Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: September 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Keep Your Premonitions to Yourself

When you've got people working for you, it's always great when they're enthusiastic. Especially if it's a political campaign, you want them to believe in you with all their hearts and souls. But sometimes that enthusiasm goes to far. For the second time in three days, John McCain and his staff have gotten a little ahead of themselves when it comes to praise. On Friday morning, before McCain had even "reactivated" his campaign and agreed to appear at the debate later that evening, web ads were showing up claiming that McCain had already won it. That's one way to get the spin machine rolling. A similar overenthusiasm struck again today, as McCain himself, as well as his aides, started taking credit for getting the bailout bill successfully through the House. Another one for John McCain's win column!

And speaking of the McCain campaign not quite realizing how they're coming across, Sarah Palin has made another go of a Katie Couric interview. This time, however, she brought reinforcements: John McCain is providing adult supervision. Unfortunately for them, Howard Kurtz is reporting that there's still more embarrassing footage to come from the original interview. The timeline is bound to get confused. If voters see Palin with McCain holding her hand and then see her again tripping over her answers (or, as Jonathan Martin suggests, saying nothing at all), they're going to recognize that she can't be let out on her own.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Panic on the Streets of Congress

I need to organize my time better. I was busy much of the weekend, and although I saw last night that agreement on a bailout bill had been reached, I was exhausted when I came to write a Sunday post, so I bailed myself and wrote a quick little something about baseball (specifically about the White Sox and their road to the postseason--a road on which they're one step further along, by the way). And by the time I get a chance to write about the bailout bill itself, it's all over.

I've written before that, like John McCain, economics isn't my strong suit, so I can't do too much but trust what others I tend to trust have written. Paul Krugman has agreed with Henry Paulson that something must be done. Although the bailout measure was lousy, the danger of doing nothing was worse, so (again, according to Krugman) the bill wasn't lousy enough to disqualify it. Of course, a majority of House Republicans and more than a handful of House Democrats felt otherwise.

So what now? Both Krugman and Brad DeLong link approvingly to the Wall Street Journal's Rex Nutting: "House to Wall Street: Drop Dead," so I might as well join the club. The entire dispatch is worth reading, but here's one of his most striking points: "Now we shall see if Paulson and Bernanke were right when they said the credit crisis could worsen and inflict dire consequences on the global economy."

Or maybe not. Calculated Risk links to a Bloomberg story quoting Paulson on his intention to come back for more with Congress, although he didn't reveal what he might be willing to change to make the bailout plan more palatable. The first thing he (and Congress) could do is try to sell the deal to the public. Give us more detail than simply their word that something this drastic must be done.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

White Sox Update

Both the White Sox and the Twins won today, so neither knows who'll win the AL wild card Central Division. Chicago has to win two more games to make the playoffs, and losing either one means their season is over immediately. As I mentioned what might happen last night, tomorrow they're against the Tigers for a makeup game. Winning means they'll be tied with Minnesota for the division lead, so they'll have to have a one-game playoff game on Tuesday. Losing, of course, means that the Twins will take solitary lead, and Minnesota will have its ticket into the postseason and start playing Tampa on Thursday. Chicago needs two wins to keep playing, although Minnesota can go into Thursday's game without any further effort on their part if the White Sox experience a quick loss. A Chicago subway series is still not out of the question, but it's not the most likely scenario at this point, either.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Season End

There's one more day in the baseball season, but almost everything is already decided for the postseason. The Red Sox lost last night, which took them completely out of the race for top of their division. That's too bad, because they entered Friday against long odds, needing to sweep against the Yankees while the Rays needed to lose all three of their final games against Detroit. At this point, Tampa has lost two of those, so had the Red Sox won last night, they might have still had a shot at the top spot. Of course, that's even more speculative than it might be, since today's Boston/New York game was rained out today, so they've only played the one on Friday night (and even that one was delayed by rain, causing Red Sox manager Terry Francona to scratch Dice-K as starting pitcher, moving him to today; now he's on tap for tomorrow). With Hurricane Kyle due to come through the neighborhood early tomorrow, it's hard to tell how much rain might be hitting Fenway, so we may or may not find a resolution to those two Yankee games.

With the wild card in hand, Boston will take on the Angels in the week to come--the Rays will play either the White Sox or the Twins. Although the season is theoretically over on Sunday, depending on how things go, the White Sox could have a makeup game on Monday and then a one-game playoff against the Twins on Tuesday. The winner of that game could start into the best-of-five divisional playoff series on Wednesday. The Rays are certainly in the better position, getting ready to play a team that has had to fight for its place in the postseason until the day before that postseason actually starts. But we've got the Angels, who'll have a nice rest before the playoffs start, so we'll make due. The Red Sox are certainly up to the task.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Game Changers?

