Thursday, January 31, 2008

Liveblogging the Hill and Barack cage match 

I watched the Republicans last night, but no amount of alcohol could move me to live-blog the match-up. Not so tonight. Hillary and Barack are getting it on. Read my moment-by-moment nitwittery right here.

Wolf Blitzer is moderating, so you know there will be no discipline. Fortunately, so does he! There will be "no rules." Given Anderson Cooper's terrible management of the Republicans last night, he should have just said he would adhere to "Republican rules".

Stephen Green, who is not live-blogging, posts the rules to a promising Democratic debate drinking game.

1. Obama opens up by declaring that the "planet is in peril" and sucking up to John Edwards. He is obviously not appealing to me. Recognizing that obvious point, I think his opening is weak by his fairly lofty standards.

2. Hillary's opening comments, complete with the "ready at day one" line, is stronger than Obama's in my humble judgment, more hopeful and upbeat.

Doyle McManus opens by asking them to describe the "important policy differences" between them. Hillary says there is a difference in health care, she believes "passionately, absolutely," that we must have universal health care. She also believes we have to impose a 90-day moratorium on mortgage foreclosures -- no mention of what this will do to the willingness of people to finance mortgage loans in the future -- and a five year freeze on interest rates. The big differences, she says, are with Republicans.

Barack takes on the health care question, arguing that his plan and hers are substantially similar. The policy difference, he says, is that he believes that people do not have health care because they cannot afford it, not because they can afford it but cannot secure it; his emphasis, therefore, is on reducing costs, not mandates.

2. Barack does not agree with an interest rate freeze, because a freeze will cause rates to go up across the board and will make it hard for people trying to get mortgages now to get them. Exactly -- Obama reveals a deeper understanding of the issue than Hillary in this exchange insofar as he grasps that steps to resolve the crisis will influence the availability of capital for loans in the future.

The final difference, according to Obama, is over Iraq, which he has opposed from the start. Red meat for his voters Tuesday, but a bug from my perspective.

Goddamn, Wolf Blitzer sucks more than a Scandinavian vacuum cleaner.

3. Obama and Clinton are actually arguing over the 5% or so of people who would not choose coverage over Obama's plan, but would be required to be covered under Hillary's plan. Ezra Klein is, presumably, eating this stuff up. I have a wonkish streak myself and find the distinctions between the plans mildly interesting, but isn't this exchange Hillariously typical of the left? We are miles away from universal health care coverage, and these two smart people are in a huge argument over an incredibly arcane detail in their competing plans that have little chance of enactment anyway. Interesting stuff for those of us in the industry, but do people really understand all this nuance?

4. I just noticed that Roger Simon is live-blogging over at Pajamas Media. He's probably doing a better job than I.

5. Obama: "I don't think the Republicans are going to be in a real strong position to argue fiscal responsibility when they have added trillions in debt... I am happy to have that argument." So true, so painfully and agonizingly true. "The question is not tax cuts or tax hikes, it is who are the cuts or hikes for." Good stuff, even if I hate the substance of it.

6. The continuing health care wonkery is beginning to weigh even me down. Hillary is setting up lifespan and infant mortality rates as benchmarks against which healthcare success should be measured. Arggh.

7. Great question: How does the flood of immigrant labor hurt the African-American community, and what will be done about it?

Barack's response is that African-American youth have always had it tough, and that to say that the troubles of African-Americans is attributable to immigrants is "a case of scapegoating that I do not subscribe to." Huge applause. Are African-Americans all over the country furrowing their brows? But then he says we have to secure the borders and crack down on employers. Well, how are we going to secure the borders? With magic spells, an army of volunteers, or a wall?

Hillary goes the other way, and says that people are driven out of their jobs by immigrants, and calls for a "comprehensive immigration reform solution." Only two glasses of wine and I find her answer incomprehensible.

Roger interlude:

Obama has humor and Hillary doesn’t. That is a huge difference. He made a joke about the well-heeled crowd paying a bit more taxes and it humanized him. This is his strength. Still, this debate is breaking no new ground. There isn’t one new thing here we haven’t heard. I can’t imagine one vote changing so far. Enough of this. The Writers’ Strike better end soon. We need these people off the air.

Now Mrs. TigerHawk: "Look at her pursed mouth. Now comes the conscious making-of-faces while the other guy talks." Yep.

9. Hill: "For so many years I have stood with farm workers..." Really? Hillary has "stood with" farm workers?

I note that CNN is not shooting Hillary from, er, behind this time. Is that because she is sitting down?

10. They are going so easily on each other tonight, and focusing on such small differences, it is almost as though they understand that they will be running mates regardless. Would Hillary run as Obama's VEEP? I doubt it, but it does seem as though the door is open. I do know this -- Obama is not going to win this unless he can needle Hillary into revealing her dark side.

11. Wolfie to Hillary: "You have not been a Senator much longer than Senator Obama. What experience as a First Lady qualifies you to be president of the United States." Mrs. TigerHawk: "She ran the Travel Office!" Ouch! If I were the Clinton campaign press disciplinarian, I'd be pretty unhappy with Wolf for that one.

12. Doyle McManus asks Hillary about the various miscellaneous Kennedy endorsements for Obama, citing their interest in elevating a new generation of leadership. Instead of saying what I would wish to hear -- "who gives a rat's ass?" -- Hillary declares her happiness that three of Robert Kennedy's children support her. So we're counting Kennedy progeny now? This is still a vote-getter among Democrats, forty years later? Please let us not hear any more mocking from the left about the Republicans' Reagan obsession.

Obama cites the surge of voting in Democratic primaries as evidence of the enthusiasm for his participation, and then modestly suggests that some of that enthusiasm is certainly due to Hillary.

In response to a question that gets to the Bush-Clinton dynasties issue, Hillary says she wants to be "judged on her own merits." Mrs. TigerHawk gives voice to the world's thought balloon: "Is that why Bill is running around playing attack dog?"

13. Hillary has been moving to the left on Iraq, and continues to do so tonight, still leaving room to deal with all the complexities. Obama agrees that it is important to be as careful getting in as we were careless getting out -- good line, but his unequivocal opposition to permanent bases both confuses me and disturbs me. While that might have made sense during the height of the rejectionist insurgency (to diffuse those elements of the insurgency that were anti-occupation), it makes no sense today and is rank pandering to the left.

Obama does have an imperial moment here: "If we were concerned about Iranian influence, we should not have had this government [meaning Maliki] installed in the first place." Dude, the Iraqis elected Maliki. We did not "have him installed," much as it would be convenient for the left to argue that we did and for George W. Bush to have been able to do so.

14. Clinton just sucked up -- again -- to Maxine Waters, and I just figuratively blew chunks all over my keyboard. Now she is raising the huge red-herring that President Bush is trying to "bind" the United States with regard to bases in Iraq. Really silly stuff that is red meat for the left.

15. Wolfie serves up the hawks' favorite question, "what about the progress in Iraq?" Obama says something I have not heard him say before, "I welcome the progress," and he conditions withdrawal on "honor." He specifically rejects the idea that Democrats do not want a good outcome. It is almost as though he read our notes from the last debate (see paragraph 15)!

16. The big old fight over Hillary's vote in advance of the Iraq war. "Senator Clinton is claiming -- fairly -- that she has experience on day one. It is important to be right on day one." Ouch.

Still, the civility between them is very disheartening.

17. Obama stares into the heart of Hollywood, and claims he does not like slasher movies. There's another point of difference between us.

Hillary got the question about controlling Bill ("if you cannot control him on the campaign trail, how will you control him in the White House"). Of course, he did not control her in the White House back in the day, so no answer from Hillary on this subject will be persuasive.

My own view is that Bill will weaken Hillary's presidency somehow, and that is probably a reason to vote for her.

Finally, they get a question on whether they would be willing to run together in "a Democratic dream ticket." Dream ticket? Oh, that liberal media. Still, their ridiculous good humor and civility tonight, which has been enormously disappointing for all of us, suggests that neither has an interest in burning bridges with the other.


UPDATE: A final thought. The Republicans are in a lot of trouble, especially if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. On personality and charisma, he will crush either of McCain or Romney, and the big issues -- the economy and the war -- are running against Republicans right now.

MORE: Roger Simon snapped some pictures of the hangers-on at the Democratic debate just finished. From which of the two Americas do they come?

