Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Presidential precedent

Not since James Buchanan, in 1861, has a president slunk into a well-deserved ignominy with the passivity (not to mention incompetence) of George W. Bush.

Great expectations

In the 210 years of the American presidency, only two new presidents have arguably faced challenges of the magnitude that confronts Barack Obama: Lincoln and FDR. Yet Obama may be subject to higher expectations than either of those legendary predecessors. When Lincoln acceded to the presidency as the union threatened to dissolve, he did so largely thanks to a schism among the Democrats. The Great Emancipator was thought by many to be a lucky beneficiary of the crisis that did in his opponents; few gave him credit for a masterful campaign. For many months after he entered the White House, the weight of "informed" opinion continued to underestimate him.

FDR was the subject of great hopes, but no one could have expected him to perform as he did, not least because no government in the history of the world had ever acted on such a scale or with so much sustained energy as America (and the world) saw during Roosevelt's four terms. Notably, Roosevelt in office was far more innovative and energetic than FDR the candidate had suggested he would be.

Obama suffers--yes, suffers--because he has predecessors such as Roosevelt and Lincoln. I have suggested, only half in jest, that every 150 years or so the nation needs a tall, skinny guy from Illinois. The challenges that we must meet now are easily analogized to those of 1933. But unlike FDR and Lincoln, we have the example of those great forebears with which to compare Barack Obama. (I am not aware that FDR was widely compared with Lincoln in 1932 or 1933; the crises that contronted the two men were almost entirely different.)

The presidency is a crushing burden. The expectations that confront Obama can only make it more so. Let's hope and even pray (even if you are not religious, dear reader, what could it hurt?) that our forty-fourth President can stand up and ever excel, under the pressure.

Clean coal

The New York Times reports that the power plant that used the coal-ash reservoir that collapsed in Tennessee last week deposited more than 2.2 million pounds of toxic material in a single year, including "45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese." The Times notes that, "Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems."

The story also points out that the reservoir contained many decades' worth of such poisons.

Now, what was that about coal being clean energy?

Three weeks

Three weeks from now, at noon on January 20th, Barack Obama will become President. (Under the Twentieth Amendment, it is the clock, not the oath of office, and makes a President.)

Is it just me, or do the days seem to be crawling by?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In proportion

In The American President, Michael Douglas' character is advised that a military response to a Libyan attack on an American military mission to Israel is "proportional." He replies something along the lines of, "Someday, someone is going to have to tell me the value of a proportional response."

Israel's response to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip has been notably disproportionate. I suggest that that is the right course for Israel to take.

Palestinian rocket attacks were renewed after a 6-month cease-fire between Israel and Hamas expired last week. While a number of authorities have suggested that both sides need a renewed cessation of hostilities, Palestinian forces opened a renewed fusillade within days.

This writer favored the unconditional Israeli evacuation of Gaza. I did not foresee--as the Israelis did not--that Hamas would monopolize Gaza, and that it would continue its unconditional refusal to recognize Israeli existence.

Many would suggest that Israel react to the renewal of Palestinian rocket fire--notably ineffective, given its volume--through limited responses aimed mainly at those who set off the missiles, with occasional strikes at specific leaders among Hamas and its allies. The trouble with that approach is that it does not work and, worse, that the "collateral damage" from such attacks arouses hostility among Palestinians and across the Arab world.

What to do? Should Israel ignore the attacks from Gaza? It is tempting to say yes, that the cost--a life here, damaged businesses there, some thousands of civilians suffering from PTSD or something like it--is not so great as to require response. Such thinking lacks intellectual discipline.

Hamas and its ilk do not simply oppose Israeli policy--they seek the destruction of the State of Israel. Perhaps they do not desire the extinction of Israelis (at least Jewish Israelis), but perhaps they do. In any event, it is clear that if Israel were to collapse many thousands--and perhaps many tens of thousands--of its citizens would die, and that the rest would be rendered destitute refugees in a diaspora that would dwarf the one in the Bible.

A "proportionate" response would do nothing to discourage further attacks on Israel. It would do nothing to keep Hamas and its allies from developing more deadly weapons, as they have already begun to do.

There is no guaranty that Israel's massive attack (which has continued today) will change Hamas' mind about its ultimate aims, or even its tactics. But nothing else has worked, and by bringing disproportionate damage to its enemies, Israel might--just might--begin to convince ordinary Gazans that Hamas' methods, if not its ultimate ambitions, are not worth the cost. Hamas is anything but democratic, but eventually even it must listen to those it seeks to govern.

Is it tragic that innocent people will die? Yes. But it is no more tragic if they are Palestinians than Israelis and, given that, tactics most likely (even if "most likely" is still considerably less than probably) to change Hamas' behavior are the right ones to use.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama's first mistake?

In choosing evangelical pastor Rick Warren to provide the invocation at his Inauguration, President-Elect Obama (we need to keep saying "President-Elect Obama" to make it easier to get used to saying "President Obama") made a real mistake. Is it his first? Given the way the team he has assembled so far looks, it might well be, although the proof of that pudding will be in the eating.

The mistake in picking Warren is not in angering part of the President-Elect's base. That may even be politically wise. The error lies in giving a place of honor at a major public event to a man who espouses bigotry against a substantial group of Americans, and a group that has suffered and still suffers from prejudice. As more than one observer has noted, if Warren preached anti-Semitism or anti-Catholicism with the virulence that he shows toward gays and non-believers, having him appear at the Inauguration would not even been considered. Indeed, he wouldn't even be invited.

Franken on the verge of victory?

As the Minnesota Canvassing Board reviews challenged ballots, Norm Coleman's (R.MN) lead has dropped in 24 hours from 358 votes to a mere 5.

Is this the end of the road for Democratic turncoat Coleman? Probably not, although things look a lot better for Franken than they did last week. To be frank, the whole process is mystifying to TONE (who hasn't followed it the way he did the hanging chads of Florida), but we understand that the race is probably going to be decided in court.

I said from the beginning that Franken's slogan should have been, "Send a real comedian to the Senate."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The schnorrer

The present economic malaise has led me to remember an old story about a schnorrer. A schnorrer (the word, being transliterated from Yiddish, is usually spelled "sch," but pronounced with a soft "sh" sound, like "shoe") was a beggar in the world of Eastern European Jews. Unlike mendicants of other cultures, however, the schnorrer was not an abject figure. No, he had pride, even chutzpah.

