Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2008 October 1-31

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As a Matter of Fact, I Like Beer

Who "won" the debate? As usual, I will not presume to speak for the plain people of Peoria. But sticking to my personal reactions:

John McCain made some genuinely good points tonight. He scored a hit with his attack on Fannie and Freddie, he seemed aware that entitlements are going to be a problem down the road (though his "solutions" were inane), and his comparison of Barack Obama to Herbert Hoover was both surprising and on target. In the economic discussions, he made sense more often than Obama did. But that's a low bar to clear. McCain's repeated calls for the government to buy up bad mortgages, his obsession with the chimera of "energy independence," and his support for the Wall Street bailout should put to rest any lingering suspicion that he has a free-market heart.

In foreign policy, on the other hand, I have to give the edge to Obama. I didn't agree with everything he said, but his comment that John "Bomb Iran" McCain doesn't "speak softly" was as solid a punch as McCain's comment about Hoover. And I strongly suspect that it impressed more viewers.

The winner? As far as I'm concerned, it's Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. I'm on my third bottle.

McCain-Obama II: Music City Massacre

Thus begins the open thread. I'll be commenting here all night, and other reasonoids will be commenting all over the blog.

9:02: "I have selected a great list of questions on domestic and foreign policy." It doesn't sound like Brokaw wants to ask about the bullshit-of-the-day attacks.

UPDATE: This was an inopportune time for a web slowdown. Responses won't be as immediate as your comments.

9:05-13: That was an interesting bit of attacking-without-looking-mean. Or trying to, at least. McCain's deployment of the Freddie/Fannie attack was something conservatives have been pleading for over the last week, and it hit the mark, but Obama might have deflected it with the attack on deregulation.

9:15: “You’re not interested in politicians pointin’ fingers.” Palinesque!

9:18: “I wrote a letter, too. Senator Obama’s not on it.” Both of them seem more irritated tonight.

9:28: "We're not shotgun shots, my friends." I am going to miss elements of the McCain campaign when this is over.

9:31: Obama must be driving McCain insane with his speechmaking over McCain's easy-going conversation. He wimps out on the "what Americans can sacrifice" question. Clearly, he wants Americans to stop using so much gas. He wants us to pay more for it. But no way can he say that and keep his lead.

9:35: McCain's attempt to turn Obama into Herbert Hoover won't work. Unfair, but true.

9:38: Glad I didn't spread around my prediction that Obama could match McCain in the town hall setting, because McCain has adapted his style to this format better than Obama has. He's treating Obama like the far-away Washington politicians he bashes on the stump, and remembering the factoids that he needs to drive the points.

9:40: Anyone else having trouble telling the two of them apart?

9:43: Huge mistake for Obama to not stick the landing on Social Security, unless he's confident that he'll get the question again in the final debate. McCain's position (his actual one, not this "commission" crap) is unpopular; Obama's is popular.

9:47: "That one?"

9:50: For all the attention Clinton's 1992 pandering to the town hall audience got, Obama and McCain don't seem that interested in copying it. Obama's giving a short stump answer on what the question was about McCain's saying "thank you for the question" then doing the same thing.

9:54: McCain's far better on health care than he's ever been. By... sounding like Obama. "Everybody should have access to health care."

9:58: Health care is maybe the one issue where Obama is much, much more conversant than McCain. The difference: He knows what he wants. He has said before that if he designed a system from scratch it'd be Canadian-style single payer health care. He says tonight that "health care should be a right." He can't lose on this: It's 28 days to the election and people are panicked.

10:06: A great question - if you're against intervention in Iraq, why do it in Darfur? - leads to a spine-chilling round of humanitarian interventionism one-upping. That sound you hear is Bob Barr and Ralph Nader signing onto a murder-suicide pact.

10:19: The Russia exchange mirrored the back-and-forth from this summer. McCain knows specifics and wants to charge ahead. Obama... uh, you know, look, agrees that Russia is a problem, but is going to be nicer. Sadly, they both score points like this.

10:24: Big surprise on the Israel round. Neither of them will commit troops?

Doherty Scheduled to Do Debate Post-Mortem on KPFA-FM In Berkeley Tonight

As with everything in media, things could shift and change unexpectedly, but I'm supposed to appear on Berkeley's KPFA, 94.1 FM, with the Nation's John Nichols to talk about tonight's presidential debate, starting at 7:45 p.m. pacific and running for 15 minutes. You can listen live here.

Economic Populists for Lower Corporate Taxes

The puzzling political analysis of New York Times national correspondent Jackie Calmes continues with a "Congressional Memo" contending that "on the economy" the Republican Party "is increasingly populist." That explains resistance to the Wall Street bailout by Republicans in the House, Calmes says, because "populists do not favor bailouts of Wall Street." For Calmes, the alleged increase in Republican economic populism is of a piece with an increase in "social conservatism," including "opposition to abortion, gay rights and liberalized immigration policies," that has alienated "voters from families that have been Republican for generations." These socially conservative, economically populist Republicans are "less affluent and less educated—and more suspicious of big business—than mainstream Republicans of days past."

But what about all the House Republicans who said they opposed the bailout because it constitutes excessive government intervention in the economy? Calmes quotes Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), for example, who condemned the Treasury Department's plan as "the slippery slope to socialism." Is socialism the opposite of economic populism? Calmes concedes that "nearly all of the Republican opponents insisted they were upholding the party's principles and its 'brand' by opposing big-government intervention in what should be free markets." Yet somehow she divines that what really motivated them was hostility toward big business.

"To get the [presidential] nomination," Calmes writes, John McCain "made accommodations to the conservatives dominant in the party by his rightward turns on tax cuts and other issues." Do economic populists push a lower corporate tax rate?

Calmes understands that Republican critics of the bailout see themselves as upholding Ronald Reagan's legacy, but she's having none of it:

Republican figures from the Reagan years say these conservatives misread their idol's record of bipartisan compromises. Amid the current financial crisis, several recalled that after the 1987 market crash, Mr. Reagan and the Democratic leaders in Congress negotiated a budget compromise of spending cuts and revenue-raisers to signal to markets that the government was serious about reducing the deficits.

"Ronald Reagan would not be comfortable as a House Republican today. Ronald Reagan was the ultimate pragmatist and fiscal conservative," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, a White House chief of staff to Mr. Reagan.

So Ronald Reagan's fiscal conservatism (overrated, but that's another story) means he would have supported the Treasury Department's plan to spend $700 billion in taxpayers' money on the worst investments it can find?

I realize Calmes' main aim is to shake her head at what she calls the House Republicans' "rigidly ideological stance at a time of economic crisis." But she could at least get the ideology right.

Clouds Rearrange Like the Talk of the Town

The best previews of tonight's Obama-McCain town hall debate are John Dickerson's and Jack Shafer's over at Slate. Shafer makes the important point that strict rules are going to prevent tonight's slugfest into becoming a true town hall, the kind that both candidates have, alternately, excelled and gaffed at. Dickerson points out that the town halls can make a dumb campaign dumber by the inclusion of people who don't want to hear anything mean.

"Ponytail Guy" is the term some in political circles use to refer to Denton Walthall, who asked a question in the second presidential debate in 1992. A domestic mediator who worked with children, Walthall scolded President George H.W. Bush for running a mudslinging, character-based campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992. Referring to voters as "symbolically the children of the future president," he asked how voters could expect the candidates "to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties. ... Could we cross our hearts? It sounds silly here but could we make a commitment? You know, we're not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the U.S. to meet our needs—and we have many—and not yours again?"

Since the McCain campaign wants us to be thinking about Billy Ayers right now, and the Obama campaign wants you to meditate on Charles Keating, there's a buzz in the air: Will one of the candidates go for a character attack? And the experience of the town hall debate is that, no, that stuff won't work. Here's what Bush said in 1992 that riled up Waithall.

The other night Governor Clinton raised my -- I don't know if you saw the debate the other night. You did -- suffered through that? Well, he raised the question of my father -- it was a good line, well rehearsed and well delivered. But he raised the question of my father and said, well, your father, Prescott Bush, was against McCarthy, you should be ashamed of yourself, McCarthyism. I remember something my dad told me -- I was 18 years old going to Penn Station to go on into the Navy, and he said write your mother -- which I faithfully did; he said serve your country -- my father was an honor, duty and country man; and he said tell the truth. And I've tried to do that in public life, all through it. That says something about character.

My argument with Governor Clinton -- you can call it mud wrestling, but I think it's fair to put in focus is -- I am deeply troubled by someone who demonstrates and organizes demonstration in a foreign land when his country's at war. Probably a lot of kids here disagree with me. But that's what I feel. That's what I feel passionately about. I'm thinking of Ross Perot's running mate sitting in the jail. How would he feel about it? But maybe that's generational. I don't know.

See? Just doesn't work in a format where sad-eyed, Jeff Koons-drawn voters are whimpering about how mean you are.

Last Meals, Even for People Not on Death Row

Foreign Policy this month has a survey of endangered foodstuffs. Not just edible members of the endangered species club, although there are a couple of tasty endangered critters on the list, but also foods that may soon be illegal or unrecognizable.

Topping the list, foie gras:

Why can’t I eat it? Four years ago, the state of California passed a law banning foie gras that will take effect in 2012. Bans have been considered in five other U.S. states. Chicago recently overturned a three-year-old ban on foie gras, but resolutions condemning the cocktail-party staple have passed in other municipalities. American chefs complain that foie gras is being unfairly singled out while cruel factory-farming methods have provoked no such backlash. Celebrity foodie Anthony Bourdain has speculated that foie gras’s bad reputation has more to do with the fact that “it’s fancy, and associated with the French.” 

Also mentioned: Beluga caviar, veal, Chilean sea bass, and (because the common people stand to lose some delicious favorites as well) McDonald's fries.

FP has put the fear of god into me. From this day forth, I'll be eating as many fish eggs, baby cows, and McDonald's fries as I can get my hands on. Come to think of it, I had foie gras with dinner last night so I'm off to a good start.

If you don't want to join me in an actual plate of foie gras, at least stop to savor a video nibble of Bourdain on the topic:

Making D.C. Pay for Violating Second Amendment Rights

At the D.C. Examiner, the attorneys in the blockbuster Heller case that vindicated the Second Amendment before the Supreme Court make the case for why they think D.C. should cough up $3.5 million in attorney fees for their six-year fight against an obdurate, and Constitution-violating, District government.

Look for my forthcoming book on the Heller case, Gun Control on Trial, and an excerpt from it in the forthcoming December issue of reason.

Women Prefer Nerds

Researchers at Elon University have discovered that women find intelligence sexy. As the New Scientist reports:

Rather than ask women to rate qualities they seek in men, as other studies had done, Prokosch's team asked 15 college men to perform a series of tasks on camera.

The volunteers read news reports, explained why they would be a good date, and what would be the ramifications of the discovery of life on Mars. They also threw and caught a Frisbee to parade their physical appeal. Each potential suitor also took a quantitative test of verbal intelligence.

More than 200 women watched a series of these videos before rating each man's intelligence, attractiveness, creativity and appeal for a short-term or long-term relationship...

Women proved to be decent judges of intelligence, with their scores generally matching each man's intelligence test results.

As for picking a bed-mate, the men's actual smartness proved a reliable indicator of their appeal for both brief hook-ups and serious relationships – which came as something of a surprise. Other studies have suggested that, for women anticipating short-term relationships, a man's braininess isn't foremost in their minds.

The disparate results may be due to women's lack of awareness that intelligence also affects the attractiveness of candidates for quick flings – how intelligent women perceived a man to be influenced his desirability as a long-term mate much more than his appeal for a one-night stand. 

But the results are too good to be true. High SAT scores may be desirable, but they are not enough. Women want it all. As the article explains:

Looks were still a much more powerful predictor of sex appeal than brains. "Women are still going for the hunk," [Elon University evolutionary biologist Mark] Prokosch says. "If you had an option to pick from five different people, you would pick the most attractive one."

So in a perfect world, women want a Nobel prize winner with movie-star looks.

So guys, if you want the gals, it doesn't hurt to drop by the gym on the way back from the computer lab. 

Whole New Scientist article here

"Teach the Controversy" — Shameless T-Shirt Capitalism Edition

Forget Darwin vs. Genesis--what about Ptolemy vs. Copernicus, or Egyptian vs. alien pyramid builders? As the folks over at the T-shirt site, Teach the Controversy explain:

'Big Science' is always suppressing The Truth with their blatant pro-evolution anti-wacko agenda: from the fact that UFOs built the pyramids to the reality of creationism and fact the universe is "Turtles All The Way Down". It is time to fight back and urge schools to Teach The Controversy with these intelligently designed t-shirts.

Pick your controversy from the designs below:

Thanks to shameless capitalism, controversialists of all stripes, flat-earthers included, can now express their grievances against the demythologizing tendencies of science on their chests.

Kudos to D.A. Ridgely for pointing out the site.

Cars for Wall Street

In an Entertainment Weekly interview, without actually using the phrase "moral hazard," Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert offer a straightforward, funny explanation of the concept of a moral hazard:

STEWART: We were in this huge credit crisis, out of money. Then the Fed goes, We'll give you a trillion dollars, and all of a sudden Wall Street is like, "I can't believe we got away with it!" Can you imagine if someone said, "I shouldn't have bought that sports car because it means I can't have my house," and the bank just said, "All right, you can have your house. And you know what? Keep the car." [He throws up his arms joyfully and shouts] "Yeaaaaah, I get to keep the car! Wait, do I have to give the money back?" "No, it doesn't matter." "Yeah, I'm gonna get another car! I'm gonna do the same thing the same way, except twice as f---ed up!"

COLBERT: The idea that Lehman Brothers doesn't get any money and AIG does reminds me very much of "Iran is a mortal enemy because they have not achieved a nuclear weapon. But North Korea is a country we can work with, because they have a nuclear weapon." The idea is, Get big or go home. How big can you f--- up? Can you f--- up so bad that you would ruin the world economy? If it's just 15,000 who are out of jobs, no. You have to actually be a global f---up to get any help.

Also quotable: Stewart on the media's coverage:

We've got three financial networks on all day. The bottom falls out of the credit market, and they were all running around. On CNBC I saw a guy talking to eight people in [eight different onscreen] boxes, and they were all like, "I don't know!" It'd be like if Hurricane Ike hit, and you put on the Weather Channel, and they were yelling, "I don't know what the f--- is going on! I'm getting wet and it's windy and I don't know why and it's making me sad! Maybe the president could come down and put up some sort of windscreen?"

Innovators in Action 2008

From Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes reason online

Reason Foundation is heralding U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as "Innovators in Action" for their work in developing fresh solutions to cope with our growing infrastructure and traffic problems. In Innovators in Action 2008, Ms. Peters and Gov. Perry author columns explaining their visions and policy prescriptions for the future of transportation funding and construction.

"From crumbling roads to collapsing bridges to gridlocked roads, our nation's infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and expansion," said Leonard Gilroy, editor of Innovators in Action and director of government reform at Reason Foundation. "Governor Perry and Secretary Peters have led us down a new path, a path that shows there are better and more sustainable ways to fund, build and operate infrastructure. Their leadership offers hope that after years of falling behind, we can build a 21st century transportation system that protects our mobility and spurs the economy."

In addition to Peters and Perry, the Reason Foundation publication features essays by and interviews with U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, Utah Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Craig Frank, New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak, the late Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, Denver Regional Transportation District CEO Cal Marsella, King County (WA) Executive Ron Sims, and BASIS Charter Schools co-founder Olga Block.

