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September 30, 2008

Why Pelosi Couldn't Muster the Votes

Try political expediency. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Take a look at the graphic below. The meme rapidly gaining hold is that this was a failure of Republican leadership. It's an interesting idea, but an examination of the voting patterns suggests that the decisive factor, at least for Democrats, was whether their seat was up for grabs in November. I took the liberty of charting the information found here to make it more easily digestible:

bailout.gif

Notice that a comfortable majority of House Republicans (curse their guts and livers) voted against the bailout regardless of whether their seats were considered to be hotly contested or not (65% vs. 85% voting against).

The Democrats, on the other hand, literally flipped their voting position based upon whether they were likely to face voter wrath come November (38% vs. 72% voting against the bailout).

On a vote that failed by a mere 12 votes, it's hard to argue that our Congressional Overlords weren't playing a fine game of CYA.

Meanwhile, Elise asked me a few days ago to elaborate upon why I continued to support the bailout. I genuinely saw no point in repeating my position over and over again; I'd made my point and no minds were being changed. However, since it no longer matters this is one of the better arguments I've seen, and it fairly represents my thoughts on the matter:

Conservatives are unhappy.

Over the last eight years they’ve seen an expansion of the size and scope of government under a Republican president, and now they’re being asked to vote for an unprecedented expansion of federal power to rescue the faltering financial system.

If I were back on Capitol Hill I’d be unhappy too.

But I’d definitely vote “yes” on the financial package.

I haven’t had a single conversation with anyone in the real economy that does not confirm the Paulsen/Bernanke warning that a failure to act now will precipitate a meltdown of our financial system that will, in all likelihood lead to a long and deep recession.

Simply put, it is that prospect that ought to worry conservatives most, because in tough times Washington expands exponentially.

The New Deal, which represented the major historic shift toward big government liberalism, came in response to unprecedented distress in the real world. Bankrupt farmers and small businesses and unemployed workers called for help and the government responded with massive assistance, and an entire new paradigm of government was born.

...A “yes” vote on the financial rescue package is a vote to intervene in the market precisely to prevent the collapse that could usher in the next vast expansion of government.

It's called being penny wise and pound foolish. There must be a million maxims to the same effect: a stitch in time saves nine, yada, yada, yada. For whatever it may be worth, I don't think we have to experience a catastrophic "doomsday" market failure in order for this to prove extremely damaging. Think of a stone being dropped in a pond. Now imagine the ripple effect from literally thousands of individuals cutting back on expenditures and acting more cautiously. It's the 'reverse multiplier' effect I discussed earlier: bubbles can operate in the other direction. It truly defies belief for me that the same people can speak of the prolonged housing bubble without understanding that the reverse phenomenon can take place if you suddenly remove the factors that created it.

I've heard a lot of what I consider irrelevant talk about mark to mark accounting rules and other technical jargon. None of this addresses the basic and immediate problem: worldwide investor confidence in the U.S. dollar as a medium of exchange and the delayed and potentially disastrous ripple effects that can come from a failure to act swiftly to restore confidence. The problem is, as several have noted, that we can't know for certain with lagging indicators what the downstream effects will be, but we have had credible expert after credible expert tell us that we can't afford the consequences of doing nothing and moreover, that we need to act quickly. And then out of the same side of their mouths, many of these same "experts" proceed to mumble a bunch of jargon that leads us in the direction of NOT acting swiftly and/or doing nothing. This is not helpful.

As my husband often says, sometimes a 70% solution now is better than a 100% solution that comes too late to do any good. When banks start toppling halfway around the world in response to events here in the U.S., it's a fairly safe bet that talk about having Congress (that ever-efficient and knowledgeable institution) muck about with accounting rules isn't the solution, at least in the short term. These are people who took a YEAR to pass the Patriot Act after 3000 people were murdered and then went on to revile and repudiate their own handiwork the next morning.

But according to many people I've heard, what's needed is "more time" for "sober deliberation". What evidence is there that Congress is capable of the kind of sober deliberation needed to produce a workable solution? All that is going to happen is that more pork will be loaded onto the bill which will eventually be passed far too late to do anyone any good. Moreover, if you glance at the polls, the financial crisis is not going to mediate on the side of fiscal conservatism. In layman's terms, come November we are not likely to have the votes to press for fiscal restraint in Congress thanks to what happened this week.

Congress wouldn't know an emergency if it slapped them on the a$$ and called them Susie. The quote of the day has to go to the NY Times:

The breakdown, even if temporary, pointed up the difficulties of dealing with fast-moving emergencies through the slow-moving and inherently political legislative process. And despite rare bipartisan agreement among party leaders in this case, the gulf between what lawmakers were hearing in Washington and what they have been hearing from home proved too vast for many people, particularly Republicans, to jump.

This is why the Founding Fathers gave us an Executive branch, but our reflexively anti-authoritarian populace have become so hostile to divided government that we rejected any notion of swift and decisive action because it was unpalatable.

My concern was - and remains - that we are very likely to get unpalatable anyway in the form of New Deal-like relief bills if the economy tanks, which is something we're not likely to know for some time. The polls are not rewarding the Republicans for their stand. This doesn't bode well for the November election.

It is something to think about. It might have been something to think about earlier, considering we are likely to have to live with the results for some time.

One final note: I didn't like the "bailout" either. I didn't like it one bit. But in my assessment, which I realize is different from that of others, it was necessary to avert a worse problem. This is why I applaud what I see as the courage of Congressional Republicans who didn't like the bailout - AT ALL - yet risked the wrath of their constituents for the good of the country as a whole. Not an easy stand, and I thank them for it. All the more so because I know it didn't come easily for them.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:27 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

September 29, 2008

Bailout

rainbow.jpg

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

--Reinhold Niebuhr



Posted by Cassandra at 07:32 PM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

The Sacred and the Profane

Deborah Howell on the controversial Oliphant cartoon:

a Pat Oliphant cartoon posted on washingtonpost.com Sept. 9 is still generating angry e-mails. The cartoon showed Sarah Palin speaking in tongues, John McCain saying she has a "direct line" to God and God saying that he couldn't understand her "dam' right wing . . . gibberish."

More than 750 readers from around the country -- more than I heard from about the financial crisis -- told me they were mightily offended. Many were Pentecostals, whose worship can include speaking in tongues; complaints also came from mainline Christians and from Charles Martin, a Buddhist in Boulder, Colo., who said "it offends me."

McCain and Palin are certainly fair game, but most of those offended by the cartoon felt it mocked all Pentecostals. Most cartoonists don't go out of their way to lambaste religion. But the pope is a frequent editorial cartoon character, as are God and St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Most complainers thought that the Oliphant cartoon appeared in print. It didn't. I showed it to several Post editors. While it was clever in some ways, most editors -- including me -- would not have run it. The Post has a policy against defaming or perpetuating racial, religious or ethnic stereotypes. That was why The Post did not run the Danish cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.

Oliphant wasn't surprised that it didn't run in print. "Many publications are too timid" to run some of his work, he said, but "the Web is giving us more of a solid venue."

oliphant.gif

A few observations.

First of all, I can't help but be pleased with Howell. Like Kathleen Parker and Ruth Marcus, she has shown willingness to advocating views that don't make her popular with her political fellow travelers. I find myself agreeing with her from time to time, and in today's overly politicized environment, that is a welcome development.

Secondly, it's interesting to compare this with the Tom Toles controversy a while back:

It is instructive to note how those who are quick to be offended by viewpoints they disagree with can't wait to condemn their opponents for expressing the same sense of outrage via far less intrusive and extreme means. Witness today's letter in the Washington Post, in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the rare step of expressing their "disappointment" at a recent Tom Toles cartoon. Readers of the lefty AmericaBlog were outraged that America's military leaders should presume to exercise the First Amendment freedoms they have bought and paid for in their own blood. You see, the tolerant Left supports the troops... so long as can be conveniently silenced.

AmericaBlog tells us that the Pentagon is "trying to censor" a top political cartoonist:

The Joint Chiefs of Staff just sent a menacing letter to the Washington Post over a cartoon.

Here are the "menacing" words the Joint Chiefs used to "try to censor" the media:

We were extremely disappointed to see the Jan. 29 editorial cartoon by Tom Toles.

You all know what happens when military folks are "disappointed", don't you? They whip out their phone books and beat up people like Joel Stein. Of course this hasn't actually happened, but that doesn't stop people like Stein from implying that it will.

The Toles cartoon controversy was interesting because it resulted in accusations of censorship in response to an extremely mild letter to the editor - this after liberal blogs deliberately attempted to intimidate and harass members of the press into suppressing non-approved versions of "the truth". One can't help but note the similarities to the Obama Truth Squad, which (no doubt from the loftiest of motives) deployed Missouri law enforcement officers to make sure voters only hear the Obama campaign's officially sanctioned version of "the truth".

Barack Obama might do well to listen to the Canadians (h/tip Glenn S.) on the question of free speech:

America taught me the hard way to value freedom of speech. Even speech that is hateful and abhorrent, provided it does not incite violence, should be allowed in free and open democracy. Like every other Canadian who grew up during the 1980's and 90's, my concept of ‘freedom of expression’ was vague. It was something contained in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet I was taught to subject this freedom to ‘tolerance’ and ‘multi-culturalism’. After all, the latter were ‘Canadian values’ that distinguished us from Americans and their free-speech absolutism.

Thus my wife and I brought ‘Canadian values’ to Florida shortly after 9-11. This was no fall vacation, as I had accepted a job down there with the Catholic Church. ‘Bill,’ our new next-door neighbor, welcomed us to the Deep South. His daughter ‘Sarah’ was about a year older than Alexandria, my oldest child. The two girls became inseparable.

Inseparable, that is, until an incident a year later involving racist speech. It was from this incident that I learned to appreciate American absolutism in protecting free speech. Since that incident, I have similarly concluded that Americans are also more tolerant and more multicultural.

The incident began with an African-American family moving into our semi-rural, previously all-white cul-de-sac. Their daughter ‘Nadine’ was about the same age as Alexandria. My wife and I introduced ourselves to ‘Mike,’ the patriarch of the family, and with the same southern hospitality we had been shown, invited Nadine to spend the afternoon with Alexandria while Mike and his wife unpacked.
After sending Nadine home for supper, we heard a banging at our door.

“If you let your kids play with niggers, then you’re niggers too.” Bill stood at my doorstep, angry, shielding his daughter.

I returned the glare. Shuffling Alexandria back indoors, I said: “Don’t use the ‘n word’ in front of my children.”

“Fine. Sarah’s not allowed to play with Alexandria if you’re letting her play with...”

“I won’t permit racism on my property,” I interrupted. “I’m Catholic. I don’t care what color someone’s skin is. They’re human like you and me.”

Sarah and Alexandria were bawling. Each knew where her father stood; Bill and I had expressed ourselves freely. This was not Canada where the fear of giving offence forces one to invent excuses when withdrawing from social contact. Canada’s human rights adjudicators may think of themselves as the robed masters of the universe, but their jurisdiction does not extend below the 49th parallel. Thus I couldn’t lodge a human rights complaint.

But suppose there was no First Amendment protection in the U.S. Over six years later, a Canadian-style human rights commission would still be investigating this incident. And Bill would feel even more justified in his racism. After all, those nasty African-Americans (for any human rights investigator reading this, I’m using a literary device called sarcasm) dragged him through countless hours of procedural harassment and bankrupted him under a mountain of legal bills.

Bill might be more reluctant to express his views, but he would remain a racist. And there would be no opportunity for me to challenge his racial prejudices. The moment I expressed the least bit of sympathy for the civil rights movement, he would withdraw from all social contact with the exception of the occasional ‘hi’ and ‘goodbye’. When you’re feeling persecuted, you tend to stick to your own kind.

Fortunately, our confrontation happened in the United States (or from Bill’s perspective, the Confederacy currently occupied by those damn Yankees). The impasse ended three days later. No government agency or program required.

I pulled into my driveway after work, glanced over to Bill’s front yard, and saw Alexandria, Sarah and Nadine splashing in a kids pool. Having cracked open a couple of cold ones, Mike and Bill were commiserating about their common nemesis as civil rights activists and unreconstructed southerners - those bloody Republicans. As a low-level contributor to Bush’s Catholic strategy during the 2000 presidential election, I was now the odd man out.

Freedom of speech had won. It won because it allowed Bill and Mike to voice their worst fears about ‘the other’. (In those intervening days, Mike told me how all white men put down the black man - an experience in racism against Caucasians just as shocking to my Canadian naivety.) When ‘the other’ failed to meet those worst expectations, each felt a little sheepish and conscience took over. So they put it behind them, shook hands, and found something else to gripe about. The government can seal a person’s lips, but it cannot change a person’s heart.

Freedom of speech also won me over. I realized I was accountable for my anti-racist viewpoint, just as Bill and Mike were accountable for their racist viewpoint. Truth be told, I had never given racism much thought prior to this incident. There’s no need for ordinary citizens to confront racism in Canada - that’s the government’s job.
So whenever I encountered racism while growing up, I ignored it as none of my business. Or I found some excuse to convince myself it wasn’t really racism. Truth be told, had Bill not expressed himself within earshot of my daughter, I probably would have done the Canadian thing: Ignore his rant while he was on my doorstep, gripe to my wife how superior we Canadians are afterward, and find some excuse afterward to avoid future social contact.

As I noted in a long ago post about racism, the answer to living in harmony in a multicultural society is not to go down the rabbit hole of oversensitivity to our differences. Rather, it is to aim for upon an evenly administered, common standard of law to which we all submit:

...though I don't think the answer to racism is more talk, the only way to get past our ridiculous squeamishness about certain aspects of both the race and religion debates may well be to just bring them out into the open. There is nothing wrong with asking a candidate for public office (especially one who has invited debate on a topic) polite questions; nor is there anything wrong with discussing current events.

Where I do draw the line is at name calling. I understand the impulse that makes people want to use the word 'nigger'. One seeks, by altering our instinctive associations with that word, to lessen the pain it invokes. That is why many blacks object when whites use the term, yet utter it themselves with careless abandon. But the bottom line is that whoever uses the word, it is still an ugly name.

One day, hopefully, that is all it will be: just one of many ugly slurs with no more power to offend or hurt than any other ugly name. But why go there? Is name calling ever really acceptable behavior? Why not just object to the behavior rather than condemning the person?

In the end, the right response to racism has to be to uphold a consistently applied standard of behavior that holds true regardless of skin color. Chris Rock had it right: we don't get to congratulate ourselves for doing the right thing, whether we are white, black, yellow or brown.

We are supposed to do the right thing, every day, regardless of our skin color. That is the standard Barack Obama forgot to uphold, and one we have a right to expect from the next President of the United States.

It is not so bad to live in a country where obnoxious cartoonists are free to offend us with ill considered scribblings. We are, after all, free to pen outraged letters to the editor in response. Such people are canaries in the coal mine of democracy: they set alarm bells jangling in our heads when current events collide with our conflicting and ever changing mores. But I can't help but think it's not a bad thing to live in a country where Naomi Wolf is free to imagine that Sarah Palin is trying to steal her cornflakes and Keith Olbermann to scream nightly from my TV set that Barney the White House terrier has eaten the Bill of Rights - again!!! - as he is being dragged away to Gitmo to have the frilly panties of fascism pulled over his silently screaming head by a crack team of busty Marine Lance Corporals in leather miniskirts and red fishnets.

Speaking truth to power is getting more difficult every day. Just ask Oliphant.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:33 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

The WaPo Bravely "Fact Checks" Opinion

This is rich. Not content with fact-checking statements which can be ... well... fact-checked, the WaPo bravely essays forth to catch Lying Liars Who Lie prevaricating in regard to extremely important matters of... opinion:

John McCain kicked the evening off with a wild exaggeration by describing the allied invasion of Normandy as “the greatest invasion” in history.

Such historical comparisons are always dangerous. In scale, the D-Day landings were far exceeded by Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, in June 1941, and the Soviet invasion of Germany at the end of World War II.

A total of 326,000 allied troops took part in the initial D-day Landings in June 1944. By comparison, Hitler’s sent an army of 4.5 million men into the Soviet Union in June 1941along a 1,800 mile front.

Wow. We'll say. Whatever would we do without impartial journalists? There's nothing more fun than fact-checking a "dangerous" [meaning they disagree with it] opinion by serving up your own opinions (suitably disguised, of course) in the guise of fact!

Herr Crittenden responds to the Post's rather silly fact check:

Universally regarded as the greatest sea invasion of all time, in contention for the greatest single technological and organizational operation, massive and highly complex, conducted under strict secrecy, cloaked by highly successful deception.

Different. Greater. And on unconditional greatness alone, it’s important to note that the jackbooted sausage-eating bucketheads, several months in, when it started snowing and they were all still in their summer uniforms and not in Moscow as planned, weren’t feeling so great any more. Schadenfreude ensued. As for the Soviets, they didn’t launch an invasion of Germany as much as they pushed multiple fronts forward over a period of two years. Sort of like we did after we invaded Normandy.

We could dicker over the semantics of what makes an invasion, and technically, maybe the Washington Post is right. But in the end what it comes down to is, Clintonianly speaking, what you think “great” is. Greatness is in fact conditional. The Nazis wanted to own Russia, and killed every Jew and most of the other Russians they met. If the Washington Post thinks that’s great, so be it. The Russkies, meanwhile, raped every woman they met, and enslaved half of Europe for 45 years. Washington Post informs us that’s also greater than Normandy, where the Americans, British and Canadians went ashore, fought and died to liberate.

Perhaps it's just us, but the term "greatest" implies just a tad bit of ... oh, how shall we say it... subjectivity? Fortunately, as long as the WaPo is around we foolish voters will be forever protected from outrageous deceptions perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by evil, lying liars who lie.

Because, you know, we're gullible like that.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:27 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Obama's Not So Affordable Housing

Interesting video on the causes of the credit crisis, via my Dad:

Where the video really gets interesting is at about 6:28, where it asks:

...you'll never guess who worked at a law firm that sued banks for not issuing enough subprime loans?

The sued Citibank. Nobody likes discrimination. Everybody deserves a home... not a house of cards:

... CRA [Community Reinvestment Act]-facilitated migration makes the mortgage terms of groups like NACA particularly troubling. In a September 1999 story, the Wall Street Journal reported, based on a review of court documents by Boston real estate analyst John Anderson, that the Fleet Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against 4 percent of loans made for Fleet by NACA in 1994 and 1995—a rate four times the industry average. Overextended buyers don't always get much help from their nonprofit intermediaries, either: Boston radio station WBUR reported in July that home buyers in danger of losing their homes had trouble getting their phone calls returned by the ACORN Housing group.

NACA frankly admits that it is willing to run these risks. It emphasizes the virtues of the counselling programs it offers (like all CRA groups) to prepare its typical buyer—"a hotel worker with an income of $25K and probably some past credit problems," says a NACA spokesman—and it operates what it calls a "neighborhood stabilization fund" on which buyers who fall behind on payments can draw. But Bruce Marks says that he would consider a low foreclosure rate to be a problem. "If we had a foreclosure rate of 1 percent, that would just prove we were skimming," he says. Accordingly, in mid-1999, 8.2 percent of the mortgages NACA had arranged with the Fleet Bank were delinquent, compared with the national average of 1.9 percent. "Considering our clientele," Marks asserts, "nine out of ten would have to be considered a success."

The no-down-payment policy has sparked so sharp a division within the CRA industry that the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has expelled Bruce Marks and NACA from its ranks over it. The precipitating incident: when James Johnson, then CEO of Fannie Mae, made a speech to NCRC members on the importance of down payments to keep mortgage-backed securities easily salable, NACA troops, in keeping with the group's style of personalizing disputes, distributed pictures of Johnson, captioned: "I make $6 million a year, and I can afford a down payment. Why can't you?"

...The group likes to promote, for instance, the story of Renea Swain-Price, grateful for NACA's negotiating on her behalf with Fleet Bank to prevent foreclosure when she fell behind on a $1,400 monthly mortgage payment on her three-family house in Dorchester. Yet NACA had no qualms about arranging the $137,500 mortgage in the first place, notwithstanding the fact that Swain-Price's husband was in prison, that she'd had previous credit problems, and that the monthly mortgage payment constituted more than half her monthly salary. The fact that NACA has arranged an agreement to forestall foreclosure does not inspire confidence that she will have the resources required to maintain her aging frame house: her new monthly payment, in recognition of previously missed payments, is $1,879.

Do you get the feeling more than a few people weren't facing reality? And yet if you try to suggest that "affordable housing" wasn't the problem, you're demonizing the poor.

It wasn't the poor who caused this problem. It was people who insisted on a solution that ignored the reality that if you're poor, you may not be able to keep up mortgage payments that exceed your take home pay and then allowed speculators to make obscene profits on the backs of people who were lured into reaching for a brass ring that was, in reality, just beyond their grasp.

As the video goes on to point out, it would have made more sense to focus on building the skills needed to make poor people employable and raise their wages so they can truly afford better housing, not "give" them so-called "affordable mortgages" with adjustable rates that have balloon clauses which cause them to go into default when the housing market collapses, making them not so "affordable" after all.

If you're poor, the last thing you can "afford" is a mortgage payment that isn't predictable.

The last thing you can afford is a mortgage whose monthly payment goes UP when times get hard. Of all people, the poor have the least ability to deal with unpredictable expenses. They have no savings built up, no assets they can sell off to raise cash.

Who bails out the poor when government lures them into taking advantage of "affordable housing" they can't really afford? And where is the media on the question of accountability for this crisis?

In 2003, the Bush administration proposed reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that the NY Times called "the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago":

Under the plan, disclosed at a Congressional hearing today, a new agency would be created within the Treasury Department to assume supervision of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored companies that are the two largest players in the mortgage lending industry.

The new agency would have the authority, which now rests with Congress, to set one of the two capital-reserve requirements for the companies. It would exercise authority over any new lines of business. And it would determine whether the two are adequately managing the risks of their ballooning portfolios.

The plan is an acknowledgment by the administration that oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- which together have issued more than $1.5 trillion in outstanding debt -- is broken. A report by outside investigators in July concluded that Freddie Mac manipulated its accounting to mislead investors, and critics have said Fannie Mae does not adequately hedge against rising interest rates.

As in 2005, the proposed reforms were blocked by Democrats.

Including one Barack Obama.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:30 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 27, 2008

Kissinger Says Obama Misquoted Him

That's gotta hurt:


Henry Kissinger believes Barack Obama misstated his views on diplomacy with US adversaries and is not happy about being mischaracterized. He says: "Senator McCain is right. I would not recommend the next President of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the Presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality."

Hmmm... I'm sure the media truth squad will be all over this one.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:28 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

McCain-Obama First Debate Impressions

I decided not to live blog last night's debate because I wanted to simply sit and watch, and then have time to reflect on what I'd seen. Also, so many people do this now (and arguably far better than I would) that I thought you all could dispense with my snarking in real time.

So, what did you all think?

IN GENERAL:

Our rural Maryland audience of two thought McCain won - narrowly - for the following reasons, which I realize are very likely not the criteria most people use to judge such ventures:

1. In almost every instance, McCain's answers appeared to be better thought out, more calm, focused, and deliberate. What most impressed both of us was McCain's ability to annotate and back up his arguments pretty much all of the time with specifics: facts, historical analogies, stories. Watching the two men respond to questions they were not given in advance, two things jumped out at me:

- John McCain is just so much better at thinking on his feet than Obama is. His answers were more fluid and detailed and he has mastered what I consider to be an essential debating tactic: you never jump right into a question. Obama did this several times and then his mouth ran slightly ahead of his brain and he because a bit confused. It is so much more effective to speak slowly.

- Much of the time, McCain drove the debate on his own terms and Obama was forced into the passive role; responding to McCain's initiative instead of taking control. This doesn't exactly make him look like a leader - it makes him look like a follower.

The truly fascinating thing about this is that I'm not sure that will register on many people. Viewers tend to see things through the subjective lens of their personalities and experiences. Where I saw McCain looking calm, seasoned, and unfailingly polite many others saw him as being coldly dismissive of "that poor young black man who he seemed to resent even having to debate". This is so odd to me: here are two men whose job ought to be convincing America they have the knowledge, toughness, and smarts to lead the world's greatest superpower, and yet it is somehow hitting below the belt for the candidate with more experience to point out that he has... [gasp!] more experience and (by virtue of his years of experience) a better grasp of world affairs? This may well be the defining difference between the progressive outlook and the conservative one.

I don't view the Presidency as something I'm willing to award on "niceness" or the sympathy vote - you have to convince me you're the better qualified candidate. When one candidate happens to be black, I would think that to refrain from using your best advantage - experience - against him out of some silly fear that "You lack the experience to understand this as well as I do" will be equated to "You are too stupid to understand this as well as I do" is tantamount to patronizing him on account of his skin color. I don't think anyone (let alone John McCain) thinks Obama is unintelligent. To that end, so long as you are polite there is nothing wrong with pointing out that you do, in fact, have more experience.

And this was a remarkably civil debate due to the self restraint shown by both parties and to the professionalism of the moderator. Again, I must point out that some of the focus groups (as well as Obama supporters) were put off by McCain's supposed refusal to look at Obama. I never even noticed that - it seems to me the reaction of folks who are determined to see a slight offered where none was intended. I see no mention of the fact (which struck me forcefully) that Obama kept referring to McCain as "John" while McCain called Obama, "Senator Obama", giving him the full honorific. My husband commented on the same thing after the debate ended. The "John" seemed very patronizing to me, and it grated. Also the channel I watched featured a split screen and Obama kept making disgusted faces while McCain was talking, very much like a little kid making faces during class.

This was very unprofessional and unbecoming. It made him look childish and petulant, and when he - repeatedly - interrupted and tried to talk over McCain when McCain had the floor, he looked even ruder. I did not see McCain interrupting Obama. He let him finish his sentences. So perceptions can be wildly different and are, I suspect, very much influenced by our backgrounds and values.

About midway through the debate Obama became visibly irritated.

I thought this was huge for McCain, who badly needed to counteract the Obama campaign's attempt to portray him as "angry" and "volatile". He came across as neither. Obama was very self possessed and urbane for most of the debate. I think that redounded to his credit. But towards the end, he was visibly rattled and angry. He began stuttering. That make him look indecisive, less experienced and less in control of himself than McCain.

ON THE ISSUES:

I think Obama did slightly better on the economy. McCain has two problems here:

1. Conservatives seem constitutionally incapable of articulating HOW conservative economic principles serve the self interest of the average voter. McCain came closest to doing this when he riposted on lowering the corporate tax rate. Pointing out that we pay one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world was huge - if you are a business, you will want to locate where the cost of doing business is lowest. This allows you to price your goods and services competitively, especially against third world nations who don't offer their workers generous wages or liberal benefit packages. What conservatives just_cannot_seem_to_do is explain that if we force employers to provide wages that are too high and benefits that are too expensive, we drive jobs overseas where the costs of doing business are lower.

What conservatives can't seem to explain to the average voter is that poor people cannot hire them, and the kind of person with the drive and talent to start a successful business is not working for the joy of handing over the benefits of his labor to the federal government. There is a healthy balance in there somewhere between leaving workers vulnerable to predatory employment practices (which do exist, by the way) and hamstringing American entrepreneurs.

The Democrats are extremely good at harnessing class resentment (mostly against 'the rich'). But a huge segment of the American voting populace also bitterly resents those who refuse to work, yet expect a handout. There is a way to make the argument that conservatives want to reward hard work, enable those who DO work hard to keep the fruits of their productive labor, and that these policies incent the behavior that helps people move up the ladder and be successful.

Until John McCain learns to make these arguments in a compelling way, this remains his Achilles heel and may well lose him the election.

2. On foreign policy, McCain's expertise was commanding. I think we saw the benefit of years and years of experience here - he was easily able to summon examples to back up his arguments, where Obama was left mouthing vague generalities. Unfortunately as Grim so astutely points out, most Americans aren't focused on foreign policy this week and what's worse, have not only never cared much about the war, but are now heartily sick of it. If McCain wants to leverage one of his biggest advantages, he needs to connect it in voters' minds to something they care about in a compelling way.

On the Russia/Georgia question in particular, it was apparent that Obama really had no idea what McCain was talking about and had brought a water pistol to a gun fight. I thought that was devastating.

On the 'preconditions' issue, aside from my utter mystification at the preoccupation with Henry Kissinger (Who cares what he said? Who made Kissinger the final authority on anything?) Obama was unable to summon much to match McCain's historical examples. I found them convincing, but suspect people who decide this sort of thing based on how they feel about "aggressive diplomacy" [What the hell is aggressive diplomacy anyway? Do what I say or you'll... you'll... you'll get Yet Another Stern Talking-to! Take THAT, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad!!!!} will find their opinions unchanged :p

McCain was effective at first on fighting corruption and earmarks, but he belabored the point. It is apparent that he genuinely believes saving the taxpayers money is his calling. But does the average taxpayer care all that much? Does it appeal to their bottom-line self interest?

I doubt it. It helped show his earnest and idealistic side, which is always a weakness for Republicans, but it risked (when he went on and on about it) making him look like a bit of a zealot, and what was more damaging IMO, as someone who has been in Congress just a bit too long any may have trouble seeing the forest for the trees. Loved the line about using the veto, however. Catchy.

I though both candidates fumbled the "greatest lessons of this war" question, and I thought McCain's answer hurt him worse than Obama's.

I would have answered so differently. I suspect you could get a million different answers - I know my husband's was different than mine. But my answer would have played to McCain's strengths and pointed up Obama's weaknesses:

To me, the greatest lesson of this war is that human beings continually make the same mistakes they've made all through history with regard to war. As we learn to fight smarter, the bar only gets raised and consequently our "failures" are magnified through the lens of our now-inflated expectations. But the overriding lesson here is as old as time: conviction wins wars.