In Judaism, tzedakah, charity, is one of the greatest mitzvot (blessings) that Jew can perform.
Because of this, the schnorrer and his more prosperous co-religionists in the ghettos and the shtetl (the villages of the Pale, the part of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to live legally) developed a symbiotic relationship. The schnorrer depended on the generosity of those who could afford to give, while he made it convenient for them to perform tzedakah, often by making regular calls.

The story is told of the schnorrer who makes his weekly visit to the home of a merchant. Knocking at the back door, he is handed a coin. "Five kopecks? Last week you gave me ten kopecks."

"I'm sorry," says the merchant. "I had a bad week"

"Nu? You had a bad week, I should suffer?"

The financial crisis in a nutshell

So I got some checks mixed up, and put one intended for a bank account in the envelope to my health insurer. And the health-insurance payment? You guessed it, it went into the bank

So, what happened? Neither my bank or the insurer (or its bank) caught the errors. The checks were processed and paid even though the money went into accounts unrelated to the payees on them.

And you wonder why banks are in trouble?


The demands of work and a lack of energy has led to an unanticipated vacation, but TONE is back, although we can't promise to post as frequently as in the past.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Seven nays, one aye....

...the ayes have it." So Abraham Lincoln is reported to have counted the votes at a cabinet meeting. His, of course, was the only "aye."

This story came to mind as I heard about the Obama supporters who complain that he has been appointing old Clinton hands to his economic team. Now he has announced a Clinton and a couple of Republicans among his national-security appointments.

President-Elect Obama knows his history. He knows that the cabinet and White House staff carry out the President's directive. And he is strong enough to know that he can dismiss those who go off on their own. Is there risk that President Obama's policy will be undermined? Yes. But given the challenges that we face as the new administration takes office, experience seems like a better bet than ideological purity.

Most interesting (or something) news headline of the week

From the Yahoo home page this morning:

Calif. woman claims to see the Virgin Mary in salsa splatter

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Where Obama is wrong

Although I could not be happier with what I've seen from the incoming Obama administration, there is one notable area where I believe Obama to be wrong. His announced policy is to increase American troop strength in Afghanistan. In the short run, that may be indicated, but troop reinforcements can be at most a stop-gap.

Rory Stewart, a former British foreign service officer, had a piece in The Times pointing out that security in the country has deteriorated as the western military presence has grown. By itself, those facts do not prove much; the need for more troops could represent the reaction to a deteriorating security situation. What caught me about Stewart's argument, however, was this:
By 2004, Afghanistan had a stable currency, millions more children in school, a better health system, an elected Parliament, no Al Qaeda and almost no Taliban. All this was achieved with only 20,000 troops and a relatively small international aid budget.
This still does not work as proof that the resurgence of the Taliban has been related to the increase in NATO forces, but it does underscore some important and, I believe, undisputed facts. One is that insurgencies such as that faced in Afghanistan are not defeated by military means. The second is that Afghans traditionally resent--deeply--the presence of foreign troops. Indeed, this writer was one of the few who worried aloud at the wisdom of invading Afghanistan in 2001, for that very reason. While I have seen indications that some Afghans are willing to accept a foreign presence for a limited time, we should not read too much into that. There have always been those willing to cooperate--or collaborate--with invaders. We cannot count on such allies to win the day.

To prevail in Afghanistan, we need a much more broad-front strategy than we have seen to date. We need much more reconstruction: the building of roads and schools and hospitals, as well as programs to encourage economic development controlled by Afghans. We also need to deal with the production of opium poppies in a more creative way--although reports indicate that the production of poppies is way down in some areas under government control. For those parts of the country that are not in safe hands, we need ways at least to reduce the flow of drug cash into the hands of the enemy.

Why, for instance, have we not considered buying the crop, in the fields (to keep farmers from delivering adulterated product and selling to both sides)? This would not be a voluntary program; farmers who refuse to cooperate would suffer serious penalties--perhaps the destruction of their crop. But it should be accompanied by measures to induce the growers to switch to other crops; the farmers must know that they are selling poison; the opportunity to grow a profitable foodstuff should be attractive.

We must also be more politically adept. We must look for opportunities to split off and co-opt some of the Taliban's allies. Indeed, according to the BBC, the refer to the Taliban as if the insurgency were a unified force is to commit a major blunder.

And, finally, we must realize that while western force might--might--keep our enemies from taking Kabul, we "win" the war (which means reducing the Taliban and its allies to a minor factor) only through the efforts of the Afghans themselves. They are the ones who will have to construct an answer to fundamentalist Islam. That is not impossible--Afghans have a history of moderation in their religion. But it will require a change in political culture--patriotism or some other motive that can banish the incompetence, cupidity and corruption that afflict the Karzai regime. That will be a tall order, and results from other countries--Vietnam comes to mind--does not inspire confidence. But a Western strategy that is not premised mainly on local political leadership is bound to fail.

Better late than never

Although Bush and Cheney are on their way out, I had to smile at this sticker on the back window of a pick-up:

I never thought I'd miss Nixon

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obvious choice

New York is abuzz with speculation about whom Gov. David Paterson will appoint to fill Hillary Clinton's spot in the Senate when she sashays over to Foggy Bottom.

The choice seems simple to me: Bill.

Forgotten but not gone

George W. Bush.

Over the weekend, Gail Collins suggested that Bush and Cheney resign and let Nancy Pelosi become the interim President, figuring that she would, in essence, commence the Obama administration.

More simply and more practically, Tom Friedman suggested Sunday that W appoint Timothy Geithner Treasury Secretary immediately, so that the Obama team can start managing the economy at once.

Both sensible, if drastic, suggestions. Neither of them will be tried, of course.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quiet down

You may have seen the reports last week that Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, had offered Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, safe-conduct to discuss peace in Kabul. That seemed like a good idea to me--without, I admit, a lot of analysis--but what really interested me was that a spokesman for the National Security Council threw cold water on the idea.

If I had Barack Obama's ear, one of the ideas I would whisper into it is that the National Security Council should not have a spokesman. For one thing, what the NSC does should remain secret. For another, it's functions cross those of the Departments of State, Defense, DHS and Commerce, all of which have more than enough flacks. Not to mention the CIA and NSC, two agencies that have spokesmen but shouldn't.

WAPO reports that the President-elect is soon to appoint retired Marine General James Jones as his National Security Advisor. A former Commandant of the Corps and NATO commander, Jones would bring much credibility and clout to a job that has already acquired a great deal of the latter in the past few decades. Nonetheless, if he takes up the job, Gen. Jones should button his lip. To have someone in the White House speaking at cross-purposes with expected Secretary of State Clinton would be a seed for disunity in the government at a time when we can ill-afford it.

