About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

2006 all over again

TPM has raised the issue of the bizarre correspondence between Obama and McCain on Ethics reform back in 2006. I remember the incident, and remember thinking that McCain had lost his marbles. His angry, denigrating, impolitic response to Obama's rather mild missive was bewildering then, and still is now. But I think it points to the moment where McCain of 2000 vanished forever in a puff of wingnut smoke and mirrors, and became the rather off-base candidate we have been seeing the last few weeks.

Here are the letters. Note in particular Obama's response---still his cool, moderate, civil, almost cordial response to open hostility and abuse.

And think: if it angered McCain that much to have Obama engage him then, as a mere junior Senator and rising star of the opposition, then how much more concentrated his bile and hate now that this youngster is on the path to beat him in the presidential election?

I don't want a man that bilious and unhinged anywhere near the Oval Office.

Friday, October 03, 2008


(courtesy 4loves.com)

So, let's just get this straight:

the House passed the bailout TARP rescue package, and the President signed it with the speed of lightning; this set off a selloff, bringing the market to a close about 1.5% down from yesterday's wretched close; A woman in Ohio shot herself in despair over her foreclosure; the Dutch government has bought out Fortis for $28 billion; Wells has gone and snapped up Wachovia, undermining the government brokered deal with Citi; and Krugman is predicting "Bailout 2.0" within the next 100 days.

Oh yeah: and we are at war with Pakistan.

Happy Friday, one and all.

They Shoot Metaphors, Don't They?

This is sad and telling. A woman becomes a metaphor with the quick pull of a trigger:

CNN - A 90-year-old Akron, Ohio, woman who shot herself as sheriff's deputies tried to evict her from her foreclosed home became a symbol of the nation's home mortgage crisis Friday.

...Addie Polk is being treated at Akron General Medical Center after shooting herself at least twice in the upper body Wednesday afternoon, her city councilman said.

..."There's a lot of people like Miss Polk right now. That's the sad thing about it," said Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville, who had met Polk before and rushed to the scene when contacted by police. "They might not be as old as her, some could be as old as her. This is just a major problem."

In 2004, Polk took out a 30-year, 6.375 percent mortgage for $45,620 with a Countrywide Home Loan office in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. The same day, she also took out an $11,380 line of credit.

Over the next couple of years Polk missed payments on the 101-year-old home, which she and her late husband purchased in 1970. In 2007, Fannie Mae assumed the mortgage and later filed for foreclosure.

We're in for a long cold dark winter.

Whine Bitch Moan and Whine Again

AP and the SF Chron report:
Palin said she had been "annoyed" in her interviews with CBS News anchor Katie Couric and had been caught off guard when asked what newspapers and magazines she read and to name Supreme Court decisions she disagreed with — questions Palin appeared not to be able to answer.

Her responses, Palin said, were "an indication of being outside that Washington elite, outside of the media elite also."

Of the CBS interviews, she said: "The Sarah Palin in those interviews is a little bit annoyed. Because it's like, no matter what you say, you're going to get clobbered. If you cease to answer a question, you're going to get clobbered on the answer. If you choose to try to pivot and go on to another subject that you believe that Americans want to hear about, you get clobbered for that, too."

Hmm. Well, yes. That's what being a politician under scrutiny is about. And a lot of us Americans outside the Washington elite do actually read the news, and could likely name one or two news outlets we turn to for information. Fox? USA Today? Anything at all?

I'll give her a pass on the Supreme Court rulings, because I can see how nothing beyond Roe v. Wade would likely make it that far north. Brown v. Board of Education, Bush v. Gore, Padilla, Dred Scott....Nah.

Survey Says: Not Ready For Prime Time.

I Ask Again


Are we at war with Pakistan now?

U.S. missile attack in Pakistan kills at least nine

The so-called Economy

The word from the wonks at Berkeley:
Will the rescue plan now pending in Congress solve the crisis? "My answer is no," Eichengreen said. "It is best seen as a holding action. We have had a year of holding actions so far where the Federal Reserve has flooded the markets with liquidity and that hasn't solved the problem. The credit markets have shut down. The commercial paper market has imploded; inner bank markets have disappeared; companies are meeting their payrolls by charging their credit cards ... Maybe TARP (troubled asset rescue plan) gives Treasury the wiggle room to surreptitiously do what is necessary - recapitalize the banking system by paying too much. It would be better to be up front about what they're doing. I think there will have to be a Plan B."

All agree we are barrelling into a bad recession, and we can't escape it---only, very possibly, ameliorate it.

The Polls

Hot from the RSS headlines:

POLL Obama McCain
Diageo/Hotline: 48% 42%
Rasmussen: 51% 44%
GWU/Battleground: 49% 46%
DailyKos: 51% 40%
Research2000: 51% 40%

More Post-Debate Pontification

Stephen Hayes, over at the Daily Standard:
Sarah Palin won, though I suspect collegiate debate judges with the American Forensic Association would not have scored it that way.

She didn't win because she was smarter or more persuasive or more articulate. She wasn't. At times she was utterly incoherent, as when she answered a question about bankruptcy regulation with a jarring non sequitir about her experience on energy policy. Huh?