It is the will to win, as shown by George Bush even after years of strategies that proved to be misguided that can turn around even a situation everyone believed to be intractable:

As recounted in Bob Woodward's new book, "The War Within," George W. Bush stiffed his Joint Chiefs of Staff, who opposed the surge, and made Gen. Keane his back channel to the Petraeus command in Baghdad. The Pentagon "almost presided over an American defeat in Iraq, and Jack Keane helped save the day," says Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Born into an English-Irish family in Manhattan, Gen. Keane was raised on the Yankees and went up to Fordham for college. In his 37 years in the military he served in Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Iraq was another story. Soon after Baghdad fell he noted "a little bit of arrogance," and says he and other senior military leaders "let down" their political masters by failing to anticipate that Saddam Hussein's loyalists made preparations for the insurgency.

Three months into the war, Gen. Keane visited Iraq as the Army's deputy chief of staff. "I felt we had a low-level insurgency on our hands and I had a long plane ride home as a result of it, because I thought my Army was ill-prepared to fight that kind of war and it would take time for us to figure it out." His was a lonely view at the time. Gen. Keane passed on a promotion to Army chief for personal reasons but kept up with Iraq.

For the next three years, Donald Rumsfeld and the senior generals pushed a "short-war" scenario, "which was to get a political solution quickly, transition to the Iraqis security quickly, and get out," says Gen. Keane. "It didn't work. And why didn't it work? Because the enemy voted and they took advantage. The fact that we did not adjust to what the enemy was doing to us and the Iraqis were not capable of standing by themselves -- that was our major failure. . . . It took us all a while to understand the war and [that] we had the wrong strategy to fight it. Where I parted from those leaders [at the Pentagon] is when we knew the facts -- and the facts were pretty evident in 2005 and compelling in 2006 -- and those facts were simply that we could not protect the population and the levels of violence were just out of control."

In late 2006, after the midterm election debacle for Republicans, pressure rose for a quick if dishonorable exit from Iraq. Gen. Keane met Frederick Kagan, who was putting together a report on an alternative strategy for Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute. On Dec. 11, both men found themselves at the White House to push the plan. Congress, the Joint Chiefs, Iraq commander Gen. George Casey and the Iraq Study Group all wanted a fast drawdown. President Bush ignored their advice. Gen. Petraeus was sent out in February to oversee the new, risky and politically unpopular surge.

Even Gen. Keane didn't expect the new strategy to work so fast. "It's a stunning turnaround, and I think people will study it for years because it's unparalleled in counterinsurgency practice," he says. "All the gains we've achieved against al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency, the Iranians in the south are sustainable" -- a slight pause here -- "if we're smart about it and not let them regroup and get back into it."

Gen. Keane wants to make sure people understand why the surge worked. "I have a theory" about the unexpectedly fast turnaround, he says. "Whether they be Sunni, Shia or Kurd, anyone who was being touched by that war after four years was fed up with it. And I think once a solution was being provided, once they saw the Americans were truly willing to take risks and die to protect their women and children and their way of life, they decided one, to protect the Americans, and two, to turn in the enemies that were around them who were intimidating and terrorizing them; that gave them the courage to do it."

He adds that the so-called Sunni Awakening, and the effective surrender of Shia radical Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army, depended upon the surge. "I'm not sure [the Sunni Awakening] would have spread to the other provinces without the U.S. [military] presence. We needed forces that we didn't previously have for the Sunnis to be able to rely on us to protect them." Sadr saw his lieutenants killed in the American push, and didn't want to share their fate.

Looking ahead, Gen. Keane still considers a robust American ground force "the secret to success" in Iraq. "It is a myth for people to assert that by pulling away from the Iraqis, by pulling away from the Iraqi political process, that somehow that becomes a catalyst to do things that they would not do because of our presence. That is fundamentally wrong. It is our presence that is helping Iraqis move forward."

The fact is that Obama was wrong - not once, but repeatedly and stubbornly - on the Surge.

As McCain correctly pointed out, the question on so many issues is NOT (as Obama kept trying to steer it to) "How did we get here?" but "What are we going to do about this?"

THAT is why we have a president - not to look backwards with recriminations and fingerpointing but to act decisively when needed and offer solutions, and most importantly, to offer firm leadership when the going gets tough. This is where Obama is most vulnerable and this is the argument McCain needs to make - on the economy, on foreign policy, you name it - if he wants to win this election.

Update: Interesting... Glenn Reynolds on the post-debate spin cycle:

Interestingly, McCain was up several on InTrade right after the debate, but now he's dropped a bit. I presume that means that traders who watched the debate thought that he'd done better than the ensuing spin suggested.

He's got a lot of great debate links - just start at the top and work your way down. This was my impression too this morning. I couldn't help noticing the media I heard last night and even a few liberal bloggers initially thought McCain did better... until the focus group results came in.

What does that say?

Posted by Cassandra at 10:20 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 26, 2008

Friday Tune

Something to listen to while I'm writing:

Seems oddly appropriate, somehow.

Here's another one I've always enjoyed. There aren't too many people on the face of this earth consistently capable of sounding this good outside of the studio.

This is looking like a feel-good songs kind of Friday.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:22 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

When The Going Gets Rough...

...sometimes you just need a bigger clue bat:

Today (Friday, 9/26/08) will be an important day in American history. The credibility of the US dollar is at stake, which in turn depends on worldwide confidence in the US economy's future. [Note to gold bugs: see the end note.]

Almost everything I've written about at this blog for the last four years (regarding how bright the future just might be) depends on one huge but intangible asset on the balance sheet: worldwide confidence in the dollar. Accountants would liken it to an asset called "goodwill"; I roughly estimate the brand name "US dollar" to be worth around fifty to a hundred trillion dollars in present value. If we destroyed that asset, it would be like destroying the most powerful brand name in economic history.

I hope the Republican holdouts do understand that -- but some of the things I've heard about those who are blocking the rescue package are making me doubtful. If the Newt Gingrich faction "succeeds" in stopping the rescue package, they have a good chance of wiping that hundred trillion dollar asset off the balance sheet in one short weekend.

It's not called the Big Picture for nothing.

These people are really beginning to frighten me. And Lord knows, I don't scare easily.

Read his whole post. And the comments. And then read them again for good measure.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:08 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Save Us From "The Experts"...

Glenn Reynolds highlights the Constitutional Law Candidate's ongoing battle against ... the Constitution!

Reader Carolyn Gockel writes: "Why Obama is Vulnerable On the First Amendment: The whole NRA flap is going beyond gun rights advocates...I'm not as pro-gun as you and I am furious." Yeah, and the bit with state law enforcement officials threatening critics is even worse. I wonder if the ACLU will weigh in on this one? Seems like a good opportunity for them to show their nonpartisan nature.

...from Jacob Sullum at Reason, Why Obama is Vulnerable On the Second Amendment.

MORE: Prosecutors and sheriffs threatening to prosecute Obama critics?

Check out this TV news report from St. Louis, too, which makes clear that the Obama campaign is behind this.

There's lots more - plus video! - where that came from. Kind of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, doesn't it; just knowing that come November we won't have a bunch of bumbling amateurs in the Oval Office?

The Obama-Biden slate is historic in many ways, but for law professors it has a special cachet: It's the first time that professors of constitutional law have occupied both slots on a ticket. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and Joe Biden has been an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law since 1991. More to the point, it's the most civil-libertarian ticket ever fielded by a major U.S. political party.

After 8 years of watching Barney the White House terrier savage the Bill of Rights, the American people deserve a President with the knowledge and integrity to protect our Constitutional rights:

Most American voters (60%) .... say the Supreme Court should make decisions based on what is written in the constitution, while 30% say rulings should be guided on the judge’s sense of fairness and justice. The number who agree with McCain is up from 55% in August.

While 82% of voters who support McCain believe the justices should rule on what is in the Constitution, just 29% of Barack Obama’s supporters agree. Just 11% of McCain supporters say judges should rule based on the judge’s sense of fairness, while nearly half (49%) of Obama supporters agree.

After all, it's only fair!

Posted by Cassandra at 08:12 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Huh???

Personally, the Editorial Staff see nothing unusual about this:

Stop the presses! A Pew Research Center survey reveals that in nearly two out of three cases when one person in a married couple makes the decisions, that person is -- now brace yourself! -- the wife.

Shocking, I know.

Forty-three percent of wives call the shots, according to the poll, compared with 26 percent of the men.

Golly! That would seem to go against the grain of our unisex bathroom, gender-neutral, anybody-can -grow-up-to-become-an-unqualified-vice-presidential-candidate society. But then again, the practical considerations that keep marriages chugging along are not as open to shifts in fashion as we might think.

The survey did identify a third group -- 31 percent of couples claim they "equally divide decisions" -- an obvious lie. I'm not sure if equally dividing decisions is even possible, and figure the 31 percent must represent couples who say what they think they're supposed to say.

With that in mind, I phoned my wife. If I'm going to write about this, I thought it would be best, from a domestic tranquility perspective, to seek her input.

"So honey . . ." I stammered. "There's this survey . . . "

"We equally divide decisions," she replied.

"Do we really?" I squeaked.

"Yes, we do," she said, with a firm and-that's-the-end-of-that tone. I automatically backed off, mumbling apologies.

Well there you are. That settles it. We divide decisions equally. Though ... and I'm going out on a limb here ... I suppose it all depends on what you mean by "equally." When it comes to major life choices, we do divide them, in the sense that my wife sets the course and I'm allowed to fill in the details. She decided, for instance, that it was high time for us to get married, and I got to pick both the location for the wedding and the type of soup served at the reception -- cream of carrot.

It was she who announced that we were moving to the suburbs, and I found the house we live in.

That is a division, of sorts, though whether it is an equal division, I will leave to you.

I'm not complaining, mind you. The line I always use, when convincing myself to go along with her next scheduled stage of domesticity, is that if I didn't follow her lead, I'd still be a single guy living in a one-bedroom rental in Oak Park. (Mmmmm . . . No wait, that would be bad!!!)

And yet. There is an aspect to our joint decision-making worth mentioning. There are moments where I suspect it might not be quite as equitable as advertised.

For instance.

Now is the time when on-the-ball families plan their summer vacations. A few days back we were strolling along the Prairie Trail in Northbrook.

"Where should we go this summer?" she said. "I thought we'd go to Yellowstone."

"Or maybe the Grand Canyon," I countered.

"There's good hiking in Yellowstone," she continued.

"I've never been to the Grand Canyon," I said.

"Cate stayed in a lodge in Yellowstone she really liked," she said. "Ask her the name of the place so we can stay there when we go to Yellowstone."

So I guess, from my wife's point of view, we discussed several vacation options and came to a decision together, the way equal helpmates who love and respect each other do.

I might view it differently, but then I'm surely mistaken, for reasons which no doubt are being explained to me even as you read this.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:51 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

September 25, 2008

Maryland: Land of Compassion

If you needed something to get your mind off the bailout crisis, here's a heartwarming story. When tragedy strikes, Marylanders feel each other's pain.

The proof? Sensitive comments like this:

Ronaldo: "Can I get that done to my wife's mouth?"

Posted by Cassandra at 07:55 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

A Good Question

Homefront Six asks a good question:

If the government were NOT to step in and the "disaster of monumental proportions" were to actually occur, what would that mean for MY LIFE?

How would this collapse affect me and my family? Keep in mind we do not own (we rent but the house is owned outright by the homeowner) our own home and MacGyver's job is relatively secure. We have some consumer debt but nothing that we couldn't pay off in a year (sooner if we HAD to).

I'm going to attempt a short answer and a long answer, but before I do, a brief comment.

I'm obviously not an economist.

You all have seen me attempt to comment on legal issues. I have done so as a layperson. I try to stay with broad policy issues and comment only with the understanding and hope that readers will chime in with alternative points of view. The purpose of VC is to foster discussion and hopefully ensmarten us all a bit.

In economics, as with law, there are different schools of thought on various policy issues so you are getting the views this author has, after a fair amount of reading, found most persuasive. In that vein, I offer the following short scenario in response to the President's speech last night. It should help you imagine how the average American's life might be affected by a failure to swiftly enact some form of the proposed bailout package.

A more detailed response will follow shortly.

Yesterday's thoughts on the bailout were really just a very high level summary of a fairly complex situation. I didn't talk about the subject of credit default swaps, loan ratings, or the failure of Congress to regulate the trading of derivatives.

Simply put, what is the President worried about, and more importantly, why couldn't he make a plain and simple case for the bailout?

I'll give you my opinion.

The worst case scenario - the doomsday one - is a meltdown of the financial sector resembling what happened just before the Depression. This is what I described yesterday, when investors panic and begin dumping what is called 'commercial paper' (that is stocks 30 day to 2 year notes issued by businesses to finance day to day operations, correction courtesy of Levi from Queens - thanks so much!). The scary thing here is that perfectly solvent investment funds with no ties to the mortgage crisis can be driven under, simply by virtue of the fact that thousands of individual investors are selling at once.

This lowers the value of each share, since everyone is selling and no one is buying. If your retirement fund or your life savings just happens to be in one of these funds, you are now officially shit out of luck. Why couldn't the President talk about this last night? Well, as I mentioned yesterday on my Thoughts on the Bailout post, we've already seen how panicky investors can be. The President of the United States can't very well stand up before the nation and say, "Dang! I sure hope y'all don't pull all your money out of the market before it goes bust, because you know your fellow investors could cause any of these funds to go under at at any moment!".

So he can't make the best argument for urgent action, lest he precipitate the very crisis he's trying to head off.

Let's say you have no money whatsoever in the market, or even in banks. Let's say you don't own a home and you keep all your money sewn up in your mattress. Why should you care about a run on the banks?

Well, there are what are called second order effects of massive bank failures, or simply of a massive loss of confidence in the financial system. If you ever took an economics class, you have probably heard of the Multiplier Effect, or what is referred to as money creation.

This is the idea that increases in spending lead to greater than proportional increases in output/income. This is generally thought of as a good thing. The Federal Reserve uses changes in the money supply to stimulate or restrain the economy. The problem with allowing massive bank failures is this:

All of a sudden, investors desert traditional investments and flee to "safe" investments like Treasury bonds. In fact, everyone starts doing the "safe" thing. They stop spending.

They stop making loans.

Because there are fewer funds available for borrowing, the price of borrowing money (the interest rate) goes way up.

Some people say, "Hey! Let the market adjust! It's capitalism!" Well, most businesses don't have an enormous profit margin to begin with. If you increase the cost of capital (the funds they need to do business - you don't think they use their own money, do you?) you increase the cost of doing business. This means they will back out of contracts and lay off workers.

This means laid off workers and businesses with fewer contracts, in turn, won't spend as much money in the economy. What you have now is what I'd call a 'reverse multiplier effect'. We saw something very like this after 9/11 when a loss of confidence caused corporations to hoard capital and slash travel budgets to the bone years after the attack. It's not so much that they weren't profitable. It was that uncertainty caused them to hold onto their money rather than spending it. There was a ripple effect that spread outwards from the hotel and airline industry into other sectors of the economy.

There was a lot of ignorant and ill informed criticism of President Bush for his tax cuts and his supposed "failure to ask Americans to sacrifice" in the wake of 9/11, as though acceding to al Qaeda's avowed desire to deep six the U.S. economy would have helped the military prosecute the war. What Bush did was the best possible thing for this country - we needed to shore up consumer confidence and continue to spend money so that American companies didn't lay off more workers.

I truly believe that if we don't act promptly here, we will be facing some pretty dire consequences. People don't react soberly to financial crises; they protect themselves first.

The best line in the President's speech was the one about the government being the only entity with the "patience" to buy up what is essentially a good investment, because most American homeowners will NOT default on their loans unless we allow this to devolve into an even bigger mess than it already is. What the government is proposing is to buy low and sell higher, though the valuation of the proposed assets remains a risk.

Previous bailouts have actually broken even or even made money.

And the creation of the Federal Reserve itself was the response to a financial panic. Anyway, that's my uninformed two cents. As I have said, I don't claim to be an expert, and you are welcome to take potshots at me in the comments section.

That's why I'm here.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:41 AM | Comments (59) | TrackBack

September 24, 2008

Thoughts on the Bailout

Due to time constraints I'm not even going to attempt my usual breezy prose, much less the jokes. I've been reading up on the meltdown for a few days when I have a spare moment. I'd like to offer a few observations from what I've read so far, interspersed with the best of the articles and posts I've seen on the topic.

Hopefully this will be helpful, either as an aid to discussion or to folks like Grim who've indicated they'd like to learn more about the forces at work here.

First of all, how did we get to this point?

My quick synopsis (and feel free to correct or append to it in the comments section - I don't pretend to be an expert on economics):

Beginning in the early 1990's, government sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac came under increasing pressure to make risky loans to underqualified applicants, all in the name of providing "affordable housing" (a phrase that should cause you to run shrieking into the desert). Thus began a cascading series of events that led to what we just experienced:

1. Lenders like Fannie Mae extended loans to people who, under traditional mortgage underwriting standards, would have been judged likely to default. You may wish to resist the temptation to blame them - at least entirely. Statutory penalties mandated by Congress set a high price for "discrimination" in mortgage lending:

Failure to comply with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act or Regulation B can subject a financial institution to civil liability for actual and punitive damages in individual or class actions. Liability for punitive damages can be as much as $10,000 in individual actions and the lesser of $500,000 or 1 percent of the creditor’s net worth in class actions."

And this was the result:

Consider the following Countrywide tends to follow the most flexible underwriting criteria permitted under [Government Sponsored Enterprises] and FHA guidelines. Because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tend to give their best lenders access to the most flexible underwriting criteria, Countrywide benefits from its status as one of the largest originators of mortgage loans and one of the largest participants in the [Government Sponsored Enterprises] programs. When necessary — in cases where applicants have no established credit history, for example — Countrywide uses nontraditional credit, a practice now accepted by the [Government Sponsored Enterprises].

And Bear Sterns:

Credit scores. While credit scores can be an analytical tool with conforming loans, their effectiveness is limited with [Community Reinvestment Act] loans. Unfortunately, [Community Reinvestment Act] loans do not fit neatly into the standard credit score framework… Do we automatically exclude or severely discount … loans [with poor credit scores]? Absolutely not.

Recognize those names? Action, meet reaction.

2. Because so many bad loans were being made, more houses were purchased than would have been in a tighter credit market. This boost to housing demand also boosted home prices (values). As long as home values were rising, the balances on mortgages remained lower than the market value of most homes. In effect, rising home prices "insured" lenders against the risk of making bad loans (after all, banks could always foreclose and sell to cover the note)....

3. ...until the housing market began to contract and home values fell. Suddenly, many homes were worth less than the loan balance, leaving banks with bad debts that had to be written off.

4. To make matters worse, lulled by the strong housing market, lenders had been making more and more of these loans. During the 3-year period from 2003-2006, the percentage of risky loans nearly tripled.

The conditions were ripe for disaster. And that's what happened next:

5. Banks began to fail. Precisely why they failed is quite interesting, especially for those of you who oppose a bailout:

Regulators said the "immediate cause" of IndyMac's failure was a deposit run in recent days that began after a June 26 letter to the OTS and the FDIC from New York Senator Charles Schumer was made public. The letter voiced concerns about IndyMac's soundness. By July 10, depositors had pulled more than $1.3 billion from their accounts, the OTS said in a statement.

It's like something out of your high school history book. A run on the bank, but exacerbated by easy access to financial markets and information made possible by the Internet. Imagine how much more difficult it is to contain investor panic in a wired world? Well, unless you're Chuck Schumer. In that case, you blame the very regulations that make "affordable housing" possible:

"The institution failed today due to a liquidity crisis," said OTS Director John Reich. "Although this institution was already in distress, I am troubled by any interference in the regulatory process."

But Schumer wasn't having it, telling the Wall Street Journal that if OTS "had done its job as regulator and not let IndyMac's poor and loose lending practices continue, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Why do investors panic? Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, there is the problem of lack of information. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say there is almost too much information for individual investors to take in:

It is natural to ask whether there is some specific reason for these events to occur when they did. Can we identify a specific trigger? While we can see something that has happened, as I suggested earlier there has been no fundamental deterioration in economic conditions. In fact, in the United States there was no economic data released on Thursday 9 August 2007. So, it isn’t that people suddenly changed their view of the future.

Instead, what happened was analogous to a bank run. Bank runs can be the result of either real or imagined problems. Here’s what how it works. Most people, even fairly sophisticated investors, are not in a position to assess the quality of the assets on a financial institution’s balance sheet. In fact, most people don’t even know what those assets are. So when we learn that one bank is in trouble, investors begin to worry about all financial institutions and investors start to flee. The inability to accurately value assets leads to a strong shift toward high-quality securities like Treasury bonds.

I cannot emphasize the importance of that last bolded portion enough. Imagine the power of panic, spreading by the Internet, TV, radio, newspapers, email. The fear "goes viral" with frightening speed.

THIS IS WHAT THE BAILOUT IS INTENDED TO ADDRESS. Not "affordable housing", not the horrible tragedy of failed banks (the economy can survive a bank or two going belly up), but investor confidence. I am not entirely sure some people realize how close we came last week to a disaster of monumental proportions:

7. As with the Chuck Schumer incident previously cited, in a nervous market, it's astounding how little it takes to cause a panic:

Money market funds are heavily regulated as to what sort of securities they can buy. These kind of short term debts were widely believed to be as safe as . . . er . . . something other than buying a house.

What happened last week is that one money market firm advertised its entire portfolio, including a large chunk of Lehman paper worth slightly less than 2% of the total fund assets. Spooked investors, who did not want to lose out if the fund "broke the buck" started withdrawing as fast as their little fingers could punch the buttons on their phones.

That's it. That's all it took. And then all hell broke loose:


Now, this money market fund had tens of billions worth of assets; if it started dumping them on the market, it would drive the price down, leaving them even less money to hand back to their shareholders. But there's a reason investors herd in a bank run: the first people out get all their money back. The rest get trampled in the stampede. The fund--incidentally, the same company that founded the money market industry--"broke the buck"; that is, its shares became worth less than a dollar. It's as if the value of your bank account suddenly dropped below the amount you'd put in.

This, by the way, is probably not the only fund this happened to, but it was the only fund that a) advertised its holdings and b) was not attached to an institution large enough to easily make good the loss.

Thus was touched off a general run on money market funds that held money for institutions--the kind that require buy ins of a couple million or more. Institutional managers have a strong incentive to do stupid, destructive things, as long as everyone else is doing them. It's the same reason that IT managers used to buy IBM--not because it was necessarily the best solution, but because as long as you did it, no one could blame you when things went south. "I bought IBM!" troubled CTOs would say when the server crashed. "The whole market is down!" cry money managers when the financial system crashes.

Investors were particularly worried about any exposure to financial paper. So, frankly, were the managers of money market funds. From Lehman, the worries spread to Wachovia, Washington Mutual, and beyond. Suddenly, said one source, no one could sell two-week Wachovia paper at 30% yield-to-maturity--which in layman's terms means they were offering a hell of a discount on a loan that was pretty likelyt o pay off. Some funds bragged they didn't have Wachovia, which only made the others seem ominously silent in comparison. The fund runs started to hit money markets that had no obvious problems (Putnam, BKNY/Mellon, American Beacon) causing them to shut down or redeem the shares in kind. Investors began worrying State Street's massive short-term investment fund complex was holding Lehman, which whipsawed its stock price 50% in one day.

Money market funds are generally designed to be the functional equivalent of a bank account: short-term vehicles where you park cash you aren't using at the moment. Investors are supposed to be able to pull their money out at any time. That meant that all the funds, sound or not, were vulnerable to a run. And virtually any fund that experienced a run would "break the buck" because while these funds are perfectly safe and liquid in normal circumstances, no one could dump a billion dollars worth of securities on the market without seeing the price of those securities plummet. Since funds definitionally try to hold their asset base near a dollar a share, and distribute the yield, there was no gigantic cushion to pad the sales.

The runs meant that all the money market funds were in the same boat: everyone wanted to sell and hoard cash in case of a run. No one wanted to buy. Once busted funds had gotten rid of their very short paper, they were stuck with the weeks/months maturities, which were virtually unsaleable. Unless the parent institutions make your investors whole the only thing you can do in that situation is distribute the assets in kind, to investors who can't sell them any more than you could.

Let me emphasize the bolded portions in the excerpt above:

IT'S NOT JUST "WEAK" FUNDS OR COMPANIES WHO ARE AT RISK. IT'S THE ENTIRE DECK OF CARDS.

So while many of you may find the proposed bailout "unpalatable", I heartily invite you to contemplate the alternative:

If investors lose confidence in the safety of money market funds, mutual funds, demand deposit accounts and the other storehouses of value in the modern economy, we would have a problem that would make somewhat higher taxes and moral hazard seem like child’s play. Trust me — you do not want to experience a full-scale bank run in contemporary America. I’m not sure how many people realize how close we were to the wheels coming off at about noon yesterday, as major commercial-paper processing banks like State Street lost 30% – 60% of their value in about 2 hours. Want evidence: When was the last time you heard of the U.S. government identifying a problem, developing a multi-hundred-billion-dollar program and announcing it within about 48 hours?

Finally, this is intended to be a high level summary, not an in depth analysis. As you may have gathered, I am in favor of doing something because this problem is not going away. I also find that despite my extreme unhappiness at both plans being proposed, I am in general agreement with this analysis.

If after all this, you are somehow trusting in the rationality of your fellow citizens, may I direct your attention to lemming-like behavior in the face of a non-crisis which nearly brought our entire financial system to its knees and this utterly inexplicable reaction.

Your fellow voters are about to vote you more "affordable housing". It's like deja vu all over again.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:27 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

The "Bailout" Plans

Boquisucio writes:

I dunno Cass, last night I ploughed through both documents. And though I hate to admit it, Dodd's 44 page Plan makes a bit more sense, than the carte blanche that Paulson is groveling for.

...As I read Paulson’s Power Grab, he wants to have unlimited, and unreviewable powers to purchase mortgage backed securities, at his own discretion. Please read Section 2(a)(b) and Section 8. In other words, an opaque and unaccountable usurpation of power by The Executive.

First, let me say that I simply haven't had time to wade into the details of the Paulson plan. However, from what I have read so far, I couldn't disagree more. I'm puzzled that anyone would prefer the Dodd plan, which seems to me (as well as to others) to grant far more dangerous and expansive powers to the federal government:

1. Under the Paulson bill, Treasury will have the power to purchase mortgage-related assets. Under the Dodd bill, Treasury will have the power to purchase these assets and “any other financial instrument, as the secretary determines necessary to promote financial market stability.” In Davidoff's words, the Dodd bill “could allow this program to expand to credit card debt, student loan debt, market purchases of equity and even the debt of the big automakers. Basically, the entire financial system.”

I have a one word reaction to this. Unfortunately, it is not printable.

2. Under the Paulson bill, Treasury would buy assets with cash. Under the Dodd bill, Treasury would be required to obtain equity warrants as well; Sorkin says that this provision will probably end up being discretionary. So Treasury will be able to obtain equity stakes whenever it believes that doing so makes sense (presumably, so as to obtain a portion of the upside if Treasury overpays for the securities), and will have to exercise whatever control its equity interest gives it, including possibly a say in the management of the firm (think of AIG).

3. Under the Paulson bill, Treasury has no power to determine executive compensation. Under the Dodd bill, the executive compensation provision, in Davidoff's words, “basically puts the Treasury Department in the business of setting compensation and disclosure policies for much of financial America.”

If you aren't alarmed by this, I'm not sure what would alarm you.

4. Under the Paulson bill, Treasury has no power to adjust mortgages that go into foreclosure. Under the Dodd bill, Treasury is supposed to figure out some way to help homeowners whose property is subject to the securities it obtains, including reducing interest rates and principal.

So now, the American taxpayer must not only bail out failing banks, it must assume worthless loans?

As someone who has paid her bills on time and kept her debt-to-income ratio manageable so I did not get into this situation for over thirty years, this is intolerable. I am willing to take on some debt to avert a loss of confidence in banks that could well wipe out innocent people's life savings. Don't ask me to assume the bad debts of irresponsible people as well.

5. Finally, with respect to the most important discretionary item of them all – negotiating a price of the mortgage-related assets and most of the other terms of the deal – the Paulson bill and the Dodd bill identically leave it up to Paulson and his successors.

Let me remind people that the very reason the Executive branch is structured the way it is, is to facilitate swift, decisive action in times of national emergency. We have Constitutional remedies for abuses of executive power that don't hamstring the only branch of our government with the ability to respond quickly to crises.

In short, I agree with Eric Posner. The Dodd bill is a trojan rabbit from hell. If you like the idea that the federal government ought to be forced to extend not just mortgage loans but potentially all types of consumer loans at the same rate of interest, regardless of risk then Chris Dodd is your huckleberry. Perhaps while we're at it, we can just enshrine the right to credit in the Constitution now and get it over with.

I'll be at the bar. Feel free to throw peanuts at me - I plan to be too inebriated to care.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:33 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

It's Twue! It's Twue!!!

Because sometimes, fact checking John McCain can be dangerous...

So the Washington Post is saying you can't believe McCain's ad because it is based on reporting in . . . the Washington Post. The Washington Post is not a reliable source of information, according to the Washington Post.

But if the Washington Post is not a reliable source of information, how can we believe the Washington Post when it says it's not a reliable source of information? But if we don't believe the Washington Post when it says it's not a reliable source of information, then we must believe the Washington Post is a reliable source of information, in which case how can we believe the Washington Post is not a reliable source of information. But if . . .

... to your sanity.

Maybe this is what Howard Kurtz (Hey! Doesn't he have a show called "Reliable Sources"?) meant when he said the press were mad.

I mean... angry.

Whatever.

Via Vinnie the K at Discarded Lies

Posted by Cassandra at 12:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Let The Markets Work...

Posted by Cassandra at 12:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sleeping Alone

Dr. Helen asks, "Is sleeping alone healthy for a marriage?"

How many couples sleep solo in a double bed?

A 2001 random telephone survey of 1,004 adults conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 12 percent of married Americans slept alone; a similar 2005 survey of 1,506 people found that number had jumped to 23 percent.

In addition, a March online survey of 1,408 couples conducted by the Sleep Council of England found that 1 in 4 people regularly retreats to a spare room or sofa to get a good night’s sleep.

The preference for separate spaces has even begun to affect home design. According to the National Association of Home Builders, there’s been a steady increase in the number of requests for “two-master bedroom” homes since 1990, prompting the organization to predict that by 2015, 60 percent of all custom upscale homes will be built with two “owner suites.”