So there actually was a debate tonight. Even without an agreement in place for the Wall Street bailout--or very far on its way to being in place, for that matter. Apparently, someone convinced John McCain that it would be better for him to look like he was grandstanding on economic issues than flaking out on a promise to the electorate. It was funny watching some of the commentary on the debate, because the commentators were so blatantly disappointed that neither candidate made a major error. Forced to discuss the actual content of what the candidates had to say. The post-game analyses didn't really last that long. So was there a winner? Who came out ahead, tonight?

All the McCain drama lately has overshadowed (by design, perhaps?) his running mate's interview with Katie Couric. I linked to the first part the other night, and now here's part two. Pay special attention to her explanation of Putin rearing his head in Alaskan air space.

I could easily be wrong on this account, but I expect that Palin will be getting more attention in the next few days as even her fans start to realize that she doesn't belong anywhere near the Oval Office. Reliable conservative stalwart Kathleen Parker has suggested that Palin quietly take her ball and go home. Parker's polite, but she doesn't hint around about the problem:

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.

Expect this to become a crescendo over the next little while. I'm not sure it will change anything, because who wants to be the sacrificial lamb to take her place on a ticket that, at that point, would be pretty obviously going into the tank?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just Another Thursday

Given the way that he's conducted the rest of his campaign, it's hardly a surprise that John McCain's announcement yesterday that he was suspending his campaign was nothing more than another lie. What could McCain have possibly been thinking? Was he hoping the Obama would take him up on his offer and really suspend his own campaign so that McCain would have all the attention to himself? Yes, I know it sounds stupid, but it's as viable a plan as anything anybody else has come up with.

His actual story, of course, that he needed to drop everything to rush back to Washington to help craft a bailout bill of some kind, seems far less believable. McCain did return to Washington, but he either didn't do much of anything or sabotaged the deal behind the scenes.

And where does that leave Friday night's debate? Common sense says that McCain would look like an idiot if he doesn't show up. But common sense also says that no one would seriously try to run for president of the United States with a campaign built on transparent and easily disproven lies. McCain and his campaign clearly have their own version of reality, and appears to be one in which voters are stupid and gullible. The candidate and his minions might be able to convince themselves that ducking out of the debate could be spun as decisive, mavericky leadership. Right now, I'd give the odds of McCain showing up to be about 50-50.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hijinks Ensue

What on earth is going on in the presidential campaign? McCain's put his whole campaign on hold! He claims it's so that he can focus all his energies on the economy and the bailout package, but come on--that can't be real. I'm sure that, as a senator, he has to focus on more than one thing at a time. If he becomes president, he'll have to do it even more. It's not good practice if he stops everything else while he puts all his attention in one place. And what, exactly, is he planning to do while his campaign is suspended? Were the negotiations in Congress on hold because he wasn't participating? Perhaps he doesn't realize it, because he's been going to such lengths to ignore them, but as a presidential candidate, John McCain travels with quite a group of reporters who would be extremely distracting to those in the midst of hard and heavy negotiations (unless they're getting a quick vacation themselves, because once the campaign's been suspended, there's nothing for them to cover). Harry Reid is aware of that, and he was happy to remind McCain of that fact.

Since before the convention, McCain's campaign has been a gimmick followed by a stunt, over and over, and over, ad nauseam. Has he got any content at all? What's he even trying to accomplish in suspending his campaign? When I first heard about it, I didn't think that this must be a decisive move, I assumed that McCain must've been suffering from some sort of health problem. But then when I saw Palin's interview with Katie Couric. It came as no surprise when McCain wanted to back out of Friday's debate and then suggested a new presidential event replace the vice-presidential debate currently scheduled. Palin has no idea what she's talking about. It only makes sense that the McCain people would want to keep that under wraps.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jumping on the Bailout Bandwagon

Earlier today, White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto made what is, to me, an astonishing admission: The administration has been working on this bailout plan for months. This is not something they've rushed to put together to avoid imminent catastrophe. This plan, with its Trojan horses preventing oversight, its lack of consequences for reckless financiers, and who knows what poison pills, has been in development for quite some time.

The whole justification for it is that we've got an economic crisis that needs to be addressed now, so we don't have time to vet it carefully (which vice presidential candidate does that remind you of?). Kos and Chris Bowers each argue that there is no financial crisis and that the Bushies just scheduled the controversial legislation at an opportune moment that was convenient to themselves. Unfortunately, once we decide that good faith is not a factor in negotiating with the Republicans, we can't much trust anything they say or do. Good luck in trying to figure out which way is up in this situation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium

There's a lot to catch up on after being out of the country for the weekend. We were still in the air and then driving from the airport when the Yankees beat the Orioles last night and said farewell to their home for the last 85 years. No, I don't have a sudden soft spot for the Yankees in my Red Sox soul, but, c'mon, Yankee Stadium is Yankee Stadium. It's the House that Ruth Built (even if he did it after he was traded from the Red Sox). Gehrig played there (and gave a fabulous speech when he had to call it a day--and let's not forget Gary Cooper's depiction of that same speech in Pride of the Yankees). So did DiMaggio and Mantle. Those were great players, and together they made a great team. Baseball Almanac collects a lot of stadium facts and figures, if you're curious about what we're losing. I've heard the reports that the stadium has outlived its usefulness and is not a terribly comfortable place to watch a ballgame, I haven't experienced that for myself, so it's hard to tell how much truth there is to it and how much is hype from the Steinbrenners (I'm always ready to believe the worst about the Steinbrenners). It already went through one renovation thirty-some years ago, and I don't know why the Steinbrenners decided that they'd rather build a new one than renovate again (for all I know, it's very possible that renovation wasn't really an option this time, so I'll withhold judgment until such time as I hear differently). But the deal's been done, and there will be a new Yankee Stadium next year. In some ways, it will be just as well for people like me. I won't have to worry about tradition, nostalgia, and the greatness of the past. Now opponents will be able to face the pure modern Yankees. Dislike of the team doesn't have to be diluted by fondness for the storied Yankee past.

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. Thank you for all the great baseball and great moments you've provided.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Flying High

Back home again, but taking two quick trips two weekends in a row has provided a nice reminder of the current state of the airline industry. No surprise--it's not so great.

With gas prices on their way up, there's no way that can't be reflected in the cost of tickets, but those increases aren't even enough to cover the price of fuel; therefore, we're stuck with the new fees for luggage. We paid $15 for one suitcase, and my understanding is that we'd have paid another $25 for a second one. I wonder what the upshot of such a policy is. Oh, wait! Passengers are going to avoid paying the extra money. Most of our flights this past couple of weeks have been pretty full, so the storage bins have been flooding over. On the first of our connecting flights home today, the storage bins were full before everybody was onboard, and the flight attendant announced that people still boarding would have to check their bags. So are they subject to the $15 fee? Are they being penalized for having arrived later than other passengers (though not so late that they're making the flight at all is in question)? That's hardly fair, of course, but considerations like that have never been uppermost in the minds of corporations.

How will it all end? With the economy going sour, air travel will become more of a luxury activity. But even if that weren't a factor, I still think more and more people will start taking a pass on going places to where they need to fly. Nobody wants to be nickel and dimed (they were charging for snack food on our flights, too), and they'll only put up with it for so long. It may take a little time, because we'll have to get used to making other arrangements, but spending good money after bad will ultimately overpower even the best of us.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Just a Quick Update

This has turned into a travel weekend, so I haven't been following the news as much as I might have. I did hear that parts of Texas remain closed to residents.

We crossed the border without much problem, but there's construction around downtown Toronto, so it's not as easy to get around as we would've hoped. I'll see if I can write up something more a bit later. If not, I'll get something going tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cartoonist Politics

Although I didn't get a chance to note it when it was announced a couple of weeks ago, Canada is having a national election next month. Although Steven Harper initially promised to hold the next election on a regular schedule, but I guess when he saw an opportunity in which he expected his party to do well, he couldn't pass it up.

But I'm not writing about that. In one parliamentary riding in Toronto, Chester Brown, award-winning cartoonist of Louis Riel, Ed the Happy Clown, and Yummy Fur, is collecting signatures to get on the ballot as a Libertarian. That's an intriguing position. Canadian national politics is very strongly focused on party. You get things done by having the muscle of your party behind you. I don't know whether there are any other Libertarians in Parliament or not, but if there are, there aren't very many. An article in eye weekly seems to suggest that Brown's main motivation is to promote greater awareness of Libertarianism, so he may be able to accomplish that, at least. But that raises another question: What does Libertariainism really mean in Canada? Perhaps a fact-finding mission is in order.

Who Knows?

The market was way down yesterday? Well, it was way up, today! What does it mean? Who knows?

Overnight on Wednesday night, the Fed and the central banks of other nations put together a cash package of $180 billion that seemed to do nothing to put the markets back on an even keel, as they opened down. $180 billion that seemed to do nothing! Fortunately, there were rumors that the Fed was going to take care of everything, so the markets shot back up! How was this going to work? What did it matter? The government would make sure it was all going to be OK.

As it turns out, the government is working on some mechanism to solve the financial mess.

The government is working on a sweeping series of programs that would represent perhaps the biggest intervention in financial markets since the 1930s, embracing the need for a comprehensive approach to the financial crisis after a series of ad hoc rescues.

At the center of the potential plan is a mechanism that would take bad assets off the balance sheets of financial companies, according to people familiar with the matter, a device that echoes similar moves taken in past financial crises. The size of the entity could reach hundreds of billions of dollars, one person said.

. . .

Details of the plan were still being worked out Thursday night.

