Saturday, November 29, 2008

Workers need not apply

Amity Shlaes in the Wall Street Journal, blaming Paul Krugman and workers for worsening the Great Depression and the current financial crisis --

employees continue to pressure firms to spend on health care, without considering they may be making the company unable to hire an unemployed friend.

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations --

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not their problem

Isn't there something a bit unseemly about this particular staple of terrorist disasters, the cheering, smiling, phone-yakking Westerners flown out of the blood-spattered mess that the locals will have to deal with?

And yes, we've made this complaint before.

UPDATE: To be fair, the picture selected by Andrew Sullivan from another group of returning Spaniards has the appropriate emotion.

Photo (returning Spanish nationals from Mumbai): AP Photo/Paul White

It speaks for itself

Does anyone else have the impression of the Bush presidency that George Bush has? --

Q How do you want to be remembered, and what are you most proud of?

THE PRESIDENT: I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process. I came to Washington with a set of values, and I'm leaving with the same set of values. And I darn sure wasn't going to sacrifice those values; that I was a President that had to make tough choices and was willing to make them. I surrounded myself with good people. I carefully considered the advice of smart, capable people and made tough decisions.

I'd like to be a President (known) as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace ...

And he [Bush Snr] also taught me -- and I think you [sister Doro] and Jeb and Neil and Marvin -- that you can go into politics with a set of values and you don't have to sell your soul once you're in the political system. And you can come out with the same set of values. ...

Q What role does faith play in your day-to-day life?

THE PRESIDENT: I've been in the Bible every day since I've been the President, and I have been affected by people's prayers a lot. I have found that faith is comforting, faith is strengthening, faith has been important....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

He said it

George Bush statement issued from Camp David (and seen here modelling his new wooly jumper) on the Iraqi parliament's approval of the non-treaties with the USA --

The Strategic Framework Agreement sets the foundation for a long-term bilateral relationship between our two countries, and the Security Agreement addresses our presence, activities, and withdrawal from Iraq.

George Bush 2 years ago --

The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy [Iraq] that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security ... Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.

They won't be a surrender ceremony because the agreement automatically pulls out all US troops during 2011!

UPDATE: As if to drive home the point, the status of forces agreement includes in its title "Organization of their activites during their temporary presence in Iraq".

FINAL UPDATE: Article 24, Section 1 of the agreement: "All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011". That's it. No conditions, no aspirational timelines. It's a flat-out deadline.

There is at least one strange provision: Article 7: The use and storage of such [US military] equipment shall be proportionate to the temporary missions of the United States Forces in Iraq pursuant to Article 4 of this Agreement and shall not be related, either directly or indirectly, to systems of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, radiological weapons, biological weapons, and related waste of such weapons).

Why does Iraq want a prohibition on US WMDs in Iraq?

White House photo by Eric Draper

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai terrorist attacks

As usual the rolling news coverage is a mixed bag, especially the hybrid form that results with US and UK news channels often picking up coverage from their Indian equivalents. So you get strange TV scenes like cricket updates on the screen crawl underneath the images of hotels on fire. While the news outlets try to put a clearer picture on things, it's really worth taking a look at this article from the Guardian in August by Pankaj Mishra. It captures the wishful thinking and delusions that feature prominently when one of these attacks hits the news.

UPDATE: Consider this opinion from National Review's Cliff May --

Terrorists like these would be thrilled to pull off a similar attack in the U.S. Aggressive surveillance and other tough policies will be necessary to prevent them.

The Fox News analysts are expressing a similar sentiment -- that America is at risk from madmen with guns opening fire in crowded places. The sort of thing that wouldn't happen otherwise? The sort of thing that a tough policy like, say, gun control might prevent?

FINAL UPDATE: Consistent with our initial theme above, note that the focus of PM Manmohan Singh's address today was on blaming external forces for the attack -- before the situation is even resolved, let alone investigated.

ONE MORE THING [2 DECEMBER]: Very interesting opinion piece by the aforementioned Pankaj Mishra in today's New York Times.

He shovelled brush in Crawford

Is the White House using photo angles to allow George Bush to compare himself to General Patton as he addressed troops in Kentucky yesterday? Perhaps they didn't dare go all the way to the iconic shot of Patton in front of the flag.

