Friday, October 31, 2008

Is religion good or bad?

Obviously that's much too broad a question. And when it is asked, people usually respond by pointing to the good and bad things people do in the name of religion—e.g., like helping those in need (good) and the crusades (bad).

But I think there is a real answer. A column by George Monbiot in The Guardian reminded me why, in general, I think religion is bad: at its core religion teaches people to favor faith over taking responsibility for one's beliefs and actions.

One can probably stop there. Is it ever a good idea to encourage people not to think for themselves? I doubt it. Even when people come to incorrect conclusions by thinking for themselves, one at least has a chance with them if they are open to the idea that one should think things through. Religion closes that door by closing people's mind. It encourages a perspective in which a given opinion is to be accepted no matter what—because it is God's will or God's word, for example. The point is not whether some particular position is or is not "God's will" or "God's word." The problem is with the idea that one should decide something by asking whether it is "God's will" or "God's word." That sort of thinking allows people to let themselves off the hook of taking responsibility for their own actions and decisions.

It's a lot easier simply to go along with the crowd or to do whatever one's religious leader says. That's true whether one is religious or not. But the problem with religion (and any cult) is that it encourages that sort of behavior. By its very definition, one of the fundamental teachings of a faith-based religion is mindless faith.

I'm finding it difficult to express how deeply angry I feel about this. A country whose citizens are trained to be meek (and sometimes not so meek) followers of their religious leaders will inevitably become a backwater of ignorance and stupidity. That's what religion is doing to this country, and I hate it for that.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A McCain heart attack

I'd like to see what would happen if a rumor started on November 3 that John McCain had a heart attack and was in the hospital in critical condition. If he and Palin win the election and if he remains in that state until after the inauguration, Sarah Palin will become Acting President until he either dies (in which case she will become President) or recovers.


1a. Build a fast LA - SF train. No.
2. Gets laying chickens out of cages. No matter what, the chickens are doomed. Yes.
3. Bonds for children's hospitals. Still have unissued authorized bonds. State can't take on more debt anyway. No.
4. Parental notification. No.
5. Probation instead of jail for drug offenses. Yes.
6. More crime stuff and more prisons. No.
7. Increases the clean-generation requirement on investor-owned utilities. Most environmental groups oppose it. No.
8. Outlaws same-sex marriage. No.
9. "Victim's rights." No.
10. Subsidize natural gas for T. Boone Pickens. No.
11. Removes redistricting from legislature. Will probably help Republicans but may make for better government and is probably a good idea. Yes.
12. Bonds to back Cal-Vet mortgages. Yes.

Danny Elfman: Battling Our Greatest Fear

From Danny Elfman
About a month ago, I found myself dropping into an all too familiar pre-election depression. I was having dinner with my wife, a writer and a journalist friend. The jovial topic of discussion was where we were thinking of moving when McCain-Palin won and the inevitable Supreme Court changes occurred. My wife and I had discussed England and my friend informed me that she and her husband had considered New Zealand.

Yes. It had seemed that bleak. Am I a pessimist? Yes, I am. That's the way I'm wired. And the last two presidential elections really nailed it for me -- big time. The Republicans, had in my opinion gotten too big, too nasty, mean spirited and ruthless to be stopped. They were able to 'copyright' the word FEAR and use it again and again to effectively hammer the American public. And the Democrats, it seemed, had become too easy to attack. Like a mismatched boxing opponent in a ring with no referee, their reactions were too slow, leaving them open to low groin shots and head butts.

In short, the Dems seemed to make lousy fighters.
So he did something about it.
I won't go into how difficult it really is to begin a political non-profit group, to understand the myriad of rules and regulations, the differences of 527 groups and PAC organizations. It's really boring....'nough said on that.

But once started, it was hard to stop. And suffice it to say, it was a great relief for my wife to see me doing something that both shut me up with my constant whining and seemed to have snapped me out of the terrible hopeless mental state I had fallen into.

So here we are a month later, with a TV ad and internet ad and a PAC called And it's interesting to see how this message is even more relevant now that the Palin effect has mushroomed to such monumental proportions.
I just gave them $100. You can too.

Please Fight Proposition 8's Assault On Same-Sex Marriage

From Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.
I'm angry and heartsick about what may happen in California on November 4th.

In the most personal way possible, I'm asking you for a favor: help us ensure that gay couples all across California keep their fundamental right to marriage — the basic right to be treated just like anybody else.

I hope you will forgive the indulgence when I speak from the heart and tell you my personal story.

You see, I grew up in a loving and supportive household, where my family believed I could be anything I chose — anything except being an openly gay man. Neither of my parents finished high school, and yet, they believed I could accomplish all I set out to do as I went off to Princeton University and Stanford Law School.

They got me through the toughest of times, scrimped and saved, and always believed that failure wasn't in the cards for me. They had more faith in me than I often had in myself. Whenever my parents visited me at Princeton, my Dad would slip a $20 bill in my pocket when my Mom wasn't looking. I never had the courage to tell him that the $20 wouldn't go very far towards my bills, books and tuition. But, it was his support and belief in me that sustained me more than the tens of thousands of dollars I received in scholarships.

When I finished college, they were hugely proud of my — and their — accomplishments. That was until I told them I was gay and wanted to live life as an openly gay man.

Though I always knew I was gay, I didn't come out to them for many years, as I was afraid of losing the love and support that had allowed me to succeed against all odds. When I did tell them, they cried and even shouted. I ended up leaving their home that night to spend a sleepless night on a friend's sofa. We were all heartbroken.

When my Mom and I spoke later, my Mom said, "But, Antonio (that's the name she uses with me), hasn't your life been hard enough? People will hurt you and hate you because of this." She, of course, was right — as gay and lesbian people didn't only suffer discrimination from working-class, Puerto Rican Catholics, but from the broader society. She felt that I had escaped the public housing projects in the Bronx, only to suffer another prejudice — one that might be harder to beat — as the law wasn't on my side. At the time, it felt like her own homophobia. Now I see there was also a mother's love and a real desire to protect her son. She was not wrong at a very fundamental level. She knew that treating gay and lesbian people like second class citizens — people who may be worthy of "tolerance, " as Sarah Palin asserts, but not of equality — was and still is the last socially-acceptable prejudice.

Even before I came out to them, I struggled to accept myself as a gay man. I didn't want to lose the love of my family, and I wanted a family of my own — however I defined it. I ultimately chose to find my own way in life as a gay man. This wasn't as easy as it sounds even though it was the mid-1980s. I watched loved ones and friends die of AIDS. I was convinced I would never see my 40th birthday, much less find a partner whom I could marry.