Barack Obama has promised us an open administration. Very good. But a first step toward that would be to shut up the proliferation of self-serving spokesmen for government agencies that are too secret, too small or too awkwardly placed (viz, NSC) to deserve one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The not-so-big three

For the past few days, I've been thinking about Eddie Rickenbacker. For anyone who doesn't remember him, Rickenbacker was the most successful American ace of WWI, and he survived the war, which most of them didn't. He was one of the most popular American heroes of the War to End Wars.

Rickenbacker had actually been famous as a racing-car driver before the war, and was for a time General Pershing's chauffeur. After the war, he decided to enter the automobile industry. Capitalizing on his name, the started manufacturing a car called the Rickenbacker (a name that's no stranger than Chrysler and less so than Chevrolet, which is not pronounced the way it's spelled). The advanced feature for which the Rickenbacker was remembered was--get this--four-wheel brakes. That's right--brakes on all four wheels. Up to this time, most American cars had had brakes only on the rear wheels.

Although there were a number of other independent manufacturers, with its founder's heroic reputation the Rickenbacker presented a particular threaten the dominance of Ford and GM in the American market. (Chrysler wasn't formed until a couple of years after Rickenbacker started making cars.) What did they do? Did they put their engineers to work to leapfrog the competitor's technology? Did they at least match that technology and offer lower prices to meet the competition? No, and no. They started a smear campaign, centering around allegations that four-wheel brakes were dangerous. The Rickenbacker lasted only a few years.

This story is all too emblematic of the way in which the US automobile industry has operated for the past hundred years. While American manufacturers have often trumpeted this or that new device, their products have been technologically inferior to European and later Japanese vehicles.

For more than a decade we have heard that American buyers want big, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. There has been some truth to this, but little recognition that a large part of that desire was created by marketing. If Detroit had wanted to sell smaller and more efficient automobiles, more of them would have been sold.

So, what to do with an industry that has had a death wish for decades and is now in extremis? I opposed the Chrysler bailout on ideological grounds; as a matter of economics, it worked out well. Now the economic argument is much stronger than it was when only one American company--and the smallest--was in trouble.

Although I'm not comfortable agreeing with the leaders of GM, Ford and Chrysler, I must concede that their argument that no one will buy a car from a bankrupt company has a lot of force. Yet it's anything but clear that Congress will pass a bailout bill for American car-makers, even if they last through January 20th.

Something else is needed. I suggest a federal receivership, which would be like a bankruptcy, except that it would be funded by the federal government and would be intended to a reconstruction--indeed, reinvention--of the industry.

As part of this reinvention the companies' management should be decapitated. To make the radical change in direction that the industry needs, the top 50 no, make that 100 executives should be shown the door. Replacements should be brought in from Toyota, Honda, VW, etc., and from other industries such as solar and wind power. (Part of the plan should be to diversify the companies into new technologies.)

In true crisis mode, a rescue of the auto industry will have to be made up on the fly. Even if Congress adopts a receivership, getting the companies back to financial stability, much less prosperity. But the cost of letting the companies be liquidated makes the risk worth it.

Monday, November 10, 2008


The New York Times published the following photograph today:

Take a few moments to look at it closely. The colors. The look on the face of the soldier you can see (how young he is!); the posture of the soldier whose face is hidden. This shot tells you all about war without showing violence or gore. Robert Capa--almost certainly the greatest war photographer ever--would have been proud to have taken it.

(Capa said, "I am a war photographer. My ambition is to be a retired war photographer." That was not an ambition that he was to fulfill. In Indochina, in 1954, he stepped on a landmine and was killed.)

Say what?

TPM has the line of the week, and it's only Monday:
TPM Reader DG: "I can't believe Obama is already sitting down with an unpopular, aggressive world leader without preconditions."

Sunday, November 09, 2008


JFK said that the Chinese characters for crisis mean danger and opportunity. Apparently, he was wrong about that, but the present economic crisis provides a fine opportunity to do something that I did not expect would happen without a huge struggle: rebuild the nation's infrastructure. As Robert Reich points out, spending government money--despite the huge deficit already in prospect--is by far the best way to pull ourselves out of what he calls a mini depression. Indeed, even conservative economists like Martin Feldstein are calling for using infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. If the Obama administration plays the cards right, it might be able to get a major commitment to rebuilding the nation's physical assets through Congress before next summer. That would be a major achievement even in four years. If passed quickly, it could be the cornerstone of the most effective effort to use government as a way to make the nation stronger since the 1930's. (I am excluding WWII from my calculus intentionally, as military strength is necessarily narrow in focus.)

Here's an idea

Headline and sub-head from today's Boston Globe:
Wish lists piling up for Obama

But grass-roots strategy leaves few debts to interest groups.
Could it be that ideas will actually have to be considered on their merits? Now that's a novel idea!

Thank you, Dan Schorr

I was listening to Daniel Schorr on NPR yesterday. He noted that on Wednesday morning, we woke up and everything had changed. A pretty amazing comment for a man who's 92.

I say, "thank you," to him, because on Wednesday I did not feel as if the world had changed. Perhaps it was because I had been working so hard on the voter protection that last week, or maybe because having paid such close attention to the campaign I was not surprised (though gratified) by the results. Whatever the cause, on Wednesday, I felt as if the result was something of an anti-climax. That did not especially surprise or dishearten me; I have learned almost to expect such reactions at the end of a long effort.

But as the days have passed since last Tuesday, I have shared the feeling of excitement that has swept the nation, indeed, the world. Yes, it does seem like a new era.

This will pass soon. Already, people are starting to talk about how Obama will actually govern. We may expect debate, frustration and anger. But for now we can bask in the moment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Due process?

A federal judge in Washington has opened the first habeas corpus hearing for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But lest you think that the detainees are finally receiving the benefits of American justice, consider this:

In the case that began Thursday, government lawyers appear to be taking few chances that the men will be freed.

They have filed a sealed envelope of evidence with Judge Leon, which the detainees’ lawyers have not been permitted to see. In court filings the government lawyers said that if the evidence in the closed hearings was not enough to justify the detention, then the judge should open the envelope.

Judge Leon, the filing said, “may very well ultimately face the circumstance where the information justifying detention is too sensitive” to share not only with the detainees but also with their lawyers.

