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.