In their own words, this bipartisan group of leaders reveal how they are reducing government spending and reforming bureaucracy; how they are collaborating with the private sector to build new infrastructure and deliver cost-savings and better services to taxpayers; how they are advancing market-based transportation solutions to reduce congestion and improve mobility; how they reforming public education delivery and advancing school choice; and how they are reforming urban public transit operations.

Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em

The Supreme Court kicked off its fall term today with oral arguments in Altria Group v. Good, a case that stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of Maine smokers claiming that light cigarette advertisements and packages contained false and deceptive information. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, argued that since its marketing is consistent with federal cigarette labeling laws, the state suits have no business going forward. Legal Times reports that the Court seemed to agree:

Representing Altria was former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who was arguing his 50th case before the Court. Olson appeared to convince the Court that the federal labeling law expressly precludes state suits over "smoking and health" issues. If states are allowed to impose different restrictions on cigarette advertising through lawsuits or other means, Olson said, "national advertising becomes impossible."

There was also a fairly strong exchange between Justice Samuel Alito and Assistant to the Attorney General Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who was there representing the federal goverment and arguing in favor of the state suits. Here's a portion from the Court's transcript:

JUSTICE ALITO: Would it be—would it be unfair to say that for quite sometime now, nearly 40 years, the FTC has passively approved the placement of these tar and nicotine figures in advertisement?

MR. HALLWARD-DRIEMEIER: With respect to the—I want first to take issue with the question of "approved," because I think that it—it draws an analogy to the FDA context, to Riegel and the like, and that is not the nature of what the Federal Trade Commission does. It doesn't stand—

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, you passed a rule to require it, did you not?

MR. HALLWARD-DRIEMEIER: We proposed a rule to require the disclosure of tar and nicotine.

JUSTICE ALITO: And you withdrew that after the companies voluntarily agreed to place the information on the ads.



JUSTICE ALITO: The FTC's position seems to me incomprehensible. If these figures are meaningless, then you should have prohibited them—are misleading, you should have prohibited them a long time ago. And you've created this whole problem by, I think, passively approving the placement of these figures on the—in the advertisements. And if they are misleading, then you have misled everybody who's bought those cigarettes for a long time.

It's hard to argue with Alito here. How can the federal government maintain that the cigarette companies are responsible for what the feds themselves have required and approved for 40 years?

Back in July, Jacob Sullum looked at the FTC's "complicity in making tar and nicotine yields ubiquitous in cigarette ads."

The Roots of Sarah Palin

Last month I wrote that I'd like to see more reporting on the rumor that Sarah Palin had tried to ban books at the local public library while she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Since then we've learned a lot more about the story. In mid-September, The New York Times reported that as a councilwoman, Palin inquired about removing Daddy's Roommate, a children's book about homosexuality, from library shelves. There is also scuttlebutt that the future mayor targetted a book called Pastor, I Am Gay.

Palin's old allies continue to deny the charges. David Chappel, Palin's deputy mayor, told The Boston Globe that his boss "never had any intention to ban books" and attributed the accusations to Palin's political enemies: "There were some vocal people in the minority, and it looks like they're still out there." Small-town politics can be an impenetrable thicket, and I know a lot of the critics emerging from Palin's past have axes to grind. That said, one of the Times' sources for the Daddy's Roommate story is Laura Chase, who now says the candidate "scares the bejeebus" out of her but in 1996 served as Palin's campaign manager.

If you're going to be skeptical, your best argument is the fact that there's no record that Palin actually attempted to remove the books once she was in a position to do so. But she may have simply changed her mind about the issue. It's also possible that at that point a ban would have been unnecessary: The Times reports that some social conservatives in town frequently vandalized library books that displeased them. (Both books are in the library now, though -- and there are people working hard to ensure they stay there. After these stories started to come out, a San Francisco man donated not just Daddy's Roommate but Heather Has Two Mommies to the Wasilla library, a DIY answer to the vandals' DIY censorship.)

In other Palin news: Dave Weigel already linked to it last week, but if you missed it, you really should read Sean Scallon's sharp take on the candidate. For Scallon, Palin "represents a wing of the Republican Party that was once close to Buchanan but has slid into the neoconservatives' grasp since 9/11" -- the "Jacksonian" populists who used to oppose figures like McCain but changed their priorities after Bin Laden's attacks. Not that Palin was a populist from the get-go: Noam Scheiber's account of her Wasilla days reveals that she actually got her start selling a business-backed tax to fund new government programs:

In the early '90s, [Nick] Carney and a group of local business leaders decided the city needed a sales tax to fund public services--such as a police force--it could no longer live without. To advance this position in an area not exactly teeming with Great Society liberals, they'd formed a group called "Watch on Wasilla" and persuaded John Stein, then the mayor, to embrace their cause. Carney won his seat on the city council in 1992 on the back of these efforts.

Heading into that election, Carney and Stein realized their program would go nowhere if they couldn't connect with what you might call Wal-Mart moms--that great mass of voters too busy earning a living and raising their families to follow local politics....Carney's daughter had gone to high school with Palin; Stein and his wife knew her from an aerobics class they attended. She seemed bright and energetic and had a winning way about her--the same qualities McCain would notice 15 years later. They invited her to attend a "Watch on Wasilla" meeting and, after a brief interview, asked her to run on their moderate plank. Carney introduced her to local business leaders and campaigned alongside her. "I took her around ... and said, 'This is a person who supports our points of view. She'll do what she can to make the police force run.' And she did it."

Andy Martin, Slayer of "Jew Power," Revealer of Muslims, on Fox News

I do not live in, not do I have any desire to visit, "Sean Hannity's America." So I missed his Sunday broadcast, "Obama & Friends: The History of Radicalism," in which it was determined that Barack Obama is a secret radical who once had a Pakistani roommate. The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg notes that the Fox News program features an interview with Andy Martin, the man behind those "Obama is a secret Muslim" emails, who argues that the senator's community organizing days served as "training for the radical overthrow of the government." (As opposed to the moderate overthrow of the government, I suppose.) It was once true that if you desired to plot a radical left-wing coup, you trained in with Wadid Haddad in the PFLP camps of South Yemen, not in the leafy suburbs of Chicago. But I suppose times have changed.  

When Rutenberg questioned Martin, who once ran a political committee with the stated purpose of "exterminat[ing] Jew power in America and...impeach[ing] the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City," he furnished this brilliantly boneheaded quote: "That is my opinion - expert opinion - if you will. I don't pretend to be an exclusively fact-based reporter, though I try as hard as I can to get the facts."

So is Hannity's scurrilous little "documentary" the Clinton Chronicles of the 2008 election?

Related: Tim Noah's August 2001 review of Bill Ayer's autobiography, Fugitive Days, a book that he calls both "self-indulgent and morally clueless."  

George McGovern, Union Buster

Ladies and Gentlemen, George McGovern.

If you need a refresher on EFCA, and how unions expect President Obama and his congressional supermajority to get 'er done, my mid-year take is here. McGovern's involvement isn't a surprise to anyone who's been following his recent career, though. In March, he blasted "economic paternalism" that was making it harder to run a small business. In the summer he started attacking EFCA. Hence his appearance in this ad by the Center for Union Facts.

But... is it an effective ad? As Barack Obama might say, he was 11 years old when McGovern ran for president. This is more of a curiosity than a blistering attack, but it gives me the cover to post some of these gonzo ads from his 1972 race and performance-art 1984 race.

The Austrians Told You So

Canada's Financial Post sees "I told you so" opportunities for the Austrian school of economics in the Current Crisis:

Austrian economists hold that downturns are the inevitable aftermath of loose monetary policy, thus opposing explanations typically heard prior to the current crisis that attributed recessions to price shocks, underconsumption or central bank tightening of monetary policy.

But if, to rephrase a well-known Nixon quote, we are all Austrians now, it illogically only extends to the diagnosis of the crisis and not to the school's market-based cure. For it is just not consistent to simultaneously assign blame to Greenspan's easy money and then support government intervention to fix the damage, as so many of the business op-ed writers and talking heads on CNBC have.

As the Austrian tradition points out, the dilemma with easy money is that the central bank sets rates below that which the market would naturally set. The natural rate reflects people's willingness to trade present for future satisfactions. When the actual rate is established under this, entrepreneurs and firms are issued a false signal that people are willing to defer more consumption into the future than they really are. As a result, excess investments in capital goods industries, such as housing, are made on the expectation that these will pay off in the long-run. The boom ends when monetary conditions are tightened back to natural levels or the passage of time makes clear that the demand was never really there to sustain the investments made. At this point, a crisis takes place in which capital investments get liquidated and resources are shifted such that the economy's productive capacity more appropriately reflects people's time preferences.

The piece wraps up with an implicit call to make your reservations for Hooverville 2009:

Most commentators resist following the Austrian logic through to the end out of the fear of repeating the policy mistakes that led to the Great Depression. This reflects the orthodox interpretation of that period, according to which the economy fell apart in the early 1930s while U. S. president Herbert Hoover took a laissez-faire approach to the downturn and the Fed ran an overly tight monetary policy.

The truth is that the Fed at the time did try to add liquidity, lowering its rediscount rate until late 1931 and continuously increasing reserves under its control. Money supply nevertheless fell, but that was because people lost faith in the financial system and hoarded currency. Meanwhile, Hoover met the downturn with interventionist gusto. He passed the Smoot-Hawley tariff to help domestic industries and obtained the co-operation of business leaders to support wages and investment. We haven't gone down this protectionist and corporatist road yet but Hoover's attacks on short selling and his creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which among other things loaned money to banks, bear an eerie resemblance to the current policy response.

"We might have done nothing",Hoover said, "[but] we determined that we would not follow the advice of the bitter-end liquidationists." Thus has the Bush administration decided as well, having successfully cajoled a recalcitrant Congress to follow Hoover's example.

Matt Kibbe asked, what would (Austrian econ majordomo) Ludwig von Mises do? last week.

For lots of deep background into Austrian economics and its links to libertarianism, read my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch on the Great McCain-Obama Boxing Match

All week at The Los Angeles Times, reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch is debating University of Southern California law professor Kareem Crayton about the upcoming election and John McCain's and Barack Obama's policies (or lack thereof).

"This is the most important election in the history of ever," writes Welch, "and even if it's not, maybe talking about it for a week will make these last 30 days go faster....To paraphrase Elvis, all the world of politics is a stage, and the dramaturgy of the past two months has been, in almost every instance, more interesting and probably more revealing than the substance of any soliloquy."

Read all about it here.

To read Crayton's first response, go here. And check in daily at reason's Hit & Run for links to the latest exchanges.

Coming in 2009: The $5,000 Genome

Wondering what to get that special someone for Christmas? Perhaps a gift certificate from the third-generation human genome sequencing company Complete Genomics Inc. The Silicon Valley startup announced that it will be offering to sequence people's entire genomes for just $5,000 by the second quarter of 2009. As the San Jose/Silicon Valley Business Journal reports:

“We will be the first company to sequence complete human genomes for less than $1,000 in material costs,” said CEO Clifford Reid. “This breakthrough materials cost, combined with our low per-genome instrument, labor and overhead costs, will allow us to offer complete human genomes for just $5,000 in Q2 2009.”

The company also said it intends to open additional genome sequencing centers across the U.S. and abroad. Over the next five years, the company projects that 10 such centers will be able to sequence 1 million complete human genomes.

I have had a genotype scan by 23andMe (and I'll be revealing all my known genetic flaws to reason readers soon). If the folks at Complete Genomics decide to go for the $10 million Archon X Prize for Genomics and need any volunteers for genomes to sequence, I'm very available.

Ain't the 21st Century grand?! 

Patient Suicides Follow Suspension of Doctor's Medical License

Frequent use has nearly taken the oomph out of the word "tragic," but I posit that there's no better one-word summary for this news:

Jeff Prince was working on a story about a group of patients who were helping their doctor try to regain his medical license. The doc specialized in treating chronic pain and was the only professional in the area willing to prescribe drugs like oxycodone, so when his license was suspended his patients went without meds. One such patient was David Noblett, who sustained severe back injuries in the Vietnam war that gave him decades of agony. As Prince was wrapping up the story, he called Noblett at home to let him know he was coming over to snap a cover photo. But when Prince arrived 30 minutes later, he found Noblett slumped in a chair, dead. The doctor tells the [Fort Worth Weekly] that four of his patients have committed suicide since his license was suspended.

For another good read on the under-reported effects of prescription drug regulation, check out Jacob Sullum's piece on Richard Paey.

Tennessee Whiskey

Lede of the day:

Alcoholic drinks have been forbidden on Belmont University's campus since at least 1951. The small Christian school in Nashville has decided to make an exception to the rule when it hosts a presidential debate Tuesday.

Unfortunately, this doesn't mean the live audience will be able to play drinking games or just blot out the horror with beer, wonderful beer. The drinks will only be served in a hospitality tent for reporters -- further proof, I suppose, that politics and the media undermine traditional morality.

The One and Only Billy Ayers...

I'm not convinced that painting former Weather Underground jefe Bill Ayers and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a post-American Century version of Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers is a) effective negative politics or b) particularly relevant in the glimmering twilight of late capitalism (by which I mean of course enduring capitalism that will hopefully still be around to help increase my kids' standard of living every bit as much as it has mine). As someone who lives in Ohio half the time, I've seen the McCain "Know Enough?" attack ad about Ayers a million times. My seven-year-old son thought it was convincing; my 14-year-old thought it was irrelevant and weak. Go figure.

But Bill "I don't regret setting bombs" Ayers really is a jackass of the highest degree and deserves all the opprobrium this latest turn in the spotlight affords (his last big burst of publicity came from the ill-timed release of his kaboom-filled autobiography right around the 9/11 attacks; not a good moment to talk about, other things, blowing up the Pentagon).

Here's City Journal's Sol Stern with a strong piece about Ayers' post-radical life as an "education reformer":

Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer. (If you find the metaphor strained, consider that Walter Duranty, the infamous New York Times reporter covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s, did, in fact, depict Stalin as a great land reformer who created happy, productive collective farms.) For instance, at a November 2006 education forum in Caracas, Venezuela, with President Hugo Chávez at his side, Ayers proclaimed his support for "the profound educational reforms under way here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chávez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution. . . . I look forward to seeing how you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane." Ayers concluded his speech by declaring that "Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education - a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation," and then, as in days of old, raised his fist and chanted: "Viva Presidente Chávez! Viva la Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!"

More here.

reason on the Weather Underground.

Quote of the Week: First Nominee

This is a much better campaign than I ran in 1988, and I’m impressed.

That's maraudin' Mike Dukakis, interviewed by the New York Observer. Dukakis is sort of a folk hero of Democratic loserdom: Around America, liberal parents sometimes hold flashlights under their chins and tell their children the sca-a-a-ry story of how a charismaless goofball blew a 17-point polling lead and inaugurated the Bush dynasty.

Just as imporant as Obama's decision not to throw the election (so far) has been the McCain campaign's utter mania, its panic at falling behind in the polls and protecting half of the ticket from hard questions. (In a full month, Sarah Palin has yet to give a press conference.) From her Clearwater, FL event:

Constantly under the watchful eyes of security, the media wasn't permitted to wander around inside Coachman Park to talk to Sarah Palin supporters. When reporters tried to leave the designated press area and head toward the bleachers where the crowd was seated, an escort would dart out of nowhere and confront him or her and say, "Can I help you?'' and turn the person around.

