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 18, 2008

Another One Falls

In the WSJ, now even Peggy Noonan has come clean with herself and her readers:

You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.


That's it. And regardless of the basic philosophical value of the conservative platform, it is, at this point, not the same as the platform of the Republican party. And even if it were, there is no one at the helm who appears competent to bring it forward.

To me, that is the greatest argument against their side. Policy is made of compromise, but leadership is made of character. I can let policy differences and disagreements slide, if I know there is an opposition to help clarify and modify them into workable actions; but I want and expect leadership to be apparent in the great task of trying to achieve and implement those actions.

Saturday Break


I wasn't going to post anything today, and take a break from the horse race and the ranting, but this headline from the Daily Mail was just too good to not share. From the Too Surreal And Onion-Worthy To Ignore Department:

Bid to create world's largest sandwich in Iran fails after crowd eats it before it can be measured

The UK press has us beat by miles.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Question

McCain is against additionally progressive tax measures, and "spreading the wealth around." He says he wants folks to be able to keep the money they make, that they shouldn't be having to subsidize others at the whim of the government; they should be able to choose where they put that money. And yet he is demanding one of the largest wealth redistribution plans ever with his plan to buy up all of America's failed mortgages:
The Arizona senator also said today that Obama failed to give Joe a simple answer on taxes because he's going to raise them. He also rung a very populist tone with an impassioned plea for the government to buy up Americans' mortgages in an unsteady economy. "We have to buy their mortgages, let them stay in their homes with a new mortgage and save them in their homes and their families,” he said. "This administration is not doing that."
Now, whether or not you think this is a good idea (I don't), it is entirely hypocritical.

UPDATE: Don't forget he also plans to fund his $5,000 health care credit by taxing employer health benefits. And now he is calling out Obama as a "socialist"?


Why on earth doesn't anyone call him out on this very basic economic mendacity?

Innovation


In a very decent article in the NYT, a juxtaposition of the two candidates visions for the future of technological and scientific innovation in the US:
Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, seeks to encourage innovation by cutting corporate taxes and ending what he calls “burdensome regulations” that he says inhibit corporate investment. But Mr. McCain has also repeatedly gone up against business if he sees a conflict with national security, for instance, in seeking to limit sensitive exports.

In Senator Barack Obama’s view, the United States must compete far more effectively against an array of international rivals who are growing more technically adept. Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, looks to the federal government to finance science, math and engineering education and the kind of basic research that can produce valuable industrial spinoffs.

Personally, I'm going with the guy who has the endorsements of 61 Nobel laureates, set up a scientific advisory committee in his campaign at the start, and who is looking to the future with long term strategy, based in education and the incubation of skills and new ideas.

I think you can guess which way my partisanship leans there.

Clintonism?







In responding to an almost-scandal that had faded, Vicki Iseman says about John McCain:
"I did not have a sexual relationship with Senator McCain."

Hmmm. Now I don't pass judgment on either McCain nor Iseman, and frankly I don't think that there is any "there" there. But really, couldn't she have chosen other words? Doesn't she remember Bill Clinton's moment:
"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Sheesh.

A Modest Proposal

Amidst a review of a new document shredding fiasco worthy of Ollie North, Ian Welsh puts forward this interesting and provocative hypothesis:
Government doesn't work under Republicans because Republicans are bound and determined to prove government won't work.

Laying aside any history of the party previous to Reagan, and taking "Republican" to mean "post-Reaganite, trickle-down, neocon, evangelically driven party of the last 20 years," then I think he has a point. One key argument of the GOP has always been that government only gets in the way, and that we need more, not less of it. Taking this thinking to its logical extreme, wouldn't you then say that the best strategy would be one of sabotage, discrediting, negligence, and withdrawal? To prove a thing a failure, isn't it best to simply cause it to fail?

Then again, yet one step further: if no government is good government, then shouldn't the GOP stand on platform of total disengagement? And therefore concede all races to anyone and everyone else who might want to go there?

Brooks In The Tank?