Using the government provider

Pentagon announcement --

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2008 – The government-issued Bank of America official travel charge card that’s been used for years by Defense Department military and civilian employees will be deactivated effective Nov. 30, Defense Travel Management Office officials said.

Citibank has the new contract, and eligible defense military and civilian travelers should have received their new Citibank travel charge cards in August or September. The switchover to Citibank is slated to occur at midnight the morning of Nov. 30.

It makes a lot of sense. The government owns a big chunk of Citibank. And under the newly announced TALF (not to be confused with the TARP), it will probably own a big chunk of Citibank's credit card loans. So it might as well use Citibank for the actual card business as well. But shouldn't Citibank be waiving the fee income and late charges?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Still 2 months of this to go

George Bush did his favourite type of speech today in Kentucky -- before a cheering audience of troops. The speech is noteworthy for its completely unreflective, let alone unrepentant, expression of his view on Iraq. But here's the part that's also typical Bush --

I appreciate all the local and state officials who are here today. I particularly want to point out one person -- Staff Sergeant John [sic] Forbess. I had the honor of meeting John [sic] at the base of Air Force One. He was severely wounded in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2003. Yet, despite his wounds, he volunteers in the Fisher House.

The dude's name is Josh, not John. He hitches his wagon to a wounded veteran and can't even get his name right.

Those Egyptians all look the same

This is the picture that appears with the Times (UK) story on the alleged death of "top al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubair al-Masri" in the US missile attack in Pakistan that also killed supposed liquid bomb plot mastermind Rashid Rauf.

There's at least one problem. That picture has previously circulated as being of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, whom the US military in Iraq has claimed is the "real" leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and thus would have been nowhere near the similarly named individual in Pakistan. The only thing that the two different al-Masris have in common is the part of their name signifying Egyptian family links, but this is a feature possessed by many Egyptians -- albeit one that continues to make air travel difficult for the American air transport securocrats, always on the lookout for people named al-Masri.

Incidentally, the Iraqi terrorist al-Masri is something of a mystery, since the US only identified him as the head of AQI after declaring the apparent holder of that job, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, to be an imaginary figure. This came after two reports of the latter's death and one of his capture. So perhaps this picture is simply kept around as a handy random Islamo-dude to be put into play when the full truth about who was or wasn't killed in a particular strike is more awkward. Gotta keep everyone focused on their 100ml liquid bottles in a clear plastic bag.

UPDATE: A few more references. Here is an April 2008 US military press conference which mentions Abu Ayyub al-Masri as the AQI leader and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as fictional. Here is a recent press release which again refers to the AQI leadership position.

Which disaster will be "the first day at school"?

A new metaphorical concept stalks the rhetorical land. First, Condi Rice during the disastrous Israel-Lebanon war of 2006 --

What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East

Now, Gordon Brown in his speech to the Confederation of British Industry in the context of the global financial crisis --

The challenge is for each of us in the spheres of influence that we have, to surmount the insecurities and risks and to manage the teething troubles of this new global age -

These constructions seems a tad detached from the underlying misery that they are meant to describe, and held to their strict meaning, imply that the misery is a necessary part of progress. Is that what Condi and Gordon really mean to imply?

UPDATE 20 DECEMBER: In his news conference yesterday, Brown used a Condi-like "birth pangs" metaphor for the financial crisis.

Monday, November 24, 2008

That could be awkward

White House press briefing --

The President early this afternoon will have a photo opportunity with recipients of the 2008 Nobel Awards. These are the American Nobel Laureates. The recipients who will be here are Dr. Martin Chalfie, the Chemistry Prize Laureate; Dr. Roger Tsien, Chemistry Prize Laureate also; and Dr. Paul Krugman, Economics Prize Laureate.

UPDATE: The body language doesn't look so bad. At least not Bush-Rudd bad.

Bride of TARP

The Citigroup bailout -- in which the government takes all the downside risk after about $40 billion in losses on $300 billion in assets -- is the consequence of the breakdown in the ability of the magical free market to set a price. No one could figure out how to price this stuff, so the original troubled asset relief program couldn't work. The only thing to do was have the government take the worst of the risk and see what the market makes of the rest of it. For these financial assets, the hand is invisible because it's not there at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

There he goes again

How strange it is that every time that we might be close to hearing from Rashid Rauf about the still unproven Heathrow liquid bomb plot, for which American claims still form the main basis, something happens to him. This time, permanently. He is gone now, but don't forget your 100ml liquid limit and your clear plastic bag when headed to airport. Who are we to doubt the George Bush version of the intentions of a dead man?