When one reporter asked an escort, who would not give her name, why the press wasn't allowed to mingle, she said that in the past, negative things had been written. The campaign wanted to avoid that possibility Monday.

All of the coddling and complaining doesn't stop negative stories. It leads to stuff like this:

In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

Do Single-Sex Classes = Single-Minded Students?

Single-sex classes for K-12 students are increasingly popular in the nation's schools (supposedly). From a recent Cincinnati Enquirer story on the matter:

This school year, there are at least 442 public schools in the United States offering single-sex educational opportunities, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

"It's very common for public schools to do single-sex education in an elementary school," said Dr. Leonard Sax, director of the association. "That is much more common than the high school level, where it is rather rare. The great success stories are almost entirely among elementary schools."...

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education published new Title IX regulations governing single-sex education in public schools. The regulations allow public schools to offer single-sex classrooms with some restrictions, such as providing a co-ed class in the same subject at a geographically accessible location.

Proponents say single-sex classrooms allow teachers to address the different learning styles of both genders and eliminate issues between boys and girls that hinder learning.

Detractors say there's not enough evidence to show vast improvement in student achievement. The ACLU opposes single-sex classrooms, saying separate was equal was tossed out with Brown v. Board of Education. "It can't be done," said Carrie Davis, staff counsel at ACLU Ohio....

In science, [fourth through sixth grade teacher Joe] Olding found the arrangement benefited girls the most. Their scores increased about 16 percentage points.

"There was less intimidation," he said. "It took the flirting ... out of it. The competition with boys for the girls, it eliminated that."

Boys had about a 4.5- to 5-percentage-point increase overall.

More here.

Some immediate reactions: 1. Intimidation and flirting in grades 4-6? Sounds more like prison than school, but that's almost always the case, isn't it, at all levels of education, whether public or private? 2. Different kids will flourish under different regimes. The same goes for teachers. I'd hazard a guess that a good goal of educational policy would be to allow as many different arrangements as possible, thus increasing the odds that everyone finds a good fit. 3. Anything that doesn't fundamentally address the top-down, monopolistic nature of educational services is doomed to failure. 4. With the possible exception of, er, the financial industry, education is filled with the most phoney-baloney godawful research, stats, etc. There is a study out there that proves anything you want proven. And a school district acting on it. 5. Pushing public money down to the level of the student and giving them more options would be the best way to spend it. 6. Education should be paid for not by public money but by the people directly benefiting from it (e.g., parents, businesses, and others), and a variety of philanthropic efforts. 7. It is not clear that single-sex education actually improves academic achievement, but that is not and should not be the only way of evaluating education, especially when it's paid for by the people using it. Other factors, including parental and student and even teacher satisfaction, should be considered. 8. I need to go to get my seven year old son ready for his multi-gendered classroom.

reason on education.

Europe Under-Regulated Too?

As European stock markets tank, the Irish government guarantees bank deposits, the Benelux countries nationalize Fortis bank, Germany bails out Hypo Real Estate Holdings, and Denmark also guarantees bank deposits and dismally so forth, the question arises: Who knew that Europe, of all places, was so under-regulated? Or maybe de-regulation is not the chief cause for the outbreak of financial chaos? Just wondering. 

The KGB and the Pope: Is the Case Closed Yet?

Back in 2004, while I was living in Sweden, a number of friends advised me to see a BBC-produced, three-part documentary called The Power of Nightmares (PON). In it, filmmaker Adam Curtis made some bold and heterodox claims: al-Qaeda didn't really exist, the current terror threat was more neoconservative invention than reality, and the roots of the current scare-mongering could be found in the intelligence battles of the Cold War. (Incidentally, Curtis made a follow-up film, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, arguing that free-market economists like James Buchanan and Friedrich Hayek created "a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures [leading] to today's idea of freedom.")

The film appealed because it dealt, in part, with a subject I had long been interested in and had written a fair deal about. In part one of PON, Curtis claims that CIA director William Casey cooked the intelligence books after reading a book called The Terror Network, which argued that the Soviets were actively involved in funding and training disparate terror groups across Europe and the Middle East. It was a shaky argument and Curtis seemed to possess only a passing familiarity with much of the source material, evidenced in the film's first cut, when it misidentified the book's author as Michael Ledeen. (It was, in fact, written by Claire Sterling, published by a major, non-ideological publisher, and excerpted in the Sunday New York Times magazine. And speaking of Sterling, make sure to check out this terrific blog post by Jesse Walker, who correctly argues that, far from conspiring to keep Sterling's accusations out of the "liberal media," the book was widely reviewed and publicized by NBC, the Times, and the New Republic, to name but a few.)  

Sterling was aggressively supported by Cold Warriors and excoriated by those dubious, for obvious ideological reasons, of Soviet terror connections. One of Sterling's most vocal critics, who features prominently in the film and whose writing was clearly an inspiration for Curtis, is former CIA and State employee Mel Goodman, who dismissed Moscow's connections to groups in the Middle East and Europe as fantasy. Goodman, who's dislike of Bill Casey's deputy Robert Gates led a St. Petersburg Times reporter to conclude that his "visceral hatred" of the current Secretary of Defense "called into question his motives," told author Robert Parry that a 1985 report on the papal assassination plot connecting the operation to Moscow was the nadir of department politicization; the CIA had hit "rock bottom."The Sterlingization of intelligence was complete.

But here's the problem: It is increasingly certain that it was a Soviet operation. Historian Nigel West, author of a number of important books on Soviet intelligence, and the Italian government long ago determined that the KGB, via its proxies in Bulgaria, were deeply involved in the planning and execution of the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. Back in 2005, the report produced by an Italian government commission was buttressed by a cache of files found deep in the East German Stasi archives.

And now, Der Spiegel presents further evidence of what we already knew (via this website, and with a hat tip to Jesse Walker):

The German weekly Der Spiegel has published a report indicating that Communist Germany's Ministry for State Security (Stasi) unleashed "one of the largest campaigns of misinformation in its history" in order to deflect investigations into the attempt on the life of John Paul II in 1981 towards Turkish extremists.

According to the ANSA news agency, the article features new documents discovered in German state archives that reveal that the Stasi "tried to help the Bulgarian secret service. The organization enrolled a young Turkish citizen, Ismet Erguen, who began her mission in Berlin in February of 1982.

"The documents show Erguen was involved until 1989, although today she denies ever having been an agent of the Stasi," the news report indicated.

"The head of the foreign information sector of the Stasi, Markus Wolf, who died in 2006 at the age of 83, received a request for help from the Bulgarians in 1981 after the arrest of Ali Agca, as they were concerned that the Western media were focusing on a supposed Soviet-Bulgarian link in the assassination attempt."

Der Spiegel claims that "the purpose was to divert suspicion towards the Gray Wolves, an extreme right-wing Turkish group."

Wolf was satisfied with Erguen's work because even today, "a legend exists according to which it was the Gray Wolves that gave orders to Agca," the newspaper reports.

For material conclusively connecting the KGB to the PFLP, IRA, Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof, and other guerilla groups, see the two-volumes of Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew's Mitrokhin archive.

Boone Pickens Cannot Tell a Lie

Oilman-turned-alternative energy pitchman T. Boone Pickens just spoke with press (in a meeting set up by tech whiz David All) about his $58 million ad campaign and his advocacy of billions of dollars in spending. A surprising number of questions dealt with what I wanted to know: Isn't Pickens asking for a big check to fund his own companies.

Well, yes.

"With the financial situation being what it is, I can’t do what I wanted to at the start of this campaign," Pickens said. "I'd need partners. But I wouldn’t get involved with anything without the possibility of making money. These plans are out there. Anybody can look at the blueprints, and they can make money."

Doesn't Pickens stand, specifically, to make a lot of money if California voters pass Proposition Ten? That would apply $5 billion to natural gas, a potential windfall for Clean Energy Fuels, which Pickens has an enormous stake in? "If it was successful, it could help the company." He'd make money. "But I’ve got plenty of money."

If only all rent-seeking was so honest.

John McCain Owns Foreign Cars!

Via Daniel Drezner's always interesting blog comes this Obama ad that has aired in Michigan:

The main charge of the ad? That McCain says he always buys American cars, but is a liar! Three of his 13 sets of wheels are made made by furriners! A Lexus, a Honda, and... a Volkswagen (who woulda expected him to be driving a hippie mobile?).

Drezner, a poli-sci prof at Tufts, notes the massive anti-free-trade sentiments implicit in the ad, which is a major theme in Obama's campaign. The guy really can't seem to attack foreign competition enough, which is really disturbing. The ad also dings McCain for not reflexively bailing out the U.S. auto industry (don't worry, Motown, help is coming!).

Drezner, who is no fan of McCain, writes, "This ad actually brings up one of the few actual "straight talk" moments for McCain in this campaign—when he told Michigan auto workers that he wasn't going to be able to bring their jobs back."

What kinda ride does Obama have? He traded in a gas hog Chrysler for a Ford Escape Hybrid.

An Inconsistent Originalism Beats 'Politics by Another Name'

In a recent FindLaw essay, the Cato Institute's Robert Levy notes that John McCain has promised to appoint judges who "understand that there are clear limits to the scope of judicial power, and clear limits to the scope of federal power." That much is encouraging, he says, but McCain's avowed preference for "strict constructionists" and believers in "original intent" is troubling, assuming the Republican nominee understands how those terms are used by constitutional scholars. Levy prefers originalism, a.k.a. textualism:

Originalists interpret the Constitution in accordance with its meaning when the underlying textual provisions were ratified. Sometimes originalists are called "textualists" because they assign great importance to the words actually in the Constitution. As the term implies, originalists insist that the text be interpreted as it was originally understood by those who first wrote and read it—not the meaning that would necessarily be derived from a modern reading of the text.

Originalism is not, however, synonymous with "original intent"—a distinct interpretive tool, supposedly favored by conservatives, that focuses on the values and objectives of the drafters and ratifiers when they enacted a particular provision. As Justice Antonin Scalia has written, "It's the law that governs, not the intent of the lawgiver."...

Just as textualism is not the same as original intent, neither should it be equated to strict constructionism....

Strict constructionism is often identified with more conservative legal scholars. Yet Scalia has carefully distinguished it from his own preference for textualism: "Strict constructionism...is a degraded form of textualism that brings the whole philosophy into disrepute. I am not a strict constructionist, and no one ought to be....A text should not be construed strictly, and it should not be construed leniently; it should be construed reasonably, to contain all that it fairly means."

Levy worries that if McCain is elected and really does appoint disciples of original intent or strict constructionism, they will be insufficiently inclined to pursue "his professed goal to rein in federal power." Even an avowed commitment to textualism, of course, is no guarantee that a judge's decisions will serve that goal. As I've argued, Scalia has been on the side of liberty more often than is commonly appreciated. He broke with strict constructionists by reading the First Amendment to cover flag burning, for example, and insisted on enforcing the plain meaning of the Suspension Clause with respect to "enemy combatants" captured in the United States. His positions on eminent domain, infrared searches, and the federal sentencing guidelines likewise show how applying the original understanding of the text to modern conditions can help curtail the government's power. Most recently, in D.C. v. Heller, he strove to illuminate the meaning of the Second Amendment "as it was originally understood by those who first wrote and read it." At the same time, Scalia somehow managed to read the power to regulate interstate commerce as an excuse to prevent AIDS and cancer patients in California from growing an herbal remedy authorized by state law.

Notably, though, so did the Supreme Court's "liberal" members, and there's little reason to believe Obama's appointees would be any more inclined to enforce the principle that Congress has only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution. Furthermore, Levy argues, based on Obama's preference for judges with "empathy" toward members of disadvantaged groups and his belief that "our courts should stand up for social and economic justice," his appointees probably would favor one version or another of "living Constitution" doctrine, which holds that the meaning of the text changes with the times. "When the text of our written Constitution is trumped by evolving societal needs," Levy warns, "then the judicial function is just politics by another name." His Cato colleague Roger Pilon warns that "a 'living constitution,' interpreted to maximize political discretion, can be worse than no constitution at all, because it preserves the patina of constitutional legitimacy while unleashing the political forces that a constitution is meant to restrain." 

In an August column, I noted that McCain joins Scalia in making a marijuana exception to the principles of federalism.

Will Wall Street Shun the Bailout?

Add one more super-sized question mark to the bazillion-dollar bailout: Will Wall Street take the bait?

In the U.K. Guardian, James Doran says eh, maybe not so much:

One of the least attractive elements is a section designed to curb executive pay at banks that participate in the bail-out package. These include limiting stock-related pay and banning 'golden parachutes' for executives.

"I think this hodge-podge of regulations and rules will be enough to put many [chief executives] off participating," [Thomas] Caldwell [of Caldwell Financial, a billion-dollar fund] said. 

Sources close to Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch indicated the banks might choose not to participate in the bail-out as there is a growing view on Wall Street that the market may be bottoming out.

More here.

reason on the bailout here.

Fab Five Freddie Told Me Everybody's Fly

Maybe somebody convinced John McCain* that while voters are fretting about the economy, he should... actually talk about Obama's economic policies. Mark Halperin has the speech:

This crisis started in our housing market in the form of subprime loans that were pushed on people who could not afford them. Bad mortgages were being backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it was only a matter of time before a contagion of unsustainable debt began to spread. This corruption was encouraged by Democrats in Congress, and abetted by Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has accused me of opposing regulation to avert this crisis. I guess he believes if a lie is big enough and repeated often enough it will be believed. But the truth is I was the one who called at the time for tighter restrictions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that could have helped prevent this crisis from happening in the first place.

Senator Obama was silent on the regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and his Democratic allies in Congress opposed every effort to rein them in. As recently as September of last year he said that subprime loans had been, quote, “a good idea.” Well, Senator Obama, that “good idea” has now plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Up to now McCain has handled this issue terribly. He's allowed Obama to turn McCain's Fannie/Freddie-connected advisors into a liability bigger than Obama's own homeownership philosophy—one that basically excuses and agrees with the goals of the GSEs, pre-meltdown. He tried to "lead" on the issue with his campaign suspension stunt, which made his campaign take on water faster than the Lusitania.

Tonally I don't know if the attack works. As with everything McCain, the issue is framed more as a matter of honor (Obama has none! I've got tons!) than understanding of the problem. But there's some understanding here. More importantly, there's the understanding that McCain has to provide answers on the crisis or he'll get crushed in 30 days.

*Not Sarah Palin, though.

UPDATE: I just tuned into a McCain campaign press call on the speech, led by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R), who insisted that "all roads lead back to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae" and that McCain had wanted to regulate them while Obama proposed nothing. He also credited McCain with improving the bailout bill. "He not only gave us political support, he gave us moral support, so we were able to add taxpayer protections," Ryan said. "This bill passed after we made it substantially better."

Obama, on the other hand: "He was not doing anything until the votes were not there the first time. We're seeing some of the implications of that today" as the market crashes.

If You Watch Only Four (4) Political Ads This Season, Watch These Ones

Don't Vote (Rational Ignorance Remix):


Obama Kids: Sing for Change (Pyongyang Remix):

Who Do You Hate '08?:

Stop Outsourcing Roles in Pro-Obama Videos!:

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Blame the Fed, Freddie and Fannie, and Financiers

In today's Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby—who is far from being a knee-jerk libertarianwallops the folks who want to blame deregulation for the country's financial woes.

