Friday, October 31, 2008

Bold X

and Number Two

This Seems Bad

Not that I understand economics, but I don't like the sound of this:
The long-feared capitulation of American consumers has arrived. According to Thursday’s G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter; real spending on durable goods (stuff like cars and TVs) fell at an annual rate of 14 percent.

To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn’t been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation.
Krugman goes on to explain why this shouldn't sound very good, and isn't.
Demonstrating the Flickr slideshow, embedded in a webpage.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Panic Rising

I don't claim that there's any exterior cause for this, but I'm starting to get worried about the election. It's a familiar feeling: about once a week for the first five months of the year I got it as Barack and Hillary battled their way through the primaries. Even when Obama was on his 21-state winning streak, I would still enter election day panicked. So I suppose it's just reflexive.

On the other hand, let me take you back to February 1. It was the Friday beore the 18-0 Patriots, purported at the time to be the finest team ever fielded, matched up against the 13-6 Giants in the Super Bowl. My co-worker, a Bostonian and the biggest Patriots fan in the country, was in the kind of mood you get after you go 19-0. I suggested to her that she might leave open the possibility of a Pats loss, just so she wouldn't go insane if they did lose. "Impossible," she said.

So now we're five days from the election, and I'm hearing a lot of big talk. On about day 8, I was making a lot of big talk. But somehow, the confidence is gone, and I'm feeling morose and depressed. Things are going just a little too well. Obama's routing McCain in the polls (though they're tightening a little--doom!), he's relaxed and happy, and McCain is dirtier and more furious than ever. Every day some major conservative comes over to Obama's side, and every newspaper from the Idaho Statesman to the Chicago Tribune have endorsed Obama. You see signs like this. Early returns suggest a huge Obama turnout (except in Oregon, where they're lagging--doom!). The news for McCain just gets worse and worse.

And still I have a sinking feeling that things are not all well. Please let my spidey senses be off on this one...

Synchronized Debating


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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Isn't it Beautiful?

I am about to go to bed. I was just watching the last of "Mad Men" Season One on my computer and of course, rather than immediately turning the damn thing off, I started surfing. Because, you know, quite a lot might have happened this Sunday evening since the last time I checked, at 7:30.

Well, nothing has (why have those damned East Coast bloggers given up their post at the early hour of 1 am?), so I decided to check out National Review's Corner (background here). They are the hard-core center of the Republican lollypop, loyal to the last lick. For sheer entertainment, it's difficult to do better these days than a saunter through their rantings. The Corner's quandry is that the members are trapped in a wicked logical tangle. At the end of their battles with this logic, they lie there, like practitioners of jujitsu who have knotted their limbs, even as their foes watch on in fascination. The problem starts here: Republicans are infallible. American voters are infallible. Democrats are all-encompassing evil--and worse, they're pretentiously evil. Therefore, American voters will ....

The only real way to carry on is to carry on, damn reality. I don't know that they'll be able to admit Obama has won until 2011, when the next election is imminent, by which time the recess of history will fail to register as relevant. Meanwhile, they create edifices of solipsism, hoping that if they talk only among themselves, they'll last that long. Example:

Did You See This One? [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

IBD/TIPP Poll - Posted 26 Oct 08-(Obama 44.59%, McCain 43.66%)

I repeat: This presidential election is not over.

Nor are the Senate races over. And I might point out: We're going to want as many Republicans in the Senate as possible whomever is president. We're going to need every member potentially swayed by conservatism we can get ... There will be fights with the White House in either administration! We'll have more of a fighting chance with, say 43 or 44 Republicans and a Palin veep.

Update/Correction:Mea Culpa: An e-mail:

K-Lo: Careful with that IBD number you posted. IBD's tracking poll for today isn't out yet. My understanding is that someone re-weighted yesterday's IBD number with 2004 turnout percentages. That may be valid and may even be a better predictor than most of the other polls we're seeing but I don't believe it's accurate to suggest those are the actual IBD numbers.
My sloppy Blackberry-posting aside, it still isn't over.
Relying on a single poll where McCain is within a point is itself an act of enormous energy, like admiring the American flag on the Titantic as it slips into the ocean. But then it turns out that's not even true; the poll is a fiction. The flag was actually a piece of debris flying off the deck as fleeing passengers dive into the icy ocean. Oh well, never mind, isn't it still beautiful?