I would think that whether one’s marriage suffers from sleeping apart would have to do more with why people want to sleep apart than the fact that they do. Is there a good reason for it or is it because one wants to get away from his or her spouse? A good reason for sleeping apart might be to avoid a sleepless night due to a partner snoring or other sleep-disturbing behavior.

And, in fact, these seem to be the main reasons people sleep apart: because of snoring or other physical difficulties — such as restless leg syndrome — that make sleeping difficult for the partner without the problem. But perhaps some of the reasons also have to do with an increase in economic wealth and changing expectations of how we view relationships. Perhaps more couples sleep alone now than in the past because they can.

I know I've written about this before, but I had a few more thoughts. As a wife who often gets up in the middle of the night to sleep in the other room (but always, always makes an effort to go to sleep in the same bed, and at the same time as, my husband) I understand why couples are tempted to sleep apart. After all, having gone through several one-year unaccompanied deployments, I know what it is like to get used to having the bed - and the bedroom - to oneself. It's an adjustment when your spouse returns and you have to deal with issues like the numbers of covers on the bed, snoring, tossing and turning, different schedules (my husband gets up at 4 a.m. or even earlier every day).

And I know how wonderfully relaxing it is, sometimes, just to be able to fall asleep in a perfectly quiet room where everything is exactly the way you want it.

It's almost like being... single again. But that isn't really the point of marriage, is it? Having everything your way? Putting your own needs first? Maximizing your own convenience and comfort at the expense of the relationship? Reading Dr. Helen's post, I was reminded of this rather novel experiment:

There are two new books out from couples who made a decision to have sex with their spouse every night for 101 or 365 days. The reviews from both couples seem to be mixed…not surprising. Yes, it improved intimacy and yes, it was very difficult and, at times, a horrible drag.

I recall reading about this in the Times a while back and thinking it a bit extreme. But on the other hand, how does a couple get to the point where they even contemplate mandatory sex every night for a year? This couple can tell you: they get there the same way so many couples get into trouble.

They get busy, and it becomes easier to think of their own needs first rather than putting time and energy into the relationship.

They forget that their needs may not be the same as their partner's, but that a marriage only works so long as both the man and woman are getting something out of it.

They forget that relationships take constant work and that every day a thousand little fractures can occur in even the strongest relationship. If you don't put in the time and effort to repair them as you go, small wounds can easily turn into large ones.

Or worse, they turn into indifference.

Elsewhere today, I read that 58% of women fantasize about having an affair.

34% admit to having cheated on their husbands.

And most distressing of all, I read that the average married couple only has sex 66 times a year.

While I can understand all the reasons couples can and do sleep apart, I think it's a mistake not to make the effort to at least fall asleep together (or spend some time in the same bed) every night. Making time for your spouse should be a priority, not an afterthought and very often, because making sexual overtures to each other is very much a function of opportunity, the first casualty when couples spend too much time apart is going to be their sex life. Sex is about a lot of things. It's far more than simply having an orgasm, which (let's face it) we're all perfectly capable of doing on our own. For most men, sex is not just an enjoyable physical activity. In addition to making them feel valued, it also allows them to relax and open up to their wives in a way they're usually taught to suppress when they're dealing with the outside world. And most women very much want and need to feel connected to their husbands emotionally in order to fully enjoy sex, so it's hard to have one take place without the other:

What both couples seem to have really learned is how much closer and intimate sex can make you feel, even when you have been married a long time. This is because we are all at our most vulnerable during sex. It is an open, honest and tender time. You each get to see and feel more of the human essence of your mate. You have put it out there -- in terms of what you like, what you don’t and what you are thinking about. This is both exciting and scary, which is why so many people back away and erect a wall against such intimacy-- to avoid the risk of rejection. It is so important to be sensitive to each others' vulnerable state and be as supportive as possible. At the same time, such revelation is very exciting when you feel really safe and honest and loved just for being you with your partner.

I think the takeaway from such an exercise is that sometimes you just have to get going to break through those initial sexual barriers that may have been built up over many years. What is on the other side is most certainly worth having.

I attended a wedding recently. I love weddings. I nearly always cry.

There is something sacred about the sight of two young people, beaming with happiness and obviously in love, pledging to devote the rest of their lives together. And I believe in marriage, both as a social institution and as a way for people to be happy.

But sometimes - often - I read things online that fill me with dismay. How do people lose that feeling they had on their wedding day? I've been married for nearly thirty years, and I don't understand the bitterness and anger I read so often in comments from people who have clearly been deeply hurt.

How do we lose that feeling?

I think we lose it by increments. And I think we need to do everything in our power to hold onto it. It is a lever capable of moving mountains or desolating souls.

I suppose I've always thought that success in marriage is much like success in life. Ninety nine percent of it lies in continuing to show up, day after day, shovel in hand.

Sex: it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it :p Seriously, when I read the hundreds of "how did this happen" books on marriages gone wrong, I can't help thinking that the most obvious problem is the least often discussed: that most marriages don't fail due to discord or irreconcilable differences. That's a symptom, not a root cause.

I think many marriages starve to death. They fail when couples drift apart and their differences begin to outweigh the good feelings that brought them together in the first place. And I think the main reason that occurs is that couples no longer take the time to create those good feelings, the way they did when they were dating.

It's something to think about.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:52 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Important Knut The Adorably Gay Polar Bear Newsflash

Wow:

The documentaries that showed him strumming Elvis's "(You're The) Devil in Disguise" on a guitar as he lulled the world's most famous polar bear to sleep were enough to win the hearts of millions of Germans.

This week, Thomas Dörflein, the Berlin zoo keeper who raised Knut from cub to full maturity, was found dead in mysterious circumstances in a friend's Berlin apartment. (Reports suggested the cause was cancer or a heart attack, but ruled out suicide.) It emerged that it wasn't only the bear who had been receiving bucketloads of fan mail. With his endearing manner, thick black beard and shoulder-length hair swept back in a ponytail, Dörflein, who was just 44, was an unlikely heart-throb who had been deluged with letters from admiring women. According to reports yesterday, in the past few weeks the keeper had been fending off groupies every time he left the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Daniela.

Berlin was in mourning yesterday following the news of the keeper's death. "Everyone wanted to be like Thomas Dörflein," is how Berlin's BZ newspaper put it, "he not only cared for Knut; he nurtured our desire to see harmony between man and beast."

The Editorial Staff has only one question regarding this tragic event.

[wait for it]

Can Sarah Palin account for her whereabouts?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Important Legal Question of the Day

Is an inflatable rat Constitutionally protected speech? Money quote:

"They are seeking to bar the kind of protest ... that goes to the heart of the protections afforded by the New Jersey Constitution," said James Katz, who represents the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

The rat is a valuable addition to informational picket lines, the lawyers argued.

With such passionate legal representation, can justice be denied?

We think not.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

About Those "Unsound Fundamentals"

Via Maggie's Farm, a quiz on the economy:

1. Which of the following countries had the highest economic growth since 2000?

1. France

2. Japan

3. Germany

4. U.S.A.

2. Which of the following countries has the highest GDP per capita?

1. U.K.

2. Germany

3. Japan

4. U.S.A.

3. Which of the following countries had the highest household consumption in 2005?

1. U.K.

2. Canada

3. France

4. U.S.A.

4. Which country spends the most per capita on health services?

1. U.K.

2. Germany

3. Canada

4. U.S.A.

5. What percentage of the U.S.A.’s population is covered by health insurance?

1. 55%

2. 65%

3. 75%

4. 85%

There's plenty more here, plus the answers. While you're contemplating the mysteries of the universe, the Editorial Staff would also like to commend to you this interesting chart:

business_cycle.jpg

Click for larger, interactive version of chart

A few points:

1. Unlike the media, who formally define a recession (before going on to tell us that regardless of what the data say, "it sure feels like we're in a recession") as two or more quarters of declining real GDP, the NBER's definition of a recession includes more than GDP:

A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. A recession begins just after the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends as the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion. Expansion is the normal state of the economy; most recessions are brief and they have been rare in recent decades.

2. The data for the most recent recession (in 2001) was mixed enough that it required a judgment call to even term it a "recession":

The most recent recession in our chronology was in 2001. According to data as of July 2008, the 2001 recession involved declines in the first and third quarters of 2001 but not in two consecutive quarters. Our procedure differs from the two-quarter rule in a number of ways.

- First, we consider the depth as well as the duration of the decline in economic activity. Recall that our definition includes the phrase, "a significant decline in economic activity."

- Second, we use a broader array of indicators than just real GDP. One reason for this is that the GDP data are subject to considerable revision.

- Third, we use monthly indicators to arrive at a monthly chronology.

To sum up, newly revised GDP data show declining GDP in quarters 1, 2, and 3 of 2001. Until recently, however, the data only showed GDP declining in quarters 1 and 3. By the traditional definition, this would NOT have been a recession. By the newly revised data, it would qualify. It also means George Bush inherited an economy already headed into recession. if you accept the traditional definition.

2. Interestingly enough, despite the nearly constant warnings of impending (and current) recession the Editorial Staff have endured from pundits, television news anchors, and unbiased economic reporters over the last 8 years, the NBER - and the data - have some surprising things to say on that subject:

The National Bureau's Business Cycle Dating Committee maintains a chronology of the U.S. business cycle. The chronology identifies the dates of peaks and troughs that frame economic recession or expansion. The period from a peak to a trough is a recession and the period from a trough to a peak is an expansion.

Now here's the killer quote:

According to the chronology, the most recent peak occurred in March 2001, [Ed. note: Six months before 9/11 for you folks without a pocket calendar. Since both the original and revised data showed declining GDP growth in the first quarter of 2001, this would seem to make claims that the "recession" is due to Republican White House policy roughly equivalent to saying Bush was single-handedly able to turn the economy around in a mere 6 weeks. Quite an achievement, wouldn't you say?] ending a record-long expansion that began in 1991. The most recent trough occurred in November 2001, inaugurating an expansion.

That's right. An expansion. Since November of 2001, the U.S. economy has experienced a period of uninterrupted economic expansion despite a major terrorist attack and two wars.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2008

And The Jackassery Continues....

Incroyable...

Hidden in an article reporting that Cheney's going to go hunt up some support for the $700,000,000,000 bailout is this admission that the Bush Administration has been sitting on it for some time:

Fratto insisted that the plan was not slapped together and had been drawn up as a contingency over previous months and weeks by administration officials. He acknowledged lawmakers were getting only days to peruse it, but he said this should be enough. [my emphasis]

Which raises three questions for me:

A) First, as we'll discuss today in the book salon on Woodward's War Within, the Bush Administration refused to admit Iraq was FUBAR even while, for seven months, they were drumming up a new strategy because it was FUBAR. They did so because they didn't want to affect the mid-term elections. So has the Bush Administration been formulating a plan to bail out their buddies, in secret, because they didn't want to let the voters know how badly they had fucked up the American economy before November?

B) And if that is true, how much worse has the economy gotten--and how much more expensive will the bailout be--because the Bushies were trying to hide yet another colossal Republican failure?

C) Or, did they simply not tell us about their f***-up so they could spring the $700,000,000,000 surprise on us on a Friday and demand results by Monday? The Shock Doctrine at work!

Though, I guess "A" and "C" are not necessarily either/or propositions.

*sigh*

Once again, facts are stubborn things. Never mind that the Bush administration implored Congress to regulate GSE no fewer than 18 times during 2008 alone (that's roughly twice a month).

Never mind that Barney Frank "saw no crisis" and pooh-poohed talk of regulating Fannie Mae and Chuck Schumer blocked the 2005 reform bill:

I want to begin by saying that I am glad to consider the legislation, but I do not think we are facing any kind of a crisis. That is, in my view, the two government sponsored enterprises we are talking about here, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are not in a crisis. We have recently had an accounting problem with Freddie Mac that has led to people being dismissed, as appears to be appropriate. I do not think at this point there is a problem with a threat to the Treasury.

Never mind that in the wake of the worst financial crisis in recent history, Barney Frank was still pushing GSEs to make risky loans:

Stunned global investors won’t give financial firms any more money, forcing the firms into bankruptcy if they’re not lucky, or into the arms of Uncle Sam or of much bigger companies, if they are. But as the House Financial Services Committee proved on Tuesday, the public sector somehow feels it can continue to ignore reality—at least for a little longer.

The committee, chaired by Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, took steps to gut a modest reform of the bad lending policies that helped get us into this mess. By voice vote, members moved to overturn a ban on something called “seller-financed down payments” for some government-guaranteed mortgages. Congress largely banned government support for such mortgages just two months ago at the request of the Federal Housing Administration.

The FHA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have provided ample evidence that these loans are just too risky for taxpayers to take on. Under a seller-financed down payment, a homebuyer doesn’t put any money down. Instead, the seller, usually a property developer, provides the homeowner with funds to prod along the sale of the house. The first problem with this approach is that it gives the homeowner little incentive to negotiate on the purchase price of a home, since it seems to him that he’s getting a good deal—after all, the developer is kicking in thousands of dollars, which seems generous. The developer in turn finds it easier to charge an inflated price for the house, making it more likely that the government won’t get its money back if the home ever goes into foreclosure. And in fact the homeowner is more likely to default: since the value of the home is quite likely inflated, he is more likely to have difficulty selling it for the price he paid if he runs into financial trouble. Having none of his own money at stake, he also has less incentive to struggle to make his payments.

As HUD official Margaret Burns testified last year, seller-financed down payments “have had a significant negative impact on FHA’s business for the last several years. Loans made to borrowers who rely on these types of seller-funded gifts perform very poorly. The foreclosure rates on these loans are more than twice those of all other home purchase loans insured by FHA. Moreover, FHA experiences higher loss rates from the sale of the properties associated with these particular foreclosures, a reflection of the overvaluation that occurs with these programs.” Those loss rates could get worse; the government compiled them before the most severe period of housing declines began in many markets.

Why on earth, then, did Barney Frank & co. overturn the seller-financing ban, increasing the risk to the taxpayer?

...Frank and his colleagues remain keen on coddling the tenacious bad-lending lobby (including the National Association of Homebuilders and what’s left of the banking industry), which desperately needs suckers to buy newly built homes at inflated prices so that builders can pay back at least some of their construction debt to the banks and investors. Frank is certainly not looking out for average-Joe home buyers and sellers with this action. Just as bad, it seems that he and his colleagues haven’t noticed that the rest of the country, and indeed the world, have begun paying the price of the private sector’s era of no-down-payment, 100-percent home-loan financing.

But then this should not surprise us. After all, past performance is often a good predictor of future events:

If only the really smart folks had been able to stop George W. Bush and those horrid Republicans from causing this problem in the first place:

Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending

By STEVEN A. HOLMES
Published: September 30, 1999

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits....

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

And then there are all those Republicans (like the top three beneficiaries of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac) who are in the pay of the GSEs:

Chris Dodd
Barack Obama
John Kerry

Yep. Not only should the Republicans not have caused this problem which (according to the arch-conservative NY Times) was predicted in 1999 when the Clinton administration began its drive to increase minority home ownership and could have been avoided by a Republican reform bill that was blocked by Democrats, but they really had no business actually being prepared for the disaster they repeatedly warned the public about and tried to prevent.

Got it.

Here's a thought for you. How about knocking off the finger pointing and concentrating on a solution? Because I have a funny feeling there's plenty of blame to go around.

Or is that too bipartisan for you?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:54 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

ProjectionWatch 2008: Bitterly Racist Edition

Mary Katherine delivers the first of what promises to be an amusing new feature here at VC, the 2008 Election ProjectionWatch; so named because of the Editorial Staff's increasing conviction that our Democratic brethren in Christ spend an inordinate amount of time projecting their neuroses upon The Other:

On the Counterproductive Talking Point Perpetuation Watch, I found reporters calling swing states and rural regions "bitter" in two stories.

The WaPo deftly dons the Times' much famed flexible urban sensibility to explain the Weltanschung of your average Pennsylvania racist Neanderthal voter to the Post's toffee nosed readership:

More than is sometimes acknowledged, residents say, this is a region wrestling with bitterness and backwardness, the kind that Aunie Frisch, who has Chinese ancestry, sometimes finds maddening.

The LA Times, meanwhile, explains in lofty tones our next Commander in Chief's first "strategic redeployment" from Blue State hell:

Exactly 44 years after Lyndon B. Johnson became the last Democrat to capture the state of North Dakota in a presidential election, it looks like Barack Obama won't be the next.

The Associated Press reported this evening and an Obama spokeswoman confirmed that the Chicago-based campaign is pulling its 50-some staffers out of the heavily Republican state full of embittered small towns and shipping the workers east to Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the Democrat's prospects seem brighter and closer.

Fortunately in a ProjectionWatch aside noted by the ever-alert Editorial Staff, even the bitterest of backwards gun-clingers can find solace in a feeling "some experts" believe is shared by "many". The readership will please conceal their shock at these startling poll results:

The abandonment of at least one Midwestern state by Obama comes as a new AP poll indicates that race could play a significant role in deciding a close national election. Some experts estimate the first African American candidate of a major party might be as much as 6 percentage points more ahead if he wasn't black.

Oddly enough, these "experts" hazarded no opinion as to how many voters might be voting for the post-racial candidate out of a genuine desire to see a black candidate in the White House. Or perhaps they simply weren't asked that question.

Feel free to alert us to other examples of Election Projection in the coming weeks so that we may mock them mercilessly.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:36 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Barney Frank Discovers Regulation!!!!

Sacre bleu! Avec le hindsight, it is possible for Monsieur Frank to see things which happened not!!!

Q.Why not bail out Lehman Brothers?

A. What you had was a lot of conservatives saying, oh, let's let them go belly up. And as I've said, as it turns out, looking at a dead belly isn't as enjoyable as they thought it would be.... their failure to regulate sensibly has so endangered the economy and so burdened it with bad stuff that it's become very vulnerable.

Q.So suddenly the government is in the business of intervening in corporate America. What does that mean?

A. The Republicans - their own philosophy blew up in their face. They were so extreme in their insistence that there be no government intervention that they have wound up provoking far more government intervention than the Democrats ever would have.

All this retrospection... it is of the most confusing, n'est pas? Surely M. Frank was not referring to this kind of government intervention:

How did we get here? Let's review: In order to curry congressional support after their accounting scandals in 2003 and 2004, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac committed to increased financing of "affordable housing." They became the largest buyers of subprime and Alt-A mortgages between 2004 and 2007, with total GSE exposure eventually exceeding $1 trillion. In doing so, they stimulated the growth of the subpar mortgage market and substantially magnified the costs of its collapse.

Allow us to interrupt the narrative for a moment to allow a little Blast from the Past: a reprise of M. Frank's wit and wisdom on the desirability of regulating government sponsored entities (GSEs):

Hearing from September 2003 on an administration proposal to alter the regulation of GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. See Congressman Barney Frank's opening statement, which begins at 4:40. It's rather amusing. Here's an excerpt of his opening statement:

I want to begin by saying that I am glad to consider the legislation, but I do not think we are facing any kind of a crisis. That is, in my view, the two government sponsored enterprises we are talking about here, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are not in a crisis. We have recently had an accounting problem with Freddie Mac that has led to people being dismissed, as appears to be appropriate. I do not think at this point there is a problem with a threat to the Treasury.

I must say we have an interesting example of self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of the critics of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say that the problem is that the Federal Government is obligated to bail out people who might lose money in connection with them. I do not believe that we have any such obligation. And as I said, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy by some people.

So let me make it clear, I am a strong supporter of the role that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play in housing, but nobody who invests in them should come looking to me for a nickel--nor anybody else in the Federal Government. And if investors take some comfort and want to lend them a little money and less interest rates, because they like this set of affiliations, good, because housing will benefit. But there is no guarantee, there is no explicit guarantee, there is no implicit guarantee, there is no wink-and-nod guarantee. Invest, and you are on your own.

Now, we have got a system that I think has worked very well to help housing. The high cost of housing is one of the great social bombs of this country. I would rank it second to the inadequacy of our health delivery system as a problem that afflicts many, many Americans. We have gotten recent reports about the difficulty here.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have played a very useful role in helping make housing more affordable, both in general through leveraging the mortgage market, and in particular, they have a mission that this Congress has given them in return for some of the arrangements which are of some benefit to them to focus on affordable housing, and that is what I am concerned about here. I believe that we, as the Federal Government, have probably done too little rather than too much to push them to meet the goals of affordable housing and to set reasonable goals. I worry frankly that there is a tension here.

The more people, in my judgment, exaggerate a threat of safety and soundness, the more people conjure up the possibility of serious financial losses to the Treasury, which I do not see. I think we see entities that are fundamentally sound financially and withstand some of the disastrous scenarios. And even if there were a problem, the Federal Government doesn't bail them out. But the more pressure there is there, then the less I think we see in terms of affordable housing.

In that brief statement, the Editorial Staff counted the following:

Times M. Frank stated "there is no crisis": 4
Times M. Frank stated "there is no threat to the Treasury": 1
Times M. Frank averred the government has no obligation to investors in GSEs: 4
Times M. Frank stated his overriding concern that GSEs provide "affordable housing": 4

M. Frank was joined in these sentiments by his colleague, Monsieur Schumer (D, Affordable Housing), who took vigorous exception to both the administration's attempts to regulate GSEs and to Chairman Greenspan's warnings:

As Congress began again to work on legislation to strengthen oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two of the nation's largest mortgage finance companies, Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve's chairman, urged lawmakers today to impose sharp limits on the $1.5 trillion holdings of the companies.

Appearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Mr. Greenspan said the enormous portfolios of the companies - nearly a quarter of the home mortgage market - posed significant risks to the nation's financial system should either of the companies face extensive problems.

"We at the Federal Reserve remain concerned about the growth and magnitude of the mortgage portfolios of the government-sponsored enterprises, which concentrate interest rate risk and prepayment risk at these two institutions and makes our financial system dependent on their ability to manage these risks," Mr. Greenspan said. "To fend off possible future systemic difficulties, which we assess as likely if G.S.E. expansion continues unabated, preventive actions are required sooner rather than later."

Most of the assets in the portfolios are mortgage-backed securities that the companies find more profitable to hold than to sell in the secondary markets. Mr. Greenspan said those holdings did nothing to further the mission of the companies of providing market liquidity and lowering mortgage interest rates but was solely a method of increasing earnings.

In previous years, lawmakers have failed to approve legislation imposing stronger oversight of the companies and changing the way they do business. The two companies have been formidable lobbying forces and been able to block attempts made by lawmakers, often with the support of rival mortgage companies, to restrict them.

But some lawmakers say this year presents the best opportunity in a long time to adopt legislation as the two companies because both companies have struggled through accounting scandals.

Mr. Greenspan's testimony went beyond previous statements in which he has urged tighter scrutiny of the two companies. His approach towards the companies of heavier scrutiny and regulation stands in strong contrast to his overall deregulatory approach in other areas, like hedge funds, and that distinction was noted today by a handful of senators who questioned the need to force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce their portfolios.

In several pointed lines of questioning, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, criticized Mr. Greenspan's recommendation and called it both inconsistent with his other views on regulation and potentially damaging to the housing markets. Without identifying anyone in particular, he also suggested that some people who have advanced tougher regulation of the two housing finance companies are really pushing a broader agenda to eliminate the companies and their mission of providing affordable housing.

"I see an analogy to Social Security," Mr. Schumer said. "Social Security has a problem and there are ideologues who want to undo it. Fannie and Freddie have problems and there are ideologues who want to undo them. But there are ways to fix the problems short of what's been proposed. When the sink is broken, you don't want to tear down the house."

Indeed. And with that brief trip in the Wayback Machine, we resume the narrative:

It is important to understand that, as GSEs, Fannie and Freddie were viewed in the capital markets as government-backed buyers (a belief that has now been reduced to fact). Thus they were able to borrow as much as they wanted for the purpose of buying mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Their buying patterns and interests were followed closely in the markets. If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them. By late 2004, Fannie and Freddie very much wanted subprime and Alt-A loans. Their accounting had just been revealed as fraudulent, and they were under pressure from Congress to demonstrate that they deserved their considerable privileges. Among other problems, economists at the Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office had begun to study them in detail, and found that -- despite their subsidized borrowing rates -- they did not significantly reduce mortgage interest rates. In the wake of Freddie's 2003 accounting scandal, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan became a powerful opponent, and began to call for stricter regulation of the GSEs and limitations on the growth of their highly profitable, but risky, retained portfolios.

If they were not making mortgages cheaper and were creating risks for the taxpayers and the economy, what value were they providing? The answer was their affordable-housing mission. So it was that, beginning in 2004, their portfolios of subprime and Alt-A loans and securities began to grow. Subprime and Alt-A originations in the U.S. rose from less than 8% of all mortgages in 2003 to over 20% in 2006. During this period the quality of subprime loans also declined, going from fixed rate, long-term amortizing loans to loans with low down payments and low (but adjustable) initial rates, indicating that originators were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find product for buyers like the GSEs.

Megan McArdle points out the futility of the current blame game:


Naturally, the two presidential candidates are moving quickly to deal with this crisis -- that is, to blame it on everyone except themselves. John McCain and his surrogates are pushing the dubious notion that the primary problem is a lack of transparency and accountability. He might send someone down to Lehman's trading floor to ask the people packing up their desks whether they feel they've gotten away with something.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is pointing the finger at John McCain, or at least Senator McCain's ideas...

This may play well on television, but it is rather disappointing coming from the man who promised us a new kind of politics. There have been no significant changes to the financial regulations in the last eight years that might credibly have created this crisis (the one major alteration, Sarbanes-Oxley, moved things in the other direction). And it's hard to blame loosened oversight when the entire market systematically overvalued the now-toxic securities. Lehman Brothers was not, after all, trying to put itself into receivership for the sheer joy of molesting taxpayers. The SEC is an extremely valuable agency, but even its crack regulators are not omniscient demigods who can instantly divine the "true" price of a complex security. Nor does it make sense to blame overpaid CEOs. Rick Wagoner's millions may be ill-deserved, but they did not force his customers to take out unreasonably large bank loans, nor compel investment managers to buy the securities into which those loans were packaged.

But both candidates are right about one thing: America's financial regulatory structure is badly outdated, and in need of a massive overhaul.

I'm not so sure the record bears her out on the question of loosened oversight. The problems we faced last week were twofold: GSEs were allowed to crowd other lenders out of the market by offering cheap, poor quality loans. But they could only do this so long as Congress was willing to turn a blind eye to their machinations. The price of Congressional acquiescence, it turns out, was "affordable housing". Had the 2005 regulatory reform bill been passed, it's arguable we would have experienced more sluggish growth, but averted last week's meltdown:

In 2005, the Senate Banking Committee, then under Republican control, adopted a strong reform bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole, John Sununu and Chuck Hagel, and supported by then chairman Richard Shelby. The bill prohibited the GSEs from holding portfolios, and gave their regulator prudential authority (such as setting capital requirements) roughly equivalent to a bank regulator. In light of the current financial crisis, this bill was probably the most important piece of financial regulation before Congress in 2005 and 2006. All the Republicans on the Committee supported the bill, and all the Democrats voted against it. Mr. McCain endorsed the legislation in a speech on the Senate floor. Mr. Obama, like all other Democrats, remained silent.

Now the Democrats are blaming the financial crisis on "deregulation." This is a canard. There has indeed been deregulation in our economy -- in long-distance telephone rates, airline fares, securities brokerage and trucking, to name just a few -- and this has produced much innovation and lower consumer prices. But the primary "deregulation" in the financial world in the last 30 years permitted banks to diversify their risks geographically and across different products, which is one of the things that has kept banks relatively stable in this storm.

As a result, U.S. commercial banks have been able to attract more than $100 billion of new capital in the past year to replace most of their subprime-related write-downs. Deregulation of branching restrictions and limitations on bank product offerings also made possible bank acquisition of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, saving billions in likely resolution costs for taxpayers.

If the Democrats had let the 2005 legislation come to a vote, the huge growth in the subprime and Alt-A loan portfolios of Fannie and Freddie could not have occurred, and the scale of the financial meltdown would have been substantially less. The same politicians who today decry the lack of intervention to stop excess risk taking in 2005-2006 were the ones who blocked the only legislative effort that could have stopped it.

For whatever it may be worth, if you had any doubts about how well informed and intelligent the average voter is on economic issues, consider that the Bush administration called for reform of GSEs no fewer than 17 times in 2008 alone. That's approximately twice a month for those of you without a calculator.

Moral of the story: it pays to own the megaphone.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:20 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

September 22, 2008

I Question The Timing....

Not much of a time lag on the reporting here:

The FBI is investigating the son of a Democratic Tennessee state lawmaker as part of a probe into the illegal break-in of GOP vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account.

David Kernell, a 20-year-old economics major at the University of Tennessee and the son of state Rep. Mike Kernell, a Memphis Democrat, had his apartment searched by FBI agents over the weekend, The Associated Press and Knoxville, Tenn., TV station WBIR report.

Unnamed witnesses to the search told WBIR that FBI agents broke up a party at the younger Kernell's apartment near campus and issued subpoenas to three of his roommates. Witnesses told the station that Kernell and his friends "fled the apartment when the FBI agents arrived."

The hacker, going by the screen name "Rubico," made claims that he broke into Palin's personal Yahoo e-mail account by tricking the system's security software into issuing him a new password, according to Wired.com. Bloggers were able to connect the "Rubico" name to David Kernell's university e-mail account last Thursday.

The hacker's public, yet anonymous confession, apparently allowed authorities to focus on the Tennessee college student.

"He might as well have taken a picture of his house and uploaded it," Ken Pfeil, an Internet security expert, told the AP.

Of course if this had been an unverified rumor about Sarah Palin's three headed neocon baby or John McCain perhaps (or perhaps not) having an improper relationship with a female lobbyist, it would have been on the front pages of the NY Times.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:13 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Smears, Lies, and Videotape: When A Corrupt Media Hijacks an Election

In a fascinating article, Todd Spivak does some digging and angers the Senator from Illinois:

It's not quite eight in the morning and Barack Obama is on the phone screaming at me. He liked the story I wrote about him a couple weeks ago, but not this garbage.