Instead, he points fingers at the Fed (for following a we'll-clean-up-the-mess-after-the-bubble-pops philosophy), Freddie and Fannie (where "heavy government oversight obliged them to push money" toward the marginal buyers who are now up the creek), and financiers (specifically, the already highly-regulated U.S. investment banks that bought "piles of toxic waste").

He winds up with this chilling assessment of the fading love for markets in the world today:

Blaming deregulation for the financial mess is misguided. But it is dangerous, too, because one of the big challenges for the next president will be to defend markets against the inevitable backlash that follows this crisis. Even before finance went haywire, the Doha trade negotiations had collapsed; wage stagnation for middle-class Americans had raised legitimate questions about whom the market system served; and the food-price spike had driven many emerging economies to give up on global agricultural markets as a source of food security. Coming on top of all these challenges, the financial turmoil is bound to intensify skepticism about markets. Framing the mess as the product of deregulation will make the backlash nastier.

Whites go out of their way to avoid talking about race...

...and that backfires by making them seem racist to black people. Those are the findings of a new study, "Seeing Race and Seeming Racist? Evaluating Strategic Colorblindness in Social Interaction," just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. As the press release explains:

White people – including children as young as 10 -- may avoid talking about race so as not to appear prejudiced, according to new research. But that approach often backfires as blacks tend to view this "colorblind" approach as evidence of prejudice, especially when race is clearly relevant.

These results are from two separate sets of experiments led by researchers from Tufts University and Harvard Business School. Their findings are reported in the October issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the September issue of Developmental Psychology. Both journals are published by the American Psychological Association.

"Efforts to talk about race are fraught with the potential for misunderstandings," said the studies' lead author, Evan Apfelbaum, a PhD candidate at Tufts University. "One way that whites try to appear unbiased is to avoid talking about race altogether, a tendency we refer to as strategic colorblindness."

In one study, 101 white undergraduate students were paired with either a white or black female partner who pretended to be another participant. The pairs were presented with 30 photographs of faces that varied in race, gender and background color. Each white participant's objective was to guess which of the photographs the partner was holding by asking as few yes-or-no questions as possible.

Even though asking about the race of the person in the photograph was a sound strategy for completing the task, white participants were far less likely to do so with a black versus a white partner. Moreover, when the black partner was the first one to have a turn asking questions, whether she mentioned race had a dramatic effect. White participants whose black partner asked about race mentioned race on their own turn 95 percent of the time. When the black partner never asked about race, white participants only did so 10 percent of the time.

"There was clear evidence the white participants' behavior was influenced by the precedent set by their partner, but especially when that partner was black," said Samuel Sommers, assistant professor at Tufts and co-author of both papers. "Whites are strategically avoiding the topic of race because they're worried that they'll look bad if they admit they notice it in other people."

The researchers also wanted to see how outsiders interpreted such interactions. In another experiment, 74 black and white college students evaluated videos of whites engaging in the photo task. The results showed that whites' effort to appear colorblind backfired. Black observers rated whites' avoidance of asking about race as being evidence of prejudice. What's more, when the researchers showed silent video clips of whites from the study to another group of individuals, those whites who avoided asking about race were judged as less friendly, just on the basis of their nonverbal behavior.

"The findings suggest that when race is clearly relevant, whites who think that it is a wise social strategy to avoid talking about race should think again," said Apfelbaum.

Even children appear to adopt this strategically colorblind approach. In another set of experiments, 101 white children between the ages of 8 and 11 were asked to perform a similar photo task. The children were told that asking as few yes-or-no questions as possible would mean they would get a higher score on the task.

The results showed that the older children, ages 10 and 11, avoided asking about race more than the younger children, even though this led them to perform less efficiently than their younger counterparts on the task. In a control version where all the faces in the photos were white, the older children outperformed the younger children, as expected. "This result is fascinating because it shows that children as young as 10 feel the need to try to avoid appearing prejudiced, even if doing so leads them to perform poorly on a basic cognitive test," said Kristin Pauker, a PhD candidate at Tufts and co-author of this study.

The authors associated with both studies said their findings offer several important implications. "Our findings don't suggest that individuals who avoid talking about race are racists," Apfelbaum explained. "On the contrary, most are well-intentioned people who earnestly believe that colorblindness is the culturally sensitive way to interact. But, as we've shown, bending over backward to avoid even mentioning race sometimes creates more interpersonal problems than it solves."

For me these results ring true. I confess that I am usually much more comfortable talking with strangers from a different ethnic background about racial issues if they bring up the topic first. (On the other hand, some of my black friends tell me that they get very tired of having to "speak for the race" when racial issues come up in their encounters with strangers from other ethnic groups.) Finally, one other oddness that I have noticed is that some news reports at least used avoid mentioning the race of suspects even though it is clearly a relevant characteristic for identifying them.

The whole study is available here.

We Didn't Mention the Impending Financial Crisis Because You're too Dumb to Understand

Or something akin to that is the narrative forming in Howard Kurtz's Washington Post column on the role journalists played in the financial collapse. The response from new WaPo chief Marcus Brauchli is but one gem of many, many awkward admissions of culpability:

Still, he says, "I regret that when I was at the Journal, we didn't keep the focus on some of these questions, including the possible moral hazard posed by the structure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are really difficult issues to convey to a popular audience. . . You do have an obligation as a journalist to push important issues into the public consciousness. We also have to remember you're pushing against a powerful force, which is greed."  

Greed? Greed kept them from reporting skeptically on Fannie and Freddie? What does that even mean?

Via Romenesko

We're Not in 2000 Anymore, Toto

There are two big new articles about John McCain that, despite their many flaws, break some new ground, particularly on the pressing national issue (not) of his imprisonment in Vietnam.

First up is this weekend Washington Post feature dedicated to precisely that topic. While its interpretations about how the Vietnam experience affected his foreign policy are off-kilter (in my judgment, etc.), the article painstakingly reconstructs the details and timeline of McCain's capture and finds some of the senator's narration unreliable:

In his memoir, McCain says he was denied medical treatment for four or five days until his captors discovered that his father was "a big admiral" and took him to a hospital. In fact, it seems likely that the Vietnamese understood the propaganda value of their new prisoner even earlier. Radio Hanoi was boasting about the capture of "John Sidney McCain" within hours of his shootdown. By the following day, Oct. 27, American news agencies had confirmed that the son of Adm. John S. McCain II, the commander of U.S. forces in Asia, had been taken down over Hanoi.

There is another ball-advancement on that slice of McCain's bio in this 11,800-word piece of Rolling Stone invective, which you've probably seen if you have a bunch of lefty friends. The piece constantly assumes the worst, is bizarrely sourced (reading it, you'd almost never know that whole swaths of the supposed gotchas came from the pen of John McCain himself); starts with a maximally lurid account of McCain's post-Vietnam tail-chasing ... and also includes quite a few damning on-the-record interviews, including with fellow ex-POWs

Soon after McCain hit the ground in Hanoi, the [military] code [of conduct governing prisoners of war] went out the window. "I'll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital," he later admitted pleading with his captors. McCain now insists the offer was a bluff, designed to fool the enemy into giving him medical treatment. In fact, his wounds were attended to only after the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a Navy admiral. What has never been disclosed is the manner in which they found out: McCain told them. According to [John] Dramesi, one of the few POWs who remained silent under years of torture, McCain tried to justify his behavior while they were still prisoners. "I had to tell them," he insisted to Dramesi, "or I would have died in bed."

I'll repeat what I said during the brief cross-in-the-dirt flap: McCain's Vietnam story has a few holes in it, which are mostly meaningless to me (except for his weird Domino Theory tale), but he's a candidate for president so let's see those medical records, Joe Biden!!! The Post also has a piece today about McCain's first wife, so I guess it's officially let's-write-the-articles-we-wouldn't-write-in-2000 season.

My top 10 non-reason articles about John McCain here; link to my paperback here, and the late David Foster Wallace's 2000-era Rolling Stone McCain tongue-bath here.

And a Chihuahua Shall Lead Us...

Wall Street (and the world) respond to the (unnecessary/overwrought/misguided/you name it) bailout with a shoulder shrug:

Wall Street looked to continue the volatility of last week when trading resumed Monday. Stock index futures declined by more than 1 percent late Sunday, pointing to a lower open. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 176, or 1.70 percent, to 10,188. Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 19.3, or 1.74 percent, to 1,089.00, while Nasdaq 100 futures fell 20.25, or 1.37 percent, to 1,457.25.

More on that here.

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans, good, hard-working Americans with cloth coats and 2.3 cars in every pot, spent the weekend doing what they do best. Which is spending money on the things that really matter to them:

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" was barking up the right tree with movie-goers, who put the Disney comedy at No. 1 for the weekend with a $29 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Featuring a talking Chihuahua with Drew Barrymore's voice, the family flick about a pampered pooch lost in Mexico led a surge of new movies that boosted Hollywood business, which generally has slumped the last two months.

The top-12 movies hauled in $95.4 million, up 42 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when "The Game Plan" was No. 1 with $16.6 million.

More here.

If you haven't read the reason classic "In Praise of Vulgarity: How commercial culture liberates Islam—and the West," you should do so now.

The Pump Don't Work 'Cause the Vandals Took the Handles

Look, I can understand why the McCain campaign thinks it's worth its time—its precious, 30-days-to-the-election time—to remind voters that Obama befriended Weather Underground worthy Bill Ayers. Here's a candidate with a Muslim name! Who knows a terrorist! Guys, this writes itself!

What I don't get is why Team McCain ignores evidence that the Ayers association leaves voters sort of confused and bored. On August 21, a 501(c)4 group launched a one-minute ad about Ayers. The American Issues Project informed press that it would spend $2.8 million running the ad in two swing states: Ohio and Michigan.

Michigan, Michigan... hasn't that been in the news? Ah, yes.

John McCain is pulling out of Michigan, according to two Republicans, a stunning move a month away from Election Day that indicates the difficulty Republicans are having in finding blue states to put in play.

It's not like the Ayers attack fell totally flat. Obama's campaign had to spend money on an ad rolling back the attack. But it didn't spend much, and it didn't spend money in Michigan. If the Ayers story was having an impact, you'd expect it to move some number of voters away from Obama. It didn't. It's probably just too tenuous and complicated. (Obama's relationship with the man is neither, but as the AIP ad demonstrated, it takes a lot of time in the editing booth to go from "60s radical is friends with Obama" to "Muslim terrorists blew up the WTC.")

This is all a long-winded way of saying "read Jim Geraghty."

One has to suspect that Obama's ties to Wright, Rezko and Ayers — sounds like a law firm of evil — have persuaded just about all the voters that they're going to persuade. But Americans are furious over the financial mess, and eager to blame somebody. The McCain campaign would be doing the nation a service by spelling out exactly whose bad decisions helped get us into this mess and how.

You get the sense that McCain's camp is just too surprised that Obama is surviving the WrightRezkoAyers attacks to shake it off and adapt to the economic scene.

Your Tax Dollars at Work: Evel Knievel's FBI File Revealed!

That motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, the Yuri Gagarin of Snake River Canyon, was a horrible human being is pretty well understood by anyone with half a brain. Indeed, the guy once beat someone with a baseball bat for calling him "an alcoholic, a pill addict, an anti-Semite and an immoral person"—which of course perfectly underscores the point in question.

But the FBI spent plenty of time following Knievel around because, you know, there weren't serious criminals to be tracking or anything. From his recently released file:

Authorities first wanted to charge Knievel with violations of the Hobbs Act, which prohibits interfering with interstate commerce by attempting to rob or extort someone. But the case was dropped when a new federal prosecutor picked up the case and decided there was insufficient evidence. The federal government today won't comment.

"The Department follows the facts and the law in making decisions and beyond that, couldn't comment on matters in which no public federal charges were filed," Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said in an e-mail.

The daredevil's widow, Krystal Kennedy-Knievel, said she was unaware of any FBI investigation involving her husband and declined further comment. They were married in 1999.

FBI files are available to the public after the death of their subjects and can provide rare glimpses into the private lives of public figures. For example, former President Ford advised the FBI that two of his fellow Warren Commission members doubted the bureau's conclusion that John F. Kennedy was shot from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, according to his file.

More here.

The ultimate FBI investigation? Trying (and failing) to figure out the lyrics to "Louie, Louie."

Recently at Reason.tv: Obama Kids (Pyongyang Remix); Saving Social Security; Bert Dohmen on the Bailout; The Reason.tv Talk Show

For your viewing pleasure.

Go to reason.tv embed codes, related articles, and more video, including The Drew Carey Project.

Obama Kids: Sing for Change (Pyongyang Remix):


Financial advisor Bert Dohmen on the bailout:

The Reason.tv Talk Show, with Michael C. Moynihan, Nick Gillespie, Nicky Grist, and John D. Gartner:

Saving Social Security, Episode One: Pimp My Walker:

Rich Lowry in Love

National Review's editor on Sarah Palin:

I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.

Credit Default Swaps: Yes, You Have to Think About Them

Yes, ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout bagism, dragism, thisism, thatism, ism ism ism. And, of course, credit default swaps.

Arnold Kling over at Econlog has an interesting little exposition on why you should care, and connects them with some genuine fears about the possible effects of runaway short-selling (for more on which, see this piece from me from last month).

The key, from Kling:

A credit default swap is like insurance against default. If you want to buy a municipal bond or a corporate bond but not take default risk, you try to buy a credit default swap. You pay a fee, and in exchange for that fee the seller of the swap will make you whole if the city or corporation defaults.

The seller of swaps collects nice fees, and most of the time the borrowers don't default. But if borrowers do default, then the seller is like an insurance company in a town that was hit by a hurricane.

Sounds grim. How can the seller of such a swap hope to survive?

Suppose I have sold a credit default swap on Sallie Mae. That means that if Sallie Mae defaults on its bonds, I will have to pay some of the bondholders a big chunk of money. One way I can hedge that risk is to sell short Sallie Mae securities..... However, the more short-selling takes place, the closer they get to default. It is a vicious cycle. Ordinarily, I do not believe that short-selling affects the price, but when there is massive short-selling that is driven by dynamic hedging, I can see where the short selling would drive down prices.

So, does this mean that even the formerly soft on short selling Kling thinks there is a sensible place for short-sell bans or restrictions? It's a little more complicated than that, as are most things in the world of contemporary high-flyin' high finance. Short selling, after all, is a big way** the sellers of the swaps can hope to ride out the storm. Thus:

....if the government tries to curb short-selling, all that does is cripple the credit default swap market. It becomes costly to sell default swaps, so now creditors cannot get them at affordable prices. The only way they can reduce exposure is to sell their munis and their corporates and flee to Treasuries. I'm not saying that the curbs on short selling make things worse, but such regulations certainly don't solve the problem--at best, they shift it.

If my theory is correct, then the credit default swap protection is somewhat of a delusion....It is too late to undo the delusion. In the aggregate, markets under-estimated the risk of the bonds they were buying. The risk premium needs to adjust upward. That upward adjustment is not a credit squeeze--it's a return to reality.

See Kling talking general bailout horrors in this reason.tv clip.

**Amended from "only way" thanks to the totally justified comment from Gilmore.

The Friday Political Thread: You Betcha

Unconvincing Quote of the Week
"Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also."
- Sarah Palin, Republican vice presidential candidate, ostensibly talking about the powers of the office she's seeking

The Week in Brief
- The Senate, then the House, rammed through the multi-hundred-billion bailout (later reframed as a "rescue") of Wall Street.
- A guy from Scranton and a chick from Alaska won a lottery to star in their own 90-minute TV pilot.
- The McCain campaign right-sized its operations in Michigan.
- Voters started strutting their stuff.

