Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beware the rally

"CALM RETURNS AFTER SELL-OFF," declares Drudge, as the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq rally in early trading.

But beware this rally -- or rather, beware the complacency it could inspire. It would be deeply irresponsible for opponents of the bailout to seize on these numbers as proof that the consequences of inaction weren't actually that bad, after all. I'm no market expert, but this reminds me of premature "it could have been worse" crowing from the anti-alarmist crowd when hurricanes hit land and initially seem to fall short of worst-case scenarios. It seems obvious to me that traders are reacting to the perception that yesterday's sell-off was a premature overreaction because a bailout is still going to happen, one way or another. That's certainly the signal that leaders in Washington are trying to send, and the markets are clearly getting it.

There's a weird inverse relationship here between the stock market and the chances of the bailout's passage. The psychology of it all is very odd. Congress and the public look to the stock market for insight into what investors are thinking. But really, they're looking into a (potentially very distorted) mirror, because what investors are primarily thinking about right now is: what will Congress and the public do? The markets are responding to traders' perceptions and predictions of what will occur in Congress, but those reactions themselves also have the potential to shape events, quite possibly in the opposite direction of what the traders want. If investors get too pessimistic, the result they want (i.e., passage of the bailout) becomes more likely. If they get too optimistic, the result they want becomes less likely. Weird.

In any case, if this temporary recovery in the stock market convinces legislators and their constituents that the bailout is unnecessary, then I imagine there will be a rapid reversal in the recovery that'll make yesterday's sell-off look like a walk in the park. Maybe that's okay. Maybe it's better to rip the band-aid off quickly. Maybe the consequences of this particular proposed action are worse than the consequences of inaction. If so, bailout opponents should say that. They shouldn't hide behind deceptive market numbers to mask the real-world consequences of what they are proposing. If you think rejecting the bailout is worth a 3,000-point drop (or whatever) in the Dow, a massive reduction in the value of everyone's 401(k) plans, and a tremendously challenging period for the credit markets and thus the broader economy, then by all means, make that case. I'm open to the argument. All I ask for, from the bailout's opponents, is honesty -- with yourself and with your constituents (or, in the case of right-wing radio hosts and bloggers, your listeners and readers) -- about the consequences.

But hey, what do I know? Again, I'm not a market expert. I'm just some guy with a blog -- and a new job, a family to support, a whole bunch of student loan debt to pay off, and a foreseeable future need for a mortgage and a car loan, who is imminently moving to a place with a higher cost of living, and who is, for all of the above-stated reasons, feeling just a wee bit nervous at the moment. Ahem.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A predictive hunch

As things are evolving, I am increasingly beginning to suspect that, by the time Election Day dawns, we'll find ourselves in a 1996-like situation, pretty much knowing in advance that the Republican candidate is doomed, and the Democrat is going to cruise to victory. (I remember watching a morning show on Election Day '96, with some pundit -- probably Tim Russert -- being asked, "Does Dole have any chance?," and sort of grimacing and responding with a sigh: "It's tough." In other words, no.)

Heck, maybe Obama will even clinch an electoral majority when the Mountain Time Zone states' polls close. That would certainly be a change from 2000 and 2004. Five Thirty Eight says there's a 25% chance of an Obama "landslide" (375 electoral votes or more). I'm not predicting that. But I am feeling more and more comfortable about the outcome. McCain's campaign seems to be imploding; Obama's campaign seems very much on an even keel, having recovered from a rough patch, and the dynamics -- political, economic, media -- are overwhelmingly in his favor. Barring a self-inflicted Obama implosion, how does McCain turn this thing around?

Of course, I probably just jinxed it, and McCain will win a squeaker. :) But I'm just saying this is what my instinct tells me right now, after being either cautious or pessimistic for quite a while.

Country first?

Barack Obama's reaction to the bill's failure: "One of the messages I have to Congress is, get this done, Democrats. Republicans, step up to the plate. ... Democrats and Republicans in Washington have a responsibility to make sure an emergency rescue package is put forward that can at least stop the immediate problems that we have."

John McCain's reaction to the bill's failure: "From the minute John McCain suspended his campaign and arrived in Washington to address this crisis, he was attacked by the Democratic leadership: Senators Obama and Reid, Speaker Pelosi and others. Their partisan attacks were an effort to gain political advantage during a national economic crisis. By doing so, they put at risk the homes, livelihoods and savings of millions of American families. ... Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain, and refused to even say if he supported the final bill. ... This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country."

What can one say? You'll notice Obama didn't say "this bill failed because John McCain...put politics before country." Instead, he urged further constructive action, by both parties. So, who is being "partisan" here, again? And who is being a "leader"? I think the American people can figure that one out for themselves.

John McCain: self-aggrandizer, hypocrite, and grandstanding buffoon. A shadow of his former self. How sad.

UPDATE: In comments, I'm taking some heat for the above paragraph being over-the-top. Point conceded. I think McCain is demonstrating some of his less savory tendencies here, but it's inaccurate and unfair to judge him quite so harshly across the board. I think McCain sometimes behaves in a self-aggrandizing, hypocritical, and/or granstanding buffoonish fashion, and I think he's doing so here, but I don't think those adjectives summarize his character as a whole, any more than "self-important, silver-tongued windbag" summarizes the whole of Barack Obama, even though there is sometimes some truth to each of those statements. :) So anyway, I've stricken it out.

I also want to clarify something. I am not suggesting that Democrats in general, or Obama in particular, have not used the financial crisis for political purposes. Of course they have. So has McCain. And that's precisely the point. McCain is putting on this absurd holier-than-thou act while playing precisely the same political games the Dems are playing. Indeed, he is being extremely, undeniably political in the very act of pretending not to be political. He is also playing the victim of something he's not actually the victim of, and simultaneously using this phony victimhood as a bludgeon to go after the other guy. This sort of weird insta-hypocrisy really grates on my nerves and offends my sensibilities.

If you're going to be political, be political. Everybody's political! But don't sit there and say, "Look at me! I am so bipartisan and apolitical! I am much less political than my scumbag opponent! Unlike him, I put my country first, because country is more important than politics! My opponent sucks!" Such statements are inherently, obviously political. The very act of saying such things contradicts the words themselves.

Somebody really needs to remind McCain of the mantra "show, don't tell." Throughout this crisis, he's been repeatedly telling us what a wonderful leader he is, telling us that he intends to put politics aside, grandstanding about how he puts "country first" -- rather than simply letting his actions speak for themselves. He behaved the same way during Hurricane Gustav: postponing the convention and organizing relief efforts, then sending out surrogates to brag about what a wonderful and patriotic action this was, and to attack Obama for being as bipartisan and non-political as McCain. This sort of juvenile nonsense totally undermines and taints that action that you're trying to get credit for.

If you want people to think you're a leader, act like a leader. (This is what Obama is doing right now -- for political gain, of course! But he's doing it the right way.) If you want people to think you're bipartisan, act bipartisan. If you want people to give you credit for putting country ahead of politics, do it. Don't tell people you have these character traits. Show them. And dial down the self-aggrandizement. It's unbecoming.

Reaction

An e-mail from a bank president in a Western state, published at National Review's The Corner:
The failure of the House to pass the bill – combined with the resulting bickering – will likely lead to a substantial market sell-off. We’re seeing part of that occur right now, but we may well see much worse over the coming days as the inevitable sell-off hits overseas markets, followed up by another collapse at home as forced selling really kicks in and many institutional investors are required to liquidate their leveraged positions. While it would be nice if all this was confined to a few select Wall Street bad apples, the reality is ordinary people will be hurt very badly as their investments deteriorate and the economic environment turns even more negative. Unemployment will likely spike sharply from here, and the lack of available credit will impair many small businesses that rely on credit lines to finance their operations.

How any of this could possibly be construed as a positive for either McCain or the Republican Party is beyond me (and I say this as a life-long Republican). In fact, it would seem much more likely to me that the House Republicans just handed the election to Obama on a silver platter. Blaming the vote on Pelosi’s antagonistic remarks seems especially dumb, and I expect to see Barney Frank-type comments all over the MSM tonight and throughout the week.

No doubt this was a lousy bill – everyone agrees on that. But the consequences of not passing it, or something like it, are going to be far reaching. Clinging to the “small government” mantra as things collapse around us will probably not resonate well with most voters in November.
Indeed.

Here's more reaction, from Commentary's John Podhoretz:
Well, now we shall see? Perhaps the House Republicans whose objections to the bailout bill gave sufficient cover to House Democrats terrified of their constituent calls to join them in torpedoing the legislation will be proved right somehow, and legislation can be substantively improved or the market can somehow stabilize on its own in the intervening days before a new bill can be designed. Perhaps the stock markets around the world will not crash. Perhaps the credit markets will not instantly calcify. Perhaps the fact that Republicans broke against the bill 2-to-1 will not lead to a general consensus that the failure of the bailout legislation was entirely due to Republicans, since 94 Democrats voted against it as well. Perhaps people will accept the Republican complaint that Nancy Pelosi gave a really nasty speech just before the vote tally and made ten Republicans so angry they decided to vote “nay.”

Perhaps.

But probably not.
It is pretty unbelievable that House Republicans are making the argument that Pelosi's speech killed the bill. Sure, it may have been a poor example of leadership, but, um, personally, if I had let my vote on an issue of such grave national importance be swayed by something as petty as pique over an opponent's political speech, I wouldn't be bragging about it.

Anyway, there's more conservative contempt for the House GOP, from Jim Manzi at The Corner:
Well, apparently the House Republicans have decided to run a neat little experiment to test the actual odds of the current financial crisis turning into another Depression in the absence of a bailout plan. What alternative do they propose that could realistically be enacted? How long do they think this would take, and what risks would we run during the period of uncertainty, even if it were successful?

I have no visibility into the current machinations on Capitol Hill, but I'm with Noah Millman: as far as I can see, if I were a senior Democrat right now, I'd introduce a Democratic alternative tomorrow and pass it on a party line vote.

I sure hope House Republicans are holding some cards they haven't yet revealed.
According to Larry Kudlow, that precise option is under consideration: "the Democrats will come back with a new bill that includes all the left-wing stuff that was scrubbed from the bill that was defeated today in the House. ... Of course, this scenario will lose more Republican votes. But insiders tell me President Bush will take Secretary Paulson’s advice and sign that kind of legislation." He adds:
I’m not forecasting, because I don’t know the next bill’s content. And while McCain’s polls are heading south, he could still win. But a three-house Dem sweep to implement some off the very onerous provisions being talked about could set up the end of the U.S. financial system as we know it.

I’m gonna wait and see. Obviously, the financial markets are in total collapse today. And the economic outlook is suffering.

Tough day. One of the worst I can remember.

Whoa

The Dow is crashing.

UPDATE: In comments, Youngblai writes, "Dude, it's 500 points. I think they call that a 'correction,' not a crash."

Okay, let me rephrase. The Dow is declining very steeply.

Why? Because: "With the vote at 226 to 207 against, Pelosi and her leadership team are huddled over a sheet of paper, presumably the whip count -- with the goal of flipping the needed 10 votes."

UPDATE 2: The bill failed, according to CNN. "The measure needs 218 votes for passage. Democrats voted 141 to 94 in favor of the plan, while Republicans voted 65 to 133 against. That left the measure with 206 votes for and 227 against."

UPDATE 3: The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are falling even more sharply than the Dow.

UPDATE 4: (NUMBERS CORRECTED) The Dow finishes down roughly 777.68 points (6.98%), the Nasdaq finishes down 199.61 (9.14%), and the S&P 500 finishes down 106.59 (8.79%). Also, gold prices rose.

Ummm... well... it could have been worse, I guess?? I mean, it wasn't quite Black Monday, right?

UPDATE 5: In terms of points (though not percentages), it's the worst single-day drop ever.

It's even worse for the S&P 500, whose percentage drop is the worst since Black Monday in 1987, and the 11th-worst ever. (All the other days in the Top 10 were in the 20s, 30s and 40s.)

Congresscritters and market jitters

As the House debates the bailout package (Politico has a liveblog here), and as Michelle Malkin's head asplodes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 300 points or so in early trading.

It's going to be an interesting week.

As an aside, one of the most remarkable aspects of this whole debate is the utter political malpractice committed by the Bush Administration, and other proponents of this bill, in allowing it to be framed as a "Wall Street bailout." They needed to fight back aggressively against that terminology, as it was inevitable that large portions of the public, ever susceptible to populist demagoguery, would be bitterly opposed to something with a loaded name like that. (Note: I'm not saying I think the bill is good, necessarily. I'm just saying that, even if it were the greatest bill on the planet, based on the soundest financial policy imaginable, and totally necessary, nevertheless many, many people would still be bitterly opposed, because anything that "gives taxpayer money to rich bankers and traders" is easily demagogued -- especially when it's called a "bailout bill," for heaven's sake.)

Despite this obvious reality, supporters of the bill not only failed to consistently argue against the term "bailout" -- they actually used it themselves at first! It's as if the proponents of "comprehensive immigration reform" had come right out and called their proposal an "amnesty bill." So politically stupid!

Now we're hearing terms like "economic rescue package," which is obviously much better politically -- but it's too late. The die is cast: the media is still calling it a "bailout," because that's what everyone called it at first. It's amazing how politically tonedeaf the supposed "evil geniuses" in the Bush White House have repeatedly proved themselves to be with some of this stuff.

UPDATE: In comments, Andrew makes a good point: "the problem is this all came up via Fed and Treasury channels, bypassing the White House political communication managers (i.e. Karl Rove, his staff, and their successors). There's almost no way Bush could've gotten in front of this quickly enough to alter the perceptions and nomenclature."

They still could have tried more aggressively, and sooner, to change the perceptions, but it may have been a losing battle. So perhaps I'm being too harsh on the administration's political apparatus in this instance.

UPDATE 2: Ron Bonjean, former press spokesman for Lott, Hastert and Kyl, writes:
How did anyone think that using a number close to one trillion dollars and use the words “bailout” would be effective marketing? ...

[T]he communications strategy on such a radical transformation of national economic policy must be clearly defined from the start. When you fail to communicate these policies effectively, you allow the other side to demagogue the issue. ...