As years passed, my Mom, Dad and I came to a peace, and they came to love and respect me for who I am. They even came to defend my right to live with equality and dignity — often fighting against the homophobia they heard among their family and friends and in church.

The right to be equal citizens and to marry whomever we wish — unimaginable to me when I first came out — is now ours to lose in California unless we stand up for what's right. All of us must fight against what's wrong. In my 43 short years of life, I have seen gay and lesbian people go from pariahs and objects of legally-sanctioned discrimination to being on the cusp of full equality. The unimaginable comes true in our America if we make it happen. But, it requires effort and struggle.

One of the things I love about the ACLU is that it's an organization that understands we are all in this together. We recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Given what's at stake in the outcome of this election, I am personally appealing to you for help to fight the forces of intolerance from carrying the day in California next Tuesday.

If you have friends and family in California, please contact them right now, and ask them to vote NO on Proposition 8. You can send them a message here.

We need to make sure people keep in mind that gay people are part of every family and every community — that like everyone else, gay people want the same rights to commit to their partners, to take care of each other and to take responsibility for each other. We shouldn’t deny that, and we shouldn’t write discrimination into any constitution in any state. Certainly, we can't let that happen in California after the highest court in the state granted gay and lesbian people their full equality.

Unfortunately, due to a vicious, deceitful $30 million advertising blitz, the supporters of Prop 8 may be within days of taking that fundamental right away.

To stop the forces of discrimination from succeeding, we have to win over conflicted voters who aren't sure they're ready for gay marriage but who are also uncomfortable going into a voting booth and stripping away people's rights. With the ACLU contributing time, energy and millions of dollars to the effort, we're working hard to reach those key voters before next Tuesday.

If you have friends and family in California, please contact them right now, and ask them to vote NO on Proposition 8. Share this email with them. Call them. Direct them to the ACLU of Northern California's Prop. 8 webpage for more information.

Don't let other young people grow up to be afraid to be who they are because of the discrimination and prejudice they might face. Let them see a future that the generation before them couldn't even dream of — a future as full and equal citizens of the greatest democracy on earth.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." As we strive to defeat Prop. 8 and the injustice it represents, the ACLU is trying to make that arc a little shorter.

On behalf of my Mom and family, and on behalf of all the people who will never face legally-sanctioned discrimination, I thank you for being part of this struggle and for doing everything you can to help.

It is a privilege and honor to have you as allies in this fight for dignity and equality.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tell Mukasey: Don't suppress Ohio voters.

From Credo Action.
This year, there are over 600,000 newly registered Ohio voters, but President Bush has asked Attorney General Mukasey to investigate as many as 200,000 of them. Why? Because Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has refused to use an "exact match" standard before adding these voters to the rolls.

What is this "exact match" standard? Basically, it works like this: After you fill out your voter registration card, a local or state employee has to type in your information to add you to the voter rolls, and check to see that you really exist, usually by verifying your driver's license number or Social Security number. And as you can imagine, sometimes there are typos or other disparities when the information gets entered and matched - for example, if your last name is "De la Rosa" and it got entered as "Delarosa", you would fail to meet the exact match standard, and your registration form would be invalid.

Secretary Brunner has refused to use this standard on the grounds that it would erroneously deprive tens or even hundreds of thousands of Ohioans of their right to vote. The Ohio GOP sued her a month ago to try and get the courts to compel her to use the exact match standard, but the Supreme Court ruled that they had no standing to make that case.

Now, President Bush is trying to run around the Supreme Court by getting the Department of Justice to intervene. On Friday, October 24th, Bush reportedly asked Attorney General Mukasey to investigate whether as many as 200,000 voters need to reconfirm their registrations before November 4th - which would almost certainly result in forcing them to vote provisionally.

I just signed a petition urging Attorney General Mukasey not to act on President Bush's sickening request. I hope you will, too.

Please have a look and take action.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Obama and McCain Tax Proposals

This Washington Post graphic illustrates the differences between the Obama and McCain tax plans.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain lies again—apparently deliberately and shamelessly

From Talking Points Memo
CNN just played the Social Security portion of John McCain's interview with Wolf Blitzer. And two key points stood out.

First, McCain fabricated an alternative history of the 2005 Social Security battle in order to create a new tax talking points. According to McCain, and he repeated this again and again, 'the [Social Security] talks broke down because the Democrats insisted as a precondition that we raise taxes.'

That's very weird. First, there were no Social Security talks. And the Democrats didn't make any demands to raise taxes. They didn't even propose raising taxes. As many of you know, I followed that debate extremely closely. And McCain just made this stuff out of whole cloth. Really bizarre.

Second, Blitzer asked if McCain still would have favored President Bush's privatization plan, as he did in 2005, that we see how volatile the stock market it is. McCain repeatedly refused to answer the question and instead repeated the tax precondition fib. …

After standing behind privatization as recently as a few weeks ago, now McCain refuses to say he still supports it.
But he blames the tax-and-spend Democrats for preventing it from happening.

Pew Forum: Trends in Candidate Preferences Among Religious Groups

From the Pew Forum.

Shown in order of most to least favorable to Obama.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment

Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were “getting religion” — praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don’t worship any god at all, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the “happiness index” and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer.

Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over the course of fourteen months, beginning in 2005. He was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how and why it is that certain societies are nonreligious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some interesting answers.

This fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that “society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant.”
And here's a nice review from Louis Bayard on

Here are some of the points made by commentors.
I asked my Danish friends about their high taxes, and they all agreed that the taxes were high, but in return they received excellent universal health care and wonderful public transportation and excellent education and other free and top notch public services, so no, they didn't mind the high taxes because of what those taxes brought them.
The most significant difference, however, is they expect their government to work, and when it doesn't, they clean house. They hold their public servants to account, and expect the government to run efficiently and effectively.

This Election’s Poster Child - Campaign Stops Blog -

RNC shells out $150K for Palin fashion

The Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August. …

Hours after the story was posted on Politico's website and legal issues were raised, the campaign issued a new statement:

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it’s remarkable that we’re spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is there any point debating with William Kristol?

