood from the call that Todd wasn’t happy with me hiring John and he’d like to see him not there,” Mr. Harris said.

“The Palin family gets upset at personal issues,” he added. “And at our level, they want to strike back.”

Through a campaign spokesman, Mr. Palin said he “did not recall” referring to Mr. Bitney in the conversation.
That record makes Frank Rich's suggestion that if elected Palin and her right-wing buddies will out-Cheney Cheney given how weak McCain has become.
If we’ve learned anything from the G.O.P. convention and its aftermath, it’s that the 2008 edition of John McCain is too weak to serve as America’s chief executive. This unmentionable truth, more than race, is now the real elephant in the room of this election.

No longer able to remember his principles any better than he can distinguish between Sunnis and Shia, McCain stands revealed as a guy who can be easily rolled by anyone who sells him a plan for “victory,” whether in Iraq or in Michigan. A McCain victory on Election Day will usher in a Palin presidency, with McCain serving as a transitional front man, an even weaker Bush to her Cheney.

The ambitious Palin and the ruthless forces she represents know it, too. You can almost see them smacking their lips in anticipation, whether they’re wearing lipstick or not.

This was made clear in the most chilling passage of Palin’s acceptance speech. Aligning herself with “a young farmer and a haberdasher from Missouri” who “followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency,” she read a quote from an unidentified writer who, she claimed, had praised Truman: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.” Then Palin added a snide observation of her own: Such small-town Americans, she said, “run our factories” and “fight our wars” and are “always proud” of their country. As opposed to those lazy, shiftless, unproud Americans — she didn’t have to name names — who are none of the above.

There were several creepy subtexts at work here. The first was the choice of Truman. Most 20th-century vice presidents and presidents in both parties hailed from small towns, but she just happened to alight on a Democrat who ascended to the presidency when an ailing president died in office. Just as striking was the unnamed writer she quoted. He was identified by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journal as the now largely forgotten but once powerful right-wing Hearst columnist Westbrook Pegler.

Palin, who lies with ease about her own record, misrepresented Pegler’s too. He decreed America was “done for” after Truman won a full term in 1948. For his part, Truman regarded the columnist as a “guttersnipe,” and with good reason. Pegler was a rabid Joe McCarthyite who loathed F.D.R. and Ike and tirelessly advanced the theory that American Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe (“geese,” he called them) were all likely Communists.

Surely Palin knows no more about Pegler than she does about the Bush doctrine. But the people around her do, and they will be shaping a Palin presidency. That they would inject not just Pegler’s words but spirit into their candidate’s speech shows where they’re coming from. Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, said that the Palin-sparked convention created “a whole new Republican Party,” but what it actually did was exhume an old one from its crypt.

The specifics have changed in our new century, but the vitriolic animus of right-wing populism preached by Pegler and McCarthy and revived by the 1990s culture wars remains the same. The game is always to pit the good, patriotic real Americans against those subversive, probably gay “cosmopolitan” urbanites (as the sometime cross-dresser Rudy Giuliani has it) who threaten to take away everything that small-town folk hold dear.

The racial component to this brand of politics was undisguised in St. Paul. Americans saw a virtually all-white audience yuk it up when Giuliani ridiculed Barack Obama’s “only in America” success as an affirmative-action fairy tale — and when he and Palin mocked Obama’s history as a community organizer in Chicago. Neither party has had so few black delegates (1.5 percent) in the 40 years since the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies started keeping a record.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Saturday, September 13, 2008

She’s Not Ready—but neither is any other hockey mom. Let's have a lottery for VP.

From Bob Herbert 9/12 column.
In the spin zones of cable TV, commentators repeatedly made the point that there are probably very few voters — some specifically mentioned “hockey moms” — who could explain the Bush doctrine. But that’s exactly the reason we have such long and intense campaigns. You want to find the individuals who best understand these issues, who will address them in sophisticated and creative ways that enhance the well-being of the nation.

The Bush doctrine, which flung open the doors to the catastrophe in Iraq, was such a fundamental aspect of the administration’s foreign policy that it staggers the imagination that we could have someone no further than a whisper away from the White House who doesn’t even know what it is.

You can’t imagine that John McCain or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or Joe Lieberman would not know what the Bush doctrine is. But Sarah Palin? Absolutely clueless. …

John McCain, who is shameless about promoting himself as America’s ultimate patriot, put the best interests of the nation aside in making his incredibly reckless choice of a running mate. But there is a profound double standard in this country. The likes of John McCain and George W. Bush can do the craziest, most irresponsible things imaginable, and it only seems to help them politically.
The question this election is going to answer is whether the citizens of this country have enough sense left to understand what they are voting for. Or have we been so hypnotized by Republican anti-intellectual propaganda that we are ready to vote for people on the grounds that they can't think—"just like you and me"—and therefore are "one of us," and on those grounds are qualified to be President.

Here's where Paul Krugman made a similar comment.

NYTimes and LATimes are finally reporting McCain's lies as news!

From a news story in the NYTimes.com
Mr. McCain came into the race promoting himself as a truth teller and has long publicly deplored the kinds of negative tactics that helped sink his candidacy in the Republican primaries in 2000. But his strategy now reflects a calculation advisers made this summer — over the strenuous objections of some longtime hands who helped him build his “Straight Talk” image — to shift the campaign more toward disqualifying Mr. Obama in the eyes of voters.

“I think the McCain folks realize if they can get this thing down in the mud, drag Obama into the mud, that’s where they have the best advantage to win,” said Matthew Dowd, who worked with many top McCain campaign advisers when he was President Bush’s chief strategist in the 2004 campaign, but who has since had a falling out with the White House. “If they stay up at 10,000 feet, they don’t.”

For all the criticism, the offensive seems to be having an impact. It has been widely credited by strategists in both parties with rejuvenating Mr. McCain’s campaign and putting Mr. Obama on the defensive since it began early this summer.
At least the NY Times finally has the guts to report McCain's lies as news and not just as opinion!

The LATimes is reporting his lies as news also.
John McCain got it wrong Friday when he asserted that his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had not requested any earmarks, the spending directives lawmakers insert in spending bills that McCain has vowed to eliminate.

Palin, in fact, requested $198 million in federal earmarks in February, including such expenses as $487,000 to fight obesity in Alaska and $4 million to develop recreational trails.