Months earlier, a reporter friend told me she overheard Obama call me an asshole at a political fund-raiser. Now here he is blasting me from hundreds of miles away for a story that just went online but hasn't yet hit local newsstands.

It's the first time I ever heard him yell, and I'm trembling as I set down the phone. I sit frozen at my desk for several minutes, stunned.

The good Senator, it seems, doesn't like having his past examined. As questions about his record accumulate, so does the list of Obama documents which have gotten "lost". But unlike human beings, newspaper articles can't be intimidated by Obama's digital brownshirts:

When asked about his legislative record, Obama rattles off several bills he sponsored as an Illinois lawmaker.

He expanded children's health insurance; made the state Earned Income Tax Credit refundable for low-income families; required public bodies to tape closed-door meetings to make government more transparent; and required police to videotape interrogations of homicide suspects.

And the list goes on.

It's a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what's interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama's seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative ­achievements.

Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor's office as well as both legislative chambers.

The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James "Pate" Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama's. He became Obama's ­kingmaker.

Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city's most popular black call-in radio ­program.

I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

"He said, 'Cliff, I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'"

"Oh, you are? Who might that be?"

"Barack Obama."

Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

"I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen," State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. "Barack didn't have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.

"I don't consider it bill jacking," Hendon told me. "But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book."

During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama's stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.

It was a stunning achievement that started him on the path of national politics — and he couldn't have done it without Jones.

Before Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he was virtually unknown even in his own state. Polls showed fewer than 20 percent of Illinois voters had ever heard of Barack Obama.

Jones further helped raise Obama's profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news ­headlines.

...So how has Obama repaid Jones?

Last June, to prove his commitment to government transparency, Obama released a comprehensive list of his earmark requests for fiscal year 2008. It comprised more than $300 million in pet projects for Illinois, including tens of millions for Jones's Senate district.

A very disturbing picture is beginning to emerge here.

It's bad enough when the press prove themselves either reluctant or incapable of performing the impartial watchdog function they claim as justification for the evading the law:

... many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama's distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights.

We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges. This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.

Indeed, one reason that candidates get away with dishonest campaign ads and speeches may be that it is so hard for undecided voters like me to discern which charges are true, which are exaggerated, and which are false. Most people can't spend hours every day cross-checking diverse sources of information to verify the accuracy of slanted stories and broadcasts such as these:

* In Sarah Palin's first big media interview, on September 11, Charlie Gibson of ABC News asked: "You said recently, in your old church, 'Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.' Are we fighting a holy war?" Palin responded: "You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote." Gibson pressed: "Exact words."

Viewers had no way of knowing that, in fact, Gibson was distorting Palin's meaning by leaving out critical context and thus making an unremarkable exhortation to prayer sound like a declaration of holy war. Palin had not said that the war was a task from God. She had urged her listeners to "pray" that it was a task from God. A September 3 Associated Press report by Gene Johnson distorted Palin's meaning in exactly the same way.

* A front-page story in the September 12 Washington Post, by Anne Kornblut, was headlined: "Palin Links Iraq to Sept. 11 in Talk to Troops in Alaska." This was misleading, as were the first two paragraphs. They implied that Palin had advanced the long-discredited "idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." In fact, Palin's reasonably clear meaning was not that Saddam had a role in the 9/11 attacks but that (as the article backhandedly acknowledged) the troops would be fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is related to the group that launched the 9/11 attacks.

* The New York Times did a huge (3,120-word) front-page story on February 21 implying that McCain had had a sexual affair with a female lobbyist while doing her political favors. But the article lacked strong evidence either that there had been a sexual affair or that McCain had crossed legal or ethical lines to do favors. Would The Times have printed the same story had the senator been Barack Obama or John Kerry? I doubt it.

* The Times also rushed to assert, in a front-page story on September 2 questioning how carefully McCain vetted Palin's background, that she "was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede." This turned out to be erroneous. (Her husband had previously been a member.)

This is not to deny that McCain deserves much of the criticism he has received for his distortions about Obama. But not all of it. Take the ad on which the most-bitter media complaints -- "blizzard of lies" and the like -- have focused. It asserts that Obama's "one accomplishment" in the area of education was "legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergarteners."

But the bill was not Obama's (he was not a sponsor), was not an accomplishment (it never passed), and would not have been his "only" accomplishment even if it had passed. More important, it called for extending only "age appropriate" sex ed from sixth grade down to kindergarten. There is no reason to doubt Obama's explanation that he wanted kindergartners to be taught only the dangers of inappropriate touching.

But a Times editorial overstated the case in saying that "the kindergarten ad flat-out lies" and that "at most, kindergartners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators." In fact, whatever Obama's intention, the bill itself was designed "to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children below sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten," as Byron York demonstrates in a detailed National Review Online article.

What are we to think when major papers like the Washington Post and NY Times employ unwarranted terms like "lies" and "smears" in a blatantly one-sided attempt to sway public opinion just before a national election? How many readers of the Times know that the legislation in question - the Freedom of Choice Act - does in fact (according to the National Organization for Women) do all of the things Obama opponents say it does? So if we are to believe NOW, it is the NY Times, and not Barack Obama's opponents in Virginia, who are spreading "lies" and "smears":

Posing as a mere “issue advocacy” operation, the group’s ad attacks Mr. Obama’s character and accuses him of “lying” about his abortion record. In truth, it trashes the candidate’s nuanced position. It even employs an Obama-like voice pledging to make taxpayers pay for abortions, help minors conceal abortions from their parents, and legalize late-term abortions.

The Times' highly nuanced position about the truth must include the "right" not to inform its readers that Barack Obama has pledged that, should he become President, his first act will be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. It must also include the nuanced belief that informing registered voters of a position the candidate himself has openly announced amounts to an attack on his character: a "smear". One wonders which factors The Times thinks voters ought to be allowed to consider when deciding which candidates they will vote for?

Apparently both the issues and the candidate's public record are off limits, as are his campaign's serial attempts to intimidate anyone who attempts to raise questions Mr. Obama prefers not to answer. There have been recent reports that the press are beginning to circle the wagons; that they are furious at being subjected to the same harsh scrutiny and criticism they routinely level at the subjects of their stories. If it weren't so hypocritical, their outrage would be amusing.

For years, the reading public has been told that the justification for a free and vigorous press is that human beings are inherently evil, power corrupts, and that even though there are numerous vehicles built into government for addressing abuses, somehow only the "power" of an absolutely free and unhindered press can save us from the wrong/bad ravages of our awful public servants. But who watches the watchdogs who, one can't help but note, are also human beings, also inherently fallible, and who as members of the Fourth Estate, wield a vast, unchecked power to destroy lives and reputations, sway public opinion, and control what we see and hear?

The answer, according to the media, is that we should just trust them to police themselves. After all, journalists are a special class of people who ought to be exempted from obeying the laws the rest of us must follow. Of course, we can trust them never to abuse this privilege.

How do we know? Because they're unbiased. They've told us this time and time again.

The good thing about all of this is, if anything truly important comes us that might change the course of the election, we can count on the press to investigate it.

You can take that to the bank.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:34 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 18, 2008

Slipping Away

It's funny how certain songs come to be tied to memories in our minds.

Though the first two stanzas don't really apply, this song will always remind me of JHD and that sick, empty feeling I got when I heard that little 'plink' in my Inbox on dark winter mornings before everyone else was awake and knew before I even looked that the message was from JHD and it meant we had lost another one:

I threw the phone against the wall
Falling apart when I got the call
I went out walkin' with the weight of it all
That's when it hit me like a waterfall
I'm playin' the blues, payin' my dues
Speedin' my young life away
I never will get over what I heard about you
The first thing New Year's Day

Ooooo hoooooo
Slippin' away
Ooooo hoooooo
New Year's Day

Yellow Rose
Waco Moon
Quit too late,
You died too soon
To the bitter end
Tried and true

Goodbye old friend
I'll be missing you

I'm so sorry. It never gets easier.

I love the twist at the end. That is JHD to the life. The world just keeps knocking that man down but it will never kill his spirit.

That is a man.

Either that or all the hi-test in his blood.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:06 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 17, 2008

The Game

A comment on the Babar thread got me thinking that it's time for a game. WarEagle snarked:

Wait, I thought Babar represented the civilizing influence of homosexuals throughout western civilization? Maybe I read the wrong memo?

Well now isn't that just like a man? If he knew anything, he'd have twigged immediately to the juxtaposition of anarcho-primitivist themes and subtle yet pervasive heteronormative elitist outlook exquisitely calculated to perpetuate a sense of Eurocentric class and skin color entitlement:

In the past few decades, a series of critics on the left, most notably the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, have indicted Babar in the course of a surprisingly resilient and hydra-headed argument about the uses of imagery and the subtleties of imperialist propaganda. Babar, such interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the “good” elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. The elephants that have assimilated to the ways of the metropolis dominate those which have not. The true condition of the animals—to be naked, on all fours, in the jungle—is made shameful to them, while to become an imitation human, dressed and upright, is to be given the right to rule. The animals that resist—the rhinoceroses—are defeated. The Europeanized elephants are, as in the colonial mechanism of indirect rule, then made trustees of the system, consuls for the colonial power. To be made French is to be made human and to be made superior. The straight lines and boulevards of Celesteville, the argument goes, are the sign of enslavement. Through such subtle imprinting, the premises of imperialism come to be treated as natural. The case cannot be dismissed out of hand: it’s easy to see that, say, “Little Black Sambo,” for all his pancake-eating charms, needs to be thought through before being introduced to young readers, while, to take an extreme example, a book from nineteen-thirties Germany about the extermination of long-nosed rats by obviously Aryan cats would go on anyone’s excluded list, however beautifully drawn.

After reflecting on this for some time, the Editorial Staff began to detect the odious signs of patriarchal mind-rape in even the most innocent stories from her childhood. We earnestly invite the readership, half vast as we know it to be, to go forth and do likewise.

Take this stunner:

Areyoumymother.gif

Some may see this as merely the story of a small bird searching for a busy mother out running errands.... but we know better now, don't we?

Try this on for size:

Are You My Mother is the heartrending story of a helpless baby bird who, learning to his utter horror that his Mother and Father are planning to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket, realizes his parents have gone completely stark, raving mad. Surely he is adopted?

Bravely he sets out to find his real parents. On the way, he finds the Other America: a warm, caring nation where real patriotism doesn't mean wearing a flag pin on your lapel and Swift Boating is just fine -- as long as your Swift Boater is on the side of the angels.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:04 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Health Care "Crisis": Is It Largely Fictitious?

Robert Samuelson has an interesting piece in Newsweek on health care costs:

Unless you've been living in the Himalayas, you know that huge numbers of Americans—46 million last year, or almost one in seven of us—lack health insurance. By impressive majorities, Americans regard this as a moral stain. At the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Ted Kennedy echoed the view of many that health care is a "right" that demands universal insurance. This is a completely understandable view and one that is, I think, utterly wrong. Take note, Barack Obama and John McCain.

Whoever wins should put health care at the top of his agenda. But the central problem is not improving coverage. It's controlling costs. In 1960, health care accounted for $1 of every $20 spent in the U.S. economy; now that's $1 of every $6, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that it could be $1 of every $4 by 2025. Ponder that: a quarter of the U.S. economy devoted to health care. Would we be better off? Probably not. Countless studies have shown that many diagnostic tests, surgeries and medical devices are either ineffective or unneeded. "More expensive care," notes CBO director Peter Orszag, "does not always mean better care."

Greater health spending should not have the first moral claim on our wealth, because its relentless expansion is slowly crowding out other national needs. For government, higher health costs threaten other programs—schools, roads, defense, scientific research—and put upward pressure on taxes. For workers, increasingly expensive insurance depresses take-home pay, as employers funnel more compensation dollars into coverage. There's also a massive and undesirable income transfer from the young to the old, accomplished through taxes and the cross-subsidies of private insurance, because the old are the biggest users of medical care.

Equality-in-Care-with-text.jpgIt is widely assumed that health care, like most aspects of American life, shamefully shortchanges the poor. This is less true than it seems. Glance at the adjacent table. It comes from economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution and is based on a government survey of health spending. Burtless was understandably astonished when he assembled these data: they show that, on average, annual health spending per person—from all private and government sources—is equal for the poorest and the richest Americans. In 2003, it was $4,477 for the poorest fifth and $4,451 for the richest.

Probably in no other area, notes Burtless, is spending so equal—not in housing, clothes, transportation or anything. Why is this? One reason: government already insures more than a quarter of the population, including many of the poor. Medicare covers the elderly; Medicaid, many of the poor and their children; SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program), more children. Another reason, I suspect, stems from the skewing of health spending toward the very sick and dying; 10 percent of patients account for two thirds of spending. People in this unfortunate group, regardless of income, get thrust onto a conveyor belt of costly care: long hospital stays, many tests, therapies and surgeries.

That includes the uninsured. In 2008, their care will cost about $86 billion, estimates a study for the Kaiser Family Foundation. The uninsured pay about $30 billion themselves; the rest is uncompensated. Of course, no sane person wants to be without health insurance, and the uninsured receive less care and, by some studies, suffer abnormally high death rates. But other studies suggest only minor disadvantages for the uninsured. One study compared the insured and uninsured after the onset of a chronic illness—say, heart disease or diabetes. Outcomes differed little. Here are the results. After about six months, 20.4 percent of the insured and 20.9 percent of the uninsured judged themselves "better"; 32.2 percent of the insured and 35.2 percent of the uninsured rated themselves "worse." The rest saw no change.

These results are not only counterintuitive, but undermine the "we need nationalized health care now" mantra.

Military personnel live with socialized medicine. The Walter Reed scandal is an object lesson in what happens when government takes over medical care, and it's not pretty. By and large, the military actually does a fairly good job of providing urgent health care to military personnel and their dependents, but this is largely due to the dedication of the people working the system.

The system itself is massive, slow, and riddled with wasteful redundancy and inefficiencies. Its various parts cannot communicate effectively with each other and patients must often wait for routine medical care that private patients can obtain immediately.

I couldn't wait until my civilian employer provided me with my own health care: I left the military medical system and never looked back. Now I get immediate access to affordable health care without frustrating delays and the byzantine bureaucracy that plagues the military medical system. I can get the prescriptions I need without having to have my doctor's recommendations reviewed by a screening board.

I am never told the pharmacy won't carry my medication for another two years, only to find out they've had it in stock all the time.

What political demagoguery so often masks is a fundamental misunderstanding of how subsidizing people's lifestyle choices blurs the critical connection between cause and effect, dangerously encouraging destructive and irresponsible behavior that both harms the individual in question and impacts society at large:

The trouble with casting medical-care as a "right" is that this ignores how open-ended the "right" should be and how fulfilling it might compromise other "rights" and needs. What makes people healthy or unhealthy are personal habits, good or bad (diet, exercise, alcohol and drug use); genetic makeup, lucky or unlucky, and age. Health care, no matter how lavishly provided, can only partially compensate for these individual differences.

There is a basic moral and political dilemma that most Americans refuse to acknowledge. What we all want for ourselves and our families—access to unlimited care paid for by someone else—may be ruinous for us as a society. Sensible limits must somehow be imposed. The crying need now is not to insure all the uninsured. This would be expensive (an additional $123 billion a year, estimates the Kaiser study) and would provide modest health gains at best. Two fifths of the uninsured are young (19 to 34) and relatively healthy. The compelling need now is to limit the runaway increases in spending that make private and government insurance more expensive and may not deliver significant health improvements.

After nearly 50 years of a War on Poverty that has not only failed to defeat poverty but has arguably decimated the black family, perhaps we should examine the unintended consequences of yet another massive entitlement program and look, before we leap.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:47 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

Unlike John McCain, Obama Doesn't "Lie"....

Interesting.

Barack Obama's official campaign spokesman has publicly accused John McCain of "cynically running the sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history." But historians say this is nonsense:

David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s chief strategist, said Sunday that John McCain is running the “sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history.” It was a line trotted out all weekend by various Obama staffers as part of an effort to portray the Republican nominee as a purveyor of the slimiest tactics in recent memory.

Yet presidential historians and political scientists interviewed by Politico scoffed at the notion, suggesting McCain’s approach is no harsher than those used in previous modern campaigns and certainly not by comparison to many historic campaigns.

“The idea that this campaign is the sleaziest ever is absurd,” said David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers who has written books on Presidents Coolidge and Nixon. "In fact, there's been very little that's below the belt, and aides have been fired on all sides when they've gotten near, let alone crossed, the lines. There's nothing at all to rival the Swift-boating of Kerry in 2004, the imputations of un-Americanness to Dukakis in 1988, the anti-Catholic stuff against Al Smith in 1928 and the regular resort to slander and character assassination of so many 19th-century campaigns."

“It’s not new or novel,” said Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer, author of "In Defense of Negativity." “McCain's tactics are no different than what we've seen in recent years," he said. "Presidential campaigns in the past few decades were worse in many ways.”

The Democratic candidate even purchased ad time to repeat the smear, with a liberal helping of insults thrown in for good measure:

"What's happened to John McCain? He's running the sleaziest ads ever. Truly vile."

"Dishonest smears that he repeats, even after it's been exposed as a lie. Truth be damned. A disgraceful, dishonorable campaign... It seems deception is all he has left."

All of which leads inquiring minds to ask: is a "dishonest smear" only "disgraceful and dishonorable" when it is perpetrated by a Republican candidate for the Presidency? Because as we all know, Barack Obama would never "lie", would he? Certainly not to the American voter (CWCID: Karrde):

Obama would never "lie" about his opponent's record, and he certainly would never lie to the media about something as important as the war in Iraq.

And surely he wouldn't lie about something so important as his plans for fixing the economy:

Speaking of “dishonesty” in McCain's TV ads, on Fox News Sunday Brit Hume pointed out Barack “Obama goes around claiming he's going to cut the taxes of 95 percent of the public, which is literally impossible” since “40 percent of American taxpayers don't pay any income tax,” but that hasn't stopped ABC (directly) and CBS (implicitly) in recent days from advancing that Obama claim as fact. Charles Gibson, in his third interview session with Sarah Palin excerpted on Friday's 20/20 and Nightline (see earlier NB item), stated that Obama will extend the “Bush tax cuts on everything but people who own or earn more than $250,000 a year -- cuts taxes on over 91 percent of the country.”

A June report from the Tax Foundation listed 32.58 percent of IRS income tax returns for 2005 as “non-paying.”

Hume during the roundtable segment of the September 14 Fox News Sunday:

What they're going to get is a subsidy. It's hardly a tax cut, it's in fact spending.

It's good to know that in an uncertain world, there are still some things the American voter can count on:

The sun always rises each morning.

We can always count on the mainstream media for well reasoned, dispassionate, non-partisan coverage of the election.

And Barack Obama would never lie to us.

I don't know about you, but maybe it's time for both sides to climb down off their high horses and get on with the election. We all know politics is an adversarial business. No one expects candidates to present each other's positions in the most advantageous light. With a little over 6 weeks left, it sure would be nice if we could drop the faux outrage and the identity politics and talk about the issues for a change.

Remember the issues? Yeah. Me neither.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:15 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

September 16, 2008

Did Obama "Lie" About Talks With Zebari?

Watching the video in my previous post raised a red flag. It struck me as ludicrous for Obama to say he was going to pull 1-2 brigades out of Iraq per month, yet (if you believe Obama) Zebari didn't so much as bat an eyelash. The pertinent quote is at 5:03:

"He did not express that concern directly"

Jennifer Rubin caught the same thing back in June:

Barack Obama had this to say about his discussion with the Iraqi Foreign Minister:

My concern is that the Bush administration–in a weakened state politically–ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it was my administration or Sen. McCain’s administration. . .The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.

What? Somebody, I suspect, didn’t understand what was being said. Is the status of forces agreement only going to run through the end of the Bush administration? Or did either Obama or the foreign minister suggest that agreements from one administration aren’t binding on another?

Then there was this:

Asked by ABC News if Foreign Minister Zebari expressed any concern that the withdrawal of US troops under an Obama administration would undo any security gains, Obama said Zebari did not raise that issue.

So we are supposed to believe that Obama told him he is still moving out one or two brigades a month and Zebari didn’t bat an eye?

Later, she pulls the loose thread and the whole thing unravels:

...something seemed odd about Barack Obama’s account of his conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshay Zebari. Obama said that Zebari didn’t express any concern about Obama’s immediate withdrawal plans. Well, according to Zebari that is a lie.

...“my message” to Mr. Obama “was very clear. . . . Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.” He said he was reassured by the candidate’s response, which caused him to think that Mr. Obama might not differ all that much from Mr. McCain. Mr. Zebari said that in addition to promising a visit, Mr. Obama said that “if there would be a Democratic administration, it will not take any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security. Whatever decision he will reach will be made through close consultation with the Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders in the field.”

So not only did Zebari express concern but Obama’s private comments suggested his immediate withdrawal plans, which he still adheres to publicly, may not be so immediate. What does Zebari think about a sudden withdrawal? According to the Post:

In a meeting with Post editors and reporters Tuesday, he said that after all the pain and sacrifices of the past five years, “we are just turning the corner in Iraq.” A precipitous withdrawal, he said, “would create a huge vacuum and undo all the gains and achievements. And the others” — enemies of the United States — “would celebrate.”

There seems little reason for Zebari to lie about his private meeting with Obama. That leaves us to conclude that Obama either didn’t listen to or didn’t understand what Zebari said or misrepresented what he heard from the Foreign Minister. That is deeply troubling. An explanation seems in order from Obama.

Indeed. No wonder Obama wants this covered up, and fast.

No matter which way you play this, it looks bad for him. Very bad.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:38 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Obama Brags About Logan Act Medding In June

Ed. note: This is a post from yesterday that I originally decided not to publish. In light of several posts on the subject today, I have reconsidered that decision.

It's not just Amir Taheri pushing the Logan Act story. Before he ever went to Iraq, Obama's bragging about his meddling in U.S. foreign policy made the pages of the NY Times:

Among the issues being discussed with the two presidential candidates is the long-term security accord between Iraq and the United States. [Ed.note, because this will become important later: this is the strategic framework agreement referred to later in the post] While the Bush administration would like to see an agreement reached before the summer’s political conventions, Mr. Obama said today that he opposed such a timetable.
So it seems The One had already commenced unsanctioned telephone negotiations with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari back in June. His goal was to prevent the White House from successfully concluding negotiations for a long term security agreement with Iraq. Bizarrely, Obama not only admitted what he was doing, but bragged about it repeatedly over the next few weeks:
“My concern is that the Bush administration, in a weakened state politically, ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it’s my administration or Senator McCain’s administration,” Mr. Obama said. The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.

Now *that's* real audacity - using your own illegal acts as the pretext for undermining your own government's foreign policy!

Of course now the Obama camp claims Taheri has it all wrong. He wasn't talking about the Status of Forces agreement. Obama aides claim he meant the Strategic Framework Agreement. Doh!

...Obama's national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Taheri's article bore "as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial."

In fact, Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a "Strategic Framework Agreement" governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office, she said.

Obama's aides might want to Google up what their boss had to say on the subject earlier this summer. Once again, The One is contradicted by own mouth big ego mouth:

While Sen. Barack Obama says he'll visit Iraq and Afghanistan before the election, he's staying consistent with his plans to start withdrawing U.S. troops almost immediately should he become president.

...Obama also expressed concern that the Bush administration would rush to make some sort of status of forces agreement that would be binding to the next administration.

This time it's the Status of Forces Agreement he's trying to delay! Remember, back in June it was the Strategic Framework Agreement! Sometimes, Google is not your friend.

For those of you who left your scorecards at home, the difference between the Status of Forces agreement and the Strategic Framework agreement is subtle, and the Iraqis may press for a timeline in either one, though it makes less sense in the SOFA:

Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, testifying before Congress in April 2008, said two separate accords are on the table. The first is a status-of-forces agreement (GlobalSecurity.org), called a SOFA, which would codify legal protections for U.S. military personnel and property in Iraq. Such agreements already govern U.S. military conduct in other long-term deployment zones—including Germany, Japan, and South Korea—and the administration has characterized talks for a SOFA in Iraq as a hopeful step toward stability.

Details of the second accord under discussion are more opaque. Referred to as a "strategic framework agreement," the measure would broadly address issues not covered by the SOFA, including those outlined in a "declaration of principles" document signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in November 2007. Among these issues: the U.S. role in defending Iraq from internal and external threats; its support of political reconciliation; and its efforts to confront terrorist groups. Critics of the measures contend the Bush administration aims to tie the hands of the next president and usurp Iraqi sovereignty, charges the White House vehemently disputes.

The one thing we can count on in all of this is that Senator Obama has helpfully told us he was trying to delay BOTH the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement, insisting that any negotiations be conducted "in the open" and that they earn "strong bipartisan support" from Congress (and we all know how quickly Congress moves).

If this doesn't sound like a man who was trying to play President long before he is elected, I don't know what is:

Thankfully, this sort of traveshamockery will never happen under an Obama administration. That's because, come the Revolution, we'll have real, genuine "Constitutional law" experts like Biden and Obama running the country:

The Obama-Biden slate is historic in many ways, but for law professors it has a special cachet: It's the first time that professors of constitutional law have occupied both slots on a ticket. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and Joe Biden has been an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law since 1991.

I don't know about you all, but I can't wait until we have some really smart folks in charge; people who have the knowledge and expertise to keep us bitter gun clinging types straight on those all-important Constitutional issues....

...like which branch of government is empowered to negotiate agreements with foreign heads of state.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:49 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Favorite Comfort Foods

On the finicky kids thread, somehow I got reminded of foods I used to make all the time when we were first married and didn't have any money, but that I never make anymore now.

Now I am starving.

So I thought I'd make a partial list. I used to be very good at stretching the budget, so we had a lot of meals that were light on meat, or even meatless. By the way, whatever happened to casseroles? Does anyone make those anymore? Here are some of the foods I haven't made for a while that I miss:

Homemade split pea soup

Chicken pie (this was the best - I made it once for one of my husband's Marines and he asked me to marry him!)

Tortilla soup

Chicken adobo

Broccoli cheese soup (with a dash of cayenne pepper - I used to love when winter came and I could make this)

Homemade lasagna

Turkey tetrazini (boy, is that an old one)

Beef bourguigon

I'll think of more. Back to work. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.


Posted by Cassandra at 04:17 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

We Have Met The Enemy...

...and they is us. Ann Althouse looks at the latest Obama ad, which seems to have taken the low road:

"What's happened to John McCain? He's running the sleaziest ads ever. Truly vile."

"Dishonest smears that he repeats, even after it's been exposed as a lie. Truth be damned. A disgraceful, dishonorable campaign... It seems deception is all he has left."

The ad is an unsettling pastiche of cut and paste smears taken from various unseen sources, in many cases using only a word or two. There is no context, no proof, and no defined accusation one can directly refute.

Just a litany of slurs: faceless, anonymous, and very, very ugly. Althouse comments:

It seems likely that the viewer is just supposed to accept the assertion that there have been sleaziest ads, smears, and a lie, mainly because the names of newspapers appear on screen next to quotes.

... I think quite a few voters, like me, will feel very skeptical about generic assertions and quotes taken out of context. We American voters are competent ad watchers, and I don't think this will work on us.

... This ad screams its negativity. The ominous music. The string of very ugly words: sleaziest... vile ... dishonest smears ... lie ... damned ... disgraceful ... dishonorable ... deception. And yet the ad seeks to inspire outrage about McCain's negativity. But we're not watching McCain's ads. The example of sleaziness is the one before our eyes now.

On September 11th I wrote about our growing incivility problem:

We have become an unserious nation. A childish and ungrateful one: peevish and cruel and grasping. The kind of nation that somehow believes simple political disagreement justifies the kind of personal "demonization" we claim to oppose; the kind of people who will use any convenient excuse as a weapon to beat our opponents senseless; where those we disagree with are "freaks" and "sycophants" and "liars"; where nearly every sentence drips with venom.

It is nothing new in politics for candidates to shade the truth. Politics is a blood sport, andnd it's not hard to find regrettable examples of McCain ads where he arguably could be more evenhanded. But by the same token before the Obama campaign begins resorting to words like "liar", "sleazy", and "dishonorable" on the basis of campaign ads they believe distort the record, or which they disagree with, they may wish to consider that there is no shortage of Obama ads at which these same terms could be fairly leveled.

A brief search of a single fact check site yielded the following treasure trove of deceptive Obama ads:

This Obama ad pictures John McCain walking with "the lobbyists who run his low road campaign". There's just one problem: none of the men pictured are lobbyists.

Obama claims McCain's campaign is "fueled by lobbyists and PACs", but investigation revealed this to be false. Only 1.7% of McCain's coffers and 1.1% of RNC donations come from these sources. Lies? You decide.

Here, an Obama ad uses dated and out of context quotes to distort McCain's position on the economy.

Here Obama claims he "worked his way through college and law school". When he is fact checked, this claim turns out to be false.

He had a few summer jobs. I worked my way through college. What this meant to me was a 40 hour a week job and going to school full time at night, if the Senator from Illinois would like clarification. What it means to most people is that you pay your own tuition by working. It does not mean taking out loans and working a few summer jobs while not in school.

Here, Obama pads his resume. He claims credit for "passing" 3 laws. On review, it turns out he was one of five sponsors of the first law. Another was co-sponsored by Obama and 35 other Senators. Ironically, the only national law among the three (the other 2 are from his time in the Illinois Senate, though Obama mysteriously declines to mention this) does not bear his name at all.

The truth is sometimes ambiguous and facts often hard to pin down. For this reason it is unwise for candidates to toss around insults like "liar", "dishonorable", and "the sleaziest campaign on record". Such intemperate and ungracious rhetoric has a nasty way of coming back to haunt candidates when it is least expected:

Worst of all is the specter of a political party actively cheering on the very tactics they once claimed were beyond the pale. And then there's the voice of cynicism:

Obama can have it both ways. Call a press conference, and loudly and forcefully denounce this ad. Everyone will go, "What ad?" and look it up for themselves. So that's good for Obama - get as many people as possible and the cable news networks to show it. But in addition, he takes the high road and explicitly and publicly makes a big issue about the ad, and how it's wrong and there's no place for it in politics. Win-win.