UPDATE APRIL 2009: Rauf may not be dead after all. Note the extent to which his alleged career as a terrorist as been associated with bizarre security lapses and pre-empted investigations.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Are pirates enemy combatants?

At the minimum it's a question with some intellectual interest, because the idea that the government might need the power to designate certain people as being outside normal criminal or military law first arose with the law of piracy. Pirates were stateless actors, committing their crimes in areas with unclear jurisdiction.

But one problem with taking this framework and applying it to terrorism was the claimed need to interrogate terrorism detainees. There can't be much of a need to interrogate pirates. After all, if you have them in custody, you probably have their entire ship. The crew is the cell. The plan was to do pirate stuff. There's no thread to be pulled on a vast conspiracy. Terrorism may not be like that -- or at least that's what the Pentagon said. But then the interrogations, conducted without the rights of a criminal suspect or POW, make an actual prosecution more difficult. Hence the Guantanamo Bay shambles that Barack Obama will have to sort out.

This may be one reason why the Pentagon rarely mentions the legal options for dealing with piracy, instead emphasizing the security aspects. Because resurrecting the old piracy laws (which must still be on the books?) might remind people of how the framework got corrupted through application to the war on terror. It's the kind of thing that Edmund Burke might have warned about.

UPDATE 5 DECEMBER: In the New York Times, Douglas Burgess says that pirates are terrorists but not quite enemy combatants, and recommends a combination of universal jurisdiction and the International Criminal Court (or something like it) to deal with them. Of course one problem is that Bush administration has been opposed to both vehicles -- perhaps thinking about their personal legal peril from the War on Terror.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Party like it's 2000

One issue with Barack Obama -- inevitably -- tapping some Clinton era veterans is that the media get to relive their pathetic standards of the Clinton era. Before there was much of an Internet to keep them in line (Media Whores Online excepted). So here's National Review's Byron York doing some of the issue-digging on Eric Holder (Obama's nominee to be Attorney-General) --

About two weeks before the raid [on the Miami home where Elian Gonzalez was being kept by relatives], Tim Russert asked Holder, "You wouldn't send a SWAT team in the dark of night to kidnap the child, in effect?" Holder answered, "No, we don't expect anything like that to happen." Then the Department did precisely that.

The US Department of Justice did not kidnap Elian Gonzalez. Their special team took him from his relatives to return him to his father, his only surviving parent. It's black-letter law that parents have priority over any other relative in custody disputes, unless some abuse is proven. And the only abuse that the relatives could ever claim was that Elian's father didn't want to leave Cuba and thus wanted to raise Elian there.

In a strange way, the Elian Gonzalez dispute had its echoes (and not just by being in Florida) of the Terri Schiavo fiasco, in which Republicans now sought to deny the priority of a husband to make the life-ending decision for his wife. Both situations have in common the trashing of the supposed primacy of the family for political expediency.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ownership* Society

Martin Feldstein -- professor of economics at Harvard and recently an adviser to John McCain and a director of AIG -- tells Wall Street Journal readers of his proposal to unlock the US housing market:

The key to preventing further defaults and foreclosures among current negative-equity homeowners is to shift those mortgages into loans with full recourse, allowing the creditor to take other property or a fraction of wages. But the offer of a low-interest-rate loan is not enough to induce a homeowner with substantial negative equity to forego the opportunity to default and escape the existing debt. Substituting a full-recourse loan requires the inducement of a substantial write-down in the outstanding loan balance.

In less technical jargon, he wants negative equity mortgages -- where the value of the house is currently less than the value of the loan -- to have the "walk away" option removed (where one can turn in the keys without being liable for the shortfall) and replaced by a lower value mortgage where the lender can come after the homeowner for any additional shortfall if a further negative equity situation developed down the road. The government and the lender would split the loss on the difference between the old and new mortgages.

Here's the problem. If full recourse mortgages worked so well, you'd think the UK housing market would be looking like a good role model for Feldstein's scheme. It's not. There's still lots of negative equity. All that happens under the full recourse mortgage is a different set of unpalatable choices.

Now lenders can repossess the house and chase after borrowers for the loss in value. So to avoid that, the borrower does some or all of: staying in the house watching the arrears pile up, resisting moving to somewhere else with better job prospects since the mortgage has them chained down, dumps the house onto the rental market, or gambles that the legal and political difficulties of large scale repossessions will let them keep the house for an extended period of time. All of which leads to a huge overhang of potentially distressed houses on the mind of the housing market.

And that's not the end of it. Once you introduce the idea that US mortgage lenders can seize other property or wages to settle a mortgage, all the other lenders who thought of that as their lead option start to panic. Does the credit card company now rush to get an order taking some percentage of the borrower's wages before the mortgage bank gets there first? And, if like many US households with negative equity, your home is in some godforsaken development in California, Michigan, or Florida, why would you give up the right you have now to walk away?

In short, there's no magic rewriting of mortgage contracts that will solve the problem. It has to be done at source: the economic circumstances of the people stuck in these mortgages.

When he was fab

Gordon Brown, 2005 edition: because of my changes, the UK can experience a fall in house prices without a recession, and grow faster than other countries even in tough times --

In each of the past three house price cycles - in the mid 1970s, in the early 1980s and again in the early to mid 1990s - a period of such rapid house price growth has been accompanied by a rapid rise in inflation and sharp increases in interest rates followed by sustained falls in real house prices, rising unemployment and recession. But it is because of the new framework for economic stability - with interest rates low and stable, inflation low and employment at record highs - that the economy is better placed to adjust to the moderation in the housing market. So that instead of the old British stop-go, house prices are adjusting free of recession ...

But no country can insulate itself from the ups and downs of the world economy. With European activity much lower and oil prices much higher, there has been an impact on growth right across the continent, including the UK. We will update our forecasts in the Pre-Budget Report. But while trends so far this year suggest the UK is likely to see growth at or slightly below our cautious view of trend it is because of the tough forward-looking decisions we have taken in monetary and fiscal policy that, even despite the new challenges we now face, Britain is continuing to grow faster this year than the other major European economies, all of whom are forecast to grow by less than 2 per cent with just 1.2 per cent growth in the euro area.

This was not the Gordon who made his G20 statement in the House of Commons yesterday.

UPDATE 17 DECEMBER: More Brown hubris from this era discussed (via Guido Fawkes).

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Does the map backdrop for the G20 summit show Ireland and Britain as a single island? [see also]

UPDATE: Where's New Zealand?

FINAL UPDATE: Here's a pretty definitive angle. Ireland and Britain show as a blob.

Paging Fox News!

Isn't this Bush Sarkozy G20 greeting a terrorist fist jab?

Photo: REUTERS/Jim Young

One of them doesn't want to be there

You can scroll through the entire set of George Bush grip-and-grin photos with the arriving G20 leaders and not find one where Bush is as stiff as in the one with Australian PM Kevin Rudd. The issue being of course that Rudd almost certainly leaked the details of his October phone conservation with Bush where Bush said "What's the G20"? And that's after 8 years in the job, without even the Palin excuse of inexperience.

One other G20 note. France pulled strings to get in the PMs of Spain and Netherlands, neither of whom are G20 members. Thus one of John McCain's nightmares -- America's adversary, PM Zapetero at the White House, has come true. And the Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende had to turn around and go home due to the death of his father. An awkward start to the weekend.

UPDATE: Rudd was axed from the official photos photo selection, initially, on Saturday.

As bad as things are in Ireland

They used to be worse. The stardust nightclub fire in 1981 killed so many people because of dangerous construction and locked fire exits. Today we find out that the buildings erected on the cleared site had asbestos. That was early 1980s. Other countries knew better. But Ireland was still doing things on the cheap.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That's not much of an endorsement

George Bush, echoing his "commander guy" comment --

I'm a market-oriented guy, but not when I'm faced with the prospect of a global meltdown.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Other powers besides God

A strange usage from Gordon Brown during his pathetic performance today in the Commons --

[Cameron] asked Mr Brown: “Do you agree with me that the Haringey inquiry is completely unacceptable? It is being led by Mrs Shoesmith, who is the council’s own director of children’s services. Do you agree with me she cannot possibly investigate the failure of her own department?”

Mr Brown replied that people were “not only shocked and saddened but horrified and angered” by the case.

