28 February 2009

This Ain't the U.S.S.A !

Because calling Barack Obama a socialist proved so successful in the run-up to the general election, Conservatives have opted to regain national support by calling Obama a socialist.

Who said the party was "out of ideas"?

Aside: John Derbyshire's excellent article "How Radio Wrecks the Right" at The American Conservative. His analysis of how AM commentators might be debilitating the Conservative cause is worth your time. And it's timely considering that Rush Limbaugh gives the keynote speech for CPAC.

27 February 2009

Is It Really Surprising?

Barack Obama elected president.
Anti-Immigrant paranoia.
Sharp Economic downturn.


The Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report: the Year in Hate" notes a fairly sharp rise in hate groups who insist that minority lenders are responsible for the economic meltdown, immigrants for the employment meltdown, and Barack Obama for, well, whatever else there is. Or everything in general.

The good news is that these groups only represent a minuscule segment of America's population. They might be loud, but they're readily dismissed by the vast majority of folks.

26 February 2009

Shelby Rejects COLB

The conspiracy theories over the COLB, that is.

In an interview with Politico, Alabama's senior senator responded to small flurry of notoriety following a report that he'd questioned the President's eligibility at a town-hall meeting. Yesterday, Shelby personally,
dismissed a report in the Cullman (Ala.) Times in which he was captured as indulging a constituent’s question about whether the president was born on American soil, a widely debunked rumor held over from the presidential campaign.

“Someone asked me that in a meeting and basically what I did is paraphrase, you know just quote for the crowd, what they said and I said that has been settled,” Shelby recounted today, calling his remark “distorted.”
Shelby added, “[I] never had any doubts” about President Obama's citizenship.

There you go.

24 February 2009

Murdoch Apologizes

Writing the The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp. International, has apologized for the "chimp cartoon" that appeared in the Post last week, and which many folks viewed as a not-so-thinly-veiled racist statement. Murdoch has also promised that "the Post will work to be more sensitive." As Ben Smith suggests,
That apology, along with a pledge to be "more attuned to the sensitivities of our community,"is a huge departure for the combative tabloid [. . . .] a rare sign of weakness, a hint that the strongest company in the conservative news media is having a hard time adjusting to the Obama era.
Birthing pains, then? Admittedly, that Murdoch himself apologized surprised me, but Michael Wolff, author of Murdoch's biography, The Man Who Owns the News, suggests that Murdoch actually likes Obama and was infuriated by the cartoon when it appeared (this from his appearance on a cable news show; I'll post a source shortly).

Added: Aha! I couldn't find a YouTube link for the television interview, but here is Wolff's Newser column on The Post, the chimp, and Murdoch, whom, Wolff assumes, "is livid."

Frum on Obama's Socialism

David Frum offers a voice of reason in response to a "senior Republican's" email that decries "President Obama's 'march to socialism.'" Frum concedes that his GOP colleagues might find confirmation of such fears in all the talk of nationalizing some of the major banks, but, he asserts:
A federal bank takeover is a bad thing obviously. I wonder though if we conservatives understand clearly enough why it is a bad thing. It’s not because we are living through an enactment of the early chapters of Atlas Shrugged. It’s because the banks are collapsing. Obama, Pelosi, et al are big-spending, high-taxing liberals. They are not socialists. They are no more eager to own these banks than the first President Bush was to own the savings and loan industry – in both cases, federal ownership was a final recourse after a terrible failure. And it was on our watch, not Obama’s, that this failure began. Our refusal to take notice of this obvious fact may excite the Republican faithful. But it is doing tremendous damage to our ability to respond effectively to the crisis.
Reaching for the knee-jerk, cliche-ridden expressions of outrage doesn't help; it merely reinforces the ideological wall between parties. Of course, politicians on both sides of the aisle would find it more constructive to examine their party's role in our economic crisis (doesn't the party that held the Congressional reins from the early 1990s until January 2007 bear some responsibility?), map out how we got to this point, and then help to remedy our national crisis, but such examination would require acknowledging that mistakes have been made, and that to progress, we must adapt and change rather than continue applying old policies to new problems. But that would mean dissolving that wall of ideology--at least partially-- and then what would these folks base their campaigns on in 2010? Is politics truly nothing more than tribalism now?