Below the Fold
- Katie Halper gets dirty.
- Wayne Allyn Root takes on Palin and Biden.
- Declan McCullagh breaks down the bailout.
- And so does David Freddoso.
- Sean Scallon misses the old, paleocon Palin.

This week's Politics 'n' Prog is all about the bailout.

New at Reason: Michael Moynihan on the Cringe-Inducing Populism of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin

It's easy (and entertaining) to poke fun at Sarah Palin’s aw-shucks, working-mom routine, writes Associate Editor Michael C. Moynihan. But let’s not forget that Joe Biden also employs a particularly noxious form of populism.

Read all about it here.

Economists Reach Consensus (or Not)

From around the econoblogosphere (sorry for that ugly coinage), semi-consensus about consensus:

Eric Posner at Volokh:

Do economists oppose the bailout bill? No! You might think otherwise from various incautious commentaries, including the economist’s letter written a while back. (The letter said "go slow"; it didn't say "do nothing.") And it is true that most economists don’t like the original Paulson plan, and also don’t like the plan passed by the Senate. But the view that we are currently in a serious financial crisis—the worst since the Great Depression—is, as far as I can tell, unanimous. ...The idea that governments should address financial crises by injecting liquidity in the system is not some new-fangled idea dreamed up by socialists, but conventional wisdom, proved again and again by experience, going back many decades. The problem is that every economist has his own theory about the proper solution.

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution:

The consensus among economists is now clear, the best strategy for dealing with the financial crisis is to recapitalize the banks that need recapitalization.  Paul Krugman, John Cochrane, Luigi Zingales, Douglas Diamond, Raghuram Rajan and many others all advocate some form of recapitalization as do Tyler Cowen and myself.  Krugman would prefer a recapitalization in the form of nationalization....The consensus policy of economists would put most of the burden of adjustment on politically powerful holders of equity and bonds.

There is also a consensus among economists that the bailout bill is not the right policy.  None of the above economists, for example, is enthusiastic about the bailout.  

Lynne Kiesling at Knowledge Problem:

Fast recapitalization, removing the signaling penalty by having the government require banks to stop giving dividends in the short run ... those are the kind of policies that economists have been discussing, fleshing out, and encouraging over the past two weeks. Of course, the challenge to those proposals is that the parties who end up paying are precisely those firms and industries that are politically powerful.

He Should Have Known He Needed a Prescription for an OTC Drug

When Gary Schinagel's niece told him she had seen his name in a local newspaper story about a drug investigation, he decided to go down to the sheriff's office and straighten out what was obviously a misunderstanding. Instead Schinagel, a 47-year-old senior investment associate at Principal Financial Group in Mason City, Iowa, was arrested for violating a 2005 state law that aims to curtail methamphetamine production by limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine, a meth precursor, an individual may purchase. Buyers of cold and allergy remedies containing the chemical have to present ID and sign a log (a requirement that has since been imposed throughout the country by federal law), which allows police to track who is buying how much. Schinagel, who has suffered from chronic nasal congestion since childhood, was not using the pseudoephedrine to cook meth, and he says he's not even sure which rule he broke: the one against buying more than 3.6 grams (120 Sudafed tablets) in a 24-hour period or the one against buying more than 7.5 grams of pseudoephedrine (250 tablets) in a month. The latter offense is a "serious misdemeanor" that can get you up to a year in jail and a $1,500 fine.

The law does allow someone in Schinagel's medical situation to exceed the pseudoephedrine limits, but only with a prescription. "It is a sinking feeling to be placed under arrest," Schinagel, who is free on bail, told the Mason City Globe Gazette. "I've tried all my life to avoid situations like I find myself in now. And I still don't know which line I crossed."  

I bemoaned the Sudafed crackdown in a 2005 column.

[via The Drug War Chronicle]

Fifty-Eight Votes

That's what a week of buttonholing, dealing, and pressure wrought in the House. Twenty-six Republicans became supporters, as did 32 Democrats, so a total 73 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans voted to ram through the new bailout bill. Compare it to the last roll call, and what changed?

Some safe liberals flipped. Barbara Lee (east Bay area of California), Neil Abercrombie (Honolulu), David Wu (Portland and northwest Oregon), are among the very liberal Democrats who will never face a stiff challenge in their districts from the GOP. They all switched to "yes" votes.

The black caucus moved.
Andre Carson (Indianapolis), Emmanuel Cleaver (Kansas City, MO), Elijah Cummings (Baltimore), Donna Edwards (black DC suburbs in Maryland), Al Green (Houston), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (Chicago), Sheila Jackson-Lee (Houston), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Detroit), Bobby Rush (Chicago), Bobby Scott (Richmond, VA), and Diane Watson (Los Angeles) all went from "no" to "yes." Add in Barbara Lee and you've got 12 Black Caucus members, more than a third of the total Democratic switchover, who did what Barack Obama told them, against sentiment in their districts. If their intent was to make McCain look weak in comparison, I think it worked.

Some Republicans were bought off. Florida's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was apparently won over with an extended tax deduction for states without an income tax. Other Republicans were won over with a version of the Craig-Wyden earmark for rural schools.

Please, Mr. Lender, Exploit Me Some More

In last night's vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin attacked "predator lenders," which made it sound like she was opposed to the sharing of lions and tigers among zoos. Judging from the context, I'm pretty sure she meant "predatory lenders":

Moderator Gwen Ifill: The next question is...about the subprime lending meltdown. Who do you think was at fault? I start with you, Gov. Palin. Was it the greedy lenders? Was it the risky home buyers who shouldn't have been buying a home in the first place? And what should you be doing about it?

Palin: Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there, and there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that.

Again, John McCain and I, that commitment that we have made, and we're going to follow through on that, getting rid of that corruption.

One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves, just everyday American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we're taking personal responsibility through all of this. It's not the American people's fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.

Despite the nod toward "personal responsibility" in that last paragraph, this is a very strange take on the situation, especially coming from a self-identified conservative who supposedly believes in free markets. Exactly what is a predatory lender, and how does he profit by lending money to people who can't pay him back? That sounds more like a stupid lender. What about the predatory borrower, who takes out a loan and breaks his promise to pay it back? If anyone is getting ripped off here (aside from the taxpayers who have to pay for the bailout Palin and her running mate support), isn't it the lender? Evidently not. In Palin's topsy-turvy world, you are being "exploited and taken advantage of" when you take the money and run.

The Fish Standard

The Wall Street Journal's Justin Scheck reports:

There's been a mackerel economy in federal prisons since about 2004, former inmates and some prison consultants say. That's when federal prisons prohibited smoking and, by default, the cigarette pack, which was the earlier gold standard.

Prisoners need a proxy for the dollar because they're not allowed to possess cash. Money they get from prison jobs (which pay a maximum of 40 cents an hour, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons) or family members goes into commissary accounts that let them buy things such as food and toiletries. After the smokes disappeared, inmates turned to other items on the commissary menu to use as currency.

Books of stamps were one easy alternative. "It was like half a book for a piece of fruit," says Tony Serra, a well-known San Francisco criminal-defense attorney who last year finished nine months in Lompoc on tax charges. Elsewhere in the West, prisoners use PowerBars or cans of tuna, says Ed Bales, a consultant who advises people who are headed to prison. But in much of the federal prison system, he says, mackerel has become the currency of choice.

One reason the mackeral standard has taken off: Hardly anyone actually wants to eat the stuff. Another reason: "each can (or pouch) costs about $1." (So it's pegged to the dollar, then?)

The authorities' response: a steep tax on excess savings, a crackdown on unregulated trading, and, um, limits on credit:

The Bureau of Prisons views any bartering among prisoners as fishy. "We are aware that inmates attempt to trade amongst themselves items that are purchased from the commissary," says bureau spokeswoman Felicia Ponce in an email. She says guards respond by limiting the amount of goods prisoners can stockpile. Those who are caught bartering can end up in the "Special Housing Unit" -- an isolation area also known as the "hole" -- and could lose credit they get for good behavior.

Bonus link: Every time I blog a story like this, I feel obliged to throw in a link to R.A. Radford's classic article "The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp." If you've never read it before, you should.

Spelunking the Bailout Bill — Carbon Tax Audit Anyone?

As many have noted, the bailout legislation passed by the Senate and up before the House today contains a lot of early Christmas presents for various favored industries. One favorite is a provision repealing a 39-cent excise tax on wooden arrows for kids. (I'd have thought for-the-kids nannystaters would have argued for banning such dangerous toys which encourage violence rather than hand arrow corporations a tax break, but these are strange times.)

Another provision that has alarmed the good folks over at the Capital Reseach Center is a clause authorizing a "carbon audit of the tax code." CRC's Green Alert warns:

This appears to be an attempt by global warming fanatics to lay the foundation for an economy-killing carbon tax just like the "cap-and-tax" system that is now destroying European industry.  

The actual provision reads

             SEC. 117. CARBON AUDIT OF THE TAX CODE.

(a) Study- The Secretary of the Treasury shall enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a comprehensive review of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to identify the types of and specific tax provisions that have the largest effects on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions and to estimate the magnitude of those effects.
(b) Report- Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the National Academy of Sciences shall submit to Congress a report containing the results of study authorized under this section.
(c) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $1,500,000 for the period of fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

I am not deeply schooled in the arcana of legislative construal, but on its face, the provision appears to authorize a look at the tax code to see how it affects the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Such an audit could uncover tax subsidies of carbon-based fuels that one would surely want eliminated. On the other hand, it might reveal taxes that are hampering the use of carbon-based fuels.

Finally, it could also find tax subsidies of alternative fuels that one would also want eliminated, but it's unlikely to find taxes that suppress the adoption of alternative fuels. Of course, I understand that those who put in this audit provision will most likely use the findings to argue against carbon fuel subsidies, and skip over the subsidies to the alternative fuels they favor. But isn't eliminating some subsidies better than eliminating no subsidies?

Now Playing at Reason.tv: The Reason.tv Talk Show with Nick Gillespie and Michael C. Moynihan

From their DC HQ, reason.tv's Nick Gillespie and Michael C. Moynihan have a freewheeling talk about politics, culture, and changing social mores with Alternative to Marriage's Nicky Grist and In Seach of Bill Clinton author John D. Gartner.

Approximately 30 minutes; shot by Dan Hayes.

Click below to watch.

Fact Checking the Debate

Via Factcheck.org, Newsweek presents a list and analysis of supposedly demonstrably false or misleading statements made by Biden and Palin during last night's debate, covering surge numbers, tax effects, and health-care plan costs.

The Bailout II: This Time, There's Arm-Twisting

The House is debating the bailout now and a few members are declaring their switch from "no" votes to "yes" votes. So far:

Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) [actually made this public yesterday]
John Lewis (D-GA)
Bill Pascrell (D-NJ)
Howard Coble (R-NC)
Gresham Barrett (R-SC)
Zach Wamp (R-TN)

So as of now it still fails 222-211. But we're getting closer.

UPDATE: Elijah Cummings (D-MD) switches. 221-212.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) too. 220-213. (And bookmark the Politico's Crypt blog.)

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) switches. 219-214.

Rep. David Scott (D-GA) switches, so it's 218-215. And that's four black caucus members so far who've switched because Barack Obama told them to.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) switches: We're at 217-216. There's no chance that this will fail.

Friday Mini Book Review: The Pixar Touch

The mini book reviews of days gone by.

The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David A. Price (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008). For fans of animation—or anyone required to keep someone under age 12 amused in the past decade—Pixar’s importance is self-evident. The animation company whose story is told in this book has single-handedly remade the look and feel of the animated movie. (This is undeniable even if you, like me, prefer a more traditonal animated style and don't much like the general Pixar "look.") In its nine feature-length films starting with Toy Story in 1995, it has achieved a highly unusual streak of endless success, both commercially and critically, and added many fresh characters to our national mythology.

Author David Price, whose degree is in the computer science in which Pixar’s success as the king of computer animation is rooted, doesn’t deliver much for the enthusiastic fans fascinated by the Pixar crew because of their filmic imagination. This book is more for readers of Wired or Forbes than for those thrilled (and amused) by the plight of the captured clownfish Nemo (from Pixar’s 2003 Finding Nemo, the bestselling DVD in history) or cheering the culinary success of the rat-chef in Ratatouille.

The Pixar Touch is a book of popular business journalism (with a light techy edge) rather than cultural commentary or criticism. It tells the detailed story of a seeming failure of a company that bounced from purpose to purpose and owner to owner in the 1980s before becoming one of the unarguable titans of American pop culture.

As such, the book details the unpredictable contingencies that guided a gang of computer geeks with a love for animation to wild success. They fooled their corporate paymasters—no less a pair of business and culture giants than George Lucas and Steve Jobs—into thinking they were a computer software and hardware endeavor when all they really wanted to do was put on a show: make animated films using computers rather than pen and brush.

When Pixar’s masterminds finally got to do what they wanted to do all along, convincing Disney to partner with their innovative computer graphic techniques to make Toy Story, they succeeded magnificently. Somewhere in there is a lesson in executive decisionmaking that author Price does not belabor. Price doesn’t belabor any particular theme, in fact, allowing the facts and characters to speak for themselves. But some inspiring lessons arise nonetheless.

By detailing the halting, and recent, beginnings of computer animation, in five minute shorts seen only by tech conference geeks or seconds of special effects in mainstream films, and showing how quickly it evolved into the technical and storytelling marvel of Toy Story, the dizzying speed of innovation and improvement in our modern technologies and arts is convincingly hit home.

Another lesson of the Pixar story is how dynamic America’s economic class structure can be. Pixar’s founders, computer graphics pioneers Ed Catmull (a straight-laced Mormon) and Alvy Ray Smith (an erratic hippie), came from backwater colleges the University of Utah and New Mexico State University, not any recognized center of academic or cultural juice. Interesting new ideas and hard work can turn nobodies far from standard centers of power and influence into giants.

Catmull and Smith fell under the wing of eccentric financier Alexander Schure, who founded the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and set them up there in the 1970s, buying them all the insanely expensive equipment they needed to begin experiments in computer animation, just because he thought it was interesting. The NYIT was, as Price writes, “somewhere between a third-tier university and a diploma mill,” but birthed the multi-billion dollar Pixar experiment.

In the late ‘70s, George Lucas realized he might have some use for experts in this nascent field of computer animation, and slowly siphoned off Schure’s braintrust. By the mid-‘80s, Lucas had lost interest and sold the division off to then-former Apple exec Steve Jobs. Pixar was born as an independent company—one that made and sold machines and software that helped make computer-generated images. The press release from 1986 announcing Pixar’s independent launch gives no hint of its future as a moviemaking behemoth.

Price delivers just enough of the technical details of computer animation—dropping terms such as bicubic patches, Z-buffer, and texture mapping—while staying rooted in the human and business realities of executive pissing matches, stock option shenanigans, and sweet success after a long battle. Disney passed up Pixar for $15 million in the mid-1980s, and then paid around $6.3 billion net for it in 2006. Everyone who has ever dreamed of showing doubters what they can achieve will be inspired by some element of the Pixar story.

Attn, DC Reasonoids: See Reason.tv's Drew Carey Project on the Big Screen, Saturday, October 4, at 3.30pm

reason.tv is proud to be participating in this year's American Film Renaissance Film Festival, which runs in D.C.-area theaters from Wednesday, October 1 through Saturday, October 4.