Now to bed. As soon as I see if Josh has anything new up...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sidebar Polls

For the final nine days before the election, I've put four poll trends in the right column. The first is the national trend line--that should be obvious enough. The next three are the three states with which Obama can win the election: Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico. If Obama wins all the Kerry states, he only needs these three Bush '04 states to flip and he'll have 273 electoral college votes and the White House. (That assumes Obama carries all the Kerry states. At present, the closest flip for McCain is in New Hampshire, where he trails by a poll average of 6 points.) The last state is Georgia, my "canary-in-a-coal-mine" state. If Obama's trend line catches McCain's here, it will be landslide time. If he wins Georgia, he's got a shot at 400.

Obama is closer to McCain in Georgia than McCain is to Obama in IA, CO, or NM.

US: +9.0%
IA: +11.5%
CO: +6.7%
NM: +6.5%
GA: -4.0%

Friday, October 24, 2008

When Politics Displace Policy

This weekend, the talking heads will be talking about Robert Draper's long article in the NY Times magazine. It's fascinating indeed, almost a post-mortem on McCain's dead-man-walking campaign. In a nutshell, Draper walks through the various phases of the campaign (six by his count), recounting how McCain was constantly re-cast as the hero of some new narrative.

(It's probable that one can read too much into this--the casting about that has characterizes the campaign is probably usual in every losing campaign. When you're getting beat, you try new things.)

One thing it does highlight is a phenomenon that characterizes the entire GOP. Politics have two phases and two sets of staff--the politics of the election and the policies of the governing. In a very real sense, these two phases work at odds with each other. The activities required to get elected are exactly the activities that make it hard to govern. The act of governance requires the artful use of compromise and a degree of collegiality that gets spoiled in the visciousness of a campaign. Governing requires nurting voters toward the correct solutions, even if they are dead set against them. Campaigns are not time for difficult truths; they are a sales pitch, and you tell people what they want to hear. Good governance has to at least exist in detente with hardball campaigning--if you don't have the grit to do what it takes to get elected, you never have the chance to govern.

I've been perpetually amazed that apparently smart "experts" have failed to recognize this dynamic in the election. Recent example: pundits seem genuinely mystified that neither candidate will admit that the financial crisis is about to horribly screw most Americans. Really, you don't get why they won't make that admission? In failing to recognize this dynamic, I think they've failed to see its inverse--what a toxic problem it is when the policies are wholly taken over by the political arm of a campaign so that they become elective markers, disconnected from actual governance.

Here's part of the problem:
Though commonly described in the press as a Karl Rove protégé, [McCain strategist Steve] Schmidt was a Republican operative for a dozen years before he ever worked for Rove. When Bush returned to the White House, Schmidt was not among those from the 2004 re-election effort who were rewarded with plum jobs, despite his well-regarded work overseeing the campaign’s rapid-response unit.
Campaign hacks shouldn't be rewarded with plum jobs. They don't stop thinking like hacks when they get into the government--they continue to think in terms of attacking, in turning policy positions into political building blocks. This leads, obviously, to things like the Brownie catastrophe, where incompetents head important agencies. But it leads even more to a highly politicized environment that's anathema to governing. Of all the things that have come to characterize the Bush administration, this is the defining element. Almost all the major policy failures of the Bushies can be traced back to hackish thinking.

The GOP is about to have a massive, collective nervous breakdown. For over a decade--since 1994, really--they've believed their elective success comes from the perfect twining of policy and politics. It's like a Greek tragedy: they now believe their own spin. Recent example: they perfected the art of the bullshit attacks in their culture war jihad, but now they actually seem to think that there's a "real America." Palin seemed shocked to have to walk that one back. And speaking of Palin, her selection will go down as the case in point for this phenomenon. It seems never to have ocurred to the campaign to consider whether she could govern. That's why they didn't vet her and still seem to find it unfair that the press is critical. Draper touches on this, too:
The following night, after McCain’s speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign’s senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: “Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?”