Added: In an interview with The Washington Times, Jon Huntsman, Republican governor of Utah, has some choice words about the GOP's "gratuitous partisanship" in lieu of ideas:
[Hunstman] said his party is blighted by leaders in Congress whose lack of new ideas renders them so "inconsequential" that he doesn't even bother to talk to them.

[and on fiscal responsibility:]

"Our moral soapbox was completely taken away from us because of our behavior in the last few years. For us to now criticize analogous behavior is hypocrisy. We've got to come at it a different way. We've got to prove the point. It can't be as the Chinese would say, 'fei hua,' [or] empty words."

23 February 2009

Obama Approval High, Others' Not So Much

At what point do Congressional Republicans acknowledge that a) the president is popular, and b) the vast majority of Americans support the president's policies? The problem is, to acknowledge either means being forced to a) accept that most Americans rejected the GOP, and b) work with--rather than against--President Obama's policy proposals.

A new CBS / NYT opinion poll falls in line with similar polls. The president's approval rating rests at 63%, correspondent with Ronald Reagan's and "about 10 percentage points higher than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton were at this early stage of their presidencies" (NYT). A second poll, by ABC/Washington Post, finds the president at a comfortable 68% approval rating (60% also agree with how he is handling the economy).

Other polling testifies that the public remains unhappy with Congress's performance, but the Democrats are receiving higher numbers than the GOP. From the ABC/WaPo poll:
50% of respondents approve of the Democrats (44% disapprove)
38% approve of the Republicans (56% disapprove).

When asked "who do you trust to do a better job handling the economy, President Obama or Republicans in Congress?," it breaks down to 61% to 26%--Obama overwhelms Republicans.
So only 26% of respondents have faith in Republicans' abilities to repair the economy, and folks are getting fairly tired of the GOP's current strategy of blanket opposition vs. reasoned debate. The New York Times's poll results suggest why things don't look so good for the GOP, and it has a little something to do with the "b" word (not what you think: it's "bipartisanship):
About three-quarters of those polled, including 61 percent of Republicans, said Mr. Obama has been trying to work with Republicans. But only 3 in 10 Americans said Republicans are doing the same, with 63 percent saying that Republicans opposed the economic stimulus package primarily for political reasons rather and policy concerns.

About 8 in 10 Americans said Republicans should be working in a bipartisan way rather than holding fast to their policies, the poll found, with almost three-quarters of Republican respondents agreeing that bipartisanship was preferable.

The poll found widespread support for Mr. Obama’s attempts to reach across the aisle during his first month in office. But 56 percent of those surveyed said the priority for the president should be following the policies he proposed during the campaign last year, rather than working with Republicans.[emphasis mine].
In other words, folks are willing to support the president should he issue a "my way or the highway" ultimatum (of course, they say that now--nobody really likes such ultimatums, do they? Such rhetoric is unreasonable). Naturally many people remain skeptical about whether Obama's policies will work--whether they'll be enough or whether they're too much--but most folks seem to trust the man's suggestions. Skepticism is good, it's healthy, and it's necessary. But skepticism differs from all out straight-jacketed opposition. We do need debate on how to qualify bailouts for industries and for homeowners, but conceding to an either/or dialectic isn't debate.

As Charlie Cook wrote the other day:
As polling very clearly shows, congressional Republicans have done nothing to help themselves by almost unanimously opposing the massive stimulus package. Indeed, they look increasingly isolated: a narrow party that is looking inward for sustenance. Selecting former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to be national party chairman is about the only intelligent thing that Republicans have done since Election Day. At this point, a Republican rebound seems more contingent upon a Democratic collapse than anything else. Certainly, Republicans aren't doing anything these days to help bring themselves back.
Do the GOP really hope for a "Democratic collapse" and that the president and his policies fail? It's all well and good to utter such snark when times are good, but when the country is in the midst of crisis--well, that's not the time to wish for further complications in the name of ideology.

