Thursday, November 29, 2007

Causation, a Brief Tutorial

Last night's debate featured questions posted on YouTube from a representative sample of Republican voters. They were a motley crew who looked uneducated and unhinged--you know, the GOP base. So what does NRO think? CNN stacked the deck:
I was absolutely disgusted with what I saw tonight from CNN. Thousands of people submitted questions for this debate; yet, the questions they chose only served to reinforce the stereotype that the average Republican voter is a confederate-flag-waving, gun-toting, bible-brandishing conspiracy theorist! There were staggeringly few questions on National Security, and the few that were asked include some of the substanceless "gotcha" questions which were designed for no other purpose than to induce gaffes. What bothers me most is that CNN's embarassing performance was not out of malice; they genuinely believe that this is what Republicans are like and that these ridiculous questions are what Republican voters want to hear. A bad night for CNN and for the American media generally.
Let's see, the GOP has spent the past generation pandering to confederate-waving, gun-toting, Bible-branding conspiracy theorists for 30 years, but it's CNN's fault for selecting them to ask questions. Dammit, where are all the videos of post-docs asking sincere questions about the state of the economy? Oh right--they're Democrats.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Obama Surging in Iowa?

Last week, an ABC/WaPo poll showed Obama with a slim lead over Hillary in Iowa. This is a most interesting development, because if he can pull off a win there, he has a very good chance to continue into New Hampshire--independents can vote in either primary, and they tilt heavily to Obama. Two primaries in five days, with the money he's got, would put him back in the picture. The question, then, is whether this poll is revealing a new trend or is an outlier.

The answer, as always, is at The folks there aggregate polling and create trendlines based on the average of recent polls--eliminating the see-saw effect of individual polling. The result? With something like 35 days left to go, Obama is definitely trending up. But wait!--so is Hillary. Both are gaining as Edwards voters jump ship, but the split of deserters seems to be weighted toward Obama. Look at the trendline to the right (a detail of this larger graph). The shakeout began back in the summer. First Edwards started to slide, but most of his support went to Hillary; Obama flattened out. But in the past quarter or so, Obama has found new life. And all the polling from mid-November to now shows Obama neck-and-neck with Hillary:
Research 2000 (11/12-14): Hillary 27%, Obama 25%
ABC/Post (11/14-18): Hillary 26%, Obama 30%
Strategic Vision (11/23-25): Hillary 29%, Obama 29%
And what do the horse-racers at the Iowa Elections Market think? They are also starting to come back around to Obama. (A description of the IEM, and the doom it seemed to be predicting for Obama just before his rise, is here.) He's obviously got a ways to go to close the gap, but if he wins Iowa, watch his trend line snap right back up with Hillary's, like it was in March. The IEM, despite its unorthodox methodology, is a pretty good weathervane. That it supports the trendlines reported on Pollster is more evidence that Obama's on the move.

Just over a month to go, but things are starting to get interesting.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Buy This Book!

I know, that after letting the blog languish, lo these past months, that I have a lot of nerve to make the request I'm about to make--but bear in mind that in five years of blogging, no advertising or pitches have ever been made on this blog. I have tried to keep the karma jar full. So, onward with the first ever Atrocities/Hog pitch...

I have written a novel.

For very long-time readers, this won't be a surprise. For actual readers, maybe so. Unfortunately, I had less success getting it published. My final bid was the major independent publisher Milkweed Editions, who decided to pass after subjecting it to a thorough editorial review (not just the slush pile reader, who as in many other cases, rejected it outright). In any case, I have, undaunted, decided that it's worth putting out there, damn the embarrassment and shame that comes with self-publishing. Art is, after all, a communication, not a product. There's something deeply depressing about the prospect of this thing moldering in the basement.