The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t know.”
The modern GOP has 11 days to live. What emerges after that will almost axiomatically be an improvement: when you hit bottom, there's only one way to go.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Intensity of Support

One last note. In the last two elections, Republicans were more loyal to their candidate than Dems. Republicans averaged 92% loyalty in those elections, with Dems about five points behind. This year? John McCain is down 7% from Bush (85%) while Obama is up 1%. Observations:

1. 88% of 45% of the voting population (Dem registration) is greater than 85% of 35% (Republican registration).

2. What Hillary voters?


In addition to the charges that Obama's Muslim, Arab, a terrorist (or friends thereof), and so on is this new one: he's a socialist. What the hell? I spend too much times watching videos of rabid McCain crowds (see here, here, and here for examples), but it has some benefits. I can trace the waves of talking points as they sweep through the right wing echo chamber. (In one of those videos, a woman screamed at the camera about the enormous crimes Obama committed through his dealings with ACORN. Asked when she first heard about ACORN, she said, "today." Wind 'em up and watch 'em go...)

Socialism is the new meme. When I do a search on it, I find the usual far-right sites you'd expect--Free Republic, AIM, etc. I have a hard time believing that every person at a McCain rally spends time at the internet's fringe, though. I have no doubt that almost no one screaming at these rallies knows what socialism is. It's a word with vague connotations; if you think liberal means "evil," then socialist must be akin to "devil worship." And somehow, the talking point is out. Add "socialist" to the anti-Obama spin. Check.

Is there something in the left-behind books that warns of the rise of socialism that could account for this? Anyone know how this bogeyman, a particularly spectral and unimaginable bogeyman, could have so panicked the already-hysterically panicked right?

Monday, October 20, 2008

CO, NM, and IA

From time to time I check out the electoral calculators by way of giving myself a reality check. Here's something to keep in mind when you're thinking about the map. Ohio doesn't matter. Florida doesn't matter. Virginia, NC, Missouri--none of these matter. If Obama wins just three states that Bush won in '04, he wins the election: Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa.

In each case, Obama has a lead of more than six points in aggregated poll results. McCain has pulled out of Colorado and Iowa, and Latinos are starting to break hard for Obama in New Mexico. You have to go back to early September, when McCain got his convention bounce, to find any polls Obama trailed. In Iowa, McCain has never led. If Obama picks up some of the other "battleground" states, it could get ugly quick--but they're just gravy. These three states ensure Obama the win.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Play Time is Over

The following was written to a thread on BlueOregon, but it might well have been written in response to John McCain, when he said this:
“Now what does that mean? He wants government to take Joe’s money and give it to somebody else-his hard earned dollars. We are not gonna stand for that. America didn’t become the greatest nation on earth by spreading the wealth."
McCain has a legitimate postion. Essentially, taxes are bad, wealth is good, quit your whining. If you hold this view, any encroachment, be it from 36% to 39% in the top marginal rate, or 75% to 91% ... well, it's all bad. Since this view holds that progressive taxation is wrong on principle, there's no way to appeal to them by arguing macroeconomics, externalities, or the societal costs of income disparity. Moral positions are insensitive to logic.

So here's what I say: suck it up. Your time is done. We've run the experiment wherein we entrust the rich with the country's wealth, and you screwed it up. In your greed and arrogance, you have brought devastation on the country. Our bridges are collapsing as fast as our financial infrastructure and you have created an economy where we produce nothing and make wealth by trading fraudulent slips of paper--a hallmark of the final stage in the waning days of an empire. Go ahead and hold to your moral position of "I got mine, screw the rest." It's an honest position.

But now, as my friend says, "man-up: it's time for the adults to come in and declare play time over."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top 100,000

To be told you are among the top 100k isn't generally regarded as a great distinction. But in this case, I'm still taking my victory laps. I did see Obama's promise early on. From a fundraising pitch:
Jeff --

You were one of the first 100,000 people to own a piece of this campaign. You provided the strength needed to build a movement.

Back then, few pundits or insiders thought we had a chance. But thanks to you, we overcame steep odds. Twenty months later, millions of Americans all across the country have joined you, working for change.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe the Plumber

This is another example of why Obama's the man. It's the exchange he had with Joe the plumber, wherein a skeptical Joe demands to know why Obama will raise his taxes if his plumbing business makes more than $250,000. Obama's answer: because it's right. He concludes by saying that even if he's lost Joe's vote, he'll work for him.

Liveblogging the Third Debate

I'm going to be a little more methodical in this liveblog. Less moment-by-moment reactions, more general thoughts on larger themes.

6:06: They're seated and both look relaxed. This format will likely make both more appealing. McCain is working very hard to look relaxed and human. He's been instructed to look at Obama, and he's trying that. He's not looking into the camera, as Obama does. These are stagecraft issues, and it looks like McCain has finally caught up on taking it seriously. After ten minutes, McCain is slipping back into contempt.

6:10: Joe the Plumber. This is the new everyman (your days are done, Joe Sixpack). Wow, did Joe get some serious face time. If he doesn't have a reality show by Spring, he missed a hell of an opportunity.

6:18: The thing that Obama recognizes is that debates aren't about scoring points. He doesn't care at all about getting McCain's goat. He is not going to squabble, he's going to stay presidential and serious. McCain, constantly smirking and trying to score points, looks like a guy who's sparring in a locker room. It's death among women voters. It's a dog-whistle among male Republicans, who eat it up. Guess who will decide the election?

6:27 - 6:40: Schieffer asks the question about the nastiness, and McCain goes into this long spiel about he's the victim. All of that played immediately into Obama's hand because he could redirect them and talk about the poison of campaigns. Obama looks presidential. In his rebuttal, McCain went into an aggrieved rant that was built on lies or grossly misplaced pique. It's one of the most amazing sections in a debate I've ever seen. We're into territory we've never seen before. As the exchange continues, McCain repeats the Ayers and ACORN accusations with great pique. It's bizarre. Obama doesn't exactly know what to do with it because he is coming off like a lunatic. (Obama dispensed with the ACORN and Ayers stuff brilliantly.) I'll try to get the video.

6:55: McCain is boiling with rage. He's firing out random talking points--most of which are lies--with a seething hiss. I've never really seen anything like this. It unravels on him the second Obama has a chance to respond, because he is calm, engaged, and sane. He rebuts McCain easily (insane rantings being easy to rebut), which ... enrages McCain more.

7:15: McCain needed to come in with a gameplan. His task was simple: reverse the image that he's unhinged and erratic, and offer a coherent plan for change that would compete with Obama's and credibly give swing voters a reason to view him as the change candidate. He is doing the opposite in this debate. He's chaotic, confused, angry, and he has no plan whatsoever, just a series of talking points that will appeal only to the fringe right. I don't see a single thing that he did right on the points, and the overall effect is much more devasting. Energy: drill. Abortion: demonize pro-choice voters and ridicule Obama. Etc. It's a doomed strategy.

Final analysis: it was an incredibly interesting debate if you were an Obama fan. (Apparently also if you were a McCain fan.) Obama killed McCain.

Economic Fears Double

Amid the dozens of new polls every week, it's hard to keep track of the details. I just looked through the results of Pew's new survey, and this finding jumped out. Pew asked voters to rate the most important national problem. For most of the year, the economy has been the leading issue, but have a look at how dramatically it's grown.

Voters citing "economy" as most important issue
34%: January
61%: July
75%: October
This is really astounding movement on a single issue. Iraq, by comparison, has slid from the main worry of 27% of respondents to just 11%. Obama is favored by 14 points over McCain in the ability to handle (47%-33%) the current financial crisis.

If these numbers stay the same (and based on the news, they will), it seems inconceivable that McCain could win.

Oh, and one other finding. In June they asked voters if the candidates were too critical of each other. They thought neither candidate was being too critical (19% for Obama, 26% for McCain). But in this survey, that's changed radically. Only 22% think Obama's too critical of McCain now, but 48% think McCain's too critical. Voters are also 2% worried about McCain's "character, age, and judgment" than Obama's.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Metaphors of Moving Images



The choice is clear.


I just returned from a morning of filming a segment for a local talk show called "Outlook Portland." It was about what you'd expect from a balding mumbler of low-middling attractiveness. Fortunately, it airs on an off-network (the CW) at--not joking--Sundays at 6am. So no harm done. It will apparently air the Sunday before the election. I will have the key Youtube segments when they're available.

Friday, October 10, 2008

(Republican) Maverick

Well, we saw this coming.
Alaska Inquiry Concludes Palin Abused Powers

Gov. Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to try to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, an investigation by the Alaska Legislature has concluded.
Go ahead and raise your hands, those of you who didn't see this coming.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ho Gaya

For those of you who are of sound mental health and less obsessive character, I assume "The Corner" means nothing. It is a proto-blog of the National Review, which is sort of the print equivalent of FOX News, if instead of being run by old, white, screechy GOP stooges, it were run by smart-ass, coddled, screechy white GOP stooges. It's not really a blog so much as a stream-of-consciousness river of bile and sludge. They post dozens or hundreds of comments each day. You don't really read it so much as have a glance to study the nature of the sludge that is passing by at any given moment.

Tonight, they are in a foul mood. Generally an extremely triumphal crowd (no event is too obscure, deeply lodged in the echo chamber, or tiny to be celebrated), tonight they were just cranky, like a child up past her bedtime. Or, say, an old fart who's getting his keister kicked by a young whippersnapper in the US presidential election. They declared no victory. Aside from the usual hysteria ('Would you have guessed that [Obama]'s pals with a guy who brags about bombing the Pentagon? Would you have guessed that he helped underwrite raging anti-Semites?"), they were dispondent and resigned to loss. They even started to turn on McCain, a kind of apostasy previously unthinkable for this particular strain of the Bush Youth:
We have a disaster here — which is what you should expect when you delegate a non-conservative to make the conservative (nay, the American) case.
At the end of autocratic regimes, this must be what it's like--the loyalists eating one another, blaming the failure on a lack of fidelity and discipline, fear and insanity in their eyes as the world tilts on its axis.

In Hindi, there's this phrase which means something like "it is finished"--ho gaya. When something is completely done, irrevocably, Indians will use this word, sometimes emphasizing it with a sweeping motion of the palm.

After tonight's debate? Ho gaya. Change, she is a'comin.

Liveblogging the Second Debate

I'm going to try to be a little more sedate this time around. We'll see how that works.

6pm: One minute to go.

6:05: McCain looks Obama in the eye when he shakes his hand--someone coached him. Shocker! First question's about the economy. Obama's solution: WPA. McCain is talking around the question sort of like Palin. This is not what they envisioned, the Palinizing of McCain.

6:10: McCain: my treasury secretary would be the founder of eBay, Meg Whitman. Seriously.

6:15: McCain launches a broadside at Obama for causing the Freddie/Fanny debacle ("with his cronies"), and Obama starts by ignoring it. Later he goes back with a pointed rebuttal. It raises the question of how much he should engage McCain's unhinged personal attacks. Probably he should ignore the old crank.

6:17: McCain claims to have warned in a letter of the mortgage crisis. That's a letter I'd like to see.

6:21: Obama deftly deflects the question trying to blame both parties for the state of the country. This could be a touchstone he could return to. McCain's response: never mind who's to blame, I'm a bipartisan maverick and I can fix it!

6:28: Priorities. McCain won't list priorities--"we can work on all of these at the same time." Obama: energy independence, health care, education. No waffling. Interesting.

6:29: McCain invokes a spending freeze again. Someone's going to have to hit him on that. It's obviously not just a verbal tic anymore.

6:35: Obama goes into a Carteresque section about saving energy. It lacks only the cardigan. He could have had a JFK moment. Missed it. However, he does come back nicely to say that the spending freeze hits people unevenly.

6:35: Brokaw doesn't like the candidates failing to follow the rules. He's really pissy about it--we seem some distance from Cronkite here.

6:40: Seems like we've gotten into a consistent flow here. McCain is angry and assualtive, Obama is pleasant and open. I've even fallen into the habit of judging each man against his established role. For people tuning in for the first time, I think Obama probably is killing McCain.

6:45: Green question. Not shockingly, Obama crushes it while McCain flails. Another observation: this debate isn't limited to McCain's "strength" (more precisely--the only issue he thinks about), which means there are a great many more potholes for him to fall into.

6:55: McCain seems to be talking about health care. I'd dozed off. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

7:00: "Did we hear the price size of that fine?" I'll come back to this, but it was really bad for McCain. Very bad.

7:05: Other livebloggers with CNN are saying Obama killed on the health care issue--100% of undecided women had him at the maximum rating. Healthcare!

7:10: Iraq question. Totally boring--we've heard all of this 47 times already.

7:15: Foreign policy has provoked some contentiousness. McCain wants to physically attack Obama. Obama's subtley provoking McCain, and McCain is seriously ticked.

7:20: Fascinating exchange in which there was an alpha male showdown. Lots of dominance behavior from McCain. Obama provokes him because he sees McCain is losing it. (This is during the Iraq/foreign policy section.) Obama looks at McCain mildly, infuriating him.

7:23: A Navy man asks a question. What a set up. I want a UChicago prof to ask the next question. Truth is, I'm tuning out, and I assume everyone else is, too. This debate conforms pretty closely to expectations, which is a huge win for Obama.

After the debate--
NBC "truth squads" the debate. They look at the two men's claim that they saw the mortgage crisis coming. They show a clip of McCain saying he didn't see it coming--in other words, his claim in the debate was a total lie. Obama's claim, that he sent the letter (I posted it yesterday) two years ago. True, obviously, but NBC dings him because they think it wasn't soon enough. What the hell? This is exactly why we read blogs instead of the MSM. They have fully abrogated their responsibility to illuminate events. They are now in pure arse-covering mode ("don't criticize us--buy the Cialis we hawk!")

Monday, October 06, 2008

Obama's Foresight

Andrew Sullivan posts a letter Obama wrote to Bernanke and Paulson on March 22, 2007. It highlights his depth of understanding of the economy--or at least of his advisors' understanding. Considering how callow and mercurial his primary and general election foes have been, it is really impressive.

Dear Chairman Bernanke and Secretary Paulson,

There is grave concern in low-income communities about a potential coming wave of foreclosures. Because regulators are partly responsible for creating the environment that is leading to rising rates of home foreclosure in the subprime mortgage market, I urge you immediately to convene a homeownership preservation summit with leading mortgage lenders, investors, loan servicing organizations, consumer advocates, federal regulators and housing-related agencies to assess options for private sector responses to the challenge.

We cannot sit on the sidelines while increasing numbers of American families face the risk of losing their homes.

And while neither the government nor the private sector acting alone is capable of quickly balancing the important interests in widespread access to credit and responsible lending, both must act and act quickly.

Working together, the relevant private sector entities and regulators may be best positioned for quick and targeted responses to mitigate the danger. Rampant foreclosures are in nobody's interest, and I believe this is a case where all responsible industry players can share the objective of eliminating deceptive or abusive practices, preserving homeownership, and stabilizing housing markets.

The summit should consider best practice loan marketing, underwriting, and origination practices consistent with the recent (and overdue) regulators' Proposed Statement on Subprime Mortgage Lending. The summit participants should also evaluate options for independent loan counseling, voluntary loan restructuring, limited forbearance, and other possible workout strategies. I would also urge you to facilitate a serious conversation about the following:

* What standards investors should require of lenders, particularly with regard to verification of income and assets and the underwriting of borrowers based on fully indexed and fully amortized rates.

* How to facilitate and encourage appropriate intervention by loan servicing companies at the earliest signs of borrower difficulty.

* How to support independent community-based-organizations to provide counseling and work-out services to prevent foreclosure and preserve homeownership where practical.

* How to provide more effective information disclosure and financial education to ensure that borrowers are treated fairly and that deception is never a source of competitive advantage.

* How to adopt principles of fair competition that promote affordability, transparency, non-discrimination, genuine consumer value, and competitive returns.

* How to ensure adequate liquidity across all mortgage markets without exacerbating consumer and housing market vulnerability.

Of course, the adoption of voluntary industry reforms will not preempt government action to crack down on predatory lending practices, or to style new restrictions on subprime lending or short- term post-purchase interventions in certain cases. My colleagues on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs have held important hearings on mortgage market turmoil and I expect the Committee will develop legislation.

Nevertheless, a consortium of industry-related service providers and public interest advocates may be able to bring quick and efficient relief to millions of at-risk homeowners and neighborhoods, even before Congress has had an opportunity to act. There is an opportunity here to bring different interests together in the best interests of American homeowners and the American economy. Please don't let this opportunity pass us by.

What if.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Celebrity and the Veep Debate

Here's a thought experiment. Imagine that Barack Obama scooped McCain and asked Sarah Palin to be his veep. Would she have gone for it?

The point isn't to come to an answer, but to highlight the fundamental vacuity at the center of the Palin phenomenon. This isn't about politics, it's about celebrity. Last night's debate must surely have featured the worst performance by a candidate in the televised era. Admiral Stockdale? Not even close. Sure, he said "who am I? Why am I here?" But it was rhetorical. He went on to give a poor performance by regular adult-sized, pre-reality-show standards. He was quirky and slightly weird. At the end of one answer, he said, "That's -- that's my answer." Sort of crazy-grandpa sounding. But in fact, he was well-versed on the issues, and demonstrated it as he talked about the issues (all domestic, interestingly). By Palin standards, he was a wizard.

By contrast, here's a sample of Palin last night:
"Both [Pakistan and Iran] are extremely dangerous, of course. And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was the Gen. Petraeus and al Qaeda, both leaders there and it's probably the only thing that they're ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq. You don't have to believe me or John McCain on that. I would believe Petraeus and the leader of al Qaeda."
It's just gibberish. More poignantly:
Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards.... We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line.
It was clear she didn't really know her ass from a hole in the ground during vast stretches of the debate. She dimly understood cues in the questions, so that she could offer answers like this one on the credit crisis: "John McCain, in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong, he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce. And the American workforce is the greatest in this world, with the ingenuity and the work ethic that is just entrenched in our workforce." She was not speaking from experience here, she was mouthing lines from the campaign.

In this one, wires get crossed; she flubs the line: "It is a crisis. It's a toxic mess, really, on Main Street that's affecting Wall Street." She means Wall Street's affecting Main Street.

Sarah Palin is not a serious politician, she's a celebrity. She does have a mesmerizing quality we're used to seeing on television screens. The cadence of her speech, her smile, her local-TV coiffure--it hits all the right notes. And for a country now suckling on the embarrassing nectar of reality television, she has a kind of TV authenticity. Her daughter's pregnant. She kills moose. Her husband's called the first dude. Wow!

None of this would matter, of course, if Americans had the ability to judge her words. This is the greatest failing of our democracy, though. They don't. When we get into the issue of Iraq, Palin floats this gem out there:
Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works.
Judged from the celebrity point of view, it's a big winner. It is plucky and cutely vicious ("white flag of surrender"). It is pro-soldier and pro-America. And it touches on the issue of tactics. Judged from the point of view of real policy, it's childish nonsense. She launches a dog-whistle ad hominem to arouse the base, but at least that's just boorish, not wrong. When she talks about what the troops want to hear (they're supporting Obama, based both on polling and campaign donations), she marches into inaccuracy. She continues by reducing the issue of Iraq to the surge, and then claiming that it worked. She has not the slightest sense of the nuance of relationships in Iraq, what "working" would constitute, or what the surge was intended to accomplish. When McCain says these same things, we understand that he's shading the truth to orient the discussion to his terms. When she says them, it sounds like a 14-year-old repeating what her daddy said.