His column this week is so full of self-contradictions and poor thinking that it's very tempting to point them out. But the fundamental point of his column is that the Joe-the-plumbers of the country are a better guide to how to run things than anyone else. He says, for example,
Most of the recent mistakes of American public policy, and most of the contemporary delusions of American public life, haven’t come from an ignorant and excitable public. They’ve been produced by highly educated and sophisticated elites.
Does this mean that we are in agreement that the recent mistakes of American public policy have been the product of people like him (an elite) and the non-thinking fools (like Bush) who took their advice? If we agree on that, then the only question is whether this has been a good thing. Apparently Kristol likes the results produced by this combination of neo-conservative elites and Bush-the-plumber followers. So perhaps there is nothing to talk about. And I guess that his column is simply a way to demonstrate how Joe thinks, which is not very well.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tjhe framers of the constitution knew

In a nice piece in the Los Angeles Times Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes point out that our constitution was written to encode the lesson that societies need regulation. They start out talking about the financial debacle based on
largely unregulated investments known as derivatives -- which Greenspan encouraged and defended. … Greenspan's defense of these investments was based in part on an optimistic view of human nature. Excesses, he believed, would be prevented because individuals would restrain the worst of their greed and self-interest to protect their own reputations.

In a speech two weeks ago at Georgetown University, Greenspan expressed distress that this turned out not to be true. But he should not have been surprised. A rereading of American History 101 would have reminded him that the framers already went through the same rude awakening about human nature.

Greenspan's speech at Georgetown was largely a rousing reaffirmation of the vital role played by the Constitution in the growth of the American economy, but he missed the central genius of the document. It was based on a view of human behavior considerably less sanguine and idealistic than Greenspan's.

The framers did not start out as cynics or realists. The belief that Americans would be better as people and, particularly, as citizens than others had been was widely held among the revolutionaries in 1776. Frankly, it gave them the guts to throw off the English. Both Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, who later would be among the strongest proponents of strong government to channel self-interest, were more optimistic about Americans in the country's early days. No one captured the belief better than Thomas Paine, who argued that once they were independent, Americans could "begin the world over again."

Paine believed that the citizens of the new republic would learn the habit of "public virtue" -- and would suppress their individual interests for the public good. Americans rallied to this vision. And from this faith in people, the founders constructed the first version of the United States after 1776, a confederation featuring a central government left intentionally weak because the founders could not imagine that citizens and states would refuse to set aside local or personal interests for the larger good.

The result of this experiment was chaos. The nation was beset by internal factions, greed and self-dealing. The Army nearly starved to death in the field because no one would pay for it. States competed for trade advantages, preventing the creation of any semblance of a national economy.

The entire country, John Quincy Adams noted, was "groaning under the intolerable burdens of ... accumulated evils." Some Americans were even considering the restoration of a king as the only solution. The most famous founder of them all, George Washington, recognized that the problem stemmed from the rosy view of human behavior on which they had built the government.

When Greenspan said in his Georgetown speech that he was "distressed at how far we have let concerns for reputation slip in recent years," he sounded a bit like Washington, who in 1786 wrote to John Jay: "We probably had too good of an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. ... We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals." Only the intervention of "coercive power," wrote Washington, would ensure measures best suited for the common good.

What the framers had learned over the 11 years that separated independence from the Constitutional Convention was that people could not be counted on to suppress their greed and self-interest, but would pursue them relentlessly. In Philadelphia in 1787, the challenge at the Constitutional Convention became how to create the coercive power Washington had referred to without abandoning the dream of democracy -- how to frame a government that would guarantee individual liberty while protecting people from excesses caused by unbridled pursuit of that liberty. They needed, James Madison said, "a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government."

The answer they came up with was to make a virtue of the vice of self-interest. A reliance on public virtue was to be replaced by a "policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of a better motive," Madison explained. From this flowed the original American idea of separation of powers and checks and balances. The result was the most enduring democratic government in history.

The framers left us their document, the Constitution, and a fundamental lesson in self-government that we could all benefit from recalling: Systems that count on individuals to restrain their self-interest have historically failed, but systems that anticipate and encourage the pursuit of self-interest while creating checks on it can succeed magnificently.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Dudes for Palin"

From the New York Times, if they can be trusted.
“You rock me out, Sarah,” yelled one man, wearing a red- checked hunting jacket as Ms. Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, strode into an airplane hangar here on Thursday. He held a homemade “Dudes for Sarah” sign and wore a National Rifle Association hat. Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone” blared over the loudspeakers, and the man even danced a little — yes, a guy in an N.R.A. hat dancing in a hangar, kind of a Sarah Palin rally thing.

“I feel like I’m at home,” Ms. Palin said, looking out at a boisterous crowd of about 6,000. “I see the Carhartts and the steel-toed boots,” she said, the first reference being to a clothing brand favored by construction workers and the burly types who make up much of the “Sarah Dude” population. “You guys are great,” she said while signing autographs. …

She has been widely attacked, even by a growing number of conservatives, as being essentially unserious and uncurious. “She doesn’t think aloud. She just ...says things,” the Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote Friday. “She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation.” …

The testosterone flows at many of her events. Head-banging guitar chords greet her: she entered a fund-raiser in North Carolina on Thursday to the decidedly un-dainty chords of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” “That was kinda cool,” she marveled from the stage. Everyone laughed. …

The dudes tend to make themselves noticed. “You tell ’em baby,” a man yelled out at a rally Wednesday night on a high school football field in Salem, N.H.

And Ms. Palin tells ’em, peppering her rallies with references to guy-themed stuff — hunting, fishing, hockey. She introduced her husband, Todd, as Alaska’s First Dude.

“He is a guy who knows how to work with his hands,” she said to loud applause.

Her recent events drew scruffy high-schoolers in backward baseball caps, tank-topped bikers in bandanas and long-bearded veterans in berets. They crashed the rope line for photos and autographs. “Marry me, Sarah,” a man implored in Weirs Beach, N.H., while Ms. Palin held up a tow-headed toddler and patted his little chest. She ignored, or didn’t hear, the proposal, but signed the dude’s ratty baseball cap.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The "Democrat party"

The latest Republican dirty trick is an email message pointing to a video that claims to cast doubt on Obama's citizenship. First of all, if there were anything to it, this wouldn't be an underground campaign. McCain would be howling to the winds about it. But secondly, the letter presents itself as an attempt to protect the "Democrat party" from the prospect of decades of damage. The only people in the world who use the term "Democrat party" are Republicans, and they have no interest in protecting the Democratic Party. In other words, don't believe it.