A long road

As you may have heard, exit polls suggest that 70 percent of black voters in California supported the noxious Proposition 8. As part of a long-term strategy to reverse that decision, it should be suggested to black voters that:

You may think that homosexuality is immoral, and you are entitled to believe that.
You may think that the Bible forbids homosexuality, and you are entitled to believe that.
But remember that there were people who believed that the Bible justified racial segregation and even slavery.

I wish

As I was sitting in the airport yesterday, reading The New York Times' election coverage while waiting for my flight, I found myself reflecting on how nice it would have been if my mother had lived to see Barack Obama elected President.

When I was very young, before Brown v. Board of Education, I remember my mother fulminating--I can think of no better word--at the idea that people were treated differently because of the color of their skin. And when Brown was decided, and I as a nine-year-old said that now everything would be all right, my mother was wise and honest enough to say that, no, it would take a very long time.

I can only imagine what Mother would have thought on Tuesday night.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Speaking of reaching out

Apparently, John Kerry (D.MA) is campaigning actively for the Secretary of State's job. Wouldn't a better choice be Richard Lugar, former Republican Senator from Indiana? (If he has the energy, that is.) For one thing, Lugar would seem to be a better diplomat than Kerry. For another, Obama has talked about having Republicans in his cabinet, and Lugar has a reputation for being a moderate and pragmatic figure. Then, too, given the way our politics is focused now--i.e., on the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--the Secretary of State's job is one that would be a good fit for a member of the opposition.

Change we can believe in?

Can it really be true that Larry Summers is on the short list for Treasury Secretary? Larry Summers, alumnus of the Clinton administration? Larry Summers, who suggested that maybe girls' brains didn't work as well as boys' brains when it comes to things like math and science? Larry Summers, who can't get along with anybody? That Larry Summers?

Reach out

If I had had the ear of Barack Obama on Tuesday night, I would have suggested that he tell John McCain that he'd like to sit down with the erstwhile Republican candidate, one-on-one in the next couple of weeks. Yes, I know that McCain does not like the President-elect and that he did not even give the man who beat him soundly much respect, but the new President should reach out.

Obama should reach out to Republican Congressional leaders as well.

Democrats should remember what happened to the Republicans: Hubris.

To make this a truly transformational election, Democrats need to behave differently from those they have defeated.

Sick at heart

Even as we celebrate Barack Obama's triumph, I am sick at heart over California's adoption of Proposition 8, turning back the clock on same-sex marriage, not to mention similar measures in Florida and Arizona.

I hope that those who support rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens--that is, all those who believe in equality--will start the long road to reversing these benighted decisions.

Art imitates life

or is it the other way 'round?

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What it was about

I heard this on NPR while I was in Florida last week. Sorry, I did not hear the name of the person who said it, nor that of the person who wrote it; if you know, please tell us.

Rosa sat so Martin could march.
Martin marched so Barack could run.
Barack is running so our children can fly.

(Update: See this attribution.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

From the trail

It's been a long time since I've been able to post. As regular readers will know, I am in Florida, working with the Obama campaign's Voter Protection project. The chaos of getting ready to come down here (which I did on Tuesday), long hours and a dodgy Internet connection have prevented posting until now.

About the long hours. The day I got here, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) ordered that the early voting hours be extended, so from Wednesday through Friday they were open 7 to 7, and in Miami-Dade, where I am, they were open 9-5 yesterday. Today, those us working get a break--only 1-5. But voters will be lined up by 11 AM today, if what I heard from people yesterday is any guide.

The location that I have been working at, in South Dade, is a mixture of black, Hispanic and white voters, heavily but not entirely Democratic. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for Obama among all three groups. (Hispanic South Florida is no longer dominated by Cuban-Americans, and many younger members of that group are Democrats. Indeed, Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American who turned around the politics of the Cuban American National Foundation, stands a good, or maybe better than good, chance of ousting Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and being elected to Congress.)

I'd like to pay tribute to the people from the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections office who have been handling the polls, and from other county employees who have been handling the long lines of voters. They have been working amazingly long hours without complaint. Many of them worked from 6 AM to after 9 PM on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and they had been working long ours before that. They are public servants in the best sense.

And credit to the voters who are willing to stand in line for hours in order to exercise their right to vote. Yesterday, a voter said, "After eight years, four hours are nothing." She's right, but while it is a tribute to the patriotism of people willing to make such an effort to choose their leaders, it is a disgrace that they have to do so.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The gloves come off!

AP reports:

McCain says Obama will 'say anything' to win


(I am tempted to mention the pot calling the kettle black, but that's too obvious.)

The race is tightening! The sky is falling!

The horse race meme is still alive.

You probably saw that the AP published a poll yesterday that showed Barack Obama up by only one point over John McCain. Well, I've got news for you--and for Sen. McCain: The poll is bogus. Or, as the Car Talk Guys would put it, BO-OH-GUS!

One key is in the poll's sample of "likely voters," which is the figure that was reported. (You can see the poll itself here.) The problem lies in figuring out who are the people likely to vote. From all respondents, Obama has a 10 point lead. But among "likely voters," as interpreted by the poll, that margin comes down to a single point. Why? We don't know, because we don't know how "likely voters" were culled from all of those who responded. But we do know that the results are substantially different from other polls.

The factor most often used by pollsters to measure "likely" voters is past voting behavior. But as we know, millions of new voters have registered. Not all of them will vote. But many of them have registered because of their enthusiasm over the race this year. And the lion's share of those voters are going to show up and pull the lever (or, more likely, mark the little circle or fill in the blank) for Barack Obama. So polls of "likely" voters are suspect to begin with.

There is also a significant error on page 24 of the poll, where it is related that 45 percent of respondents said they were evangelical Christians. To begin with, only 55 percent of respondents identified themselves as Christian (54 if you are one of those who doesn't count Mormons as Christians). Even if the percentage of evangelicals is 45 percent of 55 percent, that is 24.5% of the sample, more than there are in the nation (some polls said that 23 percent of voters in 2004 were evangelicals, but in fact evangelicals comprise only about 16 percent of the population, and do not vote at a rate 1 1/2 times that of other groups).

Then, too, the percentage of Jews in the sample is only 1 percent; Jews constitute approximately 3 percent of the population. The percentage of Muslims in the sample is too small to be noted; while Muslims are not a large percentage of voters, they are a measurable fraction.

The AP poll is, at best, an outlier. Very likely it was influenced, albeit unconsciously, by the desire to keep the horse race story plausible.

Block the vote

From Rolling Stone:
On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas [NM].
From our friends at TPM:
A judge weighing whether to close down early voting sites in Lake County's Democratic strongholds questioned local officials about the absentee voting process during visits to the disputed sites.

Lake County Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias-Schneider toured the Gary, Hammond and East Chicago satellite voting sites Monday and heard hours of testimony and arguments on whether they are legal and fair.


When Kavadias-Schneider asked, "What of those who have already voted?" R. Lawrence Steele, a GOP lawyer, replied, "Maybe those votes should be discarded."
So much for democracy.

Your editor will be putting his legal training and license to practice to good use. He's heading for the Sunshine State next week to help keep the bad guys from stealing the election. You can help, too. Many states can use poll watchers or people on phone banks to help voters--even if they are not an attorneys. Or just work for the candidate of your choice on the street or on the phone. If the margins are large enough, they won't be able to steal the vote.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What he really said

Here's the full version of Barack Obama's chat with the famous Joe the Plumber. I know you are tired of hearing about Joe, but because the McCain campaign has continued to use, and misuse, what went on between the Democratic nominee and the world's most famous plumber's helper, we thought it would be useful to take a look at what Obama REALLY said to Joe. You'll notice that he did NOT suggest spreading money around. (You'll also note that Obama appears to think that Joe actually owns a plumbing business, and that he nets more than $250,000 per year. Where did these mistaken impressions come from? The only source I can think of is Joe himself.)

Telllng you where to go (vote, that is)

Do you know where to vote on November 4th? Google helps you find out.

(If your address were 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you'd vote at The Smiths Center--80's Room at George Washington University, 600 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. And after voting, you could go home and start packing.)

Al Qaeda-linked web site supports McCain

The AP reports:
Al-Qaida supporters suggested in a Web site message this week they would welcome a pre-election terror attack on the U.S. as a way to usher in a McCain presidency.

The message, posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site, said if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is the better choice because he is more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Don't you hate when that happens?

As you've probably heard, Rep. John Murtha (D.PA) put his foot all the way down his throat by saying that Barack Obama will suffer, because Western Pennsylvania (including the area he represents) is "a racist area." Good thing for the Congressman that he brings home all that pork. So there was John McCain in Western Pennsylvania yesterday, with Murtha (and by extension, Obama) all lined up in his sights:

Oh, well, it's been a LONG campaign.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Even Palin wouldn't stoop that low

Obama on the McCain robocalls and other sleazy shenanigans:

Truth hurts

The McCain campaign has spent a lot of time and a few million dollars trying to convince voters that Barack Obama is responsible for the sub-prime loan crisis through his ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now, that is simply untrue. To begin with, those companies--though by no means blameless--were bit players in the greed-fest that put us where we are today.

Oh, and it wasn't Obama that Fannie and Freddie were trying to influence. The AP reports:
Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.

In the cross hairs of the campaign carried out by DCI of Washington were Republican senators and a regulatory overhaul bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. DCI's chief executive is Doug Goodyear, whom John McCain's campaign later hired to manage the GOP convention in September.


Sassafras (Sassy) is ready for her bath.

Of course, she was really just resting.

A remedy for cynicism

The New York Times tells the story a school teacher in rural Colombia who is dedicated to bringing books to people in the countryside around the small town where he lives, with his own efforts and two burros.

Small steps.

$150 million!

As you've no doubt heard, Barack Obama raised $150 million in September. Even more significant, the campaign reports that more than a half-million new donors, and that the average contribution is only $86.00. True, there are large donors out there, but they are swamped by the number of ordinary Americans (3 million people have contributed) giving hard-earned dollars to change the way Washington works.

McCain may be right that Obama has broken the system of public financing, although it is much more likely that his campaign has shown conclusively that it is broken. McCain may also be accurate in saying that it will take a scandal to bring us to revive the estimable idea that campaigns should be financed by the whole nation. But Obama has shown that the interests cannot compete with the people when the people are aroused.

Another thought about the Powell endorsement

Whether or not Powell's endorsement convinces undecided voters, it has to be one more piece of dispiriting news for McCain supporters. I heard a cut from McCain in Ohio yesterday, assuring his audience that the race is even. Having his long-time friend and fellow Republican Colin Powell reject his candidacy and his campaign must be a blow to his morale and to that of his followers. In the home stretch of the race, such factors can be important, undermining the energy that McCain would need to mount a last-minute drive.

Tough questions

How bad is it for John McCain? He's getting hard cross-examination from Fox News. Unfortunately, this is not because McCain is showing the kind of honorable conservatism that made him notable at one point. Far from it. Take a look:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It ain't over til.....

Josh Marshall examines McCain's slime campaign and warns against complacency. I'm not sure he's right, but he is acute, especially when he points out that the repeated references to Bill Ayers have nothing to do with his years with the Weathermen and everything to do with the opportunity to mention Obama and "terrorist" in the same sentence. Take a look.

Powell endorses Obama

I'm not sure how much it will help, but it certainly can't hurt that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama on Meet the Press this morning. I happened to be watching, courtesy of a crick in my back that came when I reached into the back of the car for a roll of duct tape yesterday. I was very impressed, not with the fact of the endorsement, but the way Powell expressed himself. In particular, Powell not only criticized and rebutted the slur that Obama is a Muslim, but went on to say what too many of us have omitted: "and what difference should it make if he were?" Powell's appearance did a lot to restore the respect that he forfeited (in my estimation) as W's Secretary of State. Take a look:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Can't win for losing

That's John McCain (and, last time I looked, the Red Sox). Kevin Drum found this priceless still from last night's debate:

Who won?

Who won the third (and last) debate last night? I don't know. but I know who won the media war of political spots based on the debate:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The Supreme Court yesterday refused to review the conviction of Troy Davis, the Georgia man who's execution was stayed three weeks ago, two hours before he was scheduled to die. The state is now free to set a new date for the execution and, unless the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons has a sudden (and unlikely change of heart), Davis will be put to death soon.

You may recall that there is no forensic or physical evidence against Davis, and seven of nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony. If he were given a new trial, there would be no realistic chance of a conviction.

Davis' lawyers took the bold position that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the execution of the innocent. (I have not read the briefs and therefore I do not know if they also argued that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process is offended by the legalized killing of an innocent person; that seems to me--without the benefit of several years of thought about the matter that counsel have--more logical.)

If you are not a lawyer, the proposition that innocence should prevent execution is probably so obvious that you cannot conceive of how the law could rule otherwise. It shames us to know that our legal system could permit a result such as the Supreme Court has ordained.

And it shames us even more that not one of the justices of the Supreme Court dissented from the refusal to hear Troy Davis' appeal.

The noblest figure in this sad tale is Davis himself. According to the NY Times, his sister quotes him as saying, 'Even if they succeed in killing me, it will dismantle the death penalty system in Georgia because people are tired of injustice.'

Monday, October 13, 2008

My god's bigger than your god

Rev. Arnold Conrad delivers the invocation at a McCain rally in Davenport, Iowa.


A mystery explained

I consider myself a reasonably well-informed person, although like John McCain business and finance aren't my strong points. Still, I thought I had a general handle on the esoteric instruments that seem to be at the heart of the financial crisis. But as I was driving yesterday, I heard an episode of This American Life (apparently first broadcast late in September) that explained one part of it about which, as it turned out, I was wholly ignorant. That is the credit default swap.

Turns out that the credit default swap started as an instrument that was pretty much what you might think from its name: For a fee, someone would insure a security (say one of those mortgage-backed securities that we've hard so much about) against default. Given how over-rated those bonds turned out to be, the issuance of insurance on them would have been bad enough, leaving the insurers open to huge claims. But that doesn't begin to tell the story. Some few years ago, people started writing swaps (that is, insurance contracts) for bonds that the purchasers did not even own. In other words, purchasers would pay good money to cover the chance that the issuer of a security they didn't have in their portfolios would go belly up.

There's a name for that kind of contract: A bet. It's the kind of wager that you'd expect from Sky Masterson, the high-flying gambler in Guys and Dolls, not from supposedly respectable financial institutions. And, apparently, there are 50 or 60 trillion dollars or more of these things out there--ten or twelve times the value of the mortgage-backed securities that are out there.

Now you can get some idea of why the crisis is so bad. Indeed, with trillions and trillions of dollars in actual or potential liabilities out there, the rescue that has received so much publicity looks like a shot in the dark.

And, as you've probably heard, these swaps are not regulated. Indeed, federal law (thanks to John McCain's good friend and financial adviser former Sen. Phil Gramm) forbids regulating them. Even the insurance aspect is not regulated. (State insurance regulators--for reasons I won't go into here, the federal government has never regulated insurance--would normally impose minimum capital requirements on such contracts.)

Remember that a few months ago, credit default swaps were considered to be cutting-edge finance, the most sophisticated aspect of a new kind of capitalism, too advanced for ordinary human beings to understand.

Not for the first time, the smart guys turn out to be incredibly dumb. Unfortunately, when the smart guys control huge amounts of money, their stupidity winds up costing the rest of us.

Thinking about this, I realized that I--like almost everyone--bought into the idea that the end of the Cold War was the triumph of capitalism, that for all its idealism, socialism had proved to be unworkable. I still believe that the market is the best way to allocate resources and set prices, but how supremely ironic that capitalism's great failure has ushered in a new era of socialism!

Interesting numbers

If you've been watching the polls, numbers like this aren't a surprise:

Obama: 51%

McCain: 43%

But in MISSOURI??????

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another bloc heard from

You've heard about Barack Obama's appeal to the young. But what about his appeal to the old? Not only the old, but the Old Nun Vote. Yep. Indeed, the very old nun vote.

Reason to change?

Do you see any reason why a voter would change his or her mind to vote for John McCain? Even the latest change--to tone down the hostility that has been so marked at McCain rallies--is not going to convince any undecided voter that McCain should be President.

Not that McCain has been helped by the administration's shifting positions on the economic crisis. As of today, it appears that Secretary Paulson has embraced the idea of "injecting capital" into banks, i.e., having the government purchase stock. This is an approach that many economists have favored, but that was rejected by the administration just a week or so ago. To make matters worse for McCain, the idea is anathema to that part of his base that views such a step as socialism.

Still, you would think that there are enough professional operatives in McCain's campaign that they would be able to present some argument for their candidate. But no. If McCain dials back on the fear appeal, there's nothing left.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Elephants sending text messages, and other news

How do they use those little keyboards with those big feet of theirs? Well, it's not exactly like that.

An interesting instance of high-tech helping to save a small part of the planet.

Here's another one, from NBC:

Some wisdom on obscure financial instruments

From Kevin Drum, formerly of Washington Monthly, but lately at Mother Jones. One of the clearest thoughts I've seen lately about what we could do to prevent future instances of the chaos we're now experiencing.

The wisdom of crowds

I've noted before, I believe, that the letters page of the NY Times is a fount of wisdom. A couple of gems worth noting appeared in yesterday's paper.

William C Ibershof noted:

As the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s (I was then chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of Michigan and took over the Weathermen prosecution in 1972), I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child.

Although I dearly wanted to obtain convictions against all the Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, I am very pleased to learn that he has become a responsible citizen.

Because Senator Obama recently served on a board of a charitable organization with Mr. Ayers cannot possibly link the senator to acts perpetrated by Mr. Ayers so many years ago.

Doyle Stevick wrote in to comment on John McCain's oft-repeated claim to be a maverick:

The debate about whether John McCain is a maverick misses the point.

Senator McCain embraces the image, but what is a maverick? Not a follower, but not a leader either. If people followed him, he would, by definition, be a leader, not a maverick.

The presidency is an executive position. Do we want leadership, or a ticket proud of wandering off on its own?

Report from the Northwest

As I mentioned last week, TONE was off to visit family in Portland (OR, not ME) last weekend. I am happy to report that there are more Obama signs, bumperstickers and buttons in Portland than even in Boston. We did make a trip to Mt. Angel, a Benedictine abbey about 40 miles south of Portland, and in the small town at the base of the mount McCain/Palin signs were thick as .... But it's clear that Oregon and Washington are not swing states.

We met a couple of women--one perhaps in her 40's, the other probably her mother, from Northern Virginia who described themselves as Obamacans--former Republicans backing Obama and not sure where they go from here. In the absence of some increasingly-improbable event that turns this race upside down, Obama looks likely to re-draw the political map the way FDR did in 1933 and Regan in 1980--that we'll be hearing about Obama Republicans, or some such term, for the next decade or so.

By the way, Portland--which is a very nice city on its own--has a priceless asset in its proximity to the Columbia River Gorge, which runs east from near the city past Bonneville Dam and Mt. Hood. It is a magnificent area, easily accessible from the city. If you find yourself in Portland, take a day and drive up the gorge. If the weather is good, go to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (it is actually on the treeline) and wander back on some of the side roads.

Speaking of driving, it may not be much comfort to GM, but I was impressed by the Chevy Cobalt that we rented. Even with an automatic, it gave decent response to the throttle (I didn't push it), the handling seemed tight and responsive and it rode well. In the few days we had the car--mostly in the care of the hotel's valet parking--I noticed no defects in the build. If I were looking for a new car (I'm not) and willing to look beyond hybrids, I might check out a Cobalt (with manual transmission, of course). I'm not saying I'd buy one, but for me even to consider a Big-3 product means that either American manufacturers have finally changed or I have.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Off to Portland

TONE will not feature new posts for the next few days, as the lovely Diane and I are off to visit family in Oregon. We'll be back in time for Tuesday's debate. Best wishes for a lovely weekend.

End note

I'm not going to comment on what went on during last night's VP debate. You probably saw it, and if you didn't you've heard about it. But I made one observation that I have not heard comments about in the media: After the thing was over, the candidates shook hands and the families came on stage in what has become the norm. And there were a lot of people up there ,with the Palin family and her father (maybe her mom, too), and Biden's wife, children and grandchildren. But as I went to turn of the TV before I imbibed much of the post-debate commentary, I noticed that Palin and Biden were standing in the center of the stage, surrounded by the families, chatting. Not just a quick hello/goodbye, but they looked like they were actually talking to each other.

A real contrast with the way McCain treated Obama after their debate. I wonder how many other people caught it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Which side are you on?

Best news I've heard in a LONG time:

In Blacksville, West Virginia, 440 miners closed their mine by staying home. Why? Because a film crew from the National Rifle Association showed up and tried to get them to say bad things about Barack Obama.

Think about that for a moment. Miners in West Virginia closing the mine and missing a day's pay, because they wouldn't say bad things about a black candidate to a film crew from the NRA. Something new is happening in the nation--or maybe something old is happening again.
Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I'll tell,
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H.Blair


My daddy was a miner
And I'm a miner's son
And I'll stick with the union
Till ev'ry battle's won.


Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?


Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize.

Which Side Are You On?
Florence Reece

Food for thought

From TPM:

We're debating whether being part-time mayor of a small town in Alaska qualifies you to be president.
Josh Marshall

Speaking from the heart

Barack Obama, in Michigan this morning, departing from the prepared text:

A regrettable development

From today's NYT's account of last night's Senate session on the bailout--or "fiscal stability," as I think it's been renamed:
The political tension was clear as Senator Barack Obama walked to the Republican side of the aisle to greet Senator John McCain, who offered a chilly look and a brief return handshake.
This reminds me of the documentary film version--they didn't have videotape back then--of Teddy White's great The Making of the President 1960. There was one scene when the TV people were doing lighting checks for the first presidential debate (which was, literally, the first). Kennedy and Nixon were together at center stage for a few moments, as the technicians scurried around them. Underneath the noise of the preparations, you can hear the two men chatting--one says, "I hear you had a big crowd in Cleveland" or something like that, and the other responds, "Yes, and I heard that you did well in....."

From everything I've read--I'm no scholar on the era--JFK and Nixon were never close, not even casual friends, and certainly they were not political allies. But for a few seconds they could forget the politics, forget that they were competing for the most important job they would ever have, the most important on Earth, and chat like any other Americans.

We seem to have lost much of that. Sad. Sad for the participants. And sad for us.

Tonight's debate

If Sarah Palin is still upright, and still on the ticket, at the end of tonight's debate, she'll be counted as the winner.

Fortunately, the people for whom the debate matters--those who are still working on who to vote for--will not score the debate like a baseball game. They will watch it to figure out which ticket to support. Which, as we might easily forget, is the purpose of the exercise.

A friend suggests that he'd like the candidates--principally Palin, of course, to be asked, "Apart from the Bible, what books do you find meaningful?" I hope that question is asked.

I'd like Palin to be asked if she's actually seen Russia and, if so, what that has done for her understanding of the world. Biden, who has actually done a lot of travelling, might be asked what the hell good it does to touch down in a country for a day or two, to be feted by its leaders and taken on a guided tour.

I'd like the candidates to be asked this question (again, it focuses more on Palin than Biden, but there is relevance to both): If the person at the head of your ticket were to die or become incapacitated on January 20, 2009, you would immediately become President. Have you given any thought to what you would do in such a situation? In particular, each of you has differed on some issues with the candidate who heads your ticket. Would you continue the policies of the man elected president this year, even though you have disagreed with them in the past, or do you believe that your succession to the office would justify taking up different policies?

Finally, the question that I'd REALLY like to be asked--although more to the presidential than the vice-presidential candidates. It is not of my devising, but comes from Fr. Guido Sarducci, a/k/a Don Novello, who was asked in 1976 0r 1980 by, I think, Tom Brokaw, what he would ask if he were on the debate panel. In his inimitable fashion (which I am about to imitate, without apology), Fr. Sarducci replied, "I'd aska de candidates, 'Iffa you coulda be an animal, whata kinda animal woulda you be?'"

Are you smiling, maybe a little? I suggest that that would actually be a very good question to ask, precisely because it is so outlandish that it would cut through the preparation and the talking points to give us a glimpse, however brief, of the real person behind the candidate.

Our comment line is open for your ideas about questions.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Another view

Comments from JB, a friend, about Sarah Palin:
Yesterday, I was excited to watch the VP debate (in much the same way I would be excited to be in a live studio audience for a sitcom -- pure entertainment value). No more. Last night I watched a clip of Katie Couric's interview with Sarah "Psychobabble" Palin, and am now beyond terrified.

Really? She's read ALL magazines? If by "read" you mean "shared space with them while in the checkout line at the supermarket" and by "all" you mean "Woman's Day, Cosmo, and Cooking Light," then sure, I GUESS that statement could have some truth to it.

I am horrified by her complete and utter ignorance of anything remotely intellectual (or intelligent). I am even more horrified by the fact that she's absolutely clueless as to her own cluelessness. And I am most horrified at the idea that she could actually, one day, be president. But, hey, she can see Russia from her house!

I keep hoping for a Harriet Miers situation, whereby Palin realizes how totally over her head she is that she steps down from her starring role in Legally Brunette: The White House Years. The big difference, though, is that in the end Miers was brought down by her own party, whereas here the Fundies love Palin. LOVE her.