See? Problem solved! We can worry about how it will work and how much it will cost later.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh, You Know What We're Still Talking About

The financial situation remains the big news, overshadowing the surreal, Kafkaesque presidential campaign. I believe one of the candidates is going to have to go full out and actually wake up one morning as a cockroach before focus gets fully shifted back to that rather than the slow-motion meltdown on Wall Street. The Dow dropped another 450 points on Wednesday, pushing it to about 800 points down since Monday. Jim Cramer on Nightline tonight suggested that maybe it would've been down 1,500 points had the Fed not stepped in to bail out A.I.G. Krugman points out how the current market resembles the Titanic:

A thought I had today: as I understand it, when the Titanic hit that iceberg, at first the crew didn’t think it was so bad. The ship’s hull was divided into watertight compartments, and not enough of them had been ripped open to sink the ship. But the flooding from the initial hole tipped the ship, and the compartments were open at the top, so that compartments that hadn’t been ripped open by the impact of the iceberg started filling up, tipping the ship even more, flooding more compartments …

Because I'm apparently in a masochistic mood this evening, I checked out what James Howard Kunstler's had to say lately--he's been predicting a financial crisis of this sort for a few years, now. His most recent post suggests we refer to the Republicans as the party that wrecked America from now on.

Will the wrecking continue on Thursday? Speculation is that Washington Mutual is the next to find a deal or go down. We'll wait and see.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Internationale Unites the World in Song

So Henry Paulson has changed his mind and decided maybe tough love isn't the best way to handle an economic meltdown. But now that A.I.G. has been bailed out by the Fed to the tune of $85 billion (for which it gets about 80 percent ownership), how much longer before we get to say we live in a socialized economy? As the New York Times points out:

The decision, only two weeks after the Treasury took over the federally chartered mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is the most radical intervention in private business in the central bank's history.

Apparently socialism is OK, as long as it protects the top 1 percent. But is it socialism, or is it extortion? The threat, of course, is that if A.I.G. goes down, it takes a bunch of us smaller players, as well. As Calculated Risk points out:

It's true that the rescue tonight of A.I.G. suggests there are still moral hazard issues, but an A.I.G. collapse posed significant risks to the system, and the Fed was stuck with a dilemma and no good alternatives. I believe a collapse of A.I.G. would probably have been worse than the rescue.

We'll see whether or not John McCain comes on board with this move. Sometime within the last 24 hours, he came around on economic populism. Earlier in the day, he was against offering any help to A.I.G.:

"We cannot have the taxpayers bail out AIG or anybody else. This is something that we're going to have to work through," he said.

He knew what was bringing Wall Street down and betraying American workers (who, he argued, are the real "fundamentals" of the American economy):

"They've been betrayed by a casino on Wall Street of greedy, corrupt excess -- corruption and excess that has damaged them and their futures," he added.

Oops! He forgot one thing on that list of what to blame: his own personal treasury secretary-in-waiting, Phil Gramm!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

As the Markets Churn

So Monday was rough, but it wasn't the market meltdown some people were expecting. The Dow took its sharpest decline since September 11, 2001, just more than 500 points. It wouldn't have broken that milestone number except for a last dive in the final fifteen minutes of the day. Even so, it was just under a 4.5 percent drop.

Before I head off to bed for the night, it's probably worthwhile to take a look at markets around the world to see what might be coming up tomorrow. Here are some Asian markets, and here are some markets from Europe. What you see when you click over will be different from what I see right now, but Europe is not doing as badly as Asia (where some markets were closed Monday, which means that Tuesday is the first chance for them to react to the troubles on Wall Street). The Nikkei, Shanghai, and Taiwan markets are flirting around just below 5 percent, but Hang Seng (Hong Kong) has passed a 5 percent drop, and Seoul has fallen more than 6 percent. European markets, reacting to the drop in the Dow but already having had a crack at the Lehman and Merrill Lynch news, are falling but not as drastically. Indices in London, Paris, and Frankfurt are--at least at this point--are down by less than 2 percent. Will a good night's sleep for me help anything? Not in the international markets, probably, but at least my own well-being will be improved. Let's hope things look better in the morning.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Playing Catch-Up

I hadn't intended to slack off in keeping up with what's going on while we were in Minneapolis, that's just sort of what happened. Although presidential politics would be expected to be the order of the day, the really big news is financial. Is it time to panic when the headline on the Wall Street Journal reads: "Crisis on Wall Street as Lehman Totters, Merrill Is Sold, AIG Seeks to Raise Cash"? Krugman suggests that it's not yet, but he doesn't exactly have the highest level of confidence.

Will the U.S. financial system collapse today, or maybe over the next few days? I don't think so — but I'm nowhere near certain. You see, Lehman Brothers, a major investment bank, is apparently about to go under. And nobody knows what will happen next.

After some explanatory material about the latest financial shenanigans and Lehman's problems in particular, Krugman closes with this:

And so here we are, with Mr. Paulson apparently feeling that playing Russian roulette with the U.S. financial system was his best option. Yikes.

Inspires confidence by the bucketloads, doesn't it?