In fact, my failure to publish is predictable. First-time authors are doom for an industry in which 79% of books fail to sell even a hundred copies. Some yokel from Oregon with no history as a writer and no name to draw readers is a longshot from the start. Anything short of Midnight's Children and I knew it was going to be rough going. (My novel, which I will get to shortly, is good, but it's no Midnight's Children.) And so it was. (The alternative explanation, that it's no damn good, I reject on objective grounds: it is good.)

And now we come to the commercial portion of the post. I would like you, dear readers--both of you--to skip on over and buy a copy. It's a good book, honest. It has nothing to do with politics, but knowing as I do that you are sensitive, insightful, and wise, I think you will enjoy its timeless themes of love, longing, and loss and its historic sweep as it charts the life and times of a poor family from the Ozarks in this multi-generational saga. Or anyway, it evokes this emotional heft. Rather, it's about a cab driver who's trying to make a 16mm short. Still.

I'll include a description below, but I would, in all seriousness, love it if you picked up a copy. An unread novel is a terrible thing.

And don't forget--they make great gifts!


The Puddle Variations
Walking Man Press, 2007, 260 pages.
ISBN: 978-0-6151-7184-5

What portion of a 16mm movie can be made for $1,000? Or, put another way, how does one turn a thousand dollars into a 30-minute short? This is the question confronting Charlie di Paulo, who has just received a seed grant from the Portland Film Institute to shoot his 16mm film. For a 26-year-old cab driver, a thousand dollars is a lot of cash, yet it won’t even cover the cost of his film stock.

Money isn’t Charlie’s only problem. His new girlfriend and his stepfather, Vic, are both convinced he should be pursuing his dream through more conventional means, and Vic has offered to pay for film school. For Charlie, whose 8mm short was good enough to win him the grant, education isn’t necessary—money is. As the book unfolds, he sets about trying to raise the money and mount the production, and along the way he receives support in various forms from the local doyenne of independent film, a cobbler, a philosophy student, and a bookie.

Puddle Variations - Excerpt

Blogs aren't really designed for long-form content, but this is a brief section of the new novel, The Puddle Variations, which you can read about here. You can buy the novel--and you should buy it!--here. The book's central character is Charlie di Paulo, an aspiring filmmaker whose day-job is driving a cab. In the scene below, he picks up a fare named Barney Heater with whom he forms a semi-official driver relationship. In the first passage, he meets Heater. In the second, he watches as Heater negotiates a deal to trade in the broken-down car Charlie first finds him with.

A paved gorge glittering in weak sunlight with six lanes of traffic, flowing at the feet of brick and metal mountains. Di Paulo, rounding a looping curve, coming up suddenly on the prone rear end of Barney Heater’s year-old Mercedes. Too wide to fit comfortably on the shoulder, cars passing within inches. Charlie pumped the brake and swerved from the flow of traffic, hoping to avoid contact as he skidded in behind Heater. Did.

Under the rain of grit and noise, they made rough acquaintance. “Goddamn it! It’s about time you showed up. Right in the middle of downtown and I’ve been sitting here watching these idiots try to smash my car for a half hour! I’ve called every fucking taxi in the city.” Traffic had no effect on the range of his voice. “What the hell did you park behind me for? Get your skinny ass in the cab and bring it over here. I’m not going to walk into traffic for a goddamn cab ride.”
Heater, looking Las Vegas in short sleeves and oversized sunglasses, thick South-East Asian tattoos blurred blue across massive forearms, worked a ball of gum in his cheek, jaw muscles flexing. Orders dispatched, he lifted a cellular phone to his ear and turned away from the din.

Charlie thought for a moment, considered saying “what?—I can’t hear you!” just to see what would happen. Instead, he nodded, got back into the cab, and put it in reverse. When he was thirty feet behind Heater’s car, he waited until a brief cavity opened in the traffic and jammed the gas pedal to the floor. A long horn blast erupted behind him as he swerved into traffic. As he swerved back to the shoulder in front of the Mercedes, the horn made a Doppler effect as the car passed, while the driver flipped the bird as violently as time and space permitted. Backing up again, protected now by the Mercedes.

