Search This Blog

Monday, September 29, 2008

Partisanship and the financial rescue

About 60% of House Democrats voted for the economic rescue package earlier today, even as over 2/3 of House Republicans voted against it. Nonetheless, the McCain campaign is blaming Obama and Democratic partisanship for the failure. McCain said the following a bit after 5 pm ET:
"Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to affix the blame. It’s time to fix the problem. "
Forget for a moment the illogic in those consecutive sentences. What, specifically, does the McCain campaign reference as partisan? The answer is Nancy Pelosi's speech introducing the debate. Here's senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin:
Just before the vote, when the outcome was still in doubt, Speaker Pelosi gave a strongly worded partisan speech and poisoned the outcome. This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country.
Read the speech and Speaker Pelosi blamed the Bush administration for the current crisis:
It [$700 billion] is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration’s failed economic policies—policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.

Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.

That chaos is the dismal picture painted by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke a week and a half ago in the Capitol.

As they pointed out, we confront a crisis of historic magnitude that has the ability to do serious injury not simply to our economy, but to the American people: not just to Wall Street, but to everyday Americans on Main Street.

It is our responsibility today, to help avert that catastrophic outcome.

Let us be clear: This is a crisis caused on Wall Street. But it is a crisis that reaches to Main Street in every city and town of the United States.

It is a crisis that freezes credit, causes families to lose their homes, cripples small businesses, and makes it harder to find jobs.

It is a crisis that never had to happen. It is now the duty of every Member of this body to recognize that the failure to act responsibly, with full protections for the American taxpayer, would compound the damage already done to the financial security of millions of American families.

Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration.
Now, compare that to what McCain said in Friday's debate:
we are seeing, for the first time in a long time, Republicans and Democrats together, sitting down, trying to work out a solution to this fiscal crisis that we're in.

And have no doubt about the magnitude of this crisis. And we're not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street. We're talking about failures on Main Street, and people who will lose their jobs, and their credits, and their homes, if we don't fix the greatest fiscal crisis, probably in -- certainly in our time, and I've been around a little while.

But the point is -- the point is, we have finally seen Republicans and Democrats sitting down and negotiating together and coming up with a package.

This package has transparency in it. It has to have accountability and oversight. It has to have options for loans to failing businesses, rather than the government taking over those loans. We have to -- it has to have a package with a number of other essential elements to it.

And, yes, I went back to Washington, and I met with my Republicans in the House of Representatives. And they weren't part of the negotiations, and I understand that. And it was the House Republicans that decided that they would be part of the solution to this problem...

Somehow we've lost that accountability. I've been heavily criticized because I called for the resignation of the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. We've got to start also holding people accountable, and we've got to reward people who succeed.

But somehow in Washington today -- and I'm afraid on Wall Street -- greed is rewarded, excess is rewarded, and corruption -- or certainly failure to carry out our responsibility is rewarded...

look, we've got to fix the system. We've got fundamental problems in the system. And Main Street is paying a penalty for the excesses and greed in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street.

So there's no doubt that we have a long way to go. And, obviously, stricter interpretation and consolidation of the various regulatory agencies that weren't doing their job, that has brought on this crisis.
If Pelosi repeats (and makes a bit more explicit) McCain's charges, then how is that overly partisan?

Who, exactly, presided over the failure of accountability? Who let greed call the shots on Wall Street and in Washington?

It was in the context of spending, but McCain offered the most scathing partisan attack issued over the past few days:
"We Republicans came to power to change government, and government changed us."
In this case, Republicans were supposed to deliver just 75 to 80 House votes and they failed.

The emergency rescue bill would have passed the House if 12 more Republicans (of 133 voting no) had joined their colleagues (plus 140 Democrats) and voted yes.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trying to understand the foreign policy debate

At least seven times in Friday night's debate, Senator John McCain accused Senator Barack Obama of failing to understand an important dimension of national security policy. Let's review:

First, Iraq:
Senator Obama doesn't understand [1] the difference between a tactic and a strategy...There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity. That's what's happening in Iraq, and it wasn't a tactic.