She wins the point, of course, because Americans haven't a clue what the issues are in Iraq. They didn't when they overwhelmingly supported invasion, minimally supported occupation, and now overwhelmingly support withdrawal. Lacking the information to judge the point on its merits, they default to the celebrity metric. (David Brooks abandons dignity and sides with this analysis.)

But the thing that really alarmed me was her demeanor. She was confident throughout the debate. She grinned at Biden, as if to say, "you poor bastard, I'm about to gut you like a moose." She tore into her nonsense-paragraphs with the confidence of Churchill or King. As the debate wore on, you could tell she really thought she was kicking ass. It's bad when someone like Cheney tries to trick the stupid; it's somehow worse when Palin also falls for the trick. The pantomime of leadership is, in Palin's mind, the same as leadership. When I was a small child, I used to think that making loopy squiggles on the page was writing. I assumed that since I couldn't understand the adult squiggles on the page, no one could. Mine were therefore just as good. Palin spent the night making loopy squiggles and thinking it was prose.

This was Palin, teeth sparkling inside her triumphant smile:
And Secretary Rice, having recently met with leaders on one side or the other there, also, still in these waning days of the Bush administration, trying to forge that peace, and that needs to be done, and that will be top of an agenda item, also, under a McCain-Palin administration.
Nailed it! Take that, Joe Biden.

As to the thought experiment, I do think she would have gone for it. Why not?--Obama's a way better fit. He's young, glamorous, and his brand is better. She doesn't look so good in those bulky "Maverick" jeans. She wants a pair of "Change" slacks. She could probably even shift course if they decided to have a mid-season trade. Different uniform, same smile, same line readings. For someone so powerfully ignorant of the ramifications of leadership, what difference does it matter?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Revised Predictions

About two weeks ago, I made a few predictions. Rarely is one so quickly proven wrong/right. Let us revisit an revise.

Prediction 9/18
Obama will win the election by a comfortable popular vote (+5%), and an even more comfortable electoral college outcome. Current guess (to be revised later): 294-244. This includes a sweep of the Western swing states, Virginia, and Iowa, but neither FL or OH.
Revised Prediction
It's best to be safe than sorry, so this is probably worth standing pat on. But man, Obama's charging in BOTH Florida and Ohio and the electoral college outcome could be as much as 359-179.

Prediction 9/18
If he wins North Carolina, he will win in a landslide (upper limit, 340-198).
Revised Prediction
Look out.

Prediction 9/18
There's no way in hell Obama loses Michigan--I don't care what the polls say.
Revised Prediction
There's no way in hell Obama loses Michigan--just look at the polls. Plus, McCain's pulling out of the Great Lakes State.

Prediction 9/18
Obama will scrap hard in Florida to keep McCain honest, but it's pure defense--Florida's not in the cards.
Revised Prediction
Florida is very much in the cards, thanks to the economic trouble and Sarah Palin. Good thing Obama scrapped there, eh?

Prediction 9/18
Palin was the moment McCain lost the election, a view that will solidify within days following the election. History will record it as a massive gaffe. It will probably destroy Palin's future as a serious national player.
Revised Prediction
No revision.

Prediction 9/18
Dems will control the Senate 56-44 (no filibuster-proof majority) before dropping Lieberman like a sack of dirt, retaining a ten-vote majority.
Revised Prediction
No revision.

My, what a difference a fortnight makes.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Hendrik Hertzberg gives some advice to Joe Biden (via the New Yorker's "Campaign Trial" podcast):

Biden has a particular problem. He has the social awkwardness with women of a happily-married man. I mean, he's not really practiced at how to relate to a woman he doesn't really know very well. There is a danger he'll make some inappropriate joke or [engage in] a piece of awkward flirtatiousness that will blow up in his face.

[So, he should] shut up. Let her do all the talking. If you must say something, say something very short and sweet and then say, "And I'd be interested to hear what Governor Palin has to say about this." [Order scrambled for coherence.]
A former presidential speechwriter, he knows of what he speaks.