TOTALLY MORE: I have more cognative dissonance over Obama than any candidate I can remember. I like listening to him enormously, even though he supports policies that I oppose. He is the most liberal member of the United States Senate, but is not nearly as annoying as at least 80 other Senators from both parties. Whether he wins the nomination this time or not, Barack Obama is going to be a powerful force for the Democrats for a generation. Republicans had better get used to it.

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Victimology, Identity and Moral Hazard 

Calculated Risk responds to a PBS report splitting labels about someone who bought an investment property and is in financial jeopardy:
I have no idea why I wouldn't call Ms. Sanchez a real estate speculator, since as far as I can tell she was speculating in real estate.

I know why. Because she is about to be portrayed as a victim. Speculators just reap what they sow. Says Sanchez:
You cannot sit back and let things happen to people.
Surely that's not a universal rule.

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A hero falls 

Just under sixty-three years ago American soldiers and Marines raised a flag on Mount Suribachi. One of them died today.

Are there any veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan whose deaths we will mark in sixty years time? It does not seem likely. American gratitude is not what it once was.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Snow falling on palm trees 

It is snowing in the Holy Land:

A woman walks in the Old City during a snow storm in Jerusalem January 30, 2008. Jerusalem and its holy sites were covered in a blanket of snow on Wednesday.

Snow fell on Baghdad three weeks ago, and Israel, Palestine, and Jordan today. Lots of it:
In Ramallah, residents were surprised to see snow when they awoke. For some, it was their first time.

"I am just astonished with the snow. When I saw the snow this morning, I felt happy, my heart was laughing," said Mary Zabaro, 17.

In Amman, where a foot of snow fell, children used inflatable tubes as sleds. Some roads were temporarily closed.

Snow covered most mountain villages and blocked roads in Lebanon. The storm disrupted power supplies in most Lebanese towns and villages, exacerbating existing power cuts. Parts of the Beirut-Damascus highway were closed.

Doesn't God know He is screwing with the political will to do something about global warming?

UPDATE: Are greenhouse gases protecting us against a cooling sun?

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Like claymation, only edible 

Check out "Food Fight", a tasty history of war since the start of World War II.

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Who should you vote for? Heed Vote Chooser! 

Check out the "Vote Chooser" tool. It worked very well for me, lining up the candidates according to my policy preferences in almost precisely the order that I would vote for them as president.

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Regarding the "Black Death": A small point of nomenclature and a few bits of trivia 

The paper of "record" has a story about the epidemiology of plague, the disease that is believed to be behind the 14th century's "Black Death," Europe's last great demographic disaster before the wars of the 20th century. A new study suggests that plague preferentially killed people who were already weak from some other illness. Not the biggest surprise in the annals of medicine, but a useful little addition to our store of knowledge.

Never wanting to miss a chance, however petty, to whack the New York Times, as the son of a medievalist who had written about the "Black Death" it is my bounden duty to pick at the Grey Lady's headline: "Clues to Black Plague’s Fury in 650-Year-Old Skeletons". There is no such thing as the "black plague". The disease in question is simply "plague," and it comes in three forms: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. The term "Black Death" refers to the specific plague pandemic that swept Europe in the 14th century. Plague at other times and places is not "black death." While septicemic plague can cause a certain blackening of the skin in the extremities, it is not "black plague." The "black" part of the Black Death was mostly metaphorical, arising from the suddenly and shocking mortality that would sweep a medieval village seemingly from nowhere, an apparently portent of the end times.

I admit this little rant was petty, but I did it for our dear departed Dad.

Now, there are some interesting bits of trivia around the transmission of plague. The bacterium involved rejoices in the name Yersinia pestis, and most of the time it resides harmlessly in the stomachs of fleas. Under certain conditions believed to be driven by certain weather conditions, however, Y. pestis will start to reproduce at frightening speed, quickly filling up the flea's stomach. The next time the bacteria-engorged flea bites another great or small creature in the hope of feeding on blood, it will regurgitate into the bloodstream of its new host.

Yes, plague is spread by flea vomit.

But wait, I have more. The Black Death pandemic killed a huge proportion of Europeans, and we now have reason to believe that it took the weakest among them. The Europeans alive at the end of the 14th century were systematically different from those at the beginning. Is there something unique about the descendents of the survivors of the Black Death? Disproportionate immunity to HIV, perhaps? There is real science that suggests as much.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The zelig candidate 

I have lusted in my heart - Carter Stays Neutral in Race, But Praises Obama's Oratory - WSJ.com
"Obama's campaign has been extraordinary and titillating for me and my family," Mr. Carter said.

Carter goes on to argue something similar to Sullivan's lengthy endorsement:
".I think that Obama will be almost automatically a healing factor in the animosity now that exists, that relates to our country and its government."

It's amazing how much identity politics goes on around Obama. Sullivan thinks his name alone will heal rifts with the arab world. It seems like an awful lot of the enthusiasm revolves around who he is and how that will affect people as opposed to what he might actually do. As Sullivan himself says:
The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama. It has little to do with his policy proposals, which are very close to his Democratic rivals’ and which, with a few exceptions, exist firmly within the conventions of our politics. It has little to do with Obama’s considerable skills as a conciliator, legislator, or even thinker. It has even less to do with his ideological pedigree or legal background or rhetorical skills. Yes, as the many profiles prove, he has considerable intelligence and not a little guile.

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From the ashes of the housing bust... 

...springs forth the American entrepreneurial spirit!

Recently I posted about Jingle Mail, and questioned whether or not it might become a widespread trend.

This question may have just been answered, for now the underwater homeowner may retain the services of a firm that will assist them in determining whether or not to walk away from their contractual obligation, otherwise known as their mortgage.

Introducing You Walk Away LLC, which dares ask the question, "Is foreclosure right for you?"

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One for the lawyers 

I am not a lawyer, but TH is, and I suspect a good percentage of his loyal readership has worked for a big law firm at one point or another, and some probably still do.

For you then, I present Above The Law, a legal gossip site I just stumbled upon.

I have not thoroughly perused this blog, but my wife was a corporate attorney for a top New York firm, and judging by the stories she can tell, I imagine there will be no shortage of material here.

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"Prepare or die" 

For those with a bent towards a preparedness mindset, Survivalblog has posted a link-rich entry in its monthly non-fiction writing contest entitled Prepare or Die that is worth a look.

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A question for Mitt Romney 

You may or may not know that the Mormon Church strongly encourages its followers to store a year of food as a matter of course. This is probably why the bulk of the canneries which package food for long-term storage are in Utah, including Walton Feed (which, as a periodic customer, I can strongly recommend by the way. And no, I am not a Mormon).

So my question for Romney would be, "as Mormons, does your family have a one-year food supply in storage, and do you recommend that non-Mormons take similar measures? Why or why not?"

It would be interesting to hear what he has to say.

UPDATE from TigerHawk: This seems like a missed opportunity for Mitt to lock up the survivalist vote, which readers of this blog might assume is larger than popularly understood.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hillary and troubled Waters 

Watching Fox just now. Hillary was bragging on the endorsement she just received from Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA). Bad idea. Michelle Malkin presciently wrote in 2000 that:

[Waters] is one of the most self-serving, hate-filled, race-obsessed politicians in America. The Democratic Party doesn’t just embrace her. It kneels at her feet.

Hillary certainly knelt tonight. I can imagine the opposition advertising already.

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Are magazine advertising pages way down? 

I get a lot of magazines, and for the last few weeks they seem incredibly thin. The current issue of Newsweek is almost free of advertising. Of 67 available pages, there are only 18 pages of advertising of which roughly half are for pharmaceuticals. There is a 22-page stretch (pp. 23-44) with no ads at all. The last couple issues of the New Yorker have also been very flimsy. Have any of you out in Readerland noticed the same thing? Is this normal seasonality, or is it worse than usual? If so, does it reflect a contracting economy or the weakening of dead-tree media?

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One for the lads... 

It's not Friday, but that does not mean we ought not link to blog coverage of Saturday night's Miss America contest.

I can almost feel my brows lowering.

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A point in Obama's favor 

I am not sure how important this is in a president, but Barack Obama seems to be a genuinely decent fellow. For example, it is hard to imagine Hillary (or, for that matter, Rudy Giuliani) doing this.

