Monday, March 31, 2008

Maureen Dowd is Mrs. O'Leary's Cow (JM)

Surrender Already, Dorothy

Ooh! I am excited, this is already a bad and somewhat surprising metaphor. I mean maybe there’s a chance Maureen hasn’t seen The Wizard of Oz, but probably not since I am pretty sure watching movies is the extent of her research, but Dorothy, you know, wins in the end. Also I would have expect a Wicked Witch of the West reference instead from Maureen, but Dorothy… fine… I guess that makes Maureen the Wicked Witch… in which case get me a bucket of water.



It’s all about the magic, really.

Ummmmmm…. I can think of several things it is about. None of them are “the magic”. Magic, I believe falls well behind competence in foreign policy and perhaps directly after “the Benjamins”. In fact, strike that, reverse it.

And whether we can take a flier on this skinny guy with the strange name and braided ancestry to help us get it back.

Whoa! Time out. Does anyone else think the phrase “braided ancestry” is just a tinsy bit racist. And by “tinsy” I mean a lot and by “racist” I mean, get your coat.

Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France and a strong supporter of the United States, recently observed that President Bush has done such a number on our image in the world that no one will be able to restore the luster.

“I think the magic is over,” he said.

Well gee willikers, the magic is over. The French foreign minister thinks so? Well, the French would never prognosticate the doom of U.S. hegemony without being absolutely sure of it. Well, I am just going to write my new book The Rise of Multilateral World, and sit back and wait for the royalties.

Pas si vite, mon vieux. In terms of style, the Obamas could give Carla Bruni-Sarkozy a run for her euros. And at least Obama is not in a fantasy world on Iraq, as W. and John McCain are, insisting it’s improving while we see it exploding.

“God people, paragraphs aren’t boxes where one thought actually follows another thought. We live in a postmodern world people! Just because the first sentence is nonsensical point about vapid topic A doesn’t me the second sentence has to be about those same things. Look, I mentioned the same people twice. I think that’s enough, don’t you?” –Maureen Dowd

Many voters decided last week to stick with Obama despite his less-than-convincing explanations about the Rev. Wright — even as many soured on Hillary, casting her as Lady Voldemort.

Alright, I am all for gratuitous Harry Potter references you poor man’s Rita Skeeter, but this is just nonsense. Lady Voldemort?! Why no go with Lady MacBeth, a more analogous character went trying to attack Hillary and one that actually existed. I am also pretty sure no one but Dennis really believe she is trying to tear her own soul in to pieces by killing people in order to gain immortality. Maybe power, but not immortality.

Democrats are coming around to the point Jay Rockefeller made 10 days ago after introducing Obama in West Virginia: “Democrats always make a mistake by nominating people who know everything on earth there is to know about public policy. I introduced both Al Gore and John Kerry at their rallies. They knew all the policies, but people didn’t connect with them. You don’t get elected president if people don’t like you.”

Ohh awesome! That’s exactly the attitude I like to hear from the Democratic party. Screw it, the people don’t want some who knows what’s going on, let’s get someone likeable elected. That is both condescending and just awful. Thank you Sen. Jay “Let’s Compromise Everything Because the Only Thing That Matters Is That The Name Democrat Comes After The President” Rockefeller, thank you so very much.

Also, not to get too George Carlin here, but how could Jay Rockefella have said that “after” introducing Obama. It seems like Obama would have been talking at the time, and that would just be rude.

Despite Bill Clinton’s saying it was “a bunch of bull” that his wife should drop out, Democrats are trying to sneak up on Hillary, throw a burlap sack over her head, carry her off the field and stick her in a Saddam spider hole until after the Denver convention.

Enjoy President McCain once you alienate a good portion of the base suckers… Seriously, if they push Hillary out before she is ready to go every single Dorothy Zbornak in the Democratic Party is voting for John McCain. P.S. Blanche onced dated McCain, and it was steamy.

One Obama adviser moaned that the race was “beginning to feel like a hostage crisis” and would probably go on for another month to six weeks. And Obama said that the “God, when will this be over?” primary season was like “a good movie that lasted about a half an hour too long.”

Aww… poor Obama, democracy just a bit too long for you. No wonder you didn’t want to be trouble with Florida and Michigan voting again, gets in the way of your schedule.

Hillary sunnily riposted that she likes long movies. Her favorite as a girl was “The Wizard of Oz,” so surely she spots the “Surrender Dorothy” sign in the sky and the bad portent of the ladies of “The View” burbling to Obama about how sexy he is.

“Ladies of ‘The View’”=modern day equivalent of reading bird entrails.

But who knows? Obama and Bob Casey talking March Madness to the patrons of Sharky’s sports cafe in Latrobe, Pa., on Friday night seemed demographically clever. But it is always when Hillary is pushed back by the boys that women help hoist her up.

Obama, like the preternaturally gifted young heroes in mythical tales, is still learning to channel his force. He can ensorcell when he has to, and he has viral appeal. Who else could alchemize a nuanced 40-minute speech on race into must-see YouTube viewing for 20-year-olds?

Yes we get it. He is Luke Skywalker. He is Garion. He is Achilles. Blah, blah, blah…

But at several crucial points in the last year, he held back when he should have poured on, leaving his nemesis around to damage him further.

Obama has social engineering plans as ambitious, in their own way, as the Bush administration’s failed social engineering plans to change the psyche of America and the Middle East.

Ambitiously vague. Social engineer is largely insane and never works. Change is about time and generational overhauls, not talking. But screw it, let’s elect Obama, listen to Kermit sing, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and watch Bill Frist and Nancy Pelosi wander down the street arm in arm exchanging long-protein strands. Might I add, don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

“I think the president needs to use the bully pulpit to change our culture,” he said Thursday, talking energy at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Manhattan. “We are a wasteful culture. It’s always been that way because of our history. We do everything big.”

He wants to make government “cool” again. He wants to banish the red-blue culture of conflict on TV and in Washington. And he wants to make the country healthier, thinner and smarter. “I want our students learning art and music and science and poetry,” he says, in a crowd-pleasing line.

AGGGGGGH! Seriously, do ANY of you really believe this can happen. Let’s all sit down and seriously think about what this means. Right now, Obama is going to appoint someone to the Supreme Court, do you really think he is going to convince the pro-life public that it’s really okay to be pro-choice? Do you really think that Americans who love the second amendment will suddenly stop (though to be fair no one seems to want to limit gun usage anymore, we lost that battle. Why did we lose it? It was the right wing’s rhetoric of unity and hope, right? No it was their insanely entrenched, unyielding, unmoving position. Good luck making government “cool” again*, I can’t wait.

Using his preacher voice, he urged a black audience in Beaumont, Tex., to be better parents, to put away chips and cold Popeyes for breakfast, and to turn off the TV and video games. “Buy a little desk or put that child at the kitchen table,” he instructed. “Watch them do their homework.”

It’s not certain that Obama could bring about an American renaissance. As the L.A. entertainment lawyer Nancy McCullough, who was on the Harvard Law Review with Obama, told Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, he tended to wallow in words. She said he was so intent on letting everyone have a say that “I actually would have been happier for him to say sometimes, ‘This is how we’re doing this, and shut up!’ ”

Ooh what a good source. I asked Chip, a guy Maureen Dowd went to kindergarten with, what he thought of Maureen. He said, “She was great, teachers would ask math problems and she would reference some episode of Scooby Doo she watched last night.”

