Wednesday, October 29, 2008

They Did It

Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino celebrates his RBI single in the first inning of Game 5. Image credit: screenshot of Fox Sports telecast by Cujo359.

In some ways, it felt more like a cricket match than a baseball game. It was played in two parts on two separate days. What turned out to be the first part was suspended due to torrential rains and near-freezing temperatures. As one of the announcers put it, it was as much like hydroplaning as baseball. It was ugly, but it was competitive. In the end the Philadelphia Phillies did something they've only done once before in their 125 years or so as a major league team - they won a championship.

Surely, now the skies will rain toads, the earth will split open, and time and space will collapse into an endless loop of Tim McCarver's most vacuous color commentary. Or, maybe something even worse will happen. Still, it's nice to have something unusual and unexpected happen that isn't thoroughly unpleasant.

(Devil) Rays fans have something to celebrate, too. Their club has only existed for eleven years, and it's already been to the big show. It beat a good team to get there, and it showed a lot of poise for a very young team. If the Rays' management can hold them together, they should be a good team for many years.

Not surprisingly, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, who pitched thirteen innings in the Series while allowing a grand total of four runs, won the Series MVP award.

Congratulations to both clubs, and thanks for putting the games on broadcast TV so that I could at least see a few games this season.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Buh Bye

It's been a dreadful year for the U.S. Congress. In fact, it's been one of the most disappointing ever, when you consider that the Democrats couldn't bring themselves to oppose in any way the Bush Administration's lawlessness and stupidity. They wouldn't even sanction their own when it was quite clear that Ted Stevens (R-AK) was taking bribes. Today, he was convicted by a federal court of doing just that:

Stevens, 84, was convicted on all seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms by failing to report more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from an oil executive.

Sen. Stevens found guilty of corruption


Thankfully, the Justice Department still employs a few honest U.S. Attorneys.

So, will the Senate's righteous anger at Stevens' corruption lead it to expel him from that august body? Not bloody likely:

The Senate could vote to expel a convicted felon with a two-thirds vote, but no action is expected before next week's election. Since 1789, the Senate has expelled only 15 members.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, urged Stevens to "respect the outcome of the judicial process and the dignity of the United States Senate."

Sen. Stevens found guilty of corruption

If you ever thought Harry Reid had a clue, you should know better now. Stevens is comporting himself the way this Senate has for the last eight years. Nothing he could possibly do, short of dropping his drawers and peeing on someone in the chamber, could possibly make it look any worse.

Even so, it's nice to know that sometimes people actually are punished for wrongdoing, even when they're in Congress. Buh bye, Ted. Don't forget to write.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another Carnival

It's the end of the month, and so it's time for another Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards. This month's carnival is hosted by Jon Pieret, who has quite a thing for classical poetry, it would appear. SnS has a sideshow at this carnival, of course. I'd be reading it right now, but it's been a long day.

Meanwhile, if your entertainment tastes run more toward the consumable, NMC has a couple of live blog articles up about a whole pig roast that he's hosting.

To misquote Q, the Internet is wondrous - with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the stupid.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

That Didn't Take Long

The results of two new polls have been released for the Minnesota Sixth Congressional district. That race, between Michelle Bachmann and Elwyn Tinklenberg, was turned around dramatically by Bachmann's call for a new witch hunt for un-American views among her fellow congressmen. As I indicated at the time, there were some signs that Bachmann was in serious electoral trouble, and these latest polls have driven the point home.

Here is the latest trend chart by Pollster:

Compare this to the previous chart from ten days ago, and you'll see that the upward trend in Tinklenberg's numbers has become more pronounced. Pollster has the race as 43.6 - 42.5 in favor of Bachmann, but the last two polls both show the race a dead heat, with Tinklenberg leading by less than the margin of error.

These two polls are the first independent polls conducted in the district.

That's a substantial jump, but it's still possible that the race will swing more firmly the Democrat's way in the closing days. There are still 5 to 8 percent undecided in the race. Bachmann's a known quantity, so it seems more likely that Tinklenberg will appeal to late deciders. That's particularly true in light of Bachmann's recent performances.

UPDATE: Lotus spotted this bit from the article on the second independent poll:

[Director of the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance Larry] Jacobs says the poll results show Bachmann is losing support even among Republicans.

"Among supporters of Norm Coleman and John McCain, there's a about one-fifth of them saying that they're not supporting Michele Bachmann. And indeed among Republicans, Michele Bachmann is losing about one-fifth of them. So her base is cleary shaken up about what's happened," said Jacobs.

The survey found two-thirds of 6th District voters disagree with Bachmann's comments.

Reed Christianson of Woodbury says he was shocked by what he heard from his congresswoman. Christianson says he had planned to vote for Bachmann, but not anymore.

"Since this has come out I've learned a lot more about who she's running against. And with the comments she made, it made me determine that I'm not going to vote for her," said Christianson. "And I'd vote for anybody, no matter who was running against her, based on her comments."

Poll: Dead Heat In The 6th District Race

Combine Bachmann's worrisome rhetoric with Tinklenberg's positive campaign, and you have a reason for many of Bachmann's more rational supporters to change their minds.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Political "Attack" A Fake

Via Open Left, what has to be one of the most bizarre stories of this election:

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) ― Police say a campaign volunteer confessed to making up a story that a mugger attacked her and cut the letter B in her face after seeing her McCain bumper sticker.

At a news conference this afternoon, offiicals said they believe that Ashley Todd's injuries were self-inflicted.

Todd, 20, of Texas, is now facing charges for filing a false report to police.

Police: Campaign Volunteer Lied, Injured Self

The story about her being mugged by an Obama supporter has apparently been getting wide coverage. Let's see if the truth of this matter gets the same play that the original story did. Considering what's happened in the local coverage of the WA 08 race (scroll down to the second update), I'm not holding my breath.

I hope the police decide not to file charges. Someone who deliberately disfigures herself needs counseling, not jail.


(Devil) Rays Even The Series

In two close games (3 - 2 Phillies on Wednesday, 4 - 2 Rays tonight) the Phillies and the Rays split the first stand in Tampa Bay. I think even Fox Sports was interested in the game they were covering. I'm not sure, though, because due to some provident malfunction of my DVR, there was no sound on tonight's broadcast. Still, for anyone who'd rather see a competitive ballgame than a fistfight, this has to be good.

The Phillies' inability to hit with runners in scoring position is a troubling thing. I don't expect a .300 average there, but something better than zero would be nice, don't you think? They had runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs in almost every inning, it seemed, and yet could only score late in the game, with one of the runs a solo homer. In contrast, the Rays seemed to do the right thing every time they had someone on second or third. They managed to score four runs, only one on a base hit. All the other runs were driven in by ground balls or bunts.

The series moves to Philadelphia now, where the Phillies hitters may be able to see the ball better. Here's hoping, anyway.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

More Good News For Darcy Burner

image credit: www.darcyburner.com

A new poll on the WA-08 Congressional district was published yesterday. It showed SnS Blue candidate Darcy Burner leading her opponent, incumbent Dave Reichert, by four percentage points. I suspect some news agencies and Reichert's campaign will spin this as a drop in Darcy's numbers, but that's simply not the case.