He leaned over and opened front door, waiting while Heater finished his call.

“God Damn!” he said. “I know you boys are busy, but my God, a half hour?” Charlie was watching the road, edging forward along the shoulder.

“Yeah, you managed not only to break down in a bad place, but a pretty bad time. A lot of day-trippers headed back to the airport, that’s why no one’s downtown.” He used all of the V-8 and surged in front of a tow truck. “So where am I headed?”

“Flamingo. You’ve got about two minutes to get me to the first race.” He sent a wad of gum sailing out the window, even while digging around his pocket for a replacement.

“That car’s a real piece of shit. Bought it a year ago out at Sid Jones’ and there hasn’t been a month gone by that it hasn’t broken down. Sid’s a friend of mine—or was anyway—but I’m through with it. It’s his car now.” He scanned the cab. “Hey, you got receipts in this cab don’t you?”

Underneath the sun visor, battened by braided cords of rubber bands, were the cabbie’s toolkit—receipts, pen, lighter. “Yep. Right here.”

“Hold on to ‘em. By the way, my name’s Barney Heater.”

The exchange of names happened with the majority of fares. The interior space of the cab distinguished the ride from other service transactions. Charlie viewed it as an offering of sorts, an acknowledgement—while inside the cab, at least—of his position. And, though it was not true in many cities, in Portland, most fares felt it impolite to sit down without making that connection.

Heater reached out to shake Charlie’s hand. He had thick fingers, blunt ended and muscular. The cabbie gave his hand and his name, but kept his attention on the thick traffic. Negotiating four lanes of cars, he zipped toward the 6th Avenue exit.

Heater lifted his beige, imitation-leather attaché from the floor and rested it on his knees. While the cab bucked, he dialed his phone, then opened the briefcase while it rang, trapped in the crook of his neck. Inside were a small stack of concert-like programs, two manila envelopes, a calculator, two pencils and a pen. They began their ascent up the exit ramp.

“Ray, Barney. Whatta we got—they started the first race, yet? Okay, good.” Rocketing now up the exit ramp, Charlie hit the break too late—the car in front of them looked unavoidable. Rubber gripped asphalt, sending the briefcase forward at the cab’s previous speed. Heater, with the quick dart of his free hand, flicked the top shut as it shot out for his feet. Guided it to the floor, neatly closed. “The cab got here about five minutes ago and I’m—” the car skidded slightly, nestling up to within three or four inches of a silver sedan “—coming off the freeway now. I’ll be there pretty quick. It gets too close to the first race, bet the first race. But only the first. You got ‘em written down? Good.”

Traffic was now moving through the intersection. Heater scooped the attaché back up onto his knees, opened it, dropped the phone in, snapped the fasteners, put it down by his feet. The cab was creeping along at a safe 20 miles an hour. Barney looked at him.

“What the hell are you slowing down for?”


“All right, Charlie, I finally got Sid on the horn—let’s go pay him a visit. It’s on 122nd and Washington.” As they were driving, Heater told him, “I want you to come in with me, all right?”


“Yep. Just come in there and stand next to me.”


A young salesman about Charlie’s age took them past gleaming new cars smelling of rubber, then began steering them toward a wall painted like a Jamaican beach. Just a few feet before the wall, a door materialized, hidden in a thicket of palm trees. This aperture led to a cramped warren of dingy halls and rooms. As he walked, Heater flipped a coin in his right hand.

Sid Jones was an older, skinnier version of Heater. More the appearance of a retiree than auto magnate, in a blue polyester blazer. At the V of Jones’s open collar was a nest of white chest hairs.

“Barn, you’re a sight for sore goddam eyes!—come on in and sit down.”

“Your eyes are gonna be sore when I’m done with you, you son of a bitch.” Heater hunched slightly, a fighter going in for a jab. He stopped in the center of the office, eight feet away from Jones.