The White House focused on only one audience, Wall Street, and used the $700 billion as the message itself in order to impress industry executives and large investors to keep the stock market steady. It was successful in keeping panic at a minimum while Washington Mutual became the largest bank failure in American history.

In the process of broadcasting this number to New York, the administration ignored the other audiences that were crucial to ensure passage of the plan. They forgot that the American people and Congress were watching, too. The “$700 billion bailout package” became the piñata and centralized focus by Congress and the media. NBC “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno quipped last week, “A failed President and a failed Congress invest 700 billion of your money into failed businesses. Believe me, this can’t fail!” House Republicans quickly revolted and bashed the Paulson plan in order to rebuild their fiscal responsibility brand.

There wasn’t a comprehensive communications initiative designed to reach out to every audience that would ensure passage by Congress. The president should have addressed the nation first to set the stage for tackling the problem. It would have been extremely effective to describe how the crisis on Wall Street would impact every American at all income levels. ... [Instead,] only after the $700 billion bailout package was introduced and thrashed in the public relations arena, the president reluctantly decided to address the country last Wednesday with even weaker credibility.
UPDATE 3: Five Thirty Eight takes a skeptical look at the conventional wisdom that bailout is "hugely unpopular," noting that poll results vary drastically depending on how the question is worded. For instance: when asked, "Do you favor or oppose the economic rescue plan now being negotiated by Congress and the Bush Administration?," 50 percent said no, and just 24 percent said yes. But when asked, "As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?," 57 percent said it's the right thing to do!

The post concludes:
[T]he proposal has been referred to colloquially as the "bailout" or very commonly the "Wall Street bailout" (the latter term brings up more than 7,000 hits in Google News). Where is Frank Luntz when you need him? If the proposal had instead been framed as, say, an "economic recovery" plan, it would probably be far less politically toxic.

There is a very weird sort of prisoner's dilemna here. Namely, anyone who tries to frame the plan -- although framing the plan properly would probably make it more popular -- risks taking ownership of the plan, a plan which even if framed properly, probably remains unpopular enough to constitute a political liability. So no parties have an incentive to "spin" the plan as a positive, and as such, it continues to become more unpopular as the default narrative ("Wall Street bailout") is left unchallenged. The bailout, whether it ultimately passes or not, will likely be studied by game theorists for years to come, as there are conflicting and somewhat self-contradictory incentives (everyone wants the package to pass but nobody wants to vote for it) between no fewer than a half-dozen different parties.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

BYU is a national championship contender

With #1 USC, #3 Georgia and #4 Florida all losing over the weekend -- not to mention #9 Wisconsin, #16 Wake Forest, #20 Clemson, #22 Illinois, #23 East Carolina and #24 TCU -- a shakeup in the college football polls was obviously inevitable, and it has indeed happened.

Oklahoma is the new #1, as expected. Strangely, the Sooners are a near-unanimous #1 in the coaches' poll (57 out of 61 votes), but didn't even get two-thirds of the AP first-place votes (43 out of 65). The difference is the pollsters' opinion of Alabama, which is ranked #4 with just two first-place votes in the coaches' poll, but is ranked #2 with 21 first-place votes in the AP poll! I dunno why the journalists are so much more enthusiastic about the Tide than the coaches are, but there it is. Anyway, the Top 5 goes Oklahoma-Alabama-LSU-Missouri-Texas in the AP poll, and Oklahoma-LSU-Missouri-Alabama-Texas in the coaches' poll.

Penn State is #6 in both polls, making the Nittany Lions the nation's highest-ranked non-SEC, non-Big 12 team. Who's second in that category? BYU! The Mormons Cougars of the mighty, mighty Mountain West are #8 in the AP poll, #7 in the coaches' poll. Rival Utah is #15 in both polls, and Boise State and Fresno State of the WAC are #17/18 and #22/21, respectively. All hail the mid-majors!

BYU, it should be noted, is officially more than just a contender for a BCS at-large berth. The Cougars need to be taken seriously as a national championship contender. Of the six teams ranked ahead of them in the coaches' poll (which is, of course, one-third of the BCS formula), a maximum of three -- one SEC team, one Big 12 team, and Penn State -- can potentially stay undefeated. So, for all practical purposes, the Cougars are #4 right now in the pecking order. That means, if the Lions lose at some point, and if either the SEC or the Big 12 (or both) cannibalize themselves sufficiently to produce a one-loss champion (which seems quite likely), BYU must be seen as having the inside track to a #1 or #2 poll ranking at season's end. And given the Mountain West's overall strength, I'd imagine the computers probably wouldn't overturn the polls in this instance. All things considered, I would argue that BYU may have the clearest path to the BCS title game of any team in the country right now. It's gotta be either them or Penn State, right? (Nobody in the SEC or Big 12 has a remotely "clear path.")

[AFTERTHOUGHT: On the other hand: what if Florida or Georgia or Auburn wins out? Does a one-loss SEC champ get in over BYU? Er, yeah, maybe they do. Particularly if the loss was in September. Okay, so I take back the "clearest path" thing. But, at any rate, BYU is very much in the mix. And, let me say this now, notwithstanding my bias: if a one-loss USC gets in over an undefeated Mountain West champ, after the way the Pac-10 has performed against the MWC -- 0-5, and counting! -- that would almost certainly be a travesty. I say "almost certainly" because I'd have to see how the season plays out before making a final judgment. But I certainly think BYU and Utah should be considered clearly ahead of USC in the pecking order at this point. The Mountain West is every bit as much a "major conference" as the Pac-10, Big Ten, Big East and ACC this year, and should be treated as such.]

Anyway... USC falls to #9 in both polls, and is the highest-ranked one-loss team. That probably makes sense right now, as 'SC has a better quality win (over Ohio State) than one-loss SEC squads Georgia, Florida or Auburn. But I strongly suspect the Trojans, if they win out, would not ultimately finish ahead of either the Bulldogs, Gators or Tigers, if one of those teams were to win out, nor of any other one-loss SEC or Big 12 champion, for that matter.

Oh... and did I mention UConn is ranked? Yep, the undefeated Huskies are #24 in the AP poll, #23 in the coaches' poll. They're at North Carolina on Saturday.

P.S. The first Harris Poll -- the other poll in the BCS formula, along with the coaches' poll -- is also out. It goes #1 Oklahoma, #2 LSU, #3 Alabama, #4 Missouri, #5 Texas, #6 Penn State, #7 USC, #8 Texas Tech, #9 BYU, #10 Georgia.

P.P.S. I've added BYU @ Utah, on November 22, to my "upcoming events" sidebar. If both teams win out, that is going to be an epic game.

UPDATE: Rich Tellshow has posted estimated, unofficial BCS standings, based on the polls and the available computer rankings. He's got Oklahoma #1 and Alabama #2 -- the computers agree with the journalists, evidently -- with Texas, Missouri, and LSU rounding out the Top 5. BYU is #8; USC is #9. Utah is #12. Boise State is #15.

Bailout breakthrough; "amazing catastrophe" looming?

CNN Breaking News: "Congressional lawmakers say a 'breakthrough' has been reached on a proposed economic bailout deal."

Politico has more.

UPDATE: And a good thing, too:
The financial system could face a meltdown of 1929 proportions unless US politicians succeed in their efforts for a $700bn rescue scheme, experts added. ...

One Republican said that the message from government officials is that “the economy is dropping into the john.” He added: “We could see falls of 3,000 or 4,000 points on the Dow [the New York market that currently trades at around 11,000]. That could happen in just a couple of days."

“What’s being put around behind the scenes is that we’re looking at 1930s stuff. We’re looking at catastrophe, huge, amazing catastrophe. Everybody is extraordinarily scared. It’s going to be really, really nasty.” ...

Rebel Republicans - who see Paulson’s proposals as socialism by the back door - were warned they will be responsible for causing an “amazing catastrophe” if they continue to oppose the plans, which would see taxpayers buy up the bad debts of failing banks. Instead they want an insurance scheme for banks, which would spread the cost to private enterprise.
UPDATE 2: And/but:
I've received phone calls in the last hour from two economists I respect, one of them Larry Lindsey, the other in a position where he'd prefer not to be named. Both have government experience, neither is alarmist by nature, and they say this:

The huge European bank Fortis is apparently about to fail. The ripple effect on the American banking system could be disastrous, with bank runs, liquidity crises, and stock sell offs possible Monday. Wachovia may well fail next week. As Larry put it, this really will be 1933 soon if we don't move rapidly to stabilize the banking system.

And here's the bad news: the current bailout bill, whatever its merits and likelihood of passage, does nothing to address this.

Congress should pass by Monday simple legislation doing two things:

1. Giving the FDIC authority to provide unlimited deposit insurance through the FDIC for transaction accounts in banks.

2. Authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to provide unlimited protection of principal in money market funds through the Treasury's exchange stabilization fund.

Maybe my acquaintances (and I) are too worried; maybe this legislation wouldn't quite be the right solution. But I wanted to sound what may be, unfortunately, a needed alarm.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Belatedly...

GOOO IRISH! BEEEAT BOILERS!

Also: Let's go, Buffalo!

Oh, and how 'bout them Rebels? Barely 12 hours after hosting the presidential debate, Ole Miss beats Florida!

iPhone vs. Google Phone



Heh. (Hat tip: Alasdair.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate liveblog!

My debate liveblog and livechat is underway. You can read the liveblog below -- or you can view both the liveblog and the livechat here.



Again, if you want to talk back, go here.

P.S. Originally, I said the liveblog/livechat page "will also contain embedded live video of the debate -- and, possibly, a live webcast of me watching it." But I've had technical problems with those, so I've disabled them, at least for now.

It's on!

CNN Breaking News: "Sen. John McCain will participate in tonight's presidential debate."

Sargent: "The campaign suspension that never actually happened is now over."

I will be live-blogging, and there will be a live-chat, too. Come by around 8:30 PM EDT and we'll get the party started!



P.S. Other liveblog titles considered:

"The P.O.W. vs. the Community Organizer, Round 1"
"McCain-Obama Celebrity Deathmatch, Part 1"
"But Not To Mississippoli: McCain-Obama I"

(That last reference is explained here, for the non-Lehrer-initiated.)

UPDATE: LOL! "Is there an upside to McCain's failed gambit? The only one I can think of is that it has seriously lowered expectations for how he'll perform tonight. After McCain's less than stellar last couple of days, pundits will shower him with praise if he manages to stay on the stage for the full 90 minutes instead of dashing off in the middle of the debate with the excuse that he has to go rescue a cat from a tree."

[Originally posted at 11:29 AM EDT; bumped to top. -ed.]

Blame the Dems?

Drudge is linking this viral video (currently at 15,061 views, about to go much higher), which rather effectively makes the case that Democratic policies are to blame for the financial crisis:



I don't feel knowledgeable enough about the situation to pass judgment one way or the other, but I wanted to offer this up for comment and discussion.

High stakes in D.C., NYC

President Bush will make a statement on the financial bailout at 9:35 AM EDT -- five minutes after the markets open.

Watch live here.

UPDATE: WTF? That was it? Man, all I can say is, whoever wins in November, I'm not going to miss Bush's "leadership."

UPDATE 2: So far, the Dow's dive isn't as bad as I thought it might be. It dropped something like 140 points almost immediately after the opening bell, and now it's just sort of wiggling up and down, for the moment at least.

Meanwhile, isn't it remarkable that the feds seized WaMu yesterday -- the biggest bank failure in U.S. history, by far -- and the public reaction seems to be a collective yawn? It just goes to show how crazy things have gotten.

UPDATE 3: Ambinder asks: "where will Congress get $200b to keep the FDIC afloat if more banks fail?"

WTF was that??

Oregon State 27, USC 21, final.

ARGH.

Recall: two years ago, when the Trojans lost in Corvallis, we thought it signaled the death knell of any national championship hopes. That turned out to be wrong; the one-loss Trojans would have faced undefeated Ohio State for the BCS title if only they'd just beaten fUCLA in the last game of the season. So beware of the assumption that this loss definitively ends the Trojans' hopes. It's very early in the season. Nothing is ended yet. And, all other things being equal, it's better to lose in September than November.

Problem is, all other things are not equal. First of all, obviously, major-conference unbeatens -- all 20 of 'em -- get first dibs. And, IMHO, an undefeated Mountain West champ would have a pretty damn good case over a one-loss Pac-10 champ, too, given how those conferences have performed against one another this year, and given how genuinely solid the MWC appears to be. Moreover, the Pac-10's down year will give a major leg up to any one-loss Big 12 or SEC champion in most scenarios. It's hard to see the Trojans getting in ahead of such a team. USC may need a totally chaotic scenario like last year's, with two-loss contenders and such, to have a realistic shot.

Of course, that's all assuming the Trojans win out, and maybe that's not such a fair assumption anymore. Do we really know how good USC is? They've trounced one team that's apparently godawful (Virginia) and another team that was apparently vastly overrated (Ohio State). And now they've lost to Oregon State. Maybe 'SC just isn't as good this year as we thought they were? Or am I overreacting?

Either way, I'm going to bed, and perhaps I can dream that USC is undefeated again. *sigh*

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The amazing incoherence of Sarah Palin

Anonymous Liberal thinks it's possible that McCain's whole "suspend the campaign" gambit really may have been an elaborate attempt to distract the media from the disastrous Sarah Palin interview on CBS, as I half-jokingly suggested last night. "I think the McCain campaign knew the Couric interview would be a disaster as soon as it was done taping and spent much of the day [Wednesday] frantically trying to think of a way to push it out of the headlines," A.L. writes. "I'm serious." Michael Crowley speculates along the same lines, and Ben Smith sorta kinda hints at it, too.

I doubt this is actually true, but it's not totally implausible, particularly given that McCain didn't actually cancel his Letterman appearance so he could fly to D.C., but rather so he could sit down with... Katie Couric. At the very least, the distraction caused by the high-stakes bailout negotiations -- and McCain's bogus campaign "suspension" -- is a very nice side benefit for McCain, because Palin's interview with Couric really, truly was startlingly, frighteningly bad. It's hard to put into words, really, but... well... just watch for yourself, her latest "greatest hits":





Her answer on Israel isn't much better, even if you 100% agree with her policy position.