I suspect this story will move quickly once the markets open tomorrow, so I it's probably not worthwhile to examine it too closely tonight only for that material to be outmoded by the time many people start reading this. For the time being, hold on to your seat. And, as Phil Gramm, John McCain's potential secretary of the treasury would likely say, "No whining!"

Sunday, September 14, 2008


OK, OK, I give. Tina Fey it is.


So it appears that they're now saying Ike was bad, but not as bad as it could've been. That's some good news, anyway. Residents of Galveston who evacuated aren't being let back in yet, so there's a lot of anxiety about in what state they'll find their homes and communities. The storm continued to move further into Texas and ultimately dropped to tropical storm status, where it can still drop a lot of rain.

I was somewhat prepared for that. What I wasn't ready for (and Chicago readers are already way ahead of me on this) is that Chicago had record rainfall causing flooding, as well. Saturday was the rainiest day in recorded Chicago history (which goes back more than 135 years). The flooding closed access to O'Hare airport for a while, and put part of a local interstate underwater. The city says it received 1,900 calls reporting flooded basements. That rain had nothing whatsoever to do with Ike, but the remains of the hurricane are on their way north and are expected to affect the Chicago area tomorrow afternoon. Flood warnings remain in place. I'm now mildly worried that we'll have problems coming back to the city. If that happens, though, I suppose I'll just sit in the bar at the Minneapolis airport and blog about it on the Blackberry.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More Minneapolis

We ended up spending most of our time today running around town and seeing what's here, and to my surprise, didn't end up following the news much at all. The coverage of Ike on CNN this morning was awful, making it seem like, although the hurricane had been pretty strong, everything was doing OK now. I don't want the anchors to panic, or anything, but we switched over to MSNBC, where at least they seemed concerned about the situation. Give me a minute to catch up on what when on today, and I'll be back.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Change of Scenery

Because it's Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk's birthday, we've decided to get out of town for a quick weekend. The goal was to go somewhere where we'd never been and didn't know anybody. In this case, that meant Minneapolis--we wanted to see how it had survived the Republican onslaught. We'll play it by ear to see how we spend the rest of the weekend (anybody got any tourist ideas--the guy at the car rental place was nonplussed when I asked him).

We'll also be keeping an eye on Ike in the Gulf. I can't vouch for this in any way, but while we were waiting for the plane to take off at about 6:30, a woman behind us was on the phone to a friend, and she told of a phone message she'd received a few minutes earlier. She'd been planning to visit a friend in Galveston next weekend, but he'd called her sobbing, saying that his house--only a block from the seawall--was gone. I don't know whether it was because of flooding or wind, but the main storm itself was still more than a hundred miles from landfall. Certainly. Our thoughts tonight are with those in Galveston and Houston and surroundings. If you happen to actually know anyone (and having spent my college career in Texas, I certainly do), then your attention is focused even more so. Whether they evacuated or not, they're likely in for a rough few days.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Anniversary

I should probably say something about September 11 while that date can still go on this post. Have we advanced since last year? I'm not so sure. Osama bin Laden is still at large. John McCain claims to have a secret plan to capture Bin Laden, but he's keeping it close to the chest, apparently, until he enters the Oval Office. The Taliban is more and more resurgent in Afghanistan. Pakistan is becoming more unstable, too. George Bush has approved U.S. soldiers raiding across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan to go after terrorist suspects, and there are reports that Pakistani forces are preparing to defend that border if necessary. It turns out that we're not particularly going to draw down troops from Iraq while Bush remains in office, after all. And last week we saw images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center being used to promote the McCain/Palin candidacy.

So what does it all mean on this seventh anniversary? You got me.

A Cockeyed View

I did something tonight that I haven't done . . . well, the last time I remember doing it, I was sixteen. I sat in the very first row at the movies. Boy, those are not good seats. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I went to a preview of Burn After Reading, and we were among the last people let into the theater. We were also essentially in the corner, too, not the center of the row, so everything on screen was considerably distorted. John Malkovich's head in particular was misshapen in all kinds of ways.

As for the film itself, it was fun but slight. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk compared it to a magic act--entertaining and diverting when it's right in front of you, but you don't carry much away with you after it's over. They set up quite a bit and seem to pay it all off (in sometimes surprising ways), and there's certainly something to be said for that. Despite the marquee names onscreen, though, don't hold your breath for many Oscar noms. There was definitely a feeling of the Coen brothers needing to unwind after the intensity of No Country for Old Men. I'm willing to go see it again, though, to see what it looks like in normal proportions and to catch a bit of business that changes everything (don't worry, I've got no spoilers). An unexpected development was edited together in very quick cuts, and at our angle we couldn't see precisely how it happened. In many ways it's the crux of the story, so I'm taking it on faith that it's not somehow a cheat, but it would be nice to see it again to know for sure.