On Saturday at 3.30pm, at the Goethe-Institut (812 Seventh St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001), selections from The Drew Carey Project will anchor the festival's shorts block.

Go here for more information and to buy tickets ($8.00 for that viewing).

Other highlights of the festival include:

Wednesday night: The Dukes. When a group of down-on-their-luck friends try to launch a comeback for their nostalgia group, The Dukes, creative juices flow, as do the risks of ending up on the wrong side of the law. Starring Robert Davi (License to Kill, Profiler), Chazz Palminteri (Analyze This, The Usual Suspects) and Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Mask). Run time: 94 min.  Rated PG-13 for brief sexuality and drug references.  Introduction and Q&A with Director, Robert Davi. Playing at 7pm at AMC Loews Georgetown 14 (3111 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007).


Film screening ticket $10. After party with actor/director, Robert Davi, at Sequoia Restaurant located in Washington Harbour, within walking distance of the theater. You must purchase the $40.00 ticket to gain entrance to after party.

Thursday Night: Do As I Say. With the 2008 election cycle in full swing, it's hard to turn on the television or open a newspaper without finding politicians, pop stars and pundits blaming capitalism and private enterprise for the world's problems. But how sincere are they about their beliefs? How do they live? The answers will shock you. In Do As I Say, a documentary that will forever change how we see America and its leaders, filmmakers Nicholas Tucker and Lucas Abel take us on an unforgettable journey through a political landscape filled with hypocrites and humbugs. Along the way, they reveal a disturbing national truth: that the two-faced mantra "do as I say, not as I do" has become the unwritten golden rule of modern liberalism. Based on Peter Schweitzer's New York Times bestselling book Do As I Say (Not As I Do) . Run time: 90 min. Not Rated. Introduction and Q&A with director, Nick Tucker. Playing at 7pm at The Carnegie Institution (1530 P St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005).


Film screeing ticket $10. Purchase the $30.00 ticket to attend an after-party with director Nick Tucker in the Carnegie Institution's rotunda.

Friday Night: An American Carol. The American spirit is celebrated in the outrageous and totally irreverent comedy An American Carol from David Zucker, the master of movie satire (Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Scary Movie 3 and 4). In An American Carol, a cynical anti-American "Hollywood" filmmaker sets out on a crusade to abolish the 4th of July holiday. He is visited by three spirits who take him on a hilarious journey in an attempt to show him the true meaning of America. An all-star cast featuring Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight, Leslie Nielsen, Dennis Hopper, James Woods, Robert Davi, Trace Adkins and Kevin Farley. Run Time: Approx. 90 min.  Rated PG-13 for irreverent content, language and brief drug references. Playing at 7pm at Regal Ballston Common 12 (671 N. Glebe Road, Arlington VA 22203).


Film screening ticket $10. Immediately following the screening, a Pub Crawl will take place within walking distance of the theater.  You must purchase the $15.00 to participate in the Pub Crawl.

Saturday Night: U.N. Me. In this striking documentary, filmmaker Ami Horowitz illustrates how the United Nations, the world's foremost humanitarian organization created to ennoble mankind, has become so ravaged by corruption that it actually enables evil and creates global chaos.  By examining failures in Rwanda and Darfur, and the Oil for Food scandal, Horowitz shows how the UN has become the pacifier of dictators, thugs and tyrants.  Using a unique blend of the informational qualities of a traditional documentary and the entertainment value of a narrative film, U.N. Me is irreverent, humorous and intense.  Filmed in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the US.  Run Time: Approx 90 min.  Not rated.  Introduction and Q&A with director, Ami Horowitz. Playing at 8pm at the Goethe Institut (812 Seventh St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001).

$15 for screening ticket and admission to wine and cheese reception immediately following.

For a full listing of all films on display, go here. Advance online ticket purchases are highly recommended. For more info on that and venues, go here.

Slouching Towards Washington to Be Born

The House is set to vote on the bailout bill today, leaders optimistic that a week of arm-twisting and sky-is-falling commentary have made the job easier.

Black lawmakers said personal calls from Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama helped switch them from "no" to "yes," as Republicans and Democrats alike said appeals from credit-starved small businessmen and the Senate's addition of $110 billion in tax breaks and other sweeteners had persuaded them to drop their opposition.

"I hate it," but "inaction to me is a greater danger to our country than this bill," said GOP Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, one of the 133 House Republicans who joined 95 Democrats in rejecting the measure Monday, sending the stock market plummeting.

Others said they were agonizing as they decided whether to change course and back the largest government intervention in markets since the Great Depression. "I'm trying desperately to get to 'yes,'" said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.

The key to flipping House votes is not anything Obama or McCain have done, or any demands by the Republican Study Committee conservatives who torpedoed the bill last week. I keep hearing about scared constituents calling up their representatives and asking them to do something. The change from 10 to 1 anti-bailout calls and e-mails to 50/50 anti/pro-bailout calls is what's greasing the tracks. The key difference in the Senate roll call and the House roll call: Vulnerable Republicans (there are basically no vulnerable Senate Democrats) voted for the bailout. Those of them concerned about John McCain's campaign also know that he can't really win if any more time is spent talking about the economy.

Biden Wins

In scoring these debates I try to remember not just what the expectations were beforehand, but what the goals were. When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden, what did he want? A safe-sounding (white) old hand who'd convince people that Obama understood them. When John McCain picked Sarah Palin, what did he want? An instant star who'd blow up the electorate, peel off Hillary voters, and purloin the "change" message from Obama.

On those terms there's no question that the Democrats won tonight. Biden spent the night attacking John McCain's record and building up (with detachable honesty) Obama's. Palin spent the night re-selling Sarah Palin. For her it was the day after the Republican convention ended, before the Couric interview, before the Saturday Night Live parodies, when she was still a hockey stick-swingin' shitkicker who got things done. When she wasn't attacking Obama she was re-packaging herself. I don't know how that moved the McCain ball forward.

Both of them had their "on" moments. Here's one of Biden's.

Here's one of hers.

I didn't expect Sarah Palin to melt down, no more than conservatives should have expected Obama to implode without the aide of a teleprompter. You don't get elected governor if every public performance is a Katie Couric interview. But for her to recover the spotlight and the momentum of early September she needed to prove that she knew more than talking points and Wasilla. She didn't. For Biden to implode he needed to lose his cool, invade her space, or talk past the audience. He didn't. Notably, Biden talked about people he knew in Delaware. Palin talked about herself.

As entertaining as the Palin sideshow is, ask yourself: Are people voting on the drama of Feisty Sarah and her battle with the Evil Media? Or are they voting on something else? I'll have to play like a vice presidential candidate for a moment: I'm from Delaware. Many of my best friends still live there. My parents and their friends live there. And I hear them talk about whether they can afford having a kid right now, and joking about the stock market, and fretting over their home values. I don't think they care quite as much about whether the media's mean to Sarah Palin as the average blogger does.

UPDATE: I thought "Bosniak" was a Biden gaffe. I'm dumb: He's right.

Poor Gordon Gecko

Biden: "you've seen what's happened on Wall Street"

Biden: "letting Wall Street run wild"

Palin: "there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street"

Biden: "You had actually the belief that Wall Street could self-regulate itself"

Biden: "Letting Wall Street run wild"

Palin: "Stop the greed and corruption on Wall Street"

Palin: "Corruption and the greed on Wall Street"

Palin: "Get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street"

Palin: "We have got to not allow the greed and corruption on Wall Street anymore"

Ugh. Someone get Wall Street an ice pack.

Dick Cheney Wanted to Work With Special Needs Kids Too, But the Kids Said No

By ordinary standards, Joe Biden "won" the debate. He was more articulate, seemed more conversant with the facts, made more of an effort to answer the questions. But Sarah Palin's performance was so weird that I don't know how to judge it. She just wasn't playing the same game as her opponent.

The Alaskan dived deep into the Avatar Of The Everyday American role, not just with cloying, self-conscious allusions to "Joe Six-Pack" and "hockey moms" and soccer sidelines and so on, but by stammering through her answers like she'd won an Anyone Can Debate Joe Biden contest. Maybe there's a method to this madness. Maybe she was authentic enough to impress a lot of viewers as Someone Like Me, evasive and incoherent enough to lure Democrats into attacks that might be seen as mocking People Like You.

Or maybe she just came off as an ill-informed panderer. Who knows? I appreciated the debate as Dada, at any rate, especially that bizarre exchange about the vice president's powers.

Apropos of nothing, or everything:

Palin-Biden I

It's a bit of a reversal from the presidential debate, with Biden looking at Gwen Iffel, and Palin looking at you, the TV viewer! Biden doesn't seem 100 percent healthy; Palin is glowing like a Botticelli.

Palin's sentences are a nightmare to diagram, so I wont: "John McCain has been one representing reform," for example.

Biden sticks to sorrow, not in anger attacks on McCain and fulsome praise for Obama. Palin will work for "Joe Six-packs, hockey moms across the nation." You know, a lot of hockey moms live in Michiga... oh.

After a few corn-pone injections from Palin, Biden crackles to life: Hey, he knows people too! One of them, at a gas station!

"I'm gonna talk straight to the American people!" God, what an obvious admission that she's prepped for some issues and not for others.

This is following the pattern of other Biden debates and Palin debates. Palin loathes specifics, and cribs from Reagan: "you're not gonna like the feds running your health care!" Biden burrows into numbers.

"How long have I been at this? Five weeks?" Palin's banking on a media backlash.

I'm going to need to see the math on what these people are actually going to dial back to pay for the bailout? Less than it cost, surely, even if you take Biden's $100 billion figure for the gains from stopping offshore banking.

Did Palin just correct Biden on a chant? I think she did.

Bold stuff from Biden on gay marriage: "the Constitution" guarantees hospital visitations. He knows how far out on a limb is with this issue. Indeed, she looks less comfortable talking about the subject.

The Iraq exchange is as much of a time warp as the presidential debate's exchange was. "White flag of surrender," in 2008? Palin, remember, was not for the surge when it began, but she's all in now.

Paging Walt and Mearsheimer: Both candidates are stacking their panders on Israel higher and higher.

Checking other blogs, I'm seeing a lot of praise for Palin and complaints about Biden's "washingtonese." I don't hear it. I find Palin impossible to follow through her magic garden of run-on sentences. Biden is extremely listenable and blunt.

OK, I'll waive that assessment on the Afghan section. Biden assumes a little too much understanding of military strategy from the audience, similiar to McCain last week.

Show, don't tell, Sarah. "Boy, it's clear that I'm a Washington outsider! Americans are cravin' that straight talk!" The goal is to portray Biden as speaking incomprehensible beltway speak and blur the issues. In this round it's a bit more effective, but generally.

Aha! She's out of facts. The "tomorrow the pundits will check that" response to Biden on McCain's strategy was pure filler.

"Wasilla main street." Yeah, Palin is trying to pretend it's the day after the Republican convention and people still adore this schtick.

"Say it ain't so, Joe! There you go again!" I think she meant to spread those one-liners out a bit more. "Ya get extra credit for watching this debate!"

Palin experiences her first actual return volley when she makes fun of Biden's comment that he didn't want to be vice president. She'd been joking about saying she didn't understand what the VP does; she assumed he was joking, too. "I guess that was a lame attempt at humor. Nobody got it." Biden: "Yours or mine? Which one didn't they get?"

At 10:20 or so, Biden took command of this thing. I was wondering how he'd play the family tragedy card: He played it by choking up at the assertion that he didn't understand average families. He got fed up with the "maverick card" and delivered, I think, a devastating punch to Palin for claiming that McCain was anything but a generic Republican on economics.

"I enjoy being able to answer these questions," says the governor who said she would "talk straight" instead of answer questions.

The Drug Warrior's Best Friend

Back in 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court said police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs at will during routine traffic stops, it assumed that such dogs can reliably detect and signal the presence or absence of contraband. But as one of the dissenters, Justice David Souter, noted, "the infallible dog...is a creature of legal fiction." Souter cited examples from court cases of dogs with error rates of up to 38 percent. A recent report in The Tampa Tribune suggests he was being generous:

Talon, who worked for the Palmetto Police Department, smelled drugs on every single vehicle during a four-month period and drugs were found less than half the time.

Circuit Judge Debra Johnes Riva said in a ruling that she had no choice but to throw out evidence in a drug case because of that track record.

Yet a different circuit judge later admitted evidence discovered in a car search that was based on an "alert" from Zuul, a dog with a track record very similar to Talon's. Local police were relieved by the latter ruling. The sergeant who oversees the K-9 division of the Sarasota sheriff's office told the Tribune that if other courts followed Riva's reasoning, it could be "catastrophic to the way we've been doing business." If Talon and Zuul are at all representative, the way they've been doing business is to search pretty much any vehicle they please, using the dogs' reactions as a cover for their hunches. Given the animals' accuracy, police might as well replace them with coins or magic eight balls. At least they'd save taxpayers some money.

[via The Drug War Chronicle]

Now Playing at Reason.tv: Financial advisor Bert Dohmen on the bailout

On September 30, reason.tv caught up with financial advisor Bert Dohmen, the author of Prelude to a Meltdown and Bert Dohmen's Wellington Letter.  In this seven-minute video, Dohmen offered his perspective on the proposed bailout, short selling,  the Federal Reserve Bank's reclassification of Goldman and Merrill Lynch as banks, and many other topics.

Interview by David Nott; camera and editing by Alexander Manning.

Does Social Conservatism Explain Opposition to the Bailout?

According to a New York Times "news analysis," Monday's House vote against the Wall Street bailout "captured just how much the Republican Party has changed from its 19th-century roots as the party of business and economic stewardship." Reporter Jackie Calmes continues:

The party's base has shifted to the more socially conservative and populist South and West, and away from its historic roots in the Northeast, including Wall Street. House Republicans, most of them in districts purposely drawn to be packed with like-minded conservative voters, reflect that shift.*

While opposition to a taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street fat cats clearly has a populist aspect to it, I'm not sure what role social conservatism plays. Weirdly, Calmes does not mention anti-statism or free market principles as a motivation for Republican opponents of the bill, although she closes her piece by quoting the Brookings Institution's Thomas Mann, who says, "This is a function of a group of House Republicans who are philosophically opposed to doing anything like this bailout." The philosophical opposition to which Mann alludes is not rooted in populism or social conservatism.

Calmes is right to call the 19th-century GOP "the party of business and economic stewardship," if by that she means to suggest that the party of Lincoln was more inclined toward economic intervention than the party of Reagan, and in certain respects more pro-business than pro-market. The most conspicuous example of the Republican Party's departure from laissez faire was its support for high tariffs, a policy that is pro-business in the sense that it benefits certain domestic businesses but certainly not pro-market. Protectionism does have a populist appeal, however, and it seems implausible that increasing populism explains the GOP's embrace of free trade, or of free market economics generally. In short, I'm not sure what Calmes is driving at here, unless she is simply insinuating that opponents of the bailout are backward, insular, and irrational.

[*This is the text as it appears in my copy of the paper; the online version is somewhat different.]

Congress Gets Quizzed on Econ

D.C.'s subway has sprouted a bunch of ads urging economic literacy on our lawmakers. They ask things like: "On average, how much does the owner get for every $100 of a restaurant’s sales? (a) $3, (b) $5 (c) $10 (d) $45."