What can one say? It's just unbelievable that this person is on a major-party ticket running for national office. Her problems go well beyond inarticulateness -- though she does make George W. Bush sound like a great orator by comparison. But this is incoherence. Her responses betray, by all appearances, a total inability to organize her thoughts in any meaningful way. Unreal.

Ezra Klein's take is worth reading:
The fact that Palin's responses to questions are becoming increasingly incoherent rather than rapidly more polished is interesting. ... Palin's worst answers are not on the questions she isn't expecting, but those that she's got to be prepared for. Russia and Alaska, for instance. Or [the] Dadaist trainwreck on why it's better to spend $700 billion on financial bailouts than broad-based economic help. ...

These aren't lies she's telling. It's not misdirection, or deception. It's just nonsense. It exists in a realm beyond where truth is a relevant concept, more akin to the utterances of sleeptalkers than to the prevarications of politicians. I always figured that Palin's trouble on the trail would come when she was exposed to the obscure questions of governance: Queries on drug policy and Afghani tribes and Medicare reimbursement. But instead, she's collapsing on the big questions, the issues that she should be able to dispatch with a memorized soundbite. What's going on?
See also Obsidian Wings:
Sarah Palin has been described as a quick study. But she has been surrounded by briefers for nearly three weeks, and she's still completely unable to string together an intelligent thought on the mortgage crisis. ... It would be nice if the running mate of one of the oldest candidates for President ever had some ideas about these issues. Since she's been prepping constantly, it's pretty alarming that she doesn't.

I served with quick studies. I knew quick studies. Quick studies were a friend of mine. Sarah Palin: you're no quick study.
On the other hand, Ross Douthat says, "hey, maybe it's all just effing brilliant rope-a-dope for the Biden debate." Heh.

I mentioned earlier that Palin's responses seem to "betray a total inability to organize her thoughts in any meaningful way." Actually, come to think of it, her "answers" -- such as they are -- do not reflect thought at all. She is not speaking so much as reciting. (And poorly.) She is doing nothing more than trying (and failing) to regurgitate things that she has been trained to say by McCain's handlers. What other explanation can there be? Conservatives, Republicans, Palin defenders: watch the clips, be honest with yourself, and tell me I'm wrong. ... No, no, I said be honest with yourself. Try again.

Of course, all politicians speak, to some degree, in platitudes and generalities and talking points. All politicians dodge some questions. But Palin does nothing else. She shows no ability whatsoever to think on her feet. She simply tries to recite what she's been told to say, and often gets hopelessly lost in the process. This is not a legitimate candidate for national office -- this is a talking head, and really, really bad one at that.

She should be Eagleton'd. She won't be, but she should.

I really cannot understand how anyone, of any ideology or party, can watch these clips and then defend Palin's readiness for office. I can understand Republican partisans and conservative ideologues defending her in a relative sense -- i.e., "yeah, she's bad, but Obama and Biden are worse" -- but I truly cannot understand, at this point, defending her in an absolute sense, or making a positive argument for her candidacy. How can any thinking person believe this woman is ready to become President of the United States at a moment's notice? Please, someone explain it to me! It makes no sense!

Some conservatives, at least, are beginning to put down the kool-aid. Beliefnet's Rod Dreher, until recently a Palin enthusiast, writes:
Couric's questions are straightforward and responsible. Palin is mediocre, again, regurgitating talking points mechanically, not thinking. Palin's just babbling. She makes George W. Bush sound like Cicero. ...

I remember the morning I woke up in my college dorm room and went in to take my final exam in my Formal Logic class. I knew I was unready. Massively unready. And now I was going to be put to the ultimate test. I sat down in Dr. Sarkar's class and resolved to wing it. Of course I failed the exam and failed the class, because I had no idea what I was talking about. I wasn't a bad kid, or even a stupid kid. I was just badly unprepared, and in way over my head. Seeing the Palin interview on CBS, I thought of myself in Dr. Sarkar's exam. But see, I was a college undergraduate who had the chance to take the class again, which I did, and passed (barely). I wasn't running for vice president of the United States. ...

I am well and truly embarrassed for her. I think she's a good woman who might well be a great governor of Alaska. But good grief, just watch this train wreck[.]
Dreher is right. Watching Palin in these clips is beyond painful. I'm embarrassed for her, too, and afraid for my country -- or should that be, afraid of my country, in the sense that I'm afraid my country's voters may yet elect this person? Either way, I get no schadenfreude from watching these clips. On the contrary, I wish, for everyone's sake, that Palin were surprising me by demonstrating that she is fit to lead. After all, there's at least a 40% chance she's going to be the next Vice President of the United States come January. Which means there's -- what -- maybe a 10% chance she'll become President sometime in the next four years? Heaven help us.

I have some more thoughts on this issue, specifically on concept of the presidential election as a lengthy "job interview," and how the respective candidates' "applications" differ. But I gotta go to bed now, so I'll perhaps write another post about that stuff later.

P.S. And don't get me started on equating Palin's incoherence to Biden's "gaffes." First of all, the relative "newbies" in this race -- Obama and Palin -- are necessarily, and properly, held to much higher standards in their introductions to the public than the known quantities, McCain and Biden. Obama passed his test, in my view, though others are of course free to disagree. Palin has failed her initial test, miserably, and anyone who disagrees with that is quite simply deluding themselves.

Secondly, and more importantly, foot-in-mouth disease of Biden's sort is annoying, but ultimately not disqualifying, sort of like Dubya's rhetorical foibles. Palin's problem goes waaay beyond that. Again: she is not merely inarticulate, but incoherent -- and, to the extent she's saying anything decipherable at all, her words reflect no actual thought or intellectual engagement in what she's talking about. Pardon my French, but her "answers" very strongly suggest that, on many if not most of the big issues of our time, she has no fucking clue what she's talking about.

If John McCain truly believes in "putting country first," he will drop Sarah Palin from the ticket and choose a new runningmate. It's as simple as that.

Obama vs. Barr?

I was waiting for this to happen: the Green and Libertarian nominees, Cynthia McKinney and Bob Barr, say they want to take John McCain's place at tomorrow night's debate. Independent candidate Ralph Nader has done the same.

In fact, Nader and Barr are apparently coordinating their efforts! According to the WSJ, a "spokesman wrote on behalf of Nader and Barr" that "there are two other candidates that cover a wide girth of real estate across the political spectrum who have fresh approaches on how to deal with the economic challenges facing our country."

Michael Schaffer says Obama should "not only to invite Barr to fill the empty podium, but should ... spend as much of the debate as possible teeing up his mustachioed interlocutor to deliver great zingers. By weekend, Barr could be at 20 percent in the polls and Obama could be on his way to a decisive win." Heh.

Here we go again?

It's looking like déjà vu for USC, which trails in Corvallis, 14-0, late in the first half, and is apparently about to fall behind 21-0. Recall: two years ago, the Trojans sleepwalked through the first two-and-a-half quarters and fell behind Oregon State by 33-10, only to storm back with 21 unanswered points, coming within a failed two-point conversion of sending the game to overtime -- but ultimately losing, 33-31, derailing what many assumed would be an easy romp through the Pac-10. (Sound familiar?)

This is not good.

UPDATE: 21-0. It should have been no worse than 17-0, but a ridiculous, undisciplined, quasi-retaliatory but totally unforgivable cheap shot by #99, Averell Spicer, cost the Trojans at least four points -- and a ton of momentum -- by giving the Beavers a free first down, via personal foul, instead of 4th down with 11 seconds left. The Beavers scored a touchdown on the next play.

Get that kid off the damn field, Coach Carroll. He deserves to be benched for at least the rest of the game. He may have just cost us a chance to come back and win -- and thus stay alive for the national championship.

Anyway... time for some Pete Carroll Second Half MagicTM! (But can he do it with the new clock rules?)

UPDATE 2: 21-14, end of third quarter. Now we're talkin'. Fight on! Beat the Beavers!

UPDATE 3: Down to the wire. Still 21-14, USC's ball, deep in their own territory, with 3 minutes left.

UPDATE 4: Intercepted.

Game over.

ARGH.

I freakin' hate Corvallis.

UPDATE 5: Touchdown Oregon State. 27-14 with 2:39 left.

Not only is USC going to lose -- this may be their first loss by a multiple-possession margin, and their first loss in a game that didn't come down to the final possession, since 2002.

UPDATE 6: Well, it looks like USC might at least avoid the multiple-possession thing. They've quickly driven to the Beavers 14 with 1:35 left.

UPDATE 7: Touchdown! So it's 27-21 with 1:19 left. But they need to recover the onside kick to have any chance. They have only one timeout left.

UPDATE 8: Beavers recover the onside kick. No hop. Oregon State wins.

No deal?



My earlier post may have been premature. It sounds like the big White House meeting has, as some had feared, made things worse:
ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Reports: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson fears the Wall Street bailout deal is falling apart after a chaotic White House meeting, sources say.

Paulson walked into the room where Democrats were caucusing after today's meeting at the White House and pleaded with them, "Please don't blow this up."

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chair of the House Financial Services Committee was livid saying, "Don't say that to us after all we've been through!"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "We're not the ones trying to blow this up; it's the House Republicans.&quo

"I know, I know," Paulson replied.

Democrats believe that House Republicans are torpedoing the framework deal reached in the bipartisan agreement of principles released by the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.
UPDATE: More:
A high-profile White House meeting on Treasury’s $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan ended Thursday on a sour, contentious note, with no joint endorsement by the two presidential candidates, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.

Democrats complained of being “blindsided” by a new conservative alternative to the plan first put forward by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. And the outcome casts doubt on the ability of Congress to move quickly on the matter, even after leaders of House and Senate banking committees reached a bipartisan agreement Thursday on the framework for legislation authorizing the massive government intervention.

It was McCain who urged President Bush to call the White House meeting attended by House and Senate leaders as well as Obama, his Democratic rival. But the candidates left without commenting to reporters outside, and the whole sequence of events confirmed Treasury’s fears about inserting presidential politics into what were already difficult negotiations.

Wall Street had posted a gain of 197 points earlier in the day, buoyed by hopes of an agreement. The markets had closed by the end of the White House meeting, but Friday could bring turmoil, and there will be immense pressure now by Treasury to get back on track before Monday. ...

By the end of the day, Paulson appeared bruised on two fronts. He was not part of the Capitol discussions in the morning, which stretched to nearly three hours and will now require extensive follow up with Treasury. At the same time House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he feared McCain was undercutting Paulson by appealing to conservatives in the House.

“McCain and the House Republicans are undercutting the Paulson plan, talking about a wholly different approach,” Frank said prior to the meeting. “This is the presidential campaign of John McCain undermining what Hank Paulson tells us is essential for the country.”

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee and one of the authors of the conservative alternative, said that McCain had yet to sign onto the proposal. But Ryan confirmed that he and other House Republicans had met with the Arizona senator on the issue prior to the White House meeting in the offices of House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

“Our goal is not to derail. Our goal is to break the logjam. It’s a Plan B if Paulson can’t pass,” Ryan said. “This is such a crisis I’m not going to draw some line in the sand. We can’t leave without doing something, but we don’t think the votes are here for Paulson.”

From Frank’s perspective, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy since Republicans will be able to peel off the administration plan and claim they are still taking action. “Nancy is not going to pass a bill with Republicans having an excuse to vote against it,” Frank said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And given the cost of the Treasury plan, Democratic leaders have warned that they will want at least a healthy Republican showing of 80 to 100 votes if they are going to ask their members to vote with the president.
Bipartisanship? Country first? Hmm. Time will tell. But this sounds ugly.

P.S. A statement from the Obama campaign on McCain's stunt:
John McCain sought to change the subject from his out-of-touch response to the economic crisis with a big announcement that he was “suspending” his campaign. But the only thing McCain really wants suspended is the American people’s disbelief. In fact, he’s been in full campaign mode the entire time.

Instead of heading to Washington right away, Senator McCain stuck around in New York to do TV interviews, spend the night, and give a scheduled speech. Though the McCain campaign announced yesterday that they were also “suspending” their attack ads, they continued to run Thursday.

When McCain finally arrived in Washington, almost twenty-four hours after his announcement -– and after Congressional leadership announced a deal in principle –- he huddled with his lobbyist campaign advisors while his running mate held a political rally and his political spokesmen and surrogates were out in full force, continuing to attack Barack Obama.

So make no mistake: John McCain did not “suspend” his campaign. He just turned a national crisis into an occasion to promote his campaign. It’s become just another political stunt, aimed more at shoring up the Senator’s political fortunes than the nation’s economy. And it does nothing to help advance this critical legislation to protect the American people during this time of economic crisis.
The point about the TV ads is unfair; by all accounts, McCain's people really are working diligently to get their ads off the air, but it takes time. Everything else in the Obama statement is true, though. And if McCain is truly working behind-the-scenes to undermine any chance of a true bipartisan consensus around a modified Paulson plan, instead uniting Republicans around an alernative McCain plan -- thus allowing him to demagogue this issue on the campaign trail, claiming that his plan would have been better than the Obama/Bush (!) plan that will ultimately pass but that, whether wise or not, will inevitably be unpopular and easily demagogued -- then it's even worse than Obama's people are saying. Much worse.

UPDATE 2: Alan Sullivan characterizes things differently: "Where is McCain? Fighting with conservative House Republicans, who are being demonized as obstructionists."

It's hard to know what's truly happening. We're definitely in "fog of war" territory here. So it's too early to condemn McCain's role in this. I just hope he isn't planning anything along the lines of what I've outlined above -- and that he doesn't talk himself into it.

Beat the Beavers!

Even in what undeniably looks to be a down year for the Pac-10, Pete Carroll says it will be "ridiculously difficult" for USC to survive the conference's nine-game round-robin unscathed.

And he's right, in a sense: getting through any conference schedule undefeated is always very difficult and, if you can accomplish it, extremely praiseworthy, whether you play in the SEC or the Sun Belt. (Not to deny that it's harder in the SEC, of course. But it's never easy, anywhere.)

It's also worth noting that five of USC's nine conference games this year are on the road -- including tonight's tilt in Corvallis, against Oregon State. You might recall that USC's last trip to Beaver Reser Stadium was, er, not exactly fun. Hopefully tonight's game turns out a little better.