Did Shelby Bite the COLB Fruit?

According to an Alabama newspaper, The Cullman Times, Richard Shelby, the state's senior U. S. Senator, has chosen to bite at the "Obama-is-ineligible" rumor. Apparently, he did so in quite a public way--in response to a question at a town-hall meeting:
[a] local resident asked Shelby if there was any truth to a rumor that appeared during the presidential campaign concerning Obama’s U.S. citizenship, or lack thereof.

“Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate,” Shelby said. “You have to be born in America to be president.”

According to the Associated Press, state officials in Hawaii checked health department records during the campaign and determined there was no doubt Obama was born in Hawaii.

The nonpartisan Web site Factcheck.org examined the original document and said it does have a raised seal and the usual evidence of a genuine document. In addition, Factcheck.org reproduced an announcement of Obama's birth, including his parents' address in Honolulu, that was published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Aug. 13, 1961.
When Politico's Ben Smith contacted Shelby's office to ask about the story, a spokesperson backtracked on the Senator's statements and claimed that the paper had "distorted" the Senator's remarks. The paper stands by its story and has requested that anyone with audio or video of the event get in touch. We'll have to wait until the paper finds and posts such evidence, but there's little doubt the paper's story has energized folks on both sides of the issue: the conspiracy theorists as well as those who see the GOP as focused on harming the president rather than fixing the nation.

This could get interesting. Unfortunately, it's also interfering with the nation's real problems--the economy, for example--by muddying the waters with rumor and innuendo.

Update: I'm thinking that Shelby didn't bite; his comment on the citizenship issue is starting to look like a mangled response to the constituent's question. Folks who attended the event offer differing recollections of the Senator's statements:
Dave Ozment, chairman of the Cullman County Republican Party, who attended the meeting, said he remembered some of Shelby’s comment on Obama’s citizenship.

“[Shelby] was not saying and I’m not saying he (Obama) is or isn’t [a U.S. citizen], he was just saying he hasn’t seen one (a birth certificate),” Ozment said.

Cullman Airport Manager Bob Burns, who was also at the meeting, recalled the question and answer as well.

“It sounded to me like he really didn’t want to go there,” Burns said about Shelby. “He said he hadn’t seen his birth certificate. He said something to the effect that it had been certified in Hawaii.” (Cullman Times)
Unless audio/video surfaces to dispute this, suffice it to say this story is over. It certainly doesn't warrant either jubilation amongst conspiracy theorists or ire amongst the anti-"birthers."

22 February 2009

Tracing the MMR/Autism Panic

Newsweek's Sharon Begley publishes a genealogy of the anti-vaccine panic that arose following Andrew Wakefield's dubious 1998 report that the triple Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine led to autism. Worth your time.

21 February 2009

Googling Atlantis

Google has had to dampen excited proclamations that Google Earth reveals Atlantis. Google Earth's map of the ocean includes an apparent series of shapes in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 miles from Africa. However, Google says these don't represent the lost city; rather, "what users are seeing is an artefact of the data collection process. Bathymetric ( or sea floor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor [. . .] The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data" (BBC).

While I'm somewhat averse to Atlantis stories (thanks in large part to folks like Graham Hancock and Erik Von Daniken), I admit that the discovery of the city's location would be way cool.

The Waste Land

I'm scheduled to "teach" the poem for the first time ever this week, and I'm also currently involved in my TWL chapter. In other words, I'm so inundated with TWL I'm all a-tremble at not being able to see the forest for the trees. I don't want to overload the poor souls with ten years of accumulated TWL-related trivia (even if some of it is significant trivia).

