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Archive for September, 2008

A Deal

[ 11 ] September 25, 2008 |

Doesn’t look awful at first glance, although of course we’ll see what makes it into the final deal. This is the key:

They also said that there would be limits on pay packages for executives whose firms seek assistance from the government and a mechanism for the government to be given an equity stake in some firms so that taxpayers have a chance to profit if the companies prosper in the months and years ahead.

Will these provisions survive?


Panic buttons

[ 0 ] September 25, 2008 |

In spite of the fact that I teach for a living and have been running my own courses for about 15 years, I experience tremendous, daily pre-class anxiety, enhanced by my chronic inability to manage my time effectively (e.g., as I’m writing this, I’m only half-prepared for the class that begins in five minutes). Not a day passes that I don’t look forward to the possibility that a meteor will crush me as I’m driving to campus; once there, I usually waste several minutes concocting a fallback excuse just in case I decide there’s no way to go on with the day. I never follow through on any of these plans, because it would be too humiliating to concede to my worst instincts. I also usually think of the high school friend of mine who, during college, slept in accidentally and missed a major presentation that comprised 50% of his final grade. Realizing his error, he actually beat himself to a bloody pulp in his dorm room and wound up having to go to the hospital — all for the purpose of concocting a plausible excuse for missing class.

So this this seems about right.

So, let’s see, I can’t moderate the panel because I’ve been called to Washington to give a special briefing on guerilla tactics to be used against the Taliban?

Or maybe, I want to be at the meeting, but as weird as this sounds, all the bridges and tunnels out of Manhattan have been shut for the day. Some counter-terrorism thing probably. I tried renting a helicopter but they’re all booked by people at the UN.

Isn’t this pretty much what John McCain tried to pull today? But actually really did it? And on a national stage? He wants to cancel the debate? And maybe also Palin’s debate. Are you kidding? Why not cancel the election too? And because he has to go back to DC to solve the financial crisis? Really? The topic he knows nothing about and after he’s shown up less in the senate in the last two years than anyone but Tim Johnson, the guy who had the stroke? Which of my employees is going to call from home tomorrow and say they can’t come to work because of the financial crisis?

Defining Honor Down Out Of Existence

[ 4 ] September 25, 2008 |

I’m baffled by this quasi-rationalization of McCain’s reprehensible campaign from erstwhile McCain-lover Jon Chait:

Any attempt to determine McCain’s true motives is necessarily pure speculation. It’s possible that McCain has convinced himself to actually believe the lies he has been telling. But here’s a more likely explanation: All this dishonesty can be understood not as a betrayal of McCain’s sense of honor but, in an odd way, as a fulfillment of it.

McCain’s deep investment in his own honor can drive him to do honorable things, but it can also allow him to believe that anything he does must be honorable. Thus the moralistic, crusading tone McCain brings to almost every cause he joins. In 2000 and afterward, McCain came to despise George W. Bush and Karl Rove. During his more recent primary campaign, McCain thought the same of front-runner Mitt Romney. Not surprisingly, Romney was the target of McCain’s most unfair primary attack–an inaccurate claim that he favored a withdrawal timetable in Iraq.


The pattern here is perfectly clear. McCain has contempt for anybody who stands between him and the presidency. McCain views himself as the ultimate patriot. He loves his country so much that he cannot let it fall into the hands of an unworthy rival. (They all turn out to be unworthy.) Viewed in this way, doing whatever it takes to win is not an act of selfishness but an act of patriotism. McCain tells lies every day and authorizes lying on his behalf, and he probably knows it. But I would guess–and, again, guessing is all we can do–that in his mind he is acting honorably. As he might put it, there is a bigger truth out there.

If all that’s required to make dirty tricks motivated by “honor” and “patriotism” is a subjective belief that it would be really bad for the country if your opponent won, who isn’t motivated by “honor”? I’d have to say that if you end up with a conception of “honor” that could plausibly result in Karl Rove and Lee Atwater being numbered among the most honorable men in American political history, you need a new definition.

The bigger problem here is that when Chait notes that the press has an extensive history of “portraying him as a uniquely honorable figure,” he never seems to consider the fact that this portrayal was completely unjustified. In reality, that he was a both 1)a political flyweight with little grasp of his own ostensible policy positions and 2)willing to relentlessly lie about his opponents was evident during his 2000 campaign if you bothered to look. It’s just that his genuine military heroism and remarkable ability to suck up to the press caused these things to be ignored. The question about McCain is not why he has changed; it’s why it took so many reporters (including some liberals) so long to figure out what he always was.

Oh Noes! The Army is Coming to Take Our Democracy!!!!!

[ 0 ] September 25, 2008 |

Let me second Jason Sigger’s shredding of Glenn Greenwald’s handwringing regarding the assignment of a Brigade Combat Team to NORTHCOM, the combatant command responsible for the continental United States. Jason ably dismantles Greenwald’s terror that the Army is coming to repress us, but I’d like to concentrate on something else; Greenwald’s notion that Posse Comitatus represents, in any way, a safeguard for democracy. Glenn:

For more than 100 years — since the end of the Civil War — deployment of the U.S. military inside the U.S. has been prohibited under The Posse Comitatus Act (the only exceptions being that the National Guard and Coast Guard are exempted, and use of the military on an emergency ad hoc basis is permitted, such as what happened after Hurricane Katrina). Though there have been some erosions of this prohibition over the last several decades (most perniciously to allow the use of the military to work with law enforcement agencies in the “War on Drugs”), the bright line ban on using the U.S. military as a standing law enforcement force inside the U.S. has been more or less honored — until now.

Huh. Why do you think that a “bright line” was created between the military and law enforcement following the Civil War? I’ll give you nine guesses, and the first eight don’t count. If you say “to protect democracy”, then sorry, you have only the most tenuous grasp of the history of the United States. If you say “to protect Southern terrorist organizations during Reconstruction from the federally controlled United States Army, thereby securing white supremacy in the American South for four generations”, then you win a kewpie doll. Glenn links to Alan Bock to provide historical context, but sadly Bock badly botches the history; it’s as if he doesn’t grasp that, absent the protection of the Army, it was simply impossible for African-Americans to exercise their voting rights in Southern states.

The utility of Posse Comitatus is debatable, even apart from its origins. Glenn calls it “an important democratic safeguard”, but I’d like to know if other major democracies have anything on their books even resembling this prohibition. Moreover, the Army is useful in crisis situations (such as the aftermath of Katrina) not because of its ability to shoot people, but rather because of its tremendous organizational capacity. It’s good at responding to crises because it’s an organization designed to respond to really big crises. We can either take advantage of the capacity that such an organization affords us, or we can pretend that it’s coming to repress us. Glenn’s a smart guy, and he should know a hell of a lot better than to take this crap seriously.

…Glenn’s schtick is “never retreat, never surrender”. I get that, and even appreciate it to some extent. But this claim:

This posts masquerades under the language of superior historical knowledge, but it’s almost completely bereft of any substance. You dismiss Alan Bock’s lengthy and well-documented history of the Posse Comitatus Act and what gave rise to it with one short, conclusory, substance-free decree (Bock “badly botches the history”) — as though your saying so makes it true — without bothering to dispute a single fact he cited.

I find well-documented, detailed claims (Bock’s article) infinitely more preferable than smug, angry self-satisfied rhetoric devoid of anything substantive (your post).

…is simply absurd. Here is the documentation that Bock provides:

The Posse Comitatus law was passed in 1878, not only in response to some of the abuses committed by federal troops during the Reconstruction period in the South after the Civil War, but more specifically after many suspected that federal troops influenced the election of 1876, in which Rutherford B. Hayes was chosen by the Electoral College and federal troops ran some polling places in the South. Specifically, Hayes won the disputed electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, states where President U.S. Grant had sent troops as a posse comitatus by federal marshals at the polls if deemed necessary.

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

The first half is wikipedia; the second would, I think it’s fair to say, be considered tendentious by any reputable historian of the period. Specifically, Bock gives no indication as to who was claiming that the Army had engaged in abuses (Southern whites), or as to why the votes of SC, Louisiana, and Florida were in dispute (white supremacists submitting competing electoral slates with the actual winners of the election). And the documentation? Let me repeat:

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

Get that? Why don’t we try it one more time?

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

That’s some fantastic documentation there; maybe I’ll try that in my next journal submission. May I suggest that one place Glenn and Mr. Bock could start with regards to learning about Reconstruction would be Nicholas Lemann’s excellent “Redemption” which details the military occupation of Mississippi and the struggle between the Army and white supremacist forces. Reviewed here.

That Explains It

[ 0 ] September 25, 2008 |

The preening debate cancellation nonsense seems to have a clear objective — burying Sarah Palin for as long as possible. I guess you can’t argue with the logic in a way, although McCain is trying to cover his mistake by making an even worse one, his trademark.

Although not if you ask Bill Clinton — I have to agree that all of his future public statements should be followed up by Chris Rock. Contrary to media myth, Hillary Clinton has reacted to her loss with equanimity and has fought for the party, but her husband’s post-convention behavior has been an absolute disgrace.

P.T. Barnum-H.L. Mencken Memorial Debate Poll

[ 28 ] September 25, 2008 |

Sometime in the next 30 hours:

(a) A bailout deal will be announced and McCain will participate in the debate.

(b) McCain will announce that after personally taking part in the negotiations great progress has been made, a deal is imminent, and he can now in good conscience participate in the debate after all.

(c) McCain will announce that although no deal is imminent he’s changed his mind because [insert wildly implausible rationalization here], and he will be participating in the debate.

(d) McCain will announce that because there’s no deal he’s not showing up for the debate.

(e) Other (please specify)

Personal to Mr. Wright

[ 5 ] September 25, 2008 |

If they’re going to pitch around you, take the goddamned walk. I know you’re been trained to think as an “RBI man” but flailing at a pitch a foot and a half outside and striking out rather than having Beltran up with the bases loaded and none out isn’t helping the team.

In addition, watching Ryan Church’s current attempts to impersonate a major league hitter — which are about as credible as Sarah Palin’s attempts to impersonate someone who could be president — reminds me that the turning point of the season may well have been sending Church on two cross-country flights immediately after he suffered his second concussion in three months.

What is going on in Congress?

[ 13 ] September 24, 2008 |

I’m re-writing this post to take into account the latest information (it turns out that I was looking at reporting that was a day old). Apparently the Democratic leadership is circulating a draft bill that incorporates more Congressional oversight, warrants of some sort, executive pay limitations, and the right for bankuptcy judges to modify mortgage terms. Substantively this looks a lot better than the Paulson plan, but it’s unclear both how much of this stuff will make it into the final bill and whether the Dem leadership will roll over when Bush threatens a veto as he certainly will if all this stuff in in there.

It now looks like Bush’s speech tonight was designed to revive a deal that looked close to done yesterday but foundered today.

The basic principle — that enacting enormously significant legislation without anything like a normal deliberative process or public debate is generally a terrible idea — remains the same. The notion that this bill has to be adopted in the next couple of days seems increasingly a product of psychological and political blackmail rather than economic reality.

Also, the idea that McCain gets to unilaterally cancel the first debate is preposterous and should be treated as such. Obama should insist on taking part no matter what McCain does.

Update: Ian Welsh isn’t optimistic about what’s going on, but OTOH things still seem to be genuinely up in the air. David Sirota asks some obvious but important questions about what role Obama adviser Warren Buffett — who bought a $5 billion stake in Goldman Sachs today — has in all this.

Further thoughts on a strange day indeed

[ 0 ] September 24, 2008 |

(1) Is McCain sick? I agree with Aimai that it seems unlikely, given his schedule — he took a meeting with Lynn Whatshername de Rothschild this morning and did an interview with Katie Couric this afternoon, plus his excuse is that he’s got to be in Washington for the bailout negotiations.

(2) The more I think about it, the weirder the cancel the debate gambit gets. You can’t just pull out with less than 48 hours warning from 90 minutes of prime time on all networks and cable news channels — even our lapdog media will get upset about having their travel plans and story schedules screwed with for transparently tactical reasons like that.

(3) This story might have some explanatory value. If things aren’t moving forward on the legislative front, McCain’s gambit might be, I tried to stop politics as usual and broker a bipartisan deal, Obama put politics before country, and look at how bad the economy is now (this is looking seven weeks down the road). In other words the calculation might be that this is the only way to turn the economic turmoil in his favor — not by getting a Wall Street bailout passed and then pinning it on the Democrats, but by turning a refusal to be stampeded into a giant taxpayer giveaway into the supposed cause of whatever bad economic news breaks in the next 40 days. Or maybe he’s just losing it.

(4) Now his people are saying that if there isn’t a bailout bill passed by Friday he’ll only participate in the debate by webcast. This was just on MSNBC. It’s all a plot to avoid HDTV!

K-Lo Funny

[ 0 ] September 24, 2008 |

If I’d been severely depressed about something today, reading The Corner would have really helped clear the air. Here, for example, is K-Lo, wondering how John McCain is going to win the election if she can’t get her campaign trinkets:

Try to buy, say, a sign or a button or a t-shirt from the McCain store online and you’ll get a note that it will take 1-2 weeks. I thought we had an election to win. 1-2 weeks could mean the election!

Additionally, if you go to the RNC’s website, you will not be directed to McCain-Palin merchandise but to the George W. Bush store. Now, I love George W. Bush (I do, I still do. Even in these days of Treasury Creep ) … but, priorities, people!

I almost made a purchase …

Perhaps McCain should suspend his campaign activities until his gift shop gets its shit together.

And in the ohpleaseohpleaseohplease department, there’s this:

Many readers relay that they’d like McCain to just offer Palin step in for him.

You know those people who allow their homes to bloat and ripple with undiscarded waste, who stock thirty years of newspapers in their hallway closets, and who load up their cars with old flatware, plastic cups and boxes of clothing they find at random yard sales? Those are the people K-Lo is apparently hearing from today. [Update: Wow. The prosecution rests.]

Meantime, in other NRO news, John Derbyshire and Michael Novak are debating the virgin birth.

These people are weird.

McCain asks Obama to postpone debate in order to work on the economy

[ 0 ] September 24, 2008 |

My first reaction is that this sounds like a truly bizarre publicity stunt.

My second reaction is that this is a sign of desperation and Obama should refuse.

Update: This is absolutely nuts: McCain is calling on the Obama campaign to suspend all advertising! The worst thing a political leader can do in this kind of economic climate is to start screaming hysterically about how if we don’t suspend all normal business and do something radical right this instant we’ll all be in the street (or McCain’s version, which I suppose is something like losing your seventh home and being down to nine cars).

Seriously this is crazy, and a lot of GOP leaders must be wondering if their man is actually flipping out.

Update II: Rumor all over DC is that the McCain campaign is seriously considering sending Palin to the debate in McCain’s stead. Two hours ago I would have laughed.

Update III: New Time/CNN poll from last three days shows Obama with leads outside the margin of error in Colorado and Michigan, and a big lead in PA. More evidence if any were needed that this is just panic from the McCain camp.

Update IV: McCain spokesperson on Hardball refused to rule out possibility that McCain would simply not show up. My guess is that when the Obama people privately contacted the McCain people about a joint statement regarding the bailout negotiations (which strikes me as a dumb thing to do FWIW), McCain jumped at the possibility of using this as an opening for getting out of Friday’s debate. Maybe he’s exhausted, maybe he’s having a health crisis, maybe he hasn’t done his homework — but whatever, it’s pretty clear his people are winging this now.

Update V: Letterman gets blown off by St. John of the Perpetually Convenient Crisis for Katie Couric and doesn’t take it well. Ouch!

Great Moments In Hackery

[ 9 ] September 24, 2008 |

This reminds me of perhaps my very favorite Saint Greenspan moment: his solemn admonition to Congress that if we didn’t pass a massive package of upper-class tax cuts we’d…pay down the national debt too quickly. Yes, what a plausible scenario that was, and how awful it would have been if in the worst-case scenario we could have taken the massive amounts of money we’re wasting on interest payments and used it for tax cuts or needed government programs…

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