...if we adopted Senator Obama's set date for withdrawal, then that will have a calamitous effect in Afghanistan and American national security interests in the region. Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand [2] there is a connected (sic) between the two...

Senator Obama still doesn't quite understand [3] -- or doesn't get it -- that if we fail in Iraq, it encourages al Qaeda. They would establish a base in Iraq...
What to make of all this?

Obviously, "the surge" is part of America's counterinsurgency approach in Iraq. Obama has long argued for a new US grand strategy; focusing on tactics within Iraq is not a sufficient way to discuss the national security problems of the US:
Senator McCain wants to talk of our tactics in Iraq; I want to focus on a new strategy for Iraq and the wider world.
If you read the July 15 speech I just linked, Obama clearly sees a relationship between Iraq and Afghanistan. In the debate, Obama noted that "al Qaeda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan." Furthermore, "we took our eye off Afghanistan, we took our eye off the folks who perpetrated 9/11...we are having enormous problems in Afghanistan because of that decision" [to attack Iraq].

Obama should have directly dismissed the notion that al Qaeda would establish a base in Iraq if the US pulled out. Why would Sunni or Shia tolerate that? How would it be more threatening than the current safe haven in Pakistan? Previously, Obama has discussed a withdrawal strategy for Iraq that would retain capabilities for attacking the "remnants" of al Qaeda.

Senator Obama calls for more troops, but what he doesn't understand, [4] it's got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq.
Obama, as noted, is calling for a new strategic prioritization of Afghanistan over Iraq. The July 15 speech:
"[T]he second goal of my new strategy will be taking the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
That address outlined a lot of specific measures to change US tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan; "the surge" would not obviously be inconsistent with them.

What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand [5] that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a "stinking corpse," and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments.
Obama pretty clearly explained what he meant by meeting without preconditions.
Now, understand what this means "without preconditions." It doesn't mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we don't do what we've been doing, which is to say, "Until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you."

There's a difference between preconditions and preparation. Of course we've got to do preparations, starting with low-level diplomatic talks, and it may not work, because Iran is a rogue regime.
Negotiation experts frequently point out that preconditions threaten to preclude negotiation -- and often fail the test of reciprocity. Moreover, the preconditions set by parties are often the precise goals of the diplomacy.

Imagine if Iran said that it wouldn't meet with the US unless America renounced the threat to use force. That precondition actually makes a lot of sense to many, but the current administration persistently says that "all options are on the table." It likely thinks that the threat to use force is part of its leverage in negotiations -- even if it would violate Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Wouldn't Iran legitimize US illegality by meeting with the US without preconditions?

Next, Russia:
He doesn't understand [6] that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government.
From the August 9, Obama statement:
"Over the last two days, Russia has escalated the crisis in Georgia through it's clear and continued violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. On Friday, August 8, Russian military forces invaded Georgia. I condemn Russia's aggressive actions and reiterate my call for an immediate ceasefire. Russia must stop its bombing campaign, cease flights of Russian aircraft in Georgian airspace, and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia."
As for Putin's petro-dollar state, Obama used this as an opportunity to contrast his plan for energy independence -- built primarily on the promotion of alternative energy -- with McCain's many votes against alternative energy and his long-time support for oil interests. Over at the Duck of Minerva, Dan Nexon points out that Russia is now calling for a return to cooperative relations with the US and the international community!

Finally, Pakistan:
I don't think that Senator Obama understands [7] that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power. Everybody who was around then, and had been there, and knew about it knew that it was a failed state.
These sentences immediately followed Obama's blistering attack of the status quo:
the problem, John, with the strategy that's been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, "Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he's our dictator."