The pollster Peter Hart says the central questions are: “Is Hillary honest?” and “Is Obama safe?”

Her foreign affairs plumping-up has hurt her, while his exotic and unorthodox narrative stirs doubt.

Why, why is this what people don’t like about Obama. This doesn’t bother me even slightly. There are soooooooo many good reasons to be wary of Barack Obama. This is not at all one of them.

“If I were to produce a spot for Obama,” Hart said, “I would take 100 photographs of everything that he does with his children and wife — that could range from Halloween to a picnic to everything we identify with as part of American life — so people could say, ‘I relate to that, I understand it.’ ”

“Boy, pollsters give great strategic advise”, said Mark Penn.

But, for now, Obama might want to leave the Trinity church photos out of the montage.

Ooh… score.

*I assume by “again” Maureen is referring to the incredibly hip administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. He used to throw parties that would last three days. Samuel Tilden was caught doing opium from the navel of a burlesque house girl. Carazzzzzy!

The Pinnacle of My Life (JM)

Is pretty much this:

That is all.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Yaaaaaagggggggh!!! (JM)

So when you read this title I want you to picture Yosemite Sam. I want you to picture that Bugs Bunny has somehow tricked Sam in to accidentally setting himself on fire. Further to the point, I want you to picture the fire building slowly, while Sam fails to realize that this fire exists. Finally, I want you to picture Sam's sudden realization that he is on fire, followed by the scream of "Yaaaaaagggggggh!!!" as he jumps, ass-first, in to the punch bowl in order to extinguish said flame.

So the feeling of that moment is precisely how every single minute of the movie The Bank Job felt. At this point I feel I must make clear that I did not choose to see this movie willingly. Dennis was in town for this weekend (which is also why there have been no updates in a while) and we had a couple of hours before his train left. This was literally the only thing playing at the time, we had no idea what it was about but the title suggested some sort of crime movie, so we figured it couldn't be so terrible. Anyhoo, as we were riding up the escalator to the theater I noticed the poster for The Bank Job and noticed a picture of Jason Statham, that was my first Yosemite moment. I turned to Dennis and whispered, "The apocalypse is nigh...", he shrugged it off and went onward like David in to the lion's den. Sigh...

Anyway, this was a truly, terrible, vapid, horrible crime movie based loosely on a true story, but seemed to have the same basic plot as Small Time Crooks but with more violence and less class-warfare commentary (but like all good films still had a secret hidden amount of fine class-warfare). The action was totally uninteresting, the twists quite predictable and the acting on par with an average performance of Andrew Koenig (for those not in the know, TV's Boner from Growing Pains).* This was a totally dreadful and execrable movie thats single enjoyable moment was a cameo by Lord Mountbatten. Anyway, in short please, please for the love of God, don't see this, unless I don't like you in which case please see this film, immediately.

*I kid, Richard Stabone is one of the finest characters ever created. He is actually number 42, right in front of Rastignac and directly behind Stone Phillips.

Friday, March 28, 2008

An Open Letter to Obama Supporters (JM)

It’s over. We Clinton supporters know this, because most of us are pretty smart. We get that Obama is going to be the nominee and the truth is that, for the most part, we’re okay with this. Barack Obama is a smart man with good advisors who clearly has a talent for politics. So yes, we’ll live, but the ball is totally in your court now.

What I mean by this is that polls have shown almost 28 percent of Hillary’s Democratic supporters are ready to peel off and vote for John McCain. This is obviously insane and those numbers will decrease, but how much they decrease is entirely up to you. So with that in mind as a fairly cerebral Clinton supporter let me give you some advice on how to not alienate former supporters of Hillary.

1. Don’t gloat: Seriously, I swear if I see any Facebook statuses, away messages or get any e-mails proclaiming how happy you are that Hillary is gone or the Saint Barack of Assisi has been anointed I will be far more likely to vote McCain. Your prize is that you get to have Barack Obama is the next president, you don’t get anything else. Remember, most of us simply don’t agree with you that Hillary is a terrible person or that Obama was the better candidate. Just because there are more of you doesn’t prove you’re right or more wise. So cut the crap and attack McCain.

2. Quit it with the pep rally crap: Most of us are glad we are no longer in high school. We don’t need to yell out, “Yes we can!” or hear that “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” It is silly and comports to the exact sort of image that the McCain people will use to attack Obama in the general. I am happy if Barack Obama makes you feel good, but keep it on the inside or make arguments about policy and politics. I am fine with these, there are many good ones. For instance, I hear somewhere that John McCain knows next to nothing about the economy and that he’s eleventy billion years old. A lot of us don’t want to be part of a movement, we want to be part of a party with a candidate. Obama hasn’t changed the way politics is done, he’s politics as usual with a lot of charm. Start acting that way, because we’re definitely not going to get swept up and if you want us aboard (and you need us) stop with the alienating, weird behavior.

3. Stop equating McCain with Bush: This is a generalist thing I suppose, but it seems like one of Obama’s main assaults on McCain will be equating him with Bush. He’s not Bush, though he is a bit of a war-mongerer he eminently more practical. Actually see David Brooks column for some good distinctions in terms of foreign policy. He is also way more likable and a war hero. The fact is though, if you’re going to make him in to Bush III and he simply proves he isn’t, it’s game over. Personality and image is sadly what politics has been about this election cycle, but it won’t win against McCain. Issues and character can and will, attack McCain, don’t attack by analogy.

So in sum, I still think this is a mistake, but you win. Now act like real winners and bring together the party instead of enjoying what will assured by a Pyrrhic victory if you continue with this nonsense.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Things Just Too Insane to Be True (JM)

Hey there Jewish parents, proud your kid's interning on the Hill this summer? Maybe they've got a nice summer job at an i-bank? Perhaps they're paralegaling Wachtell? Wellity, wellity, impressive, but not that impressive. You see, 22 year old Efraim Diveroli has an awesome company named AEY, they were given a 300 million dollar defense contract to supply our troops in Afghanistan with arms.

It's not like this is a smaller branch of some corporation his dad owns or anything, according to Paul Kiel over at TPM (via NYT reporting) it is run out of an unmarked building somewhere in Miami. Unsurprisingly, the quality of materials they shipped to Afghanistan were less than inspiring. For instance, one shipment was apparently Albanian cartridges from 1950. When hearing about this, John McCain probably though that 1950s military technology was a bit too cutting edge and wondered aloud, "Why we couldn't just use catapults and trebuchets, like in a normal siege."

Anyway, I am not sure what I am more impressed with, the fact that this just seems totally banal with the administration or that even for Team Bush this seems pretty weird. Seriously, where's the benefit here, I mean I could understand horrible corporate corruption, but these are 22 year old kids and generally they kind of like the military. I guess they just ran out of money padding Halliburton's profit margins, so they went to the BJ's wholesale club for arms.

But honestly, this is just totally enraging. Securing Afghanistan is clearly one of the top priorities we have in the international arena. In the long run an unstable Afghani state might be even worse than instability in Iraq. Yet here we are, seven years later, paying 22 year olds millions of dollars to purchase arms from ALBANIA to give to our troops. This isn't America, this isn't even Mexico...

