Monday, September 29, 2008

Risky Business

From an AP article in the Washington Times:
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said Sunday his Republican rival deserves no credit for helping to forge a tentative agreement on the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

Instead, Obama said he deserves credit for making sure the proposal includes safeguards for taxpayers. Obama said he is inclined to support the bailout because it includes increased oversight, relief for homeowners facing foreclosure and limits on executive compensation for chief executives of firms that receive government help.
Ever buy anything fun that was a little above your pay grade? Then find yourself down the road thinking, "Well, I'm glad I got it, but maybe it wasn't such a good idea in retrospect." Even better: ever had something like the roof or furnace go out an have to shell out a couple of grand you didn't plan for to pay for it, 'cause it was necessary, but resent the hell out of it for the weeks or months it took to either pay it off (if on credit) or forego minor stuff you need because you had no money left? Yep, that's the feeling.

My Magic 8-ball says we're all feeling that way about the bailout, and it's only going to get worse in the future when we hear about how high the deficit is, or how we don't have any money for (insert really good idea here). We're going to blame the bailout, whether or not the bailout is really at fault. And we're going to blame the politicians that tied themselves to it. Any short-term political street cred a candidate gets for being the one who saves the day with this bailout could morph into a huge liability in the future.

That's why I believed McCain had a good thing going: by flying in to save the day, yet simultaneously rejecting the alleged compromise, he managed to pull off looking like he was working while actually not doing any work, and being proactive on a solution, while not actually supporting the solution. Nicely done. I predicted it wouldn't be supportable in the end, if he tried juggling that one for long he'd drop a ball or two, so the best move would be to reluctantly cave on the solution, setting that ball down. Rationale: he's old and frankly doesn't care what the long-term effects are on his political future. He just needs to get the presidential spot, then retire after his term.
(Side Note: Instead, he decided to drop the "looking like he was working" ball by retreating to his headquarters and phoning it in, after saying to ABC that this one couldn't be phoned in. Go figure. *shrug* No one listens to me, anyway.)
However, he does appear to be trying to maintain that distance from the actual package. He's still pretty much saying, "I'll let you know whether I support it or not once I bother to read it." In fact, Gingrich is apparently advising him not to sign on at all. Interesting advice. It might work, if there are no additional issues with the market. Then the bailout hype dies down and you look like the smart guy that knew it was all smoke and mirrors. Big, big gamble, though. Last week, Chinese banks were apparently told to stop lending to US institutions. I'm not totally prepped on how this whole system works yet, but even I know that's a bad, bad thing. If McCain became known as the fly in the ointment and the market took a huge tumble because of a delay, say buh-bye to the remaining chances of election.

Now Obama is tying this tiger to his tail by putting out the word that McCain wasn't the one who worked out the deal, he was. Oh, he tries to do the same juggling act by stating that, well, he was responsible for the protections (implication: not the bad part, the good part). But that doesn't work, because what people will remember are the headlines, not details in paragraph 2 or 3. A risky move, because Obama does have a political future (presumably) that could get tanked by this. The only way he can pull it off without placing that in jeopardy is to hammer home the idea that he inherited this baby from the Bush administration, and did his best to raise it. Good luck with that.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


So the debates went on, and there's pretty much a consensus that it was a push, though each side of course will tell you otherwise. I could go through point by point, but it's been done to death.

But WTF is up with McCain's latest move in Politician's Chess? Dude, you do NOT say that the economic bailout is so important that you have to stop campaigning and postpone the debates to be there personally, and by the end of the weekend say it's no big deal to phone it in. You've totally given up the point you won for being the maverick-broker-type guy who was going to be all patriotic and fix this mess.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The View from the Cheap Seats

McCain calls for suspension of all campaigning in order to resolve the financial crisis. Makes him look take-charge, seizing control of the situation. Point: McCain.
McCain 1 - Obama 0

Obama points out that they can be working on both simultaneously, invoking the chewing gum and walking analogy. Point: Obama.
McCain 1 - Obama 1

Both candidates, neither of whom is on the committee that’s supposed to be hammering out this deal, head to Washington, arriving just as a tentative deal is announced: Points all around for looking like part of a “historic event” and getting the media salivating despite not actually doing any of the work.
McCain 2 - Obama 2

As deal is discussed, Obama peppers them with questions, while McCain says little and doesn’t take a position. Makes Obama look involved in the process, and intelligent. Doesn’t help or hurt McCain. Point: Obama.
McCain 2 - Obama 3

After deal is reviewed, Republican senators indicate that there’s no agreement after all and offer up a totally different plan which probably should’ve been in the mix during the original negotiations. Obama and the Democrats cry stonewalling, and making themselves look like the ones who were doing all the work, but simultaneously tying their party on as the instigators of a very unpopular, very expensive bailout. McCain goes on record as opposing the original plan, but not endorsing the new plan, making himself look like the chief stonewaller, but still managing to look like he’s for a solution without actually tying himself into any particular solution, so he can bitch about whatever is the end result. Bush simply looking helpless: “Guys? Guys?” Public contemplates sending in their squabbling kids, because they could probably resolve the situation faster and more competently. Half point to Obama for looking like he’s doing something, but negative point for tying himself to the bailout. Point to McCain for putting himself in the catbird seat of not fixing anything yet getting to bitch about everything.
McCain 3 - Obama 2.5

Prediction: they're playing a very dangerous game, because anyone who ties themselves to this bailout is up for a huge political liability long-term 'cause everyone hates it and no one will want to pay for it later. Yet anyone who doesn't sign on to "the solution" is in for a huge political liability in the short term 'cause everyone wants the situation fixed and if we don't do something, it will be seen as the cause of any further meltdowns that occur.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

McCain is closest at this point to the ultimate political goal: be considered part of the solution without actually seeming to be in favor of the solution itself.

However, I predict he'll give that advantage up. Those who are afraid he'll claim credit for brokering the deal when he does finally cave are correct. He doesn't give a crap, politically speaking, about the long-term effects on his career in tying himself to the solution, 'cause his career really doesn't have a long-term. He's 72.

He will cave and soon, albeit very reluctantly and with much shaking of heads about the negative points of this bill that the Democrat mistakes of the past have forced upon us (Chickens coming home to roost!!! Can I use that one?). Because if he doesn't, then he becomes the fly in the ointment and goes from being part of the solution to a partisan stonewaller. He wants his Maverick badge polished up by being seen as the outsider who came in and stopped the fighting.

Further, Magic 8-ball says: the debates will go on, but it is unclear as to when.

The key - IMHO - is the claim by McCain that the VP debates should be suspended as well. Given that Palin isn't in Congress and so really isn't "neglecting duties in Washington" by debating, and I presume he really doesn't give a rat's ass whether Biden is in on the discussions or not - he'd actually prefer him to stay away so he can call him a slacker - it leads me to believe that Republican higher-ups are concerned how Palin's going to do.

Palin has been quite insulated of late, after flailing in a few interviews. The only people who know how really bad or good she is are her handlers. If she's bad - and I mean really, really bad - McCain will continue to insist on suspending debates for a week or two, trying to avoid the stonewaller label by pointing out the 700 MILLION DOLLAR DEBT that the DEMOCRATS are forcing on us (Bush? Who's that?), and praying there's no further meltdowns he could be blamed for in the interim. If, on the other hand, she's been prepped to the point she's even barely coherent, they'll start on time tonight.

Meanwhile Obama . . . better get his ass in gear if he doesn't want McCain running this show.

Further musings: Probably the first and best move for Obama would be to call for transparency in government by having these negotiations in some sort of public forum (C-Span, anyone?), upping the cost of any further stonewalling and providing lots of nice clips of him asking intelligent-sounding questions.

The second is to throw the bailout baby right into the arms of the Republicans in the form of Bush, who went on national television in a very long infomercial to explain why we should pull out our national credit card and buy it some new shoes, a crib, and hell, a bunch of freaking houses and companies while we're at it.

The public already blames Bush & Co. for the mess, they're not buying the hard-sell by Republicans that it was Democrat policies that started this. (Side Note: true in some aspects - there were policies that are contributing factors that were put in place during Clinton, but false in that it conveniently forgets a bunch of other contributing policies that were 100% Bush). They're not buying it because they think: "Hell, Bush has been in office eight years, and if the Republicans knew all this stuff was bad, why hadn't they fixed it by now?"

Obama's ultimate goal is probably tying the bailout mess to the tail of the Bush administration and re-hitting the McSame theme, while simultaneously reluctantly signing on to this horrible fix that is all we can do under these circumstances, thus putting himself into the catbird seat that McCain will have to give up for the short-term political gain of trying to be seen as the broker of the agreement.

Unless . . . if he can figure out a way to shut McCain out and broker a deal behind his back, and still pin that deal on the Republicans. Hmm. That would probably be the ultimate goal.

Anyways, let's all sit back and watch them play another round of Politician's Chess. If only they could attack each other like Wizard's Chess. We could sell tickets and pay the damn thing off that way.

Sources: CNN and NYTimes, plus a whole lot of blog and other articles confirming the basic facts of what went down.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Theater Blogging

I've been horribly remiss about this lately:

"Starlighters II Studio Showcase"
The "Starlighters II Studio Showcase" opens Friday, September 19th and will also be performed on September 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Starlighters Theatre in Anamosa. Autumn of 2008 marks a major milestone in the creative history of Starlighters II Theatre as an annual theatrical series debuts. With a mix of veteran and new actors under the guidance of some of Starlighters II's finest directors, the "Starlighters II Studio Showcase" looks to establish a reputation as a distinguished series with a high standard for acting and directing. This ambitious new concept features a set of excellent short plays, both com edic and dramatic, written by both established and new playwrights whose works are judged to be outstanding. The "Starlighters II Studio Showcase" will become a "must see" for audiences, and aims to establish itself as the standard against which other such ventures will be judged.

The coordinating directors wish to let the public know that there is some strong adult content in a few of the plays included in this production.
For more information on Starlighters II Theatre events, visit the Starlighters II website at


The Pillowman
by Martin McDonagh
directed by Josh sazon
assistant directed by Rich Riggleman
September 27, October 3, 4, 11
7:30 pm
Unitarian Universalist Society, 10 S. Gilbert St. Iowa City
A seriously disturbing tale laced with dark comedy about a writer in an unnamed totalitarian state who is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of child-murders occurring in his town.
Recommended for mature audiences for violence and language. Order tickets today!

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Ariel - Gary Barth
Tupolski - Chuck Dufano
Father - Jeff Emrich
Mother - Robin McCright
Michal - Alex Moore
Katurian - Kevin Moore

AUDITIONS for Sarah Plain and Tall, by Joseph Robinette (from the Newbery Award-winning book by Patricia MacLachlan), will be held from Sept. 22 to 26, from 6:30-9pm, at the Robert A Lee Recreation Center, on the corner of Gilbert and Burlington Sts. in downtown Iowa City. Callbacks will be on Saturday afternoon following auditions. Performance dates will be on the first two weekends of November at the Johnson County fairgrounds.

by Joseph Robinette (from the Newberry Award-winning book by Patricia MacLachlan)
directed by Evelyn Stanske, November 7-9, 14-16
Set in the early 1900s, this play brings to life the charming, heartwarming story of a Kansas farmer, Jacob Witting, a widower with two children—Anna and Caleb, who places an ad in the newspapers seeking a wife. He receives a letter from a Sarah Wheaton of Maine who says she will visit the family for a month to see how things work out: "I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall." Narrated by Anna reminiscing on the eve of her wedding, the story unfolds in a fascinating flashback on that often exciting, sometimes tumultuous month when Sarah and the Wittings came to know one another and learned a few things about themselves as well. The joys and challenges of everyday life are richly depicted in this classic which the New York Times called "an exquisite, sometimes painfully touching tale."

Dreamwell Theatre Announces Auditions for Lear's Daughters

Presented by Dreamwell Theatre, auditions for "Lear's Daughters" written by the Women’s Theatre Group based on an idea by Elaine Feinstein, will be Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, at 2:00 p.m. at the ICPL.

A prequel to Shakespeare’s King Lear, focusing on Lear’s daughters as they might have seen themselves: as daughters, passionate for art and longing for parental affection; as princesses locked in a tower with the King holding the crown.

Roles are available for 5 women from 18 to 65 (or older). Actresses will be given material from the play to read. The play will be presented November 14 & 15, and 21 & 22. Scripts will be available on reserve at the ICPL after September 15.

For more information, contact Gerry Roe (Director) at 351-4952 or

To join our Audition email list, please send an email to with the subject line of "Auditions". We may send other Dreamwell releated announcements as well. We will do our best not to "spam" you with two much Dreamwell stuff and do not share or sell our mailing list.

Dreamwell auditions are usually announced in the GO! section of the Iowa City Press Citizen and the calendar section of Little Village. You may also call (319) 541-0140 for more information.

Based on the ABC-TV educational animated series
Schoolhouse Rock LIVE!

A Collaboration with the Iowa Children's Museum and the Englert Theatre

Book by: George Keating, Kyle Hall and Scott Ferguson
Lyrics & Music by: Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, George Newall, Kathy Mandry, Lynn Ahrens and Tom Yohe
Directed by: Chris Okiishi

October 17, 18, 19
Friday at 7:30 pm
Saturday at 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday at 2 pm
at the Englert Theater

In a brand-new production, the heroes of Saturday Morning educational television come to life! "Interplanent Janet", "Hero Zero" , "Conjunction Junction" and the ever popular "I'm Just a Bill" -- so much fun for the whole family!

More information and related events will be announced soon.
Visit the exhibit at the Iowa Children's Museum all summer long!

Note to New Judges

Do not use sex toys while court is in session.

One Alternate Suggestion and a Freaking Long Side Note

Okay, I'm NOT an economist and complex mathematical calculations make me weep with frustration, so please don't think I'm any kind of expert. That said, one of the things that has been bothering me about this whole bailout idea is that it seems to address the symptoms, but not the cause. I'm trying to investigate to see what the root cause is. The way I'm seeing it we have a cascade effect going:

People in trouble with mortgates ---> Banks who speculate on mortgages in trouble

But it may be more than that:

Fiat economy based on credit ---> Increased incentives for credit ---> People who take the incentives in trouble with mortgages ---> Banks who speculate on mortgages in trouble.

I'm still researching that, trying to determine if the glitch here is systemic, or confined to this particular set of circumstances. But regardless, the bailout seems to focus on the endgame, bailing the banks. The earlier cause, people in trouble with mortgages, appears to be written off with an assumption that the people were either: a) too stupid to recognize "predatory" lending, or b) too irresponsible to give a damn that their credit was going down the toilet. Now, I do recognize that there are many people like that. But this many? We're either a nation of complete morons, or there may be something else at work (see my earlier post on how doubling credit card payments, closing off bankruptcy, allowing credit scores to raise costs for seemingly unrelated things like insurance and rent, etc., may have played hell with the American budgets).

So I was quite interested to see this alternative proposal, via Concurring Opinions:
So, instead of the massive moral hazard -- and general unseemliness -- of putting taxpayer money on the line to bail out Wall Street banks and brokers at the top end of the pyramid, why not aim at the broad BASE of the pyramid?

The money is there. I mean really, isn't it funny how when political leaders and powerful interests like Wall Street REALLY need cash, they somehow find a way to pull it out of the federal government's [ahem]?
To put it more politely: They just stick taxpayers with the bill.

Year after year, there's somehow never enough money to fund universal guaranteed health insurance (and whatever bailout is passed to deal with this crisis will provide yet one more excuse). But need to invade a foreign country on false pretenses, even in a time of huge deficits? No problem! Need to spend about a TRILLION to bail out Wall Street? Deficits be damned!

America's population is about 300 million. Divide by 4 (typical household size) and you get maybe 75 million households. Even that doubtless overstates the number of owner-occupied homes covered by bank mortgages, with a value less than, say, $1 million or so (we should exclude the very wealthy -- if the $5 million La Jolla mansion is about to be foreclosed, I say tough luck -- John McCain, of course, would make $5 million the cutoff, having suggested that anyone under that is middle class -- whatever). And remember, you have to exclude the homeless, renters, nursing home residents, all the dependents who live in each mortgaged home, etc.

Now, I'm NOT saying that's the solution. First, I'm not sure I understand the entire problem yet, much less which way to jump (which is why the bailout makes me nervous, I'd prefer to know what's going on before we act, thanks, particularly when we're talking about this kind of money, and WTF is up with the whole no oversight thing? Second, it's still a bailout without discussing fixing whichever policies f*cked this all up in the first place. But it's at least a step toward opening up the conversation into all the options.

Freaking LONG Side Note:
If you're wondering why I keep talking about the system, it's because of articles like this, and sites like this, and blog posts like this. Yes, the Kos post and the Libertarian site appear to be fringe. But they make a point that needs to be understood - which a bunch of you may understand, but I don't yet since I totally didn't take macro- or micro-economics in undergrad. Apparently, our economy is based on fiat money: Currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves. Historically, most currencies were based on physical commodities such as gold or silver, but fiat money is based solely on faith. Most of the world's paper money is fiat money. Because fiat money is not linked to physical reserves, it risks becoming worthless due to hyperinflation. If people lose faith in a nation's paper currency, the money will no longer hold any value.

Historically, I guess it fits in like this:

1926-1931 - FIXED Gold standard, 5 years
The gold exchange standard was established wherein each country pegged its currency to the US dollar and British pound which were then supposed to be backed by the dollar. When the depression began countries tried to cash in their pounds and dollars for gold. That "run" on gold forced the end of the gold exchange standard.
1931-1945 - FLOATING Fiat currency, 14 years
Fiat currencies reign worldwide leading to huge economic imbalances from country to country and was of the major contributing factors to the beginning of WW2.
1945-1968 - FIXED - Gold standard, 26 years
1944 Bretton Woods Accord (similar to gold exchange standard of 1926-1931) Two main currencies again, the US dollar and British pound. A run to convert pounds to gold collapsed the pound and began the end of the Bretton woods accord. It took 3 years while governments tried to salvage the system and also to determine what to do next. Kind of like having one leg on the boat and the other on shore. 1963 - New Federal Reserve notes with no promise to pay in "lawful money" was released. No guarantees, no value. This is also the year of the disappearance of the $1 silver certificate. Once again, a subtle shift in plain view.
1965 - Silver is completely eliminated in all coins save the Kennedy half-dollar, which was reduced to 40 percent silver by President Lyndon Johnson's authorization. The Coinage Act of 1965 signed by Lyndon Johnson, terminates the original legislation signed by George Washington 173 years earlier (carrying the death penalty) enabling the US Treasury to eliminate the silver content of all currency.
1968 - June 24 - President Johnson issued a proclamation that all Federal Reserve Silver Certificates were merely fiat legal tender and could not really be redeemed in silver.
1971 - FLOATING - Fiat currency, 5 months
August of 1971 President Nixon ended the international gold standard and for the first time no currency in the world had a gold backing.
1971-1973 - FIXED - Dollar standard, 2 years
The Smithsonian Agreement was passed pegging world currencies to the dollar rather than gold as a fixed exchange rate.
1973-? - FLOATING - Fiat currency, 30 years
The Basel Accord established the current floating exchange of currency rates we are operating under today.

As I'm understanding it so far, and my grasp is tenuous, the economy is kinda sorta controlled by the government. An abstract of an article in World Economics: Journal of Current Economic Analysis and Policy: Fiat money is a creation of both the state and society. Its value is supported by expectations which are conditioned by the dynamics of trust in government, the socio-economic structure and by outside events such as wars, plagues or political unrest. The micro-management of a dynamic economy is not far removed in difficulty from the micro-management of the weather. However, money and the financial institutions and instruments of a modern economy provide the means to influence expectations and bound behaviour. The control of the fiat money supply, together with rules on the granting of credit and the bankruptcy, default and reorganisation rules are public services. They provide lower and upper bounds for the price level in the economy. They also determine the innovation rate of the economy. An innovation may be regarded as an economic mutation; the less costly failure is, the more likely an innovation will be risked. Basically, the dollar appears to be backed by the Government's ability to pay out. It's ability to pay out appears to be backed by it's ability to tax us. It's ability to tax us appears to be backed by our ability to grow and develop businesses, products, etc. So far, so good. But it gets complicated: our ability to grow and develop stuff depends on our credit - one very libertarian-leaning site suggests we should supplant the term capitalism with creditism. (I'll give you two guesses whether it supports the idea of a fiat economy or not . . . yep, you got it in one.)

The Daily Kos post extends the argument to bringing in oil dependence (not surprising from a left-leaning blog):
The new basis then, was the value of developed land. The incentive was for Americans to develop their cities and towns, and reap the rewards of increased home values and stability of their communities. This, in turn, created the ability of the government to print more dollars, relatively confident that if there was a dollar, then somewhere there was economic activity underneath it. There was, at least, someone with an address who could be taxed. The model that we used for development was the automobile, and we saw the rise of the automobile city, which was far more sprawled out than the old industrial city.

. . . .

The intermediate steps, such as abandoning Bretton-Woods and creating a floating currency regime, deregulating the airlines, attempts to save gasoline, were all stopgaps until a new basis for the global economy came into being. That basis was the paper for oil economy. In this economy the United States generated paper based on development arbitrage and technology, which Arabs bought, and in return they sold us oil for that paper which we were to turn around and use to create more paper.

Seems a bit one-sided and leaves out the Chinese factor, however, so I'm not positive I'm totally buying that. Plus, these posts also seem rather reactionary - one could easily jump to the conclusion that all non-real money is bad. According to this site, which is apolitical and educational, that's not exactly so:
There will be no economic growth without the virtual money. Exact mathematical proof could be quite long, so here is a short (very simplified) descriptive substantiation:

As every economist know, there is a closed circulation of money in a country economy: Firms pays households for means of production (as work, capital, knowledge), and then households are buying goods and services from firms paying with money earned before.

Lets try to build an simple example: there is only one factory manufacturing 100 cars a month, and all people work in this factory. Let say that this factory gains a new technology, and is able to increase production to 150 cars. But we have a problem. Households have money only to buy 100 cars (money earned last month), so if the factory increase its production, it will gain exactly the same amount of money as for 100 cars a month before. So, board of directors will see no reason to increase production. An thus there will be no economic growth...

Solution of this problem are the virtual money. Money that are completely fictional, taken from nowhere. Money to buy that extra 50 cars. Using a metaphor, we can say that the virtual money are borrowed from the future (I mean: we are hoping that our GDP grows, and we will be able to repay our debts). Simple speaking virtual money are nothing more than a credit.

There are two basic ways to generate virtual money:

Government could print some paper (fiat) money (or spoil the metal coins), spending more money that gains from taxes, and thereby borrowing money from citizens. In this case growth is government-stimulated.

Financial institutions like for example banks could lend more money that they have deposits or give credit too easy. In this case growth is stimulated by financial institutions (government could help here with low interest rates).

Which of those stimulation is better? It depends.

But there will be no economic growth without any stimulation (or the growth will be slow).

And sometimes because of other factors, no mater as strong, and well-constructed it is, none of methods of economic stimulation is effective.

And moreover, this is a very simplified classification of methods used to produce virtual money. Some others include: credit cards, stock market options (and other derivatives), overvalued national currency rate, etc.

So some virtual money is good, it appears, but we've screwed up our ratios badly. According to the same site:
At the beginning, when economy is in growth phase, growth is financed using virtual money. (Today’s debtors are borrowing money that have to repay tomorrow.) When the base for the economic growth is firm, debts made today will be repaid without any problem in the next period from the new, bigger GDP (income). Volume of virtual money is matching the expected future growth of income quite good (compare with the model of rational expectations).

But sometimes the parameters of economic environment (and thus the conditions for economic growth) could change in an unpredictable way. There are many reasons for these changes, but generally speaking most of them spring from politics, and political changes, or from changes in the volume of available resources.

When the change happens, such a high rate of growth, (as we expected before the change) will be no longer possible. However because of virtual money, there are debts that were made, when the expected rate of growth was higher. Because of natural inertia of political, and economic institutions, the rate of growth is still high for a some period of time, but it creates an extra cost of rapidly increasing debt. Publicity still believe in the virtual money. We can observe some symptoms of increasing market unbalance. This is the hidden phase of crisis.

Then comes a shock. It could be some unpredictable event or even a gossip. Publicity loses its belief in virtual money. This launches a rapid fall of prices of money, assets or goods, whose prices were partially created by the virtual money. We can observe a great fall of stock market prices, rapid fall of national currency value (inflation, and even hyperinflation) or rapid changes of currency exchange rates (when the growth was stimulated by money borrowed abroad).

Then comes the crisis - because the possible rate of growth is lower than before - and even the recession - because of the debt that must be repaid. When debts are repaid, or reduced by some political means, and there are natural conditions for growth, the crisis ends.

Which seems to bring the question full circle - which policies screwed up what? Are we bailing the correct end? We've had a decade or so of pro-business innovations: decreasing the ability of the individual to declare bankruptcy, increasing business' ability to use credit scores and charge customers more even if they've not done any direct defaulting to the company itself, increasing fees for banking and credit card use, raising the maximum allowable interest on individual's credit cards from 19.8 to thirty-something percent, changing loan terms to allow for the jump in interest rates that was once considered innovative and is now considered predatory. Some of these, like the "predatory" loans were consumer choice. We didn't have to sign up for them. Others, like the increased fees and credit scoring, were definitely not put up for a vote. We could theoretically switch companies if we don't like them, but to what company? They all use them now. In retrospect, I still support some of the changes, just not how they were implemented. Example: raising the minimum credit card payments. Yes, it's a good idea to have gotten those to the place where one could theoretically pay off the card in less than a lifetime. But did it have to double all at once? Right at the same time you closed off bankruptcy and allowed credit scoring and all the rest of it? And right when basic wages have stayed pretty well stagnant but the costs of things like gas have skyrocketed?

I want to make sure we're not bailing out the businesses, but leaving the policies untouched policies that could keep the homeowners in perpetual default. 'Cause if we do that, the loans are still nothing more than paper, and the trust in the system will continue to erode, and we're not going to have done anything but shuffle numbers from one column to another.

That said, I don't want to make such radical changes that it causes a backlash effect. What I'd examine:

Re-instilling some consumer protections against credit card interest, perhaps by setting maximum rates lower offset by upping the zero-percent introductories (five percent)? Yep, it ends that sweet way to rotate out of debt by transferring balances to zero and paying them off. But it also keeps those trying to climb out from under the maximum from completely drowning.

Reigning in some of the practices on raising rates based on a late payment to a different company, or a credit score, unless they've acually been late a few times to your own damn company? Would you rather have people juggling or going under altogether?

Keeping stricter standards for getting loans in the first place, or lowering the amount they can borrow? A $50,000 credit limit for an individual making about that per year is ridiculous - and I had one of those once, so don't tell me they don't exist.

Opening up some bankruptcy rules, so the bankrupt can go through the courts and get discharged instead of simply defaulting? Yeah, they get to keep their house. But companies aren't reduced to hunting down people and trying to attach non-existent assets (every try getting blood from a turnip?)

Giving some tax breaks to lower and middle class to alleviate some of the immediate problems?

Changing bankruptcy rules for corporations so that pensions are placed before golden parachutes? Nope, it doesn't seem fair, but 1) executives have more liquid assets to offset their loss, and 2) the economic impact of 400 employees losing their life savings is greater than that of a handful of executives losing theirs.

Yep, these are aimed at the little people. But if I'm right, they'll start fixing some of the problem of why the defaults occur in the first place, which will then benefit the businesses because the debts they own become more solid. Call it a trickle-up theory.

I don't know if any one or all of these will work. I'm open to suggestions. Maybe the idea of bailing out the base would be enough. Somehow my instinct says no, it's still just throwing cash, just at a more strategic spot. Without untweaking the tweaks we've made we're still in the same position. But I'm open to argument, counterproofs. Please god would somebody just explain this all in one massive essay? Maybe we could have Kermit the Frog do it, like we did for that one feel-good commercial back on the last crash (which beside this one feels like it was more of a gentle fender-bender).

I'm not running for anything, so it's a moot point, but this is what I'm trying to get my brain around right now, irrespective of the elections. I just don't think that simply pushing money at the businesses is going to be a long-term solution.

To bolster my point, this quote from the NY Times discussing one aspect of the bailout: "That might fail to fix the credit markets, because it would do relatively little to improve financial firms’ balance sheets. Firms might then remain unwilling to lend money to businesses and households, which is the whole problem the bailout is meant to solve."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Dear American:
I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why I Need to Know

I've been doing some research into economics to try to figure out this mess for myself. I mean, I've got everyone blaming their pet scapegoat, no one can really agree as to whether this horribly expensive bailout is really a good thing or not (It's welfare for the rich! It's a way for the poor to keep their homes!). 'Cause it may be more broad than we suspected. For example, everyone has been pointing at the sub-prime loans - allowing people who don't have the credit to back it up to have houses. I have been advocating a broader brush - examining the raising of the minimum payments on credit cards, the advent of the credit score being used to raise rates on insurance, and the rule changes that let credit card penalties and interest soar - to determine who people who may have had the credit to back it up turned into people who didnt' have the credit to back it up. That much makes sense to me, because it ties into to things I know something about - how to buy a house, how I've seen people's credit tank, and if everyone else is tanking to, this might be one reason. In the past week or two, I've discovered it may be even broader - the difference between retail and commercial banks, what companies we've allowed to take risks with what. That starts pulling in economics. As I dig deeper, I'm seeing economists talking about M1 and M3 and how Greenspan's policies contributed or did not contribute to the mix.

On top of that, there is a rather steep learning curve, and there's this overwhelming sense that we need to move fast and trust those who've studied this thing that they know what they're doing (hence Bush's request for immediate action with little or no right of review?) This is exactly where I say back the truck up and let me think for a minute. I think the example from this very technical article puts my skepticism best:

[Example 1:] A Turkey is fed for a 1000 days—every days confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare "with increased statistical significance". On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.

He's analogizing something different - Imagine that the Turkey can be the most powerful man in world economics, managing our economic fates. How? A then-Princeton economist called Ben Bernanke made a pronouncement in late 2004 about the "new moderation" in economic life: the world getting more and more stable—before becoming the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Yet the system was getting riskier and riskier as we were turkey-style sitting on more and more barrels of dynamite—and Prof. Bernanke's predecessor the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was systematically increasing the hidden risks in the system, making us all more vulnerable to blowups. However, if you take it to cliche-like generalizations (We're all the turkey! Koo-koo-ka-choo! Wait, wrong species.) it's imprudent to rely strictly on other's interpretations of what's in our best interest. Even if, absent a Chicken-Run style insurrection, there's really not a whole hell of a lot we can do about it.

For starters, Milbarge has some links up about the basics. The turkey article I cited has some rather difficult statistical analysis - I am emphatically NOT a math person, so I'm going to have to read this many times. For an economoic analysis, I'm afraid I have to start with Wikipedia (fiat currency and monetarism) and go from there to more in-depth treatises. Wish me luck. I also advocate doing the research yourself, at least if you're the type who wants to know where the train you're on is heading, whether it's just for a little side trip or a jump off a cliff.

In Case You're Curious What We're Buying

The draft proposal for the big bailout:



Section 1. Short Title.

This Act may be cited as ____________________.

Sec. 2. Purchases of Mortgage-Related Assets.

(a) Authority to Purchase.--The Secretary is authorized to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and conditions as determined by the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any financial institution having its headquarters in the United States.

(b) Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation:

(1) appointing such employees as may be required to carry out the authorities in this Act and defining their duties;

(2) entering into contracts, including contracts for services authorized by section 3109 of title 5, United States Code, without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts;

(3) designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them;

(4) establishing vehicles that are authorized, subject to supervision by the Secretary, to purchase mortgage-related assets and issue obligations; and

(5) issuing such regulations and other guidance as may be necessary or appropriate to define terms or carry out the authorities of this Act.

Sec. 3. Considerations.

In exercising the authorities granted in this Act, the Secretary shall take into consideration means for--

(1) providing stability or preventing disruption to the financial markets or banking system; and

(2) protecting the taxpayer.

Sec. 4. Reports to Congress.

Within three months of the first exercise of the authority granted in section 2(a), and semiannually thereafter, the Secretary shall report to the Committees on the Budget, Financial Services, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committees on the Budget, Finance, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate with respect to the authorities exercised under this Act and the considerations required by section 3.

Sec. 5. Rights; Management; Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.

(a) Exercise of Rights.--The Secretary may, at any time, exercise any rights received in connection with mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act.

(b) Management of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary shall have authority to manage mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act, including revenues and portfolio risks therefrom.

(c) Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary may, at any time, upon terms and conditions and at prices determined by the Secretary, sell, or enter into securities loans, repurchase transactions or other financial transactions in regard to, any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act.

(d) Application of Sunset to Mortgage-Related Assets.--The authority of the Secretary to hold any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act before the termination date in section 9, or to purchase or fund the purchase of a mortgage-related asset under a commitment entered into before the termination date in section 9, is not subject to the provisions of section 9.

Sec. 6. Maximum Amount of Authorized Purchases.

The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time

Sec. 7. Funding.

For the purpose of the authorities granted in this Act, and for the costs of administering those authorities, the Secretary may use the proceeds of the sale of any securities issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, and the purposes for which securities may be issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, are extended to include actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses. Any funds expended for actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses, shall be deemed appropriated at the time of such expenditure.

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Sec. 9. Termination of Authority.

The authorities under this Act, with the exception of authorities granted in sections 2(b)(5), 5 and 7, shall terminate two years from the date of enactment of this Act.

Sec. 10. Increase in Statutory Limit on the Public Debt.

Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof $11,315,000,000,000.

Sec. 11. Credit Reform.

The costs of purchases of mortgage-related assets made under section 2(a) of this Act shall be determined as provided under the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, as applicable.

Sec. 12. Definitions.

For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) Mortgage-Related Assets.--The term “mortgage-related assets” means residential or commercial mortgages and any securities, obligations, or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages, that in each case was originated or issued on or before September 17, 2008.

(2) Secretary.--The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Treasury.

(3) United States.--The term “United States” means the States, territories, and possessions of the United States and the District of Columbia.

From the Washington Post and the NY Times.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Makes Sense

I wonder if we follow the election so passionately because we’re afraid. We’re afraid a lot of our national problems are intractable, and the future too full of challenge.

We cannot tolerate feeling this way. So we make believe the election can change everything. And we follow it passionately to convince ourselves its outcome will be decisive and make everything better. We reassure ourselves with pictures of the cheering crowds at the rally. We even find some comfort in the latest story of the latest dirty trick. But deep inside we think: Ah, that won’t work either.

Some part of me thinks we are all making believe this is a life-changing election because we know it’s not a life-changing election. Ever have that thought? Me too. Then there’s a rally or a scandal or a gaffe, and it passes.

(Fixed the link, sorry.)

Save My Sanity

Do you hate slanted, biased, and freaking annoying political ads? Are you sick of the election and the mudslinging? Do you want to help me regain my sanity? There is a solution, brought to you by the good folks at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The problem:
[M]ost people either don't follow political news at all, or prefer outlets that are biased in favor of their own preferred party or ideology. . . . Social science research going back to the 1940s shows that Republicans tend to prefer Republican-leaning media and Democrats the opposite.

. . . .

People also tend to discount political information that goes against their prior views and overvalue anything that seems to reinforce them. Economist Bryan Caplan calls this phenomenon "rational irrationality."

. . . .

Political fans often avoid opposing points of view for much the same reasons that most of my fellow Red Sox fans prefer to listen to pro-Red Sox sports radio rather than pro-Yankees shows.

. . .

Surveys show that most citizens are ignorant of many very basic facts about politics - such as the very existence of major programs (e.g. - Bush's massive prescription drug benefit, the largest new government program since the 1960s, which 70% of the public was not aware of).

Knowing that most of the public is rationally ignorant, highly biased in its evaluation of political information or both, candidates take these realities into account. They can see that lies, deception, and unfair charges will often increase their chances of winning, and act accordingly. Indeed, even an altruistic, public-spirited candidate might adopt such tactics, so long as he genuinely believes that his victory will benefit the nation. After all, abjuring them would likely ensure the victory of his more unscrupulous opponents whose policies - the principled candidate believes - would be worse for the country than his own. Media outlets face similar incentives. Those who don't cater to the prejudices of one or another side of the political spectrum are at a competitive disadvantage relative to their rivals. The same goes for those who emphasize in-depth news analysis at the expense of entertainment value.

The Solution:
[T]he media are not completely autonomous; if they want to stay in business, they have to give viewers and readers what they want. If the public wanted unbiased and accurate coverage and was willing to reject outlets that turned out to be biased and inaccurate, the media would have strong incentives to comply. Newspapers and TV news stations that continued to be biased or inaccurate would lose market share.

In other words, stop being a fan and start listening, reading, and studying the boring policy stuff. It will hurt in the short run, but really help the long-term. It will also do wonders for my mental health.

Pretty please?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good Point

Some of my frustration with this election has been that there seems more red/blue disconnect than even the Bush/Gore 2000 election. Seriously. I was quite proud of being able to "simultaneously translate" each side to the other as a centrist, and see the points on both sides. Well, again, there are some points to be seen on both sides, but the amount of white noise is . . . . well, overwhelming. And blogs I didn't see as really biased before (tainted, perhaps, but not biased) are appearing to be so - moderate republicans and dems who are towing the party line and seemingly brushing aside the critiques of their candidates.

I was reading Matthew Yglesias' blog and he seems to put a finger on it, albiet in a democrat/left mode:
. . . [W]hen you have a strong ex ante belief that someone is well-informed about a subject, you tend to overlook their mistakes as not indicative of any larger trend. And that seems like a fair procedure. If I were to say “RSS” when I meant “HTML” you’d think I misspoke — I’m a blogger, I know what HTML is and I know what RSS is. But if McCain were to do something like that, we’d say this is another example of him genuinely not understanding information technology. Nothing wrong with a double standard.

Perhaps what I'm seeing is a related effect. Those who are predisposed in favor of a candidate are tending to write off the gaffes of the candidate as minor slips in an otherwise sound choice, but note gaffes from the other side as more evidence their person is incompetent. I know from the communications classes I took in undergrad (one of my BA majors was journalism) that people tend to form core beliefs, and then to filter information through those beliefs, almost like a screen/screening process. They have a tendency to accept information that reinforces these beliefs as true, and reject challenges to the core belief as false. And if I recall correctly, it not only goes for their core beliefs, but superficial biases as well - sports fans tended to see more fouls committed against their team, so the same game can look quite different depending upon which side of the stands you're sitting on.

Okay, here's a reality check that's going to probably get me in trouble with everyone:

1) Obama is not the most experienced candidate the democrats could have fielded.
2) Palin has even less experience than he does.
3) Experience is not the issue. Competence is.
4) McCain's POW status is irrelevant to his performance as president.
5) Incidentally, so is Palin's ability to shoot a moose and Obama's ability to make a three-point shot.
6) All the candidates have kids. Get over it. PS - nobody really gives a shit.
7) Anyone who votes for or against a candidate based solely on that candidate's race or gender is an idiot.
8) Likewise anyone who votes against the issues/solutions they believe in to send some sort of message. Cut nose, spite face.
9) The President cannot pass laws, only Congress can. They can, however, veto them. The president also cannot create a communist system of government, or outlaw abortion, or fill the congress with their high-school classmates. They can, however, appoint cabinet members and nominate people to the Supreme Court.
10) The candidates have actual policies. Though they do split along party lines, they are nuanced and they don't necessarily say what you think they say. Do not assume Candidate X is for something just because you think of it as a conservative/liberal issue. Read the damn reports.

Here are four correlating thoughts that are more personal opinion:
1) Neither side is doing anything remarkably unexpected when you cut through the rhetoric. The Republicans are advocating free market and tax incentives for big business to stimulate business growth and better health care coverage, the Democrats are advocating tax breaks for the poor and middle class, and want the Government to pick up the slack if big business won't do it. McCain is not Hitler. Obama is not Lenin.
2) Social issues are likewise generally split along party lines. Pro-Lifers should look at McCain, Pro-Choicers Obama, etc. Neither side is the anti-Christ, they just like to sound that way.
3) Things are a mess, particularly in the areas of economics and foreign policy. Although I advocate as little government as is necessary, from what I'm seeing, it's necessary. The only question is which direction to jump, left or right. While some of the mess can go back as far as the Clinton years, Bush has been in office long enough and his acting or failure to act is the nearest proximate cause.
4) For God's sake, will the next candidate who changes their mind on some topic simply admit that you've rethought the issue based on new information and stop trying to synthesize the two positions? The latter simply makes you look as though you are either: a) clueless as to the distinctions; or b) a liar. Correlating point: candidates who lie piss me off.

. . .

I suppose this has degenerated somewhat into a centrist rant. On second thought, that seems sorely lacking in the debate so I think I'll keep it.

UPDATE UPDATE: Someone I know has asked to forward the list. I thought about it, and revised it a bit to separate out things that are more my opinion from the actual truths. That way if the damn thing gets out of my control, I've got a hard copy that I can say I'm standing by.

UPDATE (Expanded): I included #9 as examples of side stuff the media (and the blogosphere) seem entranced with that are truly side points - Palin's alleged proclivity to put high school classmates into positions of power in Alaska (Do we she's going to pack the congress or the bench with them?), painting Obama as imposing a communist regime and tossing capitalism (Via what? Military coup? They can't make laws, people).

I wanted a McCain example and it was harder finding scare stories about the horrible things McCain might do if elected, so I grabbed the big thing from yesterday and used McCain's statement about firing Cox, meaning it as an example of media implications that he's basically become senile and has no clue after a gagillion years in Washington he still doesn't know how the government works, and so will presumably be wandering around picking flowers while Palin runs the government.

But then realized it wasn't a good example, as it a) was something the candidate was claiming for themselves and not imposed upon them, and b) the implication is far more tenuous; c) the situation is far more complex: as legal scholars are correctly pointing out, Humphrey's Executor v. US does allow for a president to remove an FTC commissioner for ""inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." Actually, what it says is basically that when Congress provides for the appointment of officers whose functions, like those of the Federal Trade Commissioners, are of Legislative and judicial quality, rather than executive, and limits the grounds upon which they may be removed from office, the President has no constitutional power to remove them for reasons other than those so specified. The FTC enabling statute had inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance as grounds, so FDR would have needed to prove that to have lawfully removed Humphrey. Well in the case of the SEC, the enabling Act does not expressly give to the President the power to remove a commissioner. Professor Bainbridge rightly indicates that a 10th Circuit opinion states, when referring to the SEC in light of the Humphrey case, that "We note that Morrison is predicated in part upon Humphrey, which stands generally for the proposition that Congress can, without violating Article II, authorize an independent agency to bring civil law enforcement actions where the President's removal power was restricted to inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." But note that: 1) The 10th Circuit is not the Supreme Court, and 2) As I read Humphrey, it actually stands more for the general proposition that when Congress clearly intends to limit the power of removal to specific ennumerated causes, it will only be appropriate if one of those causes is shown. Because no such causes are listed here, I'm thinking the President cannot fire an SEC commissioner, but there's a chance the Court could jump the other way and say that Congress is silent on the subject of removal so we need to look to tradition and other sources to divine their probable intent for grounds, and cite Humphrey as supporting the idea that inefficiency, malfeasance and neglect were implicit in the statute's silence as Congress could not possibly mean to immunize commissioners from removal altogether. However - as Professor Bainbridge also points out, the President can remove him from the post of chairman:
What is not debatable, however, is that “The Chairman of the SEC serves as such solely at the pleasure of the President.” Harvey L. Pitt & Karen L. Shapiro, Securities Regulation by Enforcement: A Look Ahead at the Next Decade, 7 Yale J. on Reg. 149, 280 n.557 (1990). Indeed, the Tenth Circuit so held in the Blinder, Robinson case cited above. See 855 F.2d at 681, stating that “as the President has the power to choose the chairman of the SEC from its commissioners to serve an indefinite term, it follows that the chairman serves at the pleasure of the President.”
Thus, everyone is now apparently arguing about not only whether McCain meant "fire" or "ask to resign," but also "fire" or "demote back to just being a commissioner," etc.

However, it does pull the post back to the original idea - those who see McCain as basically competent in the first place are presuming he understood what the cases say and simply didn't clarify enough, and the other side is completely clueless by their not understanding what he was referring to. Meanwhile, those who see McCain as incompetent are claiming it as yet another example of his basic lack of understanding of government, and see the other side as in denial. My take: I doubt he was thinking all this when he spoke, or had parsed it this carefully. The 10th Circuit case says that there's a tradition that commissioners can be removed for the malfeasance stuff in Humphrey, he might have been speaking of that. He might have just thought it sounded good and was speaking in general terms of throwing out incompetent people. But given the complexity of the issue, it's a bad example either way.

See why this is driving me nuts? Seriously. Scan the blogs and the media, not the right and left fringe but people who in the past you’ve seen bring up points on both sides, who have tried to be fair. Recall where they stand on this particular election, whether dem or gop. Now scan their posts/articles for contrary points. I’ve been looking at one or two, and here’s what I’ve found – when the other side has a valid point, it’s generally being ignored. When the other side is wrong, it’s being hammered into the ground. At least the discourse is still relatively civil, except in the comments. But it’s more biased, more divided. Why? Is it, as some people I’ve talked to claim, because the public feels that the crisis today is more serious than it has been in the past, and therefore pundits feel like there’s too much at stake? I suspect that’s a large part of it, but I would think that there would be a counter-movement out there, people who are arguing that because there is so much at stake, it’s too important to not be bi-partisan. Is it because there is now so much choice out there for news sources that people who have an opinion are gathering into their own little corner of the blogosphere and cable channels, and not even bothering to bridge the gap, so they’re honestly unaware of the other side’s points? Quite possibly. I’ve found the more fringe sites on both sides blatantly guilty of truncating quotes to skew away from criticism.

Perhaps it’s just me. I’m recalling past elections, before the ‘net got huge and back when we only had network news. There’d be commercials, and some would jump all over them, but the majority of the people I knew would simply write them off as PR and figure out who they liked based on outlines of policy, whether from the paper, or in class, or by watching debates. There were some notable exceptions, of course, but that seemed the general rule. Now it seems that the commercials have crept into the news, the blogs, the public discourse. They’re no longer the sideshow, they’re the main event. How many people out there can actually give a basic understanding of the economic plans of each side, not just repeat some quote about how many houses the other side owns? How many know what the health care plans really are, not just some hype about socialists taking over the country? I hope there’s a bunch of them. I’m afraid there isn’t. This is what’s scaring me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Side Notes

Has anyone else noticed that the Press-Citizen site has become totally unworkable? I mean, first bury the news below a slideshow of football that is a) very distracting, and b) slows the page way down. Then the rss feeder stops working (or at least doesn't work with Bloglines), so I can't even get the headlines - which never included Editorials, so I'd always have to go to the site anyway (and I don't very often anymore 'cause the damn slideshow). I've virtually stopped using it as a source. Anyone else as frustrated as I?

Is anyone else totally saturated with all the political press? I mean, I start doing analysis on something meaningful - health care, the economy, AIG - and set it aside to get some actual work done during the day. By the time I get back, we've got 10,000 more rumors from both sides and I can't decide whether to fact check them, work on the original article or just shut it down and do something else. Whenever my brain goes into overdrive or I find myself yelling at the computer, I know it's time for option C. Which is why there's still no substantive post yet.

I've got a bunch of cases that are in turmoil right now, and I've been working my butt of for the last few days. I didn't finish yesterday's work until 10:30. If I owe you an email, I'm working on it. . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Haven't Had Time to Vet This

But it appears quite useful (and damn time consuming, thanks for doing it): Hilzoy of the Political Animal blog from Washington Monthly posts a quick primer on every bill and amendment proposed by Obama and McCain in the 110th and 109th session, with a few caveats:
As during the primaries, I've excluded the following: (a) bills that just do something ceremonial, like name a post office; (b) bills that merely call for a report or express the sense of the Senate (too easy to mean anything); (c) bills that appropriate less than $40 million, and that do nothing else; (d) bills of purely local interest. (Interestingly, Obama didn't have any of these.) I have also only checked the 109th and 110th Congresses, since these are the only ones when both Obama and McCain were in Congress.

It's dry reading, but it will tell you what they've been doing for the past few years other than campaigning.

PS to the folks at the Internet Ecosystem - there's no way this is accurate:

Might want to tweak your logorhythms or whatever, 'cause they seem to have an exaggerated opinion of my influence. Not that there's anything wrong with that. . .

Something Funny from SNL?!

Hey, could they finally be getting good again? Didn't catch the show, someone fill me in.

New Widget

I figure it might save me some headaches just to put the truth-o-meter widget on the sidebar. I love it when they do the research for me. Caveats: 1) Remember there's no scientific, comprehensive method to choosing which stories they cover, so there could be falsities that sneak through under their radar. 2) If something is particularly controversial or open to interpretation, I always follow the links and make my own call. So far I've always agreed (they're nonpartisan, thank God), but still.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Please don't listen to this guy. I'm serious. I'm more than serious. How many caps and bolds can I use to emphasize this?

Here's the jist:

Since July, John McCain and his campaign have made 11 political claims that are barely true, eight that are categorically false, and three that you'd have to call pants-on-fire lies—a total of 22 clearly deceptive statements (many of them made repeatedly in ads and stump speeches). Barack Obama and Joe Biden, meanwhile, have put out eight bare truths, four untruths, and zero pants-on-fire lies—12 false claims. These stats and categories come from PolitiFact, but the story looks pretty much the same if you count up fabrications documented by or the Washington Post's Fact Checker, the other truth-squad operations working the race: During the past two and a half months, McCain has lied more often and more outrageously than Obama. (Click here for a few caveats in this analysis.) . . .

The McCain camp's other sin is one of repetition: They keep saying things that have been proved untrue. In TV ads and nearly every stump speech, Palin has repeated the line that she stopped the federal government's plan to build the "bridge to nowhere," a claim that fact-check sites and nearly every major news organization have shot down. McCain keeps running ads—in English and Spanish—stating that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class when Obama's plan would actually lower taxes for most people.

On several occasions, meanwhile, Obama has adjusted his message when called out by fact-checkers. In February, Obama said that McCain believed the Iraq war would last 100 years; when fact-checking sites pointed out that McCain was referring to the peacetime presence in Iraq, Obama ditched the claim. Last month PolitiFact wrote that Biden was wrong to say McCain voted with Bush 95 percent of the time. Shortly thereafter, the Obama camp began using a more accurate measure, 90 percent.

. . .

This is exactly what's so puzzling about Obama's strategy—why is he paying any attention to the fact-checkers? So far, McCain has seen little blowback from lying. Polls show that he's perceived as more "honest and trustworthy" than Obama and that the public believes his claim that Obama would raise taxes on the middle class. When MediaCurves showed the Obama-called-Palin-a-pig ad to a focus group of women, many came out thinking that Barack Obama had a gender bias. Some of these surveys might simply reflect McCain's post-convention, post-Palin bounce—and perhaps they'll recede as the weeks go on, especially if the media focuses on his attacks.

. . .

The misstatements of 2004 suggest a category of lies that Obama could get away with—ones that the public is already primed to believe about McCain. McCain's signature policy goal is cutting out earmarks. But as the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen points out, in promising to veto all earmarks, McCain has inadvertently called for cutting some popular programs—including all U.S. assistance to Israel, which is technically provided through a kind of earmark. Of course McCain doesn't really want to stop giving aid to Israel; an ad that suggested McCain's cost-cutting zeal would lead to abandoning Israel would be as dishonest as McCain's sex-ed ad. But it might also be effective, reinforcing the idea that McCain wants to cut too much.

Or what about that 100-years war? Picture an Obama ad showing McCain saying that the war in Iraq will last 100—or even 1,000!—years. The ad patches in footage of McCain singing "bomb Iran" and describing all the devastating effects of war. Actually, that ad exists—a comedy group posted it on YouTube in February. Nearly 2 million people have watched it. It's hilarious, effective, and a complete lie. Obama's advisers should be pushing him to approve that message.

The article is full of links to and Politifact, so please read it for yourself and follow the links, particularly to the caveats (one thing to keep in mind about Factcheck and Politifact is that there's no stats on who picks what gets analyzed for truth, so you have to also follow the campaigns yourself and do your own research to see if there's anything that's not being analyzed and what the truth about that is).

I don't want Obama to lie more, I want McCain to lie less. This is not supposed to be about who scores the most digs, who gets the best press. It's about who's best for the job. Lying about it pisses me off because: 1) I have to do a whole lot of research to get at the truth, and that takes time from work and my social life and makes me very cranky; 2) I actually read the positions and listen to the debates, to find out what the candidates are proposing, and the more lies they tell the less I can rely on what they say about what they're going to do and instead have to rely on past voting records, probabilities, and a damn crystal ball to figure out what they're really going to stand for. That also requires a lot of time and effort and PISSES ME OFF. Have I mentioned I weigh honesty into the mix when I vote? Have I mentioned it pisses me off?

I realize that even my modified standards of trustworthiness for politicians - please lie less, and about less serious things, and I'll forgive spin if I can discern what you're actually standing for in the end - is considered hopelessly naive. I realize that too many people vote the damn soundbite and don't take the time to do the research, so if you follow my advice you might actually lose. I realize that my own carefully researched vote is easily cancelled out by Joe (or Jo) Schmoo down the street who votes for someone because they have a cute name or they seem nice or they're buying into some conspiracy theory that they heard off their ultra-right or ultra-left pundit of choice. But what's the alternative? All candidates lying to the point that even the people who are paying attention can't figure out what they're really standing for? Nobody knows what they're doing in the voting booth? Yeah, that sounds like a brilliant way to pick one of the most powerful governments on the planet. Let's just break out the damn dartboard and pick 'em that way.

I want more Charlie Gibson interviews, this time of the actual candidates and not just one VP pick. I want debates, and ones where we actually pin people down on the answers. I want opinions from lawyers on legal proposals, economics people on economic plans, tax people on tax plans, and each of them with actual, detailed proposals to analyze. I remember in my second year of law school - right after reading the flag-burning constitutional cases, some state politician (I don't recall off the top of my head who, or it it was even an Iowa one) was proposing a flag-burning statute, and as soon as I read it, I knew - that's not going to work. I won't go into why, because this post is long enough as it is and it's a dead issue. Point is, I then looked at his background and discovered he was a freaking lawyer, so he knew it wasn't going to work. He was doing it because it sounded nice, it seemed patriotic, and all the time he knew it didn't have a chance in hell of passing, and if it did pass it would be struck down so fast the back-blow could knock over a small skyscraper. He wasn't serious about the issue, it was all a game. Okay, flag burning is quite serious to some but it's not going to change the course of humanity. But what about issues that will - national security, economic policy, healthcare . . . If we don't take the time to understand this stuff, and they're feeding us bullshit on a plate with a nice cilantro garnish, what happens then? Do NOT tell me to sit down and not worry my pretty little head about it.

I'm not doing this because I like it. I've got a gazillion things to do and am constantly stressed out and haven't auditioned for a show in ages, something I actually like to do, because there's simply been no time. But it's important, damn it. Do you know how much research time I'm putting in just to figure out what their economic policies are really likely to be? Hours. Not kidding. And that's just one freaking issue. And it is harder every time one or the other of them makes a stupid, slanted statement about their own policy or the other guy's, because then I have to track that one down too. *@$ %^$# %*^%$*&@^$*!!!!!!!

*****Deep breath*****

I'd like to steal a video off Nelle's blog to close the rant, 'cause it's timely:

SIDE NOTE: I have considered the possibility this piece is simply a plant, but the links bear out, and I've heard enough of this kind of thing bandied about to believe that there are those who actually advocate this stuff and need to be answered. Further, I don't think it would be effective as a plant to get a reaction, because anyone who reacts like I do to the story is reacting more to the premise than either candidate, and, frankly, already knows what Factcheck, Politifact, the Post and those other sites say about veracity.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Palin's ABC Interview

So I promised to start poli-blogging, and this is as good a place as any to start. Side Note: it's apparently being aired tonight, but basically the whole things available online, I'm less focusing on the whole interview than on the blog fights I'm seeing around it, which are basically indicative of how people interpret the show.

I'm seeing much being made of the distinction about whether Palin said that Iraq was a Holy War or whether she was quoting Lincoln in saying we needed to pray that Iraq was part of God's plan. (Examples on the pro-Palin side: Michelle Malkin and Ace of Spades, on the anti-Palin side: Blogwogo).

Personally, I think it's a wash politically. 1) Of course someone from an evangelical stance would want to pray about it. 2) Of course anyone who supports the war in Iraq will believe that we have prayed about it and God's answer was "yes." Those who support Palin will feel that at last they can have a leader who understands the importance of including prayer and an honest seeking of God's will in government, and those who don't support her will be horrified to think that anyone presumes to interpret for God in this manner.

Side Note #2 - Interestingly, I found it far easier to pull examples from pro-Palin sides upset about what anti-Palins are saying than to pull anti-Palin comments - the pro-Palins seem to be refuting a hype that isn't really happening. Not sure how to interpret that one yet, whether the pro-Palins are hyper-sensitive, or it's a pre-emptive strike, or there are simply more pro-Palin bloggers.

My opinion? I don't like anyone invoking God in a political cause, simply because there's too much divergence of opinion as to what God is saying to different people. Also, as I pointed out to relatives who want prayer re-established in schools because "we are a Christian majority nation": and what will you do if Christianity becomes the minority? I may be Christian personally, but I don't like anything that invokes God as a support for your public policy, no matter if it's Palin or Lincoln saying so. I'm not horrified by the quote, and I understand where she's drawing from, but I'm inclined to go the other direction. Still, as I said, it's a political wash.

I was far more interested in the varied interpretations of her remarks on the Bush doctrine.

There's a bunch of kerfluffle on the blogs about this, too, and opinions seem rather split along party lines (surprise, surprise), with some feeling that her remarks showed tremendous political savvy:
Of course, the actual Bush Doctrine is a bit more complex than the AP makes it out — and Palin’s response to Gibson’s question — “In what respect?” — is, as Pablo points out in the comments to the previous post, a perfectly clearheaded response to a foreign policy plan that is far more intricate than the AP presents it, and that has been expanded upon by a long history of those who’ve presumed to define it. Just because the press can’t be bothered to think in anything more than soundbites doesn’t mean a Governor or VP candidate should oblige. (from Protein Wisdom)

And others feeling they showed a complete unfamiliarity of basic foreign policy:
Without being smarmy about it or unfurling gotcha questions, ABC News anchor Charles Gibson demonstrated that he knows volumes more about national security and foreign policy than does Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. (from Slate)

And commenters basically feeling that Gibson was being condescending and women will backlash against his picking on Palin:
I’m sitting here listening to Fox and Friends and these guys talking about the Palin interview. What a bunch of condescending Jerks. Saying things like if she can’t handle Charlie Gibson she’s obviously not ready to be Vice President etc… And something about whining. Do they have any idea how pissed off women get when they are talked down to like that. Basically, they were saying yeah you’re a really sweet gal, but you can’t handle the big leagues baby… (Pats on head).I’m so damn mad right now as I’m sure a lot of women are. Why can’t they just give her a little basic respect? ( comment from Hot Air)

My take: After watching the clip a bunch of times, I don't think she knew what he meant by the Bush doctrine. On the other hand, she was smart enough not to stare blankly, but to try to reframe the question to her advantage, which shows basic competence and an ability to speak off the cuff. That said, if I were her, I'd fire her preparers.

I'm not surprised she didn't know what it was - as many pro-Palin commenters pointed out, most of the American public couldn't define it. However, many Americans can't tell you who we've invaded recently and have no basic handle on FISA or what the tax plans of the respective parties actually are beyond the sound bites they get from commercials, simply because they don't need it for their professions. It annoys the hell out of me, but I am coming to terms with that. Leaders, on the other hand, I expect to know this shit. So I'm a tad concerned. As a female, I'm even more concerned with the commenters, of whom I've excerpted only one, who felt that hard questions for her are "picking on" the girl. We'd better ask these questions, of all the candidates, and expect reasonable, competent answers. We're interviewing for a rather important job here, folks.

Finally, there's the Georgia issue. Politically, I think it's a wash to some degree, but I'm troubled by it. As the news is reporting, she pretty much advocates admitting Georgia into NATO, which as Gibson points out in the interview, means that if Russia tries invading them again, we are obligated to go their aid militarily:
GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but...

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.

Anti-Palin bloggers are making much of this - she advocates war with Russia! Pro-Palins are pointing out that Biden also issued a statement in favor of extending Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Ukraine and the Republic of Georgia. Hence, the political wash.

That said, I'm bothered by it. Frankly, I disagree with both of them. From what I've seen of the latest conflict, Georgia is not ready for admission. Yes, Russia invaded Georgia, a country which seceded from the former Soviet Union, which smacks of bullying and revived the spectre of the cold war. But the fact remains that Georgia invaded South Ossetia, which was attempting to secede from Georgia, which was not the best idea in the first place. So, to make the scenario overly simplistic by removing all historical context on motivation and simply dealing with who's invading who, we have a big bully picking on a smaller bully. If these were your friends, would you like to irrevocably bind yourself to defend one or the other of them no matter what? I personally don't think so. The region is far too unstable to be ready for that kind of commitment. Yes, a MAP is not an admission, just a final step toward it, so there is some argument that by the time Georgia would actually be admitted this would all have been sorted out. Color me cynical, but I'm not buying it. This is a serious kind of commitment they're talking here, and the resources necessary would be insane (never get involved in a land war in Asia), and I'm not convinced we'd be "on God's side," to jump back to the first part of the post. Yes, democracy is good and I'd like to see it defended. But recall that Iraq under Sadaam was theoretically a puppet democracy. It's not the label, but the actions that count. I'd want to see a demonstrated commitment to democratic ideals, not just labels, from a country prior to commiting to mutual defense, and the situation there is simply too murky to go ahead yet, IMHO.

So, by my scorecard:
  1. Iraq as a holy war - a push, those who agree will applaud it, those who don't will be horrified. I'm not favorably inclined toward it, but neither am I shocked by it.
  2. Unfamiliarity with the Bush Doctrine - troubling to me, but people who vote by sound-bite won't care.
  3. Georgia's NATO admission - will get a lot of press, and I think it's a bad position to take, but it appears both sides are taking it to some degree, so that will probably be a political wash as well.

UPSHOT: I'm not favorably impressed by her so far, but disagree with most people about how and why (big surprise). I think people are focusing too much on nitpicking red herrings and cherry-picking perspectives that support what they already believe (again, big shock). Finally. . . . although this is an interesting debate, and makes good press, can we at some point focus on what the actual presidential candidates have to say? I'd really like to know.

Monday, September 08, 2008

So Much Bullshit, So Little Time

I know I've been lax on the political blogging. Believe me, I've started and "saved as drafts" three separate lengthy posts on the issues, the bullshit floating around the news, and what I think of the economic, foreign policy, and social plans of the respective candidates. Problem is, there is just so much bullshit out there that it's tough to know where to start. Do I point out the crap, or analyze the facts? Which crap do I start with, and which facts? It's so frustrating that I've banned myself from looking at politics outside of specifically designated hours or I'm just going to get cranky.

In a conversation with Ellen (not Nelle, the other one) I determined that: 1) People who vote simply on commercials are idiots. If I could figure out how to take away their voter cards, I would. 2) There are a lot of idiots out there, based on how the numbers swing whenever new crap floats to the surface in campaign commercials. 3) No matter what I say, I can't raise the IQ of an idiot.

So, I will be trying to make myself post on politics. Not because I've any hope whatsoever of raising the level of the national conversation, but because I don't want to miss the opportunity to say "Toldja so."

Some ground rules:

Ground Rules
  1. Issues rule. No slogans like "Patriotism First!" or "Tax the rich!" If you're going to vote by slogans, you should really confine yourself to judging cheerleading contests. Identifiable problems and actual proposals for solutions are necessary for running the country. So it's a good thing to take the time to decide which issues are most important to you. Then read Obama's stated positions, and McCain's stated positions, and see who lines up best. Finally, go to McCain's voting records and Obama's voting records and see whether they back up what they say. Common sense side note: just because they voted for or against a bill doesn't mean they are for or against that issue. It could be that the bill was flawed, it had some special interest rider attached or was poorly worded. Candidates use that to say "so and so was against this" when it actually means no such thing. If they've voted incongruously to their stated position, google the bill and figure out why. Which leads me to my next point . . .
  2. Flip-Flops are not always bad. Apparently changing your mind is considered a bad thing in politics, and a candidate who dares to do so risks being compared to pancakes or denounced as a fraud. If you've discovered you're wrong on an issue you should stick it out until the bitter end and consequences be damned. Ooookaaay. May I politely suggest that this is the wrong answer? Reconsidering your position in light of new facts is actually a good thing. Political flip-flops, going with the popular view just because it's popular, are generally bad. However, even that comes with a caveat. After all, politicians are elected to represent the people. So it kinda depends on whether they've decided that the people were right all along, or if they've changed position just to come off looking good, and whether the popular view actually has any merit. So when a politician changes tactics, first check to see if it is an actual flip-flop, or if they're being mischaracterized. Then look at the issue - is it a no-brainer? Was it at the time it was said? Have new facts come to light? Is the timing suspect? Did they favor something that played to one special interest and then change their minds because they suddenly found a better group with more money to support them, or move from a local to a national arena so they threw the local interests under the bus? Which makes my next point:
  3. Character not caricatures. How many stupid stereotypes are perpetuated in the name of running a "character campaign?" McCain as a rich puppet for big business who will spend the next four years as Bush's ventriloquist dummy. Obama as the terrorist's best friend who will bloat government programs to the point of unrecognizability. Now we've got Palin, and it seems they can't figure out whether to make her out to be the female Chuck Norris, an offshoot of the Clampett family, or Phyllis Schlafly's long-lost twin. Or, if you'd rather focus on the positive, McCain as Rambo and Obama as the second incarnation of Dr. Martin Luther King. Poor Joe Biden must be feeling a tad left out of all this.

Having laid the ground rules, I'll start posting on issues. As time goes on, I will also try to point out who is passing around the most crap per column inch (or moment of commercial time), because the one place I find I can gauge character is by who tells the most self-serving half-truths, or lets their party do so in his/her name.

However, because I'm out of time (yep, I'm limiting time I get to spend talking about it as well) these will have to start on another post.