This actually is quite an improvement. Pollster lists four polls done by the same polling organization in the Eighth District. They are done roughly every six weeks. All the previous polls showed Reichert up by at least six points. Survey USA explains:

Nominally, it's Burner 50%, Reichert 46% today. Compared to a SurveyUSA poll 6 weeks ago, Reichert is down 8 points, Burner is up 6. The September poll was taken at a time when the national Republican party had just finished a successful convention, and the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate was new and novel. At that time, in Washington state, SurveyUSA showed McCain within 4 points of Barack Obama, statewide, and showed Reichert 10 atop Burner. Today, SurveyUSA shows Obama 16 points atop McCain, a swing of 12 to the Democrats. And, SurveyUSA shows Burner 4 atop Reichert, a swing of 14 to the Democrats.

Results of SurveyUSA Election Poll #14647

This means that the same poll, using the same methods to determine what it takes to be a representative sample of the district, thinks that Burner is now ahead. Those last two sentences also indicate that this change is congruent with other political shifts in the area, which is further indication of the validity of the results.

In my last article on this subject, one thing I neglected to mention was that one of the recent polls showing Darcy ahead was one that had been done for the first time by that polling organization, BPN. There was no way to judge how the sample related to earlier samples, so it was a bit less reliable as an indication of a trend. The other poll, the one by Lake Research, did show a change, but it was one poll done by a partisan poll firm. Another poll, by KosCom, that appeared at about the same time as the BPN poll, showed Reichert up by eight points. I suspected that one was a bad one due to the large number of undecided voters it showed. This is the second time these two candidates have run against each other. The voters are familiar with the candidates already, so there aren't likely to be many undecideds there.

This is very good news. While it's by no means a sure thing, I now believe that Darcy will win this election, assuming nothing changes the political landscape in the next couple of weeks.

UPDATE: It looks like Dave Reichert's been very, very bad:

Bellevue (October 22) – The campaign of 8th District Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner today filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission over a six-figure illegal loan provided to the campaign of Republican incumbent Dave Reichert by his media buying firm.

The complaint comes in response to the Burner campaign’s discovery last Friday that Reichert had secured more than $1 million in television advertising time for the closing two weeks of the campaign despite being short of cash.

Burner Campaign Files FEC Complaint over Reichert Loan

My guess is that nothing will be done about this before election time, unless the voters do it. The FEC seems to be powerless to do anything about these complaints. Folks like Reichert's media firm and the Chamber of Commerce, who have been running ads criticizing Burner for the last few weeks, like it that way.

There are times I think it's a wonder that she's even in this race.

UPDATE 2: The day ends, at least for me, with some bad news. Apparently, the Seattle Times have taken it upon themselves to do a hatchet job on Darcy:

Bellevue (October 22) – With a new King 5 poll released this evening showing Democrat Darcy Burner leading incumbent Republican Dave Reichert 50 percent to 46 percent – the third consecutive poll to show her leading – a desperate Reichert campaign has begun to fling false accusations in a desperate attempt to stop Burner’s growing momentum. Unfortunately, this afternoon the Seattle Times, in a poorly contextualized story, bought their latest spin.

Burner Campaign Statement on Seattle Times Story

The Seattle Times ran a story saying that Darcy had "exaggerated" her degree in a debate two weeks earlier. This was, as the "reporter" admitted in a paragraph buried deep in the story, based on a release from the National Republican Campaign Committee, with little real fact checking. The Harvard professor who was the Dean of Harvard College at the time Darcy graduated (1996) confirmed that she wasn't misstating her qualifications. Here's the man's biography, by the way. At this time (late on Oct. 23), they still haven't corrected or retracted the story. In fact, they followed up with a story that restates those false claims, and at the same time makes light of the mistaken claim on Dave Reichert's Congressional biography page that said he had a bachelor's degree, when in fact it was only an associate's. Reichert's office has since corrected the site, but only after the Burner campaign noted the error.

I don't suppose this slant could have anything to do with the Times having endorsed Reichert in an editorial that matches the worst of the Wall Street Journal's exercises in unreality word for word.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Phillies Are On TV!

It's mid-October, and the Philadelphia Phillies are on TV. To illustrate just how rare an occurrence that is, recall that television was invented in the late 1920s. It became widely available in the 1950s. So the Phils' first two appearances in the Series, 1915 and 1950, weren't hardly on TV at all. This is only the fourth time since then that they've managed the feat.

Perhaps just as exciting as seeing baseball's champion underachievers in the post-season is to see the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in it for the first time. As befits a team that's only ten years old, their lineup consists mostly of players in the early and mid-twenties.

If you're a fan of the game, it ought to be an interesting series however it turns out.

UPDATE (Oct. 22): According to this schedule the first game is today at 8PM EDT. That's 5PM PDT. Those of you in the "real" America will just have to figure out for yourselves what time that is.

By the way, most of ESPN's experts are picking the Rays to win the Series. They have some good reasons, and some not so good. But, as one sportscaster once said, they don't play the games on paper, they play them in funny hats. So, play ball.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times just published an interesting article about Clearwater, Florida. Clearwater is the spring training site for the Phillies. It is also located in the Tampa Bay area:

When Tampa Bay defeated Boston on Sunday night to complete a stunning turnaround from American League laughingstock to champion, [water ice franchise owner Bob] Brown, like many others in this pocket of Philly fanatics nestled in Rays territory, could not believe his good fortune. For them, the postseason had unfolded in the most desirable, if least likely, way: the Phillies, who have trained in Clearwater every spring since 1947, would be playing the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, practically a 20-mile straight shot down U.S. 19.

Go Phillies? Go Rays? Florida Town Is Torn

I suppose I'd have a similar problem in the extremely unlikely event that the Mariners ever met the Phillies in the Series. Thank goodness that won't happen in my lifetime.


The Real America

[New York City and Wasilla, Alaska. Both are part of the real America, despite what some bigots would have you believe.]


Image credit: composite of photos by Trip Advisor and CityData by Cujo359

Recently, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Sarah Palin, and other Republicans have been talking about how there's a "real" America out there living in small towns that aren't anti-American.

Well, on the subject of who is and is not the real America, Jon Stewart speaks for me:

We're all a little chafed here about this whole 'some parts of the country are real and American' and other parts are not. This weekend I was performing at Northeastern and I just read the statement that Sarah Palin had made about the 'pro-American' parts of the country and I...in response to that, I think I might have said, you know, 'Fuck you!' That's just my way of saying that I think that's a profanity to say, and I was answering with a profanity. But it's not really fair, and it makes it seem like I'm just addressing Governor Palin about this, and I'm not, it's just this whole entire theme that there's more American areas, or some people love the country, some people don't. So what I meant to say is, 'Fuck all y'all.'


Jon Stewart Clarifies Palin Remarks, Expands To 'F%ck All Y'All'


Now, I normally prefer more subtle forms of humor, like this wonderful bit of satire from Marc Ambinder:

For decades, theoretical physicists have sought to unify the theory of gravity with standard particle model of physics. So far, no dice. The dominant but by no means proven theory is popularly referred to as Superstring theory, or M theory, or some variant. No need to go into the details here. Crucially, though, some of the leading variants of string theory presuppose a universe of ten spacial dimensions plus time.