The ads are posted by a group called Econ4U, which also tossed this line into my inbox recently:

A Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy (CEEL) analysis of economic education among congressional members revealed that less than 15% of current members have degrees in the business, economics, or finance fields.    The research showed that 30.5% of congressional members studied politics and government, while 18.1% majored in humanities.  In fact there are more members who studied science (7.5%) than economics (6.7%).

Looks like Sen. John "economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should" McCain has company on the Hill.

The answer, by the by, to the restaurant question, is (b) $5.

Reason Livestream on Bill Clinton and Marriage

Tune in here for at 3:30pm EST for a live broadcast of reason staff chatting with Nicky Grist on the Alternatives to Marriage Project and John Gartner on his new book, In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography.

UPDATE: Short delay, but we'll be starting in 10 minutes.

UPDATE: Sorry gang. Technical difficulties are deep-sixing the livestream. We'll post the chat in its entirety after we're done.

All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!

The Politico's Jonathan Martin has the scoop:

John McCain is pulling out of Michigan, according to two Republicans, a stunning move a month away from Election Day that indicates the difficulty Republicans are having in finding blue states to put in play.

McCain will go off TV in Michigan, stop dropping mail there and send most of his staff to more competitive states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.

Aside from the obvious, horse race implications (It's gotten 17 electoral votes harder for McCain to reach 270), I think this strikes another blow against the "Bradley Effect" hobgoblin. I'm utterly convinced that the number of white voters who'll lie to pollsters about voting for a black candidate has shrunken to a level that can't affect elections anymore; many people are unconvinced. Just two weeks ago, brainy election guru Nate Silver gave race as a reason why Obama was underperforming in Michigan.

Stemming back to the Detroit Riots of 1967, which triggered massive white flight into the city's wealthy suburbs (Detroit, at 82 percent African-American, remains the country's blackest major city), Michigan is not devoid of racial politics. Just one African American, former Secretary of State Richard H. Austin, has ever held statewide office in Michigan. And the area around Howell in Livingston County is a former Ku Klux Klan hotbed. The racial tensions aren't as overt as they once were, but nevertheless, the de facto segregation between Detroit and the suburbs creates little interaction between the state's black and white communities, and the combination of Kilpatrick and the difficult economic situation may evoke some latent prejudice. Although I am generally not a believer in the Bradley Effect, Michigan is one state where it might be worth keeping an eye out for.

If there are not enough lying whites to defeat Obama in Michigan, where are they? Southeast Ohio? Southwest Virginia?

Not Just Wall Street, but Hollywood Blvd., too

Surprise! The bailout includes unrelated giveaways to the undeserving rich!

Hollywood would get a little unexpected boost from the proposed $700-billion bailout of the nation's financial system.

The bill wending its way through Congress would provide tax breaks worth more than $470 million over the next decade for movie and TV producers that shoot in the U.S.

My favorite bit from the L.A. Times story:

Representatives of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Directors Guild of America and the Independent Film and Television Alliance, which backed the measures, said it was premature to comment because they had not been approved.

Like Congress, apparently, the MPAA doesn't want to get in the way of legislation by discussing it before it passes.

Doherty on CBC Talking Bush and the Bailout

I was on Canadian Broadcasting Co.'s "The Current" program very, very early this morning talking about Bush and the bailout and what it says about the GOP's dedication to small-government, free-market principles. You can listen to it here.

Surprise! "Emergency" Short-Sell Ban Extended

In the ongoing emergency, the SEC has chosen to extend the ban on short-selling a long list of financial (and non-financial once like GE, GM, and Zale Jewelery) stocks until--and this is an interesting twist, via the AP--"until the third business day after enactment of the $700 billion financial bailout plan now before Congress. It will end no later than Oct. 17." Seems kind of interesting to peg the first date for a directive to end to something that, after all, might not happen at all. Or is the fix in?

New reporting requirements for short-sales that are still legal, says AP, "will continue beyond Oct. 17 as an interim rule, the SEC said, promising to seek public comment on it. The SEC, however, made a modification, allowing managers to report their short positions to the agency confidentially, rather than requiring public disclosure."

Why the short-sell ban was a bad idea in the first place, and what it all means, discussed in my article from last week.

The Cave-Men Speak!

The massive margin of victory for the Senate's bailout bill wasn't a huge surprise, given how much horse-trading went on to round up support. (I'm sure it helped that neither presidential candidate arrived in the city to "save" the bill until the night of the vote.) Nine Democrats and battlin' Bernie Sanders opposed the bill from the left, 15 Republicans opposed it from the right, and the rest of the GOP conference, on order of its leadership, caved in and voted for the bill.

Tom Coburn (R-OK), the biggest and most headline-grabbing cave-man, employs some just-this-once-and-never-again reasoning.

This bill does not represent a new and sudden departure from free market principles as much as it represents an emergency response to congressional actions that have ignored free market principles, and our Constitution, for decades. If anyone in Washington should offer their resignation it should be the members of Congress who peddled the fantasy of free home ownership without risk. No institution in our country is more responsible for the myth or borrowing without consequences than the United States Congress.

Taxpayers who want to ensure that this doesn’t happen again should send a very clear message to Washington that it’s time for Congress to live within its means and restore the principles of limited government and free markets that made this country great. I will do everything in my power to ensure that this bill does not lead us down a slippery slope of European style socialism and slow economic growth

John Sununu (R-NH), in a tight re-election race, says the same thing but with a wee bit more optimism.

This bill is far from perfect, but it is necessary, and necessary now to protect all Americans. Negotiators, led by Senator Judd Gregg and others, have worked hard to improve taxpayer protections that I have called for from the start: better Congressional oversight, a temporary structure, and assurances that any gains will be used to pay down the national debt. Expanding the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations coverage adds an important level of security and confidence for the small businesses that are the lifeblood of New Hampshire’s economy. [E]xtending tax incentives and research and development will encourage renewed investment and job creation.

Lamar Alexander (R-TN) says it was all an unavoidable response to a potential disaster.

What we are trying to do is prevent a more serious problem by taking a measured response, which will cost the taxpayers the least amount of money and clear up the economic traffic so we can start moving again, and so housing can gradually begin to come back. When housing gradually begins to come back, the economy will begin to come back.

And Larry Craig (R-ID), still a senator for three more months, explains that the bill was imperfect but included a sweetener that made it impossible to resist.

Doing nothing is not an option, and I would have voted for the original House bill supported by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, because it protected taxpayers, eliminated golden parachutes for greedy CEOs, and gave Congress the authority to end this rescue if it is not serving the taxpayers and the economy. But the bill approved by the Senate tonight goes a step farther by fully funding the Craig/Wyden 'county payments' program to rural schools for four years, with a 75 percent increase for Idaho schools, and by protecting middle class taxpayers this year from the burden of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Reason Writers Around Town

Managing Editor Jesse Walker's weekly freeform radio show, Titicut Follies, will be broadcast on WCBN-FM this afternoon from 12 to 3, eastern time. If you live in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, you can tune in at 88.3 FM; if you live elsewhere, you can listen online.

For more information about the show, go here. To see the playlists for previous programs, go here, here, and here.

Establishmentarian Watch

Continuing our ongoing series about elite rescue bailout discourse, the Washington Post's editorial board is calling yesterday's economic PATRIOT Act "America's second chance," saying of the House's upcoming vote: "in a responsible legislature, the vote would not be close." (Related but tangential note: Remember when lefties had to support the Iraq War in order to be deemed "responsible"? Ah, memories.)

Still at the WashPost, "Washington Sketch" columnist Dana Milbank saw the vote as downright providential:

As if touched by the hand of God, Senate leaders abandoned their partisan ways and declared a new day of harmony and togetherness. [...]

The United States Senate turning into an amen chorus? Miraculous. And it was a reassuring sign that Congress still can act in the national interest -- once it has exhausted all other possibilities.

Time magazine bemoaned America's lost faith in its leaders, in an article so drenched in elitist lament that, well, here's a sentence:

If the experts are right, the nation now risks great financial hardship, because there was no one to stand up and explain the situation.

And L.A. Times columnist Rosa Brooks wants a new FDR:

We established its basic contours in 1789, half forgot about it until the Civil War and Reconstruction, practically abolished it during the Gilded Age, remembered it again during the Depression and then, during the reign of Reagan the Great Communicator, forgot about it once more.

The government, I mean. It comes in handy in times of crisis, but somehow we just keep misplacing it.

And now, with our economy teetering, we're frantically searching for it again, finally hauling it out from the basement along with some dried-out duct tape and leaky batteries. But after all those years on the shelf, don't be too surprised if it's a little rusty.

I'll let the historians among us address Brooks' People's History lite, but I can point out to my former colleague that federal spending per household, adjusted for inflation, was around $12,500 from 1971-75, and even after all that dirty Great Communicatoritis it vaulted up to nearly $19,000 in Bush's first term. Unless she's just making the point that government is inherently unproductive...though somehow I doubt that.

Ration Meat to Save the Planet?

Puritans of all stripes are now hooking their agendas to concerns about climate change. For example, the Food Climate Research Network, based at the University of Surrey in Britain, is arguing that meat and dairy products will have to be rationed in the future to save the planet from climate change. As the Guardian reports:

People will have to be rationed to four modest portions of meat and one litre of milk a week if the world is to avoid run-away climate change, a major new report warns.

The report, by the Food Climate Research Network, based at the University of Surrey, also says total food consumption should be reduced, especially "low nutritional value" treats such as alcohol, sweets and chocolates.

Voluntary efforts will not be enough--the government will have to force people to eat a climate-healthy diet:

Tara Garnett, the report's author, warned that campaigns encouraging people to change their habits voluntarily were doomed to fail and urged the government to use caps on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pricing to ensure changes were made. "Food is important to us in a great many cultural and symbolic ways, and our food choices are affected by cost, time, habit and other influences," the report says. "Study upon study has shown that awareness-raising campaigns alone are unlikely to work, particularly when it comes to more difficult changes."

Whole Guardian article here. See also my colleague Katherine Mangu-Ward's excellent column on the "Hey Meaty, You're Making Me So Hot!" campaign. 

The Iraq War, but This Time as Economic Pearl Harbor

I guess fighting one elective war isn't enough for the Bush administration. Or the Senate. Or the media.

But it's pretty clear that the White House, helped by a codependent Congress and media, has yet again manufactured a consensus for massive intervention. The last time they managed to pull this off, of course, the United States invaded Iraq. And that has worked out so well that they've decided to start a brand extension or spin-off series: Intervening massively into the economy. The bailout package as Bush Administration: Special Victims Unit.

Think about it and the parallels are disturbing: a high-ranking, respectable, above-the-fray cabinet member working the ropes to achieve bipartisan cooperation; a pliable Congress where appeals to patriotism always trump appeals to principle (sadly, those two things are almost always construed as oppositional); and a media that is fueling the fire (the dread MSM's role in spreading the Bush admin case for war has been pretty well-documented; in terms of the bailout, the most hysterical champions for intervention have been in the print and TV press). Time magazine's next cover story, I learned watching Morning Joe this AM on MSNBC, is actually an essay on "The New Hard Times" and compares our current day to those of The Great Depression. Ominous parallel or coincidence: In the Depression, people formed lines for free soup; today, people form lines to...buy iPhones?

Arguably what is stunning about last night's Senate vote is not that it happened but that it took so long to add enough "sweeteners" to put free-market devotees into an ideological diabetic coma. The bailout-stimulus-Christmas-in-October-bill that just passed the Senate should not be confused with thoughtful legislation. It's larded with junk designed to convince Main Street that it too will share in the welfare being doled out to Wall Street Masters of the Universe. The need for the bailout has yet to be demonstrated. The efficacy of the proposed plan has yet to be demonstrated. Here's hoping that the House of Representatives, that great holding pen for would-be senators and future criminals, keeps it spine and still votes no. At the same time, this might be a good time to declare citizenship in another country.

One other stray thought: The predicate for action now has been incessant comparisons, despite all available evidence, to The Great Depression, a moment where the American (and world) economy contracted over a period of years. Screw the fact that the U.S. economy, by all the normal indicators that get trotted out on a quarterly basis, is doing OK, if not quite good.

In my memory, the last time this happened with such intensity was, er, in 1992, during the closing months of an presidential election cycle where a vulnerable Republican candidate was facing a charismatic Democratic one who kept harping on how rotten the economy was. Things are different now: The outgoing GOP president is the central fearmongerer (or perhaps, given Bush's intensity on the topic, fearmongererer) in this drama, but we shouldn't forget that the election is an essential backdrop for what is happening. This is, coff coff, a particularly political season, and we should all look especially askance at the hurry-up offense coming out of the White House, the Congress, and the media. Bush is desperate for a legacy that doesn't involve quagmires and broken bodies; Congress is trying to give voters some goodies; both McCain and Obama want to show that they can lead, dammit, and please all the people all the time. And the press is desperate for copy and for change.

One Lump or Ten?

Andrew Leonard goes digging in the Senate’s bailout package and finds a bunch of “sweeteners” added to lure in votes. Among them:

* Sec. 105. Energy credit for geothermal heat pump systems.
* Sec. 111. Expansion and modification of advanced coal project investment credit.
* Sec. 113. Temporary increase in coal excise tax; funding of Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.
* Sec. 115. Tax credit for carbon dioxide sequestration.
* Sec. 205. Credit for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles.
* Sec. 405. Increase and extension of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax.
* Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa.
* Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility.
* Sec. 501. $8,500 income threshold used to calculate refundable portion of child tax credit.
* Sec. 503 Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.

There are also tax credits for solar and wind power, and a very expensive requirement that health insurance companies cover mental health the same way they cover physical health.

But remember, this is only about preventing an economic cataclysm.

My Question for Joe Biden

The New York Times asked several contributors what question they'd pose to Sarah Palin or Joe Biden.  They asked me to submit a drug-war related question for Biden.  Here it is:

Senator Biden, you’ve been one of the Senate’s most ardent drug warriors. You helped create the office of “drug czar”; backed our failed eradication efforts in South America; encouraged the government to seize the assets of people merely suspected of drug crimes; pushed for the expanded use of racketeering and conspiracy laws against drug offenders; advocated the use of the military to fight the drug war; and sponsored a bill that holds venue owners and promoters criminally liable for drug use by people attending concerts and events.

Today, illicit drugs are as cheap and abundant as they were decades ago. Would you agree that the anti-drug policies you’ve championed have failed? If not, how have they succeeded?

reason contributor Gene Healy also contributed a question:

The claim by Dick Cheney that he was exempt from certain disclosure requirements because the vice president was a “legislative officer” has been greeted with outrage. But the main power the Constitution grants the vice president is a legislative one — breaking a tie vote in the Senate.

So, Governor Palin, Senator Biden, doesn’t Mr. Cheney have a point?

But, then, if the vice president is a legislative officer, how can he wield the vast executive powers that Mr. Cheney has exercised, including orchestrating and supervising a warrantless wiretapping program?

Can the vice president shift between branches at his convenience? If not, what, in your view, is the constitutional status of the vice presidency?

"The lesson here is that government does not need eminent domain to promote redevelopment."

Great news out of Nashville, Tennessee as the city's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency agrees to drop eminent domain proceedings against Country International Records owner Joy Ford. At issue was Ford's refusal to sell her land to a private developer, which wanted to erect a new office building where Joy's record label and music publishing business now stands.