Additionally, I think I've taken a shift in how I perceive the poem, and it's freaking me out. I 've always been one of the allusion afficianados, a hunter of literary clues--but I'm transforming. After reading and re-reading TSE's 1920 essay on Dante, I'm starting to wonder if any of those allusions truly adds "meaning" to the poem--whether identifying the Elizabethan plays, metaphyscial poems, or German operas etc. that are in the poem and considering how they "illustrate" its meaning is all bullocks.

In his work on Dante, TSE insisted that readers don't need to know Dante's philosophy in order to appreciate the Commedia on aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual levels. We don't need to read it in the original. We just need to read it. So now, after all these years, I'm looking at TWL as a cubist work. It doesn't need to have a unifying "meaning." It doesn't need to maintain a "thread." It just needs to be.

I think about reading it for the first time. I didn't bother with the notes until after I'd completed the first reading (they just got in the way). What was the result? I felt like something had kicked me. Hard. I was anguished, horrified, awestruck. Then I read the notes and decided that, rather than an emotional exercise or a perception of modernity, the poem was a puzzle for me to figure out. And lo, these many years of "figgerin' it out," TWL has become an intellectual exercise alone. Sure, at times I'm struck by the beauty of some lines, shock at some juxtapositions, but it's become dry in many ways--stripped of its power.

So, what do I do with my realization? Do I abandon my project, or do I fish about finding ways to recast it? Of course, the answer is obviously the latter; I've spent the day over this. The "right" response has yet to arrive, but, I'm sure, it will.

19 February 2009

If I Wanted to Visit Pakistan in 1981. . .

Well, let's suppose on the morning of 14 June, 1981, I'd picked up a copy of The New York Times and began reading an article titled "Lahore, A Survivor With a Bittersweet History." I might be intrigued, but, considering all the instability in the region, I might be unsure whether or not I, as a U S citizen, could actually go to Pakistan on my USA passport. But then the article answers my uncertainties: "[t]ourists can obtain a free, 30-day visa (necessary for Americans) at border crossings and airports" (NYT). Ah, so I can visit Pakistan? But let's make sure. Let's say I head down to the passport office just to double check, and sure enough, there is a travel advisory for American citizens wanting to travel to Pakistan on USA passports! It says:
Before traveling to Pakistan, American citizens should be aware of the following updated visa requirements: 30 day visas are available at Pakistani airports for tourists only (Department of State).
So in 1981, I could travel to Pakistan, legally and everything. I certainly wouldn't need to travel under a foreign, let's say (for the heck of it) an Indonesian passport--a simple USA passport would do nicely, thank you.

But seriously, I can't believe that this particular Obama rumor--that in 1981 he couldn't have possibly traveled to Pakistan on a US passport--is still around when it's so easily disproven.

H/T to Dr Conspiracy for the DOS link.

18 February 2009

Tax Cuts May Hinder Recovery

The New York Federal Reserve had just issued a study concluding that "[c]utting taxes to try to stimulate the economy could do more harm than good in a zero interest rate environment as it can heighten the risk of deflation" (Reuters).

It doens't stop, does it?

The Daily Show & the COLB

The folks at Indecision 2008 (The Daily Show/The Colbert Report) have taken notice of Dr. Orly Taitz, one of the more "outspoken" constituents of the "Obama-is-an-illegal-alien" movement. Go here for commentary and video of Taitz in action.

You can read more about the COLB (certificate of live birth) paranoia here, here, and here.

Story Number Five for Burris

Roland Burris continues to modify his story. Remember that, at first, he had nothing to do with Blago's pay-to-play scheme. Didn't speak to anyone, didn't agree to anything. But now:
Burris said he contacted "some people" about holding a fundraiser at the request of Blagojevich's brother, Robert, only to learn that no one was willing to help the governor. He said he later changed his mind, raised no money and contributed none.