Also, just a final addendum, how is this filed only under the Asia Pacific desk at the NYT. Why would a story of this seeming importance be buried. I agree that the election is important, but it feels like Bush is just running out the clock and getting away with it. I think there are a lot of interesting (you know interesting as in, "she's really nice and has a really interesting facial deformity that I am sure you'll find unique") choices being made by major newspapers these days. Ones that continually affirm my stance of getting news only from the internet and listening to people yelling outside my apartment.

McCampaign Promises (JM)

It’s my birthday, therefore I have decided that it is perfectly acceptable to indulge myself. Thus all morning, while working, I have in passing listed every issue on the McCain campaign roster. So without further ado, McCain for President Campaign Promises:

1) A nickel’s allowance for every kid under 12; good, hard work in a cannery for those over 12.

2) A cure for polio.

3) Government investment in building the first ever steam-based rocketship.

4) Werther’s Original subsidies.

5) Wilford Brimley, Postmaster General.

6) 5 PM=mandatory Wheel of Fortune; 6 PM=bedtime.

7) More cod liver oil; Less of those frightening automatic doors at supermarkets.

8) Save the Dauphin!

9) A promise to fight the Kaiser to the ends of the Earth (which is flat) for sinking the Lusitania.

10) A remake of Encino Man, starring the incomparable Barbara Mandrell.

11) Where’d I put that damned remote?

12) Let anyone who wants in to America, in and then bomb the rest.

13) A commission to determine new synonyms for the word “crotchety” because the “crotch” part kind of makes us feel uncomfortable (much like Daniel Finkelstein and his “youth bulge”.

14) New flag colors: argyle.

15) A promise to solve our energy crisis by investing in alternative energy, like coal and lumber.

Alright, this is really just about enough of this nonsense. It’s not even particularly funny, but really when it comes to things like this does it matter. Let’s just all revel in the fact that John McCain is about 987 years old, is crazy militarist and knows almost nothing about economics. Also, you may not laugh now, but when 47 year old English teacher Edna Johnston of Des Moines, IA who lives mainly with her cats and pretty friendly television from 1989 forwards this to her 279 closest friends and then your Uncle Lenny gets it and forwards it to you with the subject line RE: FUNNY JOKE, well then who will be laughing then…

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Before the Shroud (Dennis)

I am a lover of history and have the propensity to feel events that happened far in the past with the emotional immediacy of today. So, with all the discussion of the upcoming Olympics in China and the various controversies surrounding it, I felt drawn back to the 1936 games in Berlin, Nazi Germany to get some understanding of the situation today.

The 1936 Games were one of those events in history that makes you think that history is not a random sequence of events, but a novel written by a brilliant celestial author. Because if there was ever a perfect prologue to the tragedies that ensued over the next decade, the Games of the 11th Olympiad was it. There we saw the seemingly normal and even triumphant Olympics overshadowed by strong hints of the darkness to come.

There was the obvious ominous foreshadowing there for anyone to see. First was the restrictions placed on Jews, gypsies and other minorities that barred them from competing in the Olympics for Germany. For some reason, whenever I read a retelling of the history of the Third Reich, it is these restrictions in those Olympics that stick out at me over all of the other pre-Holocaust actions of Germany against various minority groups. I suppose it is because, more than employment restrictions and legal segregation, it hints at Germany's ultimate intent with regards to these people. Sure, in the United States we denied a lot of rights to African Americans, we placed a ton of obstacles in their way, but I don't believe, by that point in our history, there was a campaign to erase African Americans from our national story. The government held a racist view of them, but sill recognized them as Americans. What Nazi Germany was saying was “it is not possible to view you as Germans.” When it becomes clear to a government that a group doesn't have a place in society, there is only one way to deal with that group: to get rid of them.

This chilling realization of the path on which Germany was headed coupled with the realization of where the world was headed. The German acts barring Jews and others from competing were clear violations of the spirit of the Olympics, but despite this, the world did nothing. Only one country (Ireland) boycotted the Olympics, and even worse, it seemed that the world wasn't willing to stand up for those being oppressed in any way at all. This same pattern would, of course, be repeated in the coming years. Perhaps it was in those Olympics that Hitler learned that despite the wailing his actions could cause, the western world was far too weak willed to actually do anything about it.

He was able to get what he wanted, a dramatic public relations coup, without giving up his essential principles of anti-Semitism and fascism. Few realize that it was here that the Nazis got their reputation as being efficient administrators, which is a myth (they were actually terrible at running the government) that hangs around to this day. Hitler himself gained the equally false reputation of being an intimidating, intelligent, and effective statesman, so that while he was threatening the world, people remembered this image of Hitler rather than the ridiculous thug that he was.

So what lessons can we learn from this? Well, first, I think its useful to consider Mark Twain's words: “History doesn't repeat itself; at best it sometimes rhymes.” Yes China and Nazi Germany are both oppressive governments, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that the two are exactly analogous. Those who are saying so forget how bad Nazi Germany was in the 1930s, not only absolutely, but relative to where it had been. Germany in the 1920s had been an extremely open and free society, Berlin in particular was considered one of the great centers of culture in the world. Its transfer from the open 1920s to the repressive 30s was breathtaking, and it was rapidly stepping deeper into darkness at the time of the Olympics. Contrast that with China, which, while certainly oppressive, has been relatively stable in its level of oppressiveness over the past 20 years, and has even improved over the Mao Cultural Revolution years. The danger of Nazi Germany going over the edge was much greater than the danger of China somehow going over the edge now.

Another difference (not really relevant to how we should react, but perhaps relevant to how much you should worry) is the image of the country coming out of these games. As I said before, Germany's 1936 games were an unqualified success for Germany. The grandness with which Germany put on the games was unparalleled in the history of the Olympics. There was even a propaganda documentary called Olympia (from the same people who brought you Triumph of the Will) which spectacularly portrayed the Olympics to the rest of the world, and was so groundbreaking that it is said that those who film athletics continue to use techniques invented in that documentary. China, on the other hand, appears at this point to be making a fool of itself on many levels with its pollution and hastily constructed venues. With any luck, we'll get to hear a ton of embarrassing stories about China between now and the summer.

So how should we respond? I do agree with Jon that some form of protest at the games would be the most effective way to get the right message across. I'm not in agreement with those who say we should boycott for many reasons, but the snarkiest one I can think of is that I can't stand people who call on others (athletes) to sacrifice tremendously for this cause when most of us have bought at least one product this week that started its journey to our shelves in China.

Ideology or Demographics: The Only Reason You Care Is Because You're a Kid, A Theory By Daniel Finkelstein (JM)

1968 violence: blame the bulge

Sorry, Tariq, it wasn't ideology that caused the unrest (and other conflicts) but demographics

Daniel Finkelstein

When I was a small child I thought that the Vietnam War was taking place in a car park.

I once thought Madonna was a Kitchenaid Mixer.

Every time I watched the news, I heard reporters talking sombrely of that conflict, accompanied by pictures of violent encounters. Some of the soldiers wore uniforms and charged on horses, others were clothed in denim. It wasn't clear who was winning, but I remember the smoke and the chaos, and a young man lying across a car bonnet being hit with a club. The young man was carrying a poster on a stick, which even to my infant mind seemed an odd thing to carry into a warzone.

Oh, you were watching war protests…

Ever since I grew up enough to understand this error, I have been amused by my childish naivety - confusing the Vietnam War with the protests, indeed! But at the weekend, reading Tariq Ali's account of the events of 1968 (“It turned violent. Like the Vietnamese, we wanted to occupy the embassy”) I realised that what I had displayed all those years ago was not naivety it all. It was a precocious talent for political analysis.