“Every child is precious and every child is unique. Every child should have the benefit of support and protection both from their parents and the authorities that be," the Prime Minister said.

Maybe the Presbyterian Gordon heard some different version of the famous phrase from St Paul's letter to the Romans --

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Of course over the years, the "powers that be" has become a cynical phrase. Did Gordon catch himself as he was about to say it and realize the relevant authority (the useless council) and himself wouldn't sound good under either usage of the phrase, and switch to the less resonant "authorities"? As Guido Fawkes says, it's a long way from how Tony Blair would have handled it.

UPDATE: The council report includes the detail that Child A/Baby P was a "White child of Irish ethnic origin".

FINAL UPDATE: One person has been named and convicted in the case. "Jason Owen". That wasn't his name when he was arrested. Does the legal order that prohibits naming the others extend to being able to lie about names? If it's necessary to lie, why not just keep all 3 names secret until whatever forthcoming proceeding is resolved?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hootie Madness

Yes we're watching too many music videos. Hotel rooms in strange countries with satellite dishes will do that. But anyway, who amongst us has forgotten the bizarre period when Hootie and the Blowfish were cool? About the only redeeming feature of the video now is seeing a much younger Keith Olbermann.

A MTV experiment

Is it possible to have AC/DC in overheavy rotation?


Don't eat the poppies

An impressively loony Wall Street Journal Armistice Day editorial --

But they are also living reminders that much worse was still to come, because the victors failed to prevent the rise of the totalitarian regimes in Russia and Germany, the fascists in Italy and the militarists in Japan, and because the U.S. withdrew from its global responsibilities.

Note the implication of the way that sentence is put together: Nazi Germany not fascist. It seems to be necessitated by wanting Hitler and Stalin to have equal degrees of evilitude, so they get grouped together as "totalitarian" leaving only Mussolini as fascist (paging Jonah Goldberg).

And then the closer --

Now we are at a similar pass in Iraq, where the U.S. has effectively defeated Sunni and Shiite insurgents on the battlefield. But whether this costly achievement will hold depends largely on our willingness to support the Iraqi government and steel it against its own fascistic challengers, particularly Iran. If there's one lesson to be learned on this Armistice Day, it's of the price that's paid when we allow victory to slip from our grasp.

It seems that the end of the Bush era demands one more run at overblown historical comparisons, this one taking us from the more typical 1938 to 1919. An interesting presumption of this particular analogy is that the US is already at war with Iran.

We are all banks now

Federal Reserve --

The Federal Reserve Board on Monday announced its approval of the applications and notices under sections 3 and 4 of the Bank Holding Company Act by American Express Company and American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc., both of New York, New York ...

So now a travel agent can become a bank and thus eligible to tap all the special credit availability programs that the Fed has for banks.

Something up with Cheney?

White House announcement --

President George W. Bush today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to attend the Baku Energy Summit in Baku, Azerbaijan on November 14, 2008.

The Honorable Samuel W. Bodman, Secretary of Energy, will lead the delegation.

Additional members of the Presidential Delegation are:

The Honorable Anne E. Derse, United States Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan

The Honorable C. Boyden Gray, Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy

The obvious question: Where's Dick Cheney? This event, which would feature a chance to snarl at Russia on behalf of Georgia and renew old oil pipeline acquaintances, is perfect for him.

Is this the MPLA?

The self-outed source for the claim that Sarah Palin had a dreadful grasp of world affairs, Martin Eisenstadt (see below before taking at face value)--

But it was clear that she simply didn’t have the ease of knowledge that we come to expect from a major party political candidate. Other slights came up, too: Not knowing the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas. Or the difference between the Shiites and Suni. Or when it came to international terrorist organizations, knowing that the IRA was in Northern Ireland, and ETA in Spain.

UPDATE: There's one very simple thing about Palin that scared people: the resemblance to George Bush.