When we got home, I did something else I haven't done in years: I listened to Alice Cooper's "Elected." Although I actually bought the single back in day (and still have it, as far as I know), I haven't particularly felt a need to hear it lately, but he was singing it on Craig Ferguson and I didn't change the channel, so there we are. As I was noticing the irony present in the line, "You and me together, young and strong," I realized that I'd misheard it all those years ago and never processed the actual lyric until tonight. I thought Alice was singing, "You and me together, yelling destroy!" I think I like my version better.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah!

I haven't been ignoring presidential election, I only with I were. I haven't seen this quantified, but the McCain effort seems like the stupidest campaign for president ever. This fabrication about Palin's turning down the "Bridge to Nowhere" is absolutely ridiculous. Think Progress is keeping track of how many times Palin, McCain, or their campaign repeats the untruth, and as of this writing, it's up to 25 (with Palin repeating it twice more on the campaign trail on Tuesday. This is after the claim has been widely refuted, even by such unlikely sources as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News (FOX NEWS!!!). In further debunking the story, Josh Marshall spelled out a timetable of the events, and it turns out that the project was canceled before Palin ran for governor, so instead of telling Congress "thanks but no thanks," she was still supporting a project that was no longer on the table!

And this doesn't even get into the whole pig controversy. You can read about it here if you don't already know what I'm talking about, but trust me, you don't want the aggravation. Once again, Josh Marshall has a useful list of responses in the press. Many people are calling the McCain camp on the ridiculousness of their claims, but the fact that they're not laughed out of the public sphere entirely means that we've got far too much patience and tolerance for nonsense that's driving the news cycle.

This may actually amount to little more than more nonsense, but I'm a bit surprised that the candidate's daughter, Meghan McCain, hasn't been called out more on her Tuesday morning Today Show appearance where she claimed: "No one knows what war is like other than my family. Period." Sure, I'm prepared to accept that she misspoke, but that statement perfectly encapsulates the McCain campaign's condescension and hubris, and--well, I guess that explains why everyone's letting it slide.

Another Milestone

When I was writing about the Red Sox sell-out streak last night, I hadn't realized that there was another momentous number hanging in the air, as well. It turns out that the 250,000th home run was hit in the Tigers/A's game by Gary Sheffield off of Gio Gonzales. Sean Forman was keeping the watch in the comments to this post. I haven't seen any indication that Sheffield was aware that the milestone number was coming up, but it sure looks like he wanted it. He hit number 249,999, too. He may not have been satisfied with that solo shot, though, because number 250,000 was, appropriately enough, a grand slam. That's the way to commemorate this kind of achievement. And Sheffield has another number to keep an eye out for, one that he no doubt has been aware of for longer than that 250,000 number. Last night's second home run was his personal 496th shot. On the Red Sox front, Jason Bay hit home run number 249,997, so he was certainly in the hunt, it wasn't quite close enough.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Breaking Records

Monday night was a historic one at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox--or rather, fans of the Boston Red Sox--set a new record for selling out home games. Fenway Park has sold out for 456 games, besting the streak of 455 games set by the Cleveland Indians between 1995 and 2001. The Red Sox celebrated by defeating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which also had the benefit of cutting the Rays' lead in the American League East to a mere half a game. This was the first game of a three-game home stand against the Rays, so it's possible that the Sox can go take the AL East lead with another victory (although they have to win both of the remaining games to end the series in first place). They play three more games against the Rays in Tampa next week, so there's plenty of opportunity for either team to claim the advantage. Even so, as of this evening, the Sox are seven games ahead of their closest rival, the Minnesota Twins, in the race for the wild card.

The attendance streak will likely continue through the rest of the season, as long as the pennant race remains as exciting as it is at the moment. It started on May 15, 2003, so it's included both of the Sox's World Championships. When it will end? That's just going to have to be a surprise.

Monday, September 08, 2008

New Developments

The big news for the weekend is the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee most of the new mortgages in the nation. It's a major admission that the subprime (and beyond) meltdown keeps going from bad to worse. Of course, I've got no more insight into economics than John McCain does, so I'll instead defer to Paul Krugman's Monday NY Times column. Krugman thinks that this was something that needed to be done, but he's not sure it will do much to stop our deflationary cycle. I'm not sure enough about the details to know who's losing money and who's protected, but I'm sure it'll become clear soon enough.

Speaking of deferring, the McCain camp found someone they deemed acceptable to interview Sarah Palin. Just this morning, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said that she would submit to interviews when she would be "treated with respect and deference." Later today, the campaign announced that Charlie Gibson would be the one. Oddly, the AP reported that the interview was confirmed with ABC on Friday. So was Davis's charade just intended to make sure that Gibson was going to be a good little reporter and not make waves in the interview? Josh Marshall doesn't address that, but he does have some observations about why the interview won't be worth the time to watch it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Words Matter (Don't They?)