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Crow for dough 

A nation in which the poor are defined by an income level that in most countries would make them prosperous is a nation that has all but forgotten the true meaning of poverty. A nation in which obesity is largely a problem of the poor (and anorexia of the upper-middle class) does not understand the word "hunger." A nation in which the most celebrated recent cases of racism, at Duke University or in Jena, La., are wholly or mostly contrived is not a racist nation. A nation in which our "division" is defined by the vitriol of Ann Coulter or James Carville is not a truly divided one--at least while Mr. Carville is married to Republican operative Mary Matalin and Ms. Coulter is romantically linked with New York City Democrat Andrew Stein.

Wait...Coulter's dating a Democrat?

I might add a bit - When partisan vitriol becomes a primarily commercial endeavor, the nation is not truly divided. Let's face it - Coulter, Carville, Krugman - being reasonable is obviously a not-for-profit enterprise.

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Hit the PJM straw poll today! 

It is a new week in the PJM straw poll, so click on the banner above and spin like a dervish for your favorite, or least disliked, candidate from each party. For what it is worth, TigerHawk readers seem to have moved decidedly against Hillary in the last week. Is that because you, along with many Democrats, are suffering from Bill flashbacks, or is it because Ezra Klein linked and we have been a bit leftier than usual today?

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Taking redlining to a whole new level 

Back in the day before anyone with a pulse could qualify for a mortgage loan well beyond their means, banks and mortgage originators were sometimes accused of redlining, the practice of drawing lines around certain neighborhoods, usually of certain ethnic and/or socioeconomic status, where they would not lend. To combat this practice, Congress railed against the banks and ultimately enacted the Community Reinvestment Act, the purpose of which was to encourage lending in these neighhborhoods.

Today, Calculated Risk has linked to a very interesting document created by Countrywide Funding, the nations largest mortgage loan originator. The Soft Market County Index assigns all the counties in the US a score ranging from 1 to 5, with 5 representing the worst markets. Exactly how this will be used in the mortgage underwriting process is not clear, but presumably riskier neighborhoods will require more stringent underwriting. (Of course if Countrywide had followed such practices all along, perhaps we might have avoided some of the Real Homes of Genius).

How's your county holding up?

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Let's hope they do better with this one. 

The bond/derivatives market seems to like the intentions of the New York Insurance Department with respect to bond insurers. The graph below shows the price of Credit Default Swaps for some major bond insurers. This instrument is quoted in basis points (0.01%) and as a 'spread' premium analogous to the yield difference between the indicated credit and an interbank rate. So higher CDS prices indicate a higher price to hedge the issuer's credit risk, or deteriorating credit:

For those of you who don't follow these markets, the incredible decline of priced credit quality starting last summer may be a bit of a shock. This is cliff-diving of the first order. The sharp bounce-back after the insurance department announcement is also a little startling. Whether you think the run-up or the bounce-back is exaggerated, these price swings suggest herding among the hedging and speculative buyers.

I have trouble imagining the Insurance Department effort as analogous to the Fed's intervention in the LTCM crisis. At the very least, one hopes they can turn in a better performance than they have taking ownership of the state's medmal companies and inhibiting competition. I mentioned regulatory capture in a prior post, and that example is a doozy, where NY followed the highly successful old NJ auto model. Make everybody write the crap, hold down rates, limit competition by never letting an insurer leave and requiring companies submit their first-born to write in the state. We have a new commissioner, but this problem is orders of magnitude larger and more complex than LTCM.

At least in this case they will not be forcing the underwriters to back every bond. Bonds don't vote like drivers and patients.

UPDATE: They've hired a big gun (and former colleague of the commissioner).

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Why did President Bush de-emphasize Iraq? 

Don Surber wonders why President Bush implicitly diminished the importance of Iraq in his speech last night:

Bush ranks Iraq No. 4 on his list.

How can conservatives complain about the mass media downplaying the Victory in Iraq when the president ranks it fourth on his list of issues?

I do not agree that the media is (any longer) downplaying the "victory" -- progress is probably a better term -- in Iraq, but even if it is I am not at all sure that it is in the best interest of Republicans, as opposed to conservatives, to complain about it. I left a comment over at Don's post that warrants republishing:
In pushing Iraq down the speech, Bush was doing Republicans a favor. I stand behind few Americans in my hawkishness, but I do know this: Even many Americans who are relieved that Iraq will not end in defeat (or manifest failure of some sort) do not think that the war, as it was fought, was smart. Unless things turn massively better in visible ways — say, no American soldier killed after July, and evidence of Iraqi political reconciliation too profound to be ignored — the Republican nominee is going to prefer that Iraq be mentioned as little as possible.

Since I do not believe that Iraq will clearly resolve itself by this summer, the Republican nominee is going to talk about something else. The usual alternative is the economy, but the Republican will probably be on the defensive on that subject as well. That suggests to me that the fall campaign will be about character and (indirectly) gender if Hillary is the Democratic nominee and experience and (indirectly) race if Obama is. Both issues will make for exceedingly low-minded press and blog coverage, and many of us will feel a bit queasy even if we delight in the big surge in traffic.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Stimulating the economy over the short and long term 

Foreign Policy magazine interviewed Harvard economist and erstwhile Reagan administration advisor Martin Feldstein, about the prospects for a recession in the United States and the best method for avoiding or shortening same. The interview included this exchange over the value of fiscal stimulus, which explains for the layman the circumstances under which it can increase growth.

FP: U.S. President George W. Bush has proposed a roughly $140 billion stimulus package that centers on one-time tax rebates. But George Mason University economist Russell Roberts says the very idea of an economic stimulus package is “like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of a pool and dumping it into the shallow end.” As he put it, “If you can make the economy grow, why wait for bad times?” So, is the idea of a stimulus package just political theater, or do you expect it to really help?

MF: I do expect it to help, but let me be clear about why it’s not like moving water from one end of the pool to the other, or more accurately, why it is not a way of making the economy grow under all circumstances. If the economy is fully employed and growing at a normal pace, 3.5 percent, with unemployment under 5 percent and no expectation of a downturn, then aggregate demand is not the problem. Then, the only way to get the economy to grow more is to have more investment in capital equipment, people working harder, more innovation, and so on. And you can’t do that by simply giving money back to taxpayers to spend more. So, the “spend more” approach to increasing economic activity is not about long-term growth. What it’s about is offsetting the risk of an economic downturn.

In other words, if everybody is working hard you can only accelerate growth by investing so that they work more productively. If lots of people are not working then you need to put fuel in the fire to get them to work. The objection, I suppose, is that stimulus today comes at a price tomorrow, at least if you debase the currency to accomplish it. Does the knowledge of that future inflation undermine the effectiveness of the stimulus today? That is what happened during the 1970s, but perhaps so many Americans have forgotten that experience that it can work again until we learn the lesson again.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The State of the Onion 

I worked late and caught the State of the Onion address on Tivo delay, but if you missed it you can get the transcript and some live-blogging links here. John Hawkins of Right Wing News live-blogged here. I am too tired to offer much pith, except to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the long overdue decision to ignore earmarks that are not particularly set forth in enacted legislation. It is not original to observe that the Republicans would be in much better shape today if the President had imposed the same constraint on Congress when his own party controlled it.

Onions, like ogres1 and any well-constructed foreign policy, are built in layers. Stratfor peeled off a few and looked beyond the shallow tedium of the speech to the strategic core of the Bush administration's late-game foreign policy:

Many see Bush as constrained by his lame duck status, his unpopularity and a Democratic majority in Congress. Stratfor disagrees. We see these factors as empowering the White House.

Bush is not running for reelection, so he need not cater to the polls. He has no clear successor to support, so he need not spare the lash for fear of harming an ally. A Democratic Congress combined with a general election in November means that all of his initiatives are dead on arrival on the House and Senate floor, so he need not even spare a glance in the direction of domestic policy.

All the pieces are in place for a no-holds-barred executive with very few institutional restrictions on his ability to act. Foreign affairs require neither popular support nor Congressional approval.

The president’s primary goal in 2008 is simple: reaching an arrangement with Iran. Ideally, this would be a mutually agreed upon deal that splits influence in Iraq, but we have already moved past the point where that is critical. Al Qaeda, the reason for being involved in the region in the first place, is essentially dead. The various Sunni Arab powers that made al Qaeda possible have lined up behind Washington. Iran and the United States may still wish to quibble over details, but the strategic picture is clearing: a U.S.-led coalition is going to shape the Middle East, and it is up to Iran whether it wants to play the role of that coalition’s spear or its target. And the Bush administration has the full power of the United States — and one long year — to drive that point home.