And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren't going after al Qaeda
The State Department's Richard Armitage caused a bit of a hullabaloo in early 2001 when he told Indian reporters that Pakistan might be viewed as a "rogue state." There's a great deal of difference between a rogue state and a failed state. Given its 1998 nuclear tests and its position on Kashmire, Pakistan was closer to a rogue than a failure when Musharraf's military coup toppled a democratically elected government in October 1999.

The State Failure Task Force phase 3 report from 2000 did not include Pakistan on its list of "Near-Total Failures of State Authority, 1955-1998" (the complete list is on p. 79). The report found times in Pakistan's past (1983 and before) when it was in serious trouble, but Pakistan was categorized as a "partial democracy" in the report.

If anything, the evidence suggests that Musharraf presided over Pakistan as it was moving toward failure.

As I said on Friday, I think it is pretty clear that Obama understands foreign policy. McCain perhaps fails to understand what foreign policy analysts mean by "grand strategy" and "failed state."

Visit this blog's homepage.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New banner

I'm not 100% happy with the new banner, but the old one had to go -- pictures of Tony Blair and Don Rumsfeld just didn't feel all that relevant anymore.

The original photos are all from government websites:

Feel free to play around with alternatives. I'm looking at roughly 600 by 100 pixels.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Instant Debate Analysis

1. John McCain kept saying "Senator Obama doesn't understand," but Barack Obama pretty clearly proved time and time again that he did.

2. Did McCain get the last word on every question? Whether he got the question first or last, he refused to let Obama have the last word. With the first point, this made him seem like a bully to me.

3. Obama blew the closing. I don't know why he talked about his Kenyan father when McCain had just said he wasn't qualified to be President. I suspect that people make their own judgments about qualifications, but I would have responded to something that outrageous.

4. McCain was able to dominate the agenda on economics. Obama let McCain make the discussion about taxes and spending, rather than unemployment and foreclosures.

5. Pundits are emphasizing how much Obama agreed with McCain, but that might have been intentional. Both guys have said they will bring a new kind of politics to Washington. Well, after 8 years of "my way or the highway," which guy seemed like the one who could work on a bipartisan basis to solve problems? First, you have to find room for agreement with opponents.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Today, at Duck of Minerva, I posted "For What It's Worth" about the recent deployment of an active Army brigade within the US. It's the first such homeland military deployment outside of a national emergency and it is meant to be permanent.

On Friday, September 12, I blogged "Kill the Invaders" about the Pakistani military's threat to shoot at US forces that cross their border to strike at the Taliban. The threat has now apparently escalated to violence.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Corporate Socialism

This seems like an appropriate week to blog about NY Times reporter David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch; How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill). The collapse of investment firms on Wall Street presents a rare populist moment. It is not necessarily a good time to write a blank check to the elites of the investment class.

On April 7, 2008, The Nation published a review of Johnston's book by Daniel Brook. He provides a succinct summary of the book:
Johnston's contention is an audacious one: the level of inequality and corruption in contemporary America puts us in league not with our putative economic peers, Canada, Europe and Japan, but with Brazil, Mexico and Russia, countries "in which adults have the right to vote, but real political power is wielded by a relatively narrow, and rich, segment of the population." And, as in these unequal "democracies," American elites routinely raid the public purse rather than rely on the free market to succeed. Since the "Reagan revolution," and under the guise of privatization, deregulation and "market-based solutions," wealthy interests have set up a system that Johnston dubs "corporate socialism," in which they succeed through monopoly, public subsidy and even outright theft rather than through competition. And this rigged system, Johnston argues, is what's driving the new inequality off the charts. "Subsidy economics," he writes, "is at the core of the economic malaise felt for so long by a majority of Americans."
Compared to what's being debated this week -- $700 billion in corporate welfare -- Johnston's anecdotes are small potatoes. However, his overall economic data is eye-opening:
...[Johnston's] analysis of tax data, which he recapitulates in Free Lunch, shows that it is not merely the poor and middle class who are being left behind. Even those Americans in the ninety-fifth and ninety-ninth percentiles on the income scale haven't received outsized economic benefits over the past twenty-five years. The only people leaping ahead in winner-take-all America are in the top 1 percent--and more specifically the top .1 and .01 percents.
Incidentally, this data might explain a recent Pew Research result reported in the December 2007 Atlantic Monthly-- "19 percent of the wealthiest third of Americans see themselves as have-nots, suggesting that financial security is sometimes in the eye of the beholder."