I need to get into bed earlier tonight than I've been doing, so I've just got a couple of things tonight. First of all, it was nice to see Obama respond to Palin's claims about earmarks. The Obama campaign had been following a very defensible strategy of ignoring Sarah Palin, insisting that it was running against McCain at the top of the ticket rather than the candidate for veep, but as she's been getting more and more attention, it's been getting more and more difficult to pay no attention. The response he made was measured and reasonable:

She's a skillful politician. But, you know, when you've been taking all these earmarks when it's convenient, and then suddenly you're the champion anti-earmark person, that's not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can't just make stuff up.

Words do mean something. I just hope that makes a difference this year, but any difference it makes will be with the public and not with those running on the Republican ticket. In response to Obama's statement, same claim about the Bridge to Nowhere that's been well debunked by this point: "I told the Congress thanks but no thanks on that 'Bridge to Nowhere.'" She didn't even bother to phrase it any differently than she's done before.

So words matter? I guess we'll find out.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

New Variations of the Plan?

After an exciting convention like the one we just saw in Minneapolis, it's only natural to be exhausted. Who could blame somebody if they just wanted to go home, rest, and bone up on the major issues of the day. I'll bet that any number of delegates are on their way home to just take it easy for a couple of weeks. I have to admit, though, that I wasn't expecting the vice presidential nominee to be one of them.

If reports are to be believed, Sarah Palin is withdrawing from the campaign trail just after she's been introduced. This takes Jay Carney's exchange (which I linked to last night), when the idea that Palin would have any reason to talk the press was held in contempt, even further. For Palin, this really is becoming the "No Talk Express." As far as I'm aware, this is unprecedented, and it only underscores the recklessness of McCain's attempt to snatch her from obscurity to goose his ticket. Although she's proven herself a good performer with a teleprompter, are McCain's handlers beginning to wonder if she is, indeed, ready for prime time? Of course, on the positive side for the Obama campaign, the more Palin disappears, the less she can shore up McCain among the base.

Of course, the McCain campaign has been more and more at odds with the press, so it's impossible to know if this is merely playing them one more time. McCain and Palin made appearances in Wisconsin and Michigan today, and the AP reports that Palin is returning to Alaska for as quickly as a day or two.

Friday, September 05, 2008

My Friends, That's Not Public Speaking We Can Believe In

Yep, pretty boring. If he'd actually included any content in the speech, he would've lost out attention and we would've missed it. So I guess it doesn't really matter that he didn't. I only heard Cindy on the radio and didn't actually see her, but she seemed to be far more animated and engaged than John did. (But did Cindy claim she was a hockey mom, too? How many organized hockey leagues are there in Arizona? Of course, if you're loaded like the McCains, you can always buy your own.) I wouldn't be surprised to see McCain's ratings rivaling Obama's and Palin's, although I can't say whether that will work to his advantage or not. If people were looking to be convinced by the ticket, this wasn't the performance to do it.

In other news, Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland used the word "uppity" to describe the Obamas. Given the chance to back off from that word, Westmoreland reinforced it instead. So much for code words.

The No Talk Express? Now that the conventions are over, the campaigns can get going with their normal activities. But on the Republican side, will that include normal questioning by the press? One McCain campaign mouthpiece ridiculed the idea that Palin would have any reason to talk to the press. John Aravosis reports that McCain is going to avail himself of local TV news shows, presumably to avoid the tough questions. It's possible that local reporters might be more polite, but in these days of Internet connectivity, he won't be protected by smaller circulation of any gaffe he might make. Nothing is secret anymore--any stupid moves will be all over YouTube almost immediately.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Charisma Query

Here's a quick question before the last night of that Republican thingie gets started. I mentioned this in a comment thread, but I figured I'd ask it up here, too. Given the lackluster performance we've seen from John McCain lately (let's face it--whether you ever liked him or not, this isn't the John McCain of the 2000 primaries anymore), will he be able to live up to Sarah Palin's smooth job of teleprompter reading last night? Has his campaign just set the candidate up for disappointment?

Republican Convention Quick Hits

The quicker, the better.

Sarah Palin's address went off just fine, as I think most people expected. She's had some experience before audiences (if not one this big), and don't forget that once upon a time she was a TV personality (if only in a small market). Although she was introducing the family to start with, she later got much more into attack mode than I expected. I could easily be misreading, but it seemed to me that she was mostly preaching to the choir. Her pick was a sop to the base, and the speech was more of the same. I'm not sure she's making any converts. I did wonder, though, what the writers cut out for being too masculine.

Is McCain's insistence that Palin's family is off limits to the media just an attempt to keep them from seeming to be overexposed when Republican campaign uses them as props?

Obama makes another of his patented un-Democratic moves on Thursday by appearing on O'Reilly. It will draw attention from McCain's acceptance speech. Like the Saddleback appearance, I believe this strengthens Obama's support among independents because, even if he doesn't hit a home run in an unfriendly (if not necessarily outright hostile) environment, at least he appears willing to make the effort of reaching out beyond his party. Does he win anybody on the other side? On that point, I'm not so sure.