Oh my god, this is the most precious things of all time. Just picture little Danny Finkelstein, a bald five year old with glasses, walking around telling his parents to stop trying to have a family budget, because there’s no such thing as strategy.

The 1968 protests are not best understood as their instigators would have them understood - as the antithesis of war, as the street carnivals of the peace movement. The protesters should instead be seen as having some similarities with the warriors they were opposing. Both were trying to solve a problem with violence. The protesters sought to resolve political conflict in the street and through confrontation. Many of the leaders were not wishing for an end to war, but for victory by the North Vietnamese. In my confusion between the protests and the war I had accidentally seen things clearly.

Is this historical fiction? For the most part protestors were violent because the government attempt to violent suppress their free speech. In some cases they were clearly the antithesis of war, in some cases it was not protests for peace, but rather in favor of socialist ideology or a fight against western hegemony and colonial oppression. All of these are ideologies, not merely violence for violence’s sake.

Now I am not trying to make a point about who was right and who was wrong, who had the bigger weapons and who did the killing. Instead, I am trying to rescue the protests of 1968 from the romantic memories of the participants. I hope in this way to try to show why they are still relevant.

Not to get all Weberian on you, but how else are you going to muddle through motivations? You cannot just ascribe motivations to people willy-nilly (I think this might be a phrase our good British friend might like), you need compelling evidence. In this case just dismissing the words and propaganda of these protestors seems like an incredibly poor way to understand motivations.

Every attempt to revisit 1968 majors in ideology. Tariq Ali talks of sexual revolution, the liberal author Paul Berman writes of the democratic ideal and the struggle against fascism, the French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy sees the common thread between the fight for liberation against Western oppression and the Prague Spring. Meanwhile, the playwright Tom Stoppard found little of any value. He thought the whole thing was merely embarrassing.

I am with Stoppard. This is not, however, just because I think the slogans of the soixante-huitards silly and their flirtation with communism disgusting. It is because I believe all attempts to explain 1968 in terms of ideas are doomed to failure. The events of 1968 were not about ideology, but demographics.

Look, I agree that ideas are situated in their social context and there are often other motivating factors that drive people to one ideology than another. But demographics?! This is going to have to be a really compelling arguments as to why the particular demography of 1968 drove a particular type of ideology oriented towards a particularly violent outcome. I don’t think it can be done (and since I always read the articles before doing this, I bet my prediction will come true).

Consider this - a favourite fact that I have rehearsed here before. Young Americans were the group most in favour of the Vietnam War, according to contemporary opinion polls. This remained the case even when the war became unpopular. Here's another fact - young people in this country are the group most in favour of the Iraq war. If you see the events of 1968 as ideological, this opinion poll data is hard to understand. Why aren't young people more idealistic and pacifistic than others? And if they aren't, why wasn't Grosvenor Square packed with rioting old age pensioners?

Young people are less risk-adverse, therefore this is why this particular opposition and conflict occurred. Seems likely… Another possibility is the young people also hold more extreme ideas on either end of the spectrum and political opinions tend to become centralized as people become old. Either way, this doesn’t denigrated or disallow particular motivations, why did some support the way and some protest? The truth is that much of ideological beliefs are socially situated and constructed, but that still doesn’t mean that motivations don’t exist or don’t matter. In fact, we would live an almost paralytic universe if we analyzed things in this manner. It basically presumes a fundamental lack of free will.

However, if you see the événements as the product of demographics, the data is easy to comprehend. Young people, particularly young men, tend to see violent solutions to problems as more acceptable than do other groups in society. In 1968 there was a bulge in the number of hot-headed young males.

Oh yes, the famous Zogby “Hot-Headed Young Male” poll…

Some of them chose protest violence on the streets of Europe, others riots in America's ghettos or dissent in Eastern Europe, while still others supported foreign wars. They were united not by ideas but simply by youth. Tariq Ali appears bewildered that the anti-Iraq war movement hasn't evolved into something similar to the soixante- huitards. This isn't because idealism has died. It is because there is no youth bulge. And it is the youth bulge, not anything they said or did, that gives a reason for the 1968 riots to be remembered.

It’s also because we live in an incredibly different time, the youth bulge is kind of silly red-herring. Why would more youths create violence. There has been almost none as of yet, one would think it would simply be proportional to the number of youths. The real difference is that there is way less oppression of protests and a different kind of engagement amongst youth (see Barack Obama). Also how do you explain the violence of things like the WTO protest, lacking a “youth bulge” (which to be perfectly honest is a phrase I would really rather avoid saying).

Violent conflict in 17th-century England, the French Revolution, German nationalism in the First World War, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Cultural Revolution in China and most 20th-century revolutions in developing countries took place where large youth bulges were present. And academic studies suggest that the number of deaths in armed conflict is much higher in countries with a large youth bulge, even when controlling for income and inequality. Between 1989 and 1993, violence in the former Soviet republics varied with the size of their young male population, even where the initial political conditions were similar.

Way to cherry pick examples. First of all, how can you even begin to compare 1968 to the French Revolution or German Nationalism pre-WWI. Also, why are the ideological and political reasons for other violent events (such a WWII) somehow valid, while these are not. I agree that sometimes demographics makes a difference, overpopulation in particular, but it seems weird to dismiss ideological claims on a phenomenon which doesn’t seems to have strong correlative implications and certainly weak causation.

The social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn in his book Sons and World Power argues that when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, there is a good chance that violence will follow. There are 67 countries in the world where there is such a bulge and there is violence in 60 of them. He cites the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan as examples and contrasts them with, say, Tunisia or even the passing of the youth peak in Lebanon.

Is it possible that high rates of childbirth are more likely in violent societies? Or how about the even more likely possibility that there is a high death rate in crazy violent societies, so there is a very high percentage of youth because people tend not to grow particularly old in societies with endemic violence…

With our blithe conviction that we can always make things better, we are convinced that political education and economic amelioration will work to bring peace where there is conflict. Heinsohn suggests that it might make things worse. Educated and well-fed young males tend to greater violent unrest.

This is literally the craziest thing I have ever heard. Let’s not educate the youth, let’s also make them hungry. Because hungry, uneducated masses never ever rise up in violent protest. I mean maybe we would cut down on systematic protesting and just raise the crime rate. Either way active engagement probably does matter, it’s just rare that protesting youth are actually engaged. If “education” means trying to convince them that they are wrong, well then of course they will get more violent. However, real and open dialogue (much like the one occurring during the current Iraq War) is way more advantageous. When youth feel like they have a viable outlet to make change, violence is way less likely.

The only hope? That young men eventually grow up. In Northern Ireland, the vast majority of victims and perpetators were young men. But one day Gerry Adams decided he was getting too old to strap on a gun. And the rest is history. Our only alternative in, say, fighting al-Qaeda may be to hold firm and wait it out.

What an excellent lesson, instead of engaging with militant Muslims and trying to understand them, let’s just wait for them to grow up. This is the kind of condescending attitude that makes people militant in the first place. Muslim leaders become more, not less, entrenched in their beliefs, whereas the youth are indoctrinated. They way to change this is to challenge the indoctrinated hatred of the West by active engagement and dealing with them on a balanced, dignified level. Not telling them, “You’ll understand when you grow up.”