Johnston's book looks like it is well worth a look.

As for the $700 billion bailout package -- I'm pretty skeptical of such a plan emerging from the Bush Treasury Department. Think about the administration's post-crisis record -- 9/11, Iraq, Katrina -- and then layer that with Bush economics, secrecy and outright deception. These guys typically provide cover for "looters with limos".

Visit this blog's homepage.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Personal update

My house is now in its 9th day of darkness, but the electrical crews have been working on the street all day. Cross your fingers. We're among the last 5% in Louisville to get power.

My Louisville Sluggers are in the World Series for 2008 season B! We start over after the all star break and I never provided an update from the first half draft results. The is my lineup for the matchup:

C John Buck (KC)
1B Joey Votto (CIN)
2B Alexi Casilla (MIN)
3B Edwin Encarnacion (CIN)
SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
OF Carlos Beltran (NYM)
OF Adam Jones (BAL)
OF Carlos Gomez (MIN)
DH Coco Crisp (BOS)

SP Josh Beckett (BOS)
SP Ricky Nolasco (FLO)
SP Josh Johnson (FLO)
SP Rich Harden (CHC)
SP Tim Lincecum (SF)
RP Grant Balfour (TB)
RP Jose Arredondo (LAA)
RP Mike Adams (SD)

C Carlos Ruiz (PHI)
1B Billy Butler (KC)
2B Esteban German (KC)
IF Eric Bruntlett (PHI)
UT Jeff Larish (DET)
UT Wes Helms (FLO)
3B Wes Hodges (CLE) (minors)
OF Jeremy Hermida (FLA)
SP Cha Seung Baek (SD)
SP Fausto Carmona (CLE)
RP Damaso Marte (NYY)

The opposing team has Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Justin Morneau, Aramis Ramirez, and some younger, speedy guys. My pitching should be superior, but the hitting might not be enough.

This is a 24 team head-to-head fantasy baseball league using 10 categories: HR, SB, batting average, runs produced average, plate appearances, innings pitched, wins, saves, ERA and ratio.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Did "the Surge" really fail?

Did the surge save Iraq? A lot of security and foreign policy experts have attempted to answer that question -- and they provide an assortment of answers.

A unique team of scholars from UCLA has published their latest research that directly challenges the standard political narrative about the effectiveness of "the surge" in Iraq:
By tracking the amount of light emitted by Baghdad neighborhoods at night, a team of UCLA geographers has uncovered fresh evidence that last year's U.S. troop surge in Iraq may not have been as effective at improving security as some U.S. officials have maintained.

Night light in neighborhoods populated primarily by embattled Sunni residents declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never returned, suggesting that ethnic cleansing by rival Shiites may have been largely responsible for the decrease in violence for which the U.S. military has claimed credit, the team reports in a new study based on publicly available satellite imagery.

"Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning," said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. "By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left."
Professor Agnew, the president of the American Association of Geographers, the leading professional organization in geography, specifically targets claims made by General Petraeus (and his supproters) about the efficacy of the military strategy:
"The surge really seems to have been a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted," Agnew said...

In addition to casting doubt on the efficacy of the surge in general, the study calls into question the success of a specific strategy of the surge, namely separating neighborhoods of rival sectarian groups by erecting concrete blast walls between them. The differences in light signatures had already started to appear by the time American troops began erecting the walls under General David Petraeus's direction, the researchers found.