On a tangentially related note, have I mentioned that Becky, Loyette and I are going to the USC-ND game in November? Well, we are! We got tickets through a friend, and we're super excited. Woohoo! Believe it or not, this will be my first ever Irish-Trojan game at the Coliseum. I've been to two of 'em in South Bend (including, of course, the Greatest. Game. Ever.), but never in L.A., as I was always out of town, visiting family, during Thanksgiving Breaks in college.

Anyway... Fight on, Trojans!!! Beat the Beavers!!! Game time is 9:00 PM EDT, on ESPN.

Deal reached!

CNN Breaking News: "Lawmakers from both parties in House, Senate say they have bailout deal; will take it to Treasury Secretary Paulson."

I guess this means there'll be a debate tomorrow, after all? Sweet!

Now, watch as McCain claims credit for a deal that was going to happen anyway (and that his stunt may actually have briefly jeopardized), and grandstands about "suspending" his campaign and "putting country first," even though he didn't actually suspend a damn thing, and his motives for pretending to "suspend" his campaign were mostly political anyway. [How dare you say such a thing about a P.O.W.? -ed. I say it because it's obviously true.]

But, hey! A deal! And a debate! (Presumably.) Yay!

P.S. If there's a debate tomorrow, there will be a liveblog & livechat here, as during the conventions.

Urgently Must Secret Business Relationship

Somebody sent me this on Facebook yesterday, and it's continuing to rocket around the Interwebs today. Pretty funny.
Dear sir or madam,

I must need to ask your support an urgent secret business relationship concerning transfer of funds with great magnitude.

I am being the Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had recent crisis urgently requiring the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion USD. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you. You are described as very honest and most trustworthy recipient.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who (God willing) will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a former U.S. congressional leader and the architect of the Palin/McCain Financial Doctrine, you may know him as leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. As such, you can be assured that this transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We must a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully,

Minister of Treasury Paulson
Heh.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Letterman, unimpressed

George W. Bush would like you to

PANIC!!!!!!!!!!!!

UPDATE: Oooh, Bush just called out Obama! Snap! [Update: Nevermind. It has already been announced that Obama will meet with Bush and McCain tomorrow.]

UPDATE 2: Wolf Blitzer says the entire economy is in danger RIGHT NOW.

The 45th president of the United States?

Did McCain pull this whole bogus suspend-the-campaign stunt in order to distract attention from this disaster of an interview?



No wonder they're hiding her from the press. No wonder they want to postpone the VP debate.

Meanwhile, the early returns suggest that I was wrong to think McCain's delay-the-debates gambit would work politically. It seems like nobody's buying it. But I'm still waiting for something that instant Internet polls and comments and analyses cannot reveal: what "low-information voters" think. (That term, incidentally, is not a slur against conservatives. Please.)

Obama says no

His response to McCain's gambit:
It's my belief that this is exactly the time the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days [sic; 118 days] will be responsible with dealing with this mess.

What I’ve told the leadership in Congress is that if I can be helpful then I am prepared to be anywhere, anytime. What I think is important is that we don’t suddenly infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics. ...

Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time. It’s not necessary for us to think that we can only do one thing and suspend everything else.
I think Obama is right on the merits (as I noted in the Linklog, members of Congress from both parties are reportedly saying that "a summit attended by both nominees would slow the sense of progress toward a bailout deal that had built throughout the day on Wednesday"), but I think McCain is going to "win" politically on this. The media will be solidly in Obama's corner, dismissing McCain's stunt as just that -- but that won't help Obama, and might even hurt him. And low-information voters will eat McCain's "country first" line right up. This could shift the whole campaign.

[UPDATE: On the other hand, at least one National Review columnist says "Obama sounds reasonable and less gimmicky than McCain. ... Obama may win this campaign moment yet. If McCain protests, he looks petty." Perhaps. If McCain's gambit is too cynical even for The Corner, that says something. Then again, Kathryn Jean Lopez is hardly a "low-information voter." I still think McCain wins the signaling war here. But I could be wrong.]

That said, ask yourself: if McCain really wanted to put partisanship aside, and put "country first," wouldn't he have waited until either: a) a deal with Obama been worked out behind-the-scenes, allowing a joint announcement of a bipartisan, time-limited campaign "suspension" and debate delay; or b) such a deal had been flatly and clearly rejected by the Obama camp? Instead, McCain short-circuited the negotiations in order to effectively "dare" Obama to either "follow McCain's lead" or look "partisan." McCain's gambit may be a lot of things -- including, quite possibly, a brilliant political masterstroke -- but it is neither "bipartisan" nor "putting country first."

Anyway: now what? Does McCain refuse to debate Obama? Does he send Palin as a substitute? That, I think, would be a potential disaster for Obama. Expectations would be so low for her, and so high for him, that it would be virtually impossible for him to "win" such a debate. And yet, if McCain proposes it, can Obama refuse to debate Palin without looking "scared"? This whole situation is a real minefield for him.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse: "I suppose Obama couldn't very well follow McCain's lead. In fact, if McCain had really been serious about this, he should have worked it out with Obama in private, so that the two men could make a joint announcement. McCain went for political theatrics, and I guess he can use it against Obama now, which was probably the point, but Obama's reaction was so predictable that McCain's show of statesmanship was entirely bogus." Indeed.

Huh??

CNN Breaking News: "John McCain suspends campaigning to work on economy, requests postponing Friday debate; asks Obama do the same."

UPDATE: From McCain's statement:
It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the Administration's proposal. I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time. ...

We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved. I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the commission on presidential debates to delay Friday night's debate until we have taken action to address this crisis.

I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so.

Following September 11th, our national leaders came together at a time of crisis. We must show that kind of patriotism now. Americans across our country lament the fact that partisan divisions in Washington have prevented us from addressing our national challenges. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.
Politico's Ben Smith notes that this move by McCain "is a mark, most of all, that he doesn't like the way this campaign is going." Clearly McCain wants to call timeout, regroup, distract the media, wipe the slate clean, re-establish his "maverick" credentials, and then use this "bipartisan" gambit as a partisan bludgeon starting next week. Frankly, it strikes me as a fairly brilliant stroke of strategery.

Smith also asserts that "in terms of the timing of this move: The only thing that's changed in the last 48 hours is the public polling." But I'm not sure that's entirely fair; it has also, I think, become more clear in the last 48 hours that "no consensus has developed to support the Administration's proposal." McCain is obviously motivated largely by politics here, but nevertheless his proposal is not facially absurd.

In a later post, Smith adds that "Obama's choice ... isn't an obvious one. Does he go along with McCain, for fear of being trapped inside McCain's argument that the Republican puts country first while the Democrat puts himself first? Or does he denounce this as a political stunt, and ignore it?" The latter course, I would add, risks making Obama look like a follower, not a leader. "Either way," Smith says, "the ball's in his court, and it's a not an easy or obvious choice."

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign says it is already working with Mccain on a joint statement about the economic crisis -- and that this statement was Obama's idea, suggested this morning at 8:30 AM. I'm not sure what, if anything, that tells us about Obama's response to McCain's "suspend the campaign, postpone the debate" idea, though.

One thing I want to know: will McCain still appear on Letterman tonight?

UPDATE 2: Nope. He's cancelled Letterman. And he is also "asking Obama to agree to suspend all campaign advertising."

The early word from an unnamed "senior Obama campaign official" is that "the debate is on," but I won't trust anything until I hear an official, on-the-record statement. Surely the campaign is still scrambling at this point, with a robust internal debate, no doubt.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait: "McCain is behind in the polls, largely because the economic crisis is dominating the campaign. The best weapon left in McCain's arsenal is the foreign policy debate, which could potentially turn the election back to McCain's stronger issue. If the debate's in the middle of an economic crisis, it won't have the impact they need. So: postpone the foreign policy debate until after the bailout has been passed, and then maybe you can change the conversation to foreign policy for an extended period."

And Michael Crowley: "He was losing control of the campaign narrative. The Palin surge/convention bounce is nearly kaput. Obama seems to be tied or ahead in Virginia and Florida is back in play. Today's WashPost poll showed McCain nine points down and distrusted on the economy. The media's interest this week is in Rick Davis's lobbying and Sarah Palin's comical photo-ops. Things could hardly get much worse. ... The media will treat this as a sign that McCain is desperate and knows he's losing. But the public may see it differently. If he gets credit for showing leadership on the economy, that will undermine Obama's greatest advantage."

P.S. Political considerations aside, if there the campaign is going to be "suspended" for this crisis, the suspension must have a definite end date. It can't drag on for weeks (even though the crisis will). That would be a major affront to democracy. The business of electing a president is not some sort of "partisan" side show. It is fundamental to our existence as a nation. Yes, the process can be ugly and frustrating and divisive. Democracy ain't always pretty. But the public deserves the chance to see these candidates campaign down the stretch. McCain must not be allowed to get anything more than a few days' "timeout" here. And, frankly, even that sets a pretty bad precedent, IMHO.

UPDATE 3: "Obama expected to react to remarks in a statement from Tampa, Florida at 4:45 pm ET."

If Obama wants to debate and McCain doesn't, will we get an Obama-Palin debate?

Also: "Sure, McCain says he wants to postpone the debate for the economy, but what about the economy of Oxford, Mississippi?" Seriously! Poor Oxford.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

George Will, Obama supporter?

The liberal media strikes again!
Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama. ...

For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. ...

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?
That's from noted lefty George F. Will, if you couldn't tell from the title of the post. And the implicit answer to his concluding rhetorical question, of course, is: no.

This is exactly what I have come to believe. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Even if Obama is unsteady at first, he will improve. McCain, not so much. With him, what you see is what you get. And, to be perfectly frank, I have an increasingly time understanding how anyone who's paying attention and being intellectually honest can really like what they see.

McCain-Palin's shameful war on the press

The McCain campaign's unbelievable, unprecedented, unacceptable, un-American attempt to sneak Sarah Palin into the White House without facing any meaningful press scrutiny has finally sparked an open revolt today, with news outlets loudly and universally objecting to being used as a glorified P.R. agency at today's U.N. photo-op. What finally caused the media to discover its backbone? Well, according to Marc Ambinder, "Apparently last week, CBS News's Scott Conroy had the temerity to ask a question of Palin," and as a result, the McCain campaign wants to further limit the whole press pool's already-negligible access, while still taking advantage of the pretty pictures they take. Hell no, the press replied. Even a Fox News producer lashed out at the campaign's KGB-worthy tactics: "There's not one chance that Governor Palin would have to answer a question. ... They're eliminating even the chance of any kind of interaction with the candidate -- it's just unprecedented."

Conservatives will, of course, dismiss this outrage as so much "liberal media bias," and will rationalize the McCain campaign's tack on the basis that the press was mean to poor Sarah by going after her family. Pardon my French, but this is sheer bullshit. It is perfectly obvious that the McCain campaign is using accusations of bias and maltreatment as an excuse to shield this patently unqualified candidate from the harsh glare of legitimate press coverage that would, or so they fear, quickly reveal her to be unfit for office. There is no other explanation for their behavior, their ridiculous demands for "deference," and their unconscionable hide-the-candidate strategy.

The McCain campaign is hoping to ride a wave of conservative cultural hostility toward the MSM, carefully honed over the last several decades, all the way to victory on November 4. That the media itself has, through its various forms of misbehavior, made itself an easy target is obvious but immaterial. The MSM's sins do not justify the GOP's tactics. It would be different if they were denying access to specific journalists who are deemed hostile or unfair, but granting regular, meaningful, open access to other, legitimate journalists. But they aren't giving anyone access, beyond a handful of carefully orchestrated one-on-one interviews that, by design, provide little insight into anything. They are declaring war on the entire concept of the press as a proxy for the public. They are trying to stage-manage not just a convention, not just a campaign event, not just an interview or two, but the entire public persona of, potentially, the next President of the United States. They want to completely insulate her from anything remotely unplanned, unpredictable or spontaneous -- in short, anything that could possibly puncture her carefully crafted image. And they expect us, the public, to accept this.

Fundamentally, this is not about the media -- it is about the public, about the voters, about you and me. It is about whether a person with no record of any meaningful engagement in national or international issues can come to be a heartbeat away from the presidency without ever deigning to face the public in an unscripted, non-stage-managed setting. The overwhelming cynicism of this tactic, and the danger that it poses to the health of our Republic, cannot be overstated. If the McCain campaign succeeds, it will set a precedent that could haunt us for many years to come. The press must revolt. They must loudly demand access. They must write critical stories and editorials every day, denouncing this shameful nonsense. To hell with the accusations of "liberal bias" that such rightful outrage will inevitably inspire. The conservative blogosphere, for all the valid criticisms of the media that it has leveled over the years, has largely rendered itself intellectually irrelevant with its incoherent hypocrisy since Sarah Palin arrived on the scene. Journalists must not allow these right-wing bullies to shame them into obsequious silence. The core premise of American journalism is at risk, and it's time for reporters and voters alike to tell the McCain campaign: enough is enough.

(Hat tip: Becky.)

P.S. Andrew Sullivan: "Fight back, you hacks! Demand access. Demand accountability! ... If we cannot ask questions of a total newbie six weeks before an election in which she could become president of the country, then the First Amendment is pointless." Indeed.

P.P.S. Undoubtedly, someone will point out in comments that Joe Biden has made a bunch of gaffes. This is true. But then again, Biden, y'know, talks to reporters, which gives him lots of opportunities to make gaffes -- opportunities which he has seized all too often recently. Foot-in-mouth disease is in Biden's nature, of course. We always knew that. But give me a gaffe-prone candidate with a long record of experience and knowledge and engagement with regard to the big issues of our time -- over a candidate with no such record, but with a record of constant lying, whose whole candidacy is fundamentally premised on various lies and half-truths, and who's being hidden away from the press in order to prevent her from being embarrassed or exposed -- any day of the damn week. There are things worse than gaffes. There are affronts to democracy more serious than misstating, off the cuff, who was president in 1929. For f***'s sake.

iPhone, meet gPhone

The first "Google Phone," the T-Mobile G1, will debut October 22, and will cost $179 with a two-year contract. The data plan will cost $25/month on top of the calling plan. More details here. And here's video of the unveiling.

According to the AP, the phone, which runs on the Android operating system, "will be sold in T-Mobile stores only in the U.S. cities where the company has rolled out its faster, third-generation wireless data network." The complete list of such cities can be found here. My soon-to-be home, Denver, will be 3G territory "before the end of the year."