We cannot rule out the possibility that Palin, Bachmann and Pftoenhauer -- let's call them PBP for short -- are somehow about to perceive these extra dimensions, and that there is something fundamental about their physical constitutions that makes such perceptions unavailable to most everyone else.

McCain's Cosmological Breakthrough: Unreality Is Expanding

Unfortunately, subtlety is lost on some people. It's lost particularly, it would appear, on Republican rhetoricians and their target audience. So a big upraised middle finger would seem to be the rhetorical weapon of choice.

Why are we seeing this call for witch hunts now? It's pretty clear that it's not just John McCain's campaign that's doing this. Bachmann isn't part of that campaign. This is part of a broader GOP campaign. And when you think about what's happened lately, it's pretty clear what the reason is. Their poll numbers are dropping like lead balloons. They need someone to blame for their own screwups.

We've had Republican rule for the last eight years. Yes, the Democrats were allegedly in charge of Congress for the last two, but for all the harm they did, and as faithfully as they gave President Bush everything he wanted, we'd have been no worse off with Republicans. What have we to show for those last eight years?

Two lost wars and a trashed economy.

Let me just emphasize that point a little more:

Two lost wars and a trashed economy.

That's what they're trying to make us forget - they fucked this country up worse than our most dangerous enemies have ever managed. What previous Administration has managed to lose two major wars? Not a one. The only previous Administration in anyone's memory that's caused the sort of economic meltdown we're seeing now only lasted one term.

So they blame Muslims for our problems. They blame Demcrats for the results of their economic policies. And they blame the rest of us for not making their ridiculous plans work. The only thing they've ever been good at is blaming other people for their failures. They're at it again.

To misquote John Mellencamp, I grew up in small towns. I've also lived in the metropolitan area of a big city. I can tell you that there is no shortage of people who care about their country in either kind of place. Anyone who imagines that big cities are full of fake people and vast pockets of anti-Americanism needs to get to know one. Anyone who thinks that the rural parts of this country are filled with rubes and morons needs to get out there more. Don't mistake what we say when we make fun of each others' idiosyncrasies for reality. The fact is that reality has always been more complicated, and interesting, than empty-headed Republican spokesmodels want us to believe.

So the next time you hear someone talk about where the real America is, tell them that real Americans have 401k's and mutual funds, and that real Americans have bank accounts, and real Americans want to have good jobs. Real Americans have sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, or friends and lovers they don't want to have killed in useless, lost wars. Then tell them you don't give a fuck if some of them happen to live in New York City. Or in Wasilla.

UPDATE: North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes NC-08 has joined the hit parade:

Warming up a crowd in North Carolina on Saturday, Republican Rep. Robin Hayes offered the diagnosis that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.”

His remarks came shortly after he had said he would “make sure we don’t say something stupid, make sure we don’t say something we don’t mean.”

GOP Rep.: ‘Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God’ [updated with audio]

Hayes' opponent in his race, which he appears to be losing, is Blue America candidate Larry Kissell. Clicking on this link would be a good way to express your displeasure with Hayes' comments.

(h/t Lotus)

UPDATE 2: Via Pharyngula, Keith Olbermann provides a coda to this sad week of bigotry and stupidity.


Monday, October 20, 2008

15, 000 Visitors


Thanks largely to a couple of appearances at the Carnival of The Elitist Bastards, it's only taken another five months since the 10,000th visit to this site to reach 15,000.

Yee-haw.

Thanks for all the clicks.

Powell On Religious Freedom

[The mother of Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan grieves at his grave. Kareem Khan, a 20 year-old Muslim American, died in Iraq last year. Image credit: The New Yorker.]

General Colin Powell isn't at the top of my list of heroes these days. He lied for the Bush Administration about the threat Iraq posed prior to the war. He might have helped avoid a tragic war by telling the truth, or by refusing to tell a lie.

Nevertheless, he said something yesterday that bears repeating, as quoted by Juan Cole:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Powell's Finest Moment

[emphasis mine]

My friend Lotus over at Folo was upset at how little notice that statement of Powell's has received on lefty blogs. Taylor Marsh has written a good article examining the political implications, and mentions the idea that this country isn't just for Christians. For my part, I was busy, although I've written on this issue before:

The last few years have seen the kind of ugliness that unreasoning fear causes in the form of useless restrictions on freedoms, unnecessary wars, and acquiescence to, and sometimes celebration of, torture. On a more personal level, people seem less inclined to trust their neighbors, particularly if they are somehow "different". The rhetoric against immigrants, Muslims in particular, has grown alarmingly ugly. It's considered a slur to imply that a Presidential candidate is a Muslim.

Fear And Loathing At Midnight

I have very little use for religion. It seems to do as much harm as good, on balance. Whatever civilizing influence it may have on people seems to be balanced by the bigotry and rancor that it often inspires or exacerbates. If one excepts the more obviously harmful cults, one religion seems scarcely different from another to me.

Whatever my feelings about religion, I have no use at all for the sort of attitude Powell refers to. Anyone who is a citizen of this country, obeys its laws, and tries to make it a better place is welcome here. He (or she) should be given the same consideration no matter what his religious beliefs. Being a Muslim, or any other religious minority, must never be viewed as cause for suspicion or scorn. The majority religion doesn't get to dictate to anyone else what their religious beliefs ought to be, nor what religious beliefs are required for full citizenship. I've written about that before, too:

There is plenty of reason to wonder if the United States hasn't gone off the deep end concerning religion and its role in politics in this country. Every time I hear or read someone saying that this country was founded on "Christian principles", I want to scream. This country was founded on the principle that no church or religion should run the government. If you don't believe me, have a careful look at this document. Pay special attention to Article VI and Amendment I. They're the only place religion is mentioned.

More Diversity

If you are someone who thinks that your religious beliefs give you the right to decide who is and is not a worthy citizen, you have views that have no place in a free society. As Christians like Taylor and Folo commenter Lilaruby have demonstrated, you couldn't even be bothered to find inspiration in your own religion's teachings for tolerance and compassion. Please do yourselves and the rest of us a favor by moving to some theocracy and leave the rest of us in peace.

UPDATE: Lotus pointed out this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

That Muslim answer [of Powell's] was incredibly, incredibly, incredibly strong. Stronger than anything Obama's ever said. That was just beautiful. That part should be everywhere. It was really moving. So what if he is, indeed. More later, I need to grapple with that answer. It was heavy. I imagine a lot of Muslim cats (I'm thinking Keith Ellison) are like, "Finally."

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama

Quite a few of we secularist cats are like "Finally", too.

UPDATE 2: Glenn Greenwald, discussing Powell's endorsement of Obama, writes this:

A major enabling factor in convincing the population to support unnecessary and brutal wars -- and to perceive the "need" for endless expansions of federal surveillance and other police powers -- is the demonization of large groups of people both inside and out of the country. The Right's ongoing, intense obsession with demonizing Muslims and Arabs is, for that reason, not only repulsive but also quite destructive. The core of the Republican Party has degenerated into the unrestrained id of its worst impulses, and it was good to see Powell specifically cite (and condemn) those elements as a principal reason why he is turning away from the party he has served for so long, and instead supporting the Democratic nominee.