The real lesson of the 1960s isn't Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. It is Press On, Calm Down, Grow Up.

“Hey kids, get off of my lawn!”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

McCaintradictions (JM)

When John McCain talks about the economy we should all shudder. A lot. He made some remarks today, that I bring to you via Jonathan Martin over at Politico, that were dubious at best.

Problem: The other part of what happened was an explosion of complex financial instruments that weren’t particularly well understood by even the most sophisticated banks, lenders and hedge funds. To make matters worse, these instruments - which basically bundled together mortgages and sold them to others to spread risk throughout our capital markets - were mostly off-balance sheets, and hidden from scrutiny. In other words, the housing bubble was made worse by a series of complex, inter-connected financial bets that were not transparent or fully understood. That means they weren’t always managed wisely because people couldn’t properly quantify the risk or the value of these bets. And because these instruments were bundled and sold and resold, it became harder and harder to find and connect up a real lender with a real borrower. Capital markets work best when there is both accountability and transparency. In the case of our current crisis, both were lacking.

Alright, so I am willing to buy in to this idea. Accountability and transparency are important, what McCain says here is ostensibly correct.

Solution: I am prepared to examine new proposals and evaluate them based on these principals. But I think we need to do two things right away. First, it is time to convene a meeting of the nation’s accounting professionals to discuss the current mark to market accounting systems. We are witnessing an unprecedented situation as banks and investors try to determine the appropriate value of the assets they are holding and there is widespread concern that this approach is exacerbating the credit crunch.

Whoa... seriously, for those of you who aren't financial market nerds allow me to translate. Basically, what McCain has proposed is akin to saying that because the police department has a crippling lack of transparency we should get rid of internal affairs. Mark to market accounting basically forces companies to value their holdings based on their current price, rather than at some speculative future price. The practice of valuing holdings based on speculative price was instrumental in disasters like Enron and WorldCom. It eviscerates transparency because it varies the ways in which owners of complicated financial instruments can account for those instruments and present them to the market. In other words, John McCain's solution to overly complicated market instruments is to make them more complicated. Sigh...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Easter (Dennis)

This past Sunday was the Christian holiday of Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion on Good Friday. For the past few years I've simply ignored the holiday. I was raised as a Catholic, but for reasons that are probably obvious , I became totally dismayed with the Church and no longer practice the religion. But for some reason this year the holiday caused me to pause and reflect about what it means, so I thought I would share my ruminations:

The world of Roman Palestine two thousand years ago was obviously very different than it is today in the United States, but in several crucial ways it was similar. The people were, back then, also ruled by the champions of the status quo who believed in the system, authority, and the way things had always been done. The wise and the elite calmly controlled the passions of people, exerting a bit of pressure here and some fear there to ensure that they society maintained its order. They had always succeeded in this venture, so whenever some cavalier radical turned up to challenge them, they would smile, knowing that all that was needed was to select the proper hammer to pound them back into the board. The tools were different back then. Today we use things like experts on cable television who've spent their lives investing in status quo to denounce anyone who suggests anything outside the area of acceptable policies; back then they used the Torah, Roman law, and crucifixion to keep people on the straight and narrow.

Humans have always (and usually quietly) chaffed under this system, because human beings are, at heart, romantics. We're the ones, after all, who when we saw the sun moving across the sky, we saw a beautiful god pulling it on a chariot, and who imagined that the size of our people was predicted by a God who directed our patriarch to look at the sky and “number the stars.” So it was no surprise that when a bearded man with a funny accent (Jesus was just a country bumpkin from Galilee, you know) came to Jerusalem speaking his message of love and equality, people eagerly ate it all up. The poor and the outcasts, who were his biggest followers, were probably thrilled to know that all the insults they endured from the powerful were just part of a trick performed on them by ill-meaning priests and pharisees who improperly supposed that because they had happened to possess great wealth, they were also especially loved by God. No, Jesus said, it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. God was not on the side of the powerful, but on the side of the weak and ignored, and those who misuse their greater position in this life would pay for it in the end. Class warfare at its finest.

It was also no surprise that when leaders got word of this meddlesome preacher, they quickly talked some sense into the people. “He's causing disorder and destroying our society,” they probably said while also spreading vicious rumors about how the whole “virgin birth” thing was a cover for his whore of a mother. And so the people turned on their former champion, and he was crucified.

There the story usually ends for our heroes, the challengers that want to make the world new again. They almost always die a tragic death of one form or another. Some, like Martin Luther King, get killed in the prime of their lives. For others the body remains alive, but the old idealism that made them heroes is ground to dust by the enormity of the problems they face or by the weakness of their own souls. But with Jesus maybe, just maybe, it didn't.

His followers claimed that he did not die and was not defeated, but rather rose from the dead in defiance of those in charge making the proto-Machiavellian calculations. A part of me thinks this is absolute crap. But another part of me believes that it could be true. And yet another part of me feels that even if it isn't true, what a wonderful and hopeful story that it is, and one which lit a fire in the heart of thousands of great men and women who took those lessons of love and equality seriously and struggled against the same heartless forces of injustice against which Jesus fought.

And so, in their spirit, perhaps each Easter, if we have nothing else to celebrate, we can renew our promise to work for a better world, and hope that one day we experience that same transcendent feeling of victory that Jesus' followers felt when they rolled back the tomb, and found it empty.

The Speeches of Reagan (JM)

Ronald Reagan, pretty evil, terrible president, but amazing amazing communicator.

"General Secretary Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" is as good a line as any you'd see in a cheesy action movie. Sheer brilliance.

This is the more fearsome side of Reagan, the one who communicate with a unifying terribleness and ferocity. I'll post more specifically on this speech in the next few days.

Fun With Push Polling (JM)

With some time off from hardcore politics we’ve decided to play a game. We all remember how George W. Bush beat McCain for the nomination. He created an exceedingly clever push poll in which voters were asked, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain...if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" This really changed the scope of the campaign, winning George W. Bush the nomination and leading us to eight years of bad luck.

So in that spirit, AOTG would like present our suggestions for push poll campaigns against various political luminaries:

1) Hillary Clinton: “Would it change your likelihood of voting for Hillary Clinton if you knew that while in the White House she was had a reputation for being willing to eat anything for five bucks? (She once made fifty dollars off of Begala for eating several batches of Mike Espy’s moustache hair.)

2) Barack Obama: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Barack Obama, if you knew he fathered a black child?”

3) Mitt Romney: “If you were made aware of Mitt Romney’s intention to nominate only werewolves to the Supreme Court would this change your opinion of his fitness to run for office?”

4) Chuck Schumer: “Rumors are now swirling that Chuck Schumer has hatched a plot with the Free Masons to trick people into believing Jesus wasn't real, does this change your opinion of him?”

5) Fred Thompson: “If you knew his only goal as President would be to create a dramedy about what life would be like if Biff from Back to the Future were the President of the United States, would this effect your decision to vote for him?”

6) Dick Cheney: “Apparently everything you’ve ever read about him is completely true, does this effect how you feel about him as a leader?”

7) Tom Harkin: “Some think that Tom Harkin is a vampire, given the fact that he is never seen outside during the day, his overuse of sunscreen, and his thick Transylvanian accent. Would this make you less likely to vote for him, more likely to vote for him, or no change?”