But -- he asks, sounding like a broken record -- can you use it as a modem for your laptop?? [UPDATE: Apparently not. Argh.]

(Hat tip: Andrew.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Six mid-majors still unbeaten

Losses in the last two weeks by Fresno State (to Wisconsin) and East Carolina (to N.C. State) have shortened the list of undefeated BCS bowl contenders from non-BCS conferences. But, at the end of Week 4, there are still six undefeated team from these mid-major leagues -- and all six of them are now receiving votes in both the AP and coaches' polls. The six are:

BYU (4-0) -- ranked #11 in both polls
Utah (4-0) -- ranked #17 in both polls
Boise State (3-0) -- ranked #19 in AP, #20 in coaches
TCU (4-0) -- ranked #24 in AP, #23 in coaches
Tulsa (3-0) -- "ranked" #32 in AP, #35 in coaches
Ball State (4-0) -- "ranked" #38 in AP, #36 in coaches

In addition, despite losing, Fresno State is still ranked in both polls (#25 AP, #24 coaches), and East Carolina is still #23 in the AP poll and first in "others receiving votes" -- i.e., #26 -- in the coaches' poll.

It's a remarkable show of respect for the mid-majors (and, perhaps, a sign of perceived major-conference weakness, outside of the SEC and Big 12) that we already have two one-loss mid-major teams in the rankings, this early in the season. This raises the possibility that either the Bulldogs or the Pirates, despite having one loss, could potentially rise back into BCS bowl contention if they win out. So, really, there are still eight potential "party-crashers" from the mid-major conferences.

But, for now, back to the unbeatens. BYU, Utah and TCU all play in the same conference -- the mighty mighty Mountain West, which currently has as many ranked teams as the Big East and ACC combined -- so only one of those teams can potentially finish the season unscathed. [UPDATE: I somehow missed this earlier, but TCU plays at #2 Oklahoma next week.] After that, the big games are: BYU @ TCU, October 16; TCU @ Utah, November 6; and, of course, the "Holy War," BYU @ Utah, November 22. If both the Cougars and the Utes win out between now and then, their epic clash will almost certainly be a "play-in" game for a BCS bowl berth.

(Side note: the BYU-Utah game is currently scheduled to be seen on "the mtn.," which is one of those fake "networks" that nobody gets, like ESPNU and the Big Ten Network. Hopefully we'll see a repeat of last year, when CSTV and Versus simulcast the game -- though even that is far from ideal. Even better would be an ESPN pick-up. One way or another, if wide swaths of the country are unable to watch this crucially important game of national significance, I suggest that The Fed intervene. Why not? They're intervening in everything else these days...)

Then there's Boise State (of the WAC), Tulsa (of Conference USA), and Ball State (of the MAC). These teams could all potentially finish undefeated, but all have major tests remaining -- and all would probably finish behind an undefeated Mountain West champ for the one and only guaranteed mid-major spot in the BCS. (Though Boise State, with last week's big win at Oregon and the respect it earned two years ago, could certainly make things interesting. Undefeated Boise State vs. an undefeated Mountain West champ for the little guys' "automatic at-large" spot would be quite a debate. Among other things, the Broncos will be rooting for the Ducks to perform well in the Pac-10, to make Saturday's win look good.)

Glancing at Boise's schedule, I'd say the three biggest games are probably at Southern Miss on October 11, at San Jose State on October 24, and the Friday-night, nationally televised season finale on November 28 (the day after Thanksgiving) against Fresno State. That clash, too, could potentially be a BCS "play-in" game -- but only if the Mountain West cannibalizes itself in the mean time, leaving no unbeatens standing.

Tulsa hosts Central Florida in a Sunday night game on October 26, then visits Arkansas on six days' rest on November 1, and potentially finishes with a Conference USA championship game showdown against East Carolina on December 6. That title game is yet another potential "play-in" game, if both teams win out, and if all the MWC and WAC contenders fall off in the mean time, and if there's enough attrition elsewhere in the polls.

As for Ball State, they have the easiest road, but are also probably the least likely to contend for a BCS berth, thanks to the MAC's general weakness. But anyway, the Cardinals are at defending MAC East champion Miami (OH) on November 11, then finish at home against defending MAC champ Western Michigan on November 25, followed, potentially, by the MAC title game (against Buffalo??) on December 6.

So, that's the state of the mid-majors. As for the majors, here's the list of the undefeated teams -- 20 21 in all -- from those conferences. [UPDATE: I initially, accidentally left out USC in this list. LOL! I'm an idiot.]

ACC
Wake Forest (3-0) (#16 AP, #15 coaches)

Big 12
Oklahoma (3-0) (#2 in both polls)
Missouri (4-0) (#6 AP, #5 coaches)
Texas (3-0) (#7 in both polls)
Texas Tech (4-0) (#10 AP, #9 coaches)
Oklahoma State (3-0) (#27 AP, #28 coaches)
Colorado (3-0) (#29 AP, #33 coaches)
Nebraska (3-0) (#30 AP, #27 coaches)

Big East
South Florida (4-0) (#13 AP, #14 coaches)
UConn (4-0) (#31 AP, #29 coaches)

Big Ten
Wisconsin (3-0) (#9 AP, #8 coaches)
Penn State (4-0) (#12 in both polls)
Northwestern (4-0) (#36 AP, #34 coaches)
Minnesota (4-0) (#43 AP, #39 coaches)

Pac-10
USC (2-0) (#1 in both polls)

SEC
Georgia (4-0) (#3 in both polls)x x
Florida (3-0) (#4 in both polls)
LSU (3-0) (#5 AP, #6 coaches)
Alabama (3-0) (#8 AP, #10 coaches)
Vanderbilt (4-0) (#21 AP, #25 coaches)
Kentucky (3-0) (#36 AP, #32 coaches)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sources: stock market nearly imploded Thursday

I almost laughed out loud when Friday evening's Drudge Report celebrated the stock market's late-week recovery with the headline "DOW ENDS WEEK DOWN 34 POINTS," accompanied by a photo of fireworks and the statistic "DOW UP 40 POINTS IN PAST MONTH... UP 18% PAST 5 YEARS... UP 44% PAST 10 YEARS." Drudge's implicit message was as clear as it was absurd: See, this wasn't such a big deal! All those doom-and-gloom Democrats are blowing it out of proportion!

The reason this is absurd, of course, is because it was obvious to anyone who was halfway paying attention -- even to me, who knows next to nothing about financial markets -- that the only reason the stock market recovered on Thursday and Friday, thus finishing the week with only a slight decline, was because of the extraordinary measures taken by the federal government to prevent a total market meltdown. It is beyond ridiculous to imply that the initial success of these unprecedented and incredibly expensive actions somehow suggests the problem was blown out of proportion. It's a bit like suggesting that a low death toll in a landfalling hurricane, thanks to a highly successful evacuation, proves that the hurricane was overhyped and the evacuation was not necessary.

Well, my instinct in this regard is seemingly validated by a New York Post article out today (which is getting a lower-tier headline on Drudge), titled "ALMOST ARMAGEDDON," which reports on how bad things almost got, according to anonymous but apparently well-placed sources. Excerpt:
The market was 500 trades away from Armageddon on Thursday, traders inside two large custodial banks tell The Post.

Had the Treasury and Fed not quickly stepped into the fray that morning with a quick $105 billion injection of liquidity, the Dow could have collapsed to the 8,300-level - a 22 percent decline! - while the clang of the opening bell was still echoing around the cavernous exchange floor.

According to traders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, money market funds were inundated with $500 billion in sell orders prior to the opening. The total money-market capitalization was roughly $4 trillion that morning. ...

The Fed's dramatic $105 billion liquidity injection on Thursday (pre-market) was just enough to keep key institutional accounts from following through on the sell orders and starting a stampede of cash that could have brought large tracts of the US economy to a halt.
Here's the Post's chart:



Yikes.

Moving to Denver!

For many months now, I've stayed mum about my career plans -- and, relatedly, about Becky's, Loyette's and my geographic future -- here on the blog. There are various reasons for this, and I don't intend to break my silence entirely. I've become increasingly committed to maintaining a near total separation between my professional life and this blog, as much as possible.

However, there is one major piece of news that I can now reveal: We're moving to Denver next month!



To be more precise, we're moving at the end of next month, and I'll be starting a new job in early November. And that's about as much detail as I'm prepared to reveal here. :) But suffice to say, I'm very happy, and we're looking forward to this new adventure. Between Becky and me combined, it'll be our 12th move in the last six years -- and, hopefully, our last major, cross-country move for the foreseeable future. We're ready to put down roots and stop wandering!

I hasten to add that Becky and I have absolutely loved our time in Knoxville, and seriously considered staying here. In fact, though I haven't mentioned this here before, I actually took and passed the Tennessee Bar in February, so we'd have that option. (And let me tell you, studying for a bar exam when you have a full-time job and a one-month-old at home is not fun.) As a result, I'm actually licensed in two states: Colorado, which you already knew, and Tennessee. But, as things have worked out, it's in Colorado that I'll be starting my practice, and we're both thrilled about it.

Unfortunately, because of Colorado's 30-day residency requirement for voting, we will not be able to cast our presidential ballots in the nation's most important swing state -- the one that will probably decide the election -- even though we'll be living there on Election Day. ARGH!! Instead, we'll have to do "early voting" here in Tennessee. So, McCain fans rejoice: our Obama votes will be wasted in the deep-red Volunteer State. Harumph. (I've researched this, and trust me, there are no loopholes. Unless we're Colorado residents by October 5, we can't vote there on November 4.)

Speaking of the election: As part and parcel of starting my new job and adopting a new routine in a new place, there will be some major changes to my blog presence in the days immediately following November 4. I'll have more to say about that later, as I work the details out. But, in general terms, I will be doing something more closely resembling the "cold turkey" quitting-the-blog scenario that I originally envisioned back in June, before it got bogged down with all sorts of exceptions and such. But again, more on that later. And you'll at least still have me to kick around until the election. :)

P.S. Please don't ask job-related or career-related questions in comments. They won't be answered, and will most likely be deleted. If you want to know about that stuff, you can e-mail me, and I might respond. But my "no blogging about work" rule -- past, present, and future -- is in full force.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nerd Alert!

Just bought Brisingr at Books-a-Million. w00t!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Major terror attack in Pakistan

"Massive" car bomb explosion in Islamabad at Marriott Hotel, frequented by international guests, including Americans and diplomats. Death toll at least 18, sounds likely to rise.

"You're asking Drew Stanton to run the option in Hurricane Katrina!"

In honor of today's Notre Dame-Michigan State game -- the teams' first meeting at Spartan Stadium since Notre Dame's miraculous 16-point fourth-quarter comeback in a "monsoon" two years ago -- I think it's high time we pay homage to one of the funniest radio rants of all time.

Yeah, so the major players -- Drew Stanton, John L. Smith, Teddy Ruxpin Chris Smeland -- are all gone. But Sparty is still Sparty, and this is still freakin' hilarious.

P.S. GOOOO IRISH, BEEEEAT SPARTANS!!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama more likely to be Hayes than Tilden

According to Five Thirty Eight, there is now an 8.55% chance of Obama losing the popular vote, but winning the electoral vote -- with Colorado the most likely state, by far, to put him over-the-top in the Electoral College.

The chances of McCain winning an electoral-popular "inversion" -- the scenario I envisioned back in April -- are rated at just 0.38%. (Actually, I envisioned something more drastic: a "Samuel Tilden" scenario, in which Obama would lose the election despite earning a popular-vote majority, not just a plurality, and winning by a substantial PV margin over McCain -- say, 2 or 3 percent. That possibility now seems vanishingly small.)

The most likely "tipping point states," according to present projections, are Colorado (63%), Ohio (30%), Virginia (24%), Michigan (15%), Nevada (13%), and Pennsylvania (10%). All other states have a 5%-or-less chance of single-handedly "deciding" the election. (Florida is at 4%, if you were wondering.) The odds of a "recount" scenario -- i.e., one or more decisive states being decided by less than 0.5 percent of the vote -- stand at 6.96%.

Meanwhile, the odds of a 269-269 Electoral College tie are increasing. This probability is now listed at 3.2%. Why? Well...
[T]here is one specific scenario that is driving this outcome. That is the scenario wherein Barack Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, but loses New Hampshire. Of the 320 times [out of 10,000] that our simulation ended in a tie, this particular scenario was responsible 294 times. Indeed, we presently have Obama winning precisely the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, so all that would be needed to make a tie occur is to flip New Hampshire back to McCain, an entirely reasonable possibility.
Also worth noting: "about 80 percent of the tie outcomes involve McCain winning the popular vote. This is by far the messier of the two scenarios. Since the Democrats will almost certainly control a plurality or a majority of House delegations in the incoming Congress, a tie accompanied by an Obama win in the popular vote will lead to a lot of fanfare but ultimately little drama -- Obama will become the next President. But if McCain wins the popular vote, there will be far more pressure on Democratic Representatives to vote against their party."

Then there's this:
Sarah Palin may no longer be an asset to the ticket; in fact, she may be a liability. Averaging the candidates' favorability scores across four recent polls -- as one should always try and do when looking at favorability numbers since they can vary greatly depending on question wording -- Palin now has the worst net scores among the four principals in the race...

Palin's average favorability score is now a +7 -- about 10 points behind Joe Biden's numbers. [Biden is +17, Obama is +18, McCain is +9.] Perhaps more importantly, these numbers are 10-15 points behind where Palin's numbers were just a week or so ago. If voters come in not knowing very much about a candidate -- and the more they see of the candidate, the less they like of the candidate -- this is a major concern.
All along, Becky has continued insisting that Palin will end up being a liability to McCain; I have consistently disagreed, largely because I lack faith in the electorate to see through obvious bulls***. But perhaps Becky will end up being right. We'll see. 46 days and counting!

P.S. Not really related, but the above-linked Jonathan Chait piece encapsulates perfectly why I was, and am, so appalled by the Palin pick:
The main complaint against Palin has been her lack of experience. That's fortunate for her, since "experience"--especially measured in a linear way--fails to capture exactly what Palin lacks. Yes, two years as governor is less than you'd like, as is four years as senator. The real problem, though, is that Palin has no record of thinking about national or international policy. Bobby Jindal, another Republican veep contender, has barely more experience than Palin, but he is a respected policy intellectual. Pat Buchanan ran for president without ever having served in elective office, but he had engaged more deeply than most presidential candidates in policy questions.