Colin Powell condemns the ugliness of the Republican Party

I might add that there's another motivation, which is that nothing seems to unite people like a common enemy. That's especially true, if history is any guide, when that enemy is largely powerless. In Muslims, who are a small minority in this country and whose ancestral homes mostly exist in some of the poorest regions on earth, they have an especially powerless bogeyman.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bachmann In Trouble

I don't really believe in karma, but sometimes people get the rewards they richly deserve anyway. One case in point is Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann (R)-MN-06. Yesterday, she said the following on Chris Matthews show:

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this. This country is roughly divided now over the last -- all our lifetimes between Republicans and Democrats and liberals and conservatives. Maybe 30 percent of the country, 30 to 40 percent, is conservative, and self- described -- people tell you what they are -- and 30-some percent are liberals. Do you think those 30 percent liberals are anti-American? The 30 percent of this country that calls itself liberals, are they anti-American?

REP. BACHMANN: I think the people that Barack Obama has been associating with are anti-American, by and large, the people who are radical leftists. That's the real question about Barack Obama -- Saul Alinsky, one of his teachers, you might say, out of the Chicago area; Tony Rezko, who is an associate also.

MR. MATTHEWS: He's a leftist? I thought he was a business guy.

REP. BACHMANN: These are very concerning figures that are in Barack Obama's past.

MR. MATTHEWS: I thought Tony Rezko was some business guy. I didn't know he was a leftist, anti-American guy.

REP. BACHMANN: Yeah, that's troubling too. Well, that's troubling too. Take a look at these associations, Chris, and add them all up --

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let me --

REP. BACHMANN: -- and this is the totality of the package that Barack Obama has been, in Sarah Palin's words, palling around with. These are his friends. These are his associates. Very troubling.

Rep. Michele Bachmann tells Chris Matthews on "Hardball" media should probe Congress for "anti-America" views. Transcript

Matthews is right about Antoin Rezko. He's a businessman. He's also a crook. Obama associated with him far longer than he should have, to the point where I found the relationship unseemly and troubling. In Obama's defense, though, in a career in politics, particularly Chicago politics, it's hard to avoid having a Rezko in your closet somewhere. John McCain certainly hasn't avoided such entanglements, even after he was caught the first time.

Jeremiah Wright is a different story. Even his "God damn America" speech, a contrast to "God bless America", was a condemnation of how American society treats its minorities. Wright came of age during the Sixties, when civil rights were anything but guaranteed for those Americans who weren't of European extraction. He has certainly been given cause to be angry. Wright has some bigoted and stupid ideas. That doesn't make him anti-American.

Actually, Jeremiah Wright is a lot like Michele Bachmann, if you disregard what it is they get upset about.

Bachmann's ranting gets even worse, if you can imagine:

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, he's a United States senator from Illinois. He's one of the people you suspect as being anti-American. How many people in the Congress of the United States do you think are anti- American? You've already suspected Barack Obama. Is he alone, or are there others? How many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American?

REP. BACHMANN: What I would say -- what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that.

Rep. Michele Bachmann tells Chris Matthews on "Hardball" media should probe Congress for "anti-America" views. Transcript

As the title of the article states, Michele Bachmann called for the news to "take a look" at whose views might be considered disloyal to America. Anyone who has even heard of the McCarthy hearings should be appalled at such a suggestion. Needless to say, it's pretty clear that people who don't agree with Michele Bachmann's view of America are the folks who would be found disloyal in such a witch hunt.

So, it was with some pleasure that I discovered the trend chart that appears below at Pollster:


As you can see, there have only been two polls conducted publicly in the district. Both are by a Democratic polling organization, Grove Insight. Nevertheless, a couple of very interesting things are obvious:

  1. Bachmann, the incumbent, is pretty unpopular with the voters. In neither poll did she garner more than 42 percent. Even adding the margin of error to that total, she has less than 47 percent, according to the polls. As I've discussed before, that's a troubling sign for an incumbent.

  2. Tinklenberg is growing on the electorate. While I don't necessarily trust the magnitudes all that much, the trends in a poll are always interesting. Here, Bachmann's is no appreciable gain, and her opponent's is that he's gaining ground.

  3. Even if no Bachmann supporters change their minds thanks to her latest bigoted tirade, her opponent Elwyn Tinklenberg is only behind by about 4 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) smells a potential victory here, as the Minnesota Independent notes:

The poll was released as the DCCC, which added Tinklenberg to its Red to Blue list, begins pouring money into the race, and as a pardon letter Bachmann wrote for Petters scandal figure Frank Vennes Jr. raises questions.

DCCC Poll: Bachmann’s Lead in the Sixth is Down to Four Points Over Tinklenberg

One thing Bachmann's tirade has affected is the support Tinklenberg has received from Democrats around the country. PZ Myers noted this surge in campaign money the evening after Bachmann's appearance on the Matthews show:

Michele Bachmann is a great fundraiser…for Democrats. Since that creepy video of her calling everyone who isn't a rightwingnut "anti-American" has spread all over, money has been pouring into the Elwyn Tinklenberg campaign. Check out Tinklenberg's ActBlue page: he has received over $100,000 since yesterday. I opened the page a few hours ago and just checked again, and it had shot up about $20,000.

Whoa... This Is Better Than Crashing Polls

I don't think Bachmann's reactionary views are those of mainstream America. I certainly hope that they aren't. If those views are part of the reason that she loses this election, then I think America will be a better place for her loss. She certainly deserves it.

UPDATE (Oct. 25): I've written a follow-on article, with new poll results.


Friday, October 17, 2008

SnS Blue: Some Updates

I've been spending some time over at Pollster today, looking over polls. There is some good news and bad news there for the remaining Slobber and Spittle Blue candidates.

First, the good news. Polls came out this week showing that Darcy Burner is ahead in the race for the WA-08 Congressional district. This has been an up-and-down struggle against faux independent Republican Dave Reichert. The Pollster trends chart now looks like this:

Image credit: Pollster.com

Reichert's numbers began falling in early September. Lynn Allen, an astute observer of the race (and someone who worked for Burner's campaign), guesses at the reasons:

Yes, I'm pleased to see that Darcy appears to have pulled ahead. I'm not sure that enough people watch those debates but some combination of the debates, her ads pointing out Reichert's lack of effectiveness in Congress and the economy in general did it.

Comments: Contempt and the Last Debate

I suspect she's right, but whatever the reason, it's welcome news.

Meanwhile, in the NY-29 district, Eric Massa appears to hold a lead over his opponent, incumbent Republican Rich Kuhl. I say "appears" because there are only three polls listed on Pollster's trend chart for this race, which isn't enough polls to even draw a trend chart. This is good news also, as this race is one the Republicans probably feel they have to win. It's in what's considered a Republican-leaning area. Losing it means that the Republicans will have only a handful of representatives from the state.

In the department of bad news, Andrew Rice is still far behind in his race for the Senate in Oklahoma against Republican incumbent James Inhofe, who's been yet another congresscritter willing to let the Bush Administration drive us over a cliff. Speaking of cliffs, Rice came up with the best commercials of the political season. According to the Pollster trends chart, Rice has been gaining ground recently:

Image credit: Pollster.com

This race may not be over yet, but Rice has more than twelve points to make up between now and election day. Unless the polls there are badly skewed, it looks like a rough road ahead for Andrew.