You've got to love politics. I love the smell of Hope and Change in the morning. It seems to me that when you become that which you claim to oppose, you've lost the battle.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:22 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

NYTimesWatch: Our Children Won't Eat!

This morning's NY Times helpfully offers parenting advice. Today's hot tip: How to get your kids to eat food:

HARRIET WOROBEY, a childhood nutrition instructor, knows firsthand that children can be picky eaters, but even she was surprised by a preschooler last year who ate a mostly chocolate diet.

“Chocolate milk, chocolate chip muffins, chocolate chip pancakes — it was unbelievable,” said Ms. Worobey, director of the Rutgers University Nutritional Sciences Preschool in New Brunswick, N.J. “His mother just thought, ‘That’s what he wants, so that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

While most parents haven’t resorted to the chocolate diet, they can relate to the daily challenge of finding foods that children will eat. Although obesity dominates the national discussion on childhood health, many parents are also worried that their child’s preferred diet of nuggets and noodles could lead to a nutritional deficit.

Well now that's first class thinking! Did this blindingly brilliant insight occur to Mom and Dad before or after they began feeding Junior a steady diet of junk food?

Fussiness about food is a normal part of a child’s development. Young children are naturally neophobic — they have a distrust of the new. Even the most determined parents can be cowed by a child’s resolve to eat nothing rather than try something new. As a result, parents often give in, deciding that a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or a Pop-Tart, while not ideal, must be better than no food at all.

“I think parents feel like it’s their job to just make their children eat something,” Ms. Worobey said. “But it’s really their job to serve a variety of healthy foods and get their children exposed to foods.”

A series of simple meal-time strategies can help even the pickiest eater learn to like a more varied diet. Here’s a look at six common mistakes parents make when feeding their children.

The sad thing is, this is a real problem. Bizarre as it may seem, there are adults out there who have to be told that they are the parents and [wait for it] .... their children are not supposed to be making nutritional decisions. I've lost count of the number of tiny tots who (according to their charmingly helpless parents) 'won't eat anything but chicken nuggets and Freedom Fries'. One imagines desperate late night trips to Jack in the Box at knife point as two thoroughly cowed parents tremble at the implied threat of....

What? A temper tantrum from a three year old? The horror. Perhaps if we got Jimmy Carter to intervene?

While children definitely have different personalities, I've never once seen a child who was willing to starve himself to death. Children are remarkably sensible that way.

Moreover, there appears to be an almost uncanny relationship between food deprivation, appetite, and the willingness to try new foods. Rather than over-complicate life with long lists of rules for picky eaters, why not just try exploiting the well known law of cause and effect? In our home, we had only a few simple rules:

1. No one has to clean their plate. There are times when all of us, for one reason or another, don't feel like eating.

2. But if you don't finish your meal, there will be no snacks until the next meal.

Period. Nothing. Nada. Zip. You can have a glass of water if you're thirsty, but meals are the staple of your diet. They are there to provide nutrition. Snacks are provided for people who have eaten their meals, but are still hungry. They are there to tide you over until the next meal.

If you're not hungry enough to eat at mealtime, you obviously don't need to snack in between meals on food that is less nutritious than what you were served at the table.

3. Mom is not a short order cook. Breakfast/lunch/dinner is what's on your plate. If you don't like the main course, load up on a side dish but if you're wise, you'll at least try part of whatever you don't particularly care for (remember rule #1). Or...not; it's up to you.

It's amazing how well this system works.

I provided in home day care for three years when my children were small. Even children whose parents swore their children were "picky eaters" ate just fine at my house. This wasn't because I'm such a fantastic cook. Unlike most everyone else I knew, I didn't buy chicken nuggets or frozen foods. It was because I didn't load kids up on juice boxes, fruit rollups, Fritos and cookies in between meals and then wonder why they turned their noses up at fresh vegetables and meatloaf.

Articles like this give me hope for my long contemplated series of parenting guides. If the Times piece is any indication there's a vast underserved market out there just waiting to be tapped:

When Children Refuse To Breathe

Teaching Kids To Walk: A Simple 12-Step Program

Potty Train Your Child by College: It Can Be Done!

Surviving Without Nintendo: How To Fill The Empty Hours

Watching parents struggle to get kids to do things they do just fine on their own (left to their own devices), one wonders if it ever occurs to anyone that the real problem is the parents' unwillingness to set firm boundaries and expectations and allow their children to develop at their own pace -- even if this means their kids are sometimes bored, lonely, or unhappy; sometimes fall behind in their schoolwork or have trouble getting along with their friends; sometimes fail at things they attempt?

Even if it means things aren't perfect?

It's as though we forget that a critical part of the growing up process involves learning how to deal with unhappiness and disappointments constructively. Like hunger, sadness is something we try to shield our children from. I wonder: is this wise?

Ours are ominous times. We are on the verge of eroding away our ozone layer. Within decades we could face major oceanic flooding. We are close to annihilating hundreds of exquisite animal species. Soon our forests will be as bland as pavement. Moreover, we now find ourselves on the verge of a new cold war.

But there is another threat, perhaps as dangerous: We are eradicating a major cultural force, the muse behind much art and poetry and music. We are annihilating melancholia.

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that almost 85 percent of Americans believe that they are very happy or at least pretty happy. The psychological world is now abuzz with a new field, positive psychology, devoted to finding ways to enhance happiness through pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Psychologists practicing this brand of therapy are leaders in a novel science, the science of happiness. Mainstream publishers are learning from the self-help industry and printing thousands of books on how to be happy. Doctors offer a wide array of drugs that might eradicate depression forever. It seems truly an age of almost perfect contentment, a brave new world of persistent good fortune, joy without trouble, felicity with no penalty.

Somewhere hidden away amongst my papers and photographs is a green binder. The front and back are completely covered with song lyrics.

The inside is completely filled with poetry written by myself and several of my friends. Like many teens I went through a period of Gauloise smoking anomie which involved me staying up until all hours of the night listening to Dr. Demento and imagining myself quite the jaded sophisticate who at the ripe old age of sixteen had drunk too deeply from The Cup of Life and - alas! - only too late descried the bitter dregs lying at the bottom of the glass.

babar.jpgYeah baby, that's some serious heartbreak. Those six month relationships can be a bitch to get over. Alas. And alack. And that's nothing compared to the exquisite agony of learning that your favorite childhood read is nothing more than a thinly veiled apologia for French imperialist encroachment on indigenous First World cultures:

By now, of course, a controversial literature is possible about anything, and yet to discover that there is a controversial literature about Babar is a little shocking—faut-il brûler Babar? (“Must we burn Babar?”), as one inquisitor puts it, in a famous French locution. And the controversial literature isn’t trivial: it touches on questions that are real and enduring. In the past few decades, a series of critics on the left, most notably the Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, have indicted Babar in the course of a surprisingly resilient and hydra-headed argument about the uses of imagery and the subtleties of imperialist propaganda. Babar, such interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the “good” elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. The elephants that have assimilated to the ways of the metropolis dominate those which have not. The true condition of the animals—to be naked, on all fours, in the jungle—is made shameful to them, while to become an imitation human, dressed and upright, is to be given the right to rule. The animals that resist—the rhinoceroses—are defeated. The Europeanized elephants are, as in the colonial mechanism of indirect rule, then made trustees of the system, consuls for the colonial power. To be made French is to be made human and to be made superior. The straight lines and boulevards of Celesteville, the argument goes, are the sign of enslavement. Through such subtle imprinting, the premises of imperialism come to be treated as natural. The case cannot be dismissed out of hand: it’s easy to see that, say, “Little Black Sambo,” for all his pancake-eating charms, needs to be thought through before being introduced to young readers, while, to take an extreme example, a book from nineteen-thirties Germany about the extermination of long-nosed rats by obviously Aryan cats would go on anyone’s excluded list, however beautifully drawn.

It's a good thing the book police are busily combing the children's literature supply for dangerous examples of subversive political propaganda. The average Kindergartener soaks this sort of thing up like a St. Paddy's day carnation soaks up green dye. It is probably no accident Babar is an elephant: I always thought there was something slightly sinister about him. Elephants are dangerous creatures.

Best not to talk about them. In fact, perhaps it's best not think at all:

Teresa Belton, a research associate at East Anglia University in England, first got interested in daydreaming while reading a collection of stories written by children in elementary school. Although Belton encouraged the students to write about whatever they wanted, she was startled by just how uninspired most of the stories were.

"The tales tended to be very tedious and unimaginative," Belton says, "as if the children were stuck with this very restricted way of thinking. Even when they were encouraged to think creatively, they didn't really know how."

After monitoring the daily schedule of the children for several months, Belton came to the conclusion that their lack of imagination was, at least in part, caused by the absence of "empty time," or periods without any activity or sensory stimulation. She noticed that as soon as these children got even a little bit bored, they simply turned on the television: the moving images kept their minds occupied. "It was a very automatic reaction," she says. "Television was what they did when they didn't know what else to do."

The problem with this habit, Belton says, is that it kept the kids from daydreaming. Because the children were rarely bored - at least, when a television was nearby - they never learned how to use their own imagination as a form of entertainment. "The capacity to daydream enables a person to fill empty time with an enjoyable activity that can be carried on anywhere," Belton says. "But that's a skill that requires real practice. Too many kids never get the practice."

While much of the evidence linking daydreaming and creativity remains anecdotal, rooted in the testimony of people like Fry and Einstein, scientists are beginning to find experimental proof of the relationship. In a forthcoming paper, Schooler's lab has shown that people who engage in more daydreaming score higher on experimental measures of creativity, which require people to make a set of unusual connections.

"Daydreams involve a more relaxed style of thinking, with people more willing to contemplate ideas that seem silly or far-fetched," says Belton. While such imaginative thoughts aren't always practical, they are often the wellspring of creative insights, as Schooler's research shows.

How much of our problems with our children reflect a lack of discipline on our part as parents? We are filling our time (and theirs) with junk food and junk culture, (TV, iPods and video games rather than literature, games, and outdoor sports) and every spare moment with often purposely activity meant to spare us the possibility of even momentary discomfort or boredom.

And then we wonder why, despite having far more than our parents and grandparents, they feel disconnected and discontented? Perhaps our children, in resisting things they should do as naturally as breathing - eating, playing outside, daydreaming - are trying to tell us something?

Perhaps we should listen to them.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:31 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

September 15, 2008

Hah!

How conveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeient.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:43 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The Audacity of Dope: Did Obama Violate Logan Act?

Via Betsy Newmark, an allegation from Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari that Barack Obama was meddling in foreign policy during his trip to Iraq:

WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops - and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its "state of weakness and political confusion."

"However, as an Iraqi, I prefer to have a security agreement that regulates the activities of foreign troops, rather than keeping the matter open." Zebari says.

Though Obama claims the US presence is "illegal," he suddenly remembered that Americans troops were in Iraq within the legal framework of a UN mandate. His advice was that, rather than reach an accord with the "weakened Bush administration," Iraq should seek an extension of the UN mandate.

Obama's alleged meddling wasn't limited to conducting unauthorized negotiations with the Iraqi foreign minister:

While in Iraq, Obama also tried to persuade the US commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus, to suggest a "realistic withdrawal date." They declined.

If these disturbing allegations are true, Barack Obama joins the list of Congressional Democrats who have violated the Logan Act:

Let’s be clear from the start: There isn’t much question that Speaker Pelosi has committed a felony violation of the Logan Act. This two-century-old law, codified at Section 953 of the federal penal code, bars Americans who are “without authority of the United States” from conducting relations “with any foreign government … in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States[.]”

It is settled beyond peradventure that the authority of the United States over the conduct of foreign relations rests exclusively with the executive branch. As John Marshall, later to become the nation’s most important Chief Justice, famously observed, “The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external affairs, and its sole representative with foreign nations.… The [executive] department is entrusted with the whole foreign intercourse of the nation.” In 1936, the Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged in its Curtiss-Wright Export decision, the “delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations[.]” And, as convincingly explained in the Wall Street Journal by the eminent Professor Robert F. Turner, the congressional debate over passage of the Logan Act demonstrates that the law was understood to bar legislative interference with the president’s management of American diplomacy.

So the Bush administration is in charge of foreign relations. It has a policy of attempting to isolate the rogue Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Far from authorizing Speaker Pelosi’s visit with Assad, the president asked her not to go. Pelosi went anyway, and proceeded to embarrass herself and our nation by meddling ineptly in the Syrian/Israeli conflict, concurrently giving the despicable Assad just the lifeline our policy has sought to deny him. As the Logan Act goes, it doesn’t get more black-and-white than that.

The question then becomes, what do we do about this kind of thing?

It is becoming impossible to enforce the most elementary national security measures. As McCarthy points out, there are times when expediency dictates turning a blind eye to violations of the law:

Must the fact that a statute is inevitably implicated always mean we should delegate our political and national security issues — our policy disputes — to the federal courts for resolution?

Lawsuits, of course, have become as American as baseball, apple pie and You Tube. But hard as it may be for so litigious a culture to get this through its thick skull, not every problem in life is a legal problem. In a dynamic, confident society, policy disagreements are a sign of good health. They are not grounds for convening a grand jury — and if that’s what they become, confident dynamism is certain to shrivel into diffident paralysis.

It took us nearly a decade and thousands of dead to learn that Islamic terrorism is not, essentially, a legal problem, even though it always involves violations of federal law. The best hint might have come in spring 1998 when a federal grand jury indicted Osama bin Laden. So chastened was al Qaeda’s emir that he responded by … bombing U.S. embassies in East Africa, nearly sinking the U.S.S. Cole, and ordering the 9/11 attacks. Yes, laws were violated; but that was beside the point — and adding counts every time something went boom did not seem to stop things from going boom and innocents from being slaughtered. We needed to find more apt means for dealing with jihadist terrorism because the law, though ubiquitous, is neither effective nor the main consideration.

Still, the lesson has failed to take hold even in the life-and-death matter of our security. In December 2005, the New York Times disclosed the existence of the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program. There ensued for over a year a heated national debate over a complete sideshow: namely, whether the warrantless penetration of potential enemy electronic communications — something the United States has done in every war since it has been technologically possible to do so — violated a statute, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).

Should we be trying to intercept al Qaeda’s messaging? How much of our privacy is really compromised if we know there might be government eavesdropping on our international phone calls and e-mails — especially when we know foreign intelligence agencies may be listening anyway? Was the NSA program making us safer? These were the crucial policy questions. But they got no oxygen. The air, instead, was sucked out of the debate by dueling constitutional law scholars holding forth on the question whether the president’s constitutional power excused a clear transgression of FISA. Consumed by whether a national security program was legal, we forgot to probe whether it was effective — even as the paramount issue of effectiveness was underscored by the absurdity of legislators nattering about “gross illegality” while continuing to fund the program, which polls showed the American people solidly favoring.

The NSA controversy was not alone. Cognate “scandals” erupted over secret CIA prisons for al Qaeda captives and monitoring of the international banking system to track terror funds. Did these programs contribute to our security? Who knows? We, after all, were too busy mulling the ramifications of international law and domestic financial privacy statutes to spend much time on anything so mundane as the safety of Americans or success in the war.

And has anything been more reviled on the Right in recent years than the prosecution of Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff? Here you had political issues of the utmost importance: the nature of the intelligence which prompted the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the administration’s interpretation of that intelligence, and the state of Saddam Hussein’s capacity and intentions regarding nuclear weapons development. Former ambassador Joseph Wilson scandalously misled the nation about these matters, and the Bush administration, quite properly, sought to correct the public record and undermine Wilson’s credibility — pointing out, among other things, that he had been chosen for his infamous trip to Niger not because of any special expertise but at the suggestion of his CIA-insider wife who, herself, was predisposed to reject the possibility (which turns out to be the high likelihood) that Iraq had been seeking to stockpile uranium.

So what did we do? We spent three years not on these crucial matters of policy but obsessed over whether there had been a technical violation of statutes barring disclosures of classified information (viz., the fact of Valerie Plame Wilson’s employment by the CIA) … under circumstances where there had plainly been no intent to violate the law and the disclosures at issue had palpably done no damage to national security. Finding no violations, moreover, we were then riveted by Libby’s indictment and ultimate conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice. These were not unimportant matters, but were they worth the price paid? As public support for the war flagged, the administration was chilled from explaining itself for fear of accusations that it was interfering in a criminal investigation; and the investigation raised the powerful specter of our politics being criminalized.

Do we really want to do this all over again?

It's a valid question. What's more, in a political climate where our major newspapers seem to spend more time illegally releasing classified documents and shilling for the authors of tell-all "exposes" that undermine the administration than they do reporting the news, there may be some value in the specter of yet another prominent Democrat demonstrating that unique form of patriotism which Must Not Be Challenged to the American voter.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Update: Elise comments: "I really hope Zebari's account turns out to be false. I don't think well of Obama but I very sincerely hope he didn't do this."

I agree. But at the time, I didn't think it was appropriate for Obama to be discussing troop withdrawal timelines with the Iraqis:


Obama will arrive Tuesday afternoon in Jordan from Iraq, where top leaders reportedly voiced support for the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops by 2010, a timetable that aligns roughly with one that Obama has advocated.

He sat down Monday in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other senior Iraqi leaders.

In a statement issued Monday night, Obama said al-Maliki told him that “now is an appropriate time to start a plan” for withdrawal, and “stated his hope that U.S. combat forces could be out of Iraq by 2010.”

“Iraqis want an aspirational timeline, with a clear date, for the redeployment of American combat forces,” Obama said in a joint statement with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who accompanied him on the four-day tour through Iraq and Afghanistan. “Prime Minister Maliki told us that while the Iraqi people deeply appreciate the sacrifices of American soldiers, they do not want an open-ended presence of U.S. combat forces.”

Their account was echoed earlier in the day by Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who told the Associated Press after his meeting with Obama that they share “a common interest … to schedule the withdrawal of American troops.”

Yet, Obama and his Senate colleagues suggested the United States, if not the military, would retain a role in the country.

How generous of President Obama.

Obama acknowledged gains in the country, but suggested the surge has failed to meet key goals, saying political progress, reconciliation and economic development “continue to lag.”

“There has been some forward movement,” the statement said, “but not nearly enough to bring lasting stability to Iraq.”

The senators said they raised various issues with the Iraqi leadership, “including our deep concern about Iranian financial and material assistance to militia engaged in violent acts against American and Iraqi forces.”

Obama said little to reporters as he walked to and from his meetings.

“Very constructive,” he said after finishing talks with al-Maliki.

And then there's this:

Face to face with Iraq's leaders, Barack Obama gained fresh support yesterday for the idea of pulling all U.S. combat forces out of the war zone by 2010. But the Iraqis stopped short of actual timetables or endorsement of Obama's pledge to withdraw troops within 16 months if he wins the presidency.

Obama was over there directly undermining the White House's current negotiations:

The White House expressed unhappiness about Iraqi leaders' apparent public backing for Obama's troop-withdrawal plans and suggested the Iraqis may be trying to use the U.S. presidential election as leverage for negotiations on the United States' presence and future obligations in the country.

“We don't think that talking about specific negotiating tactics or your negotiating position in the press is the best way to negotiate a deal,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said after al-Maliki was quoted in a magazine article supporting Obama's proposed 16-month troop withdrawal timeline. Al-Maliki's spokesman, al-Dabbagh, initially appeared to try to discredit the magazine report but yesterday expressed anew hopes that U.S. combat forces could be out of Iraq by 2010.

The Bush administration has refused to set specific troop-level targets but last week offered to discuss a “general time horizon” for a U.S. combat troop exit.

Update II: It doesn't get much clearer than this folks. Convicted by his own words:

Among the issues being discussed with the two presidential candidates is the long-term security accord between Iraq and the United States. While the Bush administration would like to see an agreement reached before the summer’s political conventions, Mr. Obama said today that he opposed such a timetable.

“My concern is that the Bush administration, in a weakened state politically, ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it’s my administration or Senator McCain’s administration,” Mr. Obama said. “The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.”

So it's not just Taheri saying it. Obama is convicted out of his own mouth.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:20 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

September 12, 2008

You Do The Math

Hmmmm... this sounds disturbingly like common sense:

When it comes to launching missiles in the Mommy Wars, Sarah Palin has nothing on Christopher Ruhm. On Thursday, the University of North Carolina, Greenboro, economist published a study showing that kids from high-socioeconomic-status families take a long-term hit when their moms work outside the home—at ages 10 and 11, they perform more poorly on cognitive tests and are also more likely to be overweight than those whose high-status mothers leave the workforce. Children from low-status families, on the other hand, don't seem to suffer as much when their moms work. In fact, many of them do better on the same tests, and they're more fit, than similarly disadvantaged kids with stay-at-home moms.

The findings are surprising, and it's easy to read them as a warning to affluent, educated mothers: if you want the best for your child, don't work. (Conversely, if you're not well-off: get your kid to day care.)

But what use is "science" if we can't apply it to our every day lives?

... those are dangerous conclusions to draw from the study, and even Ruhm—whose own wife worked while raising their children—says so. "This comes down to a fundamental principle of economics: something has to give. We can't have it all," he says. "But I would never tell anybody what to do or not do about that. I certainly wouldn't tell my wife." [Editorial *snort* inserted] So what are women facing a choice between work and home—and those many more for whom work is an economic necessity—supposed to make of these findings?

The study, published in the journal Labour Economics, divided women into two socioeconomic groups, based on several variables (including education levels, income prior to pregnancy, ethnicity and whether a spouse was present at home). The kids from families in the "lower" group generally fared fine if their moms worked for the majority of their childhoods—at ages 10 and 11, they either scored about the same on cognitive tests, or better, than disadvantaged kids whose mothers stayed home. For kids from high-status families, though, the pattern flipped. The more these affluent moms worked—especially if they went back to their jobs while their children were still very young—the less well their kids did on cognitive tests later in childhood. (The high-status children with working moms still did better overall than all the low-status children—so class, not employment, was ultimately the stronger factor in their well-being.)

Why do mothers' choices have such different effects on kids, depending on their socioeconomic situations? Most likely, says Ruhm, the low-status kids get more intellectual stimulation in day care or with other caretakers, such as grandparents, than they do at home. Meanwhile, the high-status kids may find day care less enriching than being with their highly educated mothers. When these moms go back to work, "you're pulling the [high-status] kids out of these really good home environments," says Ruhm, "and a lot of the alternatives just aren't as good."

The same pattern was true of weight: low-status kids weren't any thinner or fatter depending on what their mothers did, but high-status kids with working moms did have a slightly higher risk of being overweight at 10 or 11. The biggest effect on weight came when mothers were working during their high-status children's school years. Maybe, says Ruhm, these moms didn't have time to cook healthy dinners and after-school snacks: "If you're working a lot and you're eating out and buying fatty food, that could have an effect on obesity later in the child's life." Or maybe those kids were left unsupervised more often, and thus had more opportunities to eat cookies in front of the TV—and fewer opportunities to run around outside. "Parents who are working but want to make sure their kids are supervised and safe will often load up the house with sedentary activities, since they can't always be there to take them to sports or to the park," says Karen Eifler, an associate professor of education at the University of Portland. "Their kids are more likely to have a TV or computer and videogames in their room—and also, the higher your economic status, the more likely you are to have those three machines in your house."

Certainly, Ruhm says, there's good reason to think that working women spend less time overall supervising their kids. That's what other studies have shown, and time, of course, is a zero-sum game—there's only so much of it in the day. "Working women do try to preserve the most important activities with their kids. They'll let a lot of things in their own lives go," he says. "But they still have less time to spend. And it's also true that if you're sleeping less and are tired or stressed, that could have an effect on the kids, as well."

Although there's a certain intuitive logic to the study results—take a privileged mom out of the home, and some of the privileges leave with her—there's little reason for affluent working mothers to panic. The study is one in a long line; other surveys have found positive effects, negative effects and no effects when moms work. It's hard to trust any one set of results, says Thomas Cottle, a clinical psychologist at Boston University's School of Education. "This is not the natural sciences, where we can replicate things," he says. "If you're of a particular ideology, you're going to say about any given study, 'I don't want to believe this'."

Discuss amongst yourselves. The Princess will be at the bar.

Drinking heavily.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:41 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Who Gets To Decide What's "Fair"?

Isn't this interesting:

During his acceptance speech last night at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota, John McCain told the audience, “We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench.” Most American voters (60%) agree and say the Supreme Court should make decisions based on what is written in the constitution, while 30% say rulings should be guided on the judge’s sense of fairness and justice. The number who agree with McCain is up from 55% in August.

While 82% of voters who support McCain believe the justices should rule on what is in the Constitution, just 29% of Barack Obama’s supporters agree. Just 11% of McCain supporters say judges should rule based on the judge’s sense of fairness, while nearly half (49%) of Obama supporters agree.

In terms of how the Supreme Court currently makes decisions, just 42% of voters think the justices rule from what is in the Constitution. Thirty-percent (30%) say they are guided by a sense of fairness and justice. Democrats are more likely than Republicans and unaffiliated voters to believe the justices base rulings on the Constitution.

Question for the ages: if Supreme Court justices throw out what the Constitution has to say when formulating rulings and substitute their individual sense of "fairness", then aren't they substituting their individual policy preferences for those of our duly elected leaders in the state and federal legislatures?

Isn't this anti-democratic? Since Supreme Court decisions can't be overruled by a higher court and become, in fact, nearly irreversible precedent for future decisions, aren't justices who rule in this fashion in effect amending the Constitution by judicial fiat? Aren't they doing an end run around the procedures outlined for ratifying amendments by the States? What if, in the case of the recent decision on child rape, it turns out the majority made factual errors?

Jeff Rosen points out that the Obama/Biden ticket offers vastly superior "expertise" in Constitutional law:

The Obama-Biden slate is historic in many ways, but for law professors it has a special cachet: It's the first time that professors of constitutional law have occupied both slots on a ticket. Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and Joe Biden has been an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law since 1991. More to the point, it's the most civil-libertarian ticket ever fielded by a major U.S. political party.

Yesterday I observed that this election is an historic one:

This election is unusual because for the first time I can remember we have four candidates who, by conventional standards, have few of the usual qualifications for office.

I think that’s a sign. It’s a sign of anomie, very much like what this nation experienced after World War I; of fatigue and disenchantment with forces we don’t fully understand; with too many factors that defy our attempts to analyze or explain them rationally. And so we fall back on something we think we can trust: our intuition, our gut instincts. We want leaders who are like us. We want someone we think we can trust to make the right decisions.

It is striking that in an election where trust is likely to prove the decisive factor, the candidates with the most experience with Constitutional law are the ones whose supporters don't believe Supreme Court justices have any real duty to uphold the Constitution, (which, after all, is their sworn duty) but ought to feel free to bring in their personal feelings. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that this view is shared by the candidate himself:

We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges

- Barack Obama

Much has been made of Governor Palin's experience (or the lack thereof). I think it's also wise to look at what the candidates are promising to do, whether they have any track record of delivering what they promise, and whether they can be taken at their word.

via Bench Memos.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:00 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Angry? Or Just Shamefaced?

The media's self-beclowning continues apace. As I noted earlier this week the press, while maintaining they are objective, non-partisan and unbiased, have been acting as gatekeepers between the news and the American public. Up until now their control over what most voters see and hear has been virtually unchallenged. But as Howard Kurtz and Mickey Kaus both noted, the increasing power of blogs and the Internet have forced open the gate. The media can't always control which stories break into the open:

Model One: There's the press, and the public. The press only prints "facts" that are checked and verified. That's all the public ever finds out about. The press functions as "gatekeeper."

Model Two: Model One broke down with the rise of blogs, which (along with tabloids and cable) often discuss rumors that are not "verified." The public finds out about these rumors, as rumors. And it turns out that blogging obsessively about rumors is a pretty good way to smoke out the truth (see, e.g., Dan Rather).

But in Model Two, the rumors still don't get reported in the "mainstream media"--the respectable print press, the non-cable networks--until they are properly confirmed. Blogs and tabloids are a sort of intermediate nethersphere between public and the elite MSM that serves as a proving ground where the truth or falseness of the "undernews" gets hashed out. Stories that are true then graduate to the MSM.

Model Three: I thought Model Two would be a workable model for years, until either the MSM itself went totally online or until almost all voters stopped paying attention to it. I was wrong! The Edwards scandal did Model Two in. For months, the MSM failed to report the increasingly plausible rumors of John Edwards' extramarital affair even as it became the widespread topic of conversation in blogs, in the National Enquirer, and among political types. The disconnect turned out to be painfully embarrassing for the MSM, especially when the rumors were finally "verified" with Edwards' confession. A lot of what we are seeing now is the MSM not wanting to go through another Edwards experience.

Kaus' model breaks down when he tries to pretends only "true" stories graduate to the mainstream media. The same bias sneaks into Kurtz' article today:

The media are getting mad.

Whether it's the latest back-and-forth over attack ads, the silly lipstick flap or the continuing debate over Sarah and sexism, you can just feel the tension level rising several notches.

Maybe it's a sense that this is crunch time, that the election is on the line, that the press is being manipulated (not that there's anything new about that).

News outlets are increasingly challenging false or questionable claims by the McCain campaign, whether it's the ad accusing Obama of supporting sex-ed for kindergartners (the Illinois legislation clearly describes "age-appropriate" programs) or Palin's repeated boast that she stopped the Bridge to Nowhere (after she had supported it, and after Congress had effectively killed the specific earmark).

The McCain camp has already accused the MSM of trying to "destroy" the governor of Alaska. So any challenge to her record or her veracity can now be cast as the product of an oh-so-unfair press. Which, needless to say, doesn't exactly please reporters, and makes the whole hanging-with-McCain-on-the-Straight-Talk era seem 100 years ago.

Before I address any of Mr. Kurtz' claims, let me point out the kind of blatantly asymmetrical news coverage that rightly provokes complaints from both conservatives and the McCain campaign:

John notes that the Washington Post seems to be downplaying the McCain-Palin rally in its backyard. But the bigger crime may be how the Washington Post article on the rally was written. Let's just do a by numbers comparison:

Number of paragraphs in the Washington Post story: 14

Number of paragraphs about pro-Obama protesters: 8

Number of McCain-Palin supporters present: 23,000

Number of Obama protesters: about 30

You do the math.

This arrantly partisan nonsense is par for the course with the Post.