Engagement, not experience, is the difference between Palin's qualifications and Obama's. Obama has a longstanding interest in national and (to a lesser extent) international issues, and has answered questions on all those issues in extensive detail. Palin has dealt almost exclusively with parochial issues in a wildly atypical state. (Her fiscal experience, which consists of divvying up oil lucre, offers better preparation to serve as president of Saudi Arabia than the United States.) It's possible Palin has harbored a long-standing, secret passion for policy wonkery, but the few signs available thus far--her convention speech that spelled out "new-clear weapons," her evident lack of familiarity with the term "Bush Doctrine"--suggest otherwise. The Republican intelligentsia is frantically tutoring her while they run out the clock until November 4.
I would have had no problem with McCain picking Jindal. And, no, it's not because he's a man, lest any hypocritical, gender-baiting, suddenly-P.C.-conscious "conservative" victimologists jump on that bandwagon. It's because, fundamentally, Jindal, like Biden and Obama and McCain (and, for that matter, Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice and Dianne Feinstein and Kay Bailey Hutchinson and plenty of other women on both sides of the aisle), is serious, such that it's instinctively reasonable to picture them as potential presidents. Palin is not serious in this way; or at least, there's nothing in her record to indicate that she is, nor have any nascent indications of seriousness yet emerged on the campaign trail.

Bottom line, the potential ascendancy of President Palin on January 21, 2009, is unimaginable and terrifying. She would, at least at first, be the female George W. Bush, times 100: an empty vessel for the policy preferences of the most influential (unelected) people around her. I say "times 100" because this is an unfair caricature, though with significant grains of truth, as applied to Bush, whereas it seems much more likely to be actually true with regard to Palin. I say "at least at first" because, presumably, a President Palin would eventually get her sea legs and run her own administration. But how would she run it? What are her core beliefs on the big issues of the day? We have no idea. And the McCain campaign appears committed to preventing us from learning, which only heightens my anxiety. Get Drunk and Vote 4 McCain? Make that "get drunk, vote for McCain, and pray the old bastard doesn't die." I think not.

P.S. If you don't believe me, consider the following scenarios. Suppose, God forbid, that Obama were to die soon, when there's still time for the national party to officially replace him as the presidential nominee. What would happen? Surely Hillary's people would make a play for the nomination, but in all likelihood, the mantle would pass to Biden, right? Certainly no one would consider ousting him from the ticket because he's not up to the job; if he were to be cast aside, it would only be because of Hillary's outsize influence and "18 million votes."

Now, on the other hand, suppose -- again, God forbid -- that McCain were to die soon. What would happen in that case? On the GOP side, there is no Hillary equivalent to challenge the veep as the obvious choice to replace McCain. But would the Republicans actually put Palin in the #1 spot? Or would they try to construct something like a Romney-Palin ticket (or perhaps, thinking outside the box, a Petraeus-Palin ticket)? At the very least, extremely serious consideration would be given to choosing someone other than Palin, precisely because she'd be seen by clear-eyed Republicans as too much of a lightweight to lead the national ticket. Be honest with yourself: I'm not wrong about this. Perhaps Palin would ultimately be elevated to the #1 spot (because otherwise the base would revolt), but if she were elevated, it would be with considerable reluctance in many quarters within her own party. Now, ask yourself: if that's true, then what the hell is she doing running for vice president?? If McCain dies in office, a year or a month or a day into his term, there's no Republican National Committee to second-guess whether she gets to take over the top spot. Although some supporters might wish it were not so, the reality is that she would just -- snap -- become president. On the spot. In a guaranteed time of crisis, no less. And then what? Who the hell knows? Exactly.

The depressing 2008 campaign

National Journal's Stuart Taylor has a good, fair-and-balanced analysis of media bias and the campaign's race to the bottom:
Some who have been admirers of John McCain think that the war hero has debased himself by using gross distortions to trash Barack Obama and his record. Others see the media fury over McCain's campaign ads as more evidence of a double standard driven by liberal bias at most major news organizations.

Both are right. Although each candidate is responsible for many distortions--hardly a novelty--McCain has lately been leading the race to the bottom. ... At the same time, many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama's distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights.

We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges. This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.

Indeed, one reason that candidates get away with dishonest campaign ads and speeches may be that it is so hard for undecided voters like me to discern which charges are true, which are exaggerated, and which are false.
I totally agree with that last point. Media bias, and the perception thereof, has helped to poison this campaign by creating a situation where there are two totally separate narratives -- an Obama-friendly narrative, and a McCain-friendly narrative -- and never the twain shall meet. Sarah Palin's selection, and the wildly divergent reactions thereto, cemented this arrangement. It's now nearly impossible for any set of facts to come along which would significantly disturb either narrative, because conservatives will blame any and all inconvenient truths on the "liberal media," while liberals will blame any and all inconvenient truths on the "Republican smear machine."

As a result, we're effectively locked into an endless red-versus-blue political war, with citizens free to choose not only their preferred set of opinions, but their preferred set of facts. And those who actually would like to know the true facts seemingly have nowhere to turn. This is not a new phenomenon, but I believe it's gotten significantly worse in this election cycle, and it's one of the reasons this general election -- which once seemed to have great "elevating" potential -- has become so disheartening and depressing for those, like me, who believe that this is a contest of great historical importance with major issues at stake, and that it ought to be decided on the basis of those issues, not idiotic distractions like "lipstick on a pig" and "stupid and unskilled Mexicans" and "sex-ed for kindergartners" and "100 years in Iraq" and who's a "celebrity" and who owns more houses.

Anyway, read the whole thing, which also discusses Obama's scurrilous Rush Limbaugh ad, by which Taylor says Obama "may have pulled even with McCain in the race to the bottom, or even ahead of him." I'm not sure I agree with that, but the ad is certainly not one of Obama's finest hours, by a long shot.

$1,000,000,000,000

In roughly one hour, President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are set to announce a comprehensive rescue financial package -- "perhaps the biggest intervention in financial markets since the 1930s" -- that will could cost taxpayers as much as... ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.



The markets are rallying on the news. But, in the spirit of Pirate Day, I must say: Shiver me timbers, that's a boatload of booty, me lads! Arr!

P.S. Did capitalism just walk the plank?

Shameless and absurd

John McCain's top aides would like you to know that Barack Obama is using the Wall Street crisis for political gain. John McCain, on the other hand, is being totally bipartisan and awesome -- unlike those damn Democrats! McCain, you see, isn't interested in the blame game; he just wants to seek solutions. But alas, the Democrats are obstructing his blame-free approach! Poor, poor bipartisan martyr John McCain. P.S. DEMOCRATS SUCK. MCCAIN RULZ, VOTE 4 MCCAIN. But he would never use a crisis for political gain! Only partisan Democrats like Obama would do that!

Do these people not know how ridiculous they sound??

P.S. There seems to be some confusion about my intent with this post. To be clear, I am not denying that Obama is using the crisis for political gain! Of course he is! But so is McCain (again, of course). What's "shameless and absurd" is pretending that McCain is holier-than-thou in this regard, while blatantly exploiting the issue by the very act of claiming that Obama is exploiting it! The Hillaryesque mendacity of such a statement truly makes the head spin. As they did with Gustav, McCain's people are grandstanding by pretending not to grandstand. This is beyond hypocrisy; it's absurdity.

P.P.S. Here's another example of McCain not exploiting the financial crisis for political gain.

UPDATE: Arr, mateys, I forgot: it's Talk Like a Pirate Day! Shiver me timbers! Well, then... Arr!! McCain's campaign staff are scurvy scum! These salty dogs are driving the tenor of this campaign to the depths of Davy Jones' Locker! It's time for a change, me hearties!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Market panic reaches "historic intensity"

From the Financial Times:
The panic in world credit markets reached historic intensity on Wednesday, prompting a flight to safety of the kind not seen since the second world war.

Barometers of financial stress hit record peaks across the world. Yields on short-term US Treasuries hit their lowest level since the London Blitz, while gold had its biggest one-day gain ever in dollar terms. Lending between banks, in effect, stopped. ...

All thought of profit was abandoned as traders piled in to the safety of short-term Treasuries, with the yield on three-month bills falling as low as 0.02 per cent – rates that characterised the “lost decade” in Japan. The last time US Treasuries were this low was January 1941.

Shares in the two largest independent US investment banks left standing – Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs – fell 24 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, as the cost of insuring their debt soared, threatening their ability to finance themselves.
And so on, and so forth. Scary stuff, even if I don't really understand it all very well.

Obama rally pics & videos

It's taken longer than I intended, but here at last are my photos of Monday's Obama rally in Pueblo. The gallery is 7 pages long; the actual shots of Obama start near the bottom of page 3. Here's one:



A few notable shots: I snapped a pic of the guy setting up the teleprompter (an action which is, for some reason, considered newsworthy). I also captured, um, Paris Hilton? :) And here's one of those "Rednecks for Obama" we've heard about. Also for Obama: burritos!

More seriously, here's one of Obama with Colorado's Democratic U.S. Senator and governor, Ken Salazar and Bill Ritter, who helped introduce him. And here's the picture I was taking when the Rocky Mountain News photographer took a picture of me.

Last but not least, here are the changelings:



There are videos, too, in my gallery. Here's one of Obama mocking the McCain campaign for "borrowing" his campaign's slogans, and then delivering his punch line about a "bridge in Alaska":



Again, the full gallery starts here. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm in the News!

The blurry redhead at top center in this Rocky Mountain News photo, straining to see over the throngs of people closer to the rope line as Obama works the crowd, is yours truly. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

UPDATE: In comments, Herbert suggests the caption: "BARACK OBAMA GETS PICTURE TAKEN WITH FAMOUS BLOGGER." Heh!

"It's quite frightening"

Somehow, the financial crisis seems even more serious when you hear a British expert talking solemnly about it. I think it's the accent that does it.

Meanwhile, it seems AIG has "one day more" to save itself. Another day, another destiny...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lipstick on a...

Hey, it *is* the State Fairgrounds. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Nuclear!

Obama just endorsed more nuclear power. Is this news? I can't remember if he's said that before. P.S. He also pronounced it correctly. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Yes We Can!

Obama speaking. More, better pictures later.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Waiting for Obama

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going to see Obama!

After complaining all election season about how there have been no campaign events near me, it just so happens that I'm in Colorado when the candidates are descending on it -- and so, I'm going to see Obama in Pueblo tomorrow! Woohoo!

I'd go see Palin, too, but her event doesn't fit with my schedule, and anyway it's already full. (Obama's event, at the Colorado State Fairgrounds, is free and open to the public, no tickets required.)

Sunday "crisis" on Wall Street portends "day of reckoning" Monday

The Wall Street Journal reports:
The American financial system was shaken to its core on Sunday. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. faced the prospect of liquidation, and Merrill Lynch & Co. was close to a deal to sell itself to Bank of America Corp. ...

A sense of foreboding gripped Wall Street as top executives feared collateral damage from a Lehman liquidation. ...

"Monday will be a day of reckoning for the financial markets," said Carlos Mendez, senior managing director of ICP Capital, a boutique investment firm in New York. On Sunday, he said, "it was like a fire alarm went off and people ran in all directions."

AIG executives spent the weekend trying to raise cash, either from asset sales or a capital infusion from private-equity firms, or both. AIG executives were meeting with regulators to see if they could transfer capital from some of its subsidiaries to the holding company.

As worries spread across Wall Street that Lehman wouldn't survive, brokerage firms, hedge funds and other traders moved to disentangle themselves from trades with Lehman. When hopes of a potential sale dimmed, a quiet Sunday on Wall Street turned into a mad rush. Executives and traders hurried to their offices or worked their phones to unwind outstanding contracts with Lehman and to gauge their overall exposure. ...

The U.S. dollar, which had strengthened in the past few weeks, fell against all four of its major rivals on Sunday -- the euro, the Swiss franc, the U.K. pound and the Japanese yen. ...

Lehman, a 158-year-old firm that started as an Alabama cotton brokerage, and Merrill, with its trademark bull logo, have been pillars of Wall Street for much of the past century. With the demise of Bear Stearns, three of the Street's five major independent brokers could end up disappearing, leaving only Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley.

"We have never seen anything like this," said analyst Glenn Schorr, who covers the investment banks for UBS AG. "There have been tough situations like Long-Term Capital Management and the crash of 1987, but the problem here is there is leverage in the securities under the microscope and in the banks that own them. And to try and unwind it all at once creates a one-way market where there are only sellers, and no buyers."

The convulsions could lead to even tighter credit, higher borrowing costs and moribund capital markets, as securities firms and commercial banks try to further limit risk and preserve capital. Those moves could cause the U.S. economy to slow further.
The New York Times quotes one hedge-fund CEO as saying: "This is an earth-shattering event, this is like a tectonic plate shifting event. This is welcome back to Black Monday."

Then there's this:
The United States is mired in a "once-in-a century" financial crisis which is now more than likely to spark a recession, former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan said Sunday. ...

Asked whether the crisis, which has seen the US government step in to bail out mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, was the worst of his career, Greenspan replied "Oh, by far."

"There's no question that this is in the process of outstripping anything I've seen, and it still is not resolved and it still has a way to go," Greenspan said.

"And indeed, it will continue to be a corrosive force until the price of homes in the United States stabilizes.

"That will induce a series of events around the globe which will stabilize the system."

Ike, first-hand (sort of)

I'm at O'Hare on a layover. Lots of turbulence on descent, thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ike.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A perfect day

For a typical Trojan fan, the "perfect day" involves a USC win, a UCLA loss, and a Notre Dame loss. But of course, as an ND Law alum, I'm not exactly a typical Trojan fan. Except when they're playing 'SC, I want the Irish to win. And I especially want them to win when they're playing Meeeechigan. Throw in my loose affiliations with Becky's and my "home" teams, Buffalo and UConn, and I daresay this qualifies as a "perfect day" for me:

USC destroys Ohio State, 35-3.

Notre Dame blows out Michigan, 35-17.