FINAL UPDATE: As you'll see if you follow the link to Eisenstadt's post, there is now a dispute about its accurateness. More here. And here and here. Never trust Big Media. Once you have an institute with which you claim to be affiliated, the path to TV punditry is wide open. It may be time to revive the prestigious Dublin Institute for Culture and Knowledge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Money never sleeps

Part of the enhanced AIG bailout --

In one new facility, the New York Fed will lend up to $22.5 billion to a newly formed limited liability company (LLC) to fund the LLC’s purchase of residential mortgage-backed securities from AIG's U.S. securities lending collateral portfolio. AIG will make a $1 billion subordinated loan to the LLC and bear the risk for the first $1 billion of any losses on the portfolio. The loans will be secured by all of the assets of the LLC and will be repaid from the cash flows produced by these assets as well as proceeds from any sales of these assets. The New York Fed and AIG will share any residual cash flows after the loans are repaid.

Proceeds from this facility, together with other AIG internal resources, will be used to return all cash collateral posted for securities loans outstanding under AIG's U.S. securities lending program.

In closer to plain English, this move is addressing just one aspect of AIG's dizzying array of activities where it's hard to tell whether it was borrowing or lending. AIG had a side business lending securities to speculators (often short-sellers); it would get cash as collateral for these loans but then turn around and invest the cash in mortgage-backed securities. A great business as long as the wheels kept turning forward. But then markets turn down, the speculators need their cash back, but AIG has it invested in mortgage-backed securities and to pay them back has to sell into a down market.

Luckily there's a government willing to overpay for the securities and allow AIG to extricate itself from one of its predicaments. In another part of the bailout, the government is to buy the assets on which AIG made some bad bets so that it can unwind the bets themselves. There's no difference in principle between that operation and the government buying houses so that can unwind the bad bets on houses. It's nice that George Bush is making America safe for socialism.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Change of style

Hopefully the arrival of President Barack Obama will offer a chance to revisit the sartorial standards of international summitry. Part of George Bush's being-in-charge look was the crisp suit and flag pin. Here Brazilian President Lula shows one can keep the flag pin and dump the tie even when others around are wearing their's. Since it's never been clear how wearing a tie makes a meeting more productive, perhaps Lula is on to something. But is that look now too Persian?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Marking his territory

George Bush, in the very first sentence of his remarks about presidential transitions today --

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Mr. Vice President and Lynne, thank you for being here with us. Laura and I welcome you to the South Lawn -- better known as Barney's playground. (Laughter.)

Hopefully Barney is not giving George any ideas as he watches the dog's perambulations.

UPDATE: Barney is not dealing with transition very well.

A rare caption post

Laura is informed by Michelle Obama that everything in the house conveys.

White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

We are merely players

Sarah Palin convention acceptance speech --

But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed ... when the roar of the crowd fades away ... when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot - what exactly is our opponent's plan?

The Sarah Palin expense account controversy --

Ms. Palin has defended her wardrobe as the idea of the Republican National Committee and said that she would give it back.

“Those clothes, they are not my property,” she said. “Just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the R.N.C. purchased.”

Incidentally, since McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace seems to the source of the anti-Palin details, it's worth recalling that to the extent that the White House was ever able to muster any kind of excuse for their atrocious Katrina response, it was that most of the staff were attending Nicolle Devenish's Big Fat Greek Wedding when Katrina hit New Orleans. That would be the current Mrs Wallace. If McCain had really wanted to signal a break from Bush, he could have started by banishing anyone implicated in Katrina from his campaign.

The other strategy

Karl Rove --

A candidate can improve his party's performance by getting additional people out to vote and persuading people inclined to support the other party to cross over. The first yields an additional vote; the second is worth two, the one a candidate gets and the one he takes away from his opponent.

He ignores the tactic of preventing the opponent's supporters from voting (or for that matter, having their votes counted). Rove correctly identifies new voter mobilization as a key part of Obama's voting bloc. It helps understand why there was so much yelling from the right about Acorn, since in a Rovian stroke of genius, Obama was taking the other side's strongest tactic -- voter suppression -- and working against it.

Borderline poor taste

Did anyone else notice on the Celtic-Man Utd highlight reel the Guy Fawkes "Blow Them Away" banner above one of the tunnels to the pitch?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hopefully Obama put him on hold

George Bush making the congratulatory phone call.

White House photo by Eric Draper

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election night

[newer posts first]

OK, one more thing. Is New Hampshire the strangest state in the country? Its primaries relaunched the presidential bids of ... John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Obama's acceptance speech. Not bad, but at some point the soaring rhetoric is going to need to be attached to specifics. The kind of thing that Hillary Clinton was better at. Goodnight.

