Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Newspeak of the Week - Conservative Firebrand

A conservative firebrand is someone who is always willing to speak out against the powerful - on behalf of people who are even more powerful.

Friday, December 05, 2008

How to Read a Windows Registry

The main challenge when reading the Windows registry is telling the difference between useful keys and malware and bloatware keys that can be - and should be - safely removed.

I have developed an easy system for making this judgment. If you are not sure whether a key is something useful or something that shouldn't be there, delete it! Then reboot and check the registry for that key. If it comes back, it shouldn't be there. If it doesn't come back, it's a useful key.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Amanda Marcotte - Misogynist!

Ok, not really. But it's a very rare occasion that I get to call out one of my favorite feminist bloggers for underreacting to a feminist outrage. I am, after all, a dude.

However Amanda M rushed through her viewing of this amazing music video:

and she has this thing completely backwards.

Amanda M writes on Pandagon:

The song leaves me cold (I was amused to read that Ben Folds produced it, and then congratulated myself for relatively consistent taste), but the video is pretty looking, and owes a lot to the creepy scenes with the Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret”.* It seems like the least controversial thing ever.

Differences of taste aside (this is one of the best songs I've heard in a LONG time, though I will admit the production on the vocals is a bit grating and hard to understand on first listen), this song is not "controversial" so much as it is intentionally horrifying and disgusting to record executives.

It's a song, basically, about the clash between the consumerist male fans that her label wants to attract, and her core of female fans, the "Expert Double X's." Note the headbanging-blonde nod to Smells Like Teen Spirit at the end, another breakout single that decried the corruption - by violent, uncomprehending brutes - of the community that had sprung up around the band.

At the end of this video, the men who symbolize the label's target market are moved to violence by the spectacle of the cabaret show they are witnessing, which violence escalates into a full-scale saturnalia of food throwing (a reference to the last scene of "Bugsy Malone," itself another dig at the scarf-wearing kid gangsters in the US and UK where she performs), and sexual conquest (including a release of repressed homoerotic energy as is common at gatherings of violent homobigot thugs).

In the end the cabaret troupe is destroyed by infighting while the spectators are all slain by the monstrous, useless rabble the band's success has unleashed upon them.

So, you could imagine how the label execs might be rubbed the wrong way. But of course to actually vocalize the source of their dismay, they would have to A)confront the very assumptions that make them record execs in the first place and B)give enough of a shit about the music itself to actually listen to it enough to figure out what the hell it's saying.

Instead, they decided to go with "her tummy is uncommercial."

Honestly, it's one of the most unusual and darkly hilarious examples of record company ignorance - and impotence, given that she split from them over the incident and they will now not even get to reap the financial rewards of her almost inevitable success as a solo artist - that I've ever seen.

Bravo to Amanda Palmer for recording this song. The world needed to see what the record industry is really like.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

NewSpeak of the Week: Democracy

Democracy: Government by the people of rich nations, for the rich of any nation, of the people of poor nations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Afghanistan War - Still Awesome!

Illuminating article on The Awesome War of Good Neighborliness, our righteous and wonderful invasion of Afghanistan.

It's still pretty much assumed that only crazy people opposed the Afghanistan invasion. After all, it was so obviously necessary and good.

Yet the war has accomplished none of its objectives, and continues to do so. It killed an untold number of people, and continues to do so. It has created rising instability in nearby nuclear-armed countries, and continues to do so.

This is what awesome wars look like. Not like that shitty war in Iraq.

Maybe from this it begins to look less crazy that some of us tend to oppose even obviously awesome wars.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bad Ideas are Good for You!

In Blogistan there is much talk of the War of Ideas. Our mentality about certain aspects of the conversation is dominated by this metaphor of war. In some ways, the metaphor is apt, and useful for thinking about certain things.

We have to be careful, though, how literally we take the analogy. Ideas cannot fight each other as such. To the degree they do fight each other directly, they fight out in the world, as people try to implement them - good ideas succeed and propagate, while bad ideas fail and die out. That's closer to the idea of natural selection than war.

In mass media (including the Internet) ideas compete via the adversary system - certain people become advocates of certain ideas, and those people use various forms of leverage (rhetoric, market power, community-building, etc.) to advance their viewpoint.

The leap we often make, to the great detriment of our understanding of the dynamic power of the human mind, is to identify ourselves with the ideas we advance and defend, and our enemies with the ideas they advance and defend.

It's a natural enough tendency. The trouble is, people are large - they contain multitudes. Everyone has areas of their mind that function very well, and other areas of their mind that are underdeveloped and ineffective. Our good ideas come from the areas that work well, bad ideas from the less developed areas. The way you tell the difference is through a vigorous expression and defense of ALL your ideas, the good and the bad.

The trouble comes when people assign so much emotional weight to their ideas that they cannot accept that all their ideas might not be good. They become perceptively dead, spending all the energy that should be going towards development on defending their current view of the world.

Meanwhile their opponents see this and use it as an excuse to calcify their OWN opinions into beliefs - "if we are opposing THOSE people who are so obviously deluded and wrong, we must be right!"

Never forget that to whatever degree humankind can benefit from a true War of Ideas, it is a war that rages inside of the mind of the individual. If you cannot, at the end of a decade, look back over your life and survey a veritable wreckage of bankrupt thought and action, you have wasted ten years of your life.

Advance and defend your ideas unto their death, but no farther.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Staying Home

I found this Yglesias post about the possible social effects of a prolonged economic downturn particularly interesting. As most of you probably know, I voluntarily left my career a year ago to become a stay-at-home parent/househusband. The reason it made a lot of sense is that my wife's income was vastly higher than mine, and secondarily because I do all the cooking anyway.

Despite the fact that there are quite a few households where the woman earns more money than the man, it's still quite rare, for cultural reasons, for the man to stay home. It's certainly possible that economic pressure may drive some change in this area, since two working parents of small children who have a big disparity in income can often realize an increase in their standard of living if the lower-earning partner stays home.

Such a shift would be good for me, since not only is it true that cultural baggage leads to fewer people doing it that way, the basic lack of stay-at-home dads makes being a stay-at-home dad a somewhat isolating experience.

I work, basically, in an all-female world. The men I meet are understandably wary of me because I spend a ton of time with their wives while they're at work, and to the degree that they want to befriend me it doesn't work very well because our schedules don't fit together. On the other side of the coin, when some moms from the preschool get together for 'girls night' they don't invite me, for obvious reasons.

I'm fortunate that I maintain some friendships with a group of mostly younger single guys, and I get together with them once or twice a week to drink beer and play cards and watch sports and play video games. But not everyone has that option - it's largely a luxury of men who live in the city they grew up in, as I do.

All in all, the work of stay-at-home parenting is very rewarding, but the social life that comes with the job is lonely and challenging, even treacherous. It seems likely that there will be some sort of tipping point where a significant enough increase in the rate of stay-at-home fatherhood leads to a social structure in the stay-at-home parent world that has more of a place carved out for men.

Until then, it must be said that for most men the job just isn't that appealing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anatomy of an Urban Myth

Through the Internet, and specifically through the website, people have come to understand a lot better the general concept that stories that are claimed by many reasonable and otherwise trustworthy people to be true are nonetheless false.

I personally learned through Snopes many years ago that a story that I had actually propagated myself was in fact an urban myth. The way it happened is instructive.

One day I was sitting around in an apartment in college when my buddy Tony brought out a tin of cookies. He told a story about how his Mom had sent him these cookies that she had baked from a recipe his aunt had gotten via a long, involved story similar to the one that you can find at this Snopes page.

The cookies, as I recall, were extremely good, as the cookies represented in this story must be if the story is to be plausible. And I went around for quite some time, many years in fact, telling people that I had firsthand knowledge of the story's accuracy. That is, until in 2002 a kind friend pointed me to the aforementioned Snopes page. Ouch.

Of course, you can see pretty clearly in hindsight that what I actually had was fourth-hand knowledge (Tony's Aunt tells Tony's Mom who tells Tony who tells me) of a story I had made zero effort to verify. The reason I felt like I had firsthand knowledge is because I had tasted the cookies. But "I ate some awesome cookies!" is not evidence of anything.

In the case of cookies, these sorts of things are fairly harmless. But in the case of things like alleged Iranian arms smuggling, the consequences actually can be quite dire.

I happen, for whatever reason, to know a lot of people both IRL and via email/IM relationships who work, in some capacity, within the orbit of the Pentagon (in all but one case, it's as contractors, not actual Pentagon personnel.) A LARGE percentage of these people, more than half, have told me some sort of story about how they had firsthand knowledge of the accuracy of administration claims that the Iranian government was smuggling arms into Iraq in support of anti-American fighters there.

It's very frustrating to have these conversations because it's very difficult to find a gentle way of telling someone that despite the fact that I trust and respect them and don't actually think they are lying, nonetheless I give their anecdote zero value and continue to believe that the story their anecdote supports is in fact false.

But at the risk of reopening old wounds, folks, it just isn't the case that the Iranians have any significant role in supplying anti-American fighters in Iraq.

You can see in this article how well-meaning people, having come across some tantalizing-sounding (and, crucially, privileged) piece of data, would be eager to pass along their newfound "knowledge" to others. Obviously there were Iranian arms found in weapons caches used by Iraqi fighters. But without any detail or context, you simply can't draw meaningful conclusions about such information. It's less than useless because it's quasi-information that is nothing but an encouragement for everyone to leap to the same ill-supported conclusion all at once.