"The U.S. military was sealing off neighborhoods that were no longer really active ribbons of violence, largely because the Shiites were victorious in killing large numbers of Sunnis or driving them out of the city all together," Agnew said. "The large portion of the refugees from Iraq who went during this period to Jordan and Syria are from these neighborhoods."
Incidentally, data presented last fall by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, headed by General James L. Jones, would seem to confirm the geographers' conclusions.

As I argued last year, the authors find that ethnic cleansing -- as well as internal displacement -- seems to explain the reduction in violence in Baghdad:
The night-light signature in four other large Iraqi cities — Kirkuk, Mosul, Tikrit and Karbala — held steady or increased between the spring of 2006 and the winter of 2007, the UCLA team found. None of these cities were targets of the surge.

Baghdad's decreases were centered in the southwestern Sunni strongholds of East and West Rashid, where the light signature dropped 57 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during the same period.

By contrast, the night-light signature in the notoriously impoverished, Shiite-dominated Sadr City remained constant, as it did in the American-dominated Green Zone. Light actually increased in Shiite-dominated New Baghdad, the researchers found.

Until just before the surge, the night-light signature of Baghdad had been steadily increasing overall, they report in "Baghdad Nights: Evaluating the U.S. Military 'Surge' Using Night Light Signatures."

"If the surge had truly 'worked,' we would expect to see a steady increase in night-light output over time, as electrical infrastructure continued to be repaired and restored, with little discrimination across neighborhoods," said co-author Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor of geography at UCLA. "Instead, we found that the night-light signature diminished in only in certain neighborhoods, and the pattern appears to be associated with ethno-sectarian violence and neighborhood ethnic cleansing."
Incidentally, the study authors apparently controlled for Baghdad's weak electrical power grid.

Hat tip: Mark Thoma.

Here's the academic citation for the Agnew article: Agnew J, Gillespie T W, Gonzalez J, Min B, 2008, "Baghdad nights: evaluating the US military ‘surge’ using nighttime light signatures" Environment and Planning A 40(10) 2285 – 2295

Visit this blog's homepage.

I dislike Ike

Sunday, Louisville was hit by very high winds that knocked out electrical power for more than 300,000 people in the Louisville area in the early afternoon. My home has now been without power for about 4 days. Given the damage in the neighborhood and on the street, my family may not have power for several more days. The power company and city government say that some people are going to be without power for 10 to 14 days.

That explains the light blogging. The University has its own coal-fired power plant and did not lose power for any appreciable time. I suspect that many of the lines are buried as there were plenty of downed tree branches and gutters across campus.

For the community, part of the problem is that hundreds of local workers had traveled to Texas to help with the aftermath of Ike. The weather people were only forecasting 30 to 40 mph winds in this area -- not realizing we would actually have Ike-related gusts of 60 and 70 mph.

It's a disaster. More than a 2.5 million people were also without power in Ohio.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palin and the Bush Doctrine

Charlie Gibson of ABC asked Governor Sarah Palin, "Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?"

After a deer-in-the-headlights pause, she replied, "In what respect, Charlie?"

When that happens in my seminars, I know the student has no clue.

Of course, none of them are a "heartbeat from the presidency."

Perhaps I'm a poor judge. After all, I've blogged about the Bush Doctrine dozens of times and published a handful of articles about it.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

John McCain, Feminist Warrior

Despite his numerous appearances on "The Daily Show," Senator John McCain is not especially known for his comic styling. Here's a sampling of his gendered humor -- and I'm not even going to repeat his alleged worst joke.

In June 1998, this McCain "joke" at a Republican fundraiser was widely reported:
"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
Because her father is Janet Reno."
Fox News, 2006:
"You know, the French remind me a little bit of an aging actress of the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it."
McCain on beating Hillary Clinton, November 2007:
"How do we beat the bitch?" McCain's supporter asked him. And as you can see, it appears that after McCain joked about offering a "translation" of his supporter's query, he said:

"That's an excellent question."
Yes, of course, there's video.