Deborah Howell has already documented the Post's pro-Obama news slant, but this is hardly the first election where that has been the case.

During the 2004 election, I attended the KerryLied rally in downtown Washington, DC. I was frankly astonished that the Washington Post, my hometown paper, completely ignored this large event, which was well attended by Vietnam veterans and several well known speakers. I'm sure their inexplicable lack of coverage had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the rally was sponsored by the Swift Veterans (who at the time mysteriously could not get a single inch of column space in any major newspaper). I remember this well because I complained about it week after week. They held press conferences which were attended by reporters, who then retired back to their papers and wrote.... nothing. Not. A. Word.

America heard absolutely nothing about the Swift Vets until their book was published and the mainstream media was literally forced to admit their existence. Once that happened, the media responded with a smear campaign that literally took my breath away. The New York Times published a frankly silly list of "ties" to 527s that makes me laugh to this day, virtually ignoring the far larger and more extensive George Soros-related 527 fund raising ties that were utilized to try and get John Kerry elected.

A second example is the stunningly dishonest Vanity Fair Sarah Palin "authoritative timeline" I discussed here. It almost defies belief that any credible "journalist" would publish such transparent and easily disprovable lies. Howard Kurtz actually defended the fact that journalists contacted the McCain campaign to ask if Sarah Palin was planning to take DNA tests to refute online rumors about who fathered her youngest child.

But anyone with access to Google, or at least anyone who cared to find out the truth, could quickly discover how the supposed "facts" in the timeline weren't based on anything "factual" at all. Since when is a family photo taken in 2006 evidence of a Bristol Palin pregnancy that supposedly terminated in 2008? And online photos of Gov. Palin looking pregnant in 2008 were not hard to find. But how many people bothered to fact check Vanity Fair? Looking at the vote totals, not many.

Yet oddly, Howard Kurtz angrily maintains that the press are best suited to tell us what the "truth" is and furthermore, that the McCain campaign is trying to get them to lie to the American public. As Betsy Newmark points out, there are a few problems with that narrative:

As Jim Geraghty points out, McCain's ad is correct about the Obama education bill. And John Hinderaker has demonstrated that both the Anchorage Daily News and the Alaska Democratic Party have credited her with blocking the Bridge to Nowhere.

Until John McCain selected her as his running mate, it never occurred to anyone to deny that Palin stopped the bridge. That's certainly what the Anchorage Daily News reported on February 8, 2008:

Let's count how many things Gov. Sarah Palin's predecessor did that she's undone.
It's quite a list.

The state-owned jet: Sold.

The proposed Gravina Island "bridge to nowhere" and a pioneer road to Juneau: Won't be funded.

And again on March 12, 2008:

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is aggravated about what he sees as Gov. Sarah Palin's antagonism toward the earmarks he uses to steer federal money to the state. ... A common target for earmark snipers is the so-called "bridge to nowhere" plugged by Alaska Rep. Don Young into the five-year transportation bill in 2005. Congress stripped the earmarks directing the spending but let the state keep the money to use on the bridge if it wanted. Palin ruffled feathers when she announced - without giving the delegation advance notice - that the state was killing the Ketchikan bridge to Gravina Island, site of the airport and a few dozen residents.

I don't know how it could be any clearer: as the McCain ad says, Palin killed the bridge.

It's enough to make one how well the media really do their jobs. For instance, one of my readers and a blogger in her own right (Elise) compiled a fantastic post on allegations that Governor Palin tried to ban books from her local library. The sad thing is that, like the work of most bloggers, it is based completely on the already extant work of professional journalists. As I've said over and over again, bloggers are almost completely dependent upon the media. We could not do what we do without them. Mostly what a good blogger does is read, research, assemble and analyze research the media have already performed. What we supply, more often than not, if we are successful is a degree of completeness and the ability to cross reference and question the work of the media that is all too often lacking in a newspaper article. This is what Elise did so effectively here:

... that is the third factor I weighed: no books were ever banned from the Wasilla City Library. Given that fact, I don’t think this story has much basis.

There is one other aspect of this story that deserves attention: Anne Kilkenny. She appears to be driving the narrative that Palin tried to fire Emmons because Emmons wouldn’t ban books from the library. Kilkenny is the author of the August 31, 2008, “About Sarah Palin” email which specifically ties the attempted firing to the censorship issue without explaining the timeline. She also implies Palin had specific books in mind to be banned (emphasis mine):

I found this fascinating because Kilkenny not only contradicted her other published accounts of the same event, but also that of the librarian (whom one would think would know if specific books were to be banned) regarding the material fact at issue. Read in context, the entire account places Kilkenny's email in rather a different light. This is exactly my problem with so many drive-by news stories: the lack of context. When you have a more complete picture with all the details, a very different picture begins to emerge.

Glenn Reynolds links to another Vanity Fair piece bemoaning the media's inability (though Lord knows they've tried) to get Barack Obama elected:

In the voting booth on November 4, it’s likely that most members of the media will pull the lever for Barack Obama. Whether or not they put aside their professional standards and actively try to get him elected is another matter. But because conspiracy theories are fun (see VF.com’s Trig Palin parentage timeline ), let’s assume for a moment that they do. Is there any way they could effectively accomplish it? Let’s review what they’ve tried so far:

1. Fawning coverage of Obama (the candidate with a halo-like glow around him on the covers of Newsweek, Time, and Rolling Stone; Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews gushing so embarrassingly that they had to be removed from MSNBC’s anchor desk)

2. Digging dirt on Obama’s opponents (The Times’s innuendo-laced piece about McCain’s ties to lobbyist Vicki Iseman; the poorly fact-checked stories about Palin’s supposed book-banning and secessionist proclivities)

3. Tough but fair investigations into McCain and Palin’s various lies, bad decisions, and questionable policies
Those are pretty much the only weapons in the media’s arsenal, and so far none of them have really worked.

It's arguable that Barack Obama wouldn't be where he is today without the media's support. But perhaps none of these strategies have really worked to the extent the media hoped, because journalists have lost the trust of the public they purport to serve. Even the world's largest megaphone is not much use if their intended audience automatically discounts 80% of what they have to say due to perceived bias:

....Voters from both parties...are skeptical of media bias in general. Eighty-six percent (86%) of Republicans think reporters try to help the candidate they want to win, and a plurality of Democrats (49%) believe that, too. Seventy-four percent (74%) of unaffiliated voters agree.

Only 21% of voters overall say reporters try to offer unbiased coverage....

Among all voters, 57% believe Obama has received the best treatment by the media, while 21% say McCain has been treated best.

Howard asks:

Does anyone seriously believe that Barack Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig? What about the fact that McCain has used "lipstick on a pig" before? What about the book by that title by former McCain aide Torie Clarke? Never mind: get the cable bookers to line up women on opposite sides of the lipstick divide and let them claw at each other!

As hard as it may be for him to believe, an awful lot of people do think he did it on purpose. I happen to be agnostic on the subject, but I also think the remark was a huge gaffe given the popular currency of her hockey mom/lipstick quip, and it's really inexcusable for the press not to point that out. When they start making foolish arguments like "McCain said 'lipstick on a pig too'"!!!! when we all know that was said in a different context with no possible connection to Governor Palin (and no crowd chanting "NO PIT BULLS!" in Obama's presence right after he made that remark) it only causes people like me who are inclined to give Senator Obama the benefit of the doubt to wonder if there is anything the press won't do to cover for him?

Question for Howard Kurtz: are the media really angry? Or just feeling defensive and shamefaced now that their relentlessly one-sided coverage of this election is being brought out into the open where everyone can see it? That media spotlight can be damned uncomfortable, can't it?

And how about that Annenburg Challenge story? We're still waiting.

I won't hold my breath.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:21 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

September 11, 2008

OMG

Web site of the Day, just in case I'm not the only person in the world who hasn't already seen this :p

Via KJ.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:23 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

War of Words

Thursday, September 11th 2008, 4 a.m. I sit staring at my monitor as I have nearly every day since that brilliant morning which continues its nauseating free fall through our collective subconscious. This is merely one of many ways my life forked as I fiddled absentmindedly with the radio dial on my way to work that day.

I wasn't really listening to the news. What I really wanted to hear was music - something loud and fast, with plenty of bass and a memorable back beat: the kind that gets inside your head and makes you feel, momentarily, like you're sixteen again and can take on the whole world single-handed, armed with nothing more than a stick of peppermint chewing gum and a disreputable looking tube of Maybelline UltraLash mascara in Black/brown.

Something to get my pulse pounding and my adrenaline pumping.

What I got was the Twin Towers falling and the end of my safe, familiar existence. That, and the news that a plane had plowed into the Pentagon where my husband, the love of my life since my senior year in high school, went to work every day. From the ninth floor window of my office building in northern Virginia I could see acrid smoke spiraling upward from the horizon of my dreams.

We were supposed to retire.

That was the way life was supposed to unfold: a little house in the woods just big enough for the two of us, the chance to finally control our own lives after more than two decades of constant moving and military life. No more 12-15 hour work days and year long separations. Grad school for me and probably for him. We'd talked and dreamed about it for years. So many things came crashing down to earth along with those planes, all over America. Dreams. Plans. Sometimes a family's entire life savings. We were the lucky ones, in so many ways.

I didn't lose a loved one that day, though I came close. Too close. Close enough to appreciate how bad it could have been. Perhaps that why I never understood the bitterness, the anger I read later in newspapers, heard on the evening news, mostly from those who didn't seem to have suffered any direct loss at all. I suppose I never saw the point.

Things change. Life deals us odd twists and turns we didn't anticipate. You adjust, move on. What other choice do you have? In my snarkier moments I've often imagined the whole thing as a particularly bad country song. That could be convenient for do-overs. What happens if you play the whole thing backwards? It could be like the old joke: you find out your woman didn't really cheat on you, your pickup starts running again, the factory starts hiring again, your dawg comes back....

Maybe the whole nightmare never happens.

Tonight, the moon came out, it was nearly full.
Way down here on earth, I could feel it's pull.
The weight of gravity or just the lure of life,
Made me want to leave my only home tonight
Now I'm just wonderin' how we know where we belong.
Is it in a photograph, or a dashboard poet's song?
Will I have missed my chance to right some ancient wrong,
Should I find myself between here and gone
?

That is where America seems to be, seven years after 9/11: poised between a past we can never go back to and a future none of us can agree upon. More than anything else the nation has come to resemble an old married couple treading delicately on the eggshell thin remnants of an illusion no one wants to see irreparably shattered. Even the most innocent topics of conversation provoke the same tired arguments we’ve had a million times and with each repetition the eruptions become more savage; our barely healed wounds more sensitive. Ancient grievances are dredged up, hurled at each other impotently and ultimately cast aside when it becomes obvious there will be no closure this time, either:

I could grab my keys, clear out in my truck,
With every saint on board bringing me their luck.
And' I could drive too fast, like a midnight sleeve,
As if there was a way to outrun the grief.
Now I'm just wondering how we know where we belong.
In a song that's left behind in the dream I couldn't wake from.
Could I have felt the brush of a soul that's passing on,
Somewhere in between here and gone
?

Who owns the truth? Where is that bright line between fact and opinion, between the subtle shadings of political bias and honest allowances for the right of different people to weigh the same facts according to their value systems and come to a different conclusion? And by what right do today’s post 9/11 shrill anger merchants claim lay exclusive claim to what is “obviously true”?

John McCain was not offended when Barack Obama described McCain’s policy agenda as putting “lipstick on a pig.” I can’t prove that, but it seems so obvious to me that it’s more like a fact than an opinion. Nor could McCain possibly have thought that Obama was calling McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, a pig, since Obama didn’t even mention Palin. If Obama had even thought that his words would be misinterpreted as calling Palin a pig, he wouldn’t have said them. That also seems obvious. The whole controversy is ginned up, a fraud, a lie. All obvious.

How obvious can a thing be which can (obviously) never be proven one way or another?

Do Americans feel no shame anymore to substitute their personal political opinions for objectively provable fact and, upon such untenable grounds, impugn the integrity of another human being? Apparently not. That Andrew Sullivan should do so is no longer surprising, but the sheer triviality of the issue that finally sends him careening off the deep end is almost laughable:

For me, this surreal moment - like the entire surrealism of the past ten days - is not really about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or pigs or fish or lipstick. It's about John McCain. The one thing I always thought I knew about him is that he is a decent and honest person. When he knows, as every sane person must, that Obama did not in any conceivable sense mean that Sarah Palin is a pig, what did he do? Did he come out and say so and end this charade? Or did he acquiesce in and thereby enable the mindless Rovianism that is now the core feature of his campaign?

So far, he has let us all down. My guess is he will continue to do so. And that decision, for my part, ends whatever respect I once had for him. On core moral issues, where this man knew what the right thing was, and had to pick between good and evil, he chose evil.

Dear God in heaven. In Afghanistan men are fighting and dying, but what has really wounded darling Andrew’s delicate moral sensibilities is one politician’s overreaction to a badly timed joke about lipstick on a pig? This outrage, this welling up of righteous indignation from a man who, in all seriousness, spent last week gleefully shopping juicy but utterly unfounded gossip that Sarah Palin tried to murder her own child in the womb.

We have become an unserious nation. A childish and ungrateful one: peevish and cruel and grasping. The kind of nation that somehow believes simple political disagreement justifies the kind of personal "demonization" we claim to oppose; the kind of people who will use any convenient excuse as a weapon to beat our opponents senseless; where those we disagree with are "freaks" and "sycophants" and "liars"; where nearly every sentence drips with venom:

...what is already apparent is that John McCain is running the sleaziest, most dishonest and race-baiting campaign of our lifetimes. So let's stopped being shocked and awed by every new example of it. It is undignified. What can we do? We've got a dangerously reckless contender for the presidency and a vice presidential candidate who distinguished her self by abuse of office even on the comparatively small political stage of Alaska. They've both embraced a level of dishonesty that disqualifies them for high office.

What upset Mr. Marshall? This ad, claiming Barack Obama supported an Illinois bill (which, by the way, did not gain enough votes to pass) mandating sex education for Kindergarteners. Now reasonable people can and do disagree upon the need for 5 year olds to have any sex education whatsoever, up to and including 'inappropriate touching', from the public school system. We have all read the idiotic stories about children screaming "abuse" after another adult or child had the temerity to hug them. It would seem, since this bill never passed the Illinois legislature, that Mr. Obama was in the minority regarding the need for this critical service. However, one would never know this from reading TPM Cafe. No discussion, nor deviation from the Official Approved Party Truth, is allowed lest one be branded a LIAR, SYCOPHANT, FREAK, PEDOPHILE LOVER and most importantly DISHONORABLE PERSON. The actual language of the bill was rather more ambiguous than as presented by Mr. Obama's spokesmen, leaving considerable doubt as to what would have happened in individual classrooms had the measure passed.

So: hardly a cut and dried situation, contra Josh Marshall; but one which reasonable Americans of opposing political persuasions might see quite differently without being called "liars" and "freaks" sans a single shred of human decency.

How did we get to this pass?

Of all the losses I lay at the door of 9/11, I lay this bitter division, this burning rancor, the loss of the fundamental trust that possibly – just possibly – our fellow Americans may disagree with us and still love this nation; still be good people, still want what is best for her. As an intelligent, well read and informed, college educated, open minded woman who passionately supports the Bush administration and the war on terror, I grieve when I read things like this:

I assume John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential partner in a fit of pique because the Republican money men refused to let him have the stuffed male shirt he really wanted. She added nothing to the ticket that the Republicans didn't already have sewn up, the white trash vote, the demographic that sullies America's name inside and outside its borders yet has such a curious appeal for the right.

So why do it?

It's possible that Republican men, sexual inadequates that they are, really believe that women will vote for a woman just because she's a woman. They're unfamiliar with our true natures. Do they think vaginas call out to each other in the jungle night?

Wow. Got contempt? I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I grieve when I’m not helpless with laughter.

Heather darlin’. I have no idea about you but the last time my vagina called out in the night I believe it was saying, “Lord, have mercy!” Perhaps you ought to try one of those Republican men, sexual inadequates though you may think them. You might find your mood vastly improved. At the very least, you’d laugh once in a while:

I don’t know what “violently rich” means, except that it certain sounds bad – like you walked up to Tony Rezco and punched him until a nice house deal fell out of his pockets – but yes, most Americans want to be rich, at least as rich as Obama, and there is nothing wrong with this. Most don’t have the book-deal / Chicago machine option, so they either play the lottery and plug away at their jobs, or they try to improve their station by the usual means. It is a dearly held American notion that you can do better than you’re doing.

Even in broken Kansas.

Because her contract apparently requires her to end with a pop-culture review gracelessly yoked to whatever hobby horse she rode into town this week, she ends:

Mad Men is scaring me (AMC on Sunday nights). What has Matthew Weiner, a writer from The Sopranos, created, a period soap opera about reality and façade or a horror series on a localized war between men and women? Was Episode 6 of Season 2 a costume drama about the Madonna/whore complex or the operatic rendition of one simple thing, human cruelty?

Or maybe I'm seeing too much into it and it's just a sexed-up version of the Republican convention.

Of course it scares her. Everything outside the tight, airless bubble in which she lives scares her, from those yellin’ knocked-up hillbilly wimen to the menfolk who love ‘em, from the crazy furrin-doubting Murcans who bring up their heads from the trough only to bark for ‘nuther servin; of Freedom Fries, from the ghastly sight of people with different opinions on TV to the general roar of approval for someone who doesn’t perfect the art of licking the boots of the anointed leaders while pulling her wallet of our her purse and handing over whatever the state demands. Of course she’s scared. People like her are always scared. It’s a lonely world when you’re just so damned right and everyone else is so stupid.

That’s why God made cats.


I think this is what gets me about these folks: the vast, humorless wasteland. There is no joy there, only contempt and fear for whatever they don’t agree with and can’t understand.

The thing is, I don’t agree with Barack Obama and I certainly hope he doesn’t get elected President because I think he’s defiantly, tragically, and – yes – stupidly naïve and wrong on so many issues I care about. But I’m not afraid of him and I don’t think he’s the anti-Christ. This country can survive even him. God help me if I ever come unglued like this, if I ever let my life become dominated by fear and anger, if I make up silly labels for my neighbors, like “Christianists”; if I begin looking down my nose at those who disagree with me.

Because that is no way to live.

We – on both sides – are letting ourselves be controlled by our emotions. Neither Sarah Palin nor Barack Obama is the answer to the truly enormous problems that divide us as a nation, and we cannot project all our cares onto their all too human backs. This election is unusual because for the first time I can remember we have four candidates who, by conventional standards, have few of the usual qualifications for office.

I think that’s a sign. It’s a sign of anomie, very much like what this nation experienced after World War I; of fatigue and disenchantment with forces we don’t fully understand; with too many factors that defy our attempts to analyze or explain them rationally. And so we fall back on something we think we can trust: our intuition, our gut instincts. We want leaders who are like us. We want someone we think we can trust to make the right decisions.

The details are less important.

I’m not so sure that’s as foolhardy a proposition as it’s being made out to be. If 9/11 and the war that followed taught us anything, they taught us that people are predictable. We make the same stupid mistakes over and over again because although circumstances may mutate in a million unpredictable ways, human nature never quite does, does it? And so we can make all the plans we want, we can have what we think are bullet proof principles, but as the old saying goes, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

We adapt and overcome. And then we get up the next morning and do it all over again. I'm not sure there has ever been anyone so wise, so foresighted, so good at organization or gaining the cooperation of all branches of government that he or she would be able to prevent many of the problems we've watched unfold over the past seven years. And I'm not sure there is any system capable of overcoming the sheer brute force of human stupidity. We learn by trial and error.

In that kind of situation, maybe it's not so "dumb" to go with your gut; to pick a leader whose character inspires confidence.

Oddly the parties seem to have flip-flopped. In response to a complex and rapidly changing situation we don't fully understand and can't control, the so-called “elitist” Republicans have put up a populist ticket and the erstwhile party of the common man are squealing like stuck pigs about erudition and education and intelligence and advanced degrees. What I think this is really about, however, is trust.

9/11 shook us to the core and people responded differently to that threat. Some just want it to go away – never to be mentioned. Some think the threat must be met aggressively lest another tragedy occur. I am often unable to tell the supposed fear-mongering of those who do their level best to make us fear our own government from that of those who remind us that there truly are people out there who have sworn to keep attacking us until we our cities go down in flames. So who are the real fear mongers? The ones who remind us we’ve been attacked by violent extremists or the ones who constantly promote fear and suspicion of our own government and military?

I have spent the last week or so talking, over email, with an old friend from high school.

A Democrat. We don’t agree about the Bush administration, or the war on terror. But the discussion has been remarkably civil and informative. I can’t help but think that there is hope for this nation in ordinary people, people of good will, people not too invested in the political process. These are the people who gave us our Constitution, Declaration, and founding documents. They were not seasoned pros, but talented amateurs.

On the seventh anniversary of 9.11, let us make a promise to the dead: all those who died on that awful day and all those who have died since then, trying to ensure that such an awful day need never come again. Let’s stop screeching at each other and start listening. Stop the insults and the hating. Start the conversation anew, and in our inside voices this time.

Perhaps then, the healing can finally begin.


Posted by Cassandra at 07:48 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Memorial

MaryAnn.

camo

BillT (I assume) - he didn't sign it, the big punk

Kat

Lex

HF6

Vanderleun (via Bird Dog)

Jules doesn't have anything up yet, but it's still early. As prolific as he is, I'll be shocked if he doesn't later. Anyway, I'm just glad he's back. Go pay him a visit.

Zoey

Beth at Blue Star Chronicles

Nicki

Deb

Fausta

...and it appears The Armorer finally got out of bed (I'm gonna pay for that one)

Carrie's doing a puzzle.

And last, but certainly not least, Grim.

I will have a few words up later.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:19 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 10, 2008

On Obama and Manliness

Courtland Malloy makes a point I'm not sure I disagree with:

Maybe if he had a swagger like Marion Barry or a knack for vicious hyperbole like Jesse L. Jackson Sr. or a military bearing like Colin Powell. Then, perhaps, Barack Obama could put an end to questions about his masculinity.

"Does Barack Obama have testicular fortitude?" read a recent headline on the History News Network, an online publication hosted by George Mason University.

Paul Gipson, president of a local steelworkers union in Indiana, endorsed Hillary Clinton's bid for president, saying "what we gotta have" is "an individual that has testicular fortitude."

What is Obama to do?

Obviously, it's not enough to battle your way to the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. You can vanquish a field of primary candidates. You can win campaigns in the far northwest, in places where there are no blacks to speak of. You can raise a war chest that exceeds the annual budget of a midsize town.

You can walk a fine line between being too black for whites and not black enough for blacks. But here you are, just weeks away from the presidential election, being called on to prove that you are man enough -- without coming off as an angry black man.

I agree with Mr. Malloy in one sense: I am tired of the way Americans seem to accept turning political differences into character flaws. People of good will can disagree on matters political without betraying a deficient intellect or some yet to be diagnosed mental illness:

Democrats speak up for the less prosperous; they have well-intentioned policies to help them; they are disturbed by inequality, and want to do something about it. Their concern is real and admirable. The trouble is, they lack respect for the objects of their solicitude. Their sympathy comes mixed with disdain, and even contempt.

Democrats regard their policies as self-evidently in the interests of the US working and middle classes. Yet those wide segments of US society keep helping to elect Republican presidents. How is one to account for this? Are those people idiots? Frankly, yes – or so many liberals are driven to conclude. Either that or bigots, clinging to guns, God and white supremacy; or else pathetic dupes, ever at the disposal of Republican strategists. If they only had the brains to vote in their interests, Democrats think, the party would never be out of power. But again and again, the Republicans tell their lies, and those stupid damned voters buy it.

It is an attitude that a good part of the US media share. The country has conservative media (Fox News, talk radio) as well as liberal media (most of the rest). Curiously, whereas the conservative media know they are conservative, much of the liberal media believe themselves to be neutral.

Their constant support for Democratic views has nothing to do with bias, in their minds, but reflects the fact that Democrats just happen to be right about everything. The result is the same: for much of the media, the fact that Republicans keep winning can only be due to the backwardness of much of the country.

Because it was so unexpected, Sarah Palin’s nomination for the vice-presidency jolted these attitudes to the surface. Ms Palin is a small-town American. It is said that she has only recently acquired a passport. Her husband is a fisherman and production worker. She represents a great slice of the country that the Democrats say they care about – yet her selection induced an apoplectic fit.

For days, the derision poured down from Democratic party talking heads and much of the media too. The idea that “this woman” might be vice-president or even president was literally incomprehensible. The popular liberal comedian Bill Maher, whose act is an endless sneer at the Republican party, noted that John McCain’s case for the presidency was that only he was capable of standing between the US and its enemies, but that should he die he had chosen “this stewardess” to take over. This joke was not – or not only – a complaint about lack of experience. It was also an expression of class disgust. I give Mr Maher credit for daring to say what many Democrats would only insinuate.

Little was known about Ms Palin, but it sufficed for her nomination to be regarded as a kind of insult. Even after her triumph at the Republican convention in St Paul last week, the put-downs continued. Yes, the delivery was all right, but the speech was written by somebody else – as though that is unusual, as though the speechwriter is not the junior partner in the preparation of a speech, and as though just anybody could have raised the roof with that text. Voters in small towns and suburbs, forever mocked and condescended to by metropolitan liberals, are attuned to this disdain. Every four years, many take their revenge.

I do believe, however, that some of the questions regarding Obama's toughness are not out of place. Mild manneredness and reason are one thing when it comes to an argument.

They are quite another, as Richard Cohen states, when it comes to dealing with those intent on violent confrontation. Given Obama's persistent pattern of ducking confrontations, the question is perhaps not so unreasonable after all. But perhaps his critics could be more careful in the phrasing of their questions regarding Obama's willingness to stand and fight:

...given the historic stereotypes about fear of African American men's masculinity and fears of their aggression, Obama has been successful because he embodies an earlier model of black male politicians for whom respectability and reason were tickets into full citizenship."

But not successful enough, apparently.

On Tuesday, Richard Cohen wrote on the op-ed page of The Washington Post that Obama's appearance on a TV talk show Sunday "had me wondering if, as a kid, Obama ever got a shot in the mouth on the playground, he'd glare at the bully -- and convene a meeting."

The problem is, of course, that while Obama may be consciously adjusting his behavior to expectations shaped by cultural stereotypes of hyperaggressive, hypersexualized black males, that's really beside the point, isn't it?

It may help us to understand him if we're inclined to psychoanalyze him. But the bottom line (for those of us to whom a strong national security posture is important) is that we require assurance that he won't back down if America is confronted. Plenty of white men (Jimmy Carter, anyone?) have followed that path and the results were infelicitous for this country. We need not impugn Obama's manhood.

We have every right to question his judgment, and on such questions, elections are decided.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:27 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Of Lipstick and Pigs

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me

Much is being made of Obama's lipstick gaffe yesterday. The reactions are all over the electoral map:

..."This was just plain stupid on Senator Obama's part. It must be due to Karl Rove mind rays or something."

..."Surely a man smart enough to be elected president should have foreseen how these remarks would be taken. Don’t Harvard law grads know the impact of words?" Everybody stumbles now and then. I say, don't make any more of it than if McCain had said something similar.

... "I think if you look at the entire quote, you realize that Obama was referring to Palin in the 'pig' comment. In the next phrase, as reported by Politico.com, Obama referred to 'old fish' wrapped in a paper of change that still stinks, a clear personal attack on McCain. I think both comments taken together are quite outrageous."
...
"Palin is, quite obviously, getting inside Obama’s head. This was beyond stupid! This will be played by McCain quite easily: Sarah will continue to bait him and he just goes for it. Remember the Wyle E. Coyote/Roadrunner meme that Ann Althouse set up when Palin was first rolled out? Well, she was right!"

I don't know whether Obama intended (beforehand, at least) to level gratuitous personal insults at Governor Palin with the lipstick/pig metaphor and Senator McCain with the stinky old fish allusion. Moreover I don't much care whether he did or not. What struck me, on watching the video, was that Senator Obama's choice of metaphors seems condescending, divisive, and insulting... to his audience. Succinctly put, Obama's argument appears to be, "If you don't vote for me, you're stupid."

And what is with the faux Bible Belt preacher accent all of a sudden?

"...except for economic policeh... health care policeh... tax policeh... education policeh... foreign policeh... "

For a moment there, I was afraid the good Senator was fixing to go all Blackalicious on us again. During the primaries, Hillary Clinton was mercilessly mocked as a phony for suddenly trying to be blacker-than-thou. Meanwhile, Obama The Post-Racial Candidate seems to view his racial heritage through the lens of political expediency, alternately embracing and distancing himself from his avowed culture as circumstances make each course of action seem more or less desirable.

After repeatedly banging the "...they'll try to tell you I'm black" gong, which I can only interpret as "Don't hate me because I'm Black and Beautiful" (You may imagine the uber-dramatic supermodel flip of the hair if you wish. I know I did), suddenly Obama invites us to see him as authentically black?

Question for the ages: will White America be frightened by the sheer testosterone-laced power of Senator Obama's mighteh dropped 'y's? Onleh time will tell.


Posted by Cassandra at 07:12 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

September 09, 2008

Pilgrimage

Wow. Just wow:

After a VIP Fenway tour, the boys were introduced as honorary bat boys and posed with Wally behind home plate, and were shown on the Jumbotron.

Then they settled into their third-row seats. Their donors sat in the bleachers.

The Taylor boys bought rally monkeys and the Sox immediately scored twice. They sang "Sweet Caroline" like Fenway veterans. They good-naturedly teased a White Sox fan sitting behind them and did elaborate handshake routines when the Sox scored, which was often in an 8-0 rout.

And they thought about their dad.

"I miss his smile the most," said Mason. "But he's up there watching us. He's above the John Hancock sign."

Weston agreed.

"Yeah, he is up there . . . looking down at me and Mason and my other brother and my mom."

Jim Taylor watched his grandchildren and put it all into perspective.

"I know this is what my son would have wanted," he said softly. "What's really important in life is your family. You've got to cherish your family because you don't know if today or tomorrow you won't be here. These boys had the dream of their lifetime. They'll always remember all these people. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And we are indebted to you folks for the rest of our lives."