8) Nancy Pelosi: “Observers have heard Nancy Pelosi say that she, ‘Just didn’t get the deal with Seinfeld’, does this make it more or less likely to vote for her?”

9) Fred Flintstone: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Senator Flintstone if you knew that he kept animals enslaved in house and showered in the excretions of a Wooly Mammoth?”

10) Mumm-ra: “If you were to find out that Mumm-ra was a displaced former Egyptian god, hellbent on destroying all of the Thundercats, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?”

(Special thanks to Ted for help on this post)

Why In the World Does China Have the Olympics? (JM)

Seriously, can anyone explain why it makes sense that the Olympics are in China. It could have been in Paris where, despite my many disagreements about certain cultural affections, then tend not oppress large segments of the population and general provide people with democratic rights. It feels like the insane extension of the totally failed "engagement" argument. I think it is remarkably clear at this point, that despite pushing China ever towards capitalism, we have pushed them no closer to democratic rule.

The far more pernicious truth is that capitalism has become just another tool to lock down oppressive state control, while giving China an easier pass in the international community. A Chinese Olympics will give them a place on the world stage to scrub and sanitize their image. If you think this is going invite closer scrutiny or be a catalyst for real change than you probably also believe that the surge has been wildly successful. I think it is kind of shameful that this U.S. didn't take a harder stand on this issue.

I truly hope that America's athletes are more willing to speak out. A commenter on Megan McArdle's awesome (though wrong-headedly libertarian) blog had perhaps the best suggestion of all. American athletes should all shave their heads in support of the Tibetan people. I would love to see American athletes, as well as those from other countries, do this. Could you imagine the Chinese reaction? It's unclear if they would even be able to do much to stop it from happening. So spread the word, I know I have a lot of Olympians reading this blog, so get the meme out there, because this is just a Grade A idea.

The Rules of the Game (JM)

Josh Marshall over at TPM makes the argument that the new Clinton camp spin, brought forth by Sen. Evan Bayh (otherwise known as Senator Really Wants to Be Vice President), that the candidate who would have gained the most electoral votes in primary season should be the one chosen by the superdelegates is wrong. That we should stick to rules as laid out, despite our feelings about them. While I am usually in agreement with Josh, I could not disagree more on this. I think it is totally within the rules of the game and that the best democratic representation does matter.

As much as the reformulations of reformulations of the measuring stick for a successful candidate according to the Clinton camp has gotten a bit silly, it is both relevant and well within the rules. Superdelegates were created to make a decision based on what is best for the party, if the Clinton team can come up with relevant metrics to convince supers that their particular team is either a) more electable or b) a better representation of the will of the Democratic party, then this sort of rejiggering is perfectly well justified.
The electoral college argument could be quite persausive in marshalling the argument that Hillary would be the ideal candidate. The reason this argument is problematic is that it doesn't control for the candidate's effectiveness against McCain. For instance, clearly Obama would win New York in such a contest and Hillary would win Illinois. The popular vote proxy would have been decent, but for the fact that caucuses surpress the popular vote count and Michigan and Florida were disenfranchised. I actually think the best measure of electability is probably state-by-state polls of the two candidates over a long period of time in competition with Sen. McCain. Of course, no superdelegate could ever explain their vote by that logic. At this point it is simply a task of the Clinton campaign to supply superdelegates with the appropriate narrative by which to justify a vote for them, as well as to convince them of her superior electability and her greater representativeness of the Democratic party will.
These statements are well within the rules of the games, since there are technically no "rules of the game" as it comes to the way superdelegates make their decision. Heck, Hillary should feel free to point out that she has the support of more periodontists than Obama (this is not necessarily true, sadly polling on this is limited), it would not be terribly persausive I suppose, but that's largely up to her.

Lastly, if she can make a compelling argument that this is simply a better representation of the democratic will (a tough sell), it seems to me totally worthwhile. I am not sure why "rules are rules" is enough of a reason to not try to persuade independent arbiters that maybe we should invalidate these less than fair rules. It's kind of akin to jury nullification, a practice which, in certain cases, is definitely justifiable.

Fun With Push Polling (JM)

With some time off from hardcore politics we’ve decided to play a game. We all remember how George W. Bush beat McCain for the nomination. He created an exceedingly clever push poll in which voters were asked, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain...if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" This really changed the scope of the campaign, winning George W. Bush the nomination and leading us to eight years of bad luck.

So in that spirit, AOTG would like present our suggestions for push poll campaigns against various political luminaries:

1) Hillary Clinton: “Would it change your likelihood of voting for Hillary Clinton if you knew that while in the White House she was had a reputation for being willing to eat anything for five bucks? (She once made fifty dollars off of Begala for eating several batches of Mike Espy’s moustache hair.)

2) Barack Obama: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Barack Obama, if you knew he fathered a black child?”

3) Mitt Romney: “If you were made aware of Mitt Romney’s intention to nominate only werewolves to the Supreme Court would this change your opinion of his fitness to run for office?”

4) Chuck Schumer: “Rumors are now swirling that Chuck Schumer has hatched a plot with the Free Masons to trick people into believing Jesus wasn't real, does this change your opinion of him?”

5) Fred Thompson: “If you knew his only goal as President would be to create a dramedy about what life would be like if Biff from Back to the Future were the President of the United States, would this effect your decision to vote for him?”

6) Dick Cheney: “Apparently everything you’ve ever read about him is completely true, does this effect how you feel about him as a leader?”

7) Tom Harkin: “Some think that Tom Harkin is a vampire, given the fact that he is never seen outside during the day, his overuse of sunscreen, and his thick Transylvanian accent. Would this make you less likely to vote for him, more likely to vote for him, or no change?”

8) Nancy Pelosi: “Observers have heard Nancy Pelosi say that she, ‘Just didn’t get the deal with Seinfeld’, does this make it more or less likely to vote for her?”

9) Fred Flintstone: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Senator Flintstone if you knew that he kept animals enslaved in house and showered in the excretions of a Woolly Mammoth?”

10) Mumm-ra: “If you were to find out that Mumm-ra was a displaced former Egyptian god, hellbent on destroying all of the Thundercats, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?”

(Special thanks to Ted for help on this post)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is Obama's speech working? (Dennis)

So, I thought Obama speech last week on race was stunning and wonderful (when was the last time a presidential candidate admitted the Constitution was stained with the "original sin" of slavery or that Reagan used anger over affirmative action and welfare to build his coalition?), but I assume you already inferred that from my previous Obama support. Anyway, I think the important question isn't whether I liked it, but whether it could counter the damage done by Wright. Some evidence from Gallup is showing that the speech may be doing its job.

On March 13th, Obama's lead over Clinton in the Gallup nationwide poll of Democrats and those who lean Democratic stood at 50-44. In the wake of the ensuing Wright scandal, Obama's lead evaporated and Hillary Clinton built up her largest lead in months with a 49-42 advantage on the day of Obama's speech on race. Since then Obama has made steady gains every day in the Gallup, and now in polling done on March 19-21 Obama has regained his advantage with a 48-45 lead. We'll see if this trend continues and if Obama regains his previous lead.

Just In Time For Easter (JM)

I'll take "Super Insane Quotes Coming Out the Clinton Camp" for $600 Alex.

This is the crazy ass thing James Carville said about the Richardson endorsement.

Umm, what is: “Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,”

That's correct!