Buffalo beats Temple, 30-28, on a Hail Mary TD with 0:00 left.

UConn routs Virginia, 45-10.

• And UCLA is humiliated by BYU, 59-0, the Bruins' worst loss since 1929 (when they lost 76-0 to USC).

Sweeeeeeeet.

P.S. BEAT!! THE BEAVERS!!

P.P.S. A poll:

Tonight's game proves...
USC is ridiculously good
Ohio State is ridiculously overrated
Both
Neither
  
pollcode.com free polls

College football Week 3 open thread

Full scoreboard here.

GOOOO IRISH, BEEEEAT WOLVERINES!!!

FIGHT ON TROJANS, BEAT THE BUCKEYES!!!

UPDATE: In a crucial MAC showdown this afternoon, Buffalo beat Temple, 30-28, on a hail-mary touchdown with 0:00 on the clock! OMG!



I was watching it live on ESPN360. I jumped and yelled so loud when the ref gave the touchdown signal, it scared the baby. Poor thing. :)

LET'S GO BUFFALO!!!

In other news: HAHAHAHAHAHA.

UPDATE: Final score: BYU 59, UCLA 0!! BWAAAAHAHAHAHA!!!!! EPIC BRUIN FAIL!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ike

If you haven't been following my Weather Nerd blogging... well, you might not know it from the national media (which has seemingly missed the memo that Ike is going to be WAY WORSE THAN GUSTAV, which got about 50 times more advance coverage), but here's the gist: Hurricane Ike, although "only" a Category 2, is going to be a catastrophe because of its massive storm surge, which is more typical of a Category 4, and its track, which is taking it directly into the Galveston Island and Galveston Bay.

The city of Galveston (from which, reportedly, 24,000 people refused to evacuate!) is about to be totally destroyed, or nearly so, and there is going to be a ton of devastation all along Galveston Bay and its estuaries, in residential and industrial areas alike, including the Houston oil refineries and such. This is a very big deal. Lots of surge damage up north, too, in Port Arthur and southwestern Louisiana.

MORNING UPDATE: The computer models and experts were wrong; the storm surge was far less severe than predicted.

Still, Ike was plenty bad. Ongoing updates at Weather Nerd.

Is Knoxville running out of gas?

There is a something of a gas panic happening in the Knoxville area at the moment, fueled (no pun intended) by Gustav-driven shortages and Ike-driven fears of further shortages. And of course, prices are skyrocketing in response to the low supply and high demand. Or, you know, "price gouging," if you prefer conspiracy theories to basic economic realities.

The "run on gas" was partly triggered, I think, by this article in today's News-Sentinel, speaking ominously of "a petroleum shortage spreading throughout the Southeast" that is now "hit[ting] local gas stations, groceries and convenience stores":
Refinery outages along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Gustav have created severe shortages, causing retailers like Weigel's to scramble to keep their pumps flowing. And Hurricane Ike is bearing down on Texas, drawing a bead on North America's petroleum manufacturing capital of Houston and portending a worst-case scenario for dealers and consumers.

"Knoxville has been out of gas since Monday. We've been buying gas from Atlanta, North Carolina, Kentucky, anywhere we can get it," said Bill Weigel, head of the Weigel's chain of convenience stores in Knox, Blount, Sevier, Loudon, Anderson and Monroe counties.
Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake! AAA is urging people not to panic, but such pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Luckily and coincidentally, I filled up my tank yesterday morning -- not because of any panic, but simply because my car needed gas. There were no lines or anything. But now, 24 hours later, it's a different story. Apparently Becky's Stroller Strides mommy buddies were buzzing this morning about gas shortages, and urging those who hadn't done so to fill up their tanks ASAP. Becky followed this advice, and called me to report that the line at the gas station was 4 or 5 cars deep.

Then, a few minutes ago, a co-worker popped by to tell me, "you probably already know this, but you need to get gas." She added that the price is already up to "$5.15 in Farragut." This co-worker was headed out the door on her lunch break to fill up her car.

As Fark would say, EVERYBODY PANIC!!!!!

P.S. Caveat: I have no idea how serious the reported shortage really is, beyond what I've read about it (which isn't much). And I'm only in a position to gently poke fun at panic buyers because I filled up my previously-almost-empty tank yesterday. If I hadn't, I'd probably be buying gas on my lunch break too. :)

Just asking...

In a 9/11 endorsement of McCain based on his purportedly tougher (and thus necessarily more effective, or so the unstated premise goes) stance on terrorism, Amir Taheri writes in the New York Post:
McCain believes that America is at war; Obama doesn't. McCain believes the United States can win on the battlefield; Obama doesn't.
Supposing, for the sake of argument, that this assertion is correct, here's my question: what if I agree with McCain on Point A, and with Obama on Point B?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remember



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Collider online; world intact

Breaking news: the world didn't end this morning!
Geneva, 10 September 2008. The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning [Switzerland time, which is UTC +2, or 6 hours ahead of EDT]. This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery.

“It’s a fantastic moment,” said LHC project leader Lyn Evans, “we can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”
Actually, if the world were going to end (which it won't), it wouldn't have happened today anyway, as Popular Mechanics explains:
Although the LHC will make history [Wednesday] with a proton beam traveling the full circumference of the accelerator loop, it won't be unraveling any cosmic mysteries. Beam day is essentially another in a series of tests to confirm the performance of the system before initiating the high-energy proton collisions. That will involve firing up both beams, to run in opposite directions, and possibly generating particles that have previously appeared only in textbooks and blackboard diagrams. It could take a month for the proton smashing to begin, and even longer for some of the various experiments to get started. Which means that the LHC will be inspiring wrongheaded dread—and possibly more lawsuits and death threats—for some time to come.
(Hat tip: InstaPundit.)

Popular Mechanics also points out that all this particle-physics nerdery, while fascinating and important, doesn't exactly make for great TV. That conclusion is borne out by the AP article on this morning's test:
The world's largest particle collider successfully completed its first major test by firing a beam of protons all the way around a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel Wednesday in what scientists hope is the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe.

After a series of trial runs, two white dots flashed on a computer screen at 10:36 a.m. (0836 GMT) indicating that the protons had traveled the full length of the US$3.8 billion Large Hadron Collider.

"There it is," project leader Lyn Evans said when the beam completed its lap.
Heh! "Well, there it is!"

Another poll

Who do you think will win?
Obama
McCain
  
pollcode.com free polls

I don't like Ike

When Hurricane Gustav was threatening Louisiana, I read several comments by folks saying that Gustav just didn't fill them with the same sense of dread, of "impending doom," that Katrina had. I didn't comment on it at the time, but I actually felt the same way. Although my head told me Gustav was a real threat -- particularly when it strengthened to a 150 mph monster just before landfall in Cuba -- my gut never really jumped on the bandwagon. I never felt like Gustav was truly going to be the "mother of all storms."

Ike is a different story. For what it's worth -- admittedly, probably nothing -- Ike feels more "impending doom"-ish, to me, than Gustav ever did. Here's my latest post on Weather Nerd, which leads with Dr. Jeff Masters's eye-opening statement yesterday afternoon: "There is a significant chance that Ike will be the worst hurricane to hit Texas in over 40 years.”

Full, ongoing coverage at Weather Nerd, of course.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ash Poll Durbatulûk

Glenn Reynolds has been running a bunch of "Insta-Polls" lately, the results of which are always predictably conservative*, owing to the nature of his audience. (For example, on the question of whether Palin was a good pick, 90% say yes.)

I thought it would be fun to do a basic poll on the election here at BrendanLoy.com, to get a better sense for what the breakdown is in these parts. So, here goes...

How do you plan to vote in November?
Definitely Obama
Leaning Obama
Undecided
Leaning McCain
Definitely McCain
Someone else
Will not vote
  
pollcode.com free polls

*...not that there's anything wrong with that! :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it...

...and Michio Kaku feels fine.

Actually, Wednesday's launch of the European Nuclear Research Centre's Large Hadron Collider will not be the end of the world, according to Dr. Kaku and, er, everyone else who knows what they're talking about.

But that hasn't stopped some paranoiacs from making death threats against the scientists involved, nor from filing frivolous lawsuits in Hawaii (I blame Obama!) and Switzerland, trying to stop the project.

Nor has it stopped me from adding Sept. 10, "the end of the world," to my countdown sidebar at left. :)

For more on what the Large Hadron Collider is actually all about, see this Guardian page and this Telegraph article. (Hat tip: Becky and my dad.)

U.S. seizes Freddie & Fannie

The Wall Street Journal reports:
In its most dramatic market intervention in years, the U.S. government seized two of the nation's largest financial companies, taking direct responsibility for firms that provide funding for around three-quarters of new home mortgages.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced plans Sunday to take control of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, replace the companies' chief executives and provide up to $200 billion in capital to restore the firms to financial health. The Treasury's plan puts the two companies under a conservatorship, giving management control to their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA. In return for agreeing to provide as much equity capital as needed later to cover losses stemming from mortgage defaults, the Treasury gets $1 billion of preferred stock in each company without providing any immediate cash.

With that, the U.S. mortgage crisis entered a new and uncharted phase, potentially saddling American taxpayers with billions of dollars in losses from home loans made by the private sector. Bush administration officials, backed cautiously by legislators on both sides of the aisle, argued that the cost of doing nothing would be far greater because of the toll on the economy of falling home prices and defaults in the $11 trillion U.S. mortgage market.

Mr. Paulson noted that more than $5 trillion of debt and mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie and Freddie is owned by central banks and other investors world-wide. "Failure of either of them would cause great turmoil in our financial markets here at home and around the globe," Mr. Paulson said.
Alan Sullivan: "This looks like the biggest, riskiest move yet by the Paulson-Bernanke team. President McCain will need all the help he can get for the economy. Steve Forbes for Treasury, anyone?"

Never mind, for now

I've decided to take down, at least for now, a post about Sarah Palin that I briefly published earlier this evening. Reading it over, I don't find anything specific in it that I disagree with, but my gut tells me I'm going overboard with my rhetoric -- and when my gut says that, it's usually right, and I usually end up regretting the post. So I've decided to take the post down and think on it for a while.

I will, however, repeat, in the interest of full disclosure, the statement I made at the end of the post, about my electoral allegiances: I'm no longer merely "leaning" Obama. I now fully intend to vote for him. I recognize that many of you will say this is no surprise, that I've really been an Obama shill all along. You're wrong, just as lefty commenters were wrong when they claimed in 2006 that I was some sort of Republican shill. I'm an independent thinker, first, last and always; I may be wrong about a given question, but I'm nobody's shill, and I'm always as honest with y'all about my political leanings as I am with myself. In the Obama-McCain race, I have been genuinely undecided; I even leaned McCain at one point, and I have serious doubts about Obama. But recent events have convinced me that McCain-Palin is the wrong choice, and thus, by default, Obama-Biden is the right choice. I suppose McCain could change my mind before Election Day, but I doubt it.

Oh, and one more thing I want to repeat: my question for Glenn Reynolds. Glenn has said that "perhaps the best reason to vote against Obama is to spare the country an administration that reflexively characterizes any criticism as racist." Does that same reasoning not now apply to voting against McCain-Palin, as it seems clear that criticisms of Palin will be reflexively characterized as sexist?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

College football Week 2 open thread

Between blogging Hanna and Ike over at Weather Nerd, trying to recover from my cold, playing with the baby, and working on various other projects, I doubt I'll have much time to blog about today's college football games. So I figured I'd just post an open thread now.

GOOOO IRISH, BEEEEAT AZTECS!!!

Also: Go Buffalo, Beat Pittsburgh! (Heh. Hey, it could happen!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

McCain as "dangerous maverick"

Gawker's Nick Denton, of all people, perfectly articulates the core reason why, in the end, I will probably vote for Obama:

It's precisely because [McCain is] such a maverick that voters shouldn't trust him with power. The Democrats should accept McCain as a maverick—a dangerous maverick—and turn that quality against him. ...

John McCain is indeed adventurous; his selection of an untested running mate whom he had met only once attests to his willingness to take a gamble. Even at the cost of popularity in his party, McCain has often been a politician of stern principle. These are engaging qualities; and ones shared to some degree by Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee. The pair were presented this week by some supporters as "maverick squared."

But these are the attributes not of an American president but of a defiant prisoner in a Hanoi prison camp; an unbowed dissident in the Soviet Union; or head of state in one of those countries with a presidency sufficiently powerless that it can be given as a lifetime achievement award to the keeper of a nation's conscience.

By contrast, the American presidency is an executive role. Decisions require deliberation; principle must be put to one side in the interest of a messy compromise; pride must be swallowed. My personal test is a hypothetical reenactment of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If McCain were president, could he really ignore the more belligerent rantings of America's enemies? Would he, like Jack Kennedy, have made the face-saving concession that helped the Soviet Union withdraw missiles from Cuba? If the phone rings at 3am in the White House, it's McCain the proud martyr I worry about rather than careful Barack Obama.

Obama may indeed have less experience in politics than John McCain. It is slightly unsettling that a man so ambitious never filled out his resumé with a management job. But he is at least deliberate in his thinking and decisionmaking; one can imagine him as the boss of a company; he has the temperament of a chief executive. John McCain, the maverick, doesn't.

(Hat tip: Ben Smith.)

As I wrote in comments the other day, I have grave doubts about Obama -- but even graver ones about McCain:

I am troubled by [Obama's] lack of experience. I worry about whether he's tough and steely enough to lead on security issues. I worry he won't deviate from Democratic orthodoxy even when it's clear he should. I don't really buy his "transformational" schtick, or the concept that he's going to fundamentally "change politics." (I admit I got swept up in it a bit, back in January and February, but I now see much more clearly that he's just a really effective pol, not some sort of saintly post-pol.) A key aspect of his appeal, his "judgment" on Iraq, is significantly eroded by the fact that he was wrong about the surge, whereas McCain was right. He has shown a distressing willingness to let unworthy lines of attack from his campaign (race card, RFK, etc.) percolate for quite a while before swooping in to condemn them once the damage is done. His associations with certain radical characters like Rev. Wright and Ayers are mildly troubling, though not disqualifying, but they accentuate my concerns about his having liberal blinders. I fully accept that his "bipartisan" cred is vastly overstated, and in fact, that McCain has a history far superior to him in this regard (though much of it is just that, "history"). And so on, and so forth. . . .