The account to reporters in Peoria, Ill., was Burris's fifth version of his contacts with close associates of Blagojevich and the first time he acknowledged trying to raise money for the former governor, who was arrested and forced from office on corruption charges. (WaPo)

Does he just not understand that he's adding to the state's embarrassment over the Blago fiasco, or is it that he simply doesn't care? Naturally, as Illinois politicians are (correctly) outraged, they've chosen to open an ethics investigation over the matter' to this, "Burris said he would answer 'any and all questions' " (WaPo). Sure he will, and I'm sure there's not a chance he'd lie or anything.

17 February 2009

Remember This Guy?

Larry Sinclair--who roused a gaggle of anti-Obama folks a year ago with lurid stories that included drugs, sex, and murder--filed a defamation suit against three anonymous bloggers, known only as OwningLiars, TubesockTed, and MzMolly, for defamation. Individually, the bloggers had either taunted Sinclair online or had re-posted Sinclair-oriented material posted on other websites. The case has dragged on since March of last year, but the courts dismissed it completely last week.

From Citizen Media Law Project:
the court held that Sinclair's complaint was facially invalid because it did not plead facts necessary to establish the court's subject-matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction over the pseudonymous defendants. In addition, the court ruled that Sinclair's defamation claims failed as a matter of law because he did not plead either actual malice or special damages, and because section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protected mzmolly and Owningliars for "simply summarizing and reporting information obtained from" a third party.
Unfortunately, the bloggers weren't awarded any damages either.**

And Sinclair? The story has gone stale. He's still peddling his tales somewhere, but he's still not produced any substantiating evidence. Meanwhile, many of his followers have moved onto other Obama conspiracies (e.g., the birth certificate), and his attorney has been suspended in Washington DC and in Florida.

** A reader emailed the following correction: "the motion that was denied was to sanction Sibley (I think for filing motions while suspended, if I remember correctly). The bloggers could still theoretically ask for damages or lawyer's fees." Thank you, reader.

Added: I came to this news via the CMLP, but I'd like to note that The Regulator was the first blog to report the CMLP's report.

Fiscal Responsibility Check

At Balloon Juice, John Cole posts a number of graphs of the U. S. economy--surplus and deficit--from the 1960s until 2003/2004. The charts rather put a kink into the GOP argument that it's the party of fiscal conservatives, and they do seem to support Cole's assertion that "Republicans were never fiscal conservatives."

Excepting a spell in 1970 and a few of the Clinton years, it's pretty clear that both parties enjoy spending far more than "conserving" our wealth; the only difference is where the money goes.

16 February 2009


A 9 June, 2004 article from The Washington Post, which focuses primarily on interest rates, reminds us that the current economic crisis did not come out of the blue:

In late 2002, Cheney had summoned the Bush administration's economic team to his office to discuss another round of tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Then-Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill pleaded that the government -- already running a $158 billion deficit -- was careering toward a fiscal crisis. But by O'Neill's account of the meeting, Cheney silenced him by invoking his take on Reagan's legacy [allegedly, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter"].

It wasn't that Reagan's policies proved that government borrowing had no impact on the economy. But his administration's record -- particularly with some years of hindsight -- did give reason to question traditional thinking and provided a new context for future arguments about deficit spending.

"The lesson we should have learned [from those years] is that deficits have little or no short-term economic impacts," said William A. Niskanen, a member of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers. (WaPo)

Interesting reading, but it seems that "them in charge" didn't pay attention to the "short-term impact" qualifier; by the time of the article's publication, we'd racked up $1.7 trillion in debt. This amount, Niskanen said, "has made the country "terribly dependent" and "terribly vulnerable." Indeed. But who were "them in charge" approving the debt? And who was talking about "mortgaging our children's futures" then?

15 February 2009

Shown the Back of the Hand?

In "Republican Taliban Declare Jihad on Obama," in The Sunday Times, Andrew Sullivan argues that "the right has promised all out war" against the president. Worth your time.

I'd like to supplement Sullivan's observation that the president, "did his best to accommodate Republican concerns [about the stimulus] - adding deeper and wider tax cuts than his own party was comfortable with." I know of at least one Democrat who voted against the Stimulus in the second round because he objected to the tax cuts.