We got into Iraq just that way. We were fortunate we didn't get into Iran that way as well. "Data" is not the plural of "anecdote," even when the anecdote is about an official US enemy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

George Will is a Nincompoop

Yglesias posted a little while back on a topic that I think is tangentially related to the discussion that Uncle Kevin, T and I were having on the previous two threads.

There's a whole genre of middlebrow conservative commentary that seems to be largely devoted to churning out windy blather meant to paint purely tactical political calculations as brave defenses of bedrock conservative principles.

This is no new phenomenon - the quotation "Politics is a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles" is attributed to Ambrose Bierce well over 100 years ago, and the sentiment is probably as old as politics itself.

It's unusual and mildly humorous, though, the degree of transparency and lack of self-awareness evident when people like George Will pretend that, as Yglesias quotes: "[Mitch] McConnell opposes public financing of presidential campaigns on Jeffersonian grounds."

Look, I understand that part of a partisan commentator's job is to put things in a philosophical context. Liberals do that when we talk about the grand importance of counting every person's vote, making sure that everyone who has a right to vote is able to vote if they want to, etc. That's all fine.

If I write that the reason I want every vote counted in Decatur, Georgia because disfranchisement of blacks is a cancerous blight on our national honor, etc. etc., I'm being a good liberal commentator. If I pretend that's the reason that Jim Martin wants to make sure every vote is counted in Decatur, Georgia, I'm being a nincompoop.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is Conservatism Obsolete?

Uncle Kevin had a good point in comments:

You would think that at some point someone would notice that the liberals are guilty of excess and the conservative are guilty of abject failure. There is a difference. One needs moderation, the other needs elimination.

I'm sympathetic to that point of view. With regard to the Republican party in its current incarnation, and to Conservatism as a brand, there is a lot of truth to it.

I would caution that there is a real reason that conservatism (as opposed, for the purposes of this comment, to Conservatism) exists. When solutions are implemented, those solutions invariably have flaws. Those flaws alienate people.

Chuck Klosterman wrote a brilliant article about his quixotic opposition to instant replay review in sports where he says: "And the reason I am willing to overlook what's obvious is because I would rather understand an old problem than feel alienated by a flawed solution. Which, I suppose, is precisely what conservatism is."

That's exactly right, in my view. And there's nothing invalid about the basic sentiment "I realize the old way sucked, but I liked it better." I feel that way about the BCS, for example.

The problem, electorally speaking, for modern Republicans is that at this point there's very little for them to push back against other than extremely ephemeral cultural factors that are only loosely connected to public policy. The main liberal development of the last 30 years is incremental cultural acceptance of same-sex romantic entanglements. Other than that, liberals haven't really accomplished anything significant since the 1960's.

So what Conservatism is left with is a pastiche of unconnected resentments - armchair Cold Warriors still seething over the raw deal Nixon got, aging Wall Street wannabes still bent out of shape over imaginary welfare queens, repressed sex fiends pissed off that Clinton banged a bunch of chicks, etc. There's just no significant constituency anymore for rolling back Great Society programs or busting up the excesses of the New Deal.

I guess what I'm driving at is, we're on the precipice, barring an almost unthinkable catastrophe, of the next great series of liberal policy developments in American society. From those developments will likely spring a new generation of conservatives who didn't much like the way things turned out. That's inevitable, and it's the way things are supposed to work. It's just been so long that what was once honest conservatism has morphed into this ridiculous Conservative homunculus that has no real purpose other than keeping toads like Jim Gilmore in cheap suits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I, for One, Welcome Our New Ant Overlords

People seem to be talking past each other quite a bit on whether or not, as conventional wisdom would have it, the United States is a "center-right nation." The question is sort of clumsily put, but nonetheless there is a lot of pontification on the subject at the moment and people seem to be drawing contradictory conclusions.

One reason for this confusion is a common but little-known analytic effect that has to do with the coarseness or fineness of one's view of the situation.

It's important, first of all, to make it clear that when I say "coarse" and "fine" I'm speaking in a purely non-pejorative sense. "Coarse" does not mean "crude" here. Here's a broad example:

Imagine you were an alien trying to answer the question "what's Earth like?" The first thing you might do is look at the earth from very far away. This would give you the reasonable, correct impression that the Earth is mostly water, and that in general the Earth is dominated by marine activity - water plants, fish eating water plants, swimming predators, etc.

If you took a closer look and actually came down to Earth, though, you'd find that Earth also includes a vast, technologically developed species that lives entirely on land. You would probably conclude from this that Earth is best described in terms of the activity of human beings, despite the fact that this seems to contradict your previous evaluation.

If you took a still finer view of the situation, you would realize that in fact in terms of the sheer AMOUNT of activity the Earth is dominated by two species - ants on land and krill in the oceans. Of course at a microscopic level all this would be dwarfed by bacteria and protozoans...

Which one of these answers (if any) would be most useful to your imaginary alien species depends largely on the context - that is, WHY you wanted to know what the Earth was like. But regardless of which answer you decided was best, they are not contradictory in any meaningful sense. They are all true.

The same is true of "how conservative is the US electorate?" question. The coarsest possible way of investigating this question is perhaps "if you asked everyone in the US whether they are conservative, moderate, or liberal, how would they answer?" And in that case it's been true for many years that far more people would say they are conservative than would say they are liberal.

At a slightly finer level, you could look at people's voting patterns and assign their electoral choices "Left," "Right" and "Moderate" and see how they voted - that would probably reveal, in a sense by definition, that people are pretty evenly split between liberalism and conservatism.

Or you could go down much finer to an actual policy level and assign various policies a place on the political spectrum and see how much support they got. In this last case you would find that Americans are mostly wooly-headed leftists, because in general popular opinion is very supportive of government spending, non-interventionist foreign policy, and other things that are associated with the political left. Just about the only left/right policy question that consistently comes down on the conservative side is "do you want taxes to be higher?" and even then if you structure the question in a certain way ("do you want other people's taxes to be higher?") you get a "liberal" answer.

The funniest part about all of this is that it reveals perhaps the most mundane conclusion possible - that the most effective way to remain popular as a politician in the US is to be thought of as generally "conservative," be identified with whichever party is popular at the time, and to pursue generally liberal policies while keeping taxes low on the large majority of the population.

George W. Bush governed this way - and it worked in the sense that he got reelected. Unfortunately in the medium-term, all his policies turned out to be giant failures, so now he's really, really unpopular.

So in conclusion, you can see that in America you should get elected when your party is popular, then implement policies that work out well. Not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dreaming of the Mountain

Last night I dreamed I was attending some seminar but when it let out I realized I had no way to get home. In the dream I lived in a place called Werth. I asked a middle-aged guy there how to get to Werth and he sort of looked at me skeptically and told me it was only about six miles but that "Rocky Mountain" was in the way.

I sat down on the curb and thought about what to do as darkness and cold descended to chase away the warm evening sunlight.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 10

I'm thoroughly tired of football; both my fantasy teams are skidding with Tony Romo out (I'm a combined 2-4 in my two leagues since Romo went out, after starting the season a combined 11-1), and rooting for the Browns is like being repeatedly kicked in the nuts by a karate master.

Even so, I feel an odd obligation to continue churning out 4-way parlay picks. So here goes, a last-minute entry for week 10:

ATLANTA -1 over New Orleans

New Orleans is one of the teams that moves sports commentators to engage in what Matt Yglesias once called (in the context of individual NBA players) as "The Consistency Fallacy." They look really good one week, then quite bad the next week. We often see this described as "the Saints need to find consistency from week to week." But really, all teams exhibit this sort of variance around their mean output. Absent some clear evidence that the Saints are exhibiting an UNUSUAL level of variance in their level of play from week to week, we're safe in concluding that a team like this is... an average team.

Meanwhile the Falcons are pretty good; their running game is awesome and their defense is good enough. Falcons grind out a clear but close win here.

EAGLES -3 over Giants

This is a weird-looking pick, because the Giants look consistently great while the Eagles are sort of hit-or-miss. But at home, badly needing a win, I think the Eagles will have a fairly easy time creating running lanes against a speedy but not especially powerful Giants front 7.

PITTSBURGH -3.5 over Colts

No idea why this line is so low. The Colts have looked TERRIBLE against good teams, with the exception of last week against New England where they just looked half-bad in a win. Hate to pick Pitt but this looks like easy money.

Green Bay -2.5 over MINNY

Old-school conventional wisdom says that a game like this is a clear-cut Minnesota win. A team that runs the ball very well and stops the run very well against a team that wants to pass and can't stop the run. But I have a feeling this is one of those games that goes the other way, on turf, midseason, lots of points and the game turns on a big mistake by a Minnesota QB in the fourth quarter.

Plus I can't bring myself to parlay FOUR home faves against each other. Seems like death.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In the Annals of Chutzpah..

... surely John Boehner will have his own chapter.

Today Boehner released a statement assailing a president-elect Obama for his choice of Chief of Staff on the grounds that the selection betrays a lack of bipartisan comity.

He also joins the legion of boneheads who have no idea what the word "ironic" means.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I Propose Free Wine!!!