That was a bizarre concession speech from McCain. A huge portion of it anchored to the idea that the only reason blacks should feel disengaged from the political system is that there hasn't been a black president, and now that there will be, all sense of disengagement is obligated to end, continuing economic exclusion (as seen in Katrina) notwithstanding. Also, he never made eye contact with Todd Palin in the extremely cursory handshakes.

So it's a strangely information starved night. An extreme and understandable reluctance of the projection teams to make predictions based solely on the exit polls. And yet as things fall into place, especially with Ohio, the prospect of an Obama win becomes clearer. All that yelling about military voters in Virginia may not matter much.

One might call the electoral college a disaster waiting to happen, except that the disaster already happened in 2000. God forbid it happens again. But these very strong yet short of majority showings by Obama in e.g. Kentucky are setting it up.

The Republicans seem to be setting up uncounted military postal votes as their cause celebre [see here and here]. If they even matter, then going that route in legal action would mean having to carefully count all postal or absentee votes. Unless we get some more Bush v Gore-style legal theorising.

If the pundits know like the rest of us that exit polls are structurally flawed, why do they quote their findings on non outcome questions like issues as if they are more reliable than the voting question? If it is a bad sample, it is a bad sample for all questions.

Knock off Fort Knox

There's a rapidly diminishing window for Bushisms so thankfully Laura Bush provided one in Kentucky --

I'm especially proud of being able to work with [Senator] Mitch McConnell on humans--

But Laura spent most of her time speaking on behalf of Brett Guthrie, running for Congress in Kentucky's 2nd US House district --

As Brett will tell you, he has been "down range" on a tank at Fort Knox. He knows how important this base is to the 2nd District -- and to our national security. Brett will work hard to support these jobs and to keep Fort Knox mission-critical. (Applause.)

So part of his platform is that he'll keep Fort Knox open -- a place which hasn't had a whole lot to do since Goldfinger and for which new missions that don't need to be done in Kentucky have to be invented. It sounds like the kind of pork-barrel military spending that John McCain is running against!

Same as it ever was

John McCain held one of his last day rallies in Indianapolis. Indiana governor Mitch Daniels showed up, unlike his serial dodging of Sarah Palin's appearances in the state. Among McCain's claims was that he was going to bring fiscal rectitude to Washington like Mitch Daniels had brought to Indiana.

Before he was governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels was George Bush's budget director. That was 2001-2003. In 2001, he inherited Bill Clinton's budget surplus of $128 billion. By 2003, that was a deficit of $378 billion.

So maybe that was just a matter of keeping silent while his boss screwed up. But one thing he had a direct role in was estimating the total cost of the Iraq war. He came up with $50 billion. That covers a few months of it.

And that's what McCain wants to bring back to Washington.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Stay classy

Powerline's "Hindrocket" --

Perhaps the ultimate proof that Obama is a Quisling, happy to throw in his lot with bullies, is his support for the Union Thug Empowerment Act.

Note the definition of Quisling, which he capitalized.

Incidentally, this is in the context of John McCain's view of politics as involving "fighting", which as Jon Meacham noted in the New York Times Book Review, is also a feature of his literature reading list.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Socialist football league

Former Virginia senator George Allen and son of the Washington redskins coach of the same name at a McCain rally today said --

Under the Barack Obama approach, they would take wins from the Washington Redskins and give them to the Detroit Lions.

Does George Allen know that the league already spreads the wealth, if you will, and takes money from the big market teams and gives it to the small ones? And weights the schedule and talent infusion in favour of the poorly performing teams? Americans like socialism in sports. So it does not make for a very good analogy. Then again, George Allen was not a very good senator.

Belfast 2008

"After so many decades of conflict, I am so proud, Madam Speaker, to be the first Irish leader to inform the United States Congress:

Ireland is at peace." -- Bertie Ahern, 30 April 2008.

AP Photo/Peter Morrison

Election pre-mortem

Since any after the fact election analysis is inevitably coloured by what actually happened, it might be worth setting down a few thoughts before the outcome -- even if predictable -- is known. And so part of the explanation for 2008 should be that John McCain's problems began with the 2004 presidential election. That election looks like it produced one of the quickest cases of buyer's remorse in political history. Within a couple of months, Bush's approval ratings were headed downwards and have never recovered.