CQPolitics offers up a story looking towards the CPAC convention. Writer Shawn Zeller reviews the deep divisions within the Republican party, and wonders if they can be overcome. It's only been a few months since the general election, but one of those divisions remains the reason why so many Republicans lost their seats in November: some "believe the GOP just needs to deliver its message more effectively and [others] think demographic changes will eventually compel Republicans to moderate their rhetoric" (Zeller). Many continue to reject the idea that Deomcrats increased their majority--and gained the presidency--because of demographic or ideological shifts, case in point:
“I’ve never bought into the post-election analysis that somehow the country has changed,” said Bobby Eberle, GOPUSA’s publisher. “It’s the same country. They just saw Republicans turn away from what got them to power, so they voted them out.” (Zeller).
Sigh. It's unlikley that the
CPAC meetup will result in any softening of this stance. Indeed, in a such a self-affirmative environment, chances are that attendees will harden in their belief that if only Republicans were more conservative, we wouldn't be in a situation where Pelosi and Reid were majority leaders and Obama the president. Will--or can--the moderates and conservatives recapture their coalition, or is any hope of resolution between the groups history?

14 February 2009

What's In It?

Propublica has posted a breakdown of the economic stimulus plan. The site has published two lists, one focusing on the plan's spending and one detailing the plan's tax cuts.

Emboldened Insurgents

So was there a secret meeting between minority party members wherein they decided to borrow language from the “War on Terror” in their mission to redefine themselves?

Last week, Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) announced that the GOP should model their tactics on the Taliban:

Insurgency we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- I'm not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban -- no, that's not what we're saying. I'm saying an example of how you go about is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their front line message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with. [L A Times]

Mr. Sessions didn’t elaborate on which of the Taliban’s methods—how “they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes”—he found particularly admirable. He added, however,

I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we're going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them, I think what's happened is that the line was drawn in the sand.... We either work together, or we're going to find a way to get our message out.[L A Times]

So the point is to “disrupt,” “change a person’s entire process,” and “find ways to get [the] message out" instead of "trying to do something about them”? It’s true that the Republicans need to find diverse, and fresh, ways to get their message out, but if their goal is to “disrupt” rather than fix, doesn’t that make them—obstructionist?

It’s peculiar, as well that Representative Sessions chose the Taliban as a model of insurgency considering the Taliban’s reliance on violence and suppression to “get their message out,” and Mr. Sessions clearly didn’t equate with a GOP “insurgency” with violence, but, as MSNBC points out, there are certainly more valuable examples out there (e.g., Gandhi, the Boston Tea Party, etc.). You can't help but wonder if his public approbation of a Taliban-styled insurgency help to embolden them? Speaking of embolden: from Politico,

"When your opponent trips and falls on his face, it certainly emboldens the opponent," added Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) [of the Gregg withdrawal] "It certainly emboldens us," McHenry said.


Also, Saul Anuzis, who recently lost his campaign to become the new RNC chair, appeared at a Republican "Tech Summit" last week and offered this strange analogy (via Slate):
"Why do revolutionaries use Kalashnikovs?" he asks. "Because they won't jam. It's not the best gun, but you can throw it in the mud, pick it up, and it still works. This is a revolution."
So harnessing new technologies and developing new applications is equivalent to an assault rifle most often identified with the Red Army and terrorists? Yup. Insurgentizing all over the place.

But wait! Now they're insurgentizing each other:

March 01: It seems that two conservative California talk show hosts, John and Ken, have "launched a fatwa" against Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller. Miller's crime? He didn't call for the ouster of the Assembly's Republican leader, Mike Villines, who helped reach a compromise on California's "legislation to temporarily raise taxes to help solve the state's budget problem" (PE). Miller voted against the legislation, by the way, but apparently that wasn't good enough for the party purgers" the "fatwa"calls for a recal election to remove Miller from office.