A few Democratic bloggers have magnanimously pointed out that despite people's current conviction (which may well hold up on reflection, or it may not) that McCain ran an especially slimy campaign, he in fact did engage the public on a lot more substantive issues than Republican presidential candidates generally have in the modern era.

One substantive issue McCain brought up a lot was earmark spending. He often brought it up in the context of the federal budget and the deficit, and in this context Obama rightly pooh-poohed the idea that earmark spending is a significant part of the federal budget picture.

Even so, there is a significant issue there. The earmark system DOES invite corruption, and it almost guarantees that the dollars are not being spent entirely on things that are truly in the national interest. That's not really a controversial point. The problem is, what do we do about it? Answering THAT question is the thorny part, and McCain never made a serious effort during the campaign to provide that answer.

In my view, the main root of the earmark spending system is the difference in financing structure between the federal budget and state budgets - namely that the federal budget can meet its general budget obligations by borrowing money from the private sector, while state governments are usually prohibited from doing so. The inability to borrow money creates a slightly perverse incentive structure in state governments with regard to certain types of expenditures.

Put a bit more simply, imagine you're running the government of, say, Montana, and you learn that there's some rare goat that's going to die out if you don't build a retaining wall along the edge of some canal somewhere. Not being a goat-hater, you'll probably want to do something about it. But if you have a budget shortfall and there is a decision about whether to cut the goat wall or lay off some police officers, well, bye bye Mr. Goat.

So in theory that's why we have earmark spending. In such an instance, the Governor of Montana goes to the senior senator from Montana and he says "dude, you gotta get me a half million dollars for this goat wall." The senator goes through the process needed to insert the goat wall money into a budget bill and eventually the goat wall gets built and the goats are saved.

Of course in this instance I've chosen to spend the imaginary money on something that could reasonably be construed as being in the national interest - saving a rare subspecies of goat. In reality, a lot of earmark spending cannot reasonably be construed that way. The "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska is a famous example - it was purely a giveaway to Alaskan construction companies.

The problem is, no matter how much people may hate the idea that their tax money is going to some sweetheart construction deal in the middle of the wilderness, there's not a lot they can do about it. The only people who really have control over the process are getting much more benefit out of it (in terms of financial benefit to their state economy) than they are giving away (in terms of the impact on the federal tax rates of their constituents: essentially none), which means that all the decision-makers are essentially in a room together going

Governor: I propose free wine!
Senator: I second!
Governor: All in favor?
Both: AYE!

One big solution that's often proposed for this is the so-called Line Item Veto. This would allow the president to veto individual spending projects that he or she deemed to be not in the national interest. The problem with that solution is that it just paints another layer of politics over the process. The president is no more likely, in actual practice, to use his power responsibly than a senator or congressperson, especially given our Electoral College system that establishes a handful of states as "battlegrounds" where presidents must curry favor if they hope to be reelected.

Another solution would be some sort of nonpartisan review board to review earmark spending to determine if it serves a legitimate purpose, and ensure that the process of disbursing the money is fair. That sounds reasonable enough to me in the abstract, but one would imagine it would be a nonstarter with the vast majority of congresspeople, since it would reduce their power to please their constituents.

I'd be interested to hear from anybody who has ideas on this topic. I imagine there must be some innovative stuff out there regarding how to see that earmark spending becomes fairer and more effective dollar-for-dollar. I just don't know what it is, or where to find it.

At a Loss

I feel I should make a post about how I feel today, but I'm not feeling too eloquent. I did look back at something I wrote before the 2004 election, when I thought Kerry was going to win. Some of it is funny and still kind of apt. I don't mean for it to be a buzzkill - Raul Groom is intended to be taken with a large pillar of salt, after all.

The coming years are not going to be as much fun as we like to think. There will be no wild bacchanals where we trumpet the rolling back of the army of repressed sex fiends and psychopaths who have hounded us for as long as we can remember, and probably longer than that. Jim Morrison will not rise from the grave to proclaim the Age of the Lizard, and there will be no National Catharsis Booth where you can line up and pay $6.50 to kick George W. Bush squarely in the nads as many times as you can afford. But while it pains me to say it, alas, all of this may be A Good Thing.

Not that such shenanigans wouldn't make for a rollicking good Saturday afternoon, mind you. I can think of few things more potentially satisfying than to tie up John Ashcroft and force him to watch as I rolled the pages of the King James Bible, one by one, into huge bomber joints and chain-smoked them until he passed out from the contact buzz or I had burned all the way down through the Book of Job, whichever came first.

But despite what TV and the Ghost of Ronnie Ray-Gun would love for us to believe, life is not about wandering cheerily from one manufactured diversion to the next, sipping chardonnay and toasting the good health of our partners in conspicuous consumption. Life is work, a raging, roiling sea of work, and we take our pleasures where we can, in between turns in the field plowing and thinking of the Seventh Generation. The other option is to sit, drunk and bloated at sowing time, in the hopes of reaping what we do not sow, and if you leaf very far into good King James' Double Wide Rolling Papers, you'll find out what happens to swine like that in the end.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Voter ID

I've mostly suspended posting because I'm deathly afraid I will write something stupid that will jinx Obama and lead to four more years of McSame.

However, I got into a bit of a dustup with some friends over voter ID requirements and I wanted to put out a PSA because there's a massive amount of confusion about them.

Prior to the 2000 election, in almost all cases the procedure for voting was that you walk into your polling place, find your name on the rolls, sign the blank that says "I'm me!" and vote.

After the 2000 election, which of course was rife with problems, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, a portion of which was designed to standardize and modernize elections to avoid the "butterfly ballot" problems that depressed the Gore vote in Florida and eventually led to the inauguration of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately another portion of HAVA was an attempt by Republicans to get the camel's nose under the tent on Voter ID laws. Federal law now states that the FIRST time you register to vote in a federal election you must provide identification to the registrar, and if you don't you are then required to show ID at the polling place.

That's all the federal law says. If you are not voting for the first time, or if you provided a photo ID at the time of registration, you can still vote the old way - walk in, sign the box that says "I'm me!" and walk into the voting booth and cast a normal ballot.

On the matter of STATE law, there are some states where this is no longer the case. In most cases the ID requirements are superbroad, allowing virtually anything that could remotely be construed as ID, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, but of course if you live in one of those states you should check the state government's webpage for a list of acceptable ID.

The following states require a voter to present SOME form of identification, but do not require a picture ID, and require voters not showing any ID to vote via provisional ballot:

South Carolina
Washington (State)

There are two states that have ironclad PICTURE ID requirements: Indiana and Georgia. Both allow provisional ballots to be cast by people without ID, but in Georgia you must provide a photo ID to the registrar within two days of the election.

In Florida, the law is weird and arcane and despite the fact that based on my reading of the law you don't have to show ID, I recommend that Florida voters just cave and show ID.

In all other states, you can still vote the old way. Although many states (including my state of Virginia) have laws allowing poll workers to request identification, you can refuse to provide photo ID and just sign the box that says "I'm me!" The only circumstance in which this is not advisable is if you are, in fact, someone else.

People ask me a lot "Why is this so important to you?" Well, there are a lot of reasons. The most important is probably just that I think proper administration of voting procedures are important to democracy and I chafe when somebody tells me I have to do something that is not, in fact, required of me.

The second, perhaps more substantive reason, is that I think the end effect of HAVA and other provisions allowing poll workers to ask for ID is that a generation from now, someone will propose a federal ID law and people will not resist it because they will think "I thought that's the way it already was!"

As for WHY I don't like voter ID laws, those arguments have been made at length elsewhere and I'd be happy to have a discussion on that another time. For now, let me announce again that I, a Virginia voter who has voted before in a federal election, I will not be showing ID at the polls. If you live in one of the states that allows you to vote by normal ballot, and you oppose voter ID laws as I do, I invite you to exercise your rights and do the same.

For everyone else, just show ID! Your poll workers will appreciate that you aren't like that annoying dude with the silly T-shirts.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 9

BROWNS -1.5 over Ravens. Because the world is not so evil that the Browns will be swept by the Ravens.

RAMS +3 over Arizona. Because I've been saying Arizona is overrated and it keeps burning me, to the point where my instinct is now to pick against them. And my instincts are always wrong.

Green Bay +4 over TITANS. Because the Titans have to lose sometime.

DENVER -3.5 over Dolphins. Because it's at Mile-High.

McCain's Name Nowhere to be Seen at Palin Rally

They say that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. So my question is, when did the McCain/Palin campaign happen the first time?

The other sign handed out to supporters read “Florida is Palin Country,” but those signs were neither paid for by the Republican National Committee nor the McCain campaign. In small print, the signs were stamped with the line “Paid for and authorized by Putnam for Congress" — as in, the re-election campaign of Florida congressman Adam Putnam, whose district skirts Polk City.

Palin/Putnam 2012!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What Studs Terkel Meant to Me

I would love to be able to profess a greater familiarity with Studs Terkel than is actually the case. I have been exposed to him to the degree that probably most people have - I have picked up his work from time to time, enjoyed it, and moved on. I never bothered to make a considered study of the man during the portion of his life that overlapped mine. Now, he is gone. I have no easy explanation for the effect that hearing of his death had on me. Studs Terkel was, I now know, an important part of my life.