Me too.

And I don't even care about baseball.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:54 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Snake Handling Jesus Phreaks

Sounds as though the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was engaging in double talk both in and out of the pulpit:

"There's no such thing as a problem-free relationship," he told a packed Elmwood United Presbyterian Church. "In life, you'll have unexpected problems."

He punctuated his 45-minute sermon with evocative 1960s hits, including the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go," Frankie Beverley's "Joy and Pain," and the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." He's set to speak there again tonight.

Payne's husband, Fred Payne, 64, said he learned of the affair in late February, when he discovered e-mails between his wife and Wright.

"There must have been about 80 of them, back and forth," he said. "Wright said things like he was going to leave his wife for Elizabeth."

Wright has been married to his second wife, Ramah, for more than 20 years.

The preacher reportedly wooed Ramah away from her first husband in the 1980s, when the couple came to marriage counseling at Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

After discovering he had been cuckolded, Fred Payne, who had married Elizabeth in October 2006, headed straight for divorce court.

What's that old Indian story about the snake?

Hoo boy... not touchin' that one with a ten foot... ummm...

Oh never mind.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:33 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Palinsanity

There was a time in America when women were the teachers. We were the keepers of family rituals and tradition, of moral standards and rules for everyday living passed from mother to child. We made sure holidays were observed and family ties preserved. The hand that rocked the cradles of this country did, in many ways, shape the world around us as our children moved from beneath our sheltering arms into the world, taking our values with them.

It was women who ensured our children knew right from wrong. No decent mother trusted a school to teach her family these things. These were lifetime lessons; learned after playground fights, struggles to complete homework on time or resist the temptation of stealing penny candy from the corner store. More often than not they were lessons learned after we made mistakes, discovered only because someone kept a watchful eye on most everything we did. And after the tears were dried and we'd spent time in our rooms, there came The Talk.

That was when we learned why what we had done was wrong; how it damaged the fabric of the society we lived in. There must be a million aphorisms Moms have scolded their children with over the years. All have a moralistic bent. All are intended to teach a lesson; to make us think and engrave the experience on a young heart and mind. They are, when it comes right down to it, good questions.

"What would the world be like, if everyone did as you just did? How would you feel, if someone did that to you?"

That one that never failed to get me, because I didn't have a good answer for it. The truth was if I'd done wrong, I knew I wouldn't want to live in that kind of world. I knew I wouldn't want to be treated the same way I'd treated others - that was how I knew what I had done was wrong.

And I felt ashamed, as I was meant to. This was, after all, the point of the lesson. By learning to identify with others, we learned to treat them the way we would want to be treated ourselves, to feel shame when we fell short of that standard. In time the conditioning became so ingrained that the imagined pain of another human being was enough to stop us in our tracks; to make us want to do right instead of wrong.

Though we did not realize it then, motherhood is a position of great power and influence. It is a position women have largely abandoned to television, the Internet, day care providers and beleaguered public school teachers as we chased the siren song of women's emancipation from the odious chains of home and hearth. But the beckoning promise of a more liberated future; one free from the biological imperatives that continue to operate with blissful disregard for anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action initiatives alike, contained what should have been a telltale flaw in logic.

No person - male or female - can juggle two full time jobs without letting one suffer.

The answer to this, of course, from traditional feminists was, "Men will have to step up to the plate." But the fatal flaw in this assumption is that their husbands were already working one full time job. They, too, were subject to that same logical law, and men with children compete in the marketplace against men with no children. There is no requirement for their employers to pay them the same salary, if they take time off to care for children, as a man who works longer hours. Hence their careers, promotion opportunities and pay prospects all suffer.

Enter Todd Palin. His career has already been negatively impacted by his wife's election to the governorship of Alaska. He gave up a management position in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. One would think women, and feminists in particular, would be heartened to see a strong, masculine man ardently supporting an ambitious women as she rises like a meteor through the hardscrabble world of politics.

You would be wrong. Over the past week or so, Governor Palin, her husband, and now her 17 year old daughter have been subjected to the most irresponsible and vicious rumor mongering imaginable. No slander seems too base, no form of innuendo too slimy for partisan mudslingers driven to increasingly pathetic fits of hysterics by the threat of losing a hotly contested election.

And the worst thing about it is that the most egregious offenders have been women.

While I don't happen to believe Governor Palin needs defending, I do know that her 17 year old daughter Bristol doesn't deserve the abuse she has taken from full grown women who ought to know better. And so I can't help wondering:

Does the Left feel proud of itself for knowingly spreading lies and gossip about a minor? How do they justify their actions, other than with the transparently shallow excuse that two wrongs (if you buy the premise that simply opposing them politically is a "wrong", much less that the children of political candidates are appropriate targets for their political attacks) make a right?

Do progressives feel such actions are worthy of their political beliefs? Do they puff up with pride at the sight of "authoritative" timelines so sloppy that even a novice Google user can easily demonstrate that the "pregnant" picture of Bristol Palin was taken in 2006 (which, if she was carrying Trig Palin at the time, would make it the world's longest pregnancy)?

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Despite this obvious problem with Vanity Fair's "authoritative" timeline, 69% of Vanity Fair readers believe Bristol is the mother of Trig Palin. So much for the intelligence of the average Vanity Fair reader.

Did Vanity Fair care that the ex-wife named in the Todd Palin's business partner's divorce case has publicly stated there was no affair between her husband and Sarah Palin? Of course not. That information was obviously on a "need to know basis", and Vanity Fair decided its readers didn't "need to know" such mundane details:

if you think the mainstream press is ignoring the Enquirer allegations, guess again. Politico reports that numerous national journalists have gone to an Alaskan courthouse to examine the divorce file of a Palin friend -- the subject of the rumors -- after he tried to have the papers sealed. The man's ex-wife, by the way, denied to Us Weekly that any affair took place.

Is there anyone within a 10 mile radius of the Palins whose privacy these creeps won't invade? Apparently not.

As a mother of two sons myself, let me ask: as a Democrat, how would you feel if someone you know casually entered politics and all of a sudden the press and Republican operatives suddenly started delving into your private life, your trash, your personal records, looking for dirt on them? Suddenly, through no fault of your own, your privacy just disappeared.

Poof.

It's not a pretty picture, is it?

How would you feel if suddenly, some person you served with on a board sent a chain email halfway around the world blasting you to kingdom come?

Anne Kilkenny - a Democrat - (why, oh why am I not surprised) has bravely stepped up to the keyboard to tell us that Sarah Palin is the anti-Christ in Manolo Blahnik pumps. Debbie Frost, who for I all know may be slightly to the reich of Attila the Hun, thinks Gov. Palin is the Second Coming of Meg Thatcher.

The point is that I know precisely nothing about either of these women. Why on earth should I care what they think of Sarah Palin? Reasonable people do not vote on the basis of chain emails written by persons whose character, intelligence and motivations are unknown to them. Dear God in heaven, have we all lost our minds?

And then there's the Parade of Feminists. You know: the ones who are basking in the glow of a fellow Sistah finally shattering that glass ceiling.... NOT? Those who, of late, have lamented the dearth of women on the op-ed pages need complain no more. The rise of Sarah Palin has brought forth an ever-replenishing cornucopia of feminine stupidity and malice (but I repeat myself) that may well explain the erstwhile lack of such precious delights:

Exhibit One:

Froma Harrop, a feminist oxymoronically concerned about who's minding Sarah Palin's children, would like her to just stay home with the kiddies. In fact, she's so concerned about Sarah's children that she's beside herself over Bristol's pregnancy; so much so that she somehow imagines Mothers go out on dates with their teenaged daughters, perhaps inserting themselves firmly but gently as loving chaperones in the back seats of Chevrolets everywhere.

"No dear", they say, sweetly, smacking the offending digits from their virgin daughters' blushingly virginal naughty bits. "Don't put your hand there until the two of you are legally wedded. Or at least until you're sure you're both protected by two forms of birth control."

Yes, the compassion just oozes from every pore:

...all she could now see was that picture of Palin's pregnant 17-year-old looking defiant and stupid ...

Charming.

A 44-year-old who parades her dysfunctional family as a poster-child for conservative values.

Wunderbar. Here we go again - another lecture about "conservative values" from yet another bigoted progressive who thinks every conservative is Jerry Falwell. Nice job of painting with the broad brush, Froma (or whatever your name is). Grow up, why don't you? Or better yet, learn to think. Thinking requires nuance. It also helps to get the facts - facts such as the inconvenient (for you) fact that Gov. Palin believes teens should be taught how to use condoms. But then you didn't bother to find that out, did you? Because it interfered with the narrative you wanted to spin. However, there's plenty more patronizing snottyness where that came from. After all, Ms. Harrop is a Tolerant Lefty:

I noted that even when a pregnancy leads to marriage for teens of any race, a divorce quickly follows. And many of these women end up having several children with different fathers-- and very difficult lives.

Really? How odd. Because, you see, I was a teen mother and I've been married for nearly 30 years now. To the same man. I have several friends. All teen mothers. All married for 20+ years. All college educated. All happily married. I put both my sons through college too, with money I made in my own right after 18 years as a wife and full time homemaker. I've succeeded in both worlds, as a homemaker and as a career woman.

Imagine that.

Exhibit Two: Anna Quindlen, another charming lady who likes to paint with the broad brush. Attila takes on several of her points, but this needs refuting:

I never thought I would live long enough to see the day when the Republican presidential candidate would cite membership in the PTA as evidence of executive experience, when the far right would laud the full-time working mothers of newborns, when social conservatives would stare down teenage pregnancy and replace their pursed-lip accusations of promiscuity with hosannas about choosing life.

How neatly Ms. Quindlen misstates the view of 'social conservatives', who have long sponsored shelters for unwed mothers. There has never been any widespread condemnation for pregnancy itself. Sex is a thing the right understands. After all, social conservatives or not (and I do not number myself in that population) everyone has sex. The condemnation has been of abortion. So their embrace of Bristol Palin is hardly hypocritical. Quindlen is more on target with this observation, if only in a limited fashion:

...expediency is an astonishing thing, and conservative Republicans have suddenly embraced the assertion that women can do it all, even those conservative Republicans who have made careers out of trashing that notion. James Dobson of Focus on the Family once had staffers on his hot line saying, "Dr. Dobson recommends that mothers of young children stay at home as much as possible." He now applauds a woman who was back at work three days after her son, who has Down syndrome, was born.

She is right to note hypocrisy in Dobson's supporters, but wrong to tar all conservatives with the same brush. Republican women, contrary to her wishful thinking on the subject, come in all shapes, sizes, and ideological colors. It's a big tent, Ms. Quindlen, and you only show your own narrow-mindedness and ignorance when you act as though a huge party had no more than one faction. She is also patently dishonest here:

Amid the drumbeat of female Amazonian competence occasioned by the Palin nomination ran one deeply discordant assumption, the assumption that women are strong and smart and sure and yet neither sentient nor moral enough to decide what to do if they are pregnant under difficult circumstances. The governor has talked about the choice she and her pregnant teenage daughter have made, but would deny other women the right to make their own choices. She talks about fighting the old boys' network and corrupt politicians, but would turn over the private reproductive decisions of American women to both. This is not choosing life. It is choosing unwarranted intrusion into the family lives of women. Which, ironically, is exactly what the Republicans accused the press of doing in the case of Governor Palin.

This is arrant feminist victimization nonsense again. "Old boy network"? Were women deprived of the vote while I was sleeping? Have we lost the right to petition the courts? Has Roe been overturned? To hear these women talk, you'd think we'd gone back to the days when we were chained to our Easy Bake ovens.

Exhibit Three:

Dahlia Lithwick unveils yet another of the stunning logical nonsequiturs which have made her the target of "sexist" critics like yours truly. No wonder so many people are a-feared of Sarah Palin. Apparently, her ascent to the national stage will limit choices for 17 year old girls still living under their parents' roofs women:

There are legitimate reasons to differ over the morality of abortion. There is also a legitimate disagreement over the fitness of a 16- or 17-year-old to decide to terminate her pregnancy. But the GOP position on abortion not only treats teenagers as less than grownups, but also shows a growing inclination to treat grownup women as little girls. As important as the decision to end a pregnancy may be, the matter of who gets to decide may be even more so. And that decision is increasingly being taken out of the hands of women, and put into the hands of strangers.

Ms. Lithwick's brand of logic is always interesting to me. Is it her contention that the legal age of majority should be eliminated so that no child should ever have to speak with his or her parents before undergoing a major surgical procedure? Or are we simply conflating the issue of parental authority over medical decisions with abortion in full grown women because it is so enticingly inflammatory to do so? Amusingly, her "logic" here begs the very question raised in Anna Quindlen's article, namely:

...the assumption that women are strong and smart and sure and yet neither sentient nor moral enough to decide what to do if they are pregnant under difficult circumstances.

Like so many abortion advocates, (full disclosure: I am pro-choice) Ms. Lithwick imagines women (those emotional, delicate flowers!) will dry up and blow away if confronted with the fact that what they are aborting is in fact a human being or that as she misleadingly implies, men think women are too irrational to make clearheaded decisions regarding their own health:

Justice Anthony Kennedy gave huge currency to the argument that women cannot be trusted with the decision to abort in his majority opinion in a 2007 decision banning a type of late-term abortion. Relying on yet more equivocal data, Kennedy lavished concern on women who regret their abortions, whose "distress" may someday lead to "severe depression and loss of esteem." It's a long road indeed from Roe when a woman's private choices about her future and her body are subordinated to Justice Kennedy's 20/20 psychological hindsight.

Having actually read the decision she references, I find Lithwick's assertion that Justice Kennedy gave "huge currency" to a woman's mental state both baseless and dishonest, but this should surprise no one who has watched her blithely conflate parental consent for surgical procedures performed on minor children living at home with the decisions of adult women as though there were any rational relationship between the two issues. Sillier by far is Lithwick's hyperbolic assertion that Palin's rise in politics somehow betokens "fewer choices for women".

Got paranoia? If only we women were that powerful.

Certainly there have been silly arguments made in defense of Sarah Palin and even sillier arguments made against her. In many ways, the histrionics and vicious rumor mongering on the left have provoked some very ill advised responses from the right, including a definite tendency towards reflexive defenses of the Governor which aren't always well considered. Glenn Reynolds makes an excellent point:

... Republicans should be careful about launching a cult of Sarah Palin. She's the V.P. pick, not the head of the ticket. She's still a relative newcomer to national politics. She's virtually sure to commit at least one major mistake between now and November. And -- yes, I know I said this before -- she's the V.P. pick, not the head of the ticket.

The Dems built a cult around Barack Obama. It energized some folks, but it ultimately backfired. Republicans might want to restrain themselves just a bit, here.

And if that's true, Progressives need to restrain themselves a lot, or risk betraying everything they claim to believe in. Unless, of course, that's not important to them.

Update: Yikes! Remind me not to make Belle angry!

Posted by Cassandra at 08:09 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

September 08, 2008

Monday Day Brightener

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Nathan Chando of Hudsonville, Mich. holds up a baseball he received from President George W. Bush following the Tee Ball on the South Lawn: A Salute to the Troops game Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008, on the South Lawn at the White House.

It's not every day you get a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs coaching third base. More photos here, story and video here.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sacre bleu! Has anyone informed Senator Obama?

... France's education minister yesterday admitted for the first time that the secret to success is speaking better English.

Xavier Darcos claimed poor English is now a 'handicap' because all international business is conducted in the language, and said French schools would offer extra lessons during the holidays.

He also admitted that, because of globalisation, very few people outside France will being able to speak French in the future.

Keeping up with world events can be a tricky business.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:59 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

The Forgotten Voter?

It's an odd thing.

I've heard little else for the past few days except Sarah Palin and her speech. I suppose it was alright.

But what surprises me is that there has been so little comment about the speech John McCain gave last week. I realize it began somewhat haltingly. That's not surprising; McCain is not a charismatic speaker. But I thought it by far the more remarkable of the two speeches.

I also can't help but think that in our enthusiasm over the latest 'shiny thing', we may be taking our eye off the ball:

From time to time I check in with fellow Virginian Larry J. Sabato about the state of the presidential race here and in other swing states. Sabato tells me:

”I’ve always said Virginia was a toss-up but unless McCain is losing by 5-8 points nationally, he can probably eke out a win. [Sarah] Palin has only a marginal effect in Virginia. McCain’s veteran ties are far more important in this veteran-rich state. ”

How big a factor are vets? He says, “Almost 15%. Vets may be a larger proportion of the voting population since they are older and their turnout is higher. And of course you can more than double that percentage once you include their immediate families.” (Virginia isn’t the only state where that is true, of course. Florida, for example, has the second largest veteran population after California.)

So while everyone is swept up by Palin-mania, it is important to remember that the race still will come down to a few states and some key demographic groups, some of whom – like veterans – get virtually no attention from the mainstream media.

While counting on immediate family members to double the vote is probably a bit overoptimistic (most military families I know, while solidly Republican, sport at least one Democrat), Sabato's point is worth considering, especially since there are quite a few vets in the South who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan:

Having been through a year long deployment myself, I found the Obama campaign's outreach efforts to military families both condescending and annoying, because although at times we may get discouraged, the trials and tribulations of deployments also can be a blessing in disguise.

As this Canadian soldier's wife (via AWTM) explains far more eloquently than I could ever do, not every hardship in life is something to be avoided or eliminated. Sometimes our lives are made richer by obstacles surmounted, burdens shared. It is, in fact, the bearing of loads that makes us stronger, wiser, more able; and each time we straighten our shoulders and stiffen our spines instead of giving in to fear and doubt, we gain confidence:

For seven months, our family lived, breathed, thought... Afghanistan. Most days were good, but some days were bad. Little things in life took on a greater meaning: hugs, kisses, and I love you's were done a whole lot more. I learned to love my husband in a greater way, and our sense of family was so much stronger.

I am one of the few privileged and honored to be in the presence of a returning soldier. I see the look in his eyes of fierce pride, knowing that it comes from accomplishments, of building wells, roads, opening and operating medical village outreach programs as well as helping those in need and making our world a safer place.

... I asked him once, "Please don't go... we need you more." The look in his eyes shamed me to the core. My Canadian soldier knew where his duty lay.

Her story reminded me of another love story. One that surprised me:

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.

I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

Somehow I didn't expect to hear that kind of idealism coming out of John McCain, just as I didn't expect to hear him admit that the party had lost the trust of Americans. But the sentiment was something I recognized, and something I'd like to hear more of.

And it still strikes me as odd that people are going on and on about Palin. But then this is an odd country. I never will understand it.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:21 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

September 04, 2008

Joe Biden's Unrecognized Foreign Policy Genius!!!

EXCLUSIVE!!!
MUST CREDIT VILLAINOUS COMPANY!!!

Don't forget - you heard it here first: Joe Biden was responsible for the success of the Surge!

More recently, this is the Joe Biden who forcefully argued for the partition of Iraq - an idea so completely idiotic that it actually forged agreement amongst Arabs, Turks, Persians, Jews and Russians. IT would piss them all off.

As so many argued, a military solution was never enough to guarantee lasting peace in Iraq. Only political compromise could bring about permanent stability.

Who knew it would be the foreign policy genius of Joe Biden who provided the impetus for peace in our time?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:54 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Palin vs. The Gatekeepers

In early February of 2004 I embarked upon a journey of sorts. More than four years and interminable caffeine-laced mornings later here I am, still pounding away at the keyboard. I never dreamed in those early days at ScrappleFace that I would ever find myself blogging. For this final humiliation, I blame two people: Joatmoaf and a certain Colorado Cat who kept after me relentlessly. I can still hear her saying "You're not an echo - you're a voice. You have something to say and there are people who desperately need to hear it." What can I say? It was better than running for public office.

In the years that followed I was beset with my share of doubts and shadows. But also, I was enveloped by friends who lifted me up when I wondered whether I was on the right path? Blogging is nothing if not a cooperative and interactive venture; a uniquely symbiotic relationship in which writer and reader each take sustenance from the other. Despite all the effort that goes into blogging, it's sometimes hard to tell who benefits more from this partnership. Both come away enriched, and both are irretrievably changed.

In this, blogging is unlike any form of journalism that came before it - and despite the inevitable carping and belittling from those who make their living from writing for print or online media blogging is a form of journalism, even if an amateur and populist form of the craft. Blogging is corrected and informed by the voices of literally millions of readers who continuously fact check, snark, cross reference, question and argue over our posts in real time. They are our 'rigorous layers of editorial control', and they have caused us to correct ourselves and to retract our mistakes. They improve our content as well as add to it.

Blogging is, as I wrote many years ago, a vigorous conversation over the backyard fences of America and it has renewed and revitalized our interest and participation in civic life in a way that is particularly heartening in this era of political apathy and cynicism. It took a former housewife and mother with no interest in politics and turned her into an avid follower of current events, conversant with both foreign policy and economic trends. It got me engaged.

But there is little doubt that I would not be blogging if it were not for 9/11 and the war on terror. If you want to know how that day changed my life, you need look no farther than these two posts:

And At Night I Dream Of You: A Tribute to Lydia Estelle Bravo

The Boys of Summer
: for PFC Natchez "Little Fawn" Washalanta and Sgt. Jason Cook

They are perhaps not the best things I have written, but I could have written neither of them before that brilliant September morning. I think we all lost something on that day and some of us - many of us - live with ghosts now: ghosts who never quite leave our sides. We are at once made richer and poorer for that experience. Oddly, 9/11 initially bound us together as a nation as we drew near in grief and shock and horror. It is easy to light candles and mourn the dead. It costs us precisely nothing.

But as the shock wore off and the tiresome burdens of reality began to settle in, 9/11 also drove a wedge between us. As so often happens in political life, we mostly want the same things: freedom, security, affluence, happiness.

We disagree about the best methods of achieving them. As we went off to war, the deep divisions between us only worsened. In the late summer of 2006 I stood in the living room of a neighbor and was quizzed by a liberal Democrat down the street who knew my husband is an active duty Marine. At the time, because of his job and because I am a milblogger, I knew things were beginning to turn around in Anbar province. My neighbor spouted all the standard antiwar talking points to me.

I riposted with the latest from Anbar. Did he realize great things were afoot over there? Did he know the atrocities committed by the insurgency had awakened the latent anger of the sheiks? Had he even heard of Stephen Vincent?

The dazed look in his eyes spoke volumes.

I will give him this much credit: he asked me for links from the mainstream media. I went home and tried to find them.

They didn't exist. The thought occurred to me at the time: how is this any different than living behind the Iron Curtain? It doesn't matter, really, whether it is the government or some less centralized and controlled mechanism which controls what we see and hear. If we never find out the truth until it is too late: after we have voted, after our opinions have calcified, what good does news reporting do us?

The dominant narrative at the time was Thomas Ricks and a leaked classified memo that said Anbar province was "irretrievably lost". Looking back from today's vantage point, we all know how that turned out.

For the next 24 months, America was treated to a relentless barrage of negative punditry and "analysis" like this sneering summation from Slate's Fred Kaplan, which (in hindsight) turned out to be something less than prescient:

The benchmarks place such an overwhelming burden on Maliki's government, he'll unavoidably fail to meet them; when this failure becomes clear, and the American surge does little to improve matters, Bush—or, better still, his successor—will pull out with a shrug and the patina of good conscience, absolving himself of blame for the deluge that follows. Whether or not the leaders of the White House devised the new plan with this scenario in mind (and I don't think they did), it offers a tempting way out if worse comes to dead worst.

In hindsight, Kaplan proved to be triumphantly, unrepentantly wrong. Iraq has met 15 of the 18 benchmarks.

No less a Bush critic than the NY Times reports that "the Surge, clearly, has worked":

... at least for now: violence, measured in the number of attacks against Americans and Iraqis each week, has dropped by 80 percent in the country since early 2007, according to figures the general provided. Civilian deaths, which peaked at more than 100 a day in late 2006, have also plunged. Car and suicide bombings, which stoked sectarian violence, have fallen from a total of 130 in March 2007 to fewer than 40 last month. In July, fewer Americans were killed in Iraq — 13 — than in any month since the war began.

The result, now visible in the streets, is a calm unlike any the country has seen since the American invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in April 2003. The signs — Iraqi families flooding into parks at sundown, merchants throwing open long-shuttered shops — are stunning to anyone who witnessed the country’s implosion in 2005 and 2006.

Now if only someone would alert Barack Obama. Or better still, his campaign headquarters:

An astonishing thing happened on CNN Sunday evening: Lou Dobbs told his guests, "My colleagues in the national media are absolutely biased, in the tank supporting the Obama candidacy while claiming the mantle of objectivity," and they agreed.

...DOBBS: What happened to the post partisan lofty elevated discourse we're going to have, Miguel?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm still waiting for it, unfortunately.

WEST: But who wants it?

PEREZ: Look, what the media has failed at here is putting pressure on Obama, especially, because McCain wanted to do those meetings together with Obama, those public forums.

DOBBS: The town hall meetings.

PEREZ: Yes, and Obama has really evaded the issue and the media has not been after him for it. And I think that's disgraceful.

DOBBS: Well, I think the way the national media in this country right is performing, is disgraceful. And I mean, when we - "The Washington Post" had the courage to admit that it - Deborah Howell, the public editor, the ombudsman for the "Washington Post" ran a piece this past Sunday acknowledging that "The Washington Post" has put Barack Obama on the front pages of the Washington Post three times as many times as Senator McCain. "Time" magazine has run seven covers with Obama. McCain two. I mean, this is not close, folks. And it is ugly. It is nasty. And I guarantee you, we are watching a shift in the way in which the media in this country, which is already reviled by the public, I believe it's going to be even worse.

I'm an advocacy journalist. I'm an independent populist. When I speak, people know where I'm coming from. When these news organizations are doing this and trying to pretend cloaking themselves in the mantle of objectivity, you know, they're silly, (trulish), absolutely in my opinion, despicable phonies. They need to step out, they need to be objective or get their opinions out where it can be examined...

When media donations favor the Democrats 100 to 1 and "news" story after "news" story harps on Joe Biden's alleged foreign policy expertise, yet inexplicably the much-vaunted international consensus on his plan to partition Iraq is missing in action, are we really to believe the press are impartial?

"The original 'Biden plan' seems less relevant in Iraq today than at any point," said Reidar Visser, a Norwegian academic and editor of the Iraq-focused website historiae.org. "The trend in parliament is clearly in a more national direction, with political parties coming together across sectarian divides.

"In other words, there is a very strong Iraqi mobilization against precisely the core elements of the Biden plan, and it would be extremely unwise of the Democratic Party to make Biden's ideas the centerpiece of their Iraq strategy," he added.

Today, even Kurds who already have their own autonomous enclave in northern Iraq say they oppose the "Biden plan".

What are we to think when Fred Kaplan, whose nearly flawless record of triumphantly spittle-flecked wrongness on foreign policy issues remains (like the Bush administration) sadly unimpeached, maintains that Biden's past mistakes should not be held against him? Why should we respect the foreign policy expertise of Barack Obama, who initially opposed the Surge and then (with the full benefit of hindsight - something denied the Bush administration) stubbornly resisted "changing course" when he had all the facts at his disposal? For Fred Kaplan, it appears to be sufficient that Joe Biden has "thought deeply" about foreign policy; but then the party of self esteem has always graded more on effort than accomplishment:

Whatever else one thinks of Obama and Biden, they have clearly thought a lot about these issues (in Biden's case, for decades). At committee hearings, their questions tend to go to the heart of the matter (though, admittedly, Biden often takes the long way around). And asking the right questions is the vital first step to making sound decisions. (In the secret tapes that he recorded during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy's knack for doing just that—while his expert advisers flailed about in cliché—was what stood out about him, and what probably saved the world from catastrophe.)

Biden has certainly thought a lot about foreign policy. So much so, in fact, that a mere change in administration is enough to effect a miraculous transformation in his Weltanschung. Suddenly, up is the new down and the wise and principled exercise of force for the good of mankind becomes arrogant and reckless unilateral military intervention of a kind unsanctioned by our German and French overlords. Would that all of our principles displayed such childlike elasticity:

One way to get past the magnificent charm, celebrated windiness, and political staying power of Senator Biden is through the lens of America's war with Slobodan Milosevic, whom the gentleman from Delaware famously looked in the eye and accused of being a war criminal. Senator Obama's choice for vice president turns out to be the archetype of what might be called the Kosovo Democrats. They are liberals who, during the 1990s, began to understand the necessity of the unilateral use of American force, even in the face of disapprobation at the United Nations, but changed their minds when the president defying the United Nations was a Republican and, in the war they initially supported, the going got tough.

The Kosovo Democrats supported President Clinton's decision to bomb Serbia in 1999, even though the war to prevent the cleansing of Kosovo's Albanians was not supported by a U.N. Security Council resolution. Declared the secretary-general at the time, Kofi Annan: "Unless the Security Council is restored to its preeminent position as the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force, we are on a dangerous path to anarchy." Mr. Biden would have none of it. He said in response, "Nobody in the Senate agrees with that. There is nothing to debate. He is dead, flat, unequivocally wrong."

This exchange is recounted in Ambassador Bolton's memoir, "Surrender Is Not An Option." Mr. Biden plays a role in that memoir because the senator from Delaware led the charge against Mr. Bolton in 2005 when Democrats prevented a floor vote on the nomination of the future ambassador to the United Nations. "My problem with you, over the years, has been, you're too competent," Mr. Bolton recounts Mr. Biden saying at one point during a colloquy on arms control in 2001. "I mean, I would rather you be stupid and not very effective." He concluded by saying: "I think you are an honorable man and you are extremely competent." Then he voted against Mr. Bolton.

Mr. Biden's foreign policy schizophrenia is apparent in the run-up to the Battle of Iraq as well. He said at the time that he did not consider Saddam Hussein an immediate threat and believed that America's top challenges ought to be North Korea and finishing the job against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Mr. Biden voted for the war. With more than 100,000 American soldiers perched in Kuwait on January 31, 2003, Mr. Biden said in a speech before the World Affairs Council: "If we withdraw in these circumstances without a fundamental change in [Saddam's] behavior, I have reached the conclusion that that is even more damaging to us than if we were to go with an anemic cast of the willing to take him down."