As happens all too often in such cases, once it became clear to local authorities that Joy wasn't selling, they decided to simply seize what they wanted via eminent domain, prompting the fine folks at the Institute for Justice to get involved on Joy's behalf. Yesterday, the two sides reached an agreement that takes eminent domain off the table. From The Tennessean:

Neither Ford nor [developer] Lionstone will receive any money in the settlement. Ford will, however, end up with slightly more land than she now owns, and more of it will front Music Circle East, where it can be accessed easily.

The pact will let Lionstone build a 225,000-square-foot office building with ground-floor retail on land surrounding Ford's property. The firm has already lined up two tenants, which will take up about 60 percent of the building, and it is in talks with banks for a construction loan, [Lionstone representative Doug] McKinnon said.

The trade will force Lionstone to redesign the tower's parking garage, but the firm has already asked its architect, Nashville-based Earl Swensson Associates, to come up with a new plan. Lionstone hopes to have those plans in place and start construction by the end of this year.


"This is an example of private parties' sitting down and coming together," said Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based firm that represented Ford. "The lesson here is that government does not need eminent domain to promote redevelopment."

Whole thing here. reason's interview with IJ founder Chip Mellor here.

New at Reason: Steve Chapman on Sarah Palin's Small-Town Snobbery

The myth of rural virtue and urban vice is an old one in this country, writes Steve Chapman. Which means that whatever questions Sarah Palin may face in her debate with Joe Biden tonight, she isn't likely to encounter much criticism for her small-town snobbery.

Read all about it here.

The Senate Caves, 74-25

Read it and weep, not least for how quickly the nation's news services have adopted the interventionists' packaging of "rescue" over "bailout." This is your list of no-votes; needless to say the names "Obama" and "McCain" aren't among the 15 Republicans, nine Democrats, and one Bernie Sanders with an easily observable spine.

The Nearly $700 Billion Payout No One Talked Much About

Decrier of American expansionist foreign policy Chalmers Johnson gripes at Antiwar.com (scroll down a bit) about how no one paid much mind to the casual passage by the House this week of a $612 billion defense authorization:

On Wednesday, Sept. 24, right in the middle of the fight over billions of taxpayer dollars slated to bail out Wall Street, the House of Representatives passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill for 2009 without a murmur of public protest or any meaningful press comment at all. (The New York Times gave the matter only three short paragraphs buried in a story about another appropriations measure.)


Our annual spending on "national security" – meaning the defense budget plus all military expenditures hidden in the budgets for the departments of Energy, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, the CIA, and numerous other places in the executive branch – already exceeds a trillion dollars, an amount larger than that of all other national defense budgets combined. Not only was there no significant media coverage of this latest appropriation, there have been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad, and the financial catastrophe on Wall Street. The only congressional "commentary" on the size of our military outlay was the usual pompous drivel about how a failure to vote for the defense authorization bill would betray our troops. The aged Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, implored his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill "out of respect for military personnel."

"Because it wasn't a complete deregulation at all"

The Wall Street Journal points out a fascinating interview Bill Clinton recently gave to Business Week that touched on his 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall, the 1933 law that separated commercial and investment banking. Here's the relevant exchange with reporter Maria Bartiromo:


Mr. President, in 1999 you signed a bill essentially rolling back Glass-Steagall and deregulating banking. In light of what has gone on, do you regret that decision?


No, because it wasn't a complete deregulation at all. We still have heavy regulations and insurance on bank deposits, requirements on banks for capital and for disclosure. I thought at the time that it might lead to more stable investments and a reduced pressure on Wall Street to produce quarterly profits that were always bigger than the previous quarter. But I have really thought about this a lot. I don't see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis. Indeed, one of the things that has helped stabilize the current situation as much as it has is the purchase of Merrill Lynch (MER) by Bank of America (BAC), which was much smoother than it would have been if I hadn't signed that bill.


Phil Gramm, who was then the head of the Senate Banking Committee and until recently a close economic adviser of Senator McCain, was a fierce proponent of banking deregulation. Did he sell you a bill of goods?


Not on this bill I don't think he did. You know, Phil Gramm and I disagreed on a lot of things, but he can't possibly be wrong about everything. On the Glass-Steagall thing, like I said, if you could demonstrate to me that it was a mistake, I'd be glad to look at the evidence. But I can't blame [the Republicans]. This wasn't something they forced me into. I really believed that given the level of oversight of banks and their ability to have more patient capital, if you made it possible for [commercial banks] to go into the investment banking business as Continental European investment banks could always do, that it might give us a more stable source of long-term investment.

Whole thing here.

As the Journal notes, Barack Obama has described Gramm as "the architect in the United States Senate of the deregulatory steps that helped cause this mess." I wonder when Obama will start pointing his finger at the Man from Hope? But more importantly, does all this architect talk mean that Gramm is Howard Roark and Clinton is Peter Keating, or is it the other way around?

"With City's Help, Vendors Break the Mold"

That was the jump headline in a Washington Post article about the new wave of food carts in Washington, DC. And what did the city do to help? It waived many its own onerous regulations for a 32-block zone, allowing vendors to "find a way around regulations that have choked the life out of D.C.'s street food for decades."

In other words, the city is getting credit from the Post for being less terrible than usual. Gee, thanks. Still we should be grateful for small favors: Remember the plight of our bacon-y brethren in L.A., dogged by cruel and unusual anti-food cart bias:

In light of the news, Cato's David Boaz reminds us of the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau: “This government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way.”

More on food carts here.

Welsh Hippies Win!

A lost tribe of dirty Welsh hippies (no, not reason's noble leader and his family—that's Welch) become honorary members of the Leave Us Alone Coalition:

For five happy years they enjoyed simple lives in their straw and mud huts. Generating their own power and growing their own food, they strived for self-sufficiency and thrived in homes that looked more suited to the hobbits from The Lord of the Rings. Then a survey plane chanced upon the 'lost tribe'... and they were plunged into a decade-long battle with officialdom....When the pilot reported back, officials were unable to find any records, let alone planning permission, for the mystery hillside village surrounded by trees and bushes....Yesterday that fight, backed by more modern support for green issues, ended in victory.

Hilariously, the mud hut dwellers had to provide some sort of environmental impact statement as the final step before finally being left alone:

'We had to prove we were improving the biodiversity of the area and conserving the woodland and we did that."

It's Not Christmastime Anymore, it's Armagideon

Your chart of the day comes from Econompic Data, whose editor notices that stock in Taser and canned soup was outperforming the S&P index.

I personally can't think of any pure bomb shelter plays (although the housing index is up over the past three months), but over the past three months; Campbell Soup Co (which also happened to be the ONLY stock in the S&P 500 that was up yesterday) and Taser International are up 16% and 34% respectively. This compares very favorably to the S&P 500, which has struggled and is down 14% over that time frame.

Via Ezra Klein. I echo his challenge: Build your own Apocalypse portfolio!

Are Criminals Born or Made?

A new study, "Delinquent Peer Group Formation: Evidence of a Gene X Environment Correlation," by Florida State University researchers published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Genetic Psychology, finds that a gene variant of the dopamine transporter (DAT1) gene puts some males at risk of deliquency. As the press release describing the study explains:

Criminological research has long linked antisocial, drug-using and criminal behavior to delinquent peers -- in fact, belonging to such a peer group is one of the strongest correlates to both youthful and adult crime. But the study led by Beaver is the first to establish a statistically significant association between an affinity for antisocial peer groups and a particular variation (called the 10-repeat allele) of the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1).

However, the study's analysis of family, peer and DNA data from 1,816 boys in middle and high school found that the association between DAT1 and delinquent peer affiliation applied primarily for those who had both the 10-repeat allele and a high-risk family environment (one marked by a disengaged mother and an absence of maternal affection).

In contrast, adolescent males with the very same gene variation who lived in low-risk families (those with high levels of maternal engagement and warmth) showed no statistically relevant affinity for antisocial friends.

"Our research has confirmed the importance of not only the genome but also the environment," [FSU criminologist Kevin] Beaver said. "With a sample comprised of 1,816 individuals, more than usual for a genetic study, we were able to document a clear link between DAT1 and delinquent peers for adolescents raised in high-risk families while finding little or no such link in those from low-risk families. As a result, we now have genuine empirical evidence that the social and family environment in an adolescent's life can either exacerbate or blunt genetic effects."

A 2007 Michigan State University study of twins also found a link between the DAT1 variant and "adolescent-onset or adolescent-limited antisocial behavior." In 2002, Wisconsin University researchers reported that young males with a variant of the gene that encodes the brain enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) have a propensity toward criminality. 

So are criminals born or made? The answer from these studies appears to be that they are "made" by the interaction of certain genetic vulnerabilities with bad experiences. 

With the rapid spread of genotyping, the question arises: should infants be tested for these gene variants? Such testing could alert parents and enable them take steps to shield their kids from situations that might exacerbate their genetic vulnerabilities. Or would such testing just result in some kids being treated as "bad seeds"?

Two Reasons to Vote Against Obama

Obama, who has received a significant amount of celebrity endorsements, will be the beneficiary of a fundraiser at which rock legends Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel will perform together.

More here.

All right. Who should do benefit concerts for:

John McCain?

Chuck Baldwin?

Ralph Nader?

Bob Barr?

The Fearsome Fear of a Looming Recession

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times editorial board last December, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson made clear that he defined "market failure" as any instance in which investors, including home owners, lost money. In discussing various grand plans to buoy the economy, Paulson said, "What we're doing is avoiding a market failure that would have forced housing values down in a way that was not in the investors' interest, and in a way that the market wasn't intended to work."

You can read more of that exchange here, where it's reprinted in a recent reason column by Tim Cavanaugh. It's a pretty stunning and open admission of how Paulson conceives his job. Basically, his job is to maintain or increase prices, period. He doesn't want to oversee a market that acts as a discovery process because, as Dr. Zaius, the patron saint of all great Platonic experts, could tell you, "You may not like what you find." Indeed, you might find that you misunderestimated what people think your crap is worth (has Paulson, one wonders, ever gone to a garage sale, that ultimate testing ground of the subjective theory of value?).

So Paulson wants to socialize losses by the investing class with his economic PATRIOT Act, a hasty, hurried, and not-clearly-warranted piece of legislation that will somehow manage to change everything without addressing basic incentives in the financial sector (other than underscoring the idea that the American economy is too big to fail, so the feds will oddly bail it out in the name of capitalism).

Given the stunning and uplifting failure of the House to pass the bailout, the Senate will be taking a whack at the pinata tonight, and the bill is likely to pass (so we've been told). Why? Partly because our dear and great leaders have gone out and "sold" the legislation to the American people by now telling us we need to avoid a recession at all costs. As Hillary Clinton has explained (surely in a voice that even Sarah Palin could understand), voters "have to recognize that we are facing a very serious economic slowdown, a recession that could be of long-lasting and deep impact."

So we're doing massive restructuring (read: giving lots of money but not really restructuing basic structures) of the financial markets to avoid a potential recession? Recessions are not easy, but they are periodic events that don't generally call for a bailout plan of this magnitude currently being discussed in Washington. And the old definition of a recession seems up for grabs these days. It used to be that a recession was two or more consecutive quarters of "negative growth" of GDP. These days, it seems to be whenever somebody anywhere is bothered by current conditions.

Look for the price tag of the bailout to keep going up from the admittedly arbitrary $700 billion originally attached to the plan. That's because our leaders are now trying to sell us the plan by offering "sweeteners" that jack up the price and extend the action to all sorts of tangentially related issues (such as alternative energy).

So, a couple of weeks into the worst global crisis since the Japanese bombed Wall Street in 1929, what have we learned?

1. That the secretary of the Treasury has a very weak grasp of the market mechanisms he's messing with.

2. That the fear of a recession, however you want to define it, is enough to throw a heaping load of money at Wall Street.

3. That Congress won't stop believing that the time for a bailout is always yesterday and that the bailout should include more stimulation than a vibrating bed at a hourly-rate motel, all the better to sell it to the American people.

Virtually every member of the New York-Washington axis of power has been pushing the need for a bailout. Which is only one more reason to question it (just watch cable TV, read the Wash Post and New York Times, or watch C-SPAN's surveillance cameras of Congress).

Here's hoping that the Senate finds a spine and votes down the bailout. Or if they pass it, that the House keeps pushing back until the reasons to act in such a decisive manner are clear not just to Hank Paulson, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain.

Panic, Damn You!

John McCain joins President Bush and Secretary of Goldman Sachs Henry Paulson in the "pass-this-bill-or-prepare-to-eat-garbage" coalition:

If the financial rescue bill fails in Congress yet again, the present crisis will turn into a disaster. As credit disappears, students will no longer be able to get loans for college, and families looking for a new home will be unable to get a loan. New car sales will come to a halt. Businesses will have difficulty securing credit for operations and may be unable to pay employees. If we fail to act, the gears of our economy will grind to a halt.

At this point I'm amazed that he (or his many alarmist cohorts) left out the part about being forced to sell ourselves into white slavery to the Red Chinese....

Remember back when people jumped all up in Alan Greenspan's grill just for him uttering the phrase "irrational exuberance"? We now have the president, his Cabinet, and his would-be successor predicting imminent economic collapse if we don't immediately pass a trillion-dollar bailout rescue that will force taxpayers to overpay for currently illiquid mortgage-based debt instruments. And oh yeah, there might be a financial "panic." Ya think?

Has there ever been a two-week period when America's putative leaders expressed less faith in the country they claim to run?

Where We're Going, We Do Need Roads

The last full month of the campaign is on, which made me want to double check where the candidates were on this day in the last few close races. Electoral-vote.com has the numbers for this day in 2004: Bush 276, Kerry 221. For the rest of the snapshots I went into Lexis-Nexis to check contemporarily electoral scorecards.

On October 1, 2000, the candidates were prepping for their first debate and Gore was in the lead.

Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia are leaning the vice president's way or solidly in his column, putting him at 226 electoral votes -- 44 short of the 270 needed to claim the presidency, and 25 votes closer to his goal than a month ago.

Another 21 states with 175 electoral votes would go to Republican George W. Bush. That leaves 13 toss-up states with 137 electoral votes.

On October 1, 1988, Mike Dukakis was campaigning in Texas (where he was down 10 points) and George H.W. Bush was in Massachusetts (where he was down 8). An AP analysis gave the edge to Bush, with reservations.

Despite steady late-summer advances by Bush - and Democratic talk of a Dukakis rebound - neither man has been able to seize an advantage in a string of states where the election will be decided. The list includes Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and others, totaling over 150 electoral votes.

There was no state-by-state electoral analysis in 1980, when Carter and Reagan were basically tied, but Carter pollster Pat Caddell gave a briefing to reporters that now reads like doom.

He said Carter's "lead is expanding very steadily" in New York but is "a litle lagging" in Ohio. He said the president appears to have improved his position in Pennsylvania and such southern states as Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana. Texas is close but "still tough" for Carter, while "we have a real shot at Oregon and Washington," Caddell said.

On election day, Carter won... none of those states.  So it's not unheard of for a Democrat to be leading in the polls as October starts and then suffer a monthlong melt. The differences this year: an economic crisis, worries about the Republican's running mate (comparable to 1988), cash parity (and maybe an advantage) for the Democrats, and, of course, a black candidate leading the Democratic ticket.

UPDATE: If I had to pick one reason for why Obama's outperforming Kerry, it's in this Pew poll. At this point in 2004 Kerry had a net positive favorability of 12 points (53-41) to Bush's 17 points. Obama has a net favorability of 35 points (66-31) to McCain's 25 points. Do Republicans expect, say, a Jeremiah Wright ad to knock 23 points off Obama's favorability?