It was Hunter S. Thompson who made me want to write to begin with. But the Good Doctor made me want to write about a life that never existed; a parody of a bent and dangerous ethos that in reality I left behind long ago, and which was mostly an act to begin with.

Studs Terkel made me want to live life and copy it down as best I could. He reminded me that in the details of my small and meager existence there is monumental truth and joy that passes through me and into the lives of everyone arund me, weaving us all into the great web of history that sustains the human experiment against the howling winds of evolutionary oblivion.

Studs Terkel made me proud to be myself. For that I will remember him until I, too, have gone from this life. I hope that by then someone can say the same of me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

GI Joe is a Communist!

This Ezra Klein article caught my eye yesterday, but with all my various Halloween responsibilities I wasn't able to blog about it until this morning. The point in the linked article I was most interested in was this bit:

"Interestingly, self-identified conservative officers often supplied moderate responses when asked about spending on Social Security, health care, and education."

The reason this caught my eye is because it reminded me of a point often made by Stan Goff, the retired Special Forces officer turned radical author and activist. Goff argues in his book Full Spectrum Disorder that contrary to conventional leftist belief, the military is a fertile ground for ideas about restructuring of the domestic economic framework because the military is essentially a socialist collective.

I've always felt conflicted about this; though I'm certainly a socialist, I'm not sure I think that a socialist democracy based on a military model of socioeconomic organization is necessarily the type of socialist democracy I'd want to live in.

In any case, here is some evidence that what Goff is saying may in fact be true. The whole article is interesting; I recommend it.

The American Prospect's Election Night Guide

I found this to be kind of cool.

Some of it is just silly:

"Vigo County, Indiana: This county, which includes the city of Terre Haute, has correctly predicted the winner of the national election every year since 1960."

This is fairly meaningless; there are enough counties in the US that you can find counties whose voting patterns seem to "predict" the ups and downs of the stock market, but if you tried to trade on that information you would lose money. Using historical results that way is called "trending" and it's completely invalid.

However, there's a lot of good stuff in here including a rundown of some competitive House races. This is a great Playbill for political junkies planning election night parties.

Of Course Not!

This audio clip (YouTubed because I couldn't embed the NPR audio) is pretty amazing:

The context here is that Eagleburger was sent on NPR by the McCain campaign to make the case that McCain should be president. You can hear in his voice that he's struggling with how to deal with the question of whether he thinks Palin is prepared to be president, and for a moment he tries to stop himself. But in the end, he can't think of anything else to say besides "of course not."

One thing this demonstrates is the fact that like Bush, McCain tends to select people for jobs based on how much he trusts them rather than whether he has any reason to believe it's the right person for the job. McCain's campaign is flagging, but it's not as if there's no one in the known universe who is still willing to go on NPR and say "McCain is awesome and so is Sarah Palin!" In fact, it's entirely possible that Eagleburger was willing to do that.

Unlike Bush, McCain is not enough of a "political man" (to use Nixon's term) to make sure the people loyal to him to understand what it is he's asking them to do. That's something you can see with a person like Scott McClellan, who in hindsight we know had serious misgivings about how he was handling his job as press secretary. He wasn't totally comfortable saying the things he was saying, but the Bush people (and I understand Cheney may be an important piece of this; it's hard to know) made damn sure McClellan knew what his job was, and since he was loyal to the president, he did it.

Say what you will about Bush (and I have!), but the man has a head for politics and understands how to convert a team of loyal supporters into a coherent political strike force. With McCain you have a man who, like Bush, has no real interest in actually governing, but who has no real interest in campaigning either.

If I had to guess, I'd say McCain probably has been wishing for some time that someone else had won the GOP nom. His heart's not in this campaign, and the wheels are coming off.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

So Many Silly Wingnuts, So Little Time

I chuckled when I saw this next piece, because it actually occurred to me while I was Fisking the George Newman Op/Ed to wonder why the WSJ didn't just get a Club for Growth hack to put his name on the article instead of using some who-dat fake economist from the eighties.

In the end, I assumed that the WSJ had made a considered judgment that someone less tainted by past moronity would be a more credible messenger for their howling misstatements, but it was a bit strange - putting out ridiculous pseudoeconomic gobbledygook during election season is the Club for Growth's entire raison d'etre.

As it turns out, a more probable explanation is that the Club for Growth already had something in the works with the National Review, which appeared today in the form of an article by antigovernment maniac Pat Toomey.

To Fisk Toomey's article would be redundant - it's basically the same dick in a box with a different bow.

I was particularly tickled by this part, though (emphasis mine):

Hoover’s Revenue Act of 1932 raised the top marginal income tax rate from 25 percent to a whopping 63 percent and imposed new and increased excises taxes.


Obama has vowed to inflict much of the same damage.

Toomey is referring to Obama's plan to raise the top marginal income tax rate from 37.9 percent to 39.6 percent, an increase of 1.7 percentage points. Hoover raised the top marginal income tax rate by 38 percentage points.

These two acts are about as similar as drinking water from a drinking fountain and shooting yourself in the face with a fire hose.

Unreal America

I really like the point Yglesias is making here. His longer post is interesting in its own right, but I'd boil the main idea down to this reminder:

To liberal white men like myself, McCain, Bush and Palin's "real Americans" business certainly is frustrating. We may even get angry about it. But it's also a laugh line. It's funny that McCain and Palin would try to imply that we're not real Americans and that our votes shouldn't count.

To black people, or to women, or to anybody whose history in this country includes a substantial period when they really weren't considered by law to be real Americans, and their votes really didn't count, well, it just isn't funny at all. In fact, it's irresponsible and disgusting and the GOP should take a lesson from this election and just stop it.

The rest of us, of course, should not hold our breath.

Obama Talks Cabinet

Obama, when asked if he would appoint Republicans to serve in his cabinet, said that he would.

Chuck Hagel is mentioned specifically in the article; as I've said before I think he will probably be offered something. However, while I agree with Obama that "national security in particular should be nonpartisan" (quoting the NYT's paraphrase there), I don't think it makes sense, if you are going to replace Robert Gates immediately, for a Democrat to appoint a Republican to replace a Republican to head DoD. There are plenty of qualified Democrats.

As for the specific question of whether Gates should be kept on, I see the logic. But I also agree with Yglesias that the main question here is not whether Gates has done a good job but whether Gates would enthusiastically support Obama's plans for Iraq and Afghanistan. That's a call that Obama will have to make after sitting down with Gates and talking things over with him. Whatever Gates' qualifications for the job, if he's not willing to do what the President wants him to do, he's out.

And that's as it should be, partisanship aside.

McCain Trying to Win, or Just Manage His Defeat?

I made repeated pledges after embarrassing myself in 2004 to never make sweeping predictions before an election. So far be it from me to say that this means that John McCain is going to lose.

However, I see no real way of interpreting the news that McCain is spending money on robocalls in Arizona except to say that he seems to be diverting at least some attention to the goal, not of winning the election, but of managing his defeat in such a way that the stench of defeat doesn't affect his electoral prospects in future statewide elections in Arizona.

As Yglesias has pointed out many times, even if current polls show the race close in Arizona, it makes no sense to spend money there because any election in which Arizona is close is an election in which Barack Obama is going to win by, like, a gajillion votes.

Meanness for Meanness' Sake

This is an element of Bush-era Republican politics that I just don't get - freezing people out of campaign events because they aren't supporters.

I understand if you're very worried about protesters you want to be extra careful, and I also understand that you don't want your opponents' signs or apparel at your event. But when you're having an event at, say, Penn State, and the President of the university is a "big Democrat," the longstanding norm is that what you do is have him up on stage to wave at the crowd and then you make a little quip about how he's a Democrat but he's OK and he smiles and he leaves and yuk yuk yuk. The chances that the Penn State prez is going to scream "war criminal" or do anything to disrupt the event is just vanishingly remote.

The fact that McCain, and particularly Palin, are unable to bring themselves to observe these sorts of niceties suggests something very troubling and unstatespersonlike about their temperaments.

A Message for the Palin 2012 Exploratory Committee

By now the blogosphere is abuzz with the news that Sarah Palin said she's interested in running for President in 2012.

She's surrounded, I think it's clear, by sycophants who are all convinced that she's the presumptive GOP nominee in 2012. And I think it will be easier for her to hear it first from someone like myself who, I think we can all agree, is not really a real American.

Ms. Palin:

You are currently involved in a campaign that has been, by any reasonable measure, a giant failure. A big reason for that failure is that the fundamentals of the election don't favor Republicans, but another important factor has been the seemingly endless string of monumental, boneheaded errors on the part of the guy at the top of the ticket, John McCain.

Yet among all those missteps, one stands out above all the others for its utterly inexplicable idiocy. It is, in a way, the gaffe from which all the other gafffes proceed.

Sarah Palin, YOU were that gaffe.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

George Newman: Assume a Can Opener

Via Pandagon we find this wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal by George Newman. In the article, which is titled "The Markets are Weak Because the Candidates are Lousy," Newman throws the kitchen sink at his topic, bringing in a vast array of disparate arguments.

Unfortunately one thing Newman never gets around to is presenting even the tiniest shred of evidence that the article's titular contention, that the market is weak because the candidates are bad, is actually true.

Even so, the supporting points are ridiculous enough in their own right that I thought the article was in need of a thorough Fisking, so here goes. I'm going to paraphrase most of Newman's points because I want to be less likely to run afoul of fair use.