March 16: John and Ken engaged in a bit of political theater to further their "fatwa." At a "tax revolt rally" this past weekend, and:

The raucous California tea party featured such dramatics as the spearing of a likeness of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's head, and the sledge-hammering of a pile of Schwarzenegger dolls, videos and movie memorabilia - even an action hero lunch box.

The radio hosts' "fatwas" target a handful of moderate GOP legislators who sided with Democrats to end the state budget impasse. Their calls to recall those lawmakers have reverberated throughout the Republican grassroots.

"It's becoming the fatwa party ... the Jon and Ken party," said Hoover Institution media fellow and GOP consultant Bill Whalen. (San Francsico Chronicle)

"Fun and games" aside, you've got to wonder if it is altogether wise to adopt the language of your enemy (e.g., terrorists) to target your own. Moreover, why are David Frum and David Brooks demonized for criticizing elements of the Republican Party, and these two men aren't?

13 February 2009

The "Disappeared" $550 Billion

Wow. A wealth of conspiracy theories have cropped up in response to Representative Paul Kanjorski’s assertion that at 11:00 am on Thursday, September 18, $550 billion dollars “vanished” in an “electronic run the banks.” The theories include assertions that some shadowy figures orchestrated the event to influence the election. One thing the conspiracy-minded folks are forgetting: Lehman Brothers failed on Monday, 15 September. That occurrence started a week of old-fashioned panic--the withdrawal of money market funds that Kanjorski referenced came not out of the blue, but as a result of several days' worth of anxiety over the economy.

Additionally, Kanjorski seems to have modified September 18th's events. From Ben Smith at Politico:
Some questions have been raised about [Kanjorski's] tale -- Portfolio's Felix Salmon calls it "fiction -- and I asked Kanjorski's spokeswoman, Abbie McDonough, for the congressman's source on the story.

She referred me not to Treasury Department briefings, but to an anonymously sourced New York Post article headed "Almost Armageddon, making roughly the same claims.
That's right--Kajorski was referencing a story in The New York Post. That article, “Almost Armageddon” from 21 September, says:
According to traders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, money market funds were inundated with $500 billion in sell orders prior to the opening [on Thursday, 18 September]. The total money-market capitalization was roughly $4 trillion that morning.

The panicked selling was directly linked to the seizing up of the credit markets - including a $52 billion constriction in commercial paper - and the rumors of additional money market funds "breaking the buck," or dropping below $1 net asset value.
These “rumors” appeared in articles published on September 17th in periodicals including The New York Times and U S News & World Report. In fact, the latter article is titled “Reserve Primary Fund: Investors May Lose.” According to The Post,
Cracks started to show in money market accounts late Tuesday [16 September] when shares in one fund, the Reserve Primary Fund - which touted itself as super safe - fell below the golden $1 a share level. It had purchased what it thought was safe Lehman bonds, never dreaming they could default - which they did 24 hours earlier when the 158-year-old investment bank filed Chapter 11.

By Wednesday [the day before the $550 billion “disappearance”], banks sensed a run on their accounts [emph. mine]. They started stockpiling cash in anticipation of withdrawals.

[. . . .] By the close of business on Wednesday, $144.5 billion - a record - had been withdrawn. How much money was taken out of money market funds the prior week? Roughly $7.1 billion, according to AMG Data Services.

By Thursday, that level, fed by the incredible volume of sell orders pouring in from institutional investors like pension funds and sovereign funds, had grown to $100 billion.
So nervous consumers and brokers, probably those who read the business sections of newspapers and magazines, were responsible for the “electronic run on the banks.” The only dastardly forces at work here are the ones responsible for this mess in the first place. The recession and credit crisis was not "invented" to embarrass George W. Bush or to get Obama elected. It wasn't China, Russia, or India. It was us.

Will this be noted by people engaged in conspiracy invention? Of course not.