(Quote via Halperin)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Some Snark From The Clinton Camp and Cowboy Bill Richardson's Endorsement (JM)

In response to Rev. Wright situation, despite Obama's speech on race and getting beyond politics as usual, the Obama team has been pushing a picture of Bill Clinton shaking hands with Rev. Wright at the White House during his administration. When the NYT e-mailed Howard Wolfson, Clinton Communications Director, for a response he send the following: “Urgent indeed — a picture — oooooooo!”

Now maybe it's just me, but that seems like the most effective response to an incredibly different sort of situation.

Anyhow, last night, at around 12 AM Pacific Time, Gov. Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama. I have never been a huge fan of Gov. Richardson and I truly hope that he is not on Obama's short list should he get the nomination (though I would prefer to see him than Gov. Sebelius or, and I almost break my keys as I type this, Sen. Claire McCaskill). Richardson a bit silly and more of a rabble-rouser than anything else, and his foreign policy experience is as negotiator and back-slapper. If foreign policy credentials are what Obama is after (either that or economics would be desirable) I would think he'd be better off with Biden or Dodd. Anyway, I am not certain just how much impact a Richardson endorsement has at this point. The only state with a large Hispanic population yet to hold their primary is Puerto Rico, and that is an entirely different ballgame. The only real potential game changers left out there are Gore and Edwards, and at this point it just does not look like they will endorse either candidate.

(Hat tip: Marc Ambinder)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dick Cavett's Blog (Dennis)

I don't know if you guys were aware but former talk show host Dick Cavett has a blog. For those who don't know who Dick Cavett is, he used to be a late night talk show host for ABC in the 70s, and has hosted various talk shows ever since. He has a very understated but sharp wit along with a false modesty that is pretty charming. Think of an urbane Conan O'Brien. He's probably most famous for a week on his show shortly after the Beatles broke up when John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosted his late night show with him for a week.

Anyway his blog is pretty excellent. He complains about things using old obscure references and has amazing stories about various figures from the 60s and 70s who appeared on his show. My personal favorite is his reflection on Bobby Fischer which was quite touching.

I Fervently Dislike Claire McCaskill and Philadelphia (JM)

The title pretty much says it all, and it's not surprising either given that rarely does a month go by without one more reason to dislike her. But here she is in all of her inane glory again:

McCaskill: Obama the first black leader to “come to the American people not as a victim, but rather as a leader.”
What a profoundly silly thing to say about every black leader in the history of America. I truly wish people would stop referring to her as a person who is the future of the party. I wish she'd switch parties, I really do, then I would feel way more comfortable with my hatred for her and her voting record would make more sense. Sigh... oh well at least Obama's grandmother is a "typical white person" according to an interview with him on Philly Sports Talk Radio. By the by, can anyone imagine a more hilarious place for an intense political discussion than Philadelphia sports radio?

Host: Caller, do you have a question for Senator Obama?

Len from Doylestown: Yeah, I have a question. Even if the Mets got Santana, they still suck, they're a bunch of $%*#ing chokers, Reyes can suck on it, Philly rules!

Obama: Well, that's not really a question, but I think we need to look to bring the people of America together, instead of focusing on the divisiveness of the past.

Host: Good question caller, don't forget Wright also sucks. Alright next caller, we've got Vinny from Camden.

::sounds of whispering::

Host: Oh, we have 17 different Vinnys from Camden? Alright, well just pick one!

Vinny from Camden: Ayyyyy!

Host: Hey Vinny! What's up?

Vinny from Camden: E-A-G-L-E-S!

Obama: Well Vinny, I will tell you this, there's no such thing as false hope.

(Quotes via Mark Halperin)

Market Regulators Available, Absolutely No Specifics Required (JM)

A New New Deal

This column isn’t terrible, but there’s just something like a title like this that screams bad, generic, economic advice.

By Harold Meyerson
Thursday, March 20, 2008; A15

Putting together everything we've learned over the past 10 days about high finance in Manhattan, one thing is clear: If Eliot Spitzer had saved all the money he apparently paid"Kristen" and her co-workers at the Emperors Club, he could have bought Bear Stearns.

This is what we in the “biz” like to call hyperbole. Also new rule, if your only column lede is a bad joke about Eliot Spitzer and your column is not about Eliot Spitzer then just stop, just stop. Also we can probably have a moratorium on columns about Spitzer for some time, there’s really not much to say anymore.

Manhattan's culture of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous collapse has been on display in recent days as it has not since 1929. Now, as then, an edifice of shaky credit is toppling. Now, as then, what we took to be prosperity turns out to have been a bubble.

I am not really sure that Manhattan has a “culture of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous collapse”. In fact, I am not sure how that’s a cultural phenomenon at all. So far two paragraphs, one relevant sentence, “What we took to be prosperity turns out to have been a bubble.” Aces.

The key lesson Americans need to learn from today's troubles is how to distinguish faux prosperity from the genuine article. Over the past hundred years, we've experienced both. In the three decades after World War II we had the real thing. Led by our manufacturing sector, productivity increased at a rapid clip and median family incomes rose at a virtually identical rate. The value of the American work product grew significantly and that value was shared with American workers.

I am feeling about 70 percent prosperous right now, but I am pretty sure there’s a healthy degree of faux prosperity in there as well. Individuals are notoriously bad at assessing this kind of risk, in fact it’s nearly impossible on the individual level. Maybe economists, pundits and politicians need to be better, perhaps we ought to be a more risk adverse society, but also there may be nothing we can do to avoid these occasional problems.

But we've had other periods of apparent prosperity that were based not on broad increases in personal income but on the inflation of assets. So it was with stocks in the late 1920s, a time when most Americans lacked substantial purchasing power. So it was with the dot-com bubble of the late '90s. And so it was with the rising value of American homes in recent years.

In the broadest sense, the American economy over the past three decades has been powered by ever more ingenious extensions of credit to a people whose incomes were going nowhere, unless they were in the wealthiest 10 percent of the population. There were some limits, as a result of New Deal regulations, on how old-line banks could extend credit, but investment banks and other institutions not legally obliged to keep a certain amount of cash in reserve operated under no such constraints. The risk was that one day, burdened by debt and static incomes, American homeowners would have trouble making their payments and the house of cards would come tumbling down. But what were the odds of that?

I agree with this, this was a problem, but I actually think it was less of an economic problem and more of a cultural issue. Conspicuous consumption has always been one of the major demarcations of success and status in our society. Home ownership was a key aspect of the so-called “American dream”. Our culture has created a standard of normality that is anything but normal and anything but within the means of most individuals in our society. The consequences of this are necessarily tragic.

Pretty good, it turns out. And out of this debacle emerge two paramount lessons for our highest-ranking policymakers: Regulate the American financial sector, which is now turning to the government for a bailout. And commit the government to doing all in its power to generate broad-based prosperity, through laws enabling workers to bargain collectively, through a massive public commitment to projects "greening" the economy, through provision of universal health coverage and affordable college educations.

Okay, see here’s the issue. Regulate the financial sector means absolutely nothing. It’s a word that could imply over infinity different actions. I agree that the market needs some semblance of regulation (particularly transparency when it comes to incredibly complex credit deals and financial structuring), but I am not sure this solves the underlying problem. If people want something the market is going to create a way to sell it to them, even if the long-term consequences are bad.