Investors have heard enough from both candidates in the last month or two to conclude that prospects for a flourishing, competitive, growing and reasonably free economy in a McCain administration are bad, and in an Obama administration far worse. (In fact, the market's bearish behavior over the last couple of months pretty closely tracks Barack Obama's gains.)

This is a good one. Newman doesn't present a graph or any actual data to support the idea that the market's bearish behavior closely tracks Obama's gains. I'm sure that a reasonable person could look at such a graph and conclude there was some relationship... but I have a feeling the graph would make pretty clear that the conventional wisdom, which holds that a tanking stock market tends to help the party not in control of the White House, is a lot more likely than Newman's apparent belief that the stock market is afraid of Barack Obama.

Anyway, that's as close as Newman ever gets to supporting his thesis that Obama's success is causing the market to tank. From here on, he figures we're all on board with this assumption and he begins to explain WHY the prospect of an Obama administration is causing your 401(k) to pull a Shrinky-Dink.

Claim #1: Obama will double the minimum wage and index it to inflation, causing inflation, unemployment, and loss of corporate profits.

Status: FALSE

Currently the federal minimum wage is $6.55 an hour. Due to legislation signed by President Bush, It's already scheduled to increase to $7.25 an hour in July of 2009. Obama's campaign has called for an increase to $9.50 an hour by 2011. For those without calculators, twice $6.55 (the minimum wage now) is $13.10. Twice $7.25 (what the minimum wage will be if Obama does nothing to raise the minimum wage) is $14.50.

Furthermore, as has been discussed on this blog several times, the idea that increasing the federal minimum wage would lead to big increases in unemployment is outdated. It is unlikely that increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour would have any measurable, direct effect on the unemployment rate.

Claim #2: Obama will appoint a "militant labor boss" as head of the Dept of Labor, and outlaw a secret ballot in strike votes.

Status: Strangely, wildly and unnecessarily false

I searched around for a while to see if I could come up with someone who could plausibly be called a "militant labor boss" and who is also on the short list for Labor Secretary under Obama. My conclusion was that he must mean Richard Trumka, currently President of the AFL-CIO and Obama's presumptive Secretary of Labor. Trumka is a "militant labor boss" to whatever degree any union leader could be described that way - he made his name on the radical notion that a company that offered its employees pensions and health benefits as part of their compensation should have to pay its employees pensions and health benefits. So what Newman is really objecting to is that the Department of Labor would be headed by... a labor leader.

As for the "secret ballot" thing, I'm not sure why Newman characterized Obama's plans this way. No one wants to take away the secret ballot for strikes. There is a vibrant debate about whether it's desirable to switch away from the secret ballot method of actually organizing a union in the first place, but this controversy (known as 'card-check'" in shorthand) has nothing to do with strikes.

Claim #3: Obama will appoint George Soros to head the Treasury Department, and Soros will impose "double taxation" on multinational corporations that will cause them to flee the US.

Status: Unclear, and wildly unrealistic

How to set tax rules for corporations that operate in more than one country is an age-old problem, and new approaches are always being considered. In recent years the old conventional thinking that corporate income should not be taxed twice has come under some scrutiny, and there are other possible ways of calculating income for MNE's that would result in a higher effective tax rate. It's possible, though I'm not aware of it, that Soros has weighed in on some aspect of this question and `that's what Newman is referring to.`

The problem with all of this is that George Soros, a 78 year-old multibillionaire former hedge fund tycoon who spends almost all of his time overseas, has about as good a chance of becoming Obama's Treasury secretary as does George Newman.

Claim #4: Attorney General Charles Ogletree will spend a trillion dollars on slavery reparations.

Status: Ludicrously nonsensical

Of the claims we've reviewed so far, this one is, in a way, the closest to being true. It's at least remotely possible that Obama could appoint Charles Ogletree as Attorney General, and Ogletree has indeed opined in favor of slavery reparations.

Of course, as Attorney General, Ogletree's authority to "champion" budget outlays of any kind would be... none. So it's hard to see how his views on this topic are relevant, especially since, um, he hasn't been nominated to anything at all yet.

Claim #5: Obama will "virtual[ly] outlaw" arbitration, causing corporations to have to spend more money on legal bills and suffer the same terrible fate as the asbestos defendants.

Status: Mostly true

Hey, this one's pretty much correct! Newman is talking about something called "pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration." If you look at your credit card application forms that you signed when you got your credit card, you will probably see a section dealing with PDBMA. What this section says is that if you have a dispute with the credit card company, you can't take them to court. Instead you enter a proceeding run by a company hired by the company you're in the dispute with, and you have to abide by their decision.

It's true that if this practice is outlawed, corporations will have to spend more in court fees.

None of this has anything do with asbestos.

Claim #6: Health and Human Services Secretary Hillary Clinton would, erm, wait a minute...

Status: Srsly?

Hillary Clinton, currently a United States Senator and recent runner-up for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, will not be your next Secretary of HHS. I will not debate this.

Claim #7: Obama will create a cabinet-level position devoted to requiring companies to pay women equal pay for equal work, causing corporations to be forced to pay their female employees more.

Status: Hopefully true?

I'm skeptical this will really happen, but hey, here's hoping this is the nut and Newman is the blind squirrel.

Claim #8: Obama will impose a "windfall profits" tax on oil companies, leading to catastrophic results for "exploration, supply and prices."

Status: Categorically, 100% false

We'll work backwards here. The impact of a windfall profits tax on American oil companies on the price of oil would be... none. The impact of a windfall profits tax on the overall supply of oil would be... none. The impact of a past windfall profits tax on future decisions of oil companies to explore for oil would be... none.

Thanks for playing.

Claim #9: The nationalization of health insurance would force insurance companies to cover medical expenses that they currently don't cover.

Status: True

So, there's one terrible result Newman got right: Health insurance companies will lose profits because they will be forced to actually pay the claims that are submitted to them instead of rejecting them.

I'm suddenly rethinking my support of Obama.

Claim #10: Under Energy Czar Al Gore, five million high-paying union jobs will be created, thus destroying five million existing low-paying, nonunion jobs.

Status: Uh, what?

First of all, this is not how job creation works. Second of all, this is bad why? Oh, right, the deficit. Subsidizing those five million jobs will cost, like, tens of billions of dollars, according to these figures which I just made up.

Can't do that - we need that money to keep fighting in Iraq! My mistake.

Claim #11: There are many very serious people who believe the things that George Newman is saying.

Status: Sadly, no.

When you saw the name "George Newman" you probably thought, as any humble person would, "I don't know who that is because I don't keep up with economics closely enough to keep track of all the top minds in the field."

In fact, you have never heard of George Newman because no one has ever heard of George Newman. He's some guy with an MBA who used to be fairly big in the field of user satisfaction metrics, about 20 years ago.

I'd bet money that Newman didn't even write this; some right-wing think tank wrote it and shopped it around to all the academics they knew to see if they could get someone to put their name on it.

Apparently the biggest name they could get to attach his reputation to this nonsense was... George Newman. And maybe that's all you really needed to know.

Malkin Complains It All

Allowing myself the slightest bit of premature schadenfreude, I headed over to Michelle Malkin's blog (no links to Malkin; if you are interested you can google her) to see what she and the rest of the unhinged wingnuttosphere were wailing about these days.

What I found was kind of interesting; she was complaining about slanted media coverage of the race. When I saw that I was kind of disappointed; after all, the press really is in the tank pretty seriously for Obama in this election. There are plenty of absurd examples of massively unprofessional conduct by the press corps in covering and especially commenting on the race. For example, to my mind McCain supporters were right to fret about Gwen Ifill's conflict of interest in moderating the POTUS debate when she had a book coming out in January with the word "Obama" in the title

Looking closer, though, it became clear that Malkin is not actually complaining about any of that stuff. She's complaining about stuff like this, in which the following chain of events transpired:

1) A source gave the LA Times a videotape asking that the LA Times report on the contents of the videotape, but not release the actual videotape.
2) The LA Times reported on the contents of the videotape, but did not release the actual videotape.

According to right-wingers, the LA Times knows that if a videotape of Barack Obama making some comments about someone that nobody has ever heard of were to see the light of day, his candidacy would suddenly be reduced to rubble. Even though it's known what was said on the tape, and has been known for months, it would still be explosive to actually witness Obama making the comments that no one gives a damn about.

I guess I understand the right's feelings of impotent rage; I felt that way about Bush for a while after November 2004. But that doesn't mean I can't think it's pretty hilarious.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shooting People is Against the Law

One of the few useful things I ever learned in a government class was that contrary to folk belief, it is usually a crime to do violence to someone even if they are committing a crime themselves.

There are a lot of people who think that if you were upstairs in your house and you saw someone walking across your front lawn with a TV that they just got done taking from your house, and you shot them in the back with a rifle, you would get some sort of medal.

In fact you would be charged with a felony, including perhaps attempted murder.

Apparently a certain fan of Mr. John McCain was absent that day.

Authorities in northeast Ohio say a teenager was shot and wounded by a man who said he wanted to stop the boy and another from taking his John McCain yard sign.


Local Republican and Democratic officials say campaign signs are disappearing frequently and people are frustrated.