And more than once she seemed to settle back on material that she seemed to have memorized--"mayor, business owner, oil and gas regulator." My brother used a football analogy. "At times, it seemed Palin was like a rookie running back with lots of potential who is trying to remember the plays but who has a few nice runs because of the natural instinct, but then gets caught up over-thinking."

But these are quibbles. She won because to a vast majority of those who watched the debate tonight she likely came off as a plausible vice president. And that was all that mattered.

That's a nice way of putting it: "she didn't win, but I liked her so I say she won anyway." And that's the trouble with both partisans and pundits. They don't see what the rest of us are looking at. In the polls from CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC; in focus groups of Frank Lutz and others, Biden was overwhelmingly seen as the winner. Palin improved her standing (which wasn't hard at this point), and was seen as very likable. But Biden was seen as the winner in what people are looking for here: not a soccer mom, and not a scripted news anchor, but a leader, and a person of sincere quality. And that's where Biden came off best last night.

I'm happy to accede the Republican base its hootenanny over Palin's performance, but it's sound and fury signifying nothing. The people have spoken, and they've said that this isn't the woman they want up front of the nation. They want serious. They want resonant. They want real. Not reading from her notes. Not repetitive sloganeering. Not 'plausible.'

No Surge

McKiernan emphatically plumps against a 'surge' style effort in Afghanistan, and pushes for a long-term political, not military, solution:
“The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge,' ” McKiernan emphasized, saying that what is required instead is a “sustained commitment” to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many more years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution."

...“I don't want the military to be engaging the tribes,” he said. Given Afghanistan's complicated system of rival tribes and ethnic groups and the recent history of civil war, allying with the wrong tribe risks rekindling internecine conflict, he said. “It wouldn't take much to go back to a civil war.”

Smart man. Let's hope his bosses---whomever they wind up being---listen well.

In Other News

Umm, are we at war with Pakistan? Or still allied with them? It's starting to be difficult to tell....

BBC: US strikes 'kill 20 in Pakistan'

House Passes Bailout

...and the market drops 2.5%.

Post-Debate Palin

This was nagging at me as well. Meghan O'Rourke get it:
I have been racking my brain to figure out who Sarah Palin reminds me of ever since she came on the scene with her bright smile, her folksy-corporate style, and her Silly Puttied authenticity, which mirrors back at the viewer whatever talking point she's just absorbed. From the start, I've found her stylistically arresting, for reasons that have to do with her energy and her youth but also, I felt, with some dim recollection of a dark literary doppelganger ... And just now, watching the very end of the debate, it struck me: Sarah Palin reminds me of a character in a George Saunders story.

And it is too true. Read her whole post; it's well worth it. And if you are unfamiliar with George Saunders, rush out now and find back issues of the New Yorker, and copies of any of his books or stories. "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" or "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" are great places to start.

Morning Nuggets

Mostly mealy and unpalatable. The NYT is reporting that the just-released jobs report is pretty awful, and shows a marked reduction in employment trends even before the current crisis hit last week. One analyst quoted has these unpleasant words to share:
“Whatever the government might or might not do to try to bail out the financial system, a consumer-led recession is upon us, and it promises to be a serious one.”

And at the same time, The Governator of California has told Paulson that we may need to borrow up to $7 billion for the state if credit markets don't respond pretty damn quick to the government's actions:
California has asked the United States government to lend it $7 billion, warning that the state could run out of money in a few weeks without it.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a letter Thursday night to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said that with credit markets essentially frozen, the state, like a slew of others and local governments nationwide, had no access to short-term financing that normally support day-to-day operations.

“California and other states may be unable to obtain the necessary level of financing to maintain government operations,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in the letter, which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

Great. On the upside, my coffee is fabulous this morning. And over at TPM, Greg Sargent has sifted the entrails of the daily conservative sacrifice, and determined that Charles Krauthammer is now in the tank for Obama. Personally, I don't read it so dispositively. I Think that Krauthammer is trying to rebalance a disappointing race, in order to provide cover. Once again, lowering expectations provides the opportunity to rise from the ashes, phoenix-like, amid a blizzard of angry negatrive advertising in the next month. We'll see. If I'm wrong, and TPM is right, well, then...I don't mind having Krauthammer on my side. But what next? Ann Coulter plumping for Obama-Biden?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Polls

MSNBC online poll gives it to Biden, 53% to 37%.
CNN online poll gives it to Biden, 72% to 25%.
CNN spot poll gives it to Biden, 51% to 36%.

I see a pattern developing.

UPDATE: According to TPM, CBS polled 473 uncommitted debate watchers, and found that 46% say Biden won, 21% say Palin won, and 33% say it was a tie.

Quote of the night

from fivethirtyeight's live blogging:
9:12 CDT: [Sean] Palin on Biden's teacher wife: "God bless her, her reward is in heaven, right?" That is the sound of every teacher in America voting for Barack Obama. Wow. What a mistake.

The Debate

Well, it's over and done. In the end, a couple thoughts: Palin did much better than she yet has on the campaign. At the same time, she was aggravatingly parrot-like in her talking points, and her stance against not just Biden, but Ifill as well. As far as I am concerned, you answer the questions asked, not avoid them with an avalanche of non-related commentary.