ABC's Jake Tapper, 2008:
In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was asked by columnist Jon Ralston why he didn't choose Gov. Jim Gibbons to chair his Nevada campaign.

"I appreciate his support," McCain said. "As you know, the lieutenant governor is our chairman."

Why snub the governor? Ralston asked.

"I didn’t mean to snub him,. I've known the lieutenant governor for 15 years and we've been good friends," McCain said. "I didn't intend to snub him. There are other states where the governor is not the chairman."

Maybe it's the governor's approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president? Asked Ralston in a question McCain clearly found loaded.

Said McCain, chuckling, "And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago."
Cindy McCain: Miss Buffalo Chip? August 2008
McCain dipped in and out yesterday at the big bikers’ rally in Sturgis, S.D., to the roar of motorcycles and the admiration of veterans in attendance.

We’re pretty sure then that when he offered up his wife Cindy, who has graced Vogue this year and other magazines as one of the country’s most beautiful women, to compete in the rally’s Miss Buffalo Chip contest, that well, he didn’t entirely get — as an ESPN writer suggests — that the contestants sometimes wind up topless, walk about in thongs (Shocking!) or are otherwise scantily clothed. (Oh! Debauchery!)

Or maybe he did and was just having a little fun.
Video here.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Just Duck-y

Yesterday, on the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I posted "The market punished Russia" concerning adverse economic reaction to Russia's war in Georgia. Could Russia be heading for another crash?

On September 4, I posted "War on Pakistan?" The piece looks at the recent US border incursion into Pakistan from Afghanistan -- with commando forces aboard helicopters. Needless to say, Pakistan's government is not happy about the threat to its sovereignty.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Roots music in Brighton

I listened to some quality roots music while attending my sister-in-law's wedding on August 23-24 in Brighton. Sunday's band was a local string-heavy group with a classic sound. The original email I received in advance of the wedding said the band would be The Magic Number, which self identifies as playing "Gipsy Jazz Swing based songs." Their myspace page includes a number of music tracks.

However, some of the equipment at the wedding was for The Mountain Firework Company. At least two people are members of both bands so there's a lot of room for confusion. The band's website has this CD review:
In the tradition of the sort of Folk music that tends to come out of the UK, the men of The Mountain Firework Company have their share of fun, whimsical songs, that could inspire the waving of beer before running down the street naked starts to sound like a good idea. Overall, this is a really great record, and The Mountain Firework Company is a really fantastic band. Their melodies are catchy, their lyrics are well-put, and their instrumentation is intuitive and tight.
I liked the band's sound, whether it was The Magic Number or The Mountain Firework Company.

Saturday night the 23rd featured London's Hula Groove, which The Independent on Sunday apparently called a "hugely entertaining and professional soul, funk & disco function band." They had the crowd dancing as they played a great deal of old Motown as well as soul, funk and disco. This video gives you an idea of their look and sound.

Alas, Hula Groove wouldn't let former Beatmaster Richard Walmsley play along.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

"Words mean something"

Barack Obama doesn't think John McCain and Sarah Palin are agents of change. The AP, September 6:
"Don't be fooled," Obama told the crowd surrounding him in a large barn. "John McCain's party, with the help of John McCain, has been in charge" for nearly eight years.

"I know the governor of Alaska has been saying she's change, and that's great," Obama said. "She's a skillful politician. But, you know, when you've been taking all these earmarks when it's convenient, and then suddenly you're the champion anti-earmark person, that's not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can't just make stuff up."
Obama is referring to the fact that Palin was for the "bridge to nowhere" before she was against it. Plus, she used $27 million in appropriated earmarks to fund "the approach road to the bridge."

In the same event, Obama also went after McCain's extensive ties to lobbyists and President Bush:
McCain has acknowledged voting with President Bush 90 percent of the time in Congress, Obama said.