Is Bush empowered by his unpopularity? Maybe that explains why he looked so happy! In any case, spew your reactions to Stratfor's substantive theory in the comments.

Separately, I note that the Democrats entrusted their response to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who has raised at least one impishly creative child and who proves that middle-aged women can let their hair go grey and still look great.
1. Pop culture reference.

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Fascist is as fascist does 

I've been reading Jonah Goldberg's book as well (in little commuting bits, unfortunately). So far I have mixed feelings. On the one hand the pop-culture references that lean towards conflating conservatism and fascism deserve a sharp response. On the other hand, Goldberg can't seem to decide whether this is a lengthy Tu Quoque or a more detached examination of the term. The former is just a super-sized cheeseburger for the right-o-sphere. That's where the cover and a lot of the unread blogosphere discussion leads us.

But why should that stop us? I'm looking at some of Megan McArdle 's dialogue on the subject. In the comments two criteria come up as proposed Fascist traits:

7 Religion and Government are Intertwined
8 Corporate Power is Protected

As the linked comment suggests, these aren't necessarily conventional criteria for fascism. However, they do illustrate how listing fascist state attributes can take you through the looking glass.

For instance, many utopian states are envisioned as completely disassociated from organized religion. The problem is, these utopian states might also be described as a competing religion, requiring certain articles of faith and codes of behavior. So the state is either completely divorced from religion or it is the monopoly religion. One can argue from either point of view.

Similarly, when a government seeks to regulate more, it often has the effect of protecting corporate power as much as diminishing it. In theory the government acts in the interests of the consumer. In practice...not so much. In the extreme, a socialist economy takes over corporations, which become the agents of an extremely powerful state. Has a corporation's power grown or diminished when marketplace discipline is replaced by sovereign stakeholders?

These are the reasons, as one commenter states, that the term has become so malleable. The word fascism is simply attached, in common usage, to some very malleable concepts.

Make no mistake, Goldberg is addressing the 'common usage" crowd. That's one of the things that's a bit confusing about Liberal Fascism. It's clearly provoked by the proverbial rabble raising "Bushitler" signs, but quickly takes on the veneer of an academic classification exercise.

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Story of the day 

The Telegraph reports on an innovative crime ring operating out of Sweden:

Criminal gangs are using dwarves in a ruse to steal from the luggage holds of long-distance coaches, by hiding them inside suitcases, according to police.

The bizarre crime is on the rise in Sweden and officers say thieves have got away with thousands of pounds in cash, jewellery and other valuables in recent months.

The dwarves hide themselves and their loot in bags. Gangs are said to sneak the dwarves into the luggage hold, hidden inside baggage.

Then, once the journey has begun, the stowaways are free to rifle through the bags of other passengers without fear of being apprehended.

Before the coach arrives at its destination the dwarves take their loot back into their suitcase, zip themselves inside and wait to be collected by their partners in crime.
After reading this my memory regurgitated a classic Steve Martin bit for reasons that should become apparent:

What I believe:

I believe in rainbows, and puppy dogs and fairy tales. And I believe in the family: Mom, and Dad, and Grandma, and Uncle Todd, who waves his penis.

And I believe in 8 of the Ten Commandments, and I believe in going to church every Sunday, unless there's a game on.

And I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, wholesome, and natural things that money can buy.

And I believe it's derogatory to refer to a woman's breasts as "boobs", "jugs", "winnebagos", or "golden bozos". And you should only refer to them as "hooters".

And I believe you should place a woman on a pedestal, high enough so you can look up her dress.

And I believe in equality, equality for everyone, no matter how stupid they are, or how much better I am than they are.

And people say I'm crazy for believing this, but I believe that robots are stealing my luggage.

And I believe I made a mistake when I bought a 30-story, one-bedroom apartment.

And I believe that the "Battle of the Network Stars" should be fought with guns.

And I believe that Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was: an arctic region, covered with ice.

And I believe the United States should all foreigners in this country, provided they can speak our native language: Apache.

And lastly, I believe that of all the evils on this earth, there is nothing worse than the music you are listening to right now.
Obviously, the bit is intended to be heard, not read.

Anyway, I was so pleased to see the Telegraph chasing down this story. With the demise of the Weekly World News there is obviously a niche to be exploited, and I eagerly look foward to their picking up coverage of Bat Boy.

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Thinking charitably 

I just gave some money from my donor-advised fund to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Any charities that Tigerhawk readers think are especially deserving? There is a bit more from my 2007 donation to be distributed.

I already give to -

and some very local charities. I'm always interested in not-for-profits that people feel are innovative. I've given to Operation Give in the past, but they seem to have fallen off the radar a bit. Plus, I'd be curious as to where the Tigerhawk reader dollar goes.

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Is the dollar turning into the yen? 

Financial markets are dangerous territory for me to blog, since I know less about them than any of my co-bloggers. That said, the theory of this morning's "Ahead of the Tape" column in today's Wall Street Journal strikes me as unlikely to be true over any sustained period:

The U.S. financial crisis is starting to look eerily like Japan's: a real-estate bust after years of speculation, banks saddled with mountains of bad debt, interest rates heading lower as policy makers try to goose a slowing economy.

The developments have some currency traders asking the previously unthinkable: Could the U.S. dollar slowly be turning into the Western equivalent of the yen?

Other central bankers have been reluctant to act as the Fed slashes interest rates. In places such as Europe, they are worried more about inflation than economic collapse. The disparity in policies could turn the dollar into one of the world's lower-yielding currencies -- and a vehicle for something that investors call the carry trade, in which they borrow money in a low-yielding currency and use it to invest in assets denominated in higher-yielding currencies.

Japan's yen has been the carry-trade vehicle of choice for years, given the country's superlow interest rates. The Swiss franc has been another. If the Fed keeps cutting rates, carry-traders might line up to ride the dollar like a birthday pony, with important implications for markets and the economy.

"The dollar is now generally looking like a low-yielder,"
says Alan Ruskin, international strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital. "If the fed-funds rate got below 3%, it would establish itself as that."

If the dollar becomes a carry-trade object, the Fed's job would become more difficult. Carry-trade currencies face steady selling pressure -- traders are essentially betting against the dollar. A weak dollar could in turn keep inflation risks alive, by raising the cost of imports. But Fed rate increases to fight inflation would threaten economic growth and potentially cause waves of market turmoil with all manner of trades pegged to the currency.

Yes, interest rates are very low and the U.S. economy is working its way through the destruction of a massive amount of capital. While that condition prevails, which it may for months to come, there may well be a profitable "carry trade" in the U.S. dollar. In the medium to long run, though, the United States economy will have a much higher rate of return than Japan or Europe. Why? Because unlike those other countries our population is still growing, our labor markets remain fluid (despite the best efforts of the trial lawyers and the paternalists), we are relatively unregulated (ditto), and we have a vibrant venture capital market to drive innovation. Even when we are in the doldrums Americans start more businesses than the Japanese, and American investors demand that those businesses be structured to generate double-digit returns on equity over the long term. Yes, a Euro invested in Europe will return more this year than a dollar invested in the United States, but does anybody think that it will over the next five years?

The United States economy will come through this credit crunch just as it has survived every other credit debacle of the last thirty years. Unless, of course, we decide that the pain of economic disorder is so unacceptable that we need massive new regulation of business. I hope we do not decide that, because economic disorder is the fountainhead of opportunity, and opportunity is what makes America the land of second, third, and fourth chances.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

So's your mom 

This is a good example why I've thought of changing the pen name. Even the most grandiloquent of bloggers plays with it like a nursery school kid with a new knock-knock joke. The discussion in that comment thread, or lack thereof, reminds me of assprat pretentia, for some reason.

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Will Barack Obama support Israel? 

Ed Lasky (American Thinker) and Paul Mirengoff (Power Line) are wondering why Barack Obama has enlisted Robert Malley as one of his foreign policy advisors. As the various links reveal, Malley is just about as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli as credible foreign policy analysts get, at least in the United States. Now, Malley is but one advisor to Obama among many, and his views clearly diverge from Obama's stated positions. This raises the question, why does Obama list such an inflammatory figure as an advisor? Does Obama merely want different perspectives on his team, or does he genuinely agree with Malley notwithstanding his soothing words to Jewish groups, or is he sending a disingenuous signal to the big-money donors on the transnational left that America will weaken its support for Israel under an Obama presidency? Any of these explanations strike me as possible. It would be wonderful (hint, hint) if mainstream media journalists made some passing attempt to ascertain the correct explanation.