In the NYT yesterday, David Brooks appears to finally suucumb to the inevitable. Or at least to begin to state the obvious:
it is easy to sketch out a scenario in which he could be a great president. He would be untroubled by self-destructive demons or indiscipline. With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather — already has gathered — some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.
The italics are mine. And the note is key: this is an aspect of Obama's team that should not, and cannot be overlooked. I've been saying it for a while, and I'm glad that someone as clever as Mr. Brooks can see it as well.

And today they're spreading rumors of a Colin Powell endorsement. I don't think much of rumors, but they were started by McCain and GOP insiders, and Powell is doing little to dispel them.

P.O.V.

It's all about context. Seriously.

Below, I posted on the newly elected temporary members of the UNSC. On Fox News, the headline reads in a marvelously negative tone:

Iran and Iceland Fail to Win U.N. Security Council Seats

I'm not sure if they are celebrating the failure of these countries, downplaying the success of Austria, Turkey, Mexico and Japan, or whether their lede writers are just so bitter about the implosion of the Republican political machine that they can't find it in themselves to couch anything that lacks the words "McCain" or "Palin" with a positive spin.

Speak, Memory

Jim Webb, hearkening back to the glory days of the VP debate:
He recalled the moment just before the start of the vice presidential debate when Palin asked Biden if she could call him "Joe."

Webb said he wanted Biden to respond, "You can call me whatever you want, in two months you're going to be calling me Mr. Vice President."

Snap!

Economy


Paul Krugman thinks we are, in the words of that long lost 80s band "The Vapors", Turning Japanese:
Just this week, we learned that retail sales have fallen off a cliff, and so has industrial production. Unemployment claims are at steep-recession levels, and the Philadelphia Fed’s manufacturing index is falling at the fastest pace in almost 20 years. All signs point to an economic slump that will be nasty, brutish — and long.

Are we heading for a lost decade, rather than a Lost Weekend?

What Volatility Looks Like

In case you were starting to feel complacent:


UN Security Council Elections

From AP:
UNITED NATIONS – Austria, Turkey, Japan, Uganda and Mexico have won non-permanent seats on the powerful U.N. Security Council.

Iceland and Iran however failed Friday to get a seat on the 15-member council in voting at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. The five new members will serve two-year terms.

Austria and Turkey beat Iceland in the battle for two European seats. Iran — a country under U.N. sanctions — did not make it past the first round of voting, losing the Asian seat to Japan.

Mexico and Uganda ran unopposed and won seats in their regions.

Ten of the council's 15 seats are filled by the regional groups for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by its veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.


I'm OK with Iran getting nixed at the moment; they are under sanction after all, and I doubt that until things progress with their relations with the US that they can have a significant voice. But it's a fascinating mix. Turkey and Austria? Turkey is in the midst of a ramping up of their conflict with the Kurds along their southern flank, as well as engaged in some difficult religion-secularism schizophrenia internally. And as for Austria, well...at least Haider is out of the picture, but I wonder what it means to have an atavistically right-leaning, xenophobic Central European nation added to the UNSC mix.

Good News.

I have not commented on the voter registration kerfuffle much; it's been well represented elsewhere. But this is excellent news. There has been too much leniency in allowing political maneuvering to masquerade as legitimate pursuits of "justice." And I don't care which side of the aisle they originate from. If the Democrats start screwing around like this when they hold power, then their feet need to be held to the fire as well.

But it's too many times and too many years of egregious abuse by the GOP at this point. I am glad that the court stood up.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oil Perspectives


I've said this a number of times in the past, but with the heated rhtoric of the moment, it's worth noting again. The following info is from an article in the SF Chron, with emphasis added by me:
According to the federal Energy Information Administration, last year the U.S. imported nearly 4.9 billion barrels of oil and refined products, 16 percent of it from the Persian Gulf and 10 percent from Venezuela, whose president has been hostile to the United States. Neighbors Canada and Mexico, by comparison, accounted for 30 percent of all such imports with Canada at the top.
Only 16% of the oil we use comes from the Middle East. The rest? From Venezuela, Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, and other less terrorist-swaddling, Hussein-filled, evil America-hating clichés of the moment. If we add in Venezuela---because lord knows we all hate Chavez, and he hates us---then we are talking about one quarter of our oil coming from our enemies. The corollary? That 75% of our imported oil comes from people we like, and we want to trade with.