"And suddenly he's the change agent? Ha. He says, 'I'm going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over.' Who is he going to tell? Is he going to tell his campaign chairman, who's one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell his campaign manager, who was one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington?"

"I mean, come on, they must think you're stupid," Obama said as the crowd laughed and cheered.
Joe Biden too was on top of his game this weekend.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Obama's Pragmatic Foreign Policy

I had some extra time on Friday afternoon, so I read Barack Obama's "The World Beyond Iraq" speech, which he delivered on March 19, 2008. That was the fifth anniversary of the start of the war. Don't confuse that speech with the widely covered foreign policy address he delivered in mid-July.

I was struck by how frequently Obama referenced pragmatism in the March foreign policy address -- five times! While Obama mentioned "reality" several times, he never used the word "realism" in this speech. Indeed, his all-American pragmatism surely suggests something different from realism -- emphasizing the commonsensical, practical and empirical, while downplaying both power and ideology.

The first two references to pragmatism come in consecutive paragraphs near the beginning of the speech -- prior to explaining the flaws of the overall Iraq strategy (even if "the surge" was a successful military tactic). Essentially, Obama contrasts his own pragmatism to George W. Bush's ideological foreign policy judgment in the case of Iraq:
History will catalog the reasons why we waged a war that didn't need to be fought, but two stand out. In 2002, when the fateful decisions about Iraq were made, there was a President for whom ideology overrode pragmatism, and there were too many politicians in Washington who spent too little time reading the intelligence reports, and too much time reading public opinion. The lesson of Iraq is that when we are making decisions about matters as grave as war, we need a policy rooted in reason and facts, not ideology and politics.

Now we are debating who should be our next Commander in Chief. I am running for President because it's time to turn the page on a failed ideology and a fundamentally flawed political strategy, so that we can make pragmatic judgments to keep our country safe. That's what I did when I stood up and opposed this war from the start, and said that we needed to finish the fight against al Qaeda.
Obama's next two references to pragmatism appear in the middle of the speech, in consecutive paragraphs about U.S. policy toward Pakistan and al Qaeda:
If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot. Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have all distorted and derided this position, suggesting that I would invade or bomb Pakistan. This is politics, pure and simple. My position, in fact, is the same pragmatic policy that all three of them have belatedly - if tacitly - acknowledged is one we should pursue. Indeed, it was months after I called for this policy that a top al Qaeda leader was taken out in Pakistan by an American aircraft. And remember that the same three individuals who now criticize me for supporting a targeted strike on the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, are the same three individuals that supported an invasion of Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

It is precisely this kind of political point-scoring that has opened up the security gap in this country. We have a security gap when candidates say they will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but refuse to follow him where he actually goes. What we need in our next Commander in Chief is not a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality or empty rhetoric about 3AM phone calls. What we need is a pragmatic strategy that focuses on fighting our real enemies, rebuilding alliances, and renewing our engagement with the world's people.
The last reference to pragmatism appears in the final line of the speech:
When America leads with principle and pragmatism, hope can triumph over fear. It is time, once again, for America to lead.
Google the words "foreign policy pragmatism," by the way, and you get references to pragmatism in Chinese, Russian and Indian foreign policy -- as well as pragmatism employed by JFK.

I should perhaps also note that Obama again references pragmatism in the closing paragraph of his July address. In this instance, he explains George Marshall's wisdom at the beginning of the cold war:
When General Marshall first spoke about the plan that would bear his name, the rubble of Berlin had not yet been built into a wall. But Marshall knew that even the fiercest of adversaries could forge bonds of friendship founded in freedom. He had the confidence to know that the purpose and pragmatism of the American people could outlast any foe. Today, the dangers and divisions that came with the dawn of the Cold War have receded. Now, the defeat of the threats of the past has been replaced by the transnational threats of today. We know what is needed. We know what can best be done. We know what must done. Now it falls to us to act with the same sense of purpose and pragmatism as an earlier generation, to join with friends and partners to lead the world anew.
Finally, in the scholarship on the democratization of international relations (and organizations), Molly Cochran has been offering pragmatism as a means superior to deliberative approaches.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Election forecasts

I did not attend the American Political Science Association convention last weekend, but I have read a few accounts of interesting panels. For example, David Glenn of The Chronicle of Higher Education provided a useful summary from last Friday, "when eight scholars offered stylized forecasting models for this fall's election."
Seven of the scholars predicted popular-vote victories for Mr. Obama, but two of them forecast margins so thin that they said he might easily lose the Electoral College. The eighth panelist was not ready to make an official call because his model is based partly on Labor Day opinion polls. But he said it was very possible that his model would predict a victory for John McCain.
Here are the specific predictions. The article briefly describes their methodologies:
  • Brad Lockerbie (East Carolina University): Obama 58%
  • Thomas M. Holbrook (University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee) Obama 55.5%
  • Alan I. Abramowitz (Emory University) Obama 54.3%
  • Christopher Wlezien (Temple University) Obama 52.2%
  • Alfred G. Cuzán & Charles M. Bundrick (University of West Florida) Obama 51.9
  • Helmut Norpoth (SUNY Stony Brook) Obama 50.1%
  • Michael S. Lewis-Beck (University of Iowa) Obama 56.6%. Lewis-Beck worked with Charles Tien (CUNY Hunter College) to make a race adjustment in his model. Result: Obama 50.07%
  • James E. Campbell (SUNY Buffalo) uses Labor Day polling and was thus unable to predict a winner on the date of the panel.
According to Glenn, Campbell "said that second-quarter growth was so strong that his model would predict a victory for John McCain unless he polled less than 47 percent on Labor Day."

McCain, in fact, polled less than 47% on Labor Day weekend, though I'm not sure if the input number has to be adjusted to eliminate undecideds and third party supporters. Because these models predict the popular vote for the two major party candidates, the outcome shares always add up to 100 and ignore votes for third party contenders.

Incidentally, while others on the panel apparently agreed that Obama's race provided a large unknown in this election, not everyone was pleased by the Lewis-Beck method:
Abramowitz scorned Mr. Lewis-Beck's procedures: "I don't make ad hoc adjustments to my model," he said.
The various forecast papers are forthcoming as articles in the October PS: Political Science & Politics. In the past 2 elections, these models have accurately forecast the popular vote winner, though they were more accurate in 2004 than in 2000:
In 2004, seven scholars—essentially the same cast of characters—offered forecasts at the political-science meeting. Six of the seven correctly predicted that Mr. Bush would win, and four of their models were within 2.5 percentage points of Mr. Bush's actual vote share. But in 2000 they whiffed, predicting that Al Gore would win between 52.8 percent and 60.3 percent of the two-party vote. His actual share was 50.2 percent.
Because the nominating conventions are so late in the year, this will be an unusually short general election campaign.

Note: I think readers need an account to access most of the content from The Chronicle of Higher Ed. I logged on using our Department's code.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Acid House, 1989

Former Beatmaster Richard Walmsley is the husband of my wife's sister's husband's cousin.

So, we're practically related. And we have kids around the same age.

Richard appears briefly in this video. I think that's him beginning at 0:53 and again for a longer time at 1:39 (the guy without glasses):

Beatmasters eventually produced for Pet Shop Boys, who donated to the Tate Modern, which my family just visited in London.

Small world, eh?

Visit this blog's homepage.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Observation from abroad

I read this line from an interview with Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan before leaving the USA, but it seems worth noting upon my return from the UK:
Michael Caine had a great line: "Superman is the way America sees itself, but Batman is the way the world sees America."
During my 10 days abroad, people addressed this worldview indirectly -- whether discussing the Olympic successes of China, the war between Russia and Georgia, or the seemingly improbable idea that the Democrats have nominated Barack Obama for the presidency.

Visit this blog's homepage.