I can't find any polling information on either Sam Bennett's race in the PA-15 Congressional district, nor in Donna Edwards' MD-04. In the latter, I suspect Edwards will do fine, but in Bennett's case, the issue is still in doubt. While Bennett led by a mile in the primary vote, that isn't the one that counts.

So, at this moment, it looks like SnS Blue will be batting .500 this year. Maybe Sam can put us over the top. I certainly hope so. These are good people - we need more like them in Congress.


Japan Writes To Me

[This is a 1000 Yen note. Apparently, I'll be adding a few of these to my growing collection of international money. Image credit: Japanorama.]







I received this e-mail today:

From: BUSINESS PROPOSA FROM JAPAN <mr_haruya@invalid.com.invalid>
To: undisclosed-recipients@null, null@null
Subject: BUSINESS PROPOSA FROM JAPAN
Date: Oct 17, 2008 4:51 AM


I am Mr Haruya Uehara,Deputy chairman of Tokyo Mitsubishi ufj Bank. I have a business proposal that has to do with the transfer of funds ,It will be of immense benefit to the both of us.


Your full names

Age

Location


Yours Sincerely,

Mr Haruya Uehara

Once again, it appears I'm up for some big payoff, possibly due to my immense expertise in international finance.

Tell you what, Haruya-san, right after the check from the Malaysians clears, I'll get back to you.

Who knew international finance would be so easy?

Needless to say, I've altered the "From" e-mail address, on the chance that it belongs to someone legitimate. (I love that addressee list, don't you? Kinda says it all ...)

UPDATE: Apparently, someone did a little research before launching this scam. There actually is a Haruya Uehara who is a big muckity-muck at the Mitsubishi Bank. Needless to say, that e-mail didn't come from him, so please don't go asking him why he's doing this. He's not. I don't know a great deal about Japan, but I'm quite sure that even there presidents of national banks don't write foreigners whose net worth doesn't exceed their annual executive washroom budget about a funds transfer. That's particularly true when they don't even know who that foreigner is.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Something Had To Give


[This is a slide from an article at Afferent Input about the growing income disparity in America. Combine that trend with our recent adventures in bad financial policy, and you have a recipe for a home mortgage meltdown.]

Recently, I've written that I'm not an economist. I don't have any particular expertise in the area. What I am is an engineer. That makes me an amateur economist. I'm used to thinking of prices in terms of their effect on a budget, much as housewives and househusbands are used to thinking about food and utility prices in terms of a family budget. I look at manufactured items and wonder how much they cost relative to incomes at the time those things were made, as well as the cost of making them relative to the budgets of the companies that produce them.

Call me an idiot savant economist.

I haven't followed the housing market all that closely. Yet it's seemed to me for years that the current financial meltdown, fueled as it was by bad mortgages and resulting inflated housing prices, was in some ways inevitable. I knew that, sooner or later, something had to give.

To illustrate why I felt the way I did, let's look at a bit of demographic data from the last census. For my city, Federal Way, Washington, the median household income was about $50,000 in 1999. It hasn't risen a whole lot since then. I live in a small three-bedroom, two bathroom house. It's a good house for a single person, a couple with no children, or a small family. Houses like that go on the market now for upwards of $220,000. Mind you, this is now, after real estate prices have been falling for several months.

Now, let's recall that years ago, in the 1990s, for instance, the financial advice on mortgages is that they shouldn't be more than three times your household income. If your household is making the median income in Federal Way, which, incidently, is close to the median income in the Christian Science Monitor's Patchwork Nation version of Federal Way, that would be about $150,000. You need to come up with another $70K to make that threshold, which is a lot for a young family to come up with. Let's also recall the definition of median average. It means that half the households earn that much or less, and half earn that much or more. In short, at least half of the people who live here couldn't afford to buy a house here.

The Patchwork Nation link estimates that 30 percent of the country is like Federal Way. Even if this example is only true of this sort of community, that's quite a bit of the country. The reality, though, is that this is true in much of America.

That's the problem. It's the reason why the mortgage industry is collapsing. They either needed to find ever riskier ways of selling mortgages, or they needed to resign themselves to a smaller market. Needless to say, most mortgage businesses weren't in favor of Plan B. Here's a site, for instance, that says up to eight times your household income might be acceptable.

As we are all too aware, one of the riskier ways of selling mortgages was adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). These mortgages offered easy early payments in return for riskier future payments. I first heard about these mortgages while I was house-hunting back in the '90s. I thought they were a terrible idea from the borrowers' standpoint.

What I didn't realize at the time was how risky they would end up being for the banks.

The question that ought to come to mind at this point, assuming you think my calculations make sense, is why did prices get to be so high? We can yammer all day about things like the elasticity of demand and other things that affect price, but the bottom line is that the price will be whatever the market is willing to bear. Why was the market willing to bear prices that clearly left many potential customers unable to afford it? One possible answer is that the prices were artificially high.

Why were ARMs risky for the banks, and why did they serve to raise housing prices? Here's what a site about mortgages has to say about ARMs:

An adjustable rate mortgage, called an ARM for short, is a mortgage with an interest rate that is linked to an economic index. The interest rate, and your payments, are periodically adjusted up or down as the index changes.

Facts About ARMs, Adjustable Rate Mortgages

In other words, the consumer takes the risk that inflation won't make his later payments even higher. In classical fixed rate mortgages, the lenders assumed that risk. While the interest they were paid would mean that they earned some money from the loan, the opportunity cost would mean that they weren't making the best use of their money if inflation worsened. Lower risk to the banks means easier finance terms.

Back in 1992, economists Richard A. Phillips and James. H. Vanderhoff performed a study of their effect on demand for housing. Their conclusion, as expressed in the paper's abstract, was:

This article investigates the impact of ARM initial rate (teaser) discounts on mortgage choice and housing demand. Because discounted ARM loans may reduce expected user costs, theoretical models predict a positive impact on housing expenditures. To test the hypothesis, a simultaneous model of housing expenditures conditioned upon mortgage instrument choice is estimated using a national sample of transactions for the 1986 to 1988 period. The results indicate that overall housing demand would have been reduced by approximately 13 percent during the period in the absence of ARM loans.

Abstract: Adjustable Rate Mortgages and Housing Demand: The Impact of Initial Rate Discounts

Over time, thanks to the growing income disparity in America, this demand undoubtedly became more inflated. That was bound to have an even greater effect on prices.

In short, for the past thirty years, we've been making it possible for people to buy more expensive houses than they could really afford, and house prices inflated way beyond what they should have as a result.

Why was this risky for the banks? To answer that question, recall how loans are secured. The bank risks that its borrowers will repay the mortgages as they agreed. If they don't, the lender has the option of repossessing the homes and reselling them. That's what collateral is. The problem, as this Wall Street Journal article explains, is that the value of the collateral has fallen well below the value of the loans:

Lower home prices threaten the economy's growth by making consumers feel less wealthy and thus less willing to spend. They also curtail homeowners' ability to borrow against the value of their homes to finance other purchases. In addition, lower housing prices erode the value of banks' collateral, prompting them to tighten their lending standards, which further damps economic growth.