Aside: As Smith suggests, Felix Salmon at Portfolio does a fine job explaining and debunking the "$550 billion" figure-and Kanjorski in general. At The Baltimore Chronicle, Alice Cherbonnier posts a story critical of Kanjorski’s tale and suggests that the Representative is engaging in some “revisionist history” for political reasons.

The Anti-Obama Platform

60% of the nation believe we’re still on the wrong track, so why do some politicians continue to demand that we simply continue to rely on tax-cutting and de-regulation to improve the economy? Is ideology all they have?

Andrew Sullivan has been wondering of the GOP has declared war on Obama based on ideology alone. He presents a compelling argument, and I can’t help but think there’s something to it—these people oversaw our national debt as it hit the $30 trillion dollar mark, all the while cutting taxes and encouraging deregulation in industries that pretty much require watchdogs--banking and securities. Rather than rebuild their platform based on issues, they've chosen to present themselves as the "anti-Obama party."

Additionally, the GOP’s playing offense seems to be “emboldening” others to embrace fringe movements. For example, four Tennessee Representatives—Eric Swafford, Stacey Campfield, Frank Nicely, and Glen Casada--have chosen to link their names to an increasingly outlandish conspiracy involving the President’s citizenship status—a conspiracy they has spawned numerous lawsuits, all of which, to this point, have been dismissed by the courts.

Some suggest that if the President’s approval ratings continue to hold, the GOP will “fall into line.” We’ll see. But Republicans might recall one of their handiest tactics in the 2002 and 2004 elections: painting Congressional Democrats as “obstructionists.” It rather helped the GOP, didn't it? I'm just saying . . .

05 February 2009

Lux Interior R. I. P.

The "Teenage Goo Goo Muck," the "Human Fly," the "Garbageman," Lux Interior of The Cramps has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Thanks Lux.

Aside: Rolling Stone's review of 1984's Bad Music for Bad People.

What He Said. . . .

John Cole at Balloon Juice:

The next time anyone in Congress opposes any infrastructure stimulus spending, whether it be on roads, bridges, whatever, the very first thing I would do is go through every single Iraq appropriations bill, target line by line the spending appropriations for rebuilding Iraq, and then look at the roll call vote. I bet all sorts of fun could be had pointing out “fiscal conservatives” who repeatedly voted to build infrastructure in Iraq, without so much as blinking, who are now getting the vapors about a couple billion being spent domestically on similar projects. America First, the saying was, right?

A bipartisan group of governors has declared its support of the stimulus plan, but it seems as though Democratic Senators and Representatives arne't nearly as vocal as they should be in their support. If they truly believe in the proposed stimulus, maybe it’s time the began explaining the bill--and what it contains--to the American public. Thus far, they've allowed the bill's opponents to do all the defining. Small wonder popular support has been declining.

04 February 2009

The Racism Paradox

Overt racism is damned far and wide; however, overtly racist acts continue to occur regularly. What explains the contradiction? A group of psychologists attempts to explain the paradox in a report on "Mispredicting Affective and Behavioral Responses to Racism."

03 February 2009

Editors Turn Against Daschle

The New York Times is only one among a plethora of voices critiquing Tom Daschle's nomination as health and human services secretary. Justifiably so. Between the unpaid taxes and the lobbying (sorry--former Senator Daschle was not a registered lobbyist. He simply earned money "advising clients seeking influence with the government, including some in the health industry" (NYT).

I'm afraid that I concur with these editors. I like Tom Daschle, and I thought he was a pretty good pick for H & HS secretary, but I'm having trouble resolving President Obama's promises about ethics--and lobbysists--and his nominees' tax-deferring/lobbying pasts (e.g., Timothy Geithner, William Lynn, William Corr, Nancy Killefer--Daschle is the unfortunate straw here). Seriously--what happened to President Obama's much discussed "extensive vetting" of potential appointees?


Update: Daschle has withdrawn--as has Killefer. Very gracious of them both, but, even so, there remain lingering questions over the president's vetting process.