I've been thinking further about Orrin Hatch's statement last night that women are "mesmerized" by Palin. This must be the first time (at least in modern history) that a mainstream political party has tried to use mass hypnosis as an election strategy. In the future, I have no doubt that textbooks will refer to McCain's pick of Palin to be his VP as "The Kreskin Gambit."

A More Substantial Peak Behind the Curtain

This was an interesting video that's been making the rounds of pretty much everybody today. Chuck Todd was talking with Republican consultants Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy, and the conversation continued into the commercial break, at which time both party apparatchiks and the TV newsman expressed their dismay over McCain's VP pick. Although Noonan appears to suggest that McCain's candidacy is "over," she insists she meant something else.

There are a couple of odd things about this. To begin with, although it on the surface it's set up to seem that the conversation continued directly from the on-air segment, on a closer listen, it appears to have been cut. Oddly, Noonan started to talk while Todd was still throwing to commercial. Did she want to bring attention to herself? I've done very little TV, but even I know that if you don't have the floor, you keep your mouth shut until the broadcast is clear. That's a whole different issue from saying what you shouldn't into an open mike you thought had been turned off (which can happen to anyone, honestly, so I don't really fault them for that). You don't talk over the host! But whatever Noonan was starting to say seems to have been cut off, and the part that was "accidentally" recorded begins with what sounds like Mike Murphy finishing a point. Is there some missing content? Would that change the context of what we actually can hear?

It's no secret why this material would have resonance among Eastern Blogsylvania: It presents connected Republicans who are as nonplussed by McCain's decision as the rest of us are. Even if Noonan will not stand behind the position that the Republican ticket is over, she does explain why the Palin pick won't do it any favors. A voice of reason--even from her--is always welcome.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Peak Behind the Curtain

As I was watching Charlie Rose just now in a convention wrap up, Orrin Hatch gave me some insight into the Republican worldview--and took it even further out of reach of my understanding at the same time. He said that women are "mesmerized" over the Sarah Palin pick. I knew there was some reason McCain picked her.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Vice-Presidential Musings

Last night I'd intended to write a mocking post about Sarah Palin's particularly bad day yesterday, but I ran out of time before I had to go to bed. I was then assuming that I'd write pretty much the same thing fairly early in the day today, but after I returned to work, I heard from some Obama supporters who are truly concerned about how the Palin pick might affect the race. That truly took me by surprise.

Maybe I simply haven't wrapped my head around the pick, but I'm having trouble seeing it as anything but absurdist. Can you truly look at the McCain campaign graphic below and take it at all seriously? If so, you're one up on me. Palin was a cynical, ridiculous pick, and it can only be appreciated by cynical, ridiculous people. Yes, I mean the religious far right. And yes, they're thrilled. But so what? McCain is in big trouble if he's got to throw away his credibility as a candidate to keep the Republican base happy. Are there really any middle-of-the-road independents who will respect him for his choice? Even more far-fetched, are there really any disaffected Hillary supporters who'll flock to this Republican ticket?

One of the real strengths of Republicans is their ability to accept the unbelievable with a straight face. And they're doing that here. But those of us who live in the reality-based community can't take them at face value. Choosing Palin as his running mate is the stupid, reckless decision that it seems to be. We can't allow the Republicans to intimidate us into thinking otherwise.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Gustav Passes On

The good news is that Gustav lost some power before coming ashore, so it wasn't the monster storm everyone feared. It also made landfall southwest of New Orleans, so the city did not receive the brunt of the storm that did exist. There are signs that parts of New Orleans seem to be on their way back to normal, and some power has been restored. Even so, though, it's looking like the Powers That Be would like to keep those who evacuated away until at least Wednesday. That may be because of what happened with Katrina, when much of the flooding didn't completely kick in until after the storm had passed (check out this National Geographic timeline).

The bad news (well, for those who aren't in Louisiana) is that the Republicans can no longer use Hurricane (now Tropical Storm) Gustav as a distraction from their convention.

It's Happening Again

Earlier today (and by today, I mean Sunday--yesterday according to the time stamp below--I haven't gone to bed yet, so psychologically it's not Monday for me yet) when I hoped that I'd get this post up much sooner than it's actually going to happen, I was thinking of clever lines to use in discussing Hurricane Gustav and the Republican party and its convention. But as I write this, the leading edge of the storm is being felt in Louisiana, and it just seems disrespectful to put any kind of political spin on it. Our thoughts and best wishes go to the people who have fled New Orleans and those 10,000 or so people left in the city. One good place to keep track of developments is the New Orleans Times-Picayune Web site, which has essentially turned itself over to hurricane news. In addition, they've set up a blog of sorts on the hurricane. We'll certainly be paying attention.

On the good side, the latest forecasts suggest that Gustav won't gain as much strength as was expected and will likely make landfall as a Category 3 storm. And it's not targeting New Orleans directly, so the city won't get the entire brunt. Although I don't expect to be strong on updates, I'll add new information as I can.

Good luck, folks.