I would like to know more about these specific collective bargaining laws to which he referring. For the most part collective bargaining and unionization is allowed, and would need to know what specific proposals would be implimented, but either way their effect would be negligible. “Green jobs” is something I really, really don’t get. I mean I am totally for them, I like jobs and I like the environment, but maybe I am missing something on the impact here, but politicians seems to be pushing these as a panacea for American job loss and that seems to me like quite the exaggeration. Thumbs up universal health coverage and affordable college education too, but neither of these really hits the heart of the problem.

People want stuff, not just because they want it, but because it is indicative of status and strength in society. Yes, consumption displays itself differently in the various segments of our society, but still there are many key trends like home and car ownership (along with trends specific to specific communities). The truly pernicious factor here is that one of the key reasons this cultural narrative will never change is that the corporate complex has every interest in marketing life that way, encouraging people to consume. The narrative of the American dream is one enhanced and perpetuated by television, books, commercials, movies and all other forms of media.

These are themes that should be central to the candidacies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. If the Democrats are to win this year and then govern effectively, they need to offer a new New Deal to the American people. John McCain is at a distinct disadvantage in such a discussion: As the self-proclaimed heir to Ronald Reagan's legacy, he's no friend of the original New Deal, much less a new one.

First of all these themes are only tangentially involved in the New Deal, but I agree economics should be the centerpiece of all the campaigns. But Americans need more, they need be convinced that there are great priorities than personal prosperity. That everyone deserves basic needs, like education, food, housing and other things that are template for a satisfying life.

On the regulatory front, now that the Federal Reserve is extending credit to the 20 largest dealers in securities -- affording them the same advantages it had hitherto extended only to regulated commercial banks -- it's only proper that those firms be subjected to regulations similar to those under which banks operate (which themselves need strengthening). Otherwise, the government is assuming risks incurred by the wildest operators on the Street.

Sure, but securities deals are by their very nature different entities, it seems weird to write articles about generic regulations with no specificity.

Which, of course, is exactly what the Fed did in agreeing to take $30 billion of Bear Stearns's riskiest securities off J.P. Morgan's hands as a condition of its purchase of Bear. The Fed justifies these extensions of credit and assumptions of risk as necessary to prevent a financial meltdown, and the Fed is probably right. But what about the issue of equity, in both senses of that word -- ownership and fairness?

I honestly have no clue what he is complaining about here. Yes, it sucks that we had to pick up all this toxic risk from Bear Stearns, especially since the advantage is just going straight in to J.P. Morgan’s pocket. However, I have no clue what type of equity he would prefer in exchange. This isn’t as bad as Maureen trying to write about complex finance, but it is bad in that it riles people up who are then interested in bizarre generic solutions. Now, any time a politician says we will regulate the banks people can be like, “Yippie! That’s exactly what they need, some good old regulation…”

Specifically, if the Fed's role in the Bear buyout is a model for its dealings in future Wall Street failures, it could well pay good money for warehouses of worthless paper while future J.P. Morgans make off with the money-making sides of the beleaguered banks. This solution doesn't look to be a great deal for the American public. It looks even worse when we recall that other governments -- including those of China, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait -- have also been bailing out our banks, through sovereign wealth funds, while getting shares in those companies in return.

Yes, this is why the Fed bailout is better than foreign buyouts. The real question here is what is your alternative to the Fed intervening in this case. Should they have let Bear Stearns go under? There’s an argument there, but I would think the horrendous consequences of that decision outweigh the future moral hazard of a buyout, but either way it’s not like there’s alternatives being provided in this column.

Can't the American people get as good a deal as the Chinese when our government bails out a major American bank? At minimum, some public representation on the bank's board? Reshaping the U.S. economy, now part of the global economy, so that it actually benefits Americans won't be easy. But it must be done. Bring on the new New Deal.

Won’t be easy, how about nigh unto impossible. Seriously, governments cannot corral or manage economies. Unless you want to go all the way and create a planned economy, which would be an entirely different and perfectly reasonable debate, there is very little we can do work the economy. A government representative on the board of J.P. Morgan would be the height of insanity. I mean could you imagine a board room debate about well anything and then out of the corner comes a little:

“Hem, hem…”

“Err, yes?”

“Quite sorry to bother you, but that’s not how we do finance over at the Ministry of Magic.”


The point is, the Ministry shouldn’t interfere at Hogwarts, nor should the government interfere too terribly much at J.P. Morgan.

I am all for sound regulations of the market, mostly on the level of transparency, I am also for all sort of government programs to help level the playing field. Put this sort of “here’s a problem, therefore solution” is both counterproductive and occasionally dangerous. Crafting sound economic policy is a matter of both detail and a long discussion of what is fair and right. This article eschews the former, while assuming the latter, and to me that’s a problem.

Political Rhetoric and Critical Analysis (JM)

So one of my hobbies is amateur critical theory. I occasionally, and by occasionally I mean way more often than I care to admit, spend time deeply deconstructing things like Matt Roush's TV Guide column. One of the things I particularly enjoy is tearing in to political rhetoric and speeches. With Obama's speech yesterday being hailed as one of the greatest speeches of all time (I didn't watch, but can only assume Chris Matthews favorably compared it to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount) I think it's high time to introduce a new series of posts, deconstructing and critically thinking about some of the greater speeches of all time. Not just why they were great, but what about them engaged the cultural milieu* of that time and what underlying implications they contained.

I will begin with the Obama speech from yesterday, because it is both timely and an interesting place to start. Other speeches I am considering taking a look at include Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, JFK's Catholicism speech and a few different inaugural addresses. I will also try to include other speeches that come from outside the tradition sphere of politics as well (admittedly I don't anything actually falls outside of the sphere of politics, every action is inherently a political actions as well, but that's a different discussion altogether). I hope you find these posts interesting, if different than the usual snarky offering. To be fair, I actually don't care all that much. Either way though, I would certainly welcome suggests as to speeches and rhetoric to tackle and discuss as well as active engagement on these topics.

Anyway, that's all for now, drive safely and be sure to tip your waiters and waitresses.

*That is the first time I have ever used the word "milieu" in a post, I am allowed two more max, after that I will ban myself from posting.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Great Moments in Campaign History (JM)

In an interview that is a worthwhile read unto itself, Meagan McCain points out the turning point in her father's campaign:

Meghan recalls the day when actor Wilford Brimley, he of the Quaker Oats ads, called to offer his support. An operative got off the phone and grandly announced to the room, “We’ve got Brimley!” The phrase, she says, became a rallying cry for the campaign.

I am just unsure what to say about this. It is another opportunity to throw up a picture of the Brim, and another opportunity to reflect on just how old John McCain is, but really it also an opportunity to imagine McCain's political team standing around and chanting, "We've got Brimley, yes we do, we've got Brimley how 'bout you?!" Mitt must be so sad he lost to this...

A Little Political Commentary From DMX (JM)

You were aware DMX was a rapper, you were also aware that DMX was a felon, but were you ALSO aware that DMX has a master's in public policy from the Maxwell School as well as a doctorate in political science from Princeton, all this before spending 5 years doing research at the Brookings Institute? Neither was I, which is why his astute political observations are even more striking.

You can thank me later.

EDIT: (Hat tip: Matt Yglesias)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interstellar Trade (Dennis)

"This paper, then, is a serious study of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics."

And you thought economists didn't have a sense of humor!

Check out this by Paul Krugman: Theory of Interstellar Trade