Wave Of McCain Robocalls Reported,

From Huffington Post
The McCain-Palin campaign and the Republican National Committee launched a massive robocall campaign on Thursday designed to alarm voters about Barack Obama's past association with former radical Bill Ayers. The committee may be violating state law in the process.

The call begins: 'Hello. I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC,' before telling recipients that they 'need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans.'

"Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher Not Voting for McCain

From Huffington Post: Off The Bus
It might be heartening to McCain to know that he has at least one vote in Democratic stronghold Lucas County, Ohio, but for one small fact. A download of the Lucas County voter rolls from the Ohio Secretary of State's website lists four Wurzelbachers, two in Holland, but none of them named Sam or Joe or Samuel Joseph. There's a Robert Lee and a Frank Edward Wurzelbacher, but no Joe.

Apparently, Joe the Plumber don't vote.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

President Hosts Conference on Minority Homeownership

Barry Ritholtz noted the following. Conference on Minority Homeownership
More and more people own their homes in America today. Two-thirds of all Americans own their homes, yet we have a problem here in America because few than half of the Hispanics and half the African Americans own the home. That's a homeownership gap. It's a -- it's a gap that we've got to work together to close for the good of our country, for the sake of a more hopeful future. We've got to work to knock down the barriers that have created a homeownership gap.

I set an ambitious goal. It's one that I believe we can achieve. It's a clear goal, that by the end of this decade we'll increase the number of minority homeowners by at least 5.5 million families. (Applause.)

Some may think that's a stretch. I don't think it is. I think it is realistic. I know we're going to have to work together to achieve it. But when we do our communities will be stronger and so will our economy. Achieving the goal is going to require some good policies out of Washington. And it's going to require a strong commitment from those of you involved in the housing industry.

Just by showing up at the conference, you show your commitment. And together, together we will work over the next decade to enable millions of our fellow Americans to own a piece of their own property, and that's their home.

I appreciate so very much the home owners who are with us today, the Arias family, newly arrived from Peru. They live in Baltimore. Thanks to the Association of Real Estate Brokers, the help of some good folks in Baltimore, they figured out how to purchase their own home. Imagine to be coming to our country without a home, with a simple dream. And now they're on stage here at this conference being one of the new home owners in the greatest land on the face of the Earth. I appreciate the Arias family coming. (Applause.)

We've got the Horton family from Little Rock, Arkansas, here today. Actually, it's not Little Rock; it's North Little Rock, Arkansas. I was corrected. (Laughter.) I appreciate so very much these good folks coming all the way up from the South. They were helped by HUD, they were helped by Freddie Mac. Obviously, they've got a young family. And when we start talking about owning a home, a smile spread right across the face of the dad that could have lit up the entire town of Washington, D.C. (Applause.) I appreciate you all coming. Thanks for coming. He had to make sure I knew that he was educated in Texas. (Laughter.)

Finally, Kim Berry from New York is here. She's a single mom. You're not going to believe this, but her son is 18 years old. (Laughter.) She barely looked like she was 18 to me. And being a single mom is the hardest job in America. And the idea of this fine American working hard to provide for her child, at the same time working hard to realize her dream, which is owning a home on Long Island, is really a special tribute to the character of this particular person and to the character of a lot of Americans. So we're honored to have you here, Kim, and thanks for being such a good mom and a fine American.
Is the wild-eyed liberal who said that responsible for the housing bubble and the subprime mess? It was George W. Bush.

Empty space full of mass!

In his current column in American Scientist, Brian Hayes points out that the
three quarks inside a proton account for only about 1 percent of the proton's measured mass; all the rest of the mass comes from the energy that binds the quarks together. We already knew that atoms are mostly empty space; now we learn that the nuclei inside atoms are mere puffballs, with almost no solid substance.

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain should "Fire the Campaign" — and support Obama

William Kristol writes,
It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign. …

McCain should stop unveiling gimmicky proposals every couple of days that pretend to deal with the financial crisis. He should tell the truth — we’re in uncharted waters, no one is certain what to do, and no one knows what the situation will be on Jan. 20, 2009. But what we do know is that we could use someone as president who’s shown in his career the kind of sound judgment and strong leadership we’ll need to make it through the crisis. …

At Wednesday night’s debate at Hofstra, McCain might want to volunteer a mild mea culpa about the extent to which the presidential race has degenerated into a shouting match.
I agree. But instead of re-organizing his campaign, McCain can do himself and the country a lot of good by withdrawing and urging everyone to support Obama.

As a country we need to come together, to stop fighting each other, to heal, to regain the respect of the rest of the world. The first step is to respect ourselves. McCain can help. By taking this very difficult step not only with he will strengthen the country, he will help himself as well.

McCain has virtually destroyed his reputation for honesty and integrity during the campaign. Instead of country first, he has acted as he believed that winning by any means—even by destroying the country—is most important. By withdrawing from the campaign, he establish himself both as the maverick he wants to be and as a man of strength, honor, and courage.

Perhaps McCain thinks that a good soldier (or fighter pilot) never gives up. But this is not giving up. It's doing something more difficult—acknowledging that the best thing for the country is to terminate his campaign right now. Does McCain really believe in "country first?" If so, this is how he can demonstrate it.

Besides, in the very unlikely event that McCain were to win, he would become president of a country, a majority of whose citizens would feel that the election had been stolen. That's not a good way to start a presidency.

Senator McCain, do what's best for the country. Withdraw and throw your support to Obama.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain's campaign manager is almost as good at answering questions as Palin

From - Transcript: Rick Davis, David Axelrod on 'FOX News Sunday' with Chris Wallace
WALLACE: Well, Rick Davis, let me bring you in. It is a fact that has been reported by reporters who have been at these rallies that some people in the crowds—not the majority, but some people in the crowds have been saying, 'Terrorist, kill him, off with his head.'

Do Palin and McCain bear some responsibility for, in their ads and their campaign stumps, calling Obama a liar who pals around with terrorists?

DAVIS: Look, Chris, I think we have to take this very seriously. And the kind of comments made by Congressman Lewis, a big Obama supporter, are reprehensible.

The idea that you're going to compare John McCain to the kinds of hate spread in the '60s by somebody like George Wallace is outrageous.

Where was John McCain when George Wallace was spreading his hate and segregationist policies at that time? He was in a Vietnam prison camp serving his country with his civil rights also denied. Nobody knows sacrifice like John McCain does.
Lewis said that he was
deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign [and that the Republican running mates are] playing with fire.

What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Prescience: what we need in a President

Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut

The Connecticut supreme court certainly did the right thing. But what I think is most interesting about the case was that
it was the first state high court ruling to hold that civil union statutes specifically violated the equal protection clause of a state constitution.
Civil unions, according to the court, violate the equal protection clause because they are not called marriage and only heterosexual couples are eligible to be married. That creates an obvious way out of this culture clash. Connecticut (and all other states) should simply stop "marrying" people. Then there won't be any such thing as state-defined marriage that only heterosexual couples can enter.

Let states issue civil union certificates to any couple who are otherwise qualified. There is no need for the state to define what marriage means. If religious organizations want to do that, let them. It's not the state's business. What matters legally are the rights and privileges defined by a civil union. Let the state worry about that issue, and let others worry about the word marriage.

This would also solve the problem of the marriage penalty. Since there would be no legally defined marriages, there would be no married filing status. Of course the federal government could change the tax law so that anyone in a civil union would pay at the married rate. But I'll bet it would be very hard for congress to do that!

Debora asked what would happen if in a religious ceremony someone married multiple partners—but took only one of them as a civil partner. Would that be considered polygamy? What if a married couple who were also civil partners dissolved their civil partnership but not their marriage—or vice versa? What about a Catholic couple who remain married in the church but divorced civilly? And what if one or both of them hooked up civilly with other partners, while still remaining married in the church? Would religious marriages have any weight in intestate estates?

One could imagine all sorts of issues that would arise. But it would be interesting to explore them.

McCain's temper

I'm surprised this hasn't been more of an issue. The following is from Michael Kinsley,
For this entire presidential campaign, the media have been waiting for John McCain’s famous temper to explode. A few small examples have been reported without anyone trying to make a big deal about it. The rule seems to be that if he can keep it bottled until November 5, he’s home free. But if he explodes in the interim, it becomes an official issue. This isn’t completely nuts. If he can’t hold it in for just the few months he is under maximum scrutiny, then he has a real problem. Otherwise, hey—Bill Clinton also had a temper, it was said, along with other uncontrollable passions.

Until recently this anger business didn’t bother me much. There is a lot to be angry about. Furthermore, I was not confident that McCain’s anger passed the whose-ox-is-gored test: As an Obama supporter, would I be equally alarmed if my preferred candidate had anger issues? (Which some folks say he does, by the way.) Then I heard the following story.
Click here for the rest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

From the politics of hate to the politics of respect?

From the
When a man told [McCain at a rally that] he was “scared” of an Obama presidency, Mr. McCain replied, “I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you — I have to tell you — he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response.

Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Mr. Obama because he was an “Arab.”

Mr. McCain replied: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, a citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about.” At that, the crowd applauded. …

At one point, after a voter told him he wanted to see a “real fight” at the debate and the crowd responded with a roar, Mr. McCain replied, “We want to fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful.”

Then he added, “I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him.” The crowd interrupted Mr. McCain to boo, but he kept talking. “I want everyone to be respectful and let’s make sure we are, because that’s the way politics — —”

At that point, Mr. McCain was drowned out by applause.
McCain seems to have become aware that winning isn't everything. That's good. McCain can secure his place in history—and his reputation as a maverick by announcing his withdrawal from the race and urging his backers to support for Obama. That would be a tonic the country needs, and one for which McCain could truly take credit.

At this point what does he have to lose. He is almost certain to lose the election. Why not end the campaign in a way that will make the country stronger — and that will enhance his reputation as well.

We are at a turning point in history. (We always seem to be, but this is a sharper turn than usual.) Our strength as a country is at a low point. We are disrespected in the world. The economy is in serious trouble. This is the time for the country to unite and heal itself and to pull the rest of the world back from a brink. McCain can be an agent of "the change we need," the change from the politics of hate to the politics of respect.

Palin as the prototypical Republican

David Brooks: [emphases added]
Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.

George W. Bush restrained some of the populist excesses of his party — the anti-immigration fervor, the isolationism — but stylistically he fit right in. As Fred Barnes wrote in his book, “Rebel-in-Chief,” Bush “reflects the political views and cultural tastes of the vast majority of Americans who don’t live along the East or West Coast. He’s not a sophisticate and doesn’t spend his discretionary time with sophisticates. As First Lady Laura Bush once said, she and the president didn’t come to Washington to make new friends. And they haven’t.”

The political effects of this trend have been obvious. Republicans have alienated the highly educated regions — Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the Northeast are mostly gone.

The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community.

Conservatives are as rare in elite universities and the mainstream media as they were 30 years ago. The smartest young Americans are now educated in an overwhelmingly liberal environment.

This year could have changed things. The G.O.P. had three urbane presidential candidates. But the class-warfare clichĂ©s took control. Rudy Giuliani disdained cosmopolitans at the Republican convention. Mitt Romney gave a speech attacking “eastern elites.” (Mitt Romney!) John McCain picked Sarah Palin.

Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite.

She is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.

And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.

A Conservative for Obama: My party has slipped its moorings. It’s time for a true pragmatist to lead the country.

Wick Allison is the former editor and publisher of the National Review.
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.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

David Brooks on Obama and Palin

David Brooks is quoted as saying the following.
Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I'm getting nowhere with the interview, it's late in the night, he's on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he's cranky. Out of the blue I say, 'Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?' And he says, 'Yeah.' So i say, 'What did Niebuhr mean to you?' For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.

And the other thing that does separate Obama from just a pure intellectual: he has tremendous powers of social perception. And this is why he's a politician, not an academic. A couple of years ago, I was writing columns attacking the Republican congress for spending too much money. And I throw in a few sentences attacking the Democrats to make myself feel better. And one morning I get an email from Obama saying, 'David, if you wanna attack us, fine, but you're only throwing in those sentences to make yourself feel better.' And it was a perfect description of what was going through my mind. And everybody who knows Obama all have these stories to tell about his capacity for social perception. …

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.
The article says that these quotations are from "an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg at New York's Le Cirque."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The McCain bailout of the banks

Brad DeLong writes that

John McCain wants to give $100 billion of taxpayers' money to America's worst-behaving mortgage financiers.

Let's back up. For the past month the debate about how to deal with the collapse of the debt-trading portion of America's financial markets has been between two plans: the Paulson plan and the Elmendorf plan:

  • The Paulson Plan: Have the government buy up distressed securities at market value, thus reducing the supply of high-yield debt securities that the private sector must hold. When you reduce the supply of anything you raise its price. Hence the Paulson plan's $700 billion purchases will push the prices of risky debt securities up, and so companies will then be able to sell their bonds again and so hire more workers, and depression will be averted.

  • The Elmendorf Plan: Have the government directly invest in and take an equity stake in troubled banks, thus reassuring their depositors and creditors that they are sound. The banks will then be able to profit by buying up distressed securities--hence raising their prices--and by directly lending to companies that will then be able to hire more workers, and depression will be averted.

The argument for the Paulson plan was that the Elmendorf plan was socialism.

The argument for the Elmendorf plan was that it held the promise of doing a much better job of preventing depression, for each dollar committed to the Paulson plan reduces the gap between the demand and supply of distressed securities by only $1, while each dollar invested in a bank is then leveraged 8-to-1 as bank creditors and depositors are then willing to keep more money in the bank and so reduces the gap between the demand and supply of distressed securities by $8. Eight times as much bang for each federal buck, and the Elmendorf plan ensured that the taxpayers were protected to a greater extent: we did not just have the socialization of loss after the privatization of gain, we had the socialization of any gains that might occur if banks' equity values ever recovered.

The argument for passing Paulson-Dodd-Frank was:

  • Time is of the essence: something needs to be done right now.
  • Paulson-Dodd-Frank has sufficient flexibility that Assistant Secretary Neel Kashkari and his successors can do either Paulson or Elmendorf, at their judgment.
  • li>The logic of the situation will over time drive Kashkari and his successors toward an Elmendorf-like solution as he deals in the markets.

Now comes John McCain with something worse than Paulson:

Ben Smith's Blog: Moral hazard: Moral hazard
My colleague Victoria McGrane, late of our Capitol Hill bureau, emails with the most lucid explanation I've seen of what McCain did last night. The crucial shift from a recent congressional housing bill to McCain's more dramatic plan, she writes, was a move away from concern about moral hazard:

Details provided to reporters by senior adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin Wednesday morning make one thing clear: Taxpayers would directly pick up the tab for the difference in cost between a homeowner’s old, too-expensive mortgage and the cheaper one provided by the government... something that congressional lawmakers, led by House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) specifically avoided when they crafted their own landmark housing bill, which passed in late August and took effect Oct. 1.

Congress’ bill – which Holtz-Eakin says provides at least part of the authority McCain would need to carry out his plan – provided a $300 billion program to help distressed borrowers refinance into cheaper Federal Housing Authority mortgages. But to participate, lenders and mortgage investors would have to reduce the mortgage principal...

Not so McCain's plan. McCain's plan is for the government to buy up $300 billion of distressed mortgages not at current market value but at full face value:

“Clearly we face the trade off that we would in fact be taking the negative equity position and putting it on the taxpayers books instead of putting it on the private lenders books or the homeowners books,” Holtz-Eakin told Politico. “We think the balance of risk has shifted to the point where this is the way to go.”

The McCain plan is:

  • Take $300 billion.
  • Pay double current market value to banks that have troubled mortgages on their books, thus:
    • Give a present of $100 billion to the bankers who made the loans.
    • Acquire and regularize the mortgages of only two-thirds as many homeowners as could have been accomplished if the $300 billion were invested wisely.

There's a big difference here: Democrats want to prevent depression and support the financial markets by investing taxpayer money in banks with troubled assets. Republicans want to give taxpayers money away to the shareholders and managers of banks with troubled assets.

I would say that this is unbelievable, but I do believe it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Palin’s Kind of Patriotism

Another great column by Thomas Friedman.
Criticizing Sarah Palin is truly shooting fish in a barrel. But given the huge attention she is getting, you can’t just ignore what she has to say. And there was one thing she said in the debate with Joe Biden that really sticks in my craw. It was when she turned to Biden and declared: “You said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America, which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that’s not patriotic.”

What an awful statement. Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan. And yet, at the same time, she declared that Americans who pay their fair share of taxes to support all those government-led endeavors should not be considered patriotic.

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first.

Sorry, I grew up in a very middle-class family in a very middle-class suburb of Minneapolis, and my parents taught me that paying taxes, while certainly no fun, was how we paid for the police and the Army, our public universities and local schools, scientific research and Medicare for the elderly. No one said it better than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”
As I like to say,
Freedom isn't Free. That's why we pay taxes.

Mud Pies

Maureen Dowd has a nice column on McCain. But she ends it with this lovely quote from Sarah Palin. Palin was asked whether she thinks that Senator Obama is dishonest.
“I’m not saying he’s dishonest, but in terms of judgment, in terms of being able to answer a question forthrightly, it has two different parts to this. The judgment and the truthfulness and just being able to answer very candidly a simple question about when did you know him, how did you know him, is there still — has there been an association continued since ’02 or ’05, I know I’ve read a couple different stories. I think it’s relevant.”

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Sarah Silverman for Obama.

Clever Video.

The right blames the credit crisis on poor minority homeowners.

Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine has a column in which he replies to the claims of right. Apparently, among
the right-wing financial media (which is to say the financial media), and in certain parts of the op-ed-o-sphere, there's a consensus emerging that the whole mess should be laid at the feet of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed mortgage giants, and the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed during the Carter administration. The CRA, which was amended in the 1990s and this decade, requires banks—which had a long, distinguished history of not making loans to minorities—to make more efforts to do so.

The thesis is laid out almost daily on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, in the National Review, and on the campaign trail. John McCain said yesterday, 'Bad mortgages were being backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it was only a matter of time before a contagion of unsustainable debt began to spread.' Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer provides an excellent example, writing that 'much of this crisis was brought upon us by the good intentions of good people.' He continues: 'For decades, starting with Jimmy Carter's Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, there has been bipartisan agreement to use government power to expand homeownership to people who had been shut out for economic reasons or, sometimes, because of racial and ethnic discrimination. What could be a more worthy cause? But it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—which in turn pressured banks and other lenders—to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That's called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity." The subtext: If only Congress didn't force banks to lend money to poor minorities, the Dow would be well on its way to 36,000.

The Winner of Debate II? "That One"

Arianna Huffington made a nice point.
McCain also told us he knows how to fix the economy, knows how to win wars, and knows how to capture bin Laden. Is there a reason he's keeping all these a secret?

Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoes AB 2386, secret ballot election reform

Last week, the Governor vetoed AB 2386, a vital bill to reform secret ballot elections for farm workers. With this single stroke of his pen, the governor denied farm workers the tool they need to protect themselves. While we are disappointed with the Governor's veto, sadly we are not surprised.

When the governor vetoed a bill with similar goals last year, his veto message said, 'I am directing my Labor and Workforce Development Agency to work with the proponents of this bill to ensure that all labor laws and regulations are being vigorously enforced, and to make it absolutely clear to all concerned that my veto is premised on an expectation that agricultural workers receive the full protections of the law.'

Tragically this has not happened. During the black summer of 2008, as many as six farm workers died due to heat-related causes.

McCain lies again

As The Associated Press reports, in the debate last night MCCain proposed what he called an "American Homeownership Resurgence Plan" saying,
It's my proposal. It's not Sen. Obama's proposal. It's not President Bush's proposal.
What McCain didn't mention is that according to the bill proposed by Bush and passed by congress last week the Treasury Secretary already has the authority to do exactly what McCain proposes. If there is a difference between McCain's proposal and Bush's it is that McCain would require that the Treasury Secretary use nearly half of the $700 billion authorized by Congress to buy existing individual mortgages rather than leaving it to the Treasury Secretary to determine how the money will be used to support the mortgage market. This seems like too much micro-management at too high a level. It also seems to be very much in conflict with McCain's notion that the government is interfering too much in people's lives.

For McCain suddenly to make such a proposal, however, is quite consistent with his tendency to pop-off and impulsively adopt positions that he hasn't spent much time thinking out.

Furthermore, this sort of support for individual homeowners has been one of the Democrats' favorite approaches for months. For example, (according to the same AP story)
At a news conference on Sept. 24, Obama said, "we should consider giving the government the authority to purchase mortgages directly instead of simply purchasing mortgage-backed securities."

Days later, in a news release, he said he would "encourage Treasury to study the option of buying individual mortgages like we did successfully in the 1930s."

"Senator Obama has been consistently calling for policies that would buy up mortgages and restructure them so that families can stay in their houses," Obama economic adviser Jason Furman said. "He continues to support that and believes Treasury should use its authority in whatever way it can to bring about that goal, including buying mortgages directly."
McCain also failed to mention that his "new" proposal conflicts directly with the position he took last March.
Drawing a sharp distinction between himself and the two Democratic presidential candidates, Senator John McCain of Arizona warned Tuesday against vigorous government action to solve the deepening mortgage crisis and the market turmoil it has caused, saying that “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

Mr. McCain’s comments came a day after Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York called for direct federal intervention to help affected homeowners, including a $30 billion fund for states and communities to assist those at risk of foreclosure. Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, has similarly called for greater federal involvement, including creation of a $10 billion relief package to prevent foreclosures. …

In place of large-scale government assistance, Mr. McCain recommended two immediate but limited measures. He said that accountants should meet to review the system by which real estate and related assets are valued, and he urged mortgage lenders to step forward voluntarily to help credit-worthy borrowers who may be strapped for cash at the moment. …

“He’s not only far behind what either Clinton or Obama have proposed, he’s six months behind what the administration has already been doing,” said Andrew Jakabovics, associate director for the Economic Mobility Program at the Center for American Progress, a Democrat-leaning research group in Washington. Mr. Jakabovics was an early champion of programs like those now being discussed by Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, to have the government either buy up or refinance millions of troubled loans.
In other words, not only is McCain simply coming around to an idea proposed by Democrats long ago, he is lying in claiming it is an original new idea on his part.

To be fair, perhaps McCain isn't lying; perhaps he's just out of touch and is having a hard time keeping up. After all, when Paulson issued his 3 page proposal a couple of weeks ago, McCain couldn't comment on it days later because he said he hadn't read it. If it takes McCain a week to read what is arguably the most important 3 pages having to do with the economy, the poor dear shouldn't be expected to keep up with the more general world of ideas.

After all, McCain seems to be living in the 1960s: he doesn't know how to use a computer, and he seems to think that we are still fighting the Vietnam war. If it was good enough for us then, why isn't it good enough for us now. (Perhaps someone should tell him we lost in Vietnam. Being a war hero normally means accomplishing something important. What did McCain accomplish in Vietnam by being a prisoner of war?)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Associated Press: Palin lawyer meets with investigator in probe

This isn't news anymore, but it's a great lead sentence from the The Associated Press
By MATT VOLZ – Sep 22, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Less than a week after balking at the Alaska Legislature's investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gotcha? You Betcha!

By Marty Kaplan
John McCain and Sarah Palin have been complaining that there's too much 'gotcha journalism' going around.
Marty's piece reminds me that this is the standard Republican response to anything they don't like: attack the messenger. Don't deal with the issue; attack the person raising the question. The Republicans are so good at it that it seems to have become second nature to them — and no one bothers to notice. They succeed when they do it since the almost always manage to change the subject. Instead of dealing with the issue raised the focus is no on whether or not the person raising the issue should be defended. Very effective. Why do we always fall for it?

This is Not the John McCain New Hampshire Once Loved

By Ken Burns
What happened to John McCain? What happened to the man so many of us in New Hampshire have admired and respected for so long? The fierce bipartisan warrior, the straight talker, the maverick whose ideas nearly everyone found some common ground with now seems missing in action. He seems to have betrayed the very attributes that originally commended him to us and earned our earlier trust and support.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Empty Campaign of John McCain

Jared Bernstein writes,
At this point I really wonder: what's in it for him? Why does McCain want to be president? Those who have followed him for years don't recognize his agenda, his tactics, his positions (e.g., the great populist regulator!). How could a man of seemingly deep conviction morph into this caricature? His campaign is empty, with no spiritual or intellectual core; its tactics have devolved into a series of crass surprises and Hail Mary passes.
Has he become that desperate to be President that he is willing to give up everything he's believed in, to give up his reputation for honesty and straight talk, for the ever slimmer chance of becoming President? Perhaps he'll wake up—but I doubt it. Wouldn't it be wonderful—and a true McCain moment—for McCain to announce on the eve of the election that he now sees that he has lost his way and that he urges everyone to unite behind Obama and help this country pick itself up and regain its health, strength, and character. Then he would go down in history as the hero is once was—and could be again.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

"I'm Catholic, staunchly anti-abortion, and support Obama"

From the National Catholic Reporter.
Nicholas P. Cafardi is the second high profile Catholic legal scholar who is staunchly anti-abortion yet says he supports Barack Obama. Douglas Kmiec, Ronald Reagan’s constitutional lawyer as head of the office of legal counsel for the Department of Justice, publicly argued a similar case for Obama several weeks ago.
I believe that abortion is an unspeakable evil, yet I support Sen. Barack Obama, who is pro-choice. I do not support him because he is pro-choice, but in spite of it. Is that a proper moral choice for a committed Catholic?