Hey, I know the feeling. You know what I like to do when I'm frustrated? I like to play video game soccer! So if you're the type of person who likes to, say, shoot at teenagers when you're frustrated, allow me to suggest investing in an XBox and giving it a try my way.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stevens Guilty

Ted Stevens has been convicted on seven counts of filing false disclosure forms and faces up to 5 years in federal prison.

Anyone who still wants to bet Stevens to win, I'll give you +660. But I don't recommend it.

Whither the GOP Moderates?

Yglesias takes a look at The New Yorker's Connie Brucker taking a look at the fact that Chuck Hagel no likey the Republicans too much anymore.

Hagel chose not to seek reelection to his Senate seat, so he's likely to be offered a job in an Obama administration, should Obama win the presidency. Colin Powell will be offered a job of some kind although since it would probably not be at the level of Sec of State he may choose to stay in the private sector.

It's too early to be counting money, since we haven't won anything yet, but it's worth noting that if the White House changes hands, the moderate Republicans who have been eating Karl Rove's shit for the last eight years are likely to defect.


Lots of talk about how McCain is looking pretty good in the Zogby poll. I would say there's no reason to believe Zogby isn't right. But McCain is grasping a bit here.

Check out what Zogby actually said about his latest round of polls.

"McCain is well within striking distance in each of the six states in which he trails. None of Obama's leads are outside the margin of error. However, unless McCain can take one of the big states won by John Kerry in 2004, such as Pennsylvania, he needs to win these six states. He might be able to survive the loss of Nevada, but probably not any of the others."

I actually had a lot of fun over at trying to find ways for McCain to win the Presidency while losing one of those states. The closest I could come to something plausible was McCain somehow flipping Pennsylvania, where he is currently behind by double digits in every public poll, or Michigan, which would involve the old sitcom "Candidate Pulls Out of Race, Propelling Him to Victory!" twist.

So, um, yeah. Not over yet, but don't believe anyone who tells you the Zogby poll looks like good news for McCain.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 8

Another short one this week - worked last week.

Buffalo -1 over MIAMI
This smacks of Obvious Game, but so much so that I can't resist.

Atlanta +9.5 over PHILADELPHIA
I like the money line in this game. Odd line.

CAROLINA -4 over Arizona
Not buying the Cards against decent D's on the road.

Indianapolis +4.5 over TENNESSEE
Tennessee's got to lose sometime. This seems a good candidate. I actually picked this the opposite way, but upon writing the blurb I reversed it. Good times.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Forgot Poland!!!

Actually, I forgot Alaska.

Ted Stevens is many things. He is the longest-serving Republican currently in the Senate. He is a gigantic laughingstock on the Internet, the result of some unfortunate comments he made about the Internet being a series of tubes, which would occasionally become clogged, perhaps with trucks. He is a legendary appropriations force and was the muscle behind the infamous Bridge to Nowhere.

He is also massively corrupt, apparently, having concealed approximately a quarter million dollars worth of gifts he received from various power interests over the years. He is currently on trial on federal corruption charges, and this seems to be dampening his support in a state where he has never received less than two-thirds of the vote in any statewide general election.

Stevens should be toast, but the Alaskan Democratic Party is not replete with battle-hardened politicians. Instead it is replete with people like Mark Begich, the two-term mayor of Anchorage. Begich has been handed the race on a silver platter and will probably win it, but he'll be vulnerable in six years, to put it mildly.

Stevent +250

Rock Bottom

Auguste and I have a bit of a joke where I IM him every week or so and say "I thought I couldn't be surprised by the awfulness of the lunatic right wing, but this is the worst thing I've ever heard of."

And every time, I really think it's the final time and I can't be surprised again. Yet when this story of the "Carved B" mugging came out, I was really sickened by the cynicism of the left, that so many of us were immediately calling the story a hoax when, to my mind, there was a good chance that some crazy mugger had actually done this.

As usual, I was wrong and the people who thought that there is no depth to which crazy right-wingers will not stoop were right.

This time is really the last time. Never again, Auguste! Never again will I be surprised. Until next week, I guess.

S&P Limited in Futures Rout

There is a feature of electronic futures markets called a "limit-down" that dictates that certain indices are not permitted to fall beyond a certain point in overnight trading. This is sort of the financial equivalent of a circuit breaker tripping to avoid a fire.

The S&P 500 got down-limited last night.

Here's some advice - change your 401(k) password to something random, then forget it. You shouldn't be looking at it more often than once a quarter. Seriously.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Movement In Minnesota

In the last three days, U of Wisconsin and the Minneapolis Star Tribune have both released polls that show Franken with a substantial lead over Norm Coleman. I'm still skeptical, but who am I to blow against the wind? Anyone who wanted to bet Franken should have done it yesterday.

Coleman +140

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, John Sununu is contesting a rematch of his 2002 win over Jeanne Shaheen. Sununu got only 51% of the vote in an extremely heavy Republican year, so he was expected to be in trouble this time. And he is!

Shaheen has all but closed the deal in this one as she was able to successfully tie Sununu to George W. Bush. New Hampshire was the only state to "flip" from Bush in 2000 to Kerry in 2004, and of course Bush has only become less popular in the intervening four years.

Sununu +230

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - North Carolina

Finally, we get to the good stuff. Liddy Dole was once considered bulletproof, but she's been running consistently behind Kay Hagan and figures to be on her way out. It's not totally clear why Dole is vulnerable; she's a heavy hitter and has always been fairly popular in North Carolina, but her approval ratings have been declining this year and she hasn't cracked 50% approval in a while.

If McCain manages to right the ship and win NC by a large margin, Dole might be able to come back. But as of now she looks like she's done.

Dole +190

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Georgia

Saxby Chambliss is arguably the worst legislator in the Senate. His positions on policy issues are the sort of frank boobery that you expect to hear from your drunk neighbor across the street, and he's the worst kind of Machiavellian viper there is.

All that said, it's Georgia, and Chambliss' meager poll showings are too good to be true, and Jim Martin is nobody to get excited about.

Chambliss -170.

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Kentucky

Kentucky is probably the best example of the monumental trouble the GOP is in this cycle. Mitch McConnell has been in the Senate since 1985 and won reelection in 2002 by about a forty billion votes. He's also the Senate Minority Leader. In other words, he should be cruising to victory.

Instead, McConnell is locked in a tough fight with Bruce Lunsford, who's not even a particularly accomplished politician. For that reason, it seems likely that McConnell will close the deal, but his weakness is a sign of larger forces at work.

McConnell -220

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Mississippi

The race between Ronnie Musgrove and Roger Wicker offers nothing for liberals to get excited about - Musgrove is your basic red-state pseudodemocrat. He was governor of Mississippi from 2000 to 2004 but lost his reelection bid after divorcing his first wife while in office.

Roger Wicker, who is technically the incumbent (having been appointed to Trent Lott's seat after Lott retired), is not a particularly distinguished candidate, but neither is Musgrove. The state favors Wicker and there's no real reason to think he'll blow it, although the race remains close.

Wicker -120

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Texas

In deep-red Texas, John Cornyn shouldn't have any trouble retaining his seat, but for some reason he's having trouble shaking off a challenge from Rick Noriega, a career military man who is currently a member of the Texas House.

It's still hard to imagine Cornyn losing this one (the Texas Democratic party hasn't won anything significant in a long time), but it will be interesting to see what the DSCC decides to do here. If they keep putting money into the race they can probably keep it respectable, but they probably can't win.

I have Cornyn at about -470.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Minnesota

This race has arguably the best backstory of any race in recent memory. Al Franken was a close friend of the late Paul Wellstone, who died while campaigning for reelection in 2002.

Republicans, led by Rush Limbaugh with an assist from Fox News Channel, used misleading footage from Wellstone's funeral to create the false impression that the funeral had been used as a political rally. Public revulsion at the "politicization" of the popular Senator's funeral propelled Norm Coleman to victory over standin Democratic nominee Walter Mondale.

Franken was outraged by this turn of events, and made the incident the emotional centerpiece of his otherwise jocular 2003 book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. He then hatched plans to run for Coleman's seat in 2008.

Here we are, and it's been tough sledding for Franken. There are a bunch of candidates in the race, including Dean Barkley of the Independence Party, and Barkley is eating up about 18% of the vote in most polls, with Franken and Coleman splitting most of the remaining votes fairly evenly.

The optimist in me would love to say that if people are this close to accepting a comedian as their Senator, most of the work is already done. But Coleman's not unpopular enough that a loss makes a lot of sense here. Obama's up big in Minnesota which should help, but I've got Coleman -120 to retain his seat. Sorry, Al.

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Oregon

In Oregon, Gordon Smith has been in the Senate for a little over a decade after taking over Republican Mark Hatfield's seat when he retired in 1996.

This race wasn't expected to be hot as Smith seemed to be pulling away when polls were taken in August, but Jeff Merkley closed the gap in September and two of three October polls show him with a small but significant lead (the third poll has him tied.)

It's an interesting race as Oregon is a quite polarized electorate, with liberal Democratic voters in the dense areas and conservative Republicans in the rural parts of the state. Gordon Smith is quite conservative and Merkley, currently the speaker of the Oregon House, would likely rate as more liberal than the median Democratic Senator, were he to win the race.

Obama's strength in Oregon is bad news for Smith, who is probably cooked. He's no better than +180 and that's likely generous. Merkley's been known to have his missteps, so it's not out of the question he could blow it, but Oregon should be rid of its last Republican holding statewide office come January.