Jones turned to Charlie. “Look at how he treats his old friend. Like I screwed his wife.” Charlie wondered about laughing, looked at Barney, didn’t. They waited a beat and Jones came around to the front of his desk. “How you doin’, young man. I’m Sid Jones.”

“I’m Charlie di Paulo.”

“He’s the cabbie who finally picked me up last night on the goddam 405. You owe him a lot of money, Sid.”

“Barn, sit down for God’s sake. We’re all friends here. I’m going to make this right by you, so why don’t you just sit down? There, Charlie, pull up that chair over there, will you? Can I get you anything—a glass of water, coffee, a soda?”

Heater made a conciliatory move, thumping his thick body onto the chair. “Yeah, get us some coffee, Sid. Bring a cup for the kid.” Legs apart, ready for action, but at least he sat.

“Good. Sit and relax and I’ll be right back.”

They sat for another moment in silence and then Heater turned his head slightly to Charlie and gave him a wink. He leaned back into the chair and started whistling a big band tune. The moment he heard the door, his body hunched, his legs spread, and he leaned forward, ready again for action.

Sid put two chipped teacups on the edge of his desk in front of them. “All right, Barney, let’s talk about your car.”

“It’s not my car, Sid, it’s yours. You bought it from me last night.”

For the next hour they played a game of reverse car-selling, with Heater trying to un-buy his new Mercedes. Sid maintained a staunch deal’s-a-deal position, and they circled endlessly. Heater emphasized the word “lemon” while Sid relied on “friends.” Periodically, Barney would ask Charlie a question about the circumstances of the breakdown, the unreliability of cabs, or the escalating cost of cab fare.

The conversation wore on past interest to Charlie until, unpredictably, Heater offered an alternative demand—a trade-in for a red and white Nash Cosmopolitan Jones had in the used lot.

“You want the Nash?”

“I want the Nash and ten grand in cash for the lemon.”

“You don’t want the Nash.”

“I’m takin’ the Nash, Sid. Obviously you won’t take your lemon back, so I’m takin’ the Nash.”

“Come on, Barn, the Nash is a novelty car. It’s a woman’s car—hell, it’s a small woman’s car. A co-ed or something. I don’t even think you’d fit in it.”

“I’ll fit.”

“I got a whole lot full of classics. Bigger, more stylish. You know what I got out on the lot right now? A fully-restored Hudson Commodore. Now that’s a Barney Heater ride.”

“Charlie, you ever buy a car, don’t come to this swindler.”

“For Pete’s sake, Barn. You thought that Mercedes was unreliable? Hell, that’s the best there is. You’ll spend your life in the garage with the Nash.”

“Well hell, Sid, I spend my life in the garage with your brand-new cars. Might as well have a classic. If it breaks down, I’ll call a cab.” He grinned and elbowed Charlie.

Heater got the Nash. Once Sid was convinced Heater really wanted the car, he was happy to make the trade. Another hour negotiating the trade-in value of the Mercedes, and then for the first time Heater went out to look at his new car.

It was a nice car—mostly restored, but the paint job was a little chipped and there was a tear in the upholstery on the driver’s side seat. Down down down went Heater as he climbed in, toppling from an awkward squat. Once in, he filled up two-thirds of the width of the car, but had a couple inches to spare over the top of his head.

“Keys,” he said to Sid, arm out like a plane’s wing. The tiny engine turned over and Heater revved it gleefully.

“See, Barn, everyone’s happy.”

Heater might not have heard Sid; he was speeding off toward the back of the parking lot.

As he drove, Sid told Charlie, “He’s an SOB.” Heater banked at the corner, car listing inelegantly. “But what are you going to do?”

Heater made two passes before pulling up next to them. “Sid, I don’t care what your mother says about you, I like you. It’s a hell of a car.”

He started waving his arm out the window, which Sid took to be a handshake offer. Heater continued talking while Sid shook his hand. “Charlie, go get the cab and follow me—we’ll take this out to a guy I know does auto-body work.”

Then he was off for another spin around the lot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

To Be Clear

Voters and (far less acceptably) media pundits regularly confuse two very key adjectives. Let's review:
liberal (adj) - Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded; favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

partisan (adj) - Devoted to or biased in support of a party, group, or cause: partisan politics.
These two words are neither synonyms nor related. One may be liberal but not particularly partisan (Bill Moyers), partisan but conservative (Harry Reid), or liberal and partisan (Ted Kennedy). The current GOP is principally partisan, not ideologically coherent. George Bush is hated by liberals not because he is conservative (like Ron Paul), but because he is visciously partisan in everything he does. Hillary Clinton is running as a partisan, but not particularly liberal Democrat, while Barack Obama runs as a liberal with less fidelity to the Democratic Party.

It is clear that few in the media understand the distinction or, if they do, care much about making it. For pinheads like Chris Matthews, they are perfectly synonymous. My rant over a pet peeve concluded, I leave you to your day.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time of Dreams

The sun has no jurisdiction here
Visiting hours are dictated by a furtive
planet, back turned, shoulders
hunched against the light.
And by clouds, so thick and unremitting we
forget that sometimes the sky is an upturned
cobalt tureen, infinitely spacious, instead of
this dripping gray ceiling scraping our bald heads.

Night is the time of dreams, and in the
Portland winter, our world is inverted. The bubble
of daylight, so brief and fragile; we watch
through a gauze of somnolence as it
appears and vanishes, returning us too quickly
to our waking dreams.
We should be hibernating like bears
instead of wandering this endless night.

I should like this season, wet and delicious. The sun
is no friend of mine. I see the spongy ground,
the moss, the green, and I want
to go enjoy it. I want to be outside where the air
is freshly-washed. But in this dream, my
legs don't work properly. Even after cups of black
coffee, I just can't seem to wake up.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iran, Immigration, and Other Fake Emergencies

You have perhaps seen the Tancredo ad. It asserts, among other things, that "Islamic terrorists now freely roam US soil." It is a spectacular example of the "fake emergency" technique regularly employed by the Republican Party. You select an issue of great value to a panicked segment of your base, flog it like it's Hitler invading Poland (sometimes you actually compare it to Hitler invading Poland), and demand that something must be done. Tancredo is certifiable, and this is more a testament about the degree of derangement on the GOP right. (Compare, for example, to Kucinich, the regularly-derided "nut" on the Dem left. At least he admits the UFOs he sees are unidentified; the terrorists Tancredo sees are panicked phantoms.) I'll go on, but have a look, first:

Nice, eh? I have some desire to go on a thousand-word rant about this, but I'll constrain myself. The reason this technique succeeds is twofold: 1) the media parrot back the talking point as often as the nuts scream it; 2) Democrats, when quizzed by the media to offer a solution, don't say "that's a fake emergency for which no solution is necessary; if you were even a mediocre journalist, you would have done the research to confirm its mendacity." In the Iraq debate, Dems stood up and solemnly agreed: yes, Iraq is the greatest threat to the US on the planet. On immigration, they stand up and agree: yes, the failure to stop Mexicans from running through the baking desert to come work in our apple orchards represents the greatest threat to American security--a fence is most certainly in order. On Social Security: yes, it is indeed a crisis. (Fortunately they're backing off that sufficiently that even Barack Obama, who doesn't believe it, has apologized for not being clear enough that he doesn't believe it.) On Iran: yes ... well, you get the picture.

The entire Republican Party is comprised of a coalition of hysterics. The conservative movement at this point is a negotiation among the hysterics about which phantom emergency should have primacy in scaring the populace. Why the media and Dems take them at all seriously is one of modern politics' great mysteries.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Benazir is Not the Answer

The MSM appears to have selected Benazir Bhutto as the great democrat to lead Pakistan out of its quagmire. She is beautiful and well-spoken and charming. She's also corrupt, inept, and nepotistic. On balance, exactly the last person you want stepping into a charged environment. Let's review the tape:
  • Corruption. In her two stints in office (88-90, 93-96), she was constantly on the take. Foreign governments offered bribes for sweetheart deals, and Switzerland disclosed a money-laundering scheme involving Bhutto and her husband.
  • Ineptitude. Bhutto has always claimed to be a leader of the people, but her initiatives to empower women and the poor went nowhere. Another example of her political short-sightedness--she sided with the Taliban in Afghanistan as a stabilizing influence. You can look at the way she managed (which is to say mismanaged) her Gandhi-inspired "march" to see her leadership in action.
  • Nepotism. Benazir's father Zulfikar founded the Pakistan People's Party, and the Bhuttos are a ruling-class family going back to the British Raj. Bhutto, like his daughter, was an inept leader; worse, he was an opportunist and a thug--which is one of the reasons his career ended in assassination. Benazir's rise comes solely by virtue of her last name.
If Bhutto somehow regains leadership, don't expect her to be able to manage the forces that roil her country--poverty, religious strife, and instability. Pakistan's history is defined mainly--and in contrast to its democratic neighbor, India--by its weak leadership. Expecting a weak former leader to step in and right the ship is madness.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day

It's become a tradition. Here's the post I originally wrote for Veteran's Day 2003, slightly edited for 2007.


Over sixty years ago, my father appropriated his older brother's birth certificate, stole out into the early morning, and joined the Marines. He was fifteen and he didn't tell his parents. A few months later, he was on a boat headed for China, but then the last world war ended, so he had to wait to see action (not, unfortunately, as long as he might have expected). He revered his own father, much as I revere him, and his father was a Marine, as was his father's father. For my dad, nothing seemed more honorable than fighting for liberty and freedom in the United States Marine Corps.

He went on to fight in Korea, and what happened there he has mostly kept out of conversations. But what did happen changed his attitude about war and the men who conduct it. He has never lost his trust in the Marine Corps, but he's much warier about the men who place those Marines in danger. As a result, I grew up in a distinctly non-militarized home. It's a safe bet that the reason I'm writing this blog now is because of something that happened to my father in the early 1950s, two decades before I was born. In the years between 1945, when he snuck off to fight, full of naivete and honor, and the early 70s, when he began to impart his wisdom to me, something changed. The message he passed along was different than the one he received.

We celebrate Veterans Day because we want to honor those who were subjected to enormous trauma when they were just kids--for the values of freedom, liberty, and equality that we all enjoy.

Unfortunately, not everyone honors them. I know that President Bush still enjoys support from the military families in this country, but he doesn't deserve it. He acted irresponsibly in the ramp-up to war. His vanity prevented him from finding support from foreign partners and using an international force that might have brought legitimacy to the effort. Those who paid the price were the kids, whose honor and trust he has exploited. Worst, he has cut their pay, and as we learned the day before Veteran's Day in 2003, illegally refuses to pay 17 Gulf War I veterans compensation that they deserve. He rouses the robust Hu-ahs at military bases, but what is he doing for the troops?

Perhaps in large measure because of the values my father passed down to me, I'm extremely critical of this president. When I look at the foolish, vainglorious manner in which he conducts foreign policy, it makes me think that the lives of the soldiers never crosses his mind. On this Veteran's Day, we honor people like my Dad. I wish we could also bring ourselves to see that standing with solemnity at the graves of dead soldiers is not enough. When the president is so cavalier with soldiers' lives, so callous that he would cut their pay during wartime, this is not honor. It's deeply offensive.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Bush Gas Tax

Be advised: I'm bad at math. Mrs. Donier, my seventh grade algebra teacher, would be the first to tell you. Nevertheless, here's a mathy sort of post that, while possibly not accurate in the particulars, should effectively make the larger point. Story of my life.