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Captain Ed endorses Mitt Romney 

Those of you who read Ed Morrissey's excellent blog Captain's Quarters know him to be a principled conservative who thinks carefully on a wide range of issues. After much deliberation, he has announced that he will caucus for Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday.

Ed's explanation reveals his own moderation; like me (and our co-blogger CardinalPark), he thinks that Republicans have a strong group of candidates to choose from. His choice of Romney over McCain does not reflect the strong dislike of McCain evinced by many conservatives, but a preference for Romney's executive background, which he believes will confer an advantage in the general election. Ed also likes that Romney has contested every state, which his apparent second-choice, Rudy Giuliani, has not done. There is certainly merit to all of these arguments.

Ed does not, interestingly, address the "electability" questions that might factor into a preference for the Republican nomination (other than to say that nominating McCain -- a Senator -- will make it impossible to make the argument that Senators Clinton and Obama do not have executive experience). These electability considerations certainly include (i) whether evangelicals will be more inclined to stay at home if Romney -- rather than McCain or Giuliani -- is the Republican nominee, (ii) whether the immigration hawks will be more inclined to stay at home if McCain is the nominee, (iii) whether Americans would be more likely to vote against a Mormon because he is a Mormon than against an African-American or a woman for the same reason, and (iv) whether Romney's vast wealth and Wall Streetish persona will hurt more than they will help in a political campaign that is likely to be characterized by lefty/populist appeals under fairly difficult economic conditions.

Nor does Ed speak to the best thing about John McCain: He has been rock solid on support for the war while being cogently critical of its conduct, and he has a street cred with the American voter to which no other candidate comes close. Who, after all, can speak with such authority on the difficulty and importance of committing American troops to combat? On that subject, the gulf between John McCain and either of the two leading Democrats is vast, and may prove to be a far more important factor in the campaign than Romney's undeniable advantage in executive experience.

I am still undecided, but continue to believe that both parties will nominate candidates that prove to be stronger than either did in 2000 or 2004. So we've got that going for us.

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Personalizing FISA reform 

Those of you who have clicked through various of Andy McCarthy's links posted here know that I both follow the debate over reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") and do not really understand the legal argument underneath it. Meanwhile, The New York Times continues to fulminate against any law that reduces ex ante judicial scrutiny of electronic surveillance and implies that any Democratic Senator who thinks otherwise has been "bullied" into their position rather than arriving at it with any measure of intellectual honesty. Whatever your position on the issue, it is manifestly true that it is not a subject easily reduced to talking points.

That said, Lawrence Wright (author of the outstanding book The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11) has an article (not available online) in last week's New Yorker that does personalize the FISA controversy in its opening paragraphs (bold emphasis added).

Last May, the director of National Intelligence, a soft-spoken South Carolinian named Mike McConnell, learned that three U.S. soldiers had been captured by Sunni insurgents in central Iraq. As a search team of six thousand American and Iraqi forced combed through Babil Province, analysts at the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland, began examinating communications traffic in Iraq, hoping to pick up conversations among the soldiers' captors. To McConnell's consternation, such surveillance required a warrant -- not because the kidnappers were entitled to constitutional protections but because their communications might pass electronically through U.S. circuits.

The kidnappings could have been just another barely noticed tragedy in a long, bloody war, but at that moment an important political debate was taking place in Washington. Lawmakers were trying to strike a balance between respecting citizens' privacy and helping law enforcement and intelligence officials protect the country against crime, terror, espionage, and treason. McConnell, who had been in office for less than three months when the soldiers were captured, was urging Congress to make a change in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surgeillance Act, or FISA, which governs the process of eavesdropping on citizens and foreigners inside the U.S. and requires agencies to obtain a warrant within seventy-two hours after monitoring begins. The act was a response to abuses of the Nixon era, when the U.S. government turned its formidable surveillance powers against peace activists, reporters, religious groups, civil-rights workers, politicians, and even members of the Supreme Court. Over the years, the act had been amended many times, but McConnell believed that FISA -- a law written before the age of cell phones, e-mail, and the Web -- was dangerously outmoded. "If we don't update FISA, the nation is significantly at risk," McConnell told me. He said that federal judges had recently decided, in a series of secret rulings, that any telephone transmission or e-mail that incidentally flowed into U.S. computer systems was potentially subject to judicial overesight. According to McConnell, the capacity of the N.S.A. to monitor foreign-based communications had consequently been reduced by seventy percent. Now, he claimed, the lives of three American soldiers had been thrown onto the scale.


There would be no judicial review of NSA surveillance of foreigners if some other country dominated the switching of electronic communications. We have contrived via FISA to convert what ought to be a huge economic and geopolitical advantage -- our national telecommunications assets -- into a weakness in the waging of the shadow war against Islamist terrorism. It is not a stretch to surmise that people have died and will die as a result.

It is especially ironic that the strongest supporters of judicial review of electronic surveillance of messages routed through American switches are also the most strident critics of a military response to the jihad and the loudest voices bleating about the Bush administration's failure to find bin Laden. Ideally, in their mind, we would defeat al Qaeda using subtle tactics that nevertheless exclude military adventurism, widespread electronic surveillance without particular ex ante warrants, the confinement of unlawful enemy combatants without judicial review, or the rendering of foreign nationals to governments that might torture them to stop the next attack. One is forced to wonder what tactics the left would allow against al Qaeda, other than perhaps "consulting with our traditional allies" and selling Israel down the river in its war with Hamas and Hezbollah.

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Clark Hoyt squints at the veteran homicide stats 

A week ago we hammered the Public Editor of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, for having spent himself and his column on a technical examination of Times conflict rules while a huge controversy raged over the uses and abuses of statistics in a front page article about military veterans and homicide. Well, today Hoyt tackled the veterans story; while he is not nearly as critical of the faux-statistics in the article as most pro-military bloggers would be (and no doubt bloggers will peck at him today), he comes as close to straightening out the problem as anybody familiar with Hoyt's track record could possibly expect.


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Saturday, January 26, 2008

The hottest new Facebook applications... 

...according to The Onion. My favorite:

Carbon Offset Offsetter: With every click, a 6-year-old child in India is forced to dig up 50 pounds of coal and set it on fire

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Bob Herbert's layers of fact-checkers and editors 

Bob Herbert is now citing random comments he reads on blogs as evidence in support of the claim that the Clintons are smearing Barack Obama. There seems to be fairly widespread agreement that even New York Times columnists can find more authoritative sources to make their points.

But that's not the best part.

Herbert uncharitably chose to snark on the typos in the quoted blog comment:

Consider, for example, the following Web posting (misspellings and all) from a mainstream news blog on Jan. 13:

“omg people get a grip. Can you imagine calling our president barak hussien obama ... I cant, I pray no one would be disrespectful enough to put this man in our whitehouse.”

Not only did Herbert's editor fail to stop the beclowning inherent in his use of a blog comment, but he or she produced this pull-quote to draw our attention to the column:

Typos in the New York Times

"Misspellings and all" indeed!

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Officially, the buttocks is a "sexual organ" 

The federal government has ruled that the "buttocks is a sexual organ." This is strange, because the buttocks is not actually an organ. It is "either of the two rounded prominences on the human torso that are posterior to the hips and formed by the gluteal muscles and underlying structures." Yes, they can be attractive, but they can also be repulsively unattractive. The same might be said -- and it often is -- of thighs. Are they, too, sexual organs?

This sort of hair-splitting silliness is what comes from regulating that which should not be regulated.

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The United States Marines 

If you watch football or read conservative blogs, you have already seen this ad. Watch it again; I think it is missing something:

If the streets of heaven were there, I missed them. Unless they led to the farm. They might have been near the farm. Or possibly through the small town. Or maybe underneath the Tetons. Maybe one of those.

Semper Fi. And congratulations to the Marines for their powerful viral marketing mojo.

CWCID: Cassandra (who, by the way, faked her retirement again).

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Friday, January 25, 2008

A great reason to vote against Obama 

If you are not already asleep, noodle around this nightmare scenario:

Silky v1.0: Ambulance chaser. Silky v2.0: Al Qaeda chaser. Bob Novak says he and Obama struck a deal to make him AG in return for Edwards sticking around, stockpiling whatever delegates he can, and then handing them to the Messiah at the convention on the off chance that no one has a majority.

A tort lawyer as attorney general. Why even bother to conduct business under such circumstances?

There are many ways to categorize American voters. Pundits divide them by race, gender, income, geography, religion, and relative willingness to eat "challenging" sushi. Rarely, if ever, does the mainstream media recognize that all voters are either potential plaintiffs (most people) or potential defendants. The small but exceedingly important segment of the population that includes executives, corporate directors, doctors, dentists, architects, small business entrepreneurs, builders, and the proprietors of taverns all fall into the latter category; their's are the principal pockets from which enraged putative victims hope to extract recompense. If this story is true -- and it is a bit hard to believe, by my reckoning -- only self-hating members of the defendant class will support Obama. He should disavow the rumor right now.

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George W. Bush will win the Nobel Peace Prize! 

At least if this analogy holds.

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It strikes me that this paragraph could easily be re-written with "Kos", "DU", etc. and "Democrats" substituted at critical points.
Before the Internet, the average liberal or social democrat was largely insulated, on a day-to-day basis, from the kinds of views represented by Free Republic or Little Green Footballs. Similarly, unless we sought out rightwing magazines we were insulated to a large extent from commentators like Goldberg, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter. Now we can see them minute-to-minute and it’s obvious that the idea of treating them as part of a legitimate discussion is absurd.

Moreover, where it was once possible to treat occasional public manifestations of Freeperism as aberrations, it’s now obvious that this is how the Republican base really thinks. So, any Republican advocate or politician, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as either someone who shares Freeper/LGF views or someone who is willing to exploit the holders of such views in the pursuit of a personal or class interest.

Look, I've been a critic of Sunstein myself, but this is as pure an example of echo chamber thought as I've seen in a long time. It reminds me of the "objectively pro-whatever" argument in different attire. Or perhaps 'failure to denounce'.

Perhaps I'll have to reconsider Sunstein's point.

P.S. Or Quiggin is kidding, as suggested in the comments.


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Climate change: A primer for "consequences skeptics" 

Regular readers know that while I believe that excess greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to the warming of the climate, I am very skeptical that the consequences will be sufficient to justify the regulation proposed by the activists. (See Bjorn Lomborg's new book for an extended and accessable treatment of consequences skepticism.) Argumentative help is at hand for those of you who hope -- as I do -- that the activists are in fact far too pessimistic. The blogger Coyote has put together a video primer to explain the case for consequences skepticism. It is excellent.

CWCID: Maggie's Farm.

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Bursting the Gaza bubble 

Martin Kramer analyzes the implications of the recent explosion of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt. I liked this bit particularly:

There were 350,000 Palestinians in Gaza in 1967. Now there are 1.3 million, who are pushing against the envelope of Gaza’s narrow borders with growing force. Israel has the power and the resolve to push back. Egypt just doesn’t, which is why the envelope burst where it did.

That pressure will not relent, and since Hamas seeks to channel it into a “right of return” on the ruins of Israel, which the United States says it rejects, the question is this: where does Washington propose to divert this pressure?

That really is the question, isn't it?

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Doh! I missed another important anniversary! 

I am a fool. I can't believe I failed to mention that yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Caligula.

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Succession trouble 

In all the discussion about Slick Willie's long march back, I haven't seen anybody make the obvious point that Bill doesn't like being overshadowed by the new alpha male of the Democratic Party. He's cooler, he's better looking, he's younger. Man, he could tear it up if he was President.

Out with the old boss...

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Republican Florida debate notes 

I'm watching Brian Williams on MSNBC moderate the Republican Florida primary presidential debate. This will be a partial live-blog, capturing my impulsive reactions while I listen with one ear. I like Brian Williams, and expect him to do a much better job than Wolfie did for the Dems the other night.

1. The opening questions are to Romney and McCain, and deal with the economic stimulus deal reached by the White House and the Congressional leadership today (about which I am not entirely up to speed). On the Giuliani follow, I loved this:

If America overtaxes, if America overspends, if America overregulates, if America oversues, then business and jobs and money go elsewhere, and we're doing all four of those things.... Just how much business are we running out of the United States because of the excesses of Sarbanes-Oxley.

Awesome stuff, to my ears at least. Rudy wins my heart on the opening exchange.

2. Huckabee wants to rebuild our "infrastructure." We've heard about this issue since the early 1980s. Yes, we always need to do it, and yes, it will always be done when governments have extra money around. It is not true that we have "done nothing about it," and why does any Republican want to give a huge pile of money to the criminals who do construction for the government anyway?

3. Mitt Romney's online research team is already pelting me with emails about McCain's misstatements. No wonder the other candidates hate him!

4. Williams asks Giuliani whether the raising of foreign capital by American banks is "fundamentally un-American." Rudy rejects the comparison to his famous rejection of Saudi money following 9/11, and says that we "are engaged in a global economy, and that when countries invest in the United States there is a mutuality of interest that is helpful." This ought to be an ideal opportunity to mention Bill Clinton's extremely lucrative and politically difficult ties to Dubai, but blows his chance.

5. McCain on why the Republicans are best to lead the economy notwithstanding public opinion polls to the contrary: "I'm going to give you some straight talk," and hammers on pork barrel politics between Bush and the Donks. Is "straight talk" still a valuable brand?

6. Huckabee remains the populist, and with all these economic questions is working full time to establish unimpeachable RINO bona fides.

7. Mrs. TigerHawk re Romney: "He looks constipated. He always has this pained expression. Well-cut suit, though." She's really a lot deeper than that makes her sound.

8. A questioner from the audience claims that our military is "broken," that our economy cannot sustain the war, and that every "expert" agrees with this. McCain answers directly, "you are wrong," says that he does not know any American general who agrees with that, and attacks Hillary for "waiving the white flag of surrender." He had fire in his eyes when he said that. Good for McCain.

Romney's emailers are continuing to hammer McCain.

9. Romney: "What an audacious and arrogant thing for the Democrats to say that they are responsible for the success of the surge..." Refers to "General Hillary Clinton" to a grumpy murmur around the room.

Russert challenges each candidate to defend the premise of the war, that it was worth it in blood and treasure.

McCain defends the premise of the war, and says that the problem was the mishandling of the war by Rumsfeld.

Giuliani says he was for the war when "six out of ten were for it, and I'm for it when six out of ten are against it... as president of the United States you've got to be able to read polls, not be pushed around by them." In stark contrast to Hillary, he adds. Good answer. Giuliani is the most articulate man up there tonight, as he often is.

10. Huckabee actually compared weapons of mass destruction to Easter eggs. "Just because you don't find them does not mean they are not there." Logically true, but Easter eggs?

Now for questions from candidate to candidate...

Romney asks a question to Rudy: "As we compete with China, how do we make sure that trade is on a level playing field? What kind of economic relations do we need with China?"

Rudy: "China is a great opportunity for America, and a great caution for America. Both." "I see 20 or 30 million people in China climbing out of poverty every year in China. That's 20 or 30 million more customers for America." Indeed it is!

Also calls for an increase in the size of the military to "undo the damage of Bill Clinton's peace dividend."

Good answers both.

11. McCain asks Huckabee about the "Fair Tax": "How do you answer the criticism that a flat-out sales tax would not cause lower income Americans to bear a bigger burden of the cost of government? How do you account for the resonance this is getting across the nation?"

What, is McCain tossing softballs? Huckabee launches into abolishing the IRS, and defends the Fair Tax on the basis of its "untax" components. "I want to put the IRS out of business."

Russert observes that 93% of Americans pay less than 15% in taxes now, so how will they benefit if we implement a huge federal sales tax? A better question might be this: Given that 93% of Americans pay less than 15% in taxes now, how can anybody in their right mind claim that the tax system is regressive?

12. Mrs. TigerHawk: "By any possible measure, Ron Paul's suit is the worst on the stage." Do not draw the wrong conclusions about Mrs. TigerHawk from these non-representative quotations.

13. Huckabee tortures Romney over gun control, and its intersection with the Second Amendment. I admit, I have too much wine in me to understand Romney's long-winded answer, except that he is against any "new legislation" to regulate assault weapons.

Giuliani also goes after Romney, asking a question about getting property insurance, and a national catastrophic fund, and whether Romney supports it, and swipes at McCain along the way. Romney does not want "say, people in Iowa" to support "people in Florida," but suggests that "high risk states" should band together to solve the problem, and then drifts into a discussion on health insurance. Giuliani hits him well, I think.

14. Russert asks about climate change and its impact on Florida, saying that greenhouse gases threaten Florida in a very real way, and asks Rudy Giuliani why he is opposed to mandatory caps. One answer is that he is honest -- no candidate is genuinely willing to endorse mandatory caps. Instead he lapses into a long riff about how the solution involves technology.

15. Stephen Green points out that I need a drink. I have had two glasses of wine, but they obviously have not done the job. Green on another point:
Once you start to think of Romney as a six-foot-tall erect penis, you just can’t see him any other way. I mean, watch the guy with that in mind and tell me I’m wrong. “We’re the party of fiscal responsibility. Bulging, thrusting fiscal responsibility.”

Sort of goes with my wife's suit comment. Sort of.

16. Had to hit the pause button for a few minutes to deal with a teenage daughter situation. Coming back soon.

17. I really cannot stand it when presidential candidates debate about climate change. It always seems like arguing about religion. Can we ask Huckabee and the Mormon a few theology questions instead?

18. I'm about 15 minutes behind. But that won't make this post any more interesting.

Brian Williams asks Giuliani why he has declined in the polls. Giuliani likens his prospects to the New York Giants, and claims he has "lulled them into a false sense of security."

Tonight, at least, Giuliani is the most likeable guy up there, even more so than Huckatool.

Brian Williams channels John McCain's mother, who said that the "Republican Party is going to have to hold its nose and nominate" her son. Is McCain a RINO? Not as long as Huckabee is up there.

Look, if, like me, you hate yard work, McCain's position on immigration is not all that offensive. Apart from that and his disregard of the Constitution on the wonkish issue of campaign finance reform (a general election winner, by the way), he's pretty darn conservative in an Arizona way. He's not my favorite guy up on that stage, but none of them are... Or something.

19. Russert asks Romney how is going to run against Hillary and Bill Clinton. Romney says he hopes he has the chance, because he does not think that the American people want to think about Bill rattling around the White House with not enough to do. Heh. Then he gets serious, and delivers his strongest answer of the night.

20. Russert asks Romney how much of his own money he is spending, and Romney blows the answer, both refusing to answer the question about his own contribution, and bragging on the amounts he has raised from others. He has moved from his strongest answer of the night to his most douchebaggiest. There will be some ugly soundbites in this segment.

21. Now Romney gets the religion question, and he answers its well, claiming that Americans will not impose a religious test at the polls. I dunno. Depends what Huckabee's friends tell them to do once they get there.

22. Ron Paul does serve a useful purpose, insofar as he perpetuates the idea that there is "no money there" for Social Security. Not strictly true, but a useful point to make.

23. Tivo pause: The TigerHawk Daughter just saw a friend blow chunks on video chat -- one of her friends, apparently, is coming down with someting. Yuck.

24. After a none-too-brief Huckabee interlude, Russert asks Romney whether he would, as Ronald Reagan did, "raise taxes to save Social Security." I'm too tired too comment on his serviceable yet trite answer.

25. Giuliani wants to "stop illegal immigration at the border." Stephen Green:
How many Miami residents got there via boat from Cuba? Smart play?


Williams asks Giuliani to distinguish between people who flee Cuba, and people who come from other disgusting countries. Seems like a softball to Rudy in Florida, and he smashes it out.

Chuck Norris says McCain is too old? This is a question. Seriously? Huckabee distances himself with humor.

26. Sylvestor Stallone has endorsed McCain? That could tip it for me.

27. Rudy defends himself against an editorial in the New York Times (quoted by Brian Williams) that claimed he is cruel by pointing out that he has never done anything that the New York Times approved of.

28. Williams now reads from some other campaign's press release "faxed" to Williams mid-debate. Romney's troops have sent me at least seven emails since the debate began. Why are the other guys using faxes?

29. McCain goes apeshit when Williams asks him about his temper. OK, not really. But I still think that Hillary might needle him into transporting rage in the fall.

Toolish question of the night: Williams quoting some clown to Huck that his religion gives the clown a "queasy feeling." Huckabee, who always gets the god questions -- nobody has the stones to ask Romney about the gold tablets and such -- handled the question very eloquently. On the "feelings" questions, he cannot be beat.

30. Done. Stephen Green, who did not have to hit pause other than to refill his drink, has a recap post which is better than anything I might have written:
Giuliani needed to score big hits against both McCain and Romney to reestablish himself as the frontrunner in Florida. Instead, he squandered his opportunities trying to score points against Hillary Clinton. And that’s so November ‘07. So Rudy lost tonight.

Romney needed to be solid enough to keep McCain from sealing the deal tonight. He was solid, but was it enough? We won’t know until Super Duper Tuesday next month.

McCain needed to look and sound like a frontrunner. As a guy who would rather take a ball-peen hammer to his own knuckles than vote for McCain, I’m forced to admit that he did just that. For any other candidate, that would be a draw. But in McCain’s position, a draw is a win.

Also, Huckabee and Paul showed up, and neither one sprouted visible devil horns. That’s a win for their shrinking throngs of supporters — and a big Zero for each nutty candidate.

I thought that Giuliani did better than Mr. Green did, but probably not good enough to change the race. Indeed, he was remarkably mild against McCain and Romney, suggesting to me that he may be playing for VEEP -- anybody's VEEP, frankly. I also agree that McCain looked strong, and since I like him more than Cocktail Steve does I am in good shape. Romney was all over the place, generally strong on the answers, but unappealing on the vibes. His answer on the financing of his campaign was terribly unattractive, making him look like a real Wall Streeter for whom money is a proxy for points on a scoreboard. Not a good message for the average voter.

All in, though, it remains the case that I can live with any of the Mitt, John, or Rudy, and would happily vote for any of them.

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Sarah Boxer strikes again: Writing about blogs to the lefty intelligentsia 

I have read The New York Review of Books for years, following my father's example. Painful as it may be, it is much easier to engage as a citizen if you understand the received wisdom of those with different political beliefs.

The New York Review is one of the least bloggy periodicals written for a general audience. It takes a long time to put articles online, and its editors seem genuinely mystified by the impact of blogs on political discourse in this country. Evidence: The magazine consciously or unconsciously remains the last publication in the universe to cling to Dan Rather's version of the "60 Minutes" scandal that drove him from his job (of which more later).

The current issue includes a review essay with the title "Blogs" by one Sarah Boxer [UPDATE: It is now available here.]. The article itself explains blogs to people who have no clue what they are, or might be vaguely familiar with the term.

A blog, for those who don't know, is a journal or log that appears on a Web site. It is written on line, and updated on line. It's there for anyone with an Interenet connection to see and (in many cases) comment on. The entries, or posts, are organized in reverse chronological order, like a pile of unread mail, with the newest posts on top and the older stuff on the bottom. Some blog resemble on-line magazines, complete with graphics, sidebars, and captioned photos. Others just have the name of the blog at the top and dated entries under it. You can find blogs by doing a regular Google search for the blog name (if you know it) or by doing a Google Blog search using keywords.

You get the idea.

Boxer then gives examples of blog entries and bloggy writing (she reprints these two workaday posts from Instapundit along the way), and concludes that it is so different from journalism that some actual professional journalists never get the hang of it.

Sarah Boxer may indeed be one of those writers who does not "get" blogs, even though she has edited an anthology of blog posts into a book (which only somebody who does not "get" blogs would do, a point the author gets close to making herself). Boxer is a former reporter and critic for the New York Times, and made herself rather infamous on the right side of the blogosphere by recklessly speculating -- on the basis of absolutely no evidence notwithstanding layers of fact-checkers and editors -- that the Iraqi authors of the blog Iraq the Model were CIA stooges. This was widely understood to have put their lives in serious jeopardy at a time when Iraq was especially violent and the Iraq the Model team was particularly at risk. Among the various bloggers who hammered Boxer and the Times, Jeff Jarvis was uniquely devestating.

Boxer's own close encounter with a blogswarm did not make it into her article in the New York Review even as a footnote, a failure that the editors of that august publication would regard as embarrassing if they read blogs or used Technorati, which they obviously do not. She did, however, have time to write about other blogswarms, mostly to suggest that they are grievously unfair to their targets (at least insofar as they come from the right). On Rathergate, she wrote this:
One of the surest ways to hoist your blog to the top of the charts is to bring down a big-time politician or journalist. (Bloggers who constantly dog the mainstream media, or MSM, have been dubbed the Pajamahadeen.) In 2004 the blogs Little Green Footballs and Power Line helped set Rathergate in motino when they spread the allegation that the memos Dan Rather presented on 60 Minutes II about President George W. Bush's Air National Guard duty were fakes. (Since then, a CBS panel investigating the matter has failed to prove that Rather's account of Bush's military career was substantially wrong, and Rather has pressed a suit against CBS for "wrongful dismissal.")

Boxer footnoted her "failed to prove" with a citation to James Goodale's laughable defense of Rather published shortly after Richard Thornburgh's investigation into the matter. Is "laughable" too cruel? I commend to you my own fisking -- a blog term that Boxer curiously omits from her primer -- of Goodale almost three years ago. Suffice it to say that no sane reader of the Thornburgh report would have reached the conclusions that Goodale reached, yet Boxer cited it rather than mention -- in an article about blogs -- Power Line's "Sixty-First Minute," possibly the single most famous blog post ever written, or Charles Johnson's "smoking memo" graphic, which (along with all the collateral evidence) makes it virtually impossible to conclude that the memos used by Dan Rather were anything other than forgeries.

Sarah Boxer wants to understand the intersection between blogs and journalism, but her ideology has led her astray time and time again. That she finds major media editors to publish her stories seemingly without regard for intellectual honesty ought to be disappointing. Unfortunately, it is par for the course.

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Device gnats-go away! 

It's difficult to endure the constant HP all-in-one ads stuck into Insty's RSS feed these days. I've had several of these. The printers are OK. HP's software is bloated and buggy, as the commenters at Amazon say. In particular, the network printer software leaves a lot to be desired. Printers disappear, crash on certain documents, etc. It works much better if you use the corporate driver and install to a fixed IP address using Windows. But then you won't be able to do the scanning or the occasional photo print (who cares about integrated faxing anymore?).

And what's with all these crappy services they bloat into your configuration and the little tuxedo-iconed application that keeps asking me to set up the printer when I already set it up? I'd like to snap its little suspenders. All this stuff is so in-your-face.

Ironically, the linux drivers come closest to offering unobtrusive functionality (I have a MAC, a PC and an old PC running Ubuntu at home). Of course, HP didn't write those.

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Patsies at the Fed? 

In light of the Soc Gen revelation (see Mindles's post below) there is now speculation that the Fed got suckered into its emergency 75 basis point cut on Tuesday. It seems a primary driver of Monday's stock market debacle was Soc Gen unwinding the massive positions allegedly put in place by the rogue. From Marketbeat:

The revelation that Societe Generale is taking a $7 billion write-down due to the activities of one rogue trader — and additional reports that the French bank may have been unwinding those positions on Monday, a thinly traded, volatile day when Asian and European markets were rocked with losses, puts the Fed’s move in a new light. Namely, that they were taken in.

“They were sucker punched,” says Barry Ritholtz, director of equity research at Fusion IQ. “What we see now is that it was a very ill-considered attempt to intervene in equity prices.”

Officials at Societe Generale admitted that the firm was in the markets, trying to close these positions in the last few days before telling people what was going on.
Given the hysterical commentary over whether or not Bernanke should have cut or didn't cut enough, this is an interesting development that, true or not, might make the Fed a bit less quick to cut rates based on developments in the futures makets (which would hardly seem to be their mandate).

No doubt the Ron Paul supporters are jumping up and down yelling "See! see!"

Further complicating matters, the hard core conspiracists think the Soc Gen rogue trader story is BS:

This type of pathetic excuse is nothing less than a re-hash of the Nick Leeson affair. Nick was the “rogue” trader who brought down Barings. After that type of disaster, you would think banks all over would establish quality controls. I can imagine how the conversation went at Societe General:

CEO: I’m going to blame it on you.
Minion: Well, I’m going to blame it on you. You knew what was going on.
CEO: I guess we’re in a pickle.
Minion: What about that guy Jerome?
CEO: Didn’t he just start working here like two months ago?
Minion: Yeah.
CEO: Bring him in.
Jerome: What’s up?
CEO: Jerome, what do you say if we wire you 1 million francs into a private Swiss account in return for you playing the fool?
Jerome: Okay.

I just simply find it impossible to believe that a JUNIOR trader has the ability and authority over resources to bring down a bank. This is more spineless cover-your-ass behavior that is so pervasive in the halls of the Western elite. I imagine if Bouton were an incoming CEO, he’d blame the old boss much like that fellow at UBS. Since he is the boss and since his immediate minions have dirt on him, he has to blame some nobody named Jerome.
Wheels within wheels.

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Seek forgiveness/ask permission? 

Sacre Bleu!
Societe Generale SA said unauthorized bets on stock index futures by an unidentified employee caused a 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) trading loss, the largest in banking history.

Apparently the trader, a former administrator, was "massively in-the-money" in December, but this was only uncovered on January 18 when he was deep in the red. Funny how that's always the case.

The article has a nice review of prior offenders at Amaranth, Sumitomo, Barings, etc. This part is amusing:
His approach was to balance each real trade with a fictitious one, and his ``intimate and perverse'' knowledge of the bank's controls allowed him to avoid detection, co-Chief Executive Officer Philippe Citerne told reporters. He rolled over his real trades before they reached maturity.

"Perverse"? Possibly a translation error, but what an odd thing to say about an employee who was, presumably, supposed to have a deep knowledge of the bank's operations in his prior job.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wonkering alert: Comparing health care reform proposals 

I have not studied it in detail, but the AFL-CIO has published what appears to be a useful cheat-sheet for comparing the health care reform proposals of the leading presidential candidates of both parties.

CWCID: Ezra Klein.

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No yelling in the house 

Parents, do you ask your children not to yell in the house? It seems I'm always in a long distance conversation, yelling back to one of my children "I'm in the kitchen! If you want to talk to me come here!"

I was just sent this awesome cartoon, which indicates I might not be alone in this.

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Robert Reich on the credit crisis 

Robert Reich doesn't think that Fed rate cutting will resolve the credit crunch, a view I happen to agree with.

The problem is, people have different views about what's going wrong. Wall Street sees it as a credit crisis -- a mess that seems never to reach bottom because nobody on Wall Street has any idea how many bad loans are out there. Therefore, nobody knows how big the losses are likely to be when the bottom is finally reached. And precisely because nobody knows, nobody wants to lend any more money. A rate cut won't change this. It's like offering a 10-pound lobster to someone so constipated he can't take in another mouthful.
I couldn't have said it better myself. More:

Main Street sees it as a housing crisis. Homes are the biggest assets Americans own -- their golden geese for retirement and their piggy banks for home equity loans and refinancing. But home prices have been dropping quickly. It's the first time this has happened in many decades -- beyond the memories of most Americans, which is why they never expected it to happen, why they bought houses so readily when credit was so easily available, and why so many people bought two or more of them, speculating and fixing up and then flipping. But now several million Americans may lose their homes, and tens of millions more have only their credit cards to live on and are reaching the outer limits of what they can spend. As consumer spending shrinks, companies will reduce production and cut payrolls. That has already begun to happen. It's called recession.
What about the proposed stimulus package?
Even if a stimulus package were precisely targeted to consumers most likely to spend any money they received, the housing slump could overwhelm it. According to a recent estimate by Merrill-Lynch, the slump will hit consumer spending to the tune of $360 billion this year and next. That's more than double the size of the stimulus package President Bush or any leading Democrat is now talking about. And the Merrill-Lynch estimate is conservative.
Well then Mr. Doom and Gloom, what do you think the answer is?

As a practical matter, our only real hope for avoiding a deep recession or worse depends on loans and investments from abroad -- some major U.S. financial firms have already gotten key cash infusions from foreign governments buying stakes in them -- combined with export earnings as the dollar continues to weaken. But this is something no politician wants to admit, especially in an election year. So we're going to go through weeks of posturing about stimulus packages of one sort or another, and then see enacted the big fat bonanza of a temporary tax break that will likely have little effect. That, perhaps along with a few more rate cuts by the Fed. The presidential candidates will be asked what should be done about the worsening economy, and they'll give vague answers. None will likely admit the truth: We're going to need the rest of the world to bail us out.
I guess another option is to take our lumps, but I guess that's probably not a winner on Super Tuesday.

Hat tip: Life After the Oil Crash

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