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Republican Seats in Trouble

So, previously we looked at 22 races that are clear holds - 10 for Republicans and 12 for Democrats. That means that there are 12 races that are either competitive or where a pickup by the opposing party is all but assured; all of them are for seats currently held by a Republican.

We'll start with the easy ones.

In Colorado, Mark Udall is running strong to take over for retiring Senator Wayne Allard.

In New Mexico, Tom Udall (no relation) is cruising to victory and will take over for Pete Domenici, who is retiring amidst allegations that he improperly pressured a US Attorney to bring frivolous vote fraud lawsuits on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections, eventually leading to the firing of said US Attorney after he refused to cave in to Domenici's pressure.

In Virginia, Mark Warner, a very popular Democratic ex-governor, is running against Jim Gilmore, a very unpopular Republican ex-governor. It's not clear why Gilmore bothered, unless he's just become a professional opponent like some punch-drunk palooka taking four-round beatings from hot prospects in return for meager paychecks.

So those three races represent a net gain of +3 for Democrats; that means that the worst-case scenario for Democrats is that they would
have 54 seats in the Senate as of January 2009. However, it's likely under that scenario that Joe Lieberman would be kicked out of the party, leaving the Democratic caucus at 53.

The other races warrant a more in-depth analysis, which I will get to in a series of posts later this evening.

Cheer Up the Poor, Sad Little Internet Poll

Doing research for an upcoming post, I found this pathetic Zimbio poll asking people to predict the result of the Thad Cochran vs. Erik Fleming Senate race in Mississippi.

Though the poll is over a month old, I was apparently the first person to happen upon the page and vote. I found that to be incredibly sad. It reminded me of the end of AI where we see Teddy doomed to sit on the ocean floor with Cute Robot Kid until the end of time.

So go forth, readers, and vote! Make this poll's day!

Eleventh-Hour Senate Roundup - Incumbents & Holds

In 2006 when I was still writing for Liberal Avenger I did a series handicapping the Senate races as we approached what turned out to be a Democratic takeover in both houses of Congress.

Having an infant in the house, I haven't had the time this year, but I wanted to run down what's going on in the various races at least once before the election, so people can get a clear idea of what's in play and what's not.

We'll start with the clear holds. There are eight races in which a Republican incumbent is cruising to reelection: Wyoming (John Barrasso), Kansas (Pat Roberts), Oklahoma (James Inhofe), Tennessee (Lamar Alexander), Alabama (Jeff Sessions), Mississippi (Thad Cochran) South Carolina (Lindsey Graham), and Maine (Susan Collins.) There are two races in which a Republican is running for a safe seat that's been vacated by another Republican. One is Idaho, where former governor Jim Risch is running for Larry "Wide Stance" Craig's open seat, and the other is Nebraska, where Mike Johanns is running to succeed the retiring Chuck Hagel.

There are twelve races in which Democratic incumbents are cruising to reelection: Montana (Max Baucus), South Dakota (Tim Johnson), Iowa (Tom Harken) Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landreiu), Illinois (Dick Durbin), Michigan (Carl Levin), West Virginia (Jay Rockefeller), Delaware (Joe Biden's expiring contract), New Jersey (Frank Lautenberg), Rhode Island (Jack Reed), and Massachusetts (John Kerry.)

Next, the competitive races...

Monday, October 20, 2008

All. Races. Tighten. (Long version)

All. Races. Tighten. Here's One Reason Why.

It's a truism in politics that all races tighten, but the reasons why are not particularly well understood. Here's one possible reason - check out the "enthusiasm gap" portion of today's WaPo-ABC Tracker release:

Obama continues to benefit from an "enthusiasm gap," but McCain has narrowed the divide this week. 64 percent of Obama's backers are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy; among McCain's, it's 40 percent (up from 31 percent before the final debate).

The release is obviously implying that there is some causative* link between the final debate and the change in the enthusiasm numbers, but I imagine that in any race with a big enthusiasm gap, the candidate with less enthusiasm probably enjoys a big bump in the final weeks of the campaign. Obviously you can be enthusiastic about canvassing, making phone calls, organizing, or any of the other fabulous things people do early in campaigns.

But if you're not one of the people who does these things (and most people don't) there is usually little reason to feel enthusiastic about a presidential candidate in September. Meanwhile, there's probably some hard limit to the number of people you can get to feel enthusiastic about a presidential election. Some people aren't turned on by politics in that way.

I would imagine Obama is close to his natural limit already - there's obviously been an unusual level of buzz about him for some time. Meanwhile a lot of McCain supporters are still feeling sluggish, but as the election approaches you expect more and more of them to move into the "excited" column as long as someone, somewhere is telling them that McCain has a shot to win.

Currently if you look at the poll weighting data (even that of Republican-leaning pollsters like Rasmussen,) it is expected that a large plurality of the voters who would show up to an election if it were held today are Democrats. Given Obama's giant lead on most questions dealing with both substantive issues and "character and values" questions, that means Obama will win - the primary reason most McCain voters are voting for McCain is because he's a Republican, and that reason doesn't hold a lot of sway with independent voters.

What McCain needs to tighten the race is for Republicans who don't currently plan to show up to vote to get excited about the race in the last two weeks. It's likely to happen. . . and if the trend on the enthusiasm question is real and not just statistical noise, it's already happening.

Stay vigilant - it ain't over.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 7

Short version today.

Tennessee -9 over KC - Big spread, but bigger problems for KC trying to move the ball against a d-line that outclasses their o=line so heavily.
GREEN BAY +1.5 over Indy - Suddenly Indy is favored against the Pack at Lambeau? Not so fast.
CAROLINA -3 over NewOrleans - New Orleans won't do enough against Carolina's quality D.
Cleveland +7.5 over WASHINGTON. Because I'm going to this game and we're going to win, goddammit!

UPDATE: I hit it, despite the fact that the Browns lost. So, every silver lining has a touch of grey, I guess.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Live From New York, It's, Er...

As far as I can tell, this video is not intended as a parody of a horrible political ad.

Beyond that, I can't think of much else to say about it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yglesias Gets it Right

Matthew Yglesias today makes an important but underappreciated point, namely that it's been known for some time that a lot of social dysfunction in the United States is related to our sky-high poverty rates.

A lot of right-wing commentary is devoted to pushing the thinly-veiled idea that poor Americans with certain ethnic backgrounds (that is, black and brown people) are inherently unworthy of a decent standard of living because they just aren't valuable enough members of society. In the end, though, that's a pretty bass-ackwards way of looking at things. We know that children who grow up in poverty are less likely to achieve in school or do any number of things that would put them in a position to contribute successfully to the economy.

So even if it were true, as white supremacists maintain, that American blacks will never be as successful per capitaas American whites because American whites are genetically superior, this still doesn't constitute a coherent reason not to try to eliminate poverty. It's a non-sequitor, quite apart from being ridiculous hate-based psudoscience with no grounding in objective fact.

Which leaves us to fall back on the more antiseptic, quasi-libertarian idea that the government shouldn't help people out of poverty because this constitutes stealing from rich people, which is immoral. But this only makes sense if you take a painfully static, short-run view of econonomic success. It may be true that raising taxes on a person who makes $250,000 per year puts that person in a worse financial situation next year, or for the next five years, or whatever.

But if a person making $250k/year pays a few extra thousand in taxes to support anti-poverty programs for a few years and this results in more effective schools (because poor kids are hard to educate), cleaner, safer cities (because poverty brings with it a lot of squatting, property crime, etc.) and lower health insurance premiums (because poor people get sick more), it's pretty easy to see that at a certain level of progressivity you can make sure that the welfare state actually provides pretty good value for the vast, vast majority of the population. It's still a bad deal for the odd super-rich person who never desires to visit anywhere that is currently beset by poverty-related problems, but for the other 99.9% of the population, anti-poverty programs are a much better value than most of the other roles of government.

A Few Thoughts on Derek Anderson

Football folks, especially fantasy football folks, are now full of questions for Browns fans on the subject of our strange QB situation. The most common thing I'm hearing/being IMed is "so is DA good again now?"

This is a situation that happens with a lot of players, especially QB's, when they come into the league. They put up a couple of extraordinary performances, leading fans to believe "this guy is God." Then reality hits.

The truth is, even the best QB is going to have situations in which he's good, and situations in which he struggles. A consistent, high-quality player has few situations that bother him and lots that excite him. A lesser player has more of the former and fewer of the latter (that's tongue-twisty.)

Last year, Derek Anderson benefited from some key advantages. The two most important were:

1) Better than expected offensive line play
2) Low-quality opposing defenses.

These are two advantages that any quarterback would love to have. In Derek Anderson's case, they become even more important because of the type of QB that he is - a tall, athletically limited pocket passer with little game experience.

In the NFL, the quarterback position is particularly difficult because of the athletic abilities of defensive linemen. Imagine walking into a large ballroom and finding it packed with enormous, fantastically athletic men who can all easily outrun you AND outweigh you by 50+ pounds. Half of the men want to kill you, and the other half are going to try to get in their way for a few seconds first.

In the middle of the dance floor is a small object. Your task is to pick up this object, perform a short but technically tricky series of dance steps to wind up in a predetermined spot (that is, a spot where all those giants know in advance you are required to run to) then look around for an open area of the ballroom to toss the object.