As one of the inaugural members of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board on clergy sexual abuse, and as a canon lawyer, I answer with a resounding yes.

Despite what some Republicans would like Catholics to believe, the list of what the church calls "intrinsically evil acts" does not begin and end with abortion. In fact, there are many intrinsically evil acts, and a committed Catholic must consider all of them in deciding how to vote.

Last November, the U.S. bishops released "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," a 30-page document that provides several examples of intrinsically evil acts: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, torture, racism, and targeting noncombatants in acts of war. …
Zeusville points to this video as a good, if unintentional, Sarah Palin impression. Here's her answer to the opening question.
IFILL: Welcome to you both. As we have determined by a coin toss , the first question will go to Senator Biden.

The Senate & House of Representatives this week passed a big bailout bill … As America watches these things happen on Capitol Hill , Senator Biden, was this the worst of Washington or the best of Washington that we saw play out?


IFILL: Thank you, Senator.

Governor Palin?

PALIN: Thank you , Gwen. And I thank the commission also. I appreciate this privilege of being able to be here and speak with Americans.

You know , I think a good barometer here , as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America’s economy , is go to a kid’s soccer game on Saturday , and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them , “How are you feeling about the economy?”


From Bob Herbert in the NY Times.
In her closing remarks at the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, Ms. Palin referred earnestly, if loosely, to a quote from Ronald Reagan. He had warned that if Americans weren’t vigilant in protecting their freedom, they would find themselves spending their “sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.”

What Ms. Palin didn’t say was that the menace to freedom that Reagan was talking about was Medicare. As the historian Robert Dallek has pointed out, Reagan “saw Medicare as the advance wave of socialism, which would ‘invade every area of freedom in this country.’ ”

Does Ms. Palin agree with that Looney Tunes notion? Or was this just another case of the aw-shucks, darn-right, I’m-just-a-hockey-mom governor of Alaska mouthing something completely devoid of meaning?

Friday, October 03, 2008

McCain's votes to increase taxes

Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception

Whitson and Galinsky 322 (5898): 115 -- Science
We present six experiments that tested whether lacking control increases illusory pattern perception, which we define as the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli. Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions. Additionally, we demonstrated that increased pattern perception has a motivational basis by measuring the need for structure directly and showing that the causal link between lack of control and illusory pattern perception is reduced by affirming the self. Although these many disparate forms of pattern perception are typically discussed as separate phenomena, the current results suggest that there is a common motive underlying them.

CEPR - Statement on Congressional Approval of Bailout

By Dean Baker at CEPR.
This is the first time in the history of the United States that the president has sought to provoke a financial panic to get legislation through Congress. [Emphasis added.] While this has proven to be a successful political strategy, it marks yet another low point in American politics.

It was incredibly irresponsible for President Bush to tell the American people on national television that the country could be facing another Great Depression. By contrast, when we actually were in the Great Depression, President Roosevelt said that, 'we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.'

It was even more irresponsible for him to seize on the decline in the stock market five hours later as evidence that his bailout was needed for the economy. President Bush must surely understand, as all economists know, that the daily swings in the stock market are driven by mass psychology and have almost nothing to do with the underlying strength in the economy.

The scare tactics of President Bush, Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Bernanke created sufficient panic, so that by the time of the vote, much of the public believed that the defeat of the bailout may actually have had serious consequences for the economy. Millions of people have changed their behavior because of this fear, with many pulling money out of bank and money market accounts, and in other ways adjusting their financial plans.

This effort to promote panic is especially striking since the country's dire economic situation is almost entirely the result of the Bush Administration's policy failures. First and foremost, the decision of Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke (and previously Alan Greenspan) to ignore the housing bubble, allowed for the growth of an $8 trillion bubble, which is now collapsing. on Biden-Palin

[Palin] looked like she was trying to get people to take her seriously. [Biden] looked like he was running for vice president. …

Asked which is a greater threat, a nuclear Pakistan or a nuclear Iran, Palin seemed to be stalling, or writing a term paper, when she said: “An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider.” …

[Palin's] answer about when nuclear weapons should be put into play: "Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period." …

[Palin] had at least a couple of harp-seal-on-the-ice moments, as when she wandered into this sentence when trying to rebut a point Biden had made on energy: “That is not so, but because that's just a quick answer, I want to talk about, again, my record on energy — your ticket's energy ticket also. I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan, again, that was voted for in '05.”

McCain's lies

Here's a nice summary from Robert Parry on
John McCain’s greatest character flaw as a potential President may be his brash self-righteousness, often expressed in a combative manner that shows little tolerance for even well-founded criticism.

After nearly eight years watching George W. Bush operate with a similar – though arguably less intense – personal style, the American people are fair-warned about the risks of having another President who is blind to his own shortcomings and then bullies those who point them out.…

When anyone dares observe that McCain, like many other politicians, tells his share of self-serving fibs, he becomes belligerent about his own rectitude as if his assertion of his truthfulness is proof that he is telling the truth. …

Earlier this year, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi told the Boston Globe that “the thought of [McCain] being President sends a cold chill down my spine. … He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Two nice articles on a better way for the government to act

Nouriel Roubini and John P. Hussman both say (and I agree) that buying the banks' bad loans is the wrong way to proceed—and what the right ways are.

The Peterson Institute plan

Just like mine.
A key component of the Treasury's bailout plan is the price it will pay for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). If it pays too little, banks will be insolvent, but setting the price too high gives taxpayer money to banks and their shareholders. Because of the difficulty of determining a price that will be both fair and effective, the Treasury should separate the transaction into two steps. First, it should buy these MBS at fair market value (FMV), appraising FMV through an auction to the private sector. With these MBS off banks' balance sheets, it will be easier to assess the solvency of banks; the Treasury can then inject capital by buying newly issued preferred shares in troubled banks. This two-part plan would not only enhance transparency but would ensure that the plan does not become merely a handout of taxpayer dollars to the banking sector.

Register to Vote online

I just got an email from Mike Huckabee who invited me to register to vote. I'm sure that his mailing list is intended to include mainly people who he thinks will vote like him. (The site says it is pro-faith, pro-family, pro-life, and pro-education, i.e., pro-home-schooling.) But I assume that it will actually register people. So there is no reason for everyone not to take advantage of the service.