Decline in Home Prices Accelerates

When the price a bank can obtain for a house is less than the value of the money the bank lent to the borrower, the bank will lose money.

Now multiply that by millions of homes and you'll see why this situation was untenable.

Of course, as an idiot savant is wont to do, I've oversimplified. This difference between the money risked and the current value of homes is only part of the problem. As NPR explains, part of this has to do with how that risk is distributed between the world's banks:

There are about 51 million first mortgages in the United States right now — but only about 1.4 million of them are either referred for foreclosure or in foreclosure, said Mortgage Bankers Association chief economist Jay Brinkmann. In other words, fewer than 3 percent of American homes with mortgages are in foreclosure.

The problem is this: Those bad loans are having an outsize impact on the financial world. They are mixed with good loans in securities that are crippling investment banks. No one wants the securities, even though not all of the loans are bad.

Bad Mortgages Taking Down Good Loans, Too

Nevertheless, the bottom line is the same - the banks will lose on these bad loans no matter what course they take. The only question is whether it's enough loss to make the system collapse.

The sad fact is that none of this was unpredictable. (That link is from 2005.) It was, as I've demonstrated, blindingly obvious that this day would come. Yet we persisted in this folly for the better part of three decades. What's more, we deliberately pursued economic policies that would concentrate wealth into the hands of very few people, making it harder for the average American to afford a home. If we continue down the path of creating more income disparity, more risk for borrowers, and less risk for the people who run the financial sector, we'll be revisiting this situation in a few years.

Maybe it's time for a new course?

UPDATE (Feb. 25, 2009): Finally noticed the problem with the third paragraph. Before, I seemed to be saying that the meltdown would continue. It now says what I meant it to say when I started writing that sentence.


"Yawner", My Butt

Image credit: Screenshot from Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359

There are times when I have to agree with King Kaufman about Fox Sports' devotion to baseball:

Fox, which pays billions to broadcast baseball's biggest games, doesn't particularly like baseball or care about its traditions. That musty little lineup ceremony, essentially unchanged for decades, takes up a good six or seven minutes that Fox would have to endure without running some lame, packaged, quick-edited feature about nothing, except when it's about a product tie-in.

Fox hates baseball, exhibit 3,442

That article was written three years ago, but little has changed since. After the Dodgers won Sunday's National League Championship Series (NLCS) game against the Phillies, Fox commentator Ken Rosenthal wrote this about what was no doubt supposed to be a brushback pitch to Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino:

Victorino objected that the pitch was in the direction of his head and not his ribs, though FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver, a former major-league catcher, pointed out that a pitch over a hitter's head actually is less dangerous than one behind it.

In any case, a series that threatened to turn into a yawner suddenly could become a barnburner. The Phillies aren't going to stop pitching inside, and neither should the Dodgers. If hitters protest, so be it.

Dodgers stand up to Phillies in Game 3 win

For those who might not familiar with baseball, but are reading this anyway, a "brushback" pitch is a pitch that comes close to a batter. Major League pitchers can throw a ball as fast as 100 miles per hour (160 km/hr). The baseball travels roughly 60 feet (less than 20 meters) from the moment it leaves the pitcher's hand until it gets to the batter. That means that the batter has about two tenths of a second to decide what kind of pitch it is, where the ball is going, and whether he should swing at it, and then swing. It's an athletic feat at the very edge of what human beings can accomplish. Even a moment's hesitation, such as the sort that can be instilled in a batter by reminding him that the ball could quite easily hit him, can be the difference between his hitting the pitch or letting it go by. The brushback pitch isn't meant to hit a batter. It just reminds him of the possibility.

The danger, as in the case of the pitch to Victorino, is that the ball might actually end up hitting the batter, or making him duck out of the way to avoid being hit.

I wonder what Rosenthal's been doing while he's been at these games. He certainly hasn't been watching them. The first two games, while they were won by the Phillies, were nail biters for Phillies fans. For Dodgers fans, they were no doubt frustrating losses. The Dodgers have a terrific batting lineup. It's so good, in fact, that they can afford to keep All Star infielder Nomar Garciapara on the bench most of the time. Even Friday's 8 - 5 Phillies win was closer than it should have been.

This series has been anything but a yawner. If Rosenthal thinks it only got interesting after a bench-clearing brawl, he needs to start commentating for a different sport. Maybe hockey.

Only the game Rosenthal was referring to was a blowout, and even that one could have been won by the Phils, given how they came back from a similar deficit yesterday. In yesterday's game, Philadelphia hitters finally got to LA's excellent bullpen to come from behind. They won thanks to two home runs from Victorino and Matt Stairs, a 40 year-old journeyman who joined the club in late August.

I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on Fox Sports. After all, if it weren't for them, all the playoff games would probably be on cable, and I couldn't even watch them. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver do a decent job of calling the game, at least when they're not distracted by random happenings in the stands. Nevertheless, I still find that I'm nostalgic for the time when NBC carried the games.

Bob Costas wouldn't have thought this series was boring.


Monday, October 13, 2008

The Nobel Prize: It's All About President Bush

You have to wonder what's going on in the minds of the American press when you read something like this:

President George W. Bush, whose approval ratings are at historic lows as the U.S. veers toward a recession or worse, got yet another thumb in the eye when one of his most vociferous critics was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.

While Princeton University Professor Paul Krugman was honored ``for his analysis of trade patterns of and locations of economic activity,'' he's more widely known for twice-weekly columns in the New York Times and appearances on television, in which he regularly attacks the president on the war in Iraq, his tax cuts and other issues.

Nobel Prize to Arch-Critic Krugman Is Blow to Bush

As we've noted following Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize last year, if one were to take these headlines seriously, the Nobel committee, which is made up of people from all over the world, have nothing better to do than honk off the ignoramus who runs our country.

The Bloomberg article finally goes on to note that Prof. Krugman was awarded the prize for a ground breaking model of how nations trade with each other. As his colleague Arvind Panagariya explains:

Until the end of the 1970s, the Heckscher-Ohlin theory for which Bertil Ohlin won the prize--Eli Heckscher died before the Nobel Prize in economics was instituted--dominated the field. This theory explained well why labor-abundant countries such as South Korea and Taiwan would export labor-intensive products such apparel, toys and footwear and capital-abundant countries such as the United States would export machinery and aircraft.

But it could not satisfactorily explain the two-way trade that was widely known to exist: Many countries exported automobiles and televisions, but they also imported them. The Heckscher-Ohlin theory also did not adequately explain why rich entities such as Europe and the United States, which had very similar endowments of capital and labor, traded more intensively than those with very dissimilar endowments. While descriptive explanations of these phenomena existed, a tight theory explaining them was lacking.

Starting in 1979, Krugman published a series of papers that successfully tackled these and many other related questions. He postulated that consumers like variety in what they consume. For the same expenditure, their satisfaction is greater if they have a larger variety of products available. This creates the incentive for firms to produce a large variety of products. But the production of a new variety has setup costs. This leads to declining per-unit costs as a larger quantity of the variety is produced and places a limit on the number of varieties the market can profitably supply. A firm produces a new variety only if it can capture a large enough market to allow profitable sales.

This seemingly simple structure gives rise to a tight theory that leads to rich implications: Countries gain from trade not only because larger market allows them to better exploit scale economies, but also because consumers can access a larger variety of products. And even identical economies can gain from trade through scale economies and a larger variety of products. The theory also brought imperfect competition into a formal trade model.

Commentary: Paul Krugman, Nobel

The emphasis in this quote is mine. I don't know much about how national or international economies work. In fact, I may know even less about this subject than President Bush does. Nevertheless, I do recognize the obvious point here - Krugman's work clearly advances our understanding of how international economies work. That has important implications both for the financial industry, companies that depend on international markets, and government policy. That, despite the penultimate importance of embarrassing our lame assduck President, is probably why the scientists on the Nobel committee awarded the prize to him.

I've expressed admiration before for elegance, at least in the design of machines. It should come as no surprise, then, that the mention of elegance would catch my attention. Prof. Panagariya's description of Krugman's theory implies a similar elegance:

A hallmark of Krugman's work is parsimony. His models are among the most elegant: lean and thin and transparent. They have all the required parts but no unnecessary fat. It is quite remarkable that while other scholars in the field handsomely incorporated the Krugman model into their research, perhaps the most insightful and elegant applications still came from Krugman[.]

Commentary: Paul Krugman, Nobel

That kind of parsimony usually results from repeated re-evaluations and refinements, not from some chance inspiration. Another colleague of Krugman's explains what makes the theory better than the old ones:

“Krugman’s trade models became the standard in the economics profession both because they fit the world a bit better and because they were masterpieces of mathematical modeling,” said Edward L. Glaeser, a professor at Harvard University who also studies economic geography. “His models’ combination of realism, elegance and tractability meant that they could provide the underpinnings for thousands of subsequent papers on trade, economic growth, political economy and especially economic geography.”

Krugman Wins Economics Nobel

The part of that quote I emphasized explains far more about why Krugman won the Nobel than any political considerations. His theory added to the knowledge of economics, and has been the basis of much subsequent work on the topic. That's what really important theories do.

The implication that this award had more to do with politics is insulting both to the awardees and the committee. In fact, politics seems to have more importance to the critics of this award than it does to the awardee:

The committee that chose Krugman cited his "trade" theories that once made him famous for actually doing economics. (Krugman contends that nations can create comparative advantages by subsidizing certain industries, something the ancients once called Mercantilism.) However, Krugman has become a well-known public intellectual not because of his work on trade, but because of his twice-weekly op-ed column in The New York Times, where outright partisanship is substituted for economic analysis.

Paul Krugman is an unabashed liberal, and there is no crime in an economist having such persuasions. For that matter, many economists have a bit of that streak, too. Furthermore, many of us are in agreement that some of the economic policies of the Bush administration have been bad, if not downright disastrous.

However, the agreements end where Krugman begins to view U.S. economic history from a distorted lens, one in which all administrations run by Democrats are Good and Virtuous, and all Republican administrations are governed by Beelzebub himself.

Krugman In Wonderland

The remainder of the article, by Prof. William L. Anderson, is a rhetorical nightmare of labeling, strawmen, and ad hominem. Not to be outdone, long time Krugman nemesis Donald Luskin is quoted by Bloomberg:

"Paul Krugman the economist died a long time ago; the man named Paul Krugman is a public intellectual," Luskin, a contributing editor for National Review Online, said in an interview. "He is not in the same category as John Maynard Keynes, he is in the same category as Oprah Winfrey. To give it to him is to dishonor the Nobel Prize."

Princeton's Paul Krugman Wins Nobel Economics Prize

I don't recall Mr. Luskin predicting the current economic mess with the accuracy that Krugman has, but perhaps someone can point out such an article.

Prof. Peter J. Boettke writes a more thoughtful critique, but comes to this conclusion:

Unfortunately, and unlike both [Milton] Friedman and [John Kenneth] Galbraith, Krugman's work devolved from science to ideology and finally to political partisanship. Friedman and Galbraith had always kept (though from differing perspectives) on the scientific to ideological spectrum, but neither became overtly partisan in their writings. This cannot be said for Krugman and the way he has used his platform as an economist and as a columnist for the New York Times for his Democratic partisanship purposes.

This would be innocent enough if Krugman were just another political pundit, but now the prize has given him an enhanced platform from which to pronounce his partisan positions as if they are grounded in economic science.

Commentary: Political Economist

Friedman's almost religious devotion to the "free market" ideology makes this conclusion seem ironic, to say the least. Galbraith was a product of an earlier time, in which both politics and science were viewed differently, and more positively in many ways. Comparisons to either strike me as somewhere between hazardous and ludicrous. Certainly, Krugman isn't the only one who has difficulty determining the difference between his political views and his scientific ones.

So, congratulations to Paul Krugman. He earned the prize. If it pisses off the President, that's just a bonus.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

McCain: More Than Just Cranky


Last night I did something that I very rarely do. Two things, actually. The first was that I watched a baseball game on TV, and was actually interested in the outcome (Go Phillies!). Then, since the CBS evening news program was on so soon after, I watched that, too. On the news program, Bob Schieffer, Mister “George Bush is a regular guy" and "why do I need Democrats on the show to discuss a Republican scandal?”, mused about how dangerous the rhetoric from the McCain campaign was becoming. If I hadn’t had such a well-established position on the couch, I might have fallen off of it.

He's right, of course. It's dangerous both to McCain's campaign and to us as a country.

In today's column, Gail Collins caught the gist of the problem:

The Republican campaign strategy now involves sending their candidates to areas where everybody is a die-hard McCain supporter already. Then they yell about Obama until the crowd is so frenzied people start making threats. The rest of the country is supposed to watch and conclude that this would be an enjoyable way to spend the next four years.

Dear Old Golden Dog Days

McCain's problem, and the Republicans' in general, is so obvious that even David Brooks understands it. After explaining how conservative ideas reigned triumphant in the era of Reagan (and if that's not a premise that explains how out of touch Brooks is, I'm hard pressed to think of one that will), Brooks observes:

[O]ver the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

The Class War Before Palin

This rhetorical strategy has continued, and worsened, to the present. Brooks, you may remember, was the New York Times columnist who couldn't be bothered to read his own newspaper before challenging Barack Obama to do something he'd done three days previously. That a man with so little situational awareness can recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of the McCain campaign's rhetoric is a testimonial to just how obvious it is. Or, it could be just random data, I suppose.

In any case, the mean-spirited nature of the McCain campaign is becoming a problem. In the CBS news segment I referred to, McCain was shown trying to tell a crowd of the faithful that Obama really wasn't a terrible person, and that the republic would doubtless survive an Obama Administration. He was greeted with boos. That's the danger - creating a schism so large in America that we won't be able to trust each other on anything of importance.

Hopefully, McCain has become aware of this and is willing to change. Unfortunately, there's not much else for him to talk about. As I've observed, it's going to be very difficult for him to portray himself as the guy who will fix our economy. He was so instrumental in breaking it in the first place that even a well-informed electorate wouldn't take him seriously. Our actual electorate will be even more skeptical, because that's how it's been in the past. The party in power when the economy turns bad is to blame, period. For once, wisdom and ignorance will lead one to the same conclusion.

The McCain campaign has made the ludicrous charge that the Obama campaign is one of the dirtiest ever. This, I think, should be ludicrous on its face. Obama, to his credit, has actually run one of the more effective campaigns of the last few decades while not indulging in the sort of mudslinging it used in the primaries, nor the kind that McCain has used in the general. Answering the opposition's bullshit isn't dirty politics. That's what the Obama campaign has done, and it's generally done it clearly and effectively.

So I suspect that McCain will continue to pursue this course in some form - make egregious statements about his opponent, and then occasionally sound a conciliatory note. He'll try to instill enough fear and doubt in voters' minds that they'll think twice about voting for "That One" while trying to still look like Presidential material. How well he'll do that remains to be seen.

For the sake of our present, as well as the future of our country and its political rhetoric, I earnestly hope that he fails badly.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dana Hunter On The Other Guys

This screenshot is from the Stargate SG-1 episode The Other Guys. It's a story about a group of scientists and engineers about whom the military folks have very low expectations. I've taken to calling the Republican Party "The Other Guys" for the same reason.

I'm not feeling terribly effusive this evening. Fortunately, Dana Hunter felt no such reluctance. Describing her stepmother's conversion from conservatism to a more centrist political viewpoint, she wrote:

If it could happen to her, it can happen to just about anyone. And so here's what I'm hoping: I hope she's a sign of what's to come. I know there are thoughtful, intelligent, reasoning people still in the Republican party. I'd love to see them rise up en-masse after this election (in which they'll have voted for Obama, natch) and take back the party from the gang of losers, liars, thieves, religious freaks, and dumbfucks who hijacked it awhile back. I'd love to watch these angry conservatives clean house. I'd like to see a slew of moderate Republican candidates suddenly have a shot at being elected, even if their politics don't pander to the rabid religious right base. I'd be happy if, in 2012, a renewed Republican party is fielding a presidential candidate who gives us Dems an acutal run for our money.

America needs this. We need a Republican party we can respect. There's a creative tension that arises between folks who almost but don't quite agree. A strong, healthy and wise Republican party can provide an effective balance to a strong, healthy Democratic party, and keep both thriving. As much as I love the Dems, I know that if we end up the only party of sane people, it won't be a good thing. One party rule never is.

My stepmother gives me that hope. If enough people like her emerge and take over the Republican ranks, we'll have a functioning democracy again. We'll have a chance at actual bipartisanship. The poisonous, toxic, neoconservative elements can be driven out so that the adults can get some work done and help this country recover from a devastating eight years.

George Bush Has Done the Impossible

Readers of this blog may recognize this sentiment. I've certainly said before that we don't just need better Democrats, or more Democrats, in government. We need better Republicans, too. Leave any party in power too long, and they'll start to abuse it or, at the very least, become complacent. If there's no vital opposition, we won't survive as a democracy.

So I'm hoping that the Republicans will start cleaning their house, too. It's a big job, but I don't think we can stand much more of the two parties we have now.


Funny Equivalence

If you don't find this funny, you're probably a Republican who takes politics way too seriously:



It's one of many posters in a photoessay contest over at Fark. There are lots more that are just as funny, but something about this one appeals.

UPDATE (Oct. 13): Finally fixed the farking link.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Rolling Stone: Make-Believe Maverick

I'll add my voice to the chorus recommending that you read the Rolling Stone article on John McCain by Tim Dickinson. I certainly can't vouch for all of it, but parts of it ring true, like this one:

We have now watched McCain run twice for president. The first time he positioned himself as a principled centrist and decried the politics of Karl Rove and the influence of the religious right, imploring voters to judge candidates "by the example we set, by the way we conduct our campaigns, by the way we personally practice politics." After he lost in 2000, he jagged hard to the left — breaking with the president over taxes, drilling, judicial appointments, even flirting with joining the Democratic Party.

In his current campaign, however, McCain has become the kind of politician he ran against in 2000. He has embraced those he once denounced as "agents of intolerance," promised more drilling and deeper tax cuts, even compromised his vaunted opposition to torture. Intent on winning the presidency at all costs, he has reassembled the very team that so viciously smeared him and his family eight years ago, selecting as his running mate a born-again moose hunter whose only qualification for office is her ability to electrify Rove's base. And he has engaged in a "practice of politics" so deceptive that even Rove himself has denounced it, saying that the outright lies in McCain's campaign ads go "too far" and fail the "truth test."

Make-Believe Maverick

I've certainly been puzzled by this change. That's mostly because I figured there had to be at least some truth to the notion that McCain was the person he seemed to be in 2000. Dickinson's hypothesis, which is that McCain was always the self-centered bastard we are watching now, at least fits the facts.

So read, consider, and, as always, take it with a grain of salt until the people quoted confirm they said what they were quoted as saying.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Something To Cheer About

The economy sucks, it looks like even if the Democrats win the White House things won't get much better, and there's a whole lotta stupid on display in the Veep debate, but at least there's something to cheer about today.

The Philadelphia Phillies may advance beyond the first round of the Major League playoffs this year.

For those not up on the history of this franchise, it's historically been one of the sorriest in baseball. Over the last thirty years or so they've enjoyed some success, but prior to the 1970s the Phils sucked as badly as any team in baseball. Their famous 1964 collapse is a baseball metaphor for implosion at the end of a season. In the book Baseball's Dynasties, Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein rated the fifty worst teams of all time over one, two, three, and four-year periods. The Phillies score prominently in all those lists. Without question, few teams have played more bad ball than they.

So it's always something of a special moment when the Phils are in the postseason. According to this writeup at the official site, the last time they won a post-season series was in 1993. Today they went up 2 - 0 in the National League Division series (NLDS) against the Milwaukee Brewers. They did it partly on the strength of Brett Myers' pitching, which was a disappointment early in the year. Myers also turned in a solid at bat to keep a rally going:

Myers fell in an 0-2 hole in the count, only to take a slider for a ball, and foul a pitch off. He took another slider low to even the count at 2-2 before fouling off another Sabathia offering. Another ball low set the count full and Myers walked on the next pitch.

The nine-pitch at-bat was the apparent turning point, as Sabathia loaded the bases by walking Jimmy Rollins. Victorino batted next and drilled a high breaking ball into the left field stands to give the Phillies a 5-1 lead.

Phillies slam Sabathia, take 2-0 lead in NLDS

Pitchers hit in the National Leagues, but no one expects them to hit well. This would have been a good at bat from just about any position player.

Saturday, former Mariner Jamie Moyer, who has the most wins on the Phillies' staff this season, will get the ball. It might be over by this time Saturday night. And if it is, at least there will be one thing to smile about this fall.

UPDATE (Oct. 5): Saturday's game didn't go according to plan. Moyer made bad pitches early and fell behind 2 - 0. Then he got no run support - the Phillies went one for twelve with runners in scoring position in a 4 - 1 loss.

UPDATE (Oct. 5): It took a game longer than necessary, but the Phils won the NLDS today on the strength of left fielder Pat Burrell's three-run homer.