Note that we've left out the element of actually completing passes. If you're an immobile QB, just the task of setting up is a tricky proposition, unless you have fantastic protection from the line. That's what DA got last season - both because his offensive line really was quite good and because most of the defenses the Browns faced were not that good.

Indeed, if you look at DA's signature performances last year, most of them came against struggling defenses. Cincinnati, St. Louis, Miami, Seattle, all had horrible defenses last year, and DA and his line were able to expose them.

This season, of course, the Browns play a slew of very good defenses - Steelers twice, Ravens twice, Eagles, Washington, Giants, Jags and Titans. Three of those games have already happened, and the Browns' offense has looked terrible in the first two (Ravens and Steelers) and exemplary in the third (Giants.)

The reason the Giants got handled so easily by the Browns is that while the Giants are a very good defense, by far their strongest unit is their defensive line, and the D-line was totally neutralized by the Browns O-line. Without penetration by the front four, the Giants defense lacks playmaking ability.

This week, playing at Washington, Anderson and the line get a big test. The Washington pass defense is pretty good, but they don't rely on a great pass rush to get it done - they are oriented more toward forcing incompletions than getting sacks (this is the modern Bill Belichick theory of pass defense, which evolved from the more pass rush-focused ideas of his predecessor Bill Parcells.)

That means Anderson will have to focus this week on something he traditionally hasn't been especially good at - going through progressions and making the easy throw to an open receiver rather than trying to muscle the ball into a small seam in coverage. If he has a couple of bad series, he can't get impatient - he has to stick to the game plan and trust that things will open up. If he forces the ball, the defense will pounce, and we'll be back to "Bad Derek" again.

If you look at the Vegas line, this matchup issue seems to be priced in - the Browns are considered a two-score underdog despite the great performance on Monday night. That's correct - DA still hasn't shown he can execute against solid defense.

All of which is a long way of saying I'd keep DA benched this week if you have a decent second option, but if he does manage to put up decent numbers in Washington, the sky's the limit the rest of the way.

Friday, October 10, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 6

Identified five games I like this week, so the hard part was selecting 4.

I eventually decided not to select was Jax +3.5 over DENVER. It just felt odd picking 4 road teams, so I replaced it with Atlanta at home.

Another one I didn't select was Green Bay +1 over Seattle; I like the Pack a ton in this game and don't really understand the line. Betting public also likes GB in this game, so it's what's known as an Obvious Game. Stay away.

New England +5 over SAN DIEGO

I understand that New England is stumbling a bit, but let's not forget; this is still Belichick vs. Norv Turner.

Dallas -5 over ARIZONA

The Cowboys have been overpriced all season, but I like this one. Zona's not that good.

ATLANTA +3 over Chicago

I've been reluctant to accept that Michael Turner is for real, but I think this is the week that he proves it, at home against a tough Chicago D. UPDATE - Turner looked like garbage, actually, but Atlanta still won. WIN

Miami +3 over HOUSTON

It seems like Miami's horribleness last season is being priced in here. They are certainly good enough that they shouldn't be giving points to a winless team in week 6. UPDATE - Miami lost on a horrible defensive lapse at the end, but they covered when the Texans missed a 2PT conversion after the go-ahead TD. WIN

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Saturday TARP Blogging

I stuck the toddler in front of Monster's, Inc. this morning so that I could read the full text of the bill that has been approved by Congress and offer my readers (all five of you!) a basic summary. Trouble is, I can't seem to find a revised version. I understand the core of what's being done is the same as the old one but I'd like to see the new version. Anyone seen a PDF of the new bill?

Friday, October 03, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 5

So, making picks this week was harder for me than in previous weeks; there are a ton of odd and unpredictable matchups. From now on the picks are in order from strongest to weakest.

Tennessee -1 over BALTIMORE
The Joe Flacco era continues, this time against the best all-around defense in the NFL. Good luck with that.

Washington +6 over PHILADELPHIA
Still no respect for the Skins, and as for the Eagles, they have no running game to speak of without a healthy Westbrook. How will they move the ball against a decent pass defense?

Tampa Bay +3 over DENVER
Am I backing Brian Griese at Mile High? Remind me why I'm doing that. Ah yes. The Broncos pass defense is so terrible they will make Brian Griese look like, well, like someone good. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Buffalo +1 over ARIZONA
Great matchup for the Bills. They have a very good pass defense, and they are playing a team that can't run it but throws it pretty well. Also Arizona's pass D is fairly bad, and their run D isn't anything to get excited about. Plus, betting against the Cardinals usually works out pretty good.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fantastic Feat Day Accounting

Yesterday was Fantastic Feat Day, a holiday observed by exactly one person.

To my mind, it has always seemed as if a lot of fantastic sports feats have occurred on September 30th. I've gone into some of them in previous posts, including the Greatest Fight of All Time, which occurred on September 30th, 1975 and which is commonly called the Thrilla in Manila.

On October 1st, for that reason, I like to do a roundup of the sports world and find out if anything interesting happened.

Unfortunately this year September 30th fell on a Tuesday after the end of the baseball season but before the start of the playoffs, so the pickings are slim. No boxing, no football, no baseball, no basketball. In fact there were very few sporting events of consequence at all yesterday.

So I guess this year was a bit of bust.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Liquidity Crisis

I realized after discussing the liquidity crisis today that I really hadn't read an explanation of the banking crisis that I thought was particularly good. Doesn't mean it isn't out there, but I hadn't seen it.

So, long story short, I gave it a crack. I'm no expert, but I have a basic undergrad background in economics and I think I basically get it. There are probably some details that I've screwed up so I welcome constructive/destructive criticism. If someone points out something substantive I can fix in the analysis, I will try to clean it up.

First, read this.

This page gives a good discussion of a liquidity crisis in corporate finance. A macroeconomic "high finance" liquidity crisis is essentially the same thing, only happening with large banks. As in everything in high finance, high-finance liquidity crises are more complex.

One key reason high-finance liquidity crises are much more complex and potentially disastrous than regular corporate liquidity crises is the meshed nature of the problem. When one big bank experiences a liquidity crisis, the bank seeks relief from its creditors in the same way a regular company would. But if the bank's creditors are close to a liquidity crunch themselves, they aren't really capable of making the calculation described in the linked example. The cost of forcing the illiquid firm into bankruptcy and allowing the illiquid firm to borrow additional money while you wait for them to shape up is the same - your own bank enters a liquidity crisis because you needed the cash from the illiquid firm to make your own debt payments.

Once this happens, the banking system has become a bag in search of a bagholder.

That bagholder in this case is the traditional banks, which are theoretically capable of absorbing the problem due to their tightly regulated debt-asset ratios that are much, much more favorable than those of the investment banks that are failing.

What Paulson and Bernanke are saying, and maybe they are right and maybe they are wrong, is that the traditional banking system may not actually be strong enough to absorb the fallout from a liquidity crisis that destroys the investment banking system.

If they ARE right, then it's correct for the government to step in, because the alternative is that they are on the hook as the bagholder for the ENTIRE banking system, unless they want to allow a whole hell of a lot of money to just disappear into thin air.

So that's the impetus for trying to bail out the entire investment banking system - because it's cheaper than bailing out the entire traditional banking system. Once again, of course Bernanke and Paulson could be wrong. But that's their argument, and at least in Bernanke's case he has no real personal stake in the call other than wanting to be right.

Now, that doesn't speak to HOW to step in. In fact, it doesn't even prove you SHOULD step in. There are other questions in that regard. One that's very important is "Is what we are doing going to work?"

On that I think there's great cause for skepticism. Even if Bernanke and Paulson think that there's very little reason to believe their plan will work, if they are worried that the banking system may fail they will obviously feel a strong subjective responsibility to try SOMETHING.

The Paulson plan does, on its face, make sense. If the investment banking system is failing, the problem is large but finite. All you have to do is provide enough liquidity to allow the failing firms to make it to the point where they've successfully taken enough of their "problem debtors" through the process described in the linked example that they've made it out clean on the other side.

The problem is, the original Paulson plan is not a particularly good deal for Treasury, because they are taking on a lot of risk and they aren't really on the hook to reap any windfall for that risk if the plan works and the banks recover. All they get in that case is the interest on the money they loaned out (which isn't nothing, but it's not commensurate with the amount of risk that's being taken on.)

The compromise the House Democrats cobbled together was a pretty good one in that regard – they are essentially buying a mix of toxic mortgage securities (which may be perfectly decent at the price they are paying, or they could be worth much less than the price they are paying) and stock options (which theoretically could wind up being worth a great deal of money, giving the government at least some upside in exchange for the big risk they are taking.)

The main problems remaining are tied up in the question of the actual solvency of the investment banks. If there are a significant number of INSOLVENT investment banks, meaning that they actually have more debts than assets, then there's not a heck of a lot that can be done.

The big problem for the next president is going to be what to do when the 700 billion allows the banking system to, say, limp along for a year before slipping into another liquidity crisis. If that happens, we'll be at a real crossroads because no one will want to accept that we wasted all that money, but you also have to draw the line somewhere.

Now that a deal has been reached, we'll never really know, at least anytime too soon, whether this deal was necessary. We'll know fairly soon whether it was sufficient.