Biden was crap for the first 40 minutes. Then, after the constant absurdities from Palin (regardless of how folksy and breezy her delivery), he got his dander up. Where Palin relied on talking points and sloganeering, Biden brought clear, real content. And when he choked up about raising his children---that brought a sudden focus. This man is real. This woman isn't.

The last 40 minutes were Biden's, far and away, and Palin began to spin apart. On the question of the powers of the VP, her answer was shocking. On nuclear arms, she was incomprehensible.

In the end, a wash. On points I give it to Biden. I was going to give it on style to Palin, but midway, with all her sloganeering, I suddenly flashed on a single name in my mind: "Goebbels."

After that I was through with her.


The NYT looks at how the current crisis is affecting higher education. It seems that with the Wachovia takeover, they are limiting access to only 10% of funds invested in a communal fund for universities. This means that now, along with banks having a massive liquidity problem, dozens of colleges and universities are now facing one as well.
Colleges have used the fund, formally called the Commonfund Short Term Fund, almost like a checking account, depositing revenues including tuition payments and withdrawing funds daily to finance payrolls, maintenance expenses, small construction projects and other short-term needs, college officials said.
Look for many, many more problems like this, as the butterfly effect helps to spread all unintended consequences.

A Thought.

A number of my more conservative leaning friends continue to try and persuade me that the current fiscal crisis has its roots in Clinton-era policy, and hence is the fault of the liberal left and the Democrats. I want to share a bit of reality on that thought.

A number of years ago, I was a legal clerk on a decade long case involving environmental contamination. The site in question was a chemical plant, which during WWII was converted to a military base, and then sold back to the private sector to resume chemical production. Over the years, thousands of gallons of toxics were produced, and stored in underground tanks. These tanks leaked toxins over the decades---into the soil, into the water table---and triggered a massive cleanup effort in the 80s and 90s. The crux of our legal issue was this: The cleanup had been paid for by insurers. But there were more than 40 owners of the location over the years (from the early 1920s until the present), and the question was who was going to pay, and how much. The original owner held the land for a long period of time, but produced only a small fraction of the chemical waste at issue. The next group of owners held the land for only a small period of time, but produced the largest proportion of the waste. Other owners were primarily responsible for the faulty tanks. And on and on. The original owners had covered the initial insurance outlay for the remediation; they were looking for compensation from all the other parties.

In the end, the judge deemed that a proportional payment was in order, and the original owners (who held that they had the least liability), wound up paying only a small portion of the costs, while the next owners---who had produced the most toxins, and overseen the property during its most prolific and environmentally damaging period---wound up being held liable for the lion's share of the costs.

Now, what has that to do with politics? Says Glenn Greenwald,

. From Rush Limbaugh yesterday:

Left Creates a Crisis Mentality, Uses It to Abrogate Constitution

Let me read to you the preamble of the United States Constitution. . . . Some Hugo Chavez or some Brazilian president attacked the US over the weekend, saying that the US Constitution is out of whack. Somebody needs to tell him the US Constitution is not in play anymore. The US Constitution has been abrogated and is being tossed overboard section by section by the Democrat Party and the American left.

The GOP has controlled the House for all but 20 months of the last 14 years. They've controlled the White House for the last 8 years, and also had control of the Senate for 6 of those years. It's amazing what "the Left" can accomplish by never being in power, and how "the Right" is powerless to stop it even as they control the levers of Government.

14 years in power. Who's responsible?


Marc Ambinder over at Atlantic points to this critique of the bailout, and it's failure in the House.
namely that the failure of the $700b economic bailout bill failed in part because the White House so poorly branded; had Americans had a sense of ownership, had they perceieved a role for themselves in the rescue, they might not have reacted as violently as they did when Congress began its public debate.

Now, isn't this just about the most direct and eloquent market-based promotion of Obama's vision of an inclusive and self-aware electorate? What would have been the outcome had Obama been driving the branding opportunity rather than Bush?

FDR understood this; you listen to his speeches and his fireside chats, and he is constantly selling America and its needs to Americans, saying "this is hard, but this is ours, and our struggle to see through to victory."

Kennedy got it too, with his "ask not" etc.

The post-Reagan GOP failed to truly grasp the essence of their "ownership" society: it is about owning action, and owning the struggle, and owning a vision. It has very little to do with owning shares of Berkshire Hathaway.

Here's hoping all those bloggers are right about the outcome of the election...


I wonder how accurate the blogosphere's predictive abilities are. As good as the futures market? as good as the psychic up the street from me? Hmmm. Anyway, PoliticsHome has checked in with their Online100 panel, and gotten the following impressive results:
96% of left leaning panelists agree, losing previous concern about McCain from previous surveys. Most notably, 75% of right leaning panelists concede that Obama is most likely to win.

89% of center aligned panelists said that Obama will win; but none said that McCain would win. The only group that picked McCain as likely to win was 25% of right leaning panellists, making McCain's a mere 8%. 5% of the panel said that they didn't know who was likely to win at this point.

Only 1 in 4 right wingers think their horse will win this race. I think that we've passed a Rubicon of sorts in this election.

And Meanwhile, Back in Alaska....

Seems like today is a big day for Governor Palin: the debate, an opinion on troopergate, and an opinion on allowing the McCain campaign to effectively take the reins of government and tactical activity in Juneau---specifically in regard to pushing back against the subpoenas of her staff, family, and supporters. From the Alaska Daily News:
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski will hear arguments this morning and likely rule on the request by five Republican state legislators to halt the Legislature's investigation into what's known as Troopergate. The legislators' lawyers plan to call to the witness stand the state senators overseeing the investigation, as well as the investigator they hired, saying in a press release "it's about time some of these rogue 'investigators' have to face the law.' "

Peter Maassen, the lawyer representing the Legislative Council, which ordered the investigation, said he doubts the judge will allow such testimony. He said the facts aren't really in dispute and the argument is over the law.

"I think the plaintiffs would like to have some political theater instead of the law, since the law isn't very good for them," Maassen said.

...The judge this morning will also hear the arguments of Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Palin appointee who is pushing for Michalski to throw out the Legislature's subpoenas ordering potential witnesses to testify in the investigation. Nearly a dozen people, including the governor's husband and her chief of staff, have refused to honor the subpoenas and face a threat of possible jail time.

I have to say, I'm glad I'm not the Governor today. I don't do so well under pressure.

Then again, I'm not running for VPOTUS.

Good Morning

The pre-caffeine jolt:
...[I]nitial claims for jobless benefits increased by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 497,000, the highest since just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks seven years ago.

...Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said Thursday that factory orders in August plunged by 4 percent compared to July, a much steeper decline than the 2.5 percent drop analysts expected and the biggest setback since a 4.8 percent plunge in October 2006.

...The number of people continuing to receive benefits increased to 3.59 million, up 48,000 and higher than analysts' estimates. That's the highest total in five years.

...Jobless claims are at elevated levels even excluding the hurricanes. Weekly claims have now topped 400,000 for 11 straight weeks, a level economists consider a sign of recession.

You can feel it in the tepid autumn air. The smell of fear, and of loss.

On the bright side, we've got entertainment tonight: the long-awaited VP debate is coming! I expect drinking games to be proliferating around this one. Sarah-cuda vs. the Gaffester. Whoo boy. I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Back To The House

Just now: The bailout passed the Senate 74-25.

Who do we hate more?

(image courtesy of republicanvoices.com. heh.)

Hmmm. I guess there's some small comfort in a 51% negative rating, when compared to Bush's 78% negatives, or Congress's 85%.

The only guy we hate more than Bush these days?

Every single bastard in the Congress, I guess. Lots of hate to go around.

Life In The Bubble

From PoliticsHome.com:

On CNN Espagnol, McCain made the following comments on recent criticism of Palin:

"I haven't heard anyone asking her to resign."

"The enthusiasm is incredible."

"If some people have been attacking her fine, but it's not working with the American people. She's more popular than ever."

Hmmm. I guess McCain reads all those newspapers just like his running mate. Sullivan has done the legwork, that most hyperbolically vocal of all of the blogging, rabid, anti-Palinistas. But Kathleen Parker. George Will. Conor Friedersdorf. Rod Dreher. Fareed Zakaria. The Alaska Daily News. Pew, even:
"Pew finds that 51% of Americans now believe that Palin is unqualified, up from 37% after her announcement."


Ha Ha.

Straight from TPM, Palin's greatest hits. Enjoy it while you can!

(and don't blink)

Ifill Huffle Puffle

Everyone is off and running with the new "out" for Palin: that Gwen Ifill is too tainted and "in the tank" for Obama to act as moderator for tomorrow's debate, and must be removed (or if she isn't, must be held accountable for any and all failures on the part of the GOP candidate.

Now I wasn't going to comment on this, because I think it's truly silly. But it's getting legs out their, and has now moved beyond the blogosphere and gossip mills and into the MSM (here, for instance). So here goes....

First: it's a debate. You don't attack the moderator. You attack your opponent. If you are not capable of doing so, or are not capable of overcoming any bias built in to the questions, then you have already lost points in the matter. Demanding that a moderator have no personal bias is asking for Mother Teresa to run the debate. It ain't gonna happen.

Second: Gwen Ifill is a professional. She has moderated these debates before. She has never been anything but hard, even-handed, and effective. In her reporting and her moderating, I personally have never seen her bring any personal bias into her work. I challenge anyone to show otherwise. This is the job of a debate moderator, just as I've described the very different job above of a debate participator. To not act in such a fashion, regardless of any outside influence, is to already be disqualified. And we've already seen Ifill at this, and have a benchmark to judge against.

Third: No one criticizing her has even read her book. It isn't available to read yet, just the advance abstract, and the title. If a prominent African-American is disqualified from even-handedness for writing about other prominent African-Americans---and using the most prominent of them in the title---then we have a problem. I have no idea if the book is glowing, or critical, or problematic, or a complete farce. Neither does Michelle Malkin, or Fox News. And in any case, see point #2.

OK. That's all. I'm looking forward to the debate: Palin has an excellent track record in debate in Alaska, so it will be fascinating to see her in action after her disasters in the public eye the last two weeks. And Biden is always good for a few foot in the mouth moments. And a note to the universe: asking for specifics in a policy or content driven question, or in a followup, is not "gotcha" journalism. It's just journalism. That too many journalists have been either too lazy too cowed or too craven to do their jobs very well since 2001 is not any reason to excuse them from becoming professionals once again.

UPDATE: Ifill responds. And good for her. She seems to think about it much as I do.

McCain Rex?

Think Progress catches this from Des Moines:

MCCAIN: I just want to make a comment about the obvious issue and that is the failure of Congress to act yesterday. Its just not acceptable. […] This is just a not acceptable situation. I’m not saying this is the perfect answer. If I were dictator, which I always aspire to be, I would write it a little bit differently.

It doesn't surprise me, considering his demeanor. But a tyrant in training is the last thing this country needs after the last eight years.

Sarah Truman?

"He was a man of principle, of wisdom and a deep and abiding love for our country," Mr. McCain said.

Sarah Palin as Harry Truman? Principal and Wisdom?

I think not.

Interesting graphic

The WSJ discusses the "new" bailout plan, and with it provides a chart of failed banks (below). My curiosity is raised at the short list: they are only showing banks that have very technically "failed"--and not foreign banks, or investment firms. I guess this is fine, since the discussion is on FDIC limits, but still, I think that it provides a far more optimistic view of the situation than the big picture would warrant.

Still, more than a dozen banks down so far in the US, along with Merrill, and Lehman, and AIG, and Fannie and Freddie...

Bailout, Interrupted

From McClatchy, some details on just what the congress will vote on today:
The Senate plan includes tax cuts for businesses and renewable energy, a higher ceiling on federal bank deposit insurance and a fix to the alternative minimum income tax that forces millions of Americans to pay higher individual income taxes. The new bill would also raise the cap on federally insured bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000, a move both Barack Obama and John McCain endorsed.

Tax cuts and a revised AMT? Thank goodness we got this thing through unencumbered by any other issues!


On the up side, perhaps this time we'll get something done. But whatever happened to the need for a clean, focused bill? I guess the need to be clear of politics got buried over the last few days by....politics. Again:


And Speaking of Gaffes II

Get ready for more Couric-Palin Hijinks. from Halperin over at Time:

  1. On who stands where in the debate.

         COURIC: I know you’re heading to Sedona…

    Gov. PALIN: Yes.

    COURIC: …to work on your debate. What is your coach advising you?

    Gov. PALIN: I don’t have a debate coach.

    COURIC: Well, what are your coaches?

    Gov. PALIN: I have quite a few people who are giving us information about
    the record of Obama and Biden, and at the end of the day, though, it is–it’s
    so clear, again, what those choices are. Either new ideas, new energy and
    reform of Washington, DC, or more of the same.

    [Earth to Palin: do you realize you just used the Obama campaign's tag line, effectively plugging your adversaries?]

  2. On relativism of everything, and creationism as science:

         COURIC: Should creationism be allowed to be taught anywhere in public

    Gov. PALIN: Don’t have a problem at all with kids debating all sides of
    theories, all sides of ideas that they ever–kids do it today, whether it’s on
    paper in a curriculum or not. Curriculums also are best left to the local
    school districts, instead of big brother, federal government, telling a
    district what they can and can’t teach.

    [Point: you didn't answer the question! And point: creationism isn't a "side" to an idea. It's an ideology without basis in scientific methods.]

Since when have conservatives been proponents of moral relativism? Of the idea that all things and all ideas should be brought to the table equally? Where in all this is the demand for an equal time slot in the debate for flat-earthers? And the Flying Spaghetti Monster (may he bless you with tentacly goodness!)? Seriously: this is at the heart of our failings. If we cannot provide rigorous education and the basis for our children to learn critical thinking, then this country is doomed indeed. And no, debating creationism vs. evolution in science classes has nothing to do with critical thinking, any more than debating flat-earth vs. earth-as-orb has any real value in modern discourse.

And Speaking of Gaffes

So the new Quinnipiac polls are showing a significant lead for Obama in Florida (+8%), Ohio (+8%) And Pennsylvania (+15%!!!). With a +/- 3.4% margin of error, I'd say these show the continued gradual gains for Obama, with the PA poll as an outlier. But McCain found it an opportunity to slap some racial shit on the table. Politico reports:

FLORIDA: Obama 51 – McCain 43 post-debate
OHIO: Obama 50 – McCain 42 post-debate
PENNSYLVANIA: Obama 54 – McCain 39 post-debate

McCain pushback on Florida polls: “Our polling shows us up 7. My guess is they over sampled blacks and under sampled Cubans.

26% Approve

Saith ABC:

Bush's Disapproval Rating Highest in History

Just two presidents have had lower approval (Richard Nixon and Harry Truman) than President Bush, and none has had higher disapproval in polls since 1938.

McCain's problem: Fifty-three percent of registered voters think he'd lead the country in the same direction as Bush, inching back up over a majority.

Seems that Obama's "more of the same" meme has sunk in. Of course, I disagree: I don't think McCain would provide us more of the same. I think he would be far more reckless, far less stable, and entirely, radically, reactionarily divisive.

Change of Pace

It would seem from this and this that there is a strong push to get Syria back to the table, both for the primary benefit there, as well as leverage in the Iran nuclear question. This is encouraging: I think that the closer Syria is to normalized, the more likely we will be to see an uptick in peaceful progress in the region and real structural change for the better in Lebanon, in Palestine, and in the long term with Iran.