Several factors were at work. First, some very strange remarks from Bush in the days after the election. He (or Cheney) referred to now having a "mandate" and "political capital", which was taken as a reference to him having won the popular vote, unlike in 2000. The obvious question was, since he now had a mandate, what he thought was the basis for his radical policies during 2000-04: a huge deficit-financed tax cut, a war of choice with Iraq, and a long snooze through August 2001. Bush seemed to have an answer for that question; the 2004 election was "an accountability moment".

This phrase, which sounds it like came from Dick Cheney, is the kernel of what went wrong in his 2nd term. What did it mean? He had done some stuff in his 1st term. The results, even in the euphoria of his 2004 win, were unclear. But he had answered to the electorate. So everything that he had done was endorsed and he was a free agent for the rest of his term. In particular, the conduct of the war in Iraq was endorsed.

Now, all the warning signs were there in 2004. We all knew about Abu Ghraib. Things were bad enough that John McCain seriously thought about running as John Kerry's Vice Presidential nominee to force a change in Iraq policy. But things were not bad enough that criticism of the war couldn't be shouted down by Bush loyalists, which was a key dynamic of the 2004 campaign. In this regard, John Kerry had a tough job. He was running against a candidate offering free tax cuts and a free war. Without a classic Rove divide and distract focus on moral issues (values voters) and the Swift Boat liars, he might have won.

So anyway, casting our minds back to November 2004, and hubris very quickly set in. There was talk of Bush and Rove implanting their DNA throughout the government. Doctors Bush, Frist, and DeLay were deciding what was best for Terri Schiavo -- over and above the preferences of her husband. Bush soon decided that not withstanding the burden of two wars, neither going well, 2005 was an excellent time to convince Americans that they could benefit from placing more of their retirement investments with Wall Street.

And each time he opened his mouth about it, some new nugget of comedy would result and the prospects for social security "reform" would plummet. Meanwhile, John McCain, having passed up his chance to shock the political world and force a change in Iraq policy, yelled about Iraq to hundreds of C-Span viewers from the Senate floor but was otherwise a happy foot soldier in the Bush revolution.

So now we're in 2008. There is a critical block of voters that went for Bush in 2004 and is saying, like Bush once said "fool me once .... won't get fooled again". The change in Iraq policy that John McCain wanted did come, but forced in 2006 by dire circumstances and a Democratic takeover of Congress, not by John McCain. A few voters might even remember Bush's promises of a Social Security free lunch via Wall Street and now have a few questions about how that was supposed to work. It was going to take a good Republican candidate to overcome that legacy, or a bad Democratic one to waste it. Neither happened. To be continued ...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Untied States of America

John McCain sidekick Lindsey Graham is getting a crowd in Springfield Virgina riled up about Barack Obama (live at around 16:40 GMT) --

"Chicago is 705 miles away but it might as well be on the moon compared to Virginia."

It's as if he thinks the South should be a separate country, or something.

UPDATE: McCain is now getting the crowd angry about a government-funded overhead projector in "guess where? Chicago!"

This rally is pretty funny. McCain just said that criticism of Joe the Plumber (who has become a campaign regular) is criticism of all small businesses in America, and therefore disgraceful.

States' rights

George Bush's final radio address before the election, in which he never mentioned John McCain --

The United States was founded on the belief that all men are created equal. Every Election Day, millions of Americans of all races, religions, and backgrounds step into voting booths throughout the Nation. Whether they are rich or poor, old or young, each of them has an equal share in choosing the path that our country will take. And every ballot they cast is a reminder that our founding principles are alive and well.

It's quite an achievement to be so bland and yet so wrong. Americans do not have an equal share in choosing the political path of the country. The mechanics of elections are determined by individual states, so citizens vote using very different methods and under very different conditions depending on where they live. And because of the electoral college, the weight of a vote (if successfully cast) is vastly different depending where a person lives. For example, votes in Ohio or Florida are worth far more than in California because the former states are so finely balanced.

In fact, the variation in voting rights is more extensive than just across states, because states in turn delegate the operation of voting to counties. One of the few times this was deemed to create inequality among voters was when the federal equal protection clause of the constitution was used to stop the state of Florida's recount in the 2000 election, because of the differing standards that counties would use in the recount. The differing standards that they had used in designing their ballots was never addressed. And that was the beginning of the 8 years of disaster.