And this is only imports; the figure is smaller if we take doemstic production into account, and look at Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil as a percentage of total barrels used, rather than total barrels imported.

Think about it this way: if we as a nation were able to reduce our oil and gas use by 25% --- by inflating our tires, driving the speed limit, using mass transit where possible, lowering the thermostat, and all that --- if we could conserve at that moderate rate, we could end all importation of oil from the Middle East.

Got that? Let me say it again: with conservation alone, we could end our need on Persian Gulf oil, and Venezuelan oil, entirely.

Now, that doesn't address our critical long term need to end our oil addiction, and invest heavily in alternative energy products and systems, with a goal toward energy independence. But it puts the damn issue in perspective.

Now, add to that a domestic increase in production (we have current capacity for maybe +3-5%), and we have a short term, realistic, "have it in the first term of the new president" goal, that does not undercut the greater need or strategy, and provides us new freedom and enormous power in playing our hand in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Consumer Alert!

I need to warn you all.

I just purchased an after-lunch pack of gum, Dentyne® ice "Arctic Chill" flavored gum. The package says on the side, "Great New Taste!

Don't believe it. The taste is exactly that of cough syrup. Same medicinal burn, same unctuous lingering on the throat, same nasty everything.

I've no idea who is responsible for this travesty, but if you have any sense, do not buy or chew this gum! You will regret it instantly!

I am a frugal, waste-not want-not type, but I've tossed the whole pack (including one half-chewed piece) into the bin.

Joe On Joe Action!

Biden has the last word (at least the last that I am going to note) on Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher:
"The Joe the plumbers in my neighborhood, the Joe the cops in my neighborhood, the Joe the grocery store owners in my neighborhood — they make, like 98 percent of the small businesses, less than $250,000 a year," said the Democratic VP nominee. "And they’re going to do very well under us, and they’re going to be in real tough shape under John McCain."

McCain cited Wurzelbacher, who questioned Obama about his tax plan during a recent Ohio campaign swing, as someone would face higher taxes under the Democrat’s economic proposals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the United States in 2007 was $47,350.

Joe The Un-Plumber


News from Politico:


  • Joe the Plumber concedes that he knows he'd get a tax cut under Obama's plan--but he'd "like to move up."

  • Joe the Plumber not only doesn't like taxes, he has a lien against him for not paying them (back in 2007).

  • Joe the Plumber appears to be unlicensed to work as a plumber in his state.

  • Joe the Plumber's name is misspelled in the voter registration database, and so were he a new registrant, he would likely be purged--and thus ineligible to vote--due to the new GOP efforts to attack "voter fraud".

Not quite the average Joe that either of the candidates would like to portray, I think.

Joe and Sarah Palin might make a good tag team.

Update

I just noticed over at Daily Kos that Frank Luntz's focus group over at Fox gave the head's up to Obama last night as well.

Didn't anyone outside of the punditry like McCain last night?

Post Post-Debate Thoughts



With a good night's sleep behind me, and some discussion with Ms. Spanky to provide additional P.O.V. and insight, I think that my initial reactions have only been strengthened. Last night provided John McCain with both his best performance of the debates so far, as well as the worst and most damning. This "Joe The Plumber" debate was one where we saw more in what the candidates showed when they were listening, than when they were speaking. Both had strong moments, and both showed signs of dismay when the other scored well: Obama anxiously smiling (nearly chortling) as McCain came after him on character issues; McCain's head clearly about to explode as Obama took apart his critiques of policy.

What sticks with me the most though, was McCain's absolute disdain shown for women's health issues. This, coupled with his bizarre comments on autism (did he confuse Down Syndrome with autism when referring to Palin's understanding of special needs children???) left me thinking that this, coupled with his derisive comments about failing schools and the implications about their associated educators, has lost him the votes of all teachers in America, and all women who are not religiously compelled to vote against Obama. Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick saw exactly the same thing. As she says:
As panders go, I am finding this autism gambit baffling. Did McCain just get confused about the fact that Trig has Down Syndrome? Or was he trying for some kind of broad-brush special-needs appeal, only to end up awkwardly implying that all special-needs families are the same? So much so that you can swap out diagnoses and nobody will notice? That same broad brush was slapping around later when, in discussing abortion, he started sneering about the trickiness of allowing exceptions for the mother's health. No nuance here. Just the bold implication that all health exceptions represent some kind of female trickery. Last time I checked, women thought their health was sort of important. Toss in his eye-crossing claim that anyone who supports abortion rights is, by necessity, not going to be qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, and it was time to kiss women voters goodbye. How can a man who can see all the complexity and subtlety in foreign policy and health care reform talk to and about women and families in terms that persistently read like cave drawings?
Over at TPM, they have the clip that hones in on this.

I stick with last night's prediction: if no other externals intervene between now and Nov. 4th, Obama is taking the election in a landslide.

As McCain said last night: Words matter. So does delivery. McCain failed to deliver last night in a way more subtle and more significant than he appears able to understand---or lend words to.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post-Debate Thoughts

I say:

Obama Landslide


The snap polls say Obama:

  • CBS undecideds say 53% for Obama, only 22% for McCain.
  • The CNN poll of all watchers gives it 58% for Obama and 31% for McCain won.
  • MediaCurves independents: Obama 60%, McCain 30%.


The comments McCain made regarding women's rights, his dismissive sarcasm in the discussion over Roe v. Wade, and education, lost him the female vote and the teachers' vote. Obama wasn't on form, but after McCain's slam on the character and campaign issues viz. Ayers and Lewis and ACORN and Palin and palling around with terrorists, it was a night that was all his. Despite McCain being in his best form of all three debates.

At least for the first 15 minutes.

And Yet More Pith

from another pithy poster:

Election 2008 pits a schizophrenic Republican who revels in being a maverick against a temperamentally cautious Democrat keen on rallying the country behind center-left policies. A conservative isn't going to be elected this November, as there aren't any running.

And that's from a guy on the Right. I think the tone and tenor of that statement says worlds.

Anyone want a schizo in the White House? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Quote Of The Day

From Matt Bai's lengthy piece on Obama and the campaign in the NYT:
“I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls,” Obama told me. “If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right? Because the way I’m portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?

Indeed. I've no idea if Fox's vanishment would add 3 points, or no points, or ten points, but it would be a vastly more interesting world if the major media outlets veered a bit from the hyper-accentuation of partisan cultural clichés that are fueling our political discourse this century.

Do you hear me, Mr. Hannity? O'Reilly? Olbermann?

And The Winner Is...



Dow: -7.8%.
S&P -9%.
Nasdaq -8.4%.

I guess now we party like it's 1987....Ouch.

Volatility

All indices down by 5% or more right now.



Dow      8,812.24    -498.75   -5.36%
Nasdaq   1,678.28   -100.73   -5.66%
S&P 500   933.33    -64.68   -6.48%

Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 1:40PM ET


Like I said, beware of whiplash.

I've Fallen, And I Can't Get Up

Physical manifestations of the collapse of the GOP Right?


  • Cheney To Go To Hospital For Heart Procedure

  • Nancy Reagan Hospitalized With Broken Pelvis


An era is ending. Let's hope the new one is given room to begin.

Too Much

Even for the GOP to stomach (at least the CA Repubs):
Sacramento County Republican leaders Tuesday took down offensive material on their official party Web site that sought to link Sen. Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and encouraged people to "Waterboard Barack Obama" – material that offended even state GOP leaders.
Full link here.

UPDATE: Here's the ad that got pulled (via Sullivan)



Despicable.

Unsurprising

Is Pakistan another 'Failed State' in the making?

I wouldn't be surprised. But it would be a disastrous outcome for the region, and the US.

Here's what Indian Kashmiris seem to think:

Hearts And Minds

al-Jazeera reports:
After fighting the Taliban for the past seven years, many working for the Afghan security forces are now switching sides.

Sulieman Ameri and his 16 men were until a month ago serving the Afghan government as police patrolling the border with Iran.

Now they answer to the Taliban and their goal is to drive all foreign troops out of Afghanistan.
This is not good news, if it is true. It may be a factor in our current negotiations with groups within the Taliban; those talks, however, are inveitably futile. As the article clearly notes, these defections are driven by ideological bias against the West and the US, not by economic or other factors. And you can't drive a bargain with someone who simply wants you dead and gone. There are no horse trades to make there.

Morning Has Broken

So what's poppin' in the headlines today (other than Cheney's heart murmur)?

Beyond that, we've had a BART train here in the SF Area run over a rail worker; sunshine-y weather and a plethora of Euro tourists on the streets (none run over to date); and it appears that bottled water really does suck more than tap.

News Flash: Cheney Health Alert

Vice President Dick Cheney Experiences Abnormal Heart Rhythm

Umm.....he has a heart?

Who'da thunk?

(Seriously though: I may despise the man politically, but I wish him well in his health. Here's hoping it's nothing.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Humor Interlude

What happens to a body when they win a Nobel Prize? According to Andy Borowitz:
"Credit default swaps can suck my ass -- I'm Paul F**king Krugman!"

Economy

Two measures that help to put the economy in perspective slightly better than the Dow or Nasdaq. First, the TED Spread, showing the interbank loan differential and thus credit risk,



And next the VIX, or volatility index, showing, yes, volatility:




You'll notice both are still up in the nosebleed sections, still setting records. I expect they will both come down some over the next week, but we are in for a bumpy ride, and we are far from being done.

Terra Nostra Romanum Est


This is simply hilarious. Maureen Dowd, in Latin:

"Cum Quirites Americani ad rallias Republicanas audiunt nomen Baraci Husseini Obamae, clamant “Mortem!” “Amator terroris!” “Socialiste!” “Bomba Obamam!” “Obama est Arabus!” “Caput excidi!” tempus sit rabble-rouseribus desistere “Smear Talk Express,” ut Stephanus Colbertus dixit. Obama demonatus est tamquam Musulmanus-Manchurianus candidatus — civis “collo-cerviciliaris” ad ralliam Floridianam Palinae exhabet mascum Obamae ut Luciferis.

Obama non queretur high-tech lynching. Sed secreto-serventes agentes nervosissmi sunt.

Vix quisque audivit nomen “Palinae” ante lunibus paucis. Surgivit ex suo tanning bed ad silvas in Terram Eskimorum, rogans quis sit traitorosus, ominosus, scurrilosus, periculosus amator LXs terroris criminalisque Chicagoani? Tu betchus!"

The Price Of Truth


It appears that Christopher Buckley is paying the price of having a brain and using it independently. It's sad. You would hope that a so-called movement built on intellectual inquiry could stand just a tiny bit of disagreement among its ranks. Instead it simply exiles those who will not toe the party line...
Christopher Buckley, the author and son of the late conservative mainstay William F. Buckley, said in a telephone interview that he has resigned from the National Review, the political journal his father founded in 1955.

It's So Hard To Always Be So Right






The Dow currently trading 2.7% down.
Nasdaq down a full 4%.




A Healthy Reminder

Josh Marshall looks at the current voting fraud stories, recalls the US Attorney firing scandal, and calls bullshit.

The Danger of Dogma

Francis Fukuyama has an article in today's Times where he wonders how (and with whom at the helm) the USA will be able to break free from the past, and rebuild its critically damaged brand. What is a key point in his thinking, though, is that we've reached the end of a cycle. What was once new ideas and fresh thinking has withered into inertia-laden dogma and policy long past its prime and functioning days:
Two concepts were sacrosanct: that tax cuts would be self-financing, and financial markets self-regulating. Before the 1980s, conservatives were unwilling to spend more than they took in in taxes. But Reaganomics introduced the idea that virtually any tax cut would so stimulate growth that the government would take in more revenue in the end. In fact, the traditional view was correct: if you cut taxes without cutting spending, you end up with a damaging deficit - the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s produced a big deficit; the Clinton tax increases of the 1990s a surplus.
Still, he is hopeful. I think that if we can look at this moment as an opportunity to transform our global image into one which is more sustainable, while simultaneously seeking out new methods of debt and capital management, and economic growth and stability, he may be right.
American influence can and will be restored. The US has come back from serious setbacks in the 1930s and 1970s. Still, another comeback rests on some fundamental changes. It must break out of the Reagan-era straitjacket. Tax cuts feel good but do not necessarily stimulate growth or pay for themselves; Americans must be told honestly that they will have to pay their own way.
That's asking a lot from a country unwilling to date to see its own failings, let alone remedy them. But perhaps that will change. Perhaps.

McCain's Plan

Here's the full text of McCain's new economic plan being unveiled today. I'm not overly impressed:
This financial crisis started with our housing crisis, and we cannot fix our markets and the economy until we fix the housing crisis. My plan will protect the value of your home and get it rising again by buying up bad mortgages and refinancing them so if your neighbor defaults he doesn't bring down the value of your house with him. I will direct the government to refinance troubled mortgages for homeowners and replace them with mortgages they can afford.

This is what we did during the Great Depression and we can do it again. Helping families who face default, foreclosure, and possible bankruptcy helps all homeowners, and will begin the process of recovery from this crisis. With so much on the line, the moment requires that government act -- and as president I intend to act, quickly and decisively.

When the government does provide funds to shore up companies, the terms will be demanding, there will be complete transparency and the safety net for our financial system will not become a golden parachute for failed executives.


Now, leaving aside the basic fallacies in there --- this isn't what we did in the depression, what we did in the depression was create massive, nationalized, government works programs to effectively force-feed the economy --- he does has a few good ideas in there; removing taxes on unemployment payments is an appealing one. There are quite a few also-rans, nearly identical to what Obama has already proposed, though with less specificity. By and large, it isn't bad, but it fails to address the basic issues of the crisis, and McCain appears to be making an assumption that the game has not changed: all we need to do is be sharper about how we play this time around. But in fact, it is a different game, as Obama has seen, along with Buffett, and Soros, and Krugman, and most Central Bank leaders in the world, and even to a certain extent president Bush.

The train has left the station, and sadly, John McCain appears to be not just left on the platform, but still sipping his coffee over in the Starbucks next door.

Realism, Caution

Krugman notes:
"while the stock market has been going gangbusters, we haven’t yet seen anything like a return to normality in credit markets. TED spread is down but still at nosebleed levels; three-month T-bills at 0.48%, which shows that flight to safety remains strong."

The Dow is settling down after yesterday's crazed session; it looks like we'll end flat or perhaps down a bit (as I predicted yesterday). In the meantime, there are other things to note.

  • Angel Island, that lovely jewel of a park in the midst of SF Bay, burnt to a cinder yesterday. The historic buildings were saved -- including those used as immigration detention centers for so many immigrants from Asia in the 20th century --- but 400 acres of parkland were incinerated in hot weather and high wind. While running yesterday in the Presidio, the smell of smoke was painful, and ash was in the air.

  • Syria is continuing its moves to normalize relations with Lebanon, officially announcing their planned embassy in Beirut. This is huge, and I will be curious to see the outcome.

  • Daimler is cutting 3,500 jobs, Pepsi is axing 3,300, Germany has declared itself "on the brink of recession", and GM and Chrysler are continuing talks on a possible merger, which would certainly have a huge impact on the unemployment numbers---and not in a good way.

  • Obama has yet again pulled ahead in another round of polling over the weekend, opening up significant leads in 4 out of 5 "swing states". According to Quinnipiac's latest, they show Obama 52%-43% in Colorado, 54%-38% in Michigan, 51%-40% in Minnesota, and 54%-37% in Wisconsin.
  • Monday, October 13, 2008

    Volatility III


    The market had its largest one-day point gain ever today: 936.42. Remember it was just a few days ago it had its largest point loss ever as well. This does not signal a comeback, and an end to crisis: it signals more extreme volatility, in response to the first positive news in two weeks.

    It's great to see the index back over 9,000. But all that means is that we are at high risk of getting whiplash.

    Sarah Palin's Future Son-In-Law

    Levi Johnston speaks. You gotta love having kids like this in political families:
    Asked about Barack Obama, he replied: "I don't know anything about him. He seems like a good guy. I like him."

    Johnston didn't register in time to vote, according to the Mat-Su Division of Elections Office in Wasilla.

    Now: imagine if he'd knocked up a Kennedy....

    Seriously though, power to him for speaking his mind, and for living his life as best he can. I wish him and his wife- and child-to-be much luck. They'll need it.

    The Economy

    Obama has given a significant and specific speech on the economy today, with some sensible realism built into the plans:
    "I won't pretend this will be easy or come without cost. We'll have to set priorities as never before, and stick to them. That means pursuing investments in areas such as energy, education and health care that bear directly on our economic future, while deferring other things we can afford to do without. It means scouring the federal budget, line-by-line, ending programs that we don't need and making the ones we do work more efficiently and cost less.

    It also means promoting a new ethic of responsibility. Part of the reason this crisis occurred is that everyone was living beyond their means - from Wall Street to Washington to even some on Main Street. CEOs got greedy. Politicians spent money they didn't have. Lenders tricked people into buying home they couldn't afford and some folks knew they couldn't afford them and bought them anyway.

    We've lived through an era of easy money, in which we were allowed and even encouraged to spend without limits; to borrow instead of save.

    Now, I know that in an age of declining wages and skyrocketing costs, for many folks this was not a choice but a necessity. People have been forced to turn to credit cards and home equity loans to keep up, just like our government has borrowed from China and other creditors to help pay its bills.

    But we now know how dangerous that can be. Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt. Our long-term future requires that we do what's necessary to scale down our deficits, grow wages and encourage personal savings again.

    It's a serious challenge. But we can do it if we act now, and if we act as one nation."


    TPM has the full text here.

    Mental Break


    A little humor from the Economist:
    When people discover that I am a political reporter, they often ask me for the inside scoop. "You've travelled with Obama and McCain. You've sat at the back of their planes. What's it like? What's the big difference between the two campaigns?"

    I'd have to say it's the food. John McCain's campaign serves macho Republican meals. There are cooked breakfasts, chunks of dead animals on sticks and coffee that tastes like coffee. One day following Mr McCain in Nebraska I ate beef five times. (To be fair, the last time was in a hotel restaurant, where I could have ordered something wussier. But who eats coquilles St Jacques more than a thousand miles from the sea?)

    On Mr Obama's plane, by contrast, the breakfasts are designed to keep scribblers lean and liberal. There are little plastic pots of cereal, no doubt rich in vitamins and fibre. There are little tubs of chopped fruit. There are cups of "coffee" that have clearly never met a coffee bean.

    The cereal and the fruit I can understand. But what is the point of being a latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving progressive if you can't get a decent cup of coffee?

    Hitchens Plumps for Obama!

    Read it here. Coming from Hitchens, this is a resounding endorsement. His disgust with the McCain-Palin ticket is palpable:
    It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.

    Dang.

    Volatility II

    Just a reminder, from the NYT econ blog:


    Volatility works both ways | Noon Eastern

    The VIX, the measure of stock-market volatility that we took note of on Friday, offers a salient reminder today that a market stampeding upward is just as volatile as one stampeding downward.

    Known formally as the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, the VIX reflects how much it costs traders and portfolio managers to protect their holdings against sharp short-term movements in the S.& P. 500 stock index, based on the prices of put and call options for the component stocks. The higher the VIX, the more uncertainty there is about where the market is headed over the next 30 days, and the more investors will charge one another to write those options.

    The VIX, which is usually no higher than the low 30’s, shot to record-setting highs on Friday, registering over 75 at one point. The latest developments in official attempts to cauterize the financial crisis have trimmed it today, but not very much — it was reading around 63 at midday, a sign that traders are still bracing for a bumpy ride over the next month.

    And Missouri?

    According to the polls today, Obama is ahead in Missouri now as well:

    Obama 51%, McCain 43%, with a ±4.3% margin of error.


    North Dakota. Missouri. McCain appears to be leading a massive implosion of GOP strongholds.

    The Fallacy of WSJ Thinking

    The Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece today critiquing the Obama tax cut plan. Leaving aside the issues facing the implementation of any of the large scale plans of either candidate in the current economic climate, let's see what they say.

    Despite the attacks, they can't shake the reality that his tax plan does indeed help the majority of the people. So they try a different, remarkably disingenuous route.
    The marginal tax rate refers to the rate on the next dollar of income earned. As the nearby chart illustrates, the marginal rate for millions of low- and middle-income workers would spike as they earn more income.

    Some families with an income of $40,000 could lose up to 40 cents in vanishing credits for every additional dollar earned from working overtime or taking a new job. As public policy, this is contradictory. The tax credits are sold in the name of "making work pay," but in practice they can be a disincentive to working harder. [my emphasis]

    To put it bluntly, this is malarkey. In all my life, surrounded by people with low to mid incomes on my life, I've never heard of anyone being disincetivized to work harder and earn more because their taxes would increase. The only people I have ever heard this from are people who are at the top of the "middle class" tax tiers---in other words, people making quite a lot of money already. And they aren't the population in question here.

    When people who look at finance from a privileged point of view, coupled with a view that dissociates the impacts of economy on other (emotionally driven) aspects of life from the economics themselves, they come up with absurdities like this.

    The Obama tax plan has a lot of issues to address. Attacking the validity of the actual impact to close to 95% of American families isn't part of that; nor is the claim that a change in the already quirkily progressive marginal tax rates will be a disincentive for struggling families to continue to struggle, in fear of a higher tax bracket. It may be fodder for those in the 5%, but don't try to feed it to the rest of us.

    Volatility


    So today we have the Dow up 500 on the news of the coordinated efforts of the global central banks; The McCain campaign continues to flail like a fish out of water, looking for a new river to swim in; a new poll in North Dakota of all places shows Obama leading by 2 points in that very red state; and here in SF, Angel Island is burning.

    And congratulation to Paul Krugman, who received the Nobel for Economics this morning.

    I expect we'll see an end of day market slump, but that barring yet another round of disastrous news, we'll keep these gains until midweek. Krugman of course will keep his award longer than that.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    No School Off Probation?



    A tremendously disheartening piece on the current dysfunctional state of No Child Left Behind and its impact on schools:

    Under ‘No Child’ Law, Even Solid Schools Falter

    Kristol's Loss of Faith?

    Today in the NYT:
    The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic. If the race continues over the next three weeks to be a conventional one, McCain is doomed.
    That's William Kristol, finally realizing the clusterf**k that his Republican team has become. Unfortunately, he goes on in this piece to continue his incapacity to associate John McCain with his own campaign, as though McCain were held captive against his will in this mess. Kristol also expresses bewilderment as to why the American public is not leaping on the attacks made against Obama regarding his relationships to Wright, Ayers, and all.

    First: If McCain can be held hostage by his campaign machine, he is to weak to lead, and unfit to be president. I don't believe that to be the case in any way. McCain leads his campaign. It is a reflection of his character and judgment and ability. So don't blame the ship for running onto the rocks: you have to blame the captain.

    Second: The reason the majority of people don't care about the so-called questionable relationships being discussed is because there is too much evidence out there about who Barack Obama is, and what his nature is, that contradicts the assumptions behind the accusations implicit in those queries. And the American people aren't stupid. They see what they see, and disregard what doesn't match reality.

    So in the end, all that is left for Kristol to cling to in this op-ed it the quote above. Who knows? Maybe Kristol will join the renegades next week, and join the Obama team as well.

    The New Yorker Says: "Obama!"

    The Editors of the New Yorker magazine today posted a thoughtful and moving endorsement of Barack Obama for this country's highest office:
    "We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the Presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential. The election of Obama—a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America—would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama."

    Take that, Lady de Rothschild.

    The Elderly Vote

    It seems that the oldest registered US voter is casting her ballot for Barack Obama: her first vote since 1952, when she went with Ike. At the age of 106, Sister Cecilia Gaudette appears to have some clear thoughts on this historic vote:
    "I'm encouraged by Senator Obama," she says.

    "I've never met him, but he seems to be a good man with a good private life. That's the first thing. Then he must be able to govern," she adds.

    Asked about her hopes for the US under an Obama presidency, she says: "Peace abroad.

    Good private life. Peace abroad. Definitely points for Obama.