This balancing act has been a hallmark of Mr. Biden's approach to the current global war in the last seven years. In 2003, he said he believed Saddam was pursuing nuclear weapons and could acquire them within five years. Two years later, Mr. Biden made it a point to call out the Bush administration for misleading and deceiving the public on pre-war intelligence.

In early 2006, Mr. Biden made a push to send even more troops to Iraq, arguing, with Senator McCain, that the current force levels were not enough to protect civilians from terror militias running roughshod throughout Iraq. But when the president in 2007 embraced a strategy to send more troops and focus on protecting the civilian population, Mr. Biden skedaddled for the hills, plumping for a policy that would have effectively partitioned Iraq into three autonomous federal states.

When President Bush rolled out his strategy to send a surge of reinforcements for our beleaguered expedition in Iraq, Mr. Biden made a point to say how he would be lobbying his Republican colleagues in the Senate to oppose the strategy. Nonetheless, in the months of the early primary days when Mr. Biden campaigned for president in Iowa and New Hampshire, he chastised some of his Democratic colleagues on the trail for promising to withdraw the troops from Iraq at too rapid a pace.

At what point does "deep thought" begin to resemble calculation?

And more importantly, at what point can the reading public legitimately question a professional media who, by every available metric, have demonstrably NOT been evenhanded in their coverage of either the war on terror or this election? How can Howard Kurtz, whom I genuinely believe to be one of the bright spots in a dim profession, speak of a war on the media?

The truth is that for years and years, the media have been at war with the facts. Kurtz states that the media are no longer the gatekeepers:

Bloggers on the left and right increasingly drive media coverage by turning up the volume on questions until they are difficult to ignore. Sometimes they are right, as when they questioned what CBS's Dan Rather said were National Guard documents in a 2004 report on President Bush's military service that led to Rather's ouster as the network's anchor. And sometimes they are wrong. Last year, the New Republic retracted a soldier's dispatch on petty wartime cruelty in Iraq, and National Review Online acknowledged that two blog postings by a former Marine about military movements in Lebanon were misleading.

Major newspapers, magazines and networks no longer play their traditional gatekeeper role in the digital age, as was evident during the eight-month period when the National Enquirer was charging former senator John Edwards with fathering an out-of-wedlock baby. Most national news outlets did not report the allegations until last month, when Edwards acknowledged an affair with a former campaign aide but denied being her child's father.

Still, traditional media outlets can amplify and legitimize such reports, which might be why the McCain campaign is fighting so hard to keep the Palin allegations confined to the Internet. Denouncing the news media as biased also plays well with many Republican voters.

Mickey Kaus is right when he calls unreported and underreported stories "the undernews". What Kurtz seems not to want to face is that millions of Americans remain oblivious to blogs. Until they see such stories in the mainstream media, they don't exist. The press ignored the Swift vets and their allegations, and what few outlets gave them a hearing heaped their allegations with scorn to the point where the term "swift boating" has now become synonymous with smear campaigns. How many Americans know that the Kerry campaign used lawyers to threaten and harass local radio stations who planned to air the documentary Stolen Honor? Can anyone imagine the furor if the RNC had used similar tactics against Michael Moore?

It is the blatant one-sidedness of the mainstream media that makes the public mistrust them so: their arrogance and their refusal to submit themselves to the same scrutiny they demand of the subjects of their own news stories.

Intellectual honesty like William Saletan's is a rare thing in their over politicized world. In the midst of one of the ugliest political campaigns on record, it takes a twisted but intellectually honest beautiful mind to apply unintended pregnancy rates to the daughters of every presidential candidate in recent memory and conclude:

An unintended pregnancy rate of 6 to 7 percent, in a population of 37 women, means two to three pregnancies per year. Even if you discount the rate further, on the grounds that these are the wealthiest and best-educated families, the notion that none of these young women got knocked up before their parents' nominations or elections is—pardon the term—almost inconceivable. If you're a politician, and your daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, you can be systematically excluded from the sample of nominees by self-selection, voters, or running-mate vetters. But not if the pregnancy never becomes known.

If any of these daughters conceived, but no pregnancy or birth was reported, what happened? One possibility is miscarriage. But the Guttmacher analysis suggests a different answer: Most unintended pregnancies in the higher income and education brackets end in abortion.

Remember that before you judge or poke fun at Sarah Palin. She's not the candidate whose daughter messed up. She's the candidate who didn't get rid of the mess.

Fred Kaplan wouldn't have asked that question. It wouldn't have interested him because it doesn't harm the Bush administration or help Michelle Obama's children. That's a shame, because I pick up a newspaper or browse to Slate Online, not to have my political biases confirmed but to learn more about the world I live in. I subscribe to The Atlantic and The New Republic because it does me good to read authors I disagree with, even if they make me angry sometimes.

I found myself, when Sarah Palin was first chosen, agreeing with some of the more reasonable of her critics. I was skeptical about her experience, but then I am skeptical of Barack Obama's experience. Unlike so many of the commentators I read daily, I apply the same criteria across the board, regardless of political orientation, and by those criteria I find all of the candidates in this race lacking for one reason or another.

This is truly an unusual race, historically. If you divorce yourself from partisan blather, it is almost unprecedented to have two Senators with no governmental executive experience both nominated by major parties and still in the running.

That is odd. And yet the press continue to shill for Barack Obama as though this nonpartisan, nonracial fact were not in evidence. Joe Biden is also inexperienced by conventional standards, but you'd never know this to hear his defenders in the unbiased media. So this brings us back to Lou Dobbs and his comments about the dividing line between commentary and news coverage. And it brings us back to the line between advocacy journalism - between months and months where the media were well aware of the John Edwards story and rightly (in my opinion) refused to touch it, and where they leapt on the filth about Sarah Palin after how long?

How many days, Howard, before there were three front page stories in the New York Times about, not the candidate (mind you) but her daughter?

For what office is Bristol Palin running?

There is no "war on the press". For years now, the press has had a running war on their political opponents. The unpalatable truth here is that more than half of the American public now believe you are out to get Sarah Palin.

This should give the media pause because you own the megaphone.

If you are honest, if you really care about covering the news (as opposed to waging ideological war on your opponents), perhaps you need to steel yourselves to take a long, hard look at the way you are doing your jobs. You have lost the confidence of the public you serve. That is no accident.

Accountability is not just for those you claim to watch. Those who claim the right to be above the law had better be able to demonstrate some ability to police themselves.

In a system where everyone else must submit to checks and balances, who provides the check over your power to ruin lives and reputations, if the media are above the law? You'd better come up with a good answer.

And fast.

Update below the fold.

I've been thinking some more about this.

Via Glenn Reynolds, I found this analysis of Kurtz' "War on the Press" argument:

...What we're witnessing, I think, is the death of a media paradigm that we lived with comfortably for, oh, the last year or two. And John Edwards is to blame! Here's the relevant typology:

Model One: There's the press, and the public. The press only prints "facts" that are checked and verified. That's all the public ever finds out about. The press functions as "gatekeeper."

Model Two: Model One broke down with the rise of blogs, which (along with tabloids and cable) often discuss rumors that are not "verified." The public finds out about these rumors, as rumors. And it turns out that blogging obsessively about rumors is a pretty good way to smoke out the truth (see, e.g., Dan Rather).

But in Model Two, the rumors still don't get reported in the "mainstream media"--the respectable print press, the non-cable networks--until they are properly confirmed. Blogs and tabloids are a sort of intermediate nethersphere between public and the elite MSM that serves as a proving ground where the truth or falseness of the "undernews" gets hashed out. Stories that are true then graduate to the MSM.

Model Three: I thought Model Two would be a workable model for years, until either the MSM itself went totally online or until almost all voters stopped paying attention to it. I was wrong! The Edwards scandal did Model Two in. For months, the MSM failed to report the increasingly plausible rumors of John Edwards' extramarital affair even as it became the widespread topic of conversation in blogs, in the National Enquirer, and among political types. The disconnect turned out to be painfully embarrassing for the MSM, especially when the rumors were finally "verified" with Edwards' confession. A lot of what we are seeing now is the MSM not wanting to go through another Edwards experience.

Why can't the MSM bear to fulfill its Model Two role? a) No press person likes to not be the center of attention. You want to talk about what people want to talk about. That's how you make money, for one thing. And maintaining a disciplined silence on a rampant undernews rumor--even an unverified one--made too many reporters feel as if they worked for Pravda; b) Suppressing an undernews scandal about a Democrat subjected the MSM to charges of pro-liberal political bias (to which respectable organizations are particularly sensitive, because they are largely true); and c) even much of the left was disgusted by the MSM's behavior regarding the Edwards rumor.

We are now, I think, making the next logical leap, to a model in which unverified rumors about public figures are discussed and assessed not just in the blogosphere or the unrespectable tabs but in the MSM itself. I say welcome! With NYT reporters and bloggers all openly discussing unverified reports,, whatever is true will become un-unverified that muhch faster. And the public is proving, by and large, to be quite capable of distinguishing between stories that are true and rumors that are still being investigated.

We're not quite there yet--the unverified rumors that Palin had faked her pregnancy were printed in the MSM, but the McCain campaign itself gave the MSM implicit permission by saying it was releasing the news of Gov. Palin's daughters real pregnancy in order to scotch the fake pregnancy speculations of bloggers. And Schmidt's tormenters were still only checking out rumors, not printing them. But the avalanche of questions to which Schmidt is being subjected--and his discomfort--suggests that the MSM is in the process of shifting to a new role, in which it aggressively investigates and discusses rumors rather than waiting for the industrious blogosphere to force its hand.

They waited with Edwards. They don't want to go through that again. It helps, of course, that this week's rumors involve a Republican.

Once reporters start peppering campaigns with questions, after all, I suspect it will be impossible to keep a lid on whatever rumors the MSM is peppering the campaigns about. That's particularly true in a "synergistic" world where a reporter like Howard Fineman not only writes for Newsweek but also appears on cable shows that have an imperative to discuss whatever is hot now. It's particularly true in a Drudgian world where the activities of MSM reporters-what they're working on, what questions they're asking--is itself news for the Web. In that world, the line between "checking out" tips and open discussion of at least the non-actionable rumors can't really be maintained and shouldn't be, given the truth-divining virtues of widespread publicity (which functions as an APB to the citizenry to come up with evidence).

It's tempting to assume Steve Schmidt's cries are cynical, reflecting a desire to gin up a war between his candidate and the intrusive, condescending elite media--a war in which voters will side with his candidate. Why doesn't he just do his job, under Model 2, and answer the MSM's questions? But it's also likely Schmidt's anguish is at least in part authentic shock at the looming inability of even Model 2 to keep a lid on unrestrained speculation. When even MSM reporters start behaving like bloggers--when candidates' can't squelch discussion of their rumored sins, but have to wade into a non-stop public debate about them--the job of a campaign strategist will get a whole lot harder. ...

Two points here:

First of all, as I mentioned above the fold, Kaus seems to assume that (if we accept that Model Two is passe and Model Three is now the de facto standard for investigative reporting) the media will play it straight down the middle. Pardon me if I doubt that premise. During the speculation on why the Edwards scandal was not pursued more closely (actually, at all) Jack Shafer offered the following theory:

So why hasn't the press commented on the story yet? Is it because it broke too late yesterday afternoon, and news organizations want to investigate it for themselves before writing about it? Or are they observing a double standard that says homo-hypocrisy is indefensible but that hetero-hypocrisy deserves an automatic bye?

That's my sense. Consider how the press treated Jesse Jackson when he admitted to having fathered a daughter outside of his marriage. The baby arrived in 1999, but Jackson didn't go public about it until 2001, after the National Enquirer scheduled its story about the little girl and her mother. Jackson, who loves preaching to others about their morality, suffered less than two seconds of opprobrium from the press after his admission.

If hetero-hypocrisy truly deserved a pass from the media, why did they jump all over Sarah and Bristol Palin? Let me offer an alternative theory.

Perhaps the press observe a double standard under which liberal hypocrisy gets little or no coverage, but conservative hypocrisy gets disproportionate coverage? This theory stands up far better. When was the last time the LA Times ordered its writers not to cover a sex scandal involving a conservative?

And how many liberal blogs have banned their own bloggers for leaking salacious personal details about a conservative politican?

The problem with the Internet, as we've seen, is that it makes it far too easy to sully an innocent party's reputation by deploying rumor and innuendo which (once unleashed, disseminated and amplified by blogs and email) can never be fully rebutted or retracted. The Netroots learned this early on, and have intentionally used this tactic to harass and intimidate their political opponents. No tactic is too base or despicable, from delving into the sex lives of their victims to stalking female victims, threatening them, and releasing their social security numbers. Unleashing vicious rumors by proxy (which take time, effort, and money to rebut in the media) will prove a potent political weapon.

Knowing they have an ally in the media who are likely, given past performance, to pursue these kinds of vile rumors selectively against conservatives and withhold similar scrutiny of progressives will only encourage attacks on family members of politicians.

Who in their right mind will go into politics knowing their spouses and children are likely to become the victims of hateful tactics like this? There is, quite literally, no way to protect them.

And now the media have become accomplices of the kind of despicable people who went after a married mother of five, questioned the parentage of her Down's syndrome baby and, on the basis of a photograph taken in 2006, tried to imply her 17 year old daughter had given birth to the child. Even the most elementary investigative reporting could have shown these allegations to be ludicrous. There was no reason for reporters to ask Steve Schmidt about DNA testing for a married mother. The idea that she should have to submit to such an indignity on the basis of unverified Internet rumors is beyond the pale.

The idea the Rielle Hunter should have to submit to DNA testing is beyond the pale. None of this is anyone's business. People's sex lives ought to be private unless for some reason there are allegations that they have committed a crime or their sexual conduct was committed within the course and scope of their public duties, as in the case of Bill Clinton. Then, as distasteful as it is, the allegations must be investigated. At that point, private sexual conduct is no longer private because the individual brought what should have remained private conduct into the public sphere.

But in this case, the media need to have a little decency. Decades ago, they kept the news of JFK's infidelities out of the public arena. I'm not so sure I have a problem with that. Though I don't approve, I don't care what he did in his off hours. That is none of my business.

All I ask as a citizen is that the media make some attempt to be evenhanded in their coverage of the news. I'm still waiting, but my trust level is not high. Until they show me some evidence that they can be trusted to treat both sides of the political spectrum fairly, I'm not willing to let them delve into every aspect of even innocent family member's lives.

There are some things we don't have a right to know.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:00 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

Palin and Sunny Optimism

Peggy Noonan on America, seen through the eyes of the Obama campaign:

It's the poor child born with two heads and no medical insurance, and they're using him as a bowling ball... you know the terrible things they say. Everybody is sick in their world. I'm sorry... you know, everybody is an unhappy, unwed single mother whose feet are exploding.

Contrast this with what I considered the best line of Mike Huckabee's speech last night:

"I really tire of hearing how the Democrats care about the working guy as if all Republicans grew up with silk stockings and silver spoons. In my little hometown of Hope, Arkansas, the three sacred heroes were Jesus, Elvis and FDR, not necessarily in that order.

My own father held down two jobs, barely affording the little rented house I grew up in. My dad worked hard, lifted heavy things, and got his hands dirty. The only soap we had at my house was Lava.

Heck, I was in college before I found out it wasn't supposed to hurt to take a shower.

I'm not a Republican because I grew up rich, but because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me."

What Sarah Palin's nomination says to voters is that the American dream still works.

It says that an ordinary citizen with extraordinary ability, ambition and work ethic can still rise from working class origins to become Vice President of the United States of America. How ironic is it that the party that professes to stand for the little guy against entrenched money and the upper classes is working so hard to scuttle her nomination? No one (least of all me - I've been rather cautious about endorsing her) has said she won't have to prove herself to voters. She will; just as Barack Obama will have to demonstrate that he has something more substantive than talking to the press and being a community organizer on his resume if he hopes to dispel the doubts raised by the indisputable fact that his experience places him in the bottom 6% of presidential candidates chosen in the last 150 years.

That's not a racist observation, nor a partisan one. It's an empirical observation grounded in easily verifiable statistics. The race is on, and the American people will be the judges of the best qualified contenders for the Oval Office.

I have a feeling the prize will go to whoever can best articulate their vision of how they see this country.

I don't think most of us want to see America as a nation of faltering losers who can't take a step without the help of the nanny state, but this may well be the defining difference between the two parties. It's going to be an interesting race.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:55 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

While I'm Writing....

The Anchoress really is your one-stop shopping destination for Sarah Palin bloggitudinal excellence.

Just start at the top and keep scrolling - I tell ya, the womyn must be mainlining caffeine :)

Meanwhile, the Blog Princess is trying to finish several projects at work. Sorry, priorities.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Palin's Speech

As Brad Plumer and nearly everyone else over at The New Republic notes before going on to bury the observation in caveats:

a "Just about every liberal I know thinks that Sarah Palin unleashed a terrifyingly effective speech tonight. ".

She did what she needed to do, which was show that she hasn't been rattled by the intense and unrelenting assault on her character and her family. She was calm, collected, and focused.

What this speech did was take the focus off how her opponents are trying to portray her and demonstrate that single minded sense of purpose that propelled her to that podium in Minneapolis/St. Paul. If anyone doubted why she was chosen (and I freely confess I wanted her to show me she has what it takes) I think last night's performance went a long way towards dispelling those doubts.

Oh yeah. Girlfriend can hang.

Video via StoptheACLU. Transcript of the speech here.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:06 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

September 03, 2008

Wednesday Morning Tunes

Posted by Cassandra at 07:18 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

NY TimesWatch: When Is 7 % "Similar" to 49%?

Answer: When the Times wants to imply Republicans are homophobes. Noted with no little amusement:

This morning's New York Times has the fascinating results of a poll of the views of Republican National Convention delegates on a variety of issues. The poll reveals that 49% of the GOP delegates support either gay marriage (6%) or civil unions (43%). Only 46% of the delegates believe there should be no legal recognition whatsoever of same-sex couples. (The main article, which does not discuss this particular result from the poll, is available here.)

Several things are noteworthy about this. First, support for civil unions, an idea that just ten years ago would have been thought radical by most people — and certainly by Republicans — is quickly becoming the default position across the political spectrum, not just on the left.

Second, party convention delegates are ideologically more extreme versions of party voters. But in this case, Republican delegates are actually more willing by a margin of 10% to support legal recognition of gay unions (49%) than are Republican voters overall (39% — 11% for gay marriage and 28% for civil unions). This may be partly due to the fact that the convention is dominated this year by McCain delegates, who are likely more moderate and libertarian on many social issues than delegates at past conventions. But it's not as if these delegates are social-issues squishes. Fully 81% of them believe abortion should not be permitted at all (43%) or should be more strictly regulated (38%). Even as they are softening their views on gay families they are maintaining their strongly conservative stands on other issues.

Third, unlike their views on some other issues (like abortion and approval of President Bush), Republican delegates are closer to the middle of the American electorate on same-sex relationships than were Democratic delegates, 90% of whom supported marriage (55%) or civil unions (35%). Among all voters, 58% now support either gay marriage (34%) or civil unions (24%), a difference of just 9% from what the GOP delegates believe.

Talk about burying a truth you find inconvenient:

The sharp contrast between the Republican and Democratic delegates’ stands on the issues offers something of a refutation of the popular lament among some Americans that there is no difference between the two major parties.

For example, just 7 percent of the Republican delegates would choose expanded health care coverage over lower taxes, compared with 94 percent of Democratic delegates who would. The two parties’ views on the war in Iraq, abortion rights and same-sex marriage are similarly at odds.

This is true only if you believe that comparing 7% to 94% (in the case of health care) is in any way "similar" to comparing 49% to 90% (gay marriage) .

But then keep in mind that this is the Times. No wonder my daughter in law thinks all Republicans hate gays. This is what happens when you get your news from the New York Times.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 02, 2008

Integrity

Maximum respect.

Not sure I agree about the "we have lost" part. But the honesty takes guts.

Via Glenn, by way of Bloodthirsty Liberal.

There are a lot of good people out there, and they aren't all conservatives. It's good to remember that.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:35 PM | Comments (84) | TrackBack

The Voice of "Moderation" Speaks

...Not just a disturbing thought, but a nightmarish one because the Republican nominee-to-be rang up an obscure wingnut with a walk-in closet full of skeletons in a fit of pique.

Ah.....

[breathing deeply]

I just adore the smell of fear mongering in the morning. Don't you?

*rolling eyes*

Posted by Cassandra at 12:18 PM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

Palin Offers Both Sides A Disturbing Look In Mirror

What do we believe in? Each of us - whether we are conservative, libertarian, or progressive - claims a set of values which animates and informs our lives:

... as Democrats and progressives, we don't pass judgment on children born out of wedlock, or their parents. Every child is a gift, and we don't believe it's the government's, or anyone else's, business what you do in your own bedroom.

Oh yes. There is what we know to be right. And then there is that which we excuse away, even though we know it to be wrong. The trick, apparently, is to claim that your opponents did it too:

As Joe notes in his post below, pregnancy and birth control - and overall sexual mores - are key issues for conservative voters, and for the Republican party leadership. It is therefore newsworthy, and a legitimate issue, while admittedly somewhat uncomfortable, to inquire as to the practice of those very same issues in Sarah Palin's own life.

Strictly speaking, most ethicists would argue that two wrongs can never make a right. Logic suggests that using an action your political opponent believes morally right as justification for an act you believe to be morally wrong can only be viewed as doubly wrong.

After all your opponent acted in accord with his moral beliefs. You, on the other hand, utterly betrayed your own.

The choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee has progressives acting like a gaggle of peeping Toms. Suddenly the party that is ostensibly about guilt free sex and women's liberation is maliciously peering through the bedroom window of a happily married couple hoping to find evidence of sin. Suddenly progressives are counting on their fingers in hopes of catching two high school sweethearts having the kind of joyful, normal, natural sex they claim is "nobody's business". Advocates of a woman's legal right to control her reproductive destiny are second-guessing the medical decisions of a grown woman, made with the advice of her attending physician. People who claim that even a late term "fetus" can never be more than just a lump of tissue with no rights accuse Governor Palin of being a bad mother who endangered her baby.

What baby? There would be no baby, had she not chosen to bear it. Whatever happened to the mother's unquestionable right to control her reproductive destiny? What about her right to privacy?

After this happened, Palin didn't head to a hospital or even leave the conference, even though the premature rupture of fetal membrances [Ed note: Huh???] is normally a cause for an immediate examination by an obstetrician, who will observe the fetus on a monitor to guard against infection and other life-threatening complications.

By what alchemy did a "fetus" magically become a baby whose life could be endangered? Was the beginning of human life the moment Ms. Palin's political opponents decided her private medical decisions provided a convenient avenue for partisan political attacks?

And whatever happened to the sacred right to privacy progressives fought so ardently to defend for women? Is this really a principle they wish to sacrifice at the altar of political expediency?

Then there's the issue of putting a candidate's children under the political proctoscope. Eugene Robinson neatly absolves himself of all responsibility for what he is about to do, all the while deploring the wrongness of it:

As I tried to make my way through St. Paul today – protesters managed to make driving, or even walking, anywhere pretty much impossible – people I ran into were asking one question: Is Sarah Palin doing what’s best for her daughter?

This isn’t a sexist question. It would also be asked of a male politician in her position. Is it fair for any parent to put his or her pregnant, unmarried, 17-year-old daughter through the klieg-light scrutiny of a presidential campaign? Actually, there’s a better way to put the question: Would you do that to your daughter?

There are lots of other issues involved with Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, chief among them her mother’s far-right views on sex education and abortion. But what’s truly awful is that the girl’s pregnancy would be reduced to “issues” at all.

Here we go again. "Woe is me! This is just awful, and really it's against everything I believe in, but I just can't help myself! After all, it's inevitable!" Except, it's not, is it? But Robinson - and progressives - are hardly alone in finding themselves in conflict with their professed values. Suddenly, everywhere I look I see conservatives who once stridently asserted a woman's traditional place at the center of home and family ardently defending Governor Palin's decidedly nontraditional lifestyle. Suddenly, progressives sound like parodies of arch-conservatives and conservatives sound like the feminists they have derided for years. What gives?

It's quite a compelling image: An accomplished -- even glamorous -- working mother, projecting to the world that she can and does have it all: five children, a successful career and a husband who doesn't mind being Mr. Mom. Oh, and she's going to be a grandmother, and her infant has special needs, and she's running for vice president.

The facts of life for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are fascinating and seem, frankly, exhausting. Her children range in age from 18 years to 4 months. Track, the oldest, recently enlisted in the Army and is headed for Iraq. Daughter Willow, 14, is in high school, and Piper is 7. The baby, Trig, was born in April with Down syndrome. Daughter Bristol, 17, is pregnant and is going to get married, her parents announced yesterday. That news added fuel to an already heated debate on blogs and in the street about the appropriate balance between child-rearing and working -- and whether Palin can balance the extraordinary demands of both without shortchanging either.

Within two hours of The Washington Post reporting news of the pregnancy on its Web site, more than 1,000 people had weighed in, arguing back and forth about whether Palin, 44, is placing her own political ambition above the needs of her family.

"She should not be held to a different standard than the Democratic nominee," said McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt yesterday. "No male candidate would ever be asked that question. . . . I think women in America are likely to be angered by the double standards. This isn't the 1950s."

In Michigan yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama told reporters: "How a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics."

Palin has carefully portrayed herself throughout her career as someone committed to both family and profession -- and tough enough to handle both. She made a show of dismissing the chef at the governor's mansion saying she wanted to do her own cooking, and that the kids were old enough to make their own sandwiches. And no one can recall her ever having a full-time babysitter.

"You walk into her office and Piper is sitting there, the baby is in the crib -- that's just the way it is. This is how she lives her life. Someone who was in a meeting with her recently said she was discreetly nursing Trig," said Palin's biographer Kaylene Johnson.

From interviews with those closest to Palin emerges a description of a hectic lifestyle, but one in which the hominess and rural community of Alaska have enabled her to have her kids around her while she works and have offered a deep bench of family and friends for child-care support. She has shown up to meetings and news conferences carrying Trig in a baby pouch.

As a middle of the road (read much despised and reviled RINO) conservative and a woman, I can't help wondering if the defenders of Governor Palin would be so forgiving if she were a Democrat? What would they say to the idea of babies in the Vice President's office, were she not of their own party? I have a feeling they would not be so supportive.

And likewise, I'm fairly certain progressives would be howling with outrage at the questioning of her sex life and reproductive choices, were there a (D) preceding her name. The truth is that both sides are acting strangely here.

A few months ago I noted that Senator Obama's candidacy offered America the chance to examine our views on the troubling subject of race relations:

As I've said before, though I don't think the answer to racism is more talk, the only way to get past our ridiculous squeamishness about certain aspects of both the race and religion debates may well be to just bring them out into the open. There is nothing wrong with asking a candidate for public office (especially one who has invited debate on a topic) polite questions; nor is there anything wrong with discussing current events.

Where I do draw the line is at name calling. I understand the impulse that makes people want to use the word 'nigger'. One seeks, by altering our instinctive associations with that word, to lessen the pain it invokes. That is why many blacks object when whites use the term, yet utter it themselves with careless abandon. But the bottom line is that whoever uses the word, it is still an ugly name.

One day, hopefully, that is all it will be: just one of many ugly slurs with no more power to offend or hurt than any other ugly name. But why go there? Is name calling ever really acceptable behavior? Why not just object to the behavior rather than condemning the person?

In the end, the right response to racism has to be to uphold a consistently applied standard of behavior that holds true regardless of skin color. Chris Rock had it right: we don't get to congratulate ourselves for doing the right thing, whether we are white, black, yellow or brown.

We are supposed to do the right thing, every day, regardless of our skin color.

Sarah Palin's nomination seems to have brought some compelling issues to the forefront of our national consciousness. These are deep questions; questions that transcend party lines. Once again, as with the candidacy of Senator Obama, I think that wherever we stand on the political spectrum, we are being offered a valuable opportunity to examine our beliefs without the distracting prism of party affiliation.

The fact that so many of us seem to be behaving in ways that belie our professed beliefs says something. What it says remains to be seen.

Perhaps it means that our professed values are not so concrete as we may have thought. Perhaps we excuse things in people we like and trust that we will not tolerate in those we view as strangers. Perhaps it simply means we maintain different standards for our friends and enemies; that the rules of "right" and "wrong" we claim to live by are far more fluid than we like to think they are. If this is the case, by what right do we judge others? If it turns out our only basis for condemning them is that they don't belong to our "tribe", if we have no objective standard of right and wrong to which we hold ourselves and the rest of the world, then we are not in fact a nation of just and impartial laws, but of fickle and arbitrary men.

And if that is that case, by what right - by what set of values - do progressives judge Sarah Palin? Will they

judge her by their own professed values?

It's easy, in the midst of a political campaign, to forget that the people involved are, after all, people. Some of them -- Sarah Palin, for instance -- place themselves under a media spotlight of their own free will. Others -- her daughter, for instance -- wind up there through no fault of their own. Imagine yourself in her position: there you are, seventeen years old, pregnant, unmarried. Maybe you understand what happened and why; and maybe your parents and friends do as well. But zillions of bloggers and reporters and pundits are about to make the most personal details of your life into a political issue, and they don't understand it at all. And yet, despite that, they are about to use you and your unborn child to score points on one another, without any regard whatsoever for you and your actual situation.

I want no part of this. None at all. To those of you who think otherwise: that's your right. But ask yourself how you felt when Republicans scored points using Chelsea Clinton, who didn't ask to be dragged into the spotlight either.

As far as I'm concerned, it's fair game to consider Sarah Palin's statements about her daughter's decision, and to compare them to her own views about abortion. That's a story about whether or not Sarah Palin sticks to her beliefs when they affect her own family, not about her daughter. But it is not fair game to use her daughter, or any of her kids, as pawns in a political argument.

Or will both sides in this political passion play claim that two wrongs, in fact, make a right? Is it partisan politics or morality that rules our actions at the end of the day? Our daughters are watching us, and they will learn from our behavior here. They will take their lesson not from what we say, but from what we do.

I, too, will be watching.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:16 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack