BHTV 50 Seconds of Truth! The Usual Media Thing regarding the "n"-word, explained. ... 1:31 A.M.
STEPHANOPOULOS: "Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?"
MCCAIN: "Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of the proposals. But I've always opposed quotas."
STEPHANOPOULOS: "But the one here in Arizona you support?"
McCAIN: "I support it, yes."
McCain at first tried fo fudge, then got bullied into a "yes"--the same thing that basically happened with his answer on immigration at the Reagan library debate. McCain's clumsiness may indicate that his endorsement isn't exactly bankable--his spokesman was unprepared to defend it when Obama immediately brought up McCain's characterization of an earlier anti-affirmative action measure as "divisive." ("I do not have a firm enough grasp on the historical and relevant context of McCain's remark in 1998 to give you the pushback that this question deserves," the spokesman said, in a formulation that may become the Universal Punt in the idiotic daily news-cycle war.)
Yet maybe McCain has stumbled on to a strategic masterstroke. He's behind, after all. His big issue--Iraq--has just been seemingly defused. He's no expert on the economy. He's old and his formerly winning personality is starting to grate. He could do worse than make the election a national referendum on Connerly's initiative to ban affirmative action, which tends to win by large margins whenever it is actually placed on a ballot. Does Steve Schmidt have a better idea? ...
P.S.: In a precious moment of calm, Andrew Sullivan posts a sensible analysis of how Obama might respond. [Sullivan's away. Item was written by Chris Bodenner--ed I finally know what they mean by "the exception that proves the rule."]
P.P.S.: Weekend chat shows were bloated with talk of the McCain campaign's recent general incompetence. I know that Mike Murphy's comeback bid is over, finished, he "will not be reboarding the Straight Talk Express," and "the matter is now been resolved." Politico told us! But at this rate don't you think Murphy will be running the campaign by August? ... 10:42 P.M. link
More evidence of the new realism about Edwards on the left. Alex Koppelman in Salon:
I know what you're thinking: Why even bother with anything printed by the Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid you probably think of as the kind of "newspaper" that focuses on rumors that Elvis Presley is alive -- and leading a band of rampaging space aliens? ...[snip] That's not really the Enquirer's niche, though. It gets confused with publications like the defunct Weekly World News, but in fact the Enquirer is surprisingly good at reporting on these kinds of stories, and it has a decent track record with them. It was the Enquirer that published the photo of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart's lap. It was the Enquirer that broke the story of Rush Limbaugh's addiction to painkillers. And new information about the Edwards story makes the Enquirer's reporting on it look more solid.
Not all of Koppelman's commenters are on board! (Sample: "J.D. Rockefeller, back in the 1900's sent hired guns into a camp of striking mine workers. ...When you threaten the power base in this country, watch out.") But he has more support than you'd expect. ... 9:46 P.M.
The truth is that I believe anyone who looks into the John Edwards / Rielle Hunter affair story will see that Edwards has, at best, acted in a very suspicious manner for over a year now. ...
Let's go with the assumption that Edwards is innocent for a moment; he didn't have the affair so the baby isn't his. If he didn't do anything wrong then it seems like he'd have good reasons to stop the rumors. A DNA test months ago would have ended all speculation about the paternity of the baby. Isn't that a better, less suspicious move than pulling down all the videos that Rielle Hunter helped produce about him for his campaign? And if there are rumors and you're innocent, WHY go visit the subject of those rumors at a hotel and leave at 2:45 in the morning? Why hide in the bathroom when reporters catch you leaving? These actions don't make any more sense to me than Craig's 'wide stance / dropped my toilet paper' defense did. ...
The mainstream media is fairly quiet but the most ominous silence right now is from the progressive blogosphere.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Sleaze Scuppers Democrat Golden Boy": Sometimes a foreign perspective is clarifying. Effective photo. ... 2:47 P.M.
Will the Pro-Obama Bias Turn Anti-Edwards? At this point, does Barack Obama want John Edwards to even show up in Denver, much less give a prime time speech? Even if the Love-Child saga progresses no further than it already has, an Edwards Denver appearance will inevitably be accompanied by renewed speculation about his seemingly scandalous and politically toxic behavior. Obama's in what looks like a surprisingly close race. He doesn't need to carry Edwards' baggage. He needs a positive convention. And Obama has previously shown a willingness to bury troublesome associates without much fuss (ask Jim Johnson).
If you're an Obama strategist, mightn't you conclude that the best thing for your candidate would be if the press weighs in quickly and definitively concludes that Edwards is guilty, with the result that he and his whole sordid story go away until after November? ...
Of course, if that was the Obama camp's desire, you'd expect Obamaphilic Web sites like Huffington Post to suddenly start billing Love Child stories on their front pages, even if they come from FOX News, and that's not about to ... Oh, wait. ...
If Edwards has lost Arianna's crowd (which only recently was sneering at the scandal with embarrassing, heavy-handed, unfunny satires **) we can't be far away from the Flipping Point at which Liberal Media Bias, to the extent it exist, starts working against Edwards. ...
P.S.: HufPo has even finally begun to boast, accurately, that:
The Huffington Post was the first to report on Edwards' relationship with Rielle Hunter in September 2007 .
**--Update: Greg Mitchell, author of the embarrassing, unfunny satire, emails to say: "Within minutes of posting yesterday, I recognized that it was, indeed, 'heavyhanded' and had it 'unpublished.'" OK. (But it's still there.) ... 2:44 A.M. link
Friday, July 25, 2008
Still, the Enquirer, as sleazy as its tactics strike many people, has a better reputation on stories like this than you might think. Frankly, I believe them here -- Edwards refuses to comment -- but I do want to see photos.
He couldn't say that at the rockin' L.A. Times! ... Meanwhile, Fox News manages to do what the L.A.T.'s reporters are apparently unable to do, namely find some independent corroborating eyewitness evidence that Edwards was present at the hotel when the Enquirer says he was. ...
Update 2: From a WaPo online chat with reporter Jonathan Weisman:
Dunn Loring, Va.: Does the Post have any political reporters investigating the legitimacy of the Enquirer's stories about John Edwards?
Jonathan Weisman: Yes, and to be quite honest, we're waiting to see the pictures the Enquirer says it will publish this weekend. That said, Edwards is no longer an elected official and is not running for any office now. Don't expect wall-to-wall coverage.
LAT Gags Blogs: In a move that has apparently stirred up some internal discontent, the Los Angeles Times has banned its bloggers, including political bloggers, from mentioning the Edwards/Rielle Hunter story. Even bloggers who want to mention the story in order to make a skeptical we-don't-trust-the-Enquirer point are forbidden from doing so. Kausfiles has obtained a copy of the email Times bloggers received from editor Tony Pierce. [I've excised the recipient list and omitted Pierce's email address]:
From: "Pierce, Tony"
Date:July 24, 2008 10:54:41 AM PDT
Subject: john edwards
There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair. Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations. So I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified.
If you have any questions or are ever in need of story ideas that would best fit your blog, please don't hesitate to ask
That will certainly calm paranoia about the Mainstream Media (MSM) suppressing the Edwards scandal. ...
P.S.: Is the Times' edict a) part of a double-standard that favors Democrats (and disfavors Republicans like Rep. Vito Fossella and John McCain)? Or does it b) simply reflect an outmoded Gatekeeper Model of journalism in which not informing readers of certain sensitive allegations is as important as informing them--as if readers are too simple-minded to weigh charges that are not proven, as if they aren't going to find out about such controversies anyway? I'd say it's a mixture of both (a) and (b). This was a sensational scandal the LAT and other MSM papers passionately did not want to uncover when Edwards was a formal candidate, and now that the Enquirer seems to have done the job for them it looks like they want everyone to shut up while they fail to uncover it again. ...
P.P.S.: The Times apparently failed to get word of the ban to one of its bloggers in time to prevent her from shocking readers by saying she hoped the allegations against Edwards weren't true. ... 2:55 A.M. link
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Always trust women named Emily (and Rachael and Bonnie): Good discussion of whether the Edwards story is "news" on Slate's XX Factor. ... Are we in the truth business or the "protect Saint Elizabeth" business? ... Anyway, if the National Enquirer'sstory is true, Elizabeth Edwards' public role as a popular and effective spokesperson will not be undermined--even though maybe it should be a bit (given her complicity in the coverup). ... P.S.: Melinda Henneberger argues that "the Edwards family should be left alone." But didn't Henneberger write a piece purporting to take readers "inside the Edwards' marriage," according to the headline? Wasn't that a breach of privacy? It was just a breach of privacy that Elizabeth Edwards approved of. ... P.P.S.: It was a good piece--effectively countering the attacks on Edwards for having an expensive house. But it did not tell readers what was going on "inside the Edwards marriage." ("I still don't want to know," Henneberger initially blogs--though she eventually admits: "I may be identifying with [Elizabeth] a little too closely, as an oversharing cancer survivor and all.") ... 3:24 P.M.
Nibbling at the edges of the MSM: Imus laments that the Edwards L.C. story is "starting to become news." ... And there's always the late-night comics' rabbithhole into public consciousness. ...
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Mondo: You have more updates planned on this latest installment?
DP: We'll be updating the story several times. We're not finished yet.
Mondo: Any other comments?
DP: We were looking for the "smoking gun": time, place, day and date. Edwards could always "deny, deny, deny". Now, Edwards can't deny being at the Beverly Hilton and visiting Rielle Hunter. There were at least 10 eyewitnesses to the affair of Edwards running on the stairs and ducking into the restroom.
There were seven reporters on the story, according to Perel. DBKP adds that Edwards ran into "at least one Enquirer photographer" when "trying to make his escape." ... So will one of the "updates" include photos? Did the photographer forget to take off the lens cap? 11:53 P.M.
"Get it first, but first get it second." The old Newsweek rule! I hope that's the rule the MSM is following. If so, here's an MSM mention! And here. Business Week is what, chopped liver? And doesn't Jack Shafer count? ... I fear there is a new rule: "We don't want to get it at all. Not even just a mention of the 'allegation.' Not even second." Why? Jon Fine's Business Week piece summarizes some likely reasons. A couple of points:
--Fine notes that "Edwards isn't considered a likely vice-presidential candidate by the press." That's true. But he is a likely Obama cabinet official. Many Dems would like to see him as Attorney-General. That's what's at stake in the love-child coverage. The Enquirer has killed him as a VP candidate. But if the MSM goes into full "protect Elizabeth" mode the damage might yet not quite be enough to stop his confirmation by a Democratic Senate next year. "Protect Elizabeth" = "protect A.G. John."
--If the Enquirer story is true, Edwards didn't just cheat on his sick wife after making a big deal of his loyalty to her in the campaign. He also presided over an elaborate cover-up, involving lies and duplicitous lobbying of the MSM. What is it the CW says about cover-ups? Eliot Spitzer looks like a Boy Scout in comparison.
P.S.: If the MSM can discuss the charges in meta form ("It's so easy to jump to conclusions---and I admit, this looks bad") in blogs, chat rooms, and in press commentaries, why not on the front page in political commentaries? As things stand, here's a rundown of media performance on the John Edwards front:
--The New York Times doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--The print edition of the Washington Post doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Newsweek doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Time doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Katie Couric didn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Brian Williams didn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Charlie Gibson didn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--RealClearPolitics doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Mark Halperin doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
--Mark Ambinder doesn't tell you what happened yesterday.
Has the gap between what the MSM lets you know and what happened--and what you can easily find out happened--ever been greater? ...
Update: John Tabin argues: "If the account of him being caught in a hotel rendezvous with Rielle Hunter was false, Edwards wouldn't be changing the subject, he'd be suing."
Jim Treacher emails: "Which story gets a bigger audience: A story the blogs run with but the mainstream news ignores, or a story the news runs with but the blogs ignore? I'm thinking the news comes out ahead, but just barely. And at this rate, not for much longer." ...
More: Rielle Hunter just appeared on camera on Extra, talking about what a wonderful man John Edwards is. Not sure this helps him. ... 5:17 P.M. link
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Edwards, Rielle Hunter, Busted: HuffPo 's Sam Stein, who got the story rolling, appears to be vindicated. ... P.S.: Always trust content from kausfiles! Never trust content from Jerome Armstrong. ... P.P.S.: Will this be the first presidential-contender level scandal to occur completely in the undernews, without ever being reported in the cautious, respectable MSM? That's always seemed an interestingtheoretical possibility--a prominent politician just disappears from the scene, after blogs and tabloids dig up dirt on him, but nobody who relies on the Times, Post, network news or Mark Halperin has the faintest idea why. If this is that case, it will have come along sooner than I would have thought. ... P.P.P.S.: But it's hard to believe the MSM can ignore the story now. Don't think Obama will! ...
Update: Nothing yet. You'd think MSM reporters would resent being played for chumps by Mudcat Saunders, et al. ... 8:09 P.M. link
Monday, July 21, 2008
Dónde está Juan? ... 1:36 P.M.
Paul Begala, Friend of Angelo! ... Plus: Holbrooke saved $15,000. ... Suggested title for either man's memoirs: "Dodd is my Co-Pirate!" .... [stolen from P. Krassner's The Realist] 11:20 A.M.
As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes. [E.A.]
And here's the NYT's own translation of the tape:
"Obama's remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq." [E.A.]
There's a not inconsequential difference between the two, no? The Times version specifically does not "endorse" the timetable of 16 months (no matter what some bloggers claim). It says 16 months isn't crazy. ... P.S.:Hot Air has a third translation, which is somewere in between, ... P.P.S.: Maliki does seem to endorse Obama's general approach over McCain's, though. ("Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.") ... [via Insta, Yglesias ] 12:41 A.M. link
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Why did star blogger Matt Yglesias really defect from The Atlantic to the Center for American Progress? It can't have been the money: The Atlantic is the last journalistic gravy train in town. Were the ideas at the Aspen Ideas Festival not up to snuff? ... P.S.: What's CAP getting in the deal? Gravitas! ... 11:49 P.M. link
Maybe we should pay more attention to the issues on which Obama hasn't noticeably shifted to the center. For example, 1) health care and 2) tax increases. In each case, the relevant question would seem to be: Is he sticking to his guns because a) that's what he really believes his presidency should be about, or b) the issue is so central to his coalition that changing his position would disrupt his election strategy? ... My guess: Issue 1# is both a and b. But some moderate moderation** on Issue #2, taxes, wouldn't really hurt Obama politically--he could still be for raising taxes on the rich without proposing hikes that add up to marginal rates in the over-50% range on the coasts. His failure to do that suggests that soaking the rich in myriad ways is what he really believes in.
It's a big insufficiently remarked-on vulnerability. You don't have to be against high taxes to be against high marginal tax rates, which threaten to produce a boom in unproductive tax shelters. The tax-raising alternatives are to broaden the tax base (i.e. the sorts of income that are taxed) and to broaden the range of taxpayers who face increases (instead of soaking only the very tip of the income pyramid, those making over $250,000 or $300,,000 a year). ...
**--Obama does seem to have watered down his tax position a bit, fudging what seemed to be an inclination to impose the Social Security payroll tax of 12.4% on high earners. Now aide Jason Furman says
[W]e are looking at a range of plans, think Congress might like to have rates that are in the neighborhood of 2% to 4%."
Good climbdown, Jason! But was Obama just winging it before? And never mind what "Congress" wants. What does Obama want? ... Are Obama's own aides already invoking Congressional Democrats as a valuable check on their candidate's leftish instincts? ... 11:20 P.M. link
And they say investigative journalism is endangered: Driving to the 7-11, I passed a strange, ugly car/truck vehicle I'd never seen before. All the badges and identifying lettering had been removed. It turned out to be a SsangYong Actyon. But of course. ... Or ... wait ... did it just look like a SsangYong Actyon? Yes, that's what they wanted us to believe! But Autoblog Green penetrates the mask of the phenomenal world to uncover the hidden truth. ... 2:11 P.M. link
Friday, July 18, 2008
So when Obama opposes the surge it's potential "chaos" and "disaster," according to John McCain. But when Chuck Hagel opposes the surge it's an "informed decision"? "I respect his views," says McCain. ... GetDrunk asks: "Will McCain 'respect' Obama's views once Obama has 'studied the issue'?" ... Maybe Obama was relying on Hagel's deep knowledge! Does that make it better? ... If an "informed decision" leads to chaos and disaster, what does that say about the value of the process by which U.S. Senators go about becoming "informed"?... P.S: You'd think McCain could just say, "I think Sen. Hagel is wrong"? What is it about Hagel that has the power to fog not just his own mind but the minds of others? Does he tell great dirty stories? Is he so gloomy that his friends worry that dissing him will send him over the edge? ... 5:10 P.M. link
Thursday, July 17, 2008
If I see one more hip twentysomething man reading a book of high-class poetry (Rilke, Larkin) I'm going to report a trend (or, rather, check to see if the Trend has been Declared already). ... Update: I suspect these people are somehow mixed up in this. ... 2:52 A.M.
"Security First"--McCain's One-Step Two-Step: Ramesh Ponnuru admits that John McCain has given "mixed signals" as to whether he intends to a) secure the borders through an enforcement bill, wait until the borders are secure, and only then try to pass a second bill to legalize illegal immigrants or to b) try to pass one big "comprehensive" bill that includes both enforcement and a provision that automatically triggers legalization once certain statutory conditions are met. It's a crucial issue, since the statutory conditions are likely to be easy to meet--e.g., four pro-legalization border state governors certifying that "security" has been achieved, a "trigger" McCain has suggested in the past--and there will be tremendous pressure to either declare them satisfied or water them down.
Even admitting McCain's flailing, semi-confused contradiction--sorry, strategic ambiguity--is a concession some McCain supporters won' t make. But think about it: President McCain takes office in 2009, along with a heavily Democratic Congress. A commitment to legalization is one of the few things McCain will have in common with those Democrats. What's he going to do--pass a tough "enforcement" bill his first year, despite opposition from Dem leaders, then wait a year or two, and then try to pass a second mostly-amnesty bill either in a mid-term election year or in the second half of what is likely to be his single term in office? Or will he try to pass both parts quickly, while he's still popular, in one big bill with whatever "triggers" are needed? Answer: He'll do (b). I can't believe Ponnuru thinks otherwise. ... 2:46 A.M. link
When I tell my liberal friends that "card check" is one of the big issues in the 2008 campaign, they tend to roll their eyes. But when I tell my conservative friends that "card check" is one of the big issues in 2008 ... they roll their eyes too. Apparently the words "card check" are not enough, in themselves, to convey the fundamental shift in industrial organization that might result if workers could trigger unionization under the Wagner Act without a normal secret-ballot election.
Mike Murphy's initial anti-card check ads, using actor Vincent Curatola who played Johnny Sack in The Sopranos (and who also appeared in the Clintons' parody), attempted to bring the issue down from the eye-roll level. They seemed effective to me, but I'm pre-convinced. Murphy's new follow-up ads-- example here--will be a test of whether support of card check can actually be used against individual candidates. I'm less convinced of that. ... P.S.: The target of this particular ad is Al Franken. It's hard for me to believe that Franken, who's always struck me as a sensible yuppie neolib type underneath, actually cares that much about card check (whatever his Web site says). ... 1:40 A.M. link
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The Chandra Story Is Back: Fred Barnes said the most discouraging words in the English language are "first of a series." But the Chandra Levy case actually deserves a 12-part series, and I'm eager to read WaPo's effort. (I admit I may wait until it's all published and I can peek at the conclusion). Here's a complicated mystery, with a real victim and all sorts of sociological and political lessons, that never got the coverage it deserved after self-righteous media scolds who mainly work for MSM organizations that are now going broke used it to symbolize the allegedly trivial, tabloidy coverage before 9/11! ... Maybe I'll even "skip" it. ... Bonus: Now Howie Kurtz can try to boost his CNN ratings with a tabloidy show re-denouncing tabloidy coverag e of the Levy case! ... 4:34 P.M. link
a) makes it clear that Fannie's involvment in the subprime market comes not from repackaging subprime loans as securities but from buying those securities after they'd been repackaged by others (which still helped fuel the subprime lending crisis, pace Krugman):
The main mission of Fannie and Freddie is to provide liquidity into the mortgage markets by purchasing loans made by local lenders and repackaging them into bond-market security pools that are sold to investors with the U.S. government's stamp of approval. You might call this the good-cop function.
But then there's the bad-cop function: Fannie and Freddie purchased some of these mortgage pools for their own portfolios, essentially setting up a high-risk internal hedge fund. It was the sinking credit quality of this hedge fund that drove last week's shareholder run. Think sub-prime mortgages and other shaky and exotic loans.
b) suggests, startlingly, that the government has agreed to back only Fannie's "good cop" function, not the bad-cop securities purchases that are the source of Fannie's financial troubles;
c) hints that left and right are converging on the desirability of de-privatizing Fannie and Freddie, at least temporarily. When even an AEI expert calls for talking profit-making shareholder owned organizations and "making them tightly controlled government agencies," maybe they should be made tightly controlled government agencies! Letting Jim Johnson politico types build profit-making empires with taxpayer-supported credit is just too risky. (For how Johnson operated, see this 2006 WaPo piece [via NewsAlert].)
P.S.: When toting up the costs and benefits of Fannie Mae, shouldn't Slate's Daniel Gross have taken into account the cost of dragging down the whole economy in a subprime crisis which Fannie and Freddy helped fuel maybe not as a primary but as an important secondary factor? Just asking! .... I smell Kool Aid! ... 2:58 P.M. link
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Chart of the Day: What happened to the number of people on public assistance in New York City after the 1996 welfare reform. ... 2:52 A.M.
Embedded Error: Here's NPR's Mara Liasson, covering the candidates' appearance before Last Week's Latino Group:
Both these candidates are for the same thing: a path to citizenship--that doesn't reward people who come in illegally--but McCain did change his emphasis ...
Liasson is being very careful not to overemphasize or underemphasize the difference between the candidates. She doesn't exhibit any tilt toward Obama or toward McCain. It's all exquisitely fair--except that she almost unconsciously embeds a bit of ludicrous BS that is common to both candidates: the idea that their legalization plans wouldn't "reward people who come in illegally."
Of course they would. When you hear the candidates talk about sending illegals to the "back of the line," remember that there are two lines: 1) An initial, typically very long line in which foreigners patiently wait years, sometimes decades, to get green cards or other documents that enable them to live and work here legally, and 2) a shorter second line of people who have green cards and want to become citizens. Neither Obama nor McCain would send illegals to the back of the first line--that would, in many cases, be tantamount to deporting them. On the contrary, the illegals who are already here get to pay a not-huge fine and skip Queue #1 entirely. They may go to the back of Queue #2, but that's a queue they can wait out while working legally in the richest country on Earth--a reward the poor suckers who obeyed the law and are still lining up outside U.S. consulates abroad don't get. ...
Just because both candidates say something doesn't mean it's not crap! ... 2:33 A.M. link
kf seems to have reappeared on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blogroll after a mysterious absence. Thanks! ... 12:34 A.M.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Fannie and Freddie had about as much to with the "explosion of high-risk lending" as they could get away with. We are all fortunate that they couldn't get away with all that much of it. ... [snip]
But they didn't like losing their market share, and they pushed the envelope on credit quality as far as they could inside the constraints of their charter: they got into "near prime" programs (Fannie's "Expanded Approval," Freddie's "A Minus") that, at the bottom tier, were hard to distinguish from regular old "subprime" except--again--that they were overwhelmingly fixed-rate "non-toxic" loan structures. ...
Furthermore, both GSEs [Government Sponsored Enterprises--e.g. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] were major culprits in the growth of the mega-lenders. Over the years they were struggling so hard to maintain market share, they were allowing themselves to experience huge concentration risks. As they catered more and more to their "major partners"--Countrywide, Wells Fargo, WaMu, the usual suspects--they helped sustain and worsen the "aggregator" model in which smaller lenders sold loans not to the GSEs but to CFC or WFC, who then sold the loans to the GSEs. ...
I think we can give Fannie and Freddie their due share of responsibility for the mess we're in, while acknowledging that they were nowhere near the biggest culprits in the recent credit bubble. [E.A.]
Fannie and Freddie had nothing to do with the explosion of high-risk lending a few years ago ....
My turn: But didn't I say that "Fannie Mae was a huge buyer of subprime mortgages"? I did. How does this jibe with Calculated Risk's assertion that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pushed the envelope but that the envelope still constrained them at least somewhat? I don't know the answer ... at least not yet... but at least part of it seems to be that Fannie Mae mainly purchased subprime mortgage securities--i.e. mortgages that had been aggregated and repackaged as bonds--but that it didn't buy actual subrime mortgages directly. In theory buying the bonds backed by lousy mortgages might have been safer than buying the mortgages, although this 2007 Fortune article seems to argue that the protection was largely illusory, and that through the bond purchases
over the past five years [Fannie Mae] became exposed to mortgages that were made to people with poor credit - subprime mortgages.
Is there any doubt that by purchasing bonds backed by subprime mortgages Fannie Mae helped enable the "explosion of high-risk lending"? I wouldn't think so. Indeed, expanding subprime lending seems to have been the goal. But then why doesn't Calculated Risk emphasize that aspect of Fannie's culpability? If anyone wants to explain this to me, I'll repackage it and sell it to my readers. ...
Answers! a) Yes, the explanation seems to be that Fannie Mae bought securities backed by subprime loans, not the loans themselves; b) Even Tantu says these securities purchases were "supposed to be about supplying some 'needed' capital to the subprime market." If you're providing "needed" capital aren't you thereby enabling the "explosion of high risk lending," as Conn Carroll charges? Doesn't that leave Krugman--"Fannie and Freddie had nothing to do with the explosion"--looking like he's drunk some kind of Fannie Mae Kool Aid? ...[Thanks to readers R and S] 11:57 P.M. link
Curious passage in Paul Krugman's half-defense of Fannie Mae today:
But here's the thing: Fannie and Freddie had nothing to do with the explosion of high-risk lending a few years ago, an explosion that dwarfed the S.& L. fiasco. In fact, Fannie and Freddie, after growing rapidly in the 1990s, largely faded from the scene during the height of the housing bubble.
Partly that's because regulators, responding to accounting scandals at the companies, placed temporary restraints on both Fannie and Freddie that curtailed their lending just as housing prices were really taking off. Also, they didn't do any subprime lending, because they can't.
Huh? Does Krugman not know that Fannie Mae was a huge buyer of subprime mortgages, including mortgages from Angelo Mozilo's Countrywide? David Smith's eerily prescient AHI blog noted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reportedly bought $35 billion in subprimes in the first quarter of 2007 alone.
On his blog, Krugman casts the Fannie problem in ideological terms:
What you need to know here is that the right — the WSJ editorial page, Heritage, etc. — hates, hates, hates Fannie and Freddie. Why? Because they don't want quasi-public entities competing with Angelo Mozilo.
"Huh?" again. Conn Carroll responds:
The problem is that Fannie was Countrywide's No. 1 enabler. ... When he was CEO of Fannie, former Barack Obama campaign adviser Jim Johnson worked personally with Mozilo to streamline the two companies' business relationship.
Could Mozilo have done his subprime thing without Johnson and Fannie Mae as a backup to purchase his junky mortgages?
P.S.: Krugman suggests Fannie's problem is that it wasn't a true government agency, but rather a hybrid public/private partnership that privatized profits and socialized losses.
Liberals like Fannie the way it was for the first 30 years — a purely public enterprise.
Good point--according to Smith Fannie seems to have been using all sorts of tricks to turn profits using its implicit government credit guarantee.But if Fannie had been a pure government enterprise, would it really have refrained from supporting Mozilo-style subprime lending? I'm not so sure. Providing "affordable housing" was a policy crusade of Johnson, among others, and a popular goal on Capitol Hill (where Mozilo had done so much to ensure that his "friends" would be receptive to his particular method of pursuing affordability).
P.P.S.: Krugman also writes, boldly:
You could say that the Fannie-Freddie experience shows that regulation works.
You could say that--unless you read the remainder of Krugman's column, which notes the inadequate capital requirements imposed on Fannie-Freddie because
the companies' management bought off the political process, systematically hiring influential figures from both parties.
P.P.P.S.: Is this risk of corruption any less with a) "purely public enterprise" than with b) a public-private hybrid like Fannie Mae or c) a purely private enterprise (like, say, the Blackstone Group)? Interesting question. I would think well-connected liberal operatives like Johnson would be capable of at least perverting a regulatory regime even if they headed a 100% federal, civil-servicized Fannie Mae. (Most "regulation" is in category (c) of course, where the risk of corruption seems somehow undiminished by the triumphant "Fannie-Freddie experience.") ...
Update: See semi-clarifying semi-correction. ... 2:00 P.M.
Didn't subprime poster villain Angelo Mozilo do Barack Obama a big favor by compromising Obama's initial VP vetter, Jim Johnson, with favorable loans, causing Johnson to step down from his position? How bad would today's headlines be for Obama if Fannie Mae fatcat Johnson was still heading up his vice-presidential search effort? ... 10:45 P.M.
A reader emails:
People seem to think it's somehow a stroke of political genius that Sen. Obama is taking Sen. Hagel with him on his trip to Iraq. But why doesn't this highlight Obama's lack of judgment on the surge, by bringing along the man who considered it a catastrophically bad idea?
Actually, Hagel called the surge "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." ... Is Obama cannily trying to demonstrate why Hagel would be a horrifying VP pick? Is he trying to deflect attention from his own poor surge judgment ("the surge has not worked") by bringing along as a lightning rod someone whose judgment was even worse than his? ... Imagine how embarrassing it would be if Obama went with an antiwar Republican like Gen. Zinni, who supported the surge, with what now looks like contrarian wisdom. ... 1:40 A.M.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
BMW 3 series needs a Seven Level DeBangling, gets minor tweaks. Now slightly less ugly. ... 12:41 P.M.
William Bradley on why Schmidt might be a good fit: He helped Schwarzenegger move to the center in 2006. A beat sweetener, but that doesn't make it wrong! ... 12:28 A.M.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Moving to a more responsible position on Iraq: Valuable.
Having Jesse Jackson say he wants to cut your nuts out: Priceless
Maybe the Newsweek poll is off (always a good bet). Maybe Obama's rapid-fire--and, therefore, seemingly calculated--pivots on a series of issues really have hurt his image, as Halperin suggests. Maybe there will be a delayed Jackson bounce. ... Or maybe Obama needed to respond to Jackson more forcefully, given that Jackson implicitly, but rather graphically, raised the "wuss" meme. ... 4:40 P.M. link
Thursday, July 10, 2008
According to Rasmussen, voters reject Obama's Scarsdale Bien Pensant Dinner Party Lecture about bilingulalism by, oh, 83% to 13%. ... See also Gateway, Clegg, and Maguire. ... Maguire makes the seemingly obvious point about having a common language: that it allows America to welcome and integrate immigrants from all over the world, whose native tongues may be Vietnamese, Chinese, or Polish, etc. ... Clegg:
If a fat, rich American goes to Paris and can't speak French, that's too bad but it is no tragedy. When a child growing up in America, or anyone who wants to live here and get ahead, doesn't learn English, that IS a tragedy.
McCain makes what, in other circumstances, might be a candidacy-crippling Social Security gaffe,** but few except Josh Marshall notice. ... I don't know if this means that the new Schmidt regime is already floundering or that it's working brilliantly. ...
Reader D.L. emails:
Jackson may be right. Let us assume for argument's sake that Obama is condescending and arrogant etc. I am black but I am not so sure that really matters. All I can say is close your eyes and look at the damned statistics. We in the black community need to face up to the fact that we are the primary cause of our own demise. That may only be partly true but, by golly, it is better than thinking it is someone else's fault. One of these days white people are going to wake and realize that they do not have to respond to black guilt anymore. Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and their ilk are dying and we need to start looking inward. What Obama says might only be partly true but in this case I will take it to heart. Arrogant, condescending, who cares? We need to start hitting the books (yea, learning to speak Spanish is not a bad place to start), taking responsibility for our children (I am aware that welfare is not a "black" problem, but I guarantee you that the majority of white people think it is which, in some respects, makes it our problem). Maybe we need to hear more of that, not less.
Fair enough. But Steven Waldman helpfully links to a Father's Day talk in which Obama gets this point across without any downtalking that I can discern. Effective! The biggest problem with Obama's occasional "I'm a big success and I'm telling you losers what to do" tone, in other words, may be that's it's not effective. My guess is it's likely to eventually produce a non-trivial, intense anti-Obama movement within the black community that will partially undermine the message D.L. wants delivered. ... P.S.: Of course, Obama's effectively non-condescending Father's Day talk my be what really annoys Rev. Jackson, as Waldman, Jack White, Eric Easter and Kathleen Parker have all suggested. ... See also Daniel Finkelstein, who employs a Shelby Steele-ish template, but whose argument dovetails with Easter's description of blacks worrying that whites want Obama to bring "a change in the racial dynamic." I know I do! ... 2:57 P.M. link
"You are probably not that good a rapper. Maybe you are the next Lil' Wayne, but probably not, in which case you need to stay in school," Obama, D-Ill., told a cheering crowd, brought to a standing ovation at a town hall meeting in Powder Springs, Georgia.
The presumptive Democratic nominee was speaking about high school drop out rates and the need for people to be committed to working hard in school so they can get a job after school.
Obama said he knows some young men think they can't find a job unless they are a really good basketball player.
"Which most of you brothas are not," Obama, who played basketball in high school, a sport he continues to play to this day, said jokingly. "I know you think you are, but you're not. You are over-rated in your own mind. You will not play in the NBA." [E.A.]
Isn't there a better way to phrase it that doesn't set up Obama as a commanding know-it-all--something along the lines of, "I urge you all to stay in school. I've seen what happened to friends of mine. I know what would have happened to me. The odds against people who drop out of high school are not good." (Something along the lines of this, in fact.) ... P.S.: If you were a conscientious African-American parent who carefully rationed your kids' TV time, how would you feel if Obama came to town and told you, "So turn off the TV set, put the video game away." ... Even Bill Cosby is less condescending, I think. He's just a pissed off old geezer comin' right at ya. He doesn't claim to venerate Lil' Wayne and then put down kids who aspire to live the life Lil' Wayne boasts about. ...
P.P.S.: Obama's lecture to parents about how "you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish"? Also condescending! Especially since, as Abe Greenwald points out, Obama doesn't speak Spanish.*** ... He's insultingly missing the point about the need for a common language, of course. If we want a common language, and the common language of Americans is English, then learning Spanish, however beneficial, is not going to achieve that goal. It's perfectly reasonable for native English speakers to worry if enough new immigrants whose ethnic leaders demand bilingual education will learn English. They probably will, but Obama's saying it's wrong to even worry about it. ... [via Corner] ... And then there's the whole embarrassed-by-boorish-Americans-who-don't-know-French riff. A provien vote-getter! ... P.P.P.S.: He also seems really tired! ...
P.P.P.P.S.: Is the lecturing style one that wears well in a President? I think the answer is so obviously "no" that it's never been tried. Mayhill Fowler tried to warn us. [I had a snide comparison to Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech here, but that was unfair to Jimmy Carter. The "malaise" speech was an exercise in self-loathing--and if it insulted voters it insulted them by attributing to them the same flaws and failures Carter attributed to himself.] ...
***: From a Jorge Ramos interview with Obama--"Obama studied Spanish in high school and for two years in college. "My Spanish used to be OK," he said. Now, however, he has all but forgotten it." ... 12:44 A.M. link
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Even kf is not this paranoid. ... 2:35 P.M.
From WaPo's bio of new Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli:
The Los Angeles Times has a U.N. bureau chief? More layoffs please! ... [Thks. to alert reader E.] 2:27 P.M.
"Many Americans, with good cause, didn't believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States of America." [E.A.]
Byron York is impressed. I hate to be picky, but even if you think McCain actually believes his constantly-shifting formal position, the statement remains ambiguous. Is McCain saying he first must actually secure the borders or that he first must prove to the voters that he can secure the borders? I don't think it's crazy to believe the second interpretation is the correct one--or at least that McCain's drafters left it open to potentially give him wiggle room later (i.e., "We wouldn't be passing this historic comprehensive reform today, with the help of my Democratic friends, if we hadn't convinced the voters that we can and will secure the borders.") ... The ambiguous formula also leaves open the more obvious possibility of quickly passing a bill that contains a future "trigger"--with semi-amnesty automatically taking effect after, say, the four Mexico-adjacent governors sign some sort of artful finding that the borders are "secure." ...
Murphy is through! Finished! There is noone named Mike Murphy. I don't quite see how Mike Allen of the Politico can write sentences like this:
Mike Murphy, a political consultant who helped Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) mastermind his 2000 campaign, will not be reboarding the Straight Talk Express. ... [snip].
With Steve Schmidt taking over operations last week, the matter is now resolved. Murphy will be seen on television and may offer McCain private counsel. But he won't be in the bubble. [Emphasis on overly definitive statements added.]
Yes, Murphy isn't coming on board in the current shakeup. But if McCain is still behind and flailing at the end of the summer, is he really going to say, "We resolved that matter of my campaign's structure back in July." Or is he going to panic and bring in Murphy? I don't know, but neither does Allen. (Or the NYT fool who titled Nagourney's item "Count Murphy Out for McCain Campaign.") ... Murphy certainly didn't close the door. ("I do not expect to join the campaign.") He had to say something to tamp down overheated reports of his imminent arrival.) ... Backfill: Zengerle refines his position. Search for "knife." ...
Jim Johnson's Legacy Builds: Politico gravy-train Fannie Mae in trouble despite its massive implicit government subsidy, because new accounting rules would apparently require it to list billions of dollars of now off-the-balance-sheet mortgage guarantees as liabilities. Of course, the agency formerly headed by Obama's ex-veep-vetter will probably wriggle out of the new rule thanks, as always, to political pressure:
"I would bet my firstborn that they will be excluded from the accounting change. It would bankrupt them," said Paul Miller of the investment firm Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group.
So everything's OK then! ... Backfill: Eerily prescient David Smith post here. See also this E-Z-2-Follow post on Fannie Mae's balance sheets. Cheap visual devices are used, and also the word "Augean." ... 12:35 P.M. link
Monday, July 7, 2008
Getdrunkandvote4mccain.com The Republican base comes home, plastered. ... 1:49 A.M.
PearSneak of the Day-- "Employers Fight Tough Measures on Immigration": Robert Pear is the acknowledged master at sneaking not-as-important-as-they-sound policy stories into the lead position on the NYT front page on slow news days. These Pear pieces are often leaks from liberal interest groups, who then benefit from the prime placement. But it was Julia Preston who pulled a Pear yesterday, with a lead A-1 piece that seemed to be mainly a press release for Tamar Jacoby's new lobbying organization, ImmigrationWorks USA.
1) Some of Preston's evidence of an employer fight-back against the immigration crackdown is ludicrously weak. "Unhappy California business won the support of Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, who wrote a letter" protesting immigration raids. Yes, a letter! From a mayor! Meanwhile:
Arizona businesses rallied behind a bill to create what would have been the first state guest worker program in the country. Their advertising campaign used the slogan "What part of legal don't you understand?"—a tweak of the battle cry of their opponents, who use the same phrase with the word "illegal." ...[snip]
Although the bill never came to a vote, employers said the debate helped make their views known in Washington.
"It's a message to the federal government," said Joe Sigg, director of government relations for the Arizona Farm Bureau ... [E.A.]
Then, a cautionary note:
Employers' groups have not succeeded everywhere.
They can't all be as successful as in Arizona, where their bill never came to a vote. ...
2) Does the employer resistance help or hurt the cause of "comprehensive immigration reform"? The "comprehensive" deal, after all, is supposed to be a) a guest worker program and b) semi-amnesty for existing illegals coupled with c) tough enforcement measures to make future amnesties unnecessary. That's why it's "comprehensive." To the extent powerful employers are fighting those enforcement measures--like "the federal system to check the working papers of new hires"--that would seem to undermine the "comprehensive" rationale and support the anti-comprehensivist claim that we'll end up with the amnesty but not the enforcement (as happened with the 1986 immigration reform).
And how is President John McCain going to plausibly claim he's "secured the borders first" if the chamber of commerce is suing in federal court to poke holes in that security? ...
P.S.: Preston's article seems to be part of a "series" titled "Getting Tough" and introduced by the NYT as follows:
This is the second article in a series that explores efforts by the government and others to compel illegal immigrants to leave the United States.
Isn't that description more than a bit tendentious? You can support enforcement efforts for lots of reasons other than a desire to have "illegal immigrants leave the United States." You might want to discourage further illegal immgration by those not yet in the U.S. for example, but not be especially bothered if current illegals continue to live "in the shadows" for many more years. That's basically my position. ... It's true that Mark Krikorian and others explicitly advocate a strategy of "attrition." Yet it's tendentious to describe even their position as being an effort to "compel" illegals to leave. If the government changes the desirability of staying in the U.S.--by requiring employers to check Social Security numbers or by simply failing to pass McCain's reform bill, thereby increasing "uncertainty about obtaining legal resident status any time soon"-- many illegals will decide to leave. Many won't. That doesn't seem like compulsion. ... 1:22 A.M. link
Sunday, July 6, 2008
More than two weeks ago the New York Times mentioned that the Iraqi city of Mosul was " in the midst of a major security operation" against one of the last bastions of Al Qaeda in Iraq. So how's that going? Should we have to read the London Times (or Belmont Club) to learn about its success or failure? (It looks like relative success, Juan Cole notwithstanding.) ... If the NYT has reported the outcome, I missed it. (A June 1 story only went so far as to say that "hopes" had been "raised" and that the "Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control." ) ... P.S.: Sorry to be crude, but does the NYT realize that we may be at the point where reports of military success in Iraq help Obama (because stability enables the rapid pullout he seeks) while reports of contiuing turmoil and difficulty help McCain (by raising doubts that U.S. forces can be safely withdrawn in the next few years)? ... [via Insta]11:56 P.M. link
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Hey, I thought Leon decides what's anti-Semitic around there! ... 4:01 P.M.
Out-of-Context Dingalink of the Week: NSFW. But true. ... 3:04 P.M.
Carbon/Silicon's "The News" would make a good Obama campaign song. You could skp the crunchy verse about people "caring about what they eat." ... [Unrealistically sunny?-ed Happy days are here again] ... 3:02 P.M.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
The difference between Bill Clinton's "pivot" and Obama's "pivot". ... P.S.: Clinton's is better! ... 11:02 P.M.
Aims at False Modesty, Misses: You'd think and Obama's Conceit-o-meter would have sounded the alarm before he let this sentence ship:
"I find comfort in the fact that the longer I'm in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience." [E.A.]
At least he fudged it with "mainly." ...[Quoted by Dominic Lawson]... 8:26 P.M.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I tried to cause Hugh Hewitt at least some momentary pain over McCain's renewed commitment to illegal immigrant legalization. I failed. Transcript:
MK: ... It was a terrible week for McCain, because he made it clear, Hugh, to people like you, that he's still for some form of amnesty, and he's much more likely to produce it than Obama. That's why I'm not for McCain. That's your problem.
HH: Well actually, I like where he is, since he's gone security first. Glenn, what do you think about the week? ...
He is such an apparatchik. ... P.S.: The whole point of last week is that McCain's dropping the "first" from "security first." ... 3:39 A.M.
TNR's Jason Zengerle analyzes the McCain campaign shake-up:
[I]'s hard to see how or why McCain would bring back Mike Murphy--as has been rumored for a little while now--since [Steve] Schmidt's now playing the role McCain would have presumably wanted Murphy to fill.
So wrong! McCain has plenty of time to bring back Murphy by the end of the summer if/when whatever Schmidt does between now and then doesn't seem to be working. ... Backfill: Chait made the same point. ... Update: Zengerle doubles down! "I don't think McCain can afford to do any more major reshuffling without running the risk of key Republicans concluding that he's hopeless and abandoning him en masse ..." Really? McCain has a shakeup before Labor Day and that's it, he's through? (Certainly voters won't care about it in November. By October even Mark Halperin will have forgotten about it.) ... Zengerle must be a) suffering from a clinical bubble-insider's loss of perspective and b) oblivious to the implications of the Feiler Faster Principle. ... It seems to me McCain has enough time to fire Schmidt, hire Weaver, fire Weaver, hire Murphy, fire Murphy, bring back Rick Davis, re-demote Davis and hire Schmidt again before the final debate. ... 2:58 A.M.
Obama's campaign has posted a response to that Boston Globe article on the failure of the "public private" housing partnerships Obama and his allies championed. The response seems weak and amateurish to me--with some good points (one housing project, for seniors, is a success) mixed with ineffective responses. For example:
RHETORIC: Obama translated that belief into legislative action as a state senator. In 2001, Obama and a Republican colleague, William Peterson, sponsored a successful bill that increased state subsidies for private developers. The law let developers designated by the state raise up to $26 million a year by selling tax credits to Illinois residents. For each $1 in credits purchased, the buyer was allowed to decrease his taxable income by 50 cents.
REALITY: SB 1135 WAS A BIPARTISAN BILL THAT HOUSING ADVOCATES SUPPORTED
Well, that settles it! Because bipartisan bills that housing advocates support always produce more clean, safe afforadable housing, and never enrich developers who wind up managing slums. ... P.S.: In general, it's hard to believe that Obama's fact-check site, heavy with pro-forma testimonials from other pols, will convince anybody who's not already a firm supporter. ... 2:51 A.M.
So the Fourth of July newspapers will have John McCain in ... er, Mexico plotting how to achieve comprehensive immigration reform with Felipe Calderon. ... And some people say the McCain Team has a tin ear! ... 1:16 A.M.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives--people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary--plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.
Max Boot, Pete Wehner, Jennifer Rubin, Paul Mirengoff and Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League all wrote confidently outraged responses to Klein's raising of the "divided loyalties" possibility--and, indeed, it's not the sort of assertion that has typically gone unpunished in the past. When Klein stubbornly failed to back down in a second post, Wehner somewhat smugly anticipated his near-certain demise:
It's like watching a movie that you now know is going to end very badly, and very sadly.
But here's the thing: It's now a week later, and as far as I can tell Klein still has his job. He's still blogging (wondering "why Lieberman is so fixated on Iran"). He hasn't been publically rebuked by his employer. He hasn't been forced to issue a groveling apology.
Can it be that the rules have changed? I suspect they have. And I think this is progress, for reasons outlined here and here. It should be possible to publicly debate whether some "Jewish neoconservatives," among others, too easily convinced themselves that America's and Israel's interests happily coincided in the prosecution of the war. Meanwhile, Foxman's view that
Neoconservatives have the right to make their case without having their religion brought up. ... [snip] Religious beliefs are personal, and matters of faith belong in the heart, in the church and in the home
seems preposterously artificial. Note to Foxman: I worked at The New Republic! The magazine supported the war. I consider its editor, Martin Peretz, to be a friend and mentor. But if you think Marty's views are uninfluenced by his affinity for Israel--and that the views of many of the eminent neocons who visited our offices were uninfluenced by "matters of faith" and/or religious identity--then you don't know Marty and you don't know The New Republic. In fact, you're more than a bit clueless. But you are not clueless.
This isn't to say that the decision to go to war in Iraq was necessarily wrong or right. It's not to say that "Jewish neoconservatives" were more than what Klein calls a "subsidiary" source of support for the war. It's not to say that anyone is more patriotic than anyone else. The influence of pro-Israel sympathies (or pro-wherever sympathies) invariably takes the form of encouraging the belief that what you think is right for the United States is also what is right for Israel (or wherever), and vice-versa. But that only begins the discussion of whether this belief is itself distorted by those sympathies. It doesn't end it. At least it doesn't seem to any more. ...
Monday, June 30, 2008
Just Don't Hire Bangle: Schwarzenegger steals the new Tesla plant from New Mexico (and its governor, Bill Richardson). Tesla will now apparently attempt to build electric sedans in the S.F. Bay Area. ... P.S.: It's one thing to build a fast $100,000 two-seat sports car--the car nuts who buy it are probably willing to overlook a few flaws (as long as it goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds). It's another to build "a mid-size sports sedan for $60,000, a competitor to the BMW 5-series and Jaguar XF " by the "end of 2009." Tesla is going up against decades of expertise in, for example, achieving both a supple ride and good handling. They'd need to set up a network of high-quality parts suppliers. Plus they need to sell in volume to bring the price down. Seems a longshot. But I'm all for them trying. ... 3:43 P.M. link
Dana Stevens' Unified Semi-Contrarian Theory of M. Night Shyamalan ... 3:45 A.M.
P.S: A friend emails: "Obama's KATRINA. A little dramatic?" Maybe. Obama's record on "affordable housing," as described in the Globe story, isn't a case of gross ineptitude in a catastrophic regional emergency. It's not even a symbol of endemic governmental dysfunction. (Although: Is there a bigger Petri dish for corrupt incompetence than the "public-private partnership"? Think cable TV franchises.) But the Globe account does seem to capture what's most likely to be wrong with an Obama administration. After all, Obama's career has been unusually limited for a presidential contender. Housing and "community development" has been a big part of it. If the result has been a disaster in which Obama's friends made lots of money while his poor constituents lived in dangerous squalor, that seems like a big warning sign, no? At least an expectations-lowerer! George W. Bush, in contrast, hadn't dedicated a large chunk of his life to FEMA. ... P.S.: Plus Valerie Jarrett, one of the people who comes off poorly in the article, remains a central Obama advisor. It's as if Brownie had Karen Hughes' job. ... 3:16 A.M. link
Bring Back Bode: Why not bring back Ken Bode to host Meet the Press? His Washington Week in Review was just getting really good when he was fired to make room for the anodyne Gwen Ifill. ... Bode's about as far away in style from Keith Olbermann as you can get, something that seems to be important to MTPers who see their show as a holdout against creeping cable culture. ... 2:43 A.M.
McCain, speaking first, promised the approximately 700 attendees that resurrecting the bipartisan immigration bill he helped shape last year would be at the forefront of his agenda as president.
"It would be my top priority yesterday, today and tomorrow," McCain said in response to a question about whether he would pursue a comprehensive approach beyond his campaign promise to secure the border in his first 100 days in office.
Seeking to win some points for his initial support for a comprehensive immigration bill, McCain noted that his position "wasn't very popular ... with some in my party."
And, in remarks that could inflame those Republican border hawks, the Arizona senator made clear he would not just seek to secure the border first, as he promised in the primary.
"We have to secure our borders — that's the message," McCain said. "But we also must proceed with a temporary worker program that is verifiable and truly temporary."
1) It looks as if the folks at The Corner are no longer in denial on whether McCain's "I got the message" talk during the primaries was a sincere shift to to a tougher stand on immigration. It wasn't.
2) Note that in the above remarks, and the remarks highlighted by McCain campaign bloggerr Michael Goldfarb, the candidate says "we have to secure our borders" rather than "we have to secure our borders first."[E.A.] The missing "first" matters. With it, McCain's position sounds like Lou Dobbs'. Without it, McCain's position threaten to shade into full immediate support of semi-amnesty, with the inconsequential notation that of course reform wouldn't pass unless the public is convinced the borders are sufficiently "secure." Comprehensivists have always claimed their legislation would secure the borders, remember. It's the "first" that made the difference for McCain, or seemed to.
3) Is there any convincing evidence that actual Latino voters care as much about illegal immigrant legalization as Latino elected offiicials (or the journalists who cover them)?
4) Won't McCain's expedient abandonment of his expedient primary position produce loud conservative protests at the GOP convention? Does McCain worry about this--on the theory that discordant conventions make for losing presidential campaigns? Or does he welcome it, on the grounds that a noisy fight with his right wing would effectively distinguish him from his unpopular party (even though McCain's side in this fight would also be President Bush's)? ...
Update: Mark Krikorian argues Obama is goading McCain into emphasizing "in increasingly strident terms his commitment to legalizing all the illegal aliens," which further inflames anti-legalization Republicans. McCain seems to be taking the bait, which would seem to make sense only if he hopes to win over, not just swing Latinos but also swing centrists of all ethnicities who've become allergic to the GOP. But is immigration the issue on which Mike Murphy's "white females and ticket-splitting independents" crave a break from Republican dogma? Aren't they equally uneasy about rushing to a Grand Comprehensivist Solution? You'd think there would be more promising Souljah-esque, anti-base battlefields for McCain: Congressional corruption, excessive deregulation, stem cells and even abortion, no? ... 2:27 A.M. link
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Isn't this the plot of House of Sand and Fog? It looks as if Cindy McCain's elderly aunt was a year away from having her San Diego house sold by local tax authorities (when McCain's trust failed to pay property taxes). Did Newsweek save her? ... [via HuffPo] 10:34 P.M.
Friday, June 27, 2008
That's the Lanny Davis we know! He says to Obama:
"I don't want you to take out of context what I said during the campaign."
The press has played yesterday's Washington meeting as a way to let Obama, worried about losing the election, suck up to Hillary supporters. But maybe it was also a way to let erstwhile Hillary supporters, worried about losing access to power, suck up to Obama. ... 10:37 A.M.
Mike Mur ... I mean the blogger Richelieu thinks McCain shouldn't overdo his support of gun rights, especially handgun rights.
In the end, this election will be decided by white females and ticket-splitting independents. The handgun issue is no huge winner among this group.
Richelieu suggests that he's armed, however. So don't call him "Mike" to his face. ... 10:34 P.M.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Zinni, Zinni, Zinni! ... 9:02 P.M.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Why do Democrats "hope to pressure McCain strategist Charlie Black to resign"? He might! Then what? Black's been doing a distinctly mediocre job so far. McCain would probably replace him with someone like Mike Murphy, who might do a much better job. ... 7:44 P.M.
Obama throws Scarlett Johansson under the bus!
"[S]peaking to reporters aboard his campaign plane, Obama said the actress doesn't have his personal email address. "She sent one email to Reggie, who forwarded it to me," Obama said, referring to his 26-year-old personal assistant, Reggie Love. "I write saying, 'thank you Scarlett for doing what you do,' and suddenly we have this email relationship"
This seems inexplicably clumsy. Johansson's a supporter who helped make Obama a highly effective video. She probably thought she was helping Obama again when she told the press how impressed she was that he returned her "personal emails." ("I feel like I'm supporting someone, and having a personal dialogue with them, and it's amazing.") Surely there's a way to get across the point that she's just an occasional emailer without making her look like a fantasist. ... 8:50 A.M. link
Comprehensivist Down! In 2006, the primary victory of GOP Rep. Chris Cannon was offered by many pundits as comforting evidence that the immigration issue didn't have legs. After all, Cannon had supported "comprehensive" immigration reform--including legalization (i.e. semi-amnesty)--yet he survived in a conservative Utah district. Here's Michael Barone two years ago:
If Cannon had lost, House Republicans surely would have panicked and stonewalled any approach but border-security-only. But his victory -- and the fact that he ran ads with endorsements from George W. Bush, who supports a comprehensive bill -- indicates that his positions are not political death, even in a district that went 77 percent to 20 percent Republican in the 2004 presidential election
Well, yesterday Cannon lost-- to a fellow Republican who had no paid staff or polling but did attack Cannon's support of "amnesty." And Cannon lost by a large margin (60-40) primarily because he "failed to generate the kind of [Republican primary] turnout typically enjoyed by House incumbents." ...
Hmm. As if by eerie coincidence, John McCain has been having trouble generating the kind of popularity among Republicans typically enjoyed by Republican presidential candidates! And he's also been pushing "comprehensive" reform of late, potentially winning Latino support but further jeopardizing his GOP support. Kausfiles notes that there are more Republicans than Latinos. If McCain win's an extra 10% of Latino voters but loses an extra 10% of Republican voters, he loses, right? Maybe on his forthcoming trip to Mexico he will do the math. ... [Thx. to alert reader M.]
Update: The impulse in the respectable Washington MSM will be to downplay the impact of the immigration issue. But here's what the Daily Herald in Cannon's district thinks:
The most important issue may have been illegal immigration. For years, a segment of the GOP electorate has longed to punish Cannon over his past moderate stands. Cannon this year has pointed to numerous votes to improve border security. But that didn't seem to be enough to placate much of the electorate. One might theorize that voters' anxiety about immigration is so great that Cannon's more recent votes to fight illegal immigration only reminded voters of his original stands. The inescapable conclusion is that immigration is a more potent and durable issue than many political experts realize. [E.A.]
1:31 A.M. link
I'm alarmed to hear reports that the prospect of a second John Edwards VP run is actually being taken seriously. Hello? Obama team? Aternity-pay est-Tay! ... And get the DNA yourself. ... 12:29 A.M. link
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Jerry Skurnik isn't buying the NYT's report of an 86% Muslim turnout in Virginia in 2006. ... 8:30 A.M.
Save the Seal! "A one-time seal for a one-time event." ... P.S.: I should add that the faux seal was a disaster not just for the reason I gave (that it suggested Obama is "stuck up"). It also carried this counterproductive connotation: that there is a separate Obama Nation, grown up in opposition to Bush's nation. Obama Nation has its own insignia and its own reality. It is somewhat alarmingly devoted to its leader. And this blue tribe is about to completely conquer the current ruling red tribe. ... Voters didn't much like this kind of revolutionary swagger in the 1960s. They may not like it now. . 8:25 A.M. link
Saturday, June 21, 2008
The "progressive" netrootsy left often discounts the importance of welfare reform. Worrying about welfare--that's outdated '90s neoliberal thinking! But when Democrats want to actually get elected, as opposed to blogged, what issue do they emphasize?
"That's why I passed laws moving people from welfare to work ..."-- Barack Obama, in his first post-primary TV ad.
Is Obama's new faux-presidential, alternative-reality seal his "Mission Accomplished"? If you wanted to emphasize to voters that the Democrats' nominee is a bit stuck up, it would be hard to do better. I suppose he could start requiring reporters to stand when he enters the room. ... The seal probably started out as a bit of fun. But unless David Axelrod is insane, the thing will never be seen again. .. 2:15 A.M. link
A few responses to criticisms of Wednesday's exciting Social Security item:
-- Andrew Biggs questions whether Social Security's "work test"--you only get it if you've worked--would "keep a more progressive Social Security program from being seen as welfare." He notes that the Earned Income Tax Credit also goes only to workers, and asks "does a work test keep the EITC from being seen as welfare?" The answer is yes! The EITC helps only the poor and yet remains very popular (despite occasional criticism from the right). Even Biggs concedes "the EITC has fared much better than welfare programs without a work test." He needs a better counterexample.
-- Ramesh Ponnuru, citing Biggs, says a "means test"--reducing or eliminating the benefits of seniors who don't need them when they become eligible--would discourage savings. He and Biggs propose instead fiddling with benefit schedules so that high earners earn lower benefits --but they'd get to keep those benefits whether they retire poor (having failed to save) or retire rich. The Pozen Plan, endorsed by President Bush, is one way to gradually adjust benefit schedules in this fashion.
The Pozen Plan is fine if all you want to do is balance the books on the current Social Security system. It falls short if you want to go further and actually shrink Social Security by a few hundred billion in order to make room in the budget for, say, universal health insurance. Then you need to do something more dramatic, like eliminating--not reducing--benefits for the richest 25% of retirees. They did it in Australia. It worked. (I'd be interested to learn if Australia's means-test had any effect on savings.)
Backfill: On KCRW's Left, Right & Center, Matt Miller (center) and Amity Shlaes (right) were both alarmed by the high marginal tax rates produced by Obama's preferred Social Security fix (which is to subject over-$250,000 taxpayers to the 6.2% payroll tax). ... Tune in about 16:30 into the progam. ... Shlaes, like Biggs, supports an alternative self-contained Social Security fix:
[I]t is possible to fix Social Security without doing too much, you can fix most of it by adjusting the formula, so that each cohort gets just what the proceeding cohort got. adjusted for inflation, no more. What we have now is real increases and that's more than half of the problem in the Social Security system.
Again, this is easy to say if you don't also want a big, expensive health care addition to our welfare state, which I assume Shlaes doesn't. If you do though, and you don't want a counterproductively high tax burden, then you may eventually have to endorse a more drastic Social Security diet plan. ... 1:31 P.M. link
Friday, June 20, 2008
Uckers-say: From the A.P.:
Republican presidential John McCain assured Hispanic leaders he would push through Congress legislation to overhaul federal immigration laws if elected, several people who attended a private meeting with the candidate said Thursday. ... [E.A.]
Hmm. If McCain is going to sell out his party's conservatives, renege on his primary campaign repositioning and return to his righteous push for "comprehensive immigration reform," wouldn't it be better to do it in public than in a closed-door meeting, where it looks like a guilty, furtive secret pander? ... P.S.: AndThe Corner stays silent! ... Backfill: Tapper has more, including a report from a Latina Minuteman who got into the meeting:
"Then he said, 'I bet some of you don't know this -- did you know Spanish was spoken in Arizona before English?'"
I bet they did! ... Update: AP's Espo notes that McCain "['a]ides ... had kept word of the event secret ...." 2:33 P.M.
The Man Has the Magic Touch: Who introduced Democratic Senator Kent Conrad to Angelo Mozilo? ... Could it have been respected ex-veep-vetter Jim Johnson?
Conrad on Tuesday sought to clarify a subsequent report that he spoke to Mozilo by phone about his mortgage, saying he didn't call the lending executive or realize that talking to him could result in any special treatment.
"I didn't call him. I called my friend who happened to be with him at the time," he said, referring to James Johnson, the former chairman of Fannie Mae, whom Conrad says he called to ask for advice on getting a new mortgage.
By pure coincidence, according to Conrad, Mozilo was sitting next to Johnson, who suggested the senator speak to him directly. Conrad doesn't recall whether Mozilo referred him to a Countrywide loan officer, or whether the company contacted him.
Johnson has a fine-honed ethical sensor, no? ... P.S.: Do you call the head of Fannie Mae when you need a mortgage? Why would Conrad call Johnson unless he was looking for some kind of deal? ... Backfill: Powerline made that last point and has some home state TV coverage. ... 1:44 P.M.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Does Earl Ofari Hutchinson really not think absentee fatherhood is a huge problem for African-Americans? ... I'm not sure Cosbyesque scolding by public officials the way to solve it, but that's a different issue. ... P.S.: If Hutchinson didn't write this unconvincing, wounded PC attack on Obama, Obama's staff would have had to recruit someone to do it. ... Sample: Hutchinson makes a big deal of a study showing that "black fathers who aren't in the home are much more likely to sustain regular contact with their children than absentee white fathers, or for that matter, fathers of any other ethnic group." But he doesn't say what percent of black fathers--vs. fathers of other ethnic groups--aren't in the home. Seems relevant! ... 11:55 P.M.
Jason Linkins buries a good idea: Obama should fight smears against McCain on the same site where he fights smears against himself. He'd get credit for civility and decency while publicizing the dirt on his opponent! ... P.S.: It's better than the old "I would never consider making Cindy McCain a campaign issue" dodge. ... 11:24 P.M.
Oy, Hollywood Liberals: DreamWorks Animation mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg on a red carpet:
"Obama is the greatest ... Nothing this great has happened to us in a long time. The only thing we have to worry about is what we'll have to wear to the inauguration." [E.A.]
I don't think it will be that easy! ... P.S.: You see what we have to put up with out here. ... 8:23 P.M.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
"DHS moved swiftly on Obama's request for protection": Recently-obtained documents reveal that the Department of Homeland Security approved Barack Obama's 2007 request for Secret Service protection in six days. This is apparently moving "swiftly" at DHS. ... 3:36 P.M.
Can't He Just Eat His Doughnut? (Is Obama Setting the Stage for a Social Security Means-Test?) Ramesh Ponnuru, opposing Obama's plan to apply the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax to earnings above $250,000--it now stops at $102,000--says it would undermine the rationale of the system:
Social Security is structured so that the more you pay in, the more you get back. That's what supposedly makes it a compact among the generations and not a welfare program. Actually, what it does is make it an inefficient, disguised welfare program. [E.A.]
A couple of points:
1) Changing how we finance Social Security won't turn it into a welfare program, or unmask it as a welfare program. A "welfare" program pays out benefits according to need whether or not the recipient works--at least that's the distinguishing characteristic of "welfare" people don't like. Social Security, in contrast, pays out benefits only to those who work for them (for the required number of quarters). Because of this "work-test," Social Security wouldn't be "welfare" even if it was funded entirely out of general revenues generated by the regular progressive income tax.
2) That said, funding Social Security through a payroll tax underscores the "work test" by mimicking the contributions in an ordinary pension plan. In this Contributory Model, you pay in part of your paycheck until you've paid enough to "cover" your benefits, then (if you keep earning) you don't have to contribute any more. Some liberals may hate this "capped" payroll tax as regressive, but it's served the system well, emphasizing that you only get benefits through contributions, that rich and poor both contribute as well as benefit, that benefits are a finite foundation for retirement and not part of some general liberal redistributional impulse.
When Obama fuzzes up the "contribution" part of the tax--by starting up the payroll tax again above $250,000 in income--he risks undermining support for the system (even though he'd keep other regressive "contribution" aspects in place, including a) taxing low-income workers from their first dollar** and b) taxing only earned income and not investment income.) The new Obamified system wouldn't be welfare, but in order to make that point defenders would have to rely more heavily on the "work test."
3) The third basis of support for the system--one emphasized by its traditional defenders--is a political calculation based on crass economic self-interest. Call this the Crass Calculation. Specifically, the system has to benefit enough people far enough up the income ladder to seem worthwhile to them. After all, even if it's not a welfare program it might not be a program voters want to support. The political fear is that the middle class or upper middle class will say "hey we're contributing all this money but not getting much back in benefits, so the hell with this system." By asking the affluent to pay what by historical standards is a big extra chunk of their income--at least 6.2% at the margin, maybe double that if you assume workers wind up paying for their employer's additional 6.2% share, definitely double that for the self-employed--Obama risks provoking the bailout reaction. That's one reason he creates his "doughnut hole" of no payroll tax between $102,000 and $250,000--there are lots of voters in that range he doesn't want to chase away. (If he has to eat the doughnut hole to get more revenue, the whole plan could collapse, politically.)
Krugman's right that the size of this one Obama hike in marginal tax rates for the rich has been vastly underplayed in the press. High-marginal rates in themselves are not a good thing--they encourage tax evasion, for starters, as well as elaborate legal schemes that funnel money not into the most productive uses, but into tax shelters that avoid the high marginal rates (by, say, reclassifying it as capital gains). Lots of laywers and bankers take their cut in these wasteful shelter shenanigans. If Obama really will hike the top rate into the 60% pre-Reagan range, as Krugman and the Tax Policy Center suggest, that's a big deal. And if 6-12 points of that 60% will come from Obama's Social Security hike, we'd better make sure we're getting something pretty important in exchange.
There's an alternative to raising Social Security taxes on the rich, after all. It's cutting Social Security benefits for the rich. The simplest way to do that is through a "means test"--people who were wealthy when they retired would have their benefits drastically cut. Maybe at the very top they'd get no benefits at all. The sums that could be saved through a means-test are staggering, hundreds of billions--money that, as Krugman notes, Obama will need for health care.
Means-testing wouldn't turn Social Security into welfare--again, because of the "work test." Social Security would become government insurance for workers against the possibility that they won't be very well-off in retirement! Yes, means-testing might undermine political support for the system, by violating the "contribution" model (nobody could even think they were getting their contributions back) and by altering the Crude Calculation so that those who confidently expected to be affluent would have little selfish reason to support the stystem. But--and here's the key point--Obama's already diluting or dispensing with those other two sources of support. He's fuzzing the Contributory Model. He's undermining the Crude Calclation. He can still rely on the work test--he can say, "Hey this is to help old folks who've worked all their lives," etc.. But as long as you're relying on the work test, why not rely on the work test to justify a more radical, more progressive and more lucrative reform of the system that would not just tax the rich but stop shelling out unneeded benefits to them.
There might be reasons. Maybe Obama feels it's politically easier to tax the rich than to cut their benefits. But it's not wildly obvious why this should be so. Both tax hikes and benefit cuts involve imposing economic harm. But (a) tax hikes are immediately felt by people of all ages. Benefit cuts impact most immediately only on the old. (b) High tax rates, as noted, have bad side effects that hurt the whole economy. Means-testing wouldn't have those effects (though it might have others, such as discouraging savings). (c) Means-testing could be sold as a shrinking of the program--as Ponnuru points out, why run lots of money through the system by taxing the rich in order to pay benefits to the rich?
The rich aren't uninfluential! At some point the people making $275,000 a year may wonder why they are paying an extra 10% of their last dollar to send a check to the couple down the street who make $240,000 but don't have to pay any of that extra 10% at all (because they're in the lucky doughnut hole)--or to the vastlyy more numerous couplee making $120,000 who would also get full benefits but pay no new tax to fund them At some point, the $275G plus crowd may say, "The hell with it. None of these folks in my neighborhood need the benefits. Just stop taxing us to pay for them"--and support means-testing.
I think you can argue Obama's opening the door to this outcome. Since I like the outcome, this doesn't bother me. Means-testing isn't necessary to keep Social Security solvent--the system's not that out of whack--but it might be necessary if you want to generate lots of money (in the form of budget saving) you could then spend on a decent universal health care plan. Orthodox Democrats who've rigidly opposed means-testing for decades might want to think twice about Obama's payroll tax plan, though.
**--But Obama would apparently offer low income workers a "Making Work Pay" tax credit in an amount equal to their "employee's" half of the payroll tax for the first $8,100 in income. ... 12:47 A.M. link
Monday, June 16, 2008
I See a Chair at the Annenberg School: Joe Conason responds to my suggestion of an on-the-record email (regarding his hypocritical condemnation of "revolting ... tabloid journalism" given his own 1992 Spy investigation of George H.W. Bush's sex life):
I just saw your item from last April
and finally realized that you don't just pretend to be a bonehead.
Well argued! ......P.S.: Joe: Let's keep these lines of communication open. ... P.P.S.: But it still takes two to go off the record. ... 7:32 P.M. link
The Genius of Jim Johnson, Part XXVIII: Craig Crawford has a Jim Johnson story that's a little too bad to be true.
For a clue about Johnson's questionable political acumen, here's what I remember from my own experience as a field operative in Mondale's presidential campaign. Johnson blew the only moment when it looked like Mondale might actually have a chance at overcoming Ronald Reagan's reelection bid.
Following Reagan's disastrous debate performance against Mondale, when the media began to seriously question the president's mental fitness, many Democratic insiders counseled their nominee to go in for the kill in the next debate. But Johnson, apparently believing that Mondale had a lock on the election, advised his candidate to back off, counseling that it would seem mean-spirited to do otherwise.
Johnson could not have been more wrong, as many of us in the campaign thought at the time. Still, Mondale followed his manager's advice and Reagan won the day - and probably the election - at the subsequent debate as the Democrat foolishly held his fire.
If Mondale had not "held his fire" he'd have lost anyway. Still. ... [You are kicking this guy when he's down--ed Yes! Otherwise he'll be back. With guys like Johnson, if you don't kick them when they're down you'll wind up kicking them when they're up.] ... P.S.: If Johnson quit as veep-vetter of his own volition last Wednesday, should Obama get credit for having taken "decisive action"? ... 1:58 P.M.
Suckers! Part XVIII: John McCain met privately with some Clinton supporters in the diehard group Party Unity My Ass, and tried to wobble his way into their hearts:
"He stayed for a good almost half hour afterwards shaking hands, listening to our concerns, talking to us," said PUMA founder Will Bower, who said he thought many of the people there would vote for McCain.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina stayed to mingle with the crowd, whose members also included Clinton backer Harriet Christian, made momentarily famous on YouTube for getting ejected from the Rules & Bylaws press area.
Bower said he'd liked McCain's answer on judges, in which he "pointed out that he supported Bill Clinton with both Ginsberg [sic] and Breyer." [E.A.]
You actually believed that stuff about Roberts, Alito and Scalia? [McCain could easily support Ginsburg and Breyer's confirmation--maybe on the grounds that they were the best Republicans could expect from Clinton--even if he wouldn't nominate them himself--ed True. But this is the sort of leftward wink that will drive conservatives crazy, with reason. Do you really think McCain wants to appoint another Alito to the Court? Or does he want he want to appoint Lindsey Graham?] ... P.S.: If McCain keeps this up for two months, the Republican convention could be more interesting than expected. ... P.P.S.: The late convention seems like a problem for McCain--if he's inhibited from moving to the center by a fear of prompting televised discord and disruption in Minneapolis in September. (Obama seems much less inhibited--his party is not as restive.) ... It's hard to believe Dick Morris hasn't already made this point. ... P.P.P.S.: Are there cougars in PUMA? ... 1:01 A.M.
Friday, June 13, 2008
More Friends of Angelo? Dodd, Conrad, Shalala. ... Holbrooke! ... 12:31 P.M.
Will Obama Kill Bling? Mary Battiata thinks maybe. ... Now that she mentions it, I kind of hope Obama's election will kill off much of hip-hop, at least the gangsta-inspired parts. But just killing off bling and gangsta fashion would be a start. ... 3:08 A.M. link
Obama's new anti-smear website looks more effective than I expected. ... And I'll be checking back regularly to find out the latest charges! It's the new go-to spot for Obama dirt. ...P.S.: That's the problem. The site creates an expectation that the Obama camp will respond quickly and persuasively to every accusation and rumor. Should it fall short, the damage will be magnified, no? ... P.P.S. Obama recently chastised reporters for asking him about the Michelle "whitey" rumor:
"We have seen this before. There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mails, and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about it," Obama said, bristling. "That gives legs to the story."
But according to Time, when the Obama camp "got wind" of the "whitey" rumor, his aides took it so seriously they confronted Michelle and "grilled her on the particulars." So why can't bloggers and reporters do the same thing? ... 3:05 A.M. link
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Wages of Sid? Buried in GQ's interview with Mark Penn:
So when they come out with, like, "Mark Penn was paid $4 million," 3.4 million of that was postage?
The actual consulting fee is, you know, we received $27,000 a month, which is split between me and Sid Blumenthal [a senior adviser]. So it makes the net around half that.
Wait, Sid makes as much as you?
You know, again, I don't own these companies, so—
No, really, Sid Blumenthal makes as much as you?
His fee is about the same.
To me the interesting angle here isn't whether Penn was making that little-- Crowley doubts that half of $27,000 a month was all he got--it's whether Sid was making that much. Also what did he do for it? ... Half of $27,000/month is a rate of about $160,000 a year. ... I'm getting jealous. ... P.S.: I've emailed Blumenthal to get his comment, if any. ... 4:20 P.M.
"Auntie has been beaten and they threw her in the fire." ... [via Insta] 2:23 P.M.
Undernews Update--"samztiF" Edition: The Chicago Tribune reports
Two months before he was convicted of federal corruption charges, political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko told his trial judge that "overzealous" prosecutors were pressuring him to tell them about any wrongdoing involving Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama or Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But in a two-page typed letter, Rezko said he was never involved in any wrongdoing with either of the Democrats and wouldn't make up stories about them in an attempt to benefit himself. [E.A.]
Jim Johnson's ambitions (from WaPo):
In 2004, he had hoped a Kerry victory would make him White House chief of staff or Treasury secretary, former Kerry campaign aides said yesterday, and he had similar ambitions with Obama.
Lorenzo Cachón, a sociologist at Complutense University, analyzed the program's "call effect" by studying municipal records. Most immigrants in Spain, legal or not, register with local governments to obtain benefits like health insurance. Their numbers grew 20 percent the year after the program was announced, compared with 3 percent the year before.
"That means the maximum call effect is 17 percent," he said.
A 17% rise seems like a lot to me, especially only one year after an amnesty. You'd think the incentive "call effect" might actually grow over time--after all, would-be illegal immigrants would know that the next amnesty is probably at least a few years away. ...
P.S.: I'd like to see American advocates of what the Times now frankly calls "amnesty" argue "It will only produce an immediate 17% increase in immigration." ...
P.P.S.: According to The Hill, "Hispanic Democratic lawmakers" are warning:
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) must commit to helping illegal immigrants achieve citizenship or else risk losing the vital Latino vote in the general election ... [E.A.]
I thought the party line after the California primary was that it was a mistake to assume that Latino voters cared only about legalization. It seems to be practically all Latino politicians in Congress care about, though. ...
P.P.P.S.:The Hill's Jared Allen adds
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), Obama's Republican opponent, is also liked by Latinos. He co-sponsored with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) the immigration bill that the CHC is demanding, which would put the country's 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship. And he did not buckle under pressure to abandon that position during the GOP primary. [E.A.]
You don't mean he only tried to con conservatives into thinking he'd abandoned that position? Uckers-say! ... 2:00 A.M. link
Instead, in Zell, what Los Angeles has is a visiting Visigoth, whose civic influence is about as positive as that of the Crips, the Bloods and the Mexican mafia.
And Meyerson says Zell's the one producing "dumbed-down" writing. ... P.S.: Meyerson complains that the LAT's "editorial staff is about two-thirds its size in the late 1990s." Jesus, how bloated was it in the late 1990s? ... [Tks to reader MDL] 145 A.M.
Wednesday was maybe not the best day for Mark Halperin to explain how brilliant and on-offense the Obama campaign's message operation is. But he could be right! ... 12:34 A.M.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Change We've Been Waiting For: Jim Johnson bails as Obama's veep-vetter, after Obama defended him in what NBC's Chuck Todd said could "be the worst answer Obama has ever given in print" (Johnson was only a "volunteer," he was doing a "discrete" job; he was "tangentially related to our campaign;"' "these aren't folks who are working for me;" what's Obama supposed to do, "vet the vetters"? etc.)
But vetting wasn't necessary in this case. Just Googling!. ...
P.S.: If Johnson is so honorable, shouldn't he have vetted himself? Obama has now pulled off the Johnson Band-Aid, but not before Johnson cost him a few days of bad news and tarnished his image. And not before other juicy Johnson stories came out: Johnson "angling for a job" in a possible Kerry administration, his lucrative consulting deals at Fannie Mae, his (lucrative) role "on the board of five companies that granted lavish pay packages to their executives ." ... Question: Will Johnson come back in an Obama administration? Samantha Power similarly quit the Obama campaign, but everybody expects her to be back. I would think Johnson is now radioactive in a way that Power is not. ...
P.P.S.: Why pick Johnson in the first place? One possible answer is implicit in Kerry's pre-bail defense: In the course of his veep-vetting, Johnson learns all the dark, damaging secrets of all the potential #2s. This means that Johnson effectively already has the dirt on a lot of Democratic pols from his previous vetting stints--but, as Kerry notes, he has been discreet with this "very sensitive" info.** By appointing Johnson as vetter yet again, Obama was limiting the number of people potential Dem VPs would have to bare their souls to--limiting them, essentially, to Johnson. Now Obama will have to name a new vetter, and the potential Dems VPs--many of whom, like Biden, are repeat Veepstakes customers--will have to tell their secrets to a second person. That can't be a comfortable feeling. ...
**--Still, if you were one of those vetted pols, would you want to tell Johnson "no" if he came around later asking for your support on a piece of legislation? ... 1:15 P.M. link
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Suicide Marketing Update:
"Want Windows XP pre-installed? Time's running out."--Promotional email from Dell Small Business Systems
After that, you'll have to buy the product Microsoft actually wants to sell you! ... A strong vote of confidence in Windows Vista from Dell. ... P.S.: "Dell makes it easy to migrate [to Vista] on your schedule .... " Let's see. How about never? That fits my schedule. ... [The interesting piece now would be a defense of Vista--ed Typical reflexive contrarian.] 2:54 A.M.
Scarlett Johansson doesn't understand why Barack Obama finds time to return her emails. ("You'd imagine that someone like the senator who is constantly traveling and constantly 'on' — how can he return these personal e-mails? But he does ....").
Monday, June 9, 2008
took at least five real estate loans totaling more than $7 million from Countrywide Financial Corp. through an informal program for friends of the company's CEO, Angelo Mozilo. ...
Mozilo and Countrywide were deeply enmeshed in the subprime meltdown, of course, and Mozilo has been denounced by Obama for his business practices and multi-million dollar compensation. ...
a) Always trust content from kausfiles!
b) Obama's response suggests these were "completely above board transactions," which is a little different from saying they were "arms-length" or "market-rate" transactions. Why would Johnson avail himself of Mozilo's "friends of Angelo" program unless he got some kind of special deal, better than the deal Joe Citizen would get? (And if it's so difficult to tell "the factors that went into these arrangements," as the Obama camp contends, then how "above board" were they?)
c) Johnson headed Fannie Mae. If Fannie Mae was really "the biggest buyer of Countrywide's mortgages," should Johnson really have gotten enmeshed as a consumer with Countrywide, particularly if it was hard to tell if he was getting a special deal or not?
d) I don't know if Mozilo is a benevolent genius or evil. I saw him at a conference once and he's clearly an impressive person. But it's also quite clear that Obama has made him a symbol of the subprime mess, as McCain has noted. Update: As the RNC has been pointing out, Obama's campaign previously attacked Hillary strategist Mark Penn because he did some P.R. work for Countrywide--and attacked Hillary's campaign because it took contributions from representatives of Countrywide. ** (Now-embarrassing self-righteous David Plouffe quote below.)
e) Johnson was an atrocious, tin-eared choice on many other grounds. He's a symbol of old Democratic elites--the Mondale Restoration!--and of Beltway business as usual. He's gotten obscenely rich off of public service while pursuing a failed liberal antipoverty theory (community develpment) and taking credit for spreading around other peoples money. He failed to catch Geraldine Ferraro's problems before they blew up on Mondale. He helped lead Fannie Mae into a multi-billion dollar debacle (even though he let his successor catch most of the blame). He said Mozilo's firm had "done a brilliant job of insulating itself for the down cycle" shortly before Mozilo's firm was clobbered in the down cycle, eventually selling itself to Bank of America for about a tenth of it's former value, according to the Sun.
Why would Obama, in his first big personnel decision, choose a paleoliberal greedhead with a track record of failure? You tell me! He's described Johnson as "a friend." It looks as if he was at best highly susceptible to amicable overtures from someone he about whom he should have retained some critical perspective.
f) Is Obama really going to let this story drag out all week? Are Johnson's allies so powerful he must be protected--the way Rev. Wright was protected, for a time? Why not say "This is not the Jim Johnson I know" and throw him overboard? Remember the Parable of the Band-Aid. ...
"Obama aides also said Clinton is in no position to stiffen oversight after taking contributions from mortgage industry lobbyists, including funds from representatives of Countrywide, which has been at the center of the mortgage meltdown. 'If we're really going to crack down on the practices that caused the credit and housing crises, we're going to need a leader who doesn't owe these industries any favors,' campaign manager David Plouffe said." [E.A.]
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Rewards are nice, but recognition is better. So if I'm one of Starbucks's best customers, I want to have elite status, as I do on American Airlines. I want shorter lines, better freebies, special seating (Aeron chairs, preferably) and electrical outlets reserved just for me and my laptop. [E.A.]
A creep, no? It's one thing for Starbucks to give Lieber free wi-fi and discounts. It's another to reward him by undermining the essentially egalitarian experience that's part of the appeal of a good American "third place." ...
P.S.--The Welfare State Angle: Lieber's elision of consumerism and snobbery is similar to the mistake doctrinaire Democrats make when they defend universal Social Security receipt as an egalitarian institution just like universal health care. It isn't--because getting health care is an actual communal experience (going to doctors, chatting in their waiting rooms, complaining in their waiting rooms, etc.) while getting Social Security checks is just ... getting checks. It's only money. A little more money for well-off Social Security recipients isn't going to bolster solidarity with the working poor any more than a little discount for Lieber is going to destroy the vibe at his local Starbucks. Letting him flounce around in his Aeron in the roped-off Starbucks Select VIP section, on the other hand . ... well, things could get ugly! ...
"I'm glad to report that Starbucks is indeed considering some sort of elite status," says Lieber. Next: Skyboxes? ...
P.P.S.: [Isn't Lieber just clinging bitterly to his Starbucks status because of stagnant middle class living standards?--ed Don't be condescending.]
Backfill: Lieber also wants to be invited to "a members-only party when new products come out." Wow. You can be condescending now. ... [Backfill via Gawker ] 3:02 A.M. link
Phillippe Reines Memorial Item explaining why there's no Hillary post-mortem in kf: "We don't comment on campaigns that are utter and complete failures." ... 2:19 P.M.
The numbers suggest that McCain's image has suffered after a competitive GOP primary in which he renounced some of the moderate views on immigration popular among many Latinos.
It couldn't be that Latino voters don't care about immigration as much as reporters at the LAT assume, preferring to focus more on other domestic and foreign policy concerns (health care, the economy the war) that they share with voters in general, could it? The numbers "suggest" that explanation too. ...
P.S.: Defenders of the Times' bloated staff argue that new owner Sam Zell's aides are being unfair when they compare the "51-page" annual output of LAT writers with the 300 page output of Hartford Courant writers. That's true. The comparison is unfair to the Courant journalists, who surely aren't permitted the pointless verbosity of "quality" LAT writers. Wallsten's story is a case in point: a) He opens with a back-in anecdote about Obama's Spanish-language ad in Puerto Rico that he eventually has to admit makes the opposite of the point he's trying to make, since Obama got "trounced" in P.R. and Wallsten's story is supposed to be about how well Obama's doing with Hispanics; b) He wastes column inches on bland, predictable, if not actively misleading stop-reading-this-story quotes from Latino consultants and activists who argue that McCain and Obama must pay more attention to Latino consultants and activists ("they need to beef up that operation"); c) He then has no room for the obvious counter-thesis--that Obama leads among Hispanics because Hispanics aren't receptive to Latino-specific campaigning. ...
Update: I stole the "verbosity" point from Michael Kinsley who has now deviously gone ahead and stolen it from himself. ... 1:11 A.M.
Friday, June 6, 2008
[Tribune COO Randy Michaels] also warned of further cuts in newsroom expenses, based in part on a company study of its journalists' productivity. "You find you can eliminate a fair number of people without eliminating much content," Michaels said.
The review found that reporters at the company's smaller papers were more productive than those in the biggest markets of Chicago and Los Angeles. Michaels did not address findings for the Chicago Tribune, but said the average Los Angeles Times journalist produced "51 pages" per year, while the average journalist in Baltimore or at the company's Hartford Courant produced "300 pages" per year. [E.A.]
[Tx to reader J.L.] 12:14 A.M. link
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Undernews Update: The Michelle Holy Rail/"Whitey" rumor is disputed by David Weigel, Robert George, and Barack Obama (who argues he shouldn't be asked about it). See also Geraghty. ... Since it's hard to prove a negative, former Gingrich aide George's appeal to history is probably the most effective of the latest debunkings:
No tape exists. I am willing to bet my first-born on it.
You know why I know no tape exists? Because all copies of it were wrapped up in an American flag and burned on a woodpile ignited by Hillary Clinton and Kitty Dukakis. I didn't see it, but my best friend's cousin's boyfriend saw the whole thing.
Let me explain.
This is the '08 version of a really weird conservative urban legend that pops up every four years, The names change, but the basics remain the same: 1) It always involves the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate; 2) It always portrays the wife -- not the candidate -- committing some anti-American, unpatriotic act.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Emailer Z, who knows business and politics--and isn't a liberal (or even a Democrat)--writes to usefully amplify David Corn's Mother Jones piece, which blamed Sen. Phil Gramm for engineering an ill-fated non-regulation of financial services that contribuled to the sub-prime meltdown:
The non-regulation of the not banking system has been a team effort in Washington. Major financial services firms, hedge funds and private equity groups set out in the 1990s to own Washington and they have succeeded completely. 80% of banking activity used to be regulated. Today, 20% of "banking activity" falls under regulatory guidance. (See Charles Morris's The Trillion Dollar Meltdown). Capital networks own the Democratic and Republican parties. Barney Frank didn't even bother to try to get the tax on "carried interest" increased after the Ds recaptured control of Congress in 2006 ... the members understood that such a tax would make their fund-raising lives a LOT harder.
This is the part of Kevin Phillips' analysis of Washington that is exactly accurate. The power of private capital sources hasn't been as overwhelming since the days of JP Morgan. [E.A.]
Update: Maguire elaborates. ... 10:40 P.M.
Bob Wright and I discussObama's cosmopolitanism. ... 10:01 P.M.
Fitzmas in Reverse: Steve Bartin speculates on the potential Rezko Shoe. ...Update [also via Bartin]: The Chicago Sun-Times Mark Brown wonders why Rezko elected to go directly to jail rather than trying to remain free on bond:
There's a more interesting way to look at this, which paints a scenario you'd more likely see in a trial where there is some sort of mob connection.
Tony Rezko is a guy who knows a lot about a lot of people. Those people have a very serious stake in him keeping his mouth shut. Rezko is also known to be a very security-conscious guy.
I know this is going to sound overly dramatic, but it's not really that far-fetched to think Rezko may well believe he's in danger if he goes free and that by reporting to jail it's proof that he's not cooperating.
It's one way of saying, "You don't have to worry about me."
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Unions Make the Wage-Price Spiral Go Round: Paul Krugman argues we aren't about to see a return of 70's style stagflation because
there's no sign whatsoever of the wage-price spiral that, in the 1970s, turned a temporary shock from higher oil prices into a persistently high rate of inflation.
He also identifies a mainspring of that wage-price spiral: union power,
Here's an example of the way things used to be: In May 1981, the United Mine Workers signed a contract with coal mine operators locking in wage increases averaging 11 percent a year over the next three years. The union demanded such a large pay hike because it expected the double-digit inflation of the late 1970s to continue; the mine owners thought they could afford to meet the union's demands because they expected big future increases in coal prices, which had risen 40 percent over the previous three years.
At the time, the mine workers' settlement wasn't at all unusual: many workers were getting comparable contracts. Workers and employers were, in effect, engaged in a game of leapfrog: workers would demand big wage increases to keep up with inflation, corporations would pass these higher wages on in prices, rising prices would lead to another round of wage demands, and so on.
The point isn't that unions were greedy. They were doing what they were supposed to do under the Wagner Act--protecting their members interests--in a period of inflationary expectations (fueled in part by the big contracts won by other unions). Yet the larger social result of this institutional arrangement was a destructive game of leapfrog in which the most powerful labor organizations (like the UAW) did quite well, but those without collective bargaining power--that is, most people--got it on the chin. And it took the brutal early-80s recession to wring inflation out of the economy.
Today, though, there's little union power--and little threat of stagflation, says Krugman:
But where are the unions demanding 11-percent-a-year wage increases? ...
And since there isn't a wage-price spiral, we don't need higher interest rates to get inflation under control.
OK. But then why do Democrats want to legislate a restoration of organized labor's power by allowing unions to sign up workers without secret ballots? Do they want to bring back the wage price spiral? The irony seems lost on Krugman, though it's hard to believe it really is.
I suspect it's simply a train of thought Krugman doesn't want to follow right now. His plan for reducing income inequality is built, in part, on rebuilding union strength. Doubt about the wisdom of that effort would complicate things--quite apart from whether it's what his Democratic fan base wants to hear ... 2:59 A.M. link
Dare to Gush: He's not excitable. He's "open to the moment"! ... 1:32 A.M.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Bill Clinton calls Todd Purdum a "sleazy ...slimy ... scumbag:"HuffPo'sMayhill Fowler delivers again. ... P.S.: Why'd he do that! ... P.P.S.: Brendan Nyhan notes the creepiness of Clinton aide Jay Carson demanding that Dems "protect" the "brand" when talking to reporters. ... P.P.P.S.: What about the zippy Burkle brand? That took decades to build! ... 3:48 P.M.
Undernews Alert: Have Michelle-bashers finally found the Holy Rail? ... Update: Larry Johnson describes a tape, but doesn't show it. It may be more like Annie Hall. ("Jew eat?") ... NRO speculates. .. More: Johnson counterattacks, not very convincingly. ...But NRO's increasing skepticism ("the evidence suggests this is a hoax") isn't 100% convincing either. Ditto Reason's Dave Weigel--though he makes a good point about Farrakhan's alleged presence on the tape:
If anyone wants to compare Louis Farrakhan's travel records to dates the Obamas appeared at Trinity, go ahead (the last Farrakhan appearance at Trinity was 11/2/07, when the Obamas were presumably busy trying to win the Iowa caucus), but it beggars belief that he could join a panel with Obama's wife as late as 2005 and no one would hear about it . [E.A.]
Powerline posts a satsifying collection of now-embarrassing gushes from Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein and Garry Wills about Obama's Great Philadelphia Race Speech. PL leaves out the gushiest parts of Sullivan's reaction,, though:
Alas, I cannot give a more considered response right now as I have to get on the road. But I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation ... [snip]
I love this country. I don't remember loving it or hoping more from it than today. [E.A.]
Sunday, June 1, 2008