The fact that Olmert, now free of the binds of governmental hardline, was able to come out two days ago to say that Israel should return the West Bank and Gaza for its own sake---which a month ago would likely have led to his assassination---is a huge prod forward. Combine that with Condi Rice's unnoticed commentary on the region (somewhat positive, if unvaluable), all lead me to suspect that we are going to see a continued effort (with significant pressure from France, and US, and UK) to bring Syria into the mainstream, and along with it an uptick in the Palestinian peace process coinciding with the inception of an Obama administration in Washington.

OK. That's my prognostication for today. NOw, on to the rest of my coffee before it gets cold.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who Needs Tina Fey...

When we've got a real live Sarah Palin?

This time, as provided by TPM, she tells Katie Couric about her daily news reading habits. Asked which specific newspapers or media outlets she regularly reviews, Palin answers, "I look at all of 'em."

She can't come up with a single name. Seriously. It's amazing.

Oh, and as an added bonus, right at the end: "Alaska is a microcosm of America." Uh-huh. And San Francisco is a typical American city.

20-20 Hindsight

Yglesias has a good post on our troubles, albeit one that looks back rather than forward:
But I wonder how much of the current problems could have been avoided if, back in February of 2004, instead of touting the alleged wonders of ARMs Alan Greenspan had said something like “many people seem to be taking out mortgages based on the assumption that house prices will continue to appreciate indefinitely, but that’s a bad idea as is making loans that are based on that premise, as is buying securities backed by mortgages that were undertaken based on that premise. Everyone should be more careful.”

Maybe everyone would have ignored him, but he had something like God-like status in the press at the time.

Worth considering....


To give a sense of the mood and attitude in Israel, check out the icons being used for the RSS news feeds on the Jerusalem Post online:

RSS | Blogs | Iran news

Gotta love that---the little nuke sign next to Iran news. Sheesh. And we think we have it rough.....

The Polls



TPM is reporting Obama leading now in Florida, 49% to 46%. And in the Battlegrounds, according to politicalwire:
"Among registered voters surveyed in Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Nevada, Obama tops McCain 50 to 40%. Just a week ago, Obama led 45% to 42%."

Good Lord

From the Alternative Universe file. Posted and linked without comment --- since I can't think of anything at all to say...
McCain: Palin the next Clinton or Reagan

How Nice Of Him

In a shining moment of glory, it appears that Newt Gingrinch has tried to have one more day in the sun, helping to screw the government into oblivion:
Andrea Mitchell said on MSNBC's Morning Joe that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich worked very hard behind the scenes to kill the bailout plan, despite issuing a statement that he would have supported the legislation if where still in Congress. Mitchell said:

"I am told reliably by leading Republicans who are close to him. He was whipping against this up until the last minute.... Newt Gingrich was telling people in the strongest possible language that this was a terrible deal, not only that it was a terrible deal., that it was a disaster it was the end of democracy as we know it that it was socialism, and then at the last minute comes out with a statement when the vote was already in play."

(via Politics Home)

David Brooks Is On A Tear

He appears to have gotten a new prescription for his meds, or something:
"House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.

I’ve spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy."


Here's the problem with the Somali pirates: it isn't the piracy in itself. They've been at this for centuries---one of the first international actions of the United States was dealing with them---and the routine is pretty straightforward. They capture ships, cargo, people; they turn around and demand ransom. Ransom is paid, and the seabound goods are returned, usually relatively intact.

This last week, pirates were able to hijack a number of ships, including a Ukrainian carrying battle tanks, and an (assumedly) Iranian ship transporting what appears to be illegal chemical arms or possibly radioactive material. According to the pirates themselves, they had no idea what they were capturing at the time---they only were engaged in the typical routine. “We just saw a big ship,” the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali, told The New York Times. “So we stopped it.”

Fine. But what troubles me, in this day, is that first, it was this simple for a band of somewhat ragged pirates to capture such shipments, and next, that we (the non-piratical world) seemed both unequipped and unready to address the issue. If the report in the Sunday Times is accurate, then we have an unreported and untracked shipment of WMD going from one unknown nation to another, being hijacked (unbeknownst to most authorities) by a group of rogue pirates looking for nothing but cash, and ready to deal with the highest bidder. In this era of terrorist threat and caution, this is a premonition of everyone's worst nightmare, and shows the gaping holes in our supposed net of security.

One has to wonder what might be done.

L'Shanah Tovah

(courtesy UHC Leeds)
Happy New Year.

This morning, the nation seems to be shaking off the hangover from yesterday's tumble in a "confident" sell-off in the marketplace, helping to raise the bar from -777, with the Dow gaining (at the moment) about 285 points, and Nasdaq and S&P up around 3% from close. This is a good thing: as traders take flight to safe havens, it will create opportunities for those too greedy or gamble-prone (read: all professional traders) to good to miss. In the meanwhile, back in Washington, it appears that the politicking continues without any real progress.

Around the world, other markets followed our lead overnight; the Somali pirates had a firefight (more on the pirates later), and nearly 150 devotees are dead in Jodhpur, India, in a temple stampede.

And in the polls, McCain continues his freefall: The Atlantic shows Obama leaping over the top in a heap of swing states; fivethirtyeight.com has Obama with an new estimate in the EC of more than 329 votes, and for the first time an estimate of 51% of the popular vote.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Minor Thought

Maybe things are looking up for the New Year: The dow plummetted 777 points, but could there be a luckier bad number than 7-7-7?

I mean.....

A happy and healthy Rosh Hashanah to one and all.


(courtesy of Daily Mail)

The US media aren't playing this story.
A tense standoff has developed in waters off Somalia over an Iranian merchant ship laden with a mysterious cargo that was hijacked by pirates.

Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill “within days” of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died.

Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told the Sunday Times: “We don’t know exactly how many, but the information that I am getting is that some of them had died. There is something very wrong about that ship.”

If this is true, then we are looking at a very disturbing interaction: chemical or dirty nuclear material being illegally transported and capably hijacked by renegades for sale to the highest bidders.

Hmm. 35 days until the election. No wonder this isn't getting airplay.....

More On The Meltdown and the GOP Shame

A good comment from Nate Silver, who I think gets the gravity of the Republican miscalculation:
"The Republicans' best-case scenario was the bill passing the House by one vote -- with as few as those votes as possible coming from Republicans.

Their worst-case scenario for them might have been ... what just happened this afternoon. Opposing the bailout had been a political freeroll before because it wasn't manifest to the public what the risks of a nay vote would be. But with the Dow having dropped 780 points today, the risks are now painfully obvious. What had looked to be a politically prudent position 24 hours ago now looks cavalier and reckless. And yet, the Republicans will still by and large will get blamed for putting us in this predicament in the first place. Plus, the failure of the bill is an embarrassment to John McCain."

This was a self-indulgent and shortsighted maneuver of monstrous proportions.

Where We Stand

From the BBC:

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It all goes down, round the world.


The NYT:
The House on Monday defeated the bill by a vote of 228-205.

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 6.5 percent after dropping as far as 7 percent.

Remember this. A 7% drop in the S&P is the GOP's gift to your Mutual Fund accounts.

What No Bailout Means

It's a stanky solution, but this is one moment where it's truly Hobson's Choice.

A Thought.

If Darrell Issa and other House Republicans bring down the bailout, while invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, and the market collapses (as it threatens to do right now), and the credit markets freeze up, and we head into a depression....

Will they understand that they have tagged onto the legacy of President Reagan the worst financial disaster for America in 85 years?

Oh Shit.

The house Republicans have effectively blocked the measure. Darrell Issa and his compatriots believe that a yes vote would denigrate the memory of Reagan and all he stood for.

They seem to forget that Reagan also stood for pragmatism in the face of economic reality. Even Reagan raised taxes.

They also seems willing to gamble the next five years of economic viability for the US in the hope that it will scuttle the benefit of the Democratic administration.

This really looks like a lose-lose situation for us all. Here's hoping Boehner et al., McCain included, can be a bit more persuasive.


Mark Blumenthal over at Pollster.com notes this fascinating bit of info from the weekend's USA Today/Gallup poll:

If you haven't seen it yet, this Gallup analysis of the latest USA Today/Gallup poll on the Wall Street crisis, conducted over the weekend, is a must-read. The poll...:

finds more Americans disapproving than approving of how most of the major national political players have handled the recent problems on Wall Street. Only Barack Obama squeaks by with more Americans approving than disapproving of his performance on the issue, 46% to 43%."

2008-09-29-Gallup crisis ratings.jpg

That's Obama having not only the highest positives & lowest negatives in the poll overall, but having the only disapproval rating that is below 50%---in other words, the majority of America disapproves of everyone else more than they do of Barack Obama on the economy right now.

Reverse Tides

The BBC notes this disturbing news on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region:
"The UN's refugee agency says 20,000 people have fled Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur for Afghanistan amid fighting between troops and militants.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says almost 4,000 families have crossed into Afghanistan's Kunar province."

That we now have refugees fleeing into Afghan territory, instead of the other way around, is not a good sign at all for the future our rapidly worsening relations with Pakistan and that nation's military. Last night the World Service ran a report on the remarkable decay of what little support there is among Pakistanis (particularly the more educated, liberal youth) for America and the West. They may despise al-Qaeda, but they despise us even more, and lay blame for most of the current ills at our feet.

It is vital that we begin a massive outreach effort with Pakistan: propaganda coupled with money, and trade, and education, and support, and intellectual exchange, as well as military activity. There, and in Afghanistan, we will never reduce the turmoil unless we are able to make peace with the sensibilities of the tribes and the communities and the people of the street.

Morning Has Broken

Today was the first morning where it truly seemed (to me, at least) that we have at last passed the equinoctal line, and moved away from summer and deep into sudden autumn, intimating the darkness of winter.

In the news, the Dow plummeted 300 points when the markets opened, awaiting news of the vote in congress.

Citi has gone ahead and eaten Wachovia, leaving even fewer survivors still standing in the US banking world.

In the DoJ Attorney firing probe, the report was released last night, and is calling for a special prosecutor, to look into (especially) perjury and obstruction of justice by the White House staff and others.

And, via Sullivan, for a morning dose of snarky damning by faint praise, this quote from Andrew Halcro, former GOP candidate for governor of Alaska, who ran with Palin on his ticket:
"After reading my opinion column in the Anchorage Daily News this morning, fellow Alaskan blogger Tom Lamb, asks "Why is it that Andrew Halcro who is so critical of Palin, wanted to be on the same ticket with her."

That's an easy answer; because I believed Sarah Palin had the qualifications to be a terrific Lt. Governor. And watching her struggle to give coherent answers on the national stage, I believe more today than ever before she has the qualifications to be a terrific Lt. Governor."


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Afghanistan, Again

This is terrible news. From the BBC:
Gunmen in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar have killed the country's most prominent policewoman, officials say.

Lt-Col Malalai Kakar, head of Kandahar's department of crimes against women, was shot in her car as she was about to leave for work.

If this is the outcome of "talks", then I suspect we won't be hearing about much more chitchat.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan....

So Reuters is reporting that the Observer has said that talks are occurring between the Afghan Government and the Taliban:
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's foreign minister on Sunday declined to confirm a report that said the government was in contact with Taliban insurgents to negotiate an end to the conflict.
A couple of problems with this.

First the snark: wouldn't this consitute a "negotiated settlement" to the war, and thereby (according to McCain et al.) be tantamount to "defeat"?

Second, it is highly unlikely that any talks would have significant impact: the Taliban are not a single entity, but a collective of petty warlords and clan leaders with common goals and ideology. If the Afghan government is in discussion with a subsection of these leaders, there is still little likelihood that those who are not party to the talks would not see this as an opportunity for divisive advantage-taking within their own ranks, rather than a tempting opportunity to join in.

Talk is talk. I suspect that making a deal with a portion of the Taliban would wind up causing even more short term damage than we see now---although splintering their leadership could in the long run aid in a resolution to the war.


From John Nail over at TPM, the responses of his 8-year old son to the debate:

  • "Why is McCain so mad?"
  • "Why is he so old like Grammy?
  • "Daddy, when McCain smiles like that ( ie-the smirk) I think he is really mad at Obama".
  • "I don't like it when he acts like that."
  • "Why isn't he looking at Obama? Barack looks at him. I think he is trying to be mean."
  • "Obama looks better"
  • "When McCain talks it bores me and when Obama talks it excites me."

OK, so maybe we do approach politics like children. But the boy makes some damn good points...

On Democrats.

Coates hits the rusty nail square on with the shiny new hammer:
I keep hearing people complain that Obama can't be angry because he's black. What they're are missing is that the cage is actually the key to set Obama free. He shouldn't be angry. He shouldn't take offense at McCain. Hillary was plenty angry. How'd that work out? Liberals have a bully complex. Having gotten chumped repeatedly, we're confusing strength with arrrogance, toughness with strut. Take it from someone who learned it the hard way. they ain't the same, son. To paraphrase Carolyn Forche, Obama needs to do exactly would he did last night--slice McCain to lace. But he needs to do it so quietly, calmly and efficiently, that even those who are paid to opine on such things, don't even notice the blood all over the floor.
Obama really is something new: not because he doesn't play politics, but because he understands the importance of the endgame, and the distinction between strategic action, and mere tactical bluster. Democrats have been missing that for decades.

Now it is time for us to take it back, and win.

The Polls

For what it's worth:

  • Gallup Daily: Obama Moves to 50% to 42% Lead
  • Diageo/Hotline: Obama-Biden lead McCain-Palin, 47%-42%, with 8% undecided.
  • Rasmussen: Barack Obama once again attracts 50% of the vote while John McCain earns 44%.

Despite McCain having claimed to win even before the debate began, it appears that Obama took it, hands down.

UPDATE:Daily Kos has even more:

Wall Street Anthropology

Nick Paumgarten in this week's New Yorker looks at the meltdown:
One problem is that the contrivers mistook their art for a science. A pre-modern money manager explained last week, “They looked at it all as a science experiment.” They tested each new product—each hypothesis—against a bunch of historical precedents, running computer models to see how the product would fare under the conditions of various bygone catastrophes. “The problem was, they didn’t have any historical precedent for when it all melts down. The historical precedents they used are not relevant.”

In fact, it wasn’t science at all. It was more like what anthropologists and psychologists call magical thinking—the tendency to believe that wishing it so makes it so. For years now, people have clung to the conviction that you can have outsized returns with little risk, leverage without recoil. This is what the clever financiers claimed that their inventions could do. Their colleagues and clients wanted to believe them.

Debate Redux II: Tactics & Strategy

James Fallows gets it, too:
There has been no greater contrast between the Obama and McCain campaigns than the tactical-vs-strategic difference, with McCain demonstrating the primacy of short-term tactics and Obama sticking to a more coherent long-term strategy. And McCain's dismissive comment suggests that he still does not realize this.
Like I said below: this was a standout moment to me in the debate; a meta-moment that encapsulated so many of the critical differences between the thinking of these two candidates.

Daily Dose Of Snark

Courtesy of Daily Kos:

Passing Thoughts

It is midnight.
Paul Newman has died.
Congress is "very close" to an agreement. Again.
Life is a precious, terribly fragile thing.
Sometimes, the silent immanent presence of the now is too terrible to bear.
That is all.