The superstructure of the argument goes like this: an effective way to influence behavior is to meddle with incentives. Gas prices were so low for so long ($20 a barrel a decade ago) that Americans got used to burning it like kindling. Safe to say that we'd be a lot further down the road to greener technologies if the purchase of gas had hurt our pocketbooks--and by extension, Detroit's bottom line. One of the ways to accomplish this is a gas tax--which is what may have cost Ross Perot his credibility in '92 (that and being insane). Well, thanks to Bush's catastrophic policies, his wars and his tax cuts for the rich, that's effectively what he's accomplished.

Let's look at the stats. When he came into office, the euro and dollar were trading about even--though the euro was already starting its thumping. (1 euro equaled 1.07 dollars.) Crude was going for $23, and a gallon of gas sold for $1.50. Now the price of crude is $97, gas sells for $3 (as of Nov 5), and one euro gets you $1.47.

Since the price of oil is pegged to the dollar, our cost rises and falls with the cost of crude. But in Europe and in economies not pegged to the dollar, gas prices fluctuate not only in dollars, but in terms relative to their currency.

In Germany, the price of a liter of unleaded cost 1.04 euros per liter in March 2002 (most recent figures I could find) and 1.37 now. (In France it went from .96 to 1.30, Spain .81 to 1.06, etc.)

In other words, the health of the euro has kept down the increase of gas prices in tax-heavy Europe, while prices have gone up 100% here. In Germany, it increased 32%, France 35%, and Spain 31%.

It's not exactly like assessing a gas tax, but the effect is the same. And while gas prices would have gone up in any case, policies of the Bush administration have affected gas prices here far more than in Europe. A rich irony--Bush, trying to protect and enhance US oil companies, has created the financial circumstances for a green revolution. One case where his incompetence has actually had positive effects.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Would Should Schumer Do?

Chuck Schumer has egg on his face thanks to the Mukasey debacle. He recruited this guy, offered him as a decent conservative, and then discovered during committee hearings that the guy is pro-torture.* (Wise lawyers always say don't ask a witness a question unless you know the answer you're going to get; the political analogue: don't nominate a guy for AG unless you know he's anti-torture.) Now he's getting roasted for voting for Mukasey, both for being himself pro-torture and for being a toady and sell-out to the White House. The first charge is baseless, but the second has merit.

Schumer's not condoning torture. He arranged for Mukasey to become AG because he feared a worse nominee, who wouldn't have gotten Senate approval and whom Bush would install as a recess appointment. According to Schumer's logic, Bush's choice would arguably be worse than the Yoo-aided Gonzales regime. On all of this, I believe he's right. (Though it doesn't excuse his embarrassing orchestration of events.)

But on the second issue, I think the critics are right. While it's important not to go nuclear against the GOP (some adults have to step forward and govern), there are lines over which no Dem should ever step. Authorizing war with a non-threatening Iraq was one example, and Mukasey is another. In both cases, Dems become complicit in immoral and illegal acts. We are still in Iraq, and Bush is still in the White House, because the compromised Dems have not been able to find a unified position in the aftermath of their votes for the war. If Mukasey becomes AG, which is now almost a sure bet, the Democratic party, with majority in the Senate, will own whatever acts he authorizes. In two years time, the party will be saddled with the shame and responsibility of having signed off on this guy.

Yes, it would be catastrophic if Bush put in an AG on recess who conspired with the White House to commit further illegal acts and consolidate further power in the executive branch. But it would be Bush's crimes, and they would be correctable. Instead, this will usher in another chapter of presidential misdeeds for which there will be no accountability.

*Yesterday on BlueOregon, Reed Poly Sci prof Paul Gronke disputed this characterization. I don't see how it's inaccurate or unfair, however. Bush nominated a guy who will--quite reasonably--not prosecute him for war crimes for, among other things, committing torture. Waterboarding's status isn't unclear: it's torture according to the Geneva conventions. And something more: we're not sure Bush's "coercive interrogations" were limited to waterboarding. So yeah, if you're the AG and you refuse to prevent the President from torturing people, spade a spade, you're pro torture.

Monday, November 05, 2007

East Coast Bias

An infrequent sports post, just because I can't resist. Your recriminations are already noted. Move along.

It is likely, barring upset, that Ohio State will play LSU in the national championship game. There are a host of one-loss teams, plus the dubiously good Kansas Jayhawks, who have beaten only one team this year with a winning record, so someone's gonna be unhappy. As far as I can tell, no one is really considering moving Oregon up to number two, and this is just weird. Have a look at the winning percentage of the teams played by the top five-ranked schools:
.519 - Ohio State (10-0)
.595 - LSU (8-1)
.568 - Oregon (8-1)
.407 - Kansas (9-0)
.488 - Oklahoma (8-1)
Oregon has defeated three teams with one or two losses. Ohio State has defeated none; LSU one. Oregon has defeated three top-25 teams, losing to one. Ohio State has played no teams currently in the top 25. LSU has played the toughest schedule of all--four teams it beat are currently top-25, as is the one that beat it (though four of the five are ranked 17 or below, while Oregon beat the 9, 12, and 13th-ranked teams). Oklahoma, which always whines about its lot, has no room here to complain; they've beaten only two top-25 teams (7 and 15) and lost to unranked Colorado.

I don't mind LSU jumping in front of Oregon, but there's at least an argument for Oregon to be higher up. And, if you're going to drop the Jayhawks all the way to fourth despite an undefeated season, how do you have Ohio State at the top? In fact, any team that scheduled Youngstown State, Akron, Northwestern, and Kent State at home ought to be assessed a loss just on principle.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Geezer Insight

The future belongs to Ezra Klein. He's all of about 20, and yet his thoughts on politics are sent whizzing around the blogosphere like the wisdom of Studs Terkel. His list of publication credits are marvelous, and not unwarranted--the kid can write. We will be reading his words for decades to come (prediction: he will replace David Brooks at the NYT in 2018, at the ripe old age of34). However, there are some things that a good brain and a silky pen can't offer, and here's exhibit A:

I haven't quite worked this theory out yet, but my sense is that economic status has been cleaved free of economic security. So the sort of goods that signal affluence -- iPods and iPhones and laptop computers and plasma televisions -- are becoming much cheaper, more broadly accessible, and thus more widely owned. Lots of people, particularly young people, can thus claim economic status. The trappings of our wealth are all around us.

Yet economic security is quite a bit further from reach. It's impossible for me to imagine how I'll ever buy a home. Further education for me and eventual education for my kids are far beyond what my salary seems able to bear. And let's not get into health care. Point being: The affluence I can easily purchase into my 20s seems liable to crash right into the security I discover is out of reach in my 30s.

Meanwhile, from where I sit, the American Dream is a pretty weak force. White picket fences aren't the culturally transmitted vision of prosperity. Electronics are. Awesome stuff is.... By offering status without security, folks lose the class discontent that would turn them into a constituency for the security. And so they don't get it.

What Ezra reflects here is not a sense of cultural change, but a sense of his culture. His 23-year-old, born-in-the-middle-of-the-Reagan-administration culture. Of course iPods are a proxy for status--what do you need with security when you're twenty freakin' three? Parents with kids, geezers with ailing joints, oldsters confronting $5,000-a-day hospital bills: they do not trade baubles for security. They may choose baubles because they cannot choose security, but that's a different thing.

When you're young, you haven't had the experience of different selves--you haven't been a parent, a grunt worker, a pallbearer, middle-aged. So you extrapolate based on a small sample size of experience. In that condescension that only comes with age, I say: wait, Ezra, things will look different in twenty years.

(As to his point, I'll add this--Americans have never been particularly class-identified. But they are aware of their own relative levels of risk. I tend to think he has it backward. My guess is that there is a deep concern among Americans that they're one spill on an icy sidewalk from bankruptcy and that, after a generation of middle-class abetted profit-taking by the rich, this may be the change force of the next decade.)