If McCain actually wins this election, Canada will not be able to build a wall fast enough to prevent a mass exodus of disillusioned ex-pats.

It's unanimous

You'll find this a lot more fun than tomorrow's debate, I'll wager:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Uncharted territory

The House has voted down the bailout bill, 228-205. A screen shot--on TPM, probably from C-span--is reproduced below:

So it looks like the Republican leadership could not--or perhaps WOULD not--deliver the votes; Democrats--unwilling to be exposed to charges that they "lost China"--had reportedly told Republican leaders that they would not bring a bailout proposal to a vote without support from 100 members of the minority party. So, did Republicans pull a fast one, or was the leadership simply unable to bring their people around?

It's worth noting that 40% of the Democrats voted against the proposal, too.

So, where do we go from here? As I write, the Dow Jones is off more than 500 points.

My suspicion is that the Dow's deep dive will push things, that there will be some more changes made to the plan to get some votes on both sides, and that a modified version of the plan will pass by the end of the week. I just hope I'm not whistling past the graveyard.

Debate Camp

ABC reports that Joe Biden is getting advice from Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer for Thursday night's Vice-Presidential debate with Sarah Palin. All well and good, but wouldn't he be better off with some coaching from Tina Fey?

Let's ge the story straight

Taegan Goddard, on Political Wire, catches yet another embarrassing slip-up in the McCain campaign.

If they can't avoid these gaffes in the campaign, how would they ever handle running an actual administration?


I pounded on doors for Barack Obama in Merrimack, NH, yesterday. (73 doors in a little over 4 hours. I still haven't recovered.) I discovered that there really are Republicans.

I feel like the Episcopal bishop who, being asked if he believed in baptism by total immersion, replied, "Believe in it? I've seen it done!"

(That is, by the way, a story that John McCain butchered earlier this year, telling it as if it were asked of a Baptist who, of course, would believe in total immersion.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Running up on the rocks

If you're not a close reader of political blogs, you may have missed this, but a number of right-wing commentators are out after Sarah Palin. Kathleen Parker, in National Review Online, says flatly that she should go

Remember all the fuss over Palin, how she was THE story? Seems a long time ago, right?

Say what???

Did McCain really refer to Pakistan as a "failed state" when Musharraf carried out his coup? Yes, he did.

Look for pundits to pick that up in the next couple of days. It's not like Gerry Ford saying Poland was a free country in 1976--while the Iron Curtain was still firmly in place--but it's going to make some knowledgeable people question whether McCain has lost something off the old fastball.

The debate

I watched about 3 minutes of what Spiro Agnew--probably in the words of William Safire, as Agnew probably couldn't have put the phrase together--called "instant analysis and querulous criticism" after last night's debate. I shouldn't have been surprised that the couple of analysts I saw--including Pat Buchanan, for G_d's sake--differed from my take.

While watching, I thought "Obama is shredding him." But, lo, there were the pundits calling it a draw or, in Buchanan's case, a McCain victory.

I admit that I am not objective, but, Huh? What debate were they watching?

I thought McCain looked tense--some of the commentary said both candidates looked calm--as he fidgeted around while Obama answered. He was repetitive--he told us that he hadn't been elected Miss Congeniality in the Senate twice. He wandered at times.

Most important, in Barack Obama Americans--at least those who haven't made up their minds--saw a man in command of himself and the issues. He was calm, but he showed flashes of life. He might not have counterpunched McCain with fury, but he said clearly several times that McCain had misrepresented the record. He was, in a word, presidential. Given the national mood for change--which is only strengthening minute-by-minute given the financial crisis--that's what Obama has to do. If he makes more Americans comfortable with him in the Oval Office, he will win. Simple as that. And he did that last night.

Take a look at James Fallows' perceptive analysis of the debate.

The polls, by the way, agree more or less with what I've said above.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Going where the networks fear to tread

Well, MSNBC, anyway. The network has pulled this ad after Bill O'Reilly made a big thing of it on his show:

The Palin Interviews

After seeing the second part of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric last night, I hope we can all agree to let the poor woman (Palin, not Couric, at least not yet) slide back into a well-deserved obscurity.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I REALLY hope that John McCain is forced into debating Barack Obama tomorrow night. Not just because I'm hoping that Obama will come out the clear winner, not even primarily for that reason.

No, my figuring goes this way: With the two candidates rushing (sort of) to Washington for the big meeting on the bailout, and then having to get to Mississippi by tomorrow night, they won't have time to be fully prepared for the questions. AND THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO SEE. It would be good for the American people--and, frankly, good for whichever of them becomes our next President--to see them reacting to questions without being fully rehearsed.

By now it's clear that McCain is increasingly desperate to avoid a debate tomorrow night. Not only has the floated the idea of postponing it until next Thursday, and ditching the vice-presidential debate (I am shocked! shocked!), he's now said that he's confident that a deal on the bailout will be reached by Monday. This comes as AP has been reporting all morning that a compromise is almost at hand. So maybe McCain is going to Washington to throw a lever in the spokes and delay things.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling better

Here's the joint statement that the Obama and McCain campaigns were hammering out all day yesterday:
The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis. No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake.

Now is a time to come together - Democrats and Republicans - in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.

This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.

There, now. Don't you feel reassured?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You can't make this stuff up

From CNN:
McCain supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham tells CNN the McCain campaign is proposing to the Presidential Debate Commission and the Obama camp that if there's no bailout deal by Friday, the first presidential debate should take the place of the VP debate, currently scheduled for next Thursday, October 2 in St. Louis.

La Guerra

A story about a dispute over the grave of Gabriel Garcia Lorca, murdered in 1936, at the outset of the Spanish Civil War, once widely considered the opening act of the anti-fascist struggle, but now almost forgotten.

Andre Malraux wrote, "It was in Spain that we learned that we could be right and yet be beaten, that might did not always conquer might."

C. Day Lewis, later Poet Laureate of Britain, opened his poem The Nabara (about a Basque armed trawler sacrificing herself to save a convoy from the fascists):

Freedom is more than a word,

more than the base coinage

Of statesmen, the tyrant's dishonoured cheque, or the dreamer's


Inflated currency. She is mortal, we know, and made

In the image of simple men

who have no taste for carnage

But sooner kill and are killed than see that image betrayed.

(Apparently, John McCain told an interviewer that his favorite fictional character is Robert Jordan, hero of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Which is interesting, as it is widely believed that the inspiration for that character was an officer in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, a unit most of whose members were Communists.)