[But] I start out with doubts about McCain, too. I tend to think his much-vaunted "judgment" and "maverick" streak is really more a combination of opportunism, self-aggrandizement and a distressing overreliance on personal pique as justification -- to others and to himself -- for various actions. This is impetuousness masquerading as judgment. Of course, he shares the opportunism and self-aggrandizement with Obama, so they're basically a wash, but the pique issue is McCain-specific. On security, he's got almost the opposite problem as Obama. I fear he'd be trigger-happy. And, on balance, I'd rather have someone's who is overly reluctant to pull the trigger than someone who is overly eager to do so. I imagine it'll be easier for Biden & co. to convince Obama to change his mind when he's reluctant, than for McCain's advisers to change his mind once he's gotten angry and decided to bomb the hell out of somebody. These are gross generalizations, I know, but they are my impressions.

With regard to the "pique" issue, McCain's absurd flirtations with leaving the Republican Party in 2001 and 2004 are proof of this. Unlike with Jeffords or Lieberman, you cannot trace an ideological transformation whereby such a move would have made any sense whatsoever. It is only out of pique -- anger at Bush, disgruntlement with people in the party who didn't like him -- that McCain would have considered doing such a drastic thing.

Bottom line, Obama seems more rational, deliberative, and -- his talk about transformational "change" notwithstanding -- pragmatic. (It is his pragmatism that helps reassure me Obama won't enact a radical-left agenda. That would be extremely impractical, as it would guarantee he'd be a one-term president and the Democratic majorities in Congress would disappear like that.) McCain, by contrast, seems more emotional, impulsive, and unpredictable. I find the former traits far more appealing in a potential president than the latter. As I said, these are gross generalizations. But gross generalizations are often more than a little true, and unless McCain can convince me these ones aren't, he won't be able to win my vote.

Back in May, I wrote that "if you put a gun to my head right now and made me choose, I think -- *think* -- I'd vote for McCain." And I meant it, whatever some members of the peanut gallery might think. But it's not true anymore -- not so much because of anything either candidate has done (though the veep selections are part of it), but because I'm focusing in a little more clearly on just what I want in a president, and recognizing that, sometimes, "toughness" is overrated.

Denton's Cuban Missile Crisis analogy is excellent. Myself, I tend to think more in terms of a nuclear bomb going off in an American city. Neither a President Obama nor a President McCain would let such an unthinkable atrocity go unanswered or unavenged; it's right-wing lunacy to think that Obama would roll up into a ball and play Kucinich in that scenario. But it is not lunacy, I don't believe, to think that McCain might let his impulsive tendencies take over in a crucial situation, to very bad effect. And, even in the direst scenario imaginable -- nay, especially in the direst scenario imaginable -- I don't want a president who's going to go off half-cocked and start bombing everybody in sight, with little or no strategic planning, and perhaps on the basis of flimsy evidence regarding who, exactly, attacked us. I would want a considered, measured, and utterly overwhelming response -- properly targeted to achieve the objective. That remains no less true if the objective happens to be annihilation of somebody or other.

At present, I have more confidence in Obama than McCain this regard. And the selections of Biden and Palin, respectively, turned this from a slight "lean" to a heavy "lean."

UPDATE: In comments, I write: "Thinking it through a bit more, it strikes me that, actually, McCain going off half-cocked and bombing somebody is probably not my biggest worry (though it's not non-existent). My bigger worry, upon reflection, is McCain going off half-cocked with his rhetoric, thus escalating a situation where de-escalation would have been possible."

Can I just say...

...that I think it's really great that both McCain's speech and Obama's speech (and, for that matter, Palin's speech) had larger TV viewing audiences than the Academy Awards, the American Idol finale, or the Olympics opening ceremonies? I don't really care about the partisan ratings battle (which McCain won); I'm just happy that, for once, Americans are paying this much attention to something that, y'know, actually matters. It's actually kind of inspiring. I know, that's corny, but whatever. U-S-A! U-S-A!

McCain, balloons, and Palin the "grownup"

Just watched John Bush McCain's speech on TiVo. It was okay. Not great, but I suppose you don't expect greatness from McCain at a podium. Then again, Obama's speech last Thursday wasn't great, either (and you do expect greatness from him on the stump), so I guess McCain wins by default in the "expectations game," for whatever that's worth. On the other hand, in an election year where the electorate leans heavily to the left -- and at a time when McCain needs a bounce -- maybe Obama wins by default because it's McCain who needed to shake things up. Or maybe he already did that with Palin. I dunno.

McCain's speech did have one important thing that Obama's didn't: BALLOONS!!! But they were kinda slow to appear, or so it seemed to me. I wonder: was that intentional, or a 2004 DNC "f***ing balloons" type gaffe?

The Rudy music was also a nice touch, albeit less so than the first time. (P.S. GOOO IRISH, BEEEEAT AZTECS!)

Anyway, I agree with Mickey Kaus:
McCain screwed up what was potentially the most effective part of the speech, where he blames his own party for losing the "trust of the American people." Maybe the delivery was garbled or maybe the passage wasn't written to maximize the drama of the face-to-face dressing-down.
I don't know what was wrong, exactly, but that crucial segment of the speech wasn't as powerful as it should have been.

All in all, Glenn's right: "McCain's speech, like Obama's, was too long and had the laundry-list/State of the Union aspect that Obama's had. Both were upstaged by others -- McCain by Sarah Palin, Obama by Bill Clinton." And John Kerry!

Speaking of Palin... I link to Alan Sullivan frequently with regard to hurricanes, but rarely with regard to politics. Our worldviews are very different. But he's a mighty articulate guy (and clean!), and nearly always thoughtful and interesting, even when I totally disagree with him. All of which is prologue to saying that his take on Palin's speech, though quite different from mine, is worth reading. Money quote:
From this point on, it will really be Palin versus Obama. And she will win, because she is a formed and grounded grownup, while Obama is only a character in his own memoir.
Read the whole thing.

Edwards cancels UB appearance

I wrote last month that it seemed inevitable John Edwards would back out of his scheduled Sept. 26 "debate" with Karl Rove at the University at Buffalo: "I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that UB has a better chance of upsetting Missouri in football on September 20 than of actually seeing an Edwards-Rove debate the following Friday."

But as of yesterday, the Buffalo News was reporting that, according to university officials who had received assurances from the ex-senator's staff, Edwards "still plans to appear at the University at Buffalo later this month, despite keeping a low profile since acknowledging an extramarital affair."

Well, it turns out I was right:
Edwards released the following statement to UB [on Thursday]:

“I’ve decided to avoid any public engagements until after the election in November. Nothing is more important than electing Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I don’t want my appearance at these events to be a distraction from the important issues of the election, or from the important purpose of these meetings.” . . .

UB is working to get another Democrat of national stature to replace Edwards and debate Rove on issues involving the presidential campaign, said Dennis R. Black, UB’s vice president of student affairs.

The university was disappointed by the Edwards cancellation, Black said, because only Wednesday his representatives had confirmed his commitment to the Sept. 26 engagement.

“We’re dealing with politicians,” Black said, “so we should be used to flip-flops.”
Heh.

In other news, hey, UB did look pretty good against UTEP last week! Can they stun Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, tomorrow? The Panthers are 0-1 against the MAC!

UPDATE: Edwards will be replaced by Wesley Clark. (Hat tip: Barb.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

RNC liveblog cancelled! But live chat still on

I hate to do this, but I'm going to have to cancel tonight's McCain speech liveblog. Because of all the hurricanes and conventions, I've been operating on a sleep deficit for like a week-and-a-half, and it's really hitting me this evening: I have a sore throat, I'm totally exhausted, I generally don't feel well, and as much as I hate to miss the big event, I think the prudent course of action (especially with more late-night hurricane-blogging sessions possibly looming, thanks to Ike) is to hit the hay early, TiVo the speech, and watch it at my leisure over the weekend. So, no liveblog tonight. :(

But, if y'all want to chat about the speech live, you can still do so here. In other words: "I'm getting verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. John McCain was a POW. Discuss." ;)

P.S. I can't believe I'm going to miss the f***ing balloons!

Ms. Palin, our new celebrity

Whatever you thought of Sarah Palin's speech last night, the reaction to the speech -- fawning adoration by the conservative masses, worthy of the most ardent "Obamabots" -- has fully exposed the complete disingenuousness of virtually the entire McCain argument against Obama, as it's been expressed all summer long.

If it had wanted to, the McCain campaign could have spent the summer trying to brand Obama as OMG The Most Liberal Senator Ever. The Palin Ascendancy would have done nothing to contradict that message. But, presumably sensing that the old liberal-as-a-dirty-word standby might not work so well in 2008, the McCain campaign has pursued this line of attack only secondarily, and has focused primarily on a rather different "branding" strategy.

They have tried, with considerable success, to frame Obama in three basic ways: he's too inexperienced, particularly on foreign policy matters, and thus unready to be president; he's a "celebrity" who draws huge crowds, a fact which somehow demonstrates that he doesn't understand the common man; and he's nothing but eloquent talk, and words aren't enough to make up for his lack of experience.

We already knew the Palin pick contradicted the first line of attack, regarding experience, specifically foreign-policy experience -- a contradiction whose existence remains objectively indisputable, no matter how many times the GOP spinsters make risible claims to the contrary.

But now, after last night's speech, the other two lines of attack are also being contradicted. Suddenly, the Republicans aren't so dismissive of the ability to draw a crowd:
Gov. Sarah Palin may well draw larger crowds than Sen. John McCain ever did, and the McCain campaign plans to take advantage: they're filling a calendar that will find her deployed to places where McCain can't go, places where McCain's gone and fallen flat, and places where social conservatives need an enthusiasm boost.
I bet those newly enthusiastic conservatives will cheer wildly, wave signs, even chant Palin's name. Does this make Sarah Palin a mindless celebrity? Of course not -- and if anyone dares say that, they'll be branded as "sexist." But what was it, then, when the GOP said the exact same thing about Obama, on the exact same basis?

Furthermore, and relatedly, the Republicans have suddenly decided that eloquent words do matter, and indeed, go a long way toward making up for a lack of experience. Needless to say, this is precisely the opposite of what they've been saying all campaign long. Slate's John Dickerson writes:
For many months, Republicans have been warning us against candidates with thin résumés introducing themselves on the national stage. Ignore Barack Obama's lofty language, they've said. He's just offering words. And definitely don't pay attention to the screaming crowds. They're only proof that he's an empty-suit celebrity.

Never mind. On Wednesday night, the Republican Party tried to catapult Sarah Palin past her rocky rollout and into legitimacy in a single speech wrapped in thunderous applause.

Republicans are reacting to Palin the way Democrats do to Obama.
The National Review's Jim Gerahty Geraghty (sorry) basically admitted this last night, with admirable candor:
She knocked it out of the park. I don’t think she could have delivered that speech any better. ... [T]he speech hit almost every note just right. (Did the Obama fans feel this way? Is this what their exultation feels like? Wonderful. I’m glad they get to experience it too.)
Republicans have endlessly mocked the liberal "Obamabots" for their fervent adoration of "The One," based on nothing but lofty words, eloquent delivery, ideological camaraderie, and of course, identity politics. But now Republicans have their "One," based on the very same factors. So, what was the problem again?

Oh, right. There is no problem. There never was. These lines of attack were always, from the very beginning, completely disingenuous and devoid of substance. They were based on a combination of cynical political calculation and Obama Derangement Syndrome-induced blindness. Now that the GOP has its own "messiah" to rally around, there's no problem at all. Carry on then. Nothing to see here. Pay no attention to the blatant hypocrisy and self-contradiction behind the curtain.

Palin's triumph

Becky, who came into last night's speech feeling very hostile to the Palin pick, watched the speech on TiVo this morning and said, "Palin is kind of enchanting. I like her."

If the speech's mixture of "enchanting," small-town, down-home folksiness and brutal, scathing, pitbull-with-lipstick attacks on Obama was pitch-perfect enough to appeal to someone like Becky -- a "high-information" voter who has been quite hostile to all the GOP's negativity, and to the McCain-Palin ticket generally -- I imagine it appealed even more to its target audience: low-information, driven-by-feelings swing voters.

If so, Peggy Noonan's column may be right, and Peggy Noonan's live-mic gaffe may be wrong.

Myself, I thought it was a very solid speech, but not earth-shatteringly great -- though, as I said during the liveblog, I was struck by the potential power of Palin's perpetual personalizing (say that five times fast) of Obama's "bitter" gaffe throughout the remainder of the campaign. That's a gold mine for McCain right there.

Also, my personal assessment of the speech may have been hindered by the fact that I was somewhat distracted by running the liveblog. It's hard to get swept up in the emotional power of a moment when you're only half-watching.

Speaking of the liveblog: stay tuned for another one tonight, complete with a live chat (again). I'll probably get things started around 9:30 PM EDT. Y'all come on back now, y'hear?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

RNC liveblog: Mitt, Huck, Rudy & Sarah!
And later: the roll call!!



And here's the live chat archive.

Liveblog tonight!

I plan to liveblog tonight's RNC proceedings in much the same way that I liveblogged Obama's speech, using CoverItLive. I will also probably do a separate chat window thingy, like I did then. (I'm trying to find a service that will actually save the chat for archival purposes, as CoverItLive does with the liveblog. Please let me know if you happen to know of one.)

I'll start the liveblog by 9:00 PM EDT, if not sooner, so I can liveblog Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani and Palin -- who, incidentally, will be "accepting" a nomination she won't have received yet -- followed by my favorite part of the convention, the roll call.

Alas, I don't think anything in the GOP roll call can possibly live up to the most hilarious moment of the Democratic roll call, as related by Dave Barry:
One highlight of Wednesday's roll call was when John Knutson, chairperson of the Maine Democratic Party, said -- and I am not making this quote up -- "The sun comes up in Maine first in the nation. And we feel very honored to be . . . to have that as our singular . . . whatever. Privilege."

Maine: The Whatever State.
In fairness to Mr. Knutson, it seems he was stalling for time while Hillary Clinton rushed to the convention floor in time for the New-Mexico-to-Illinois-to-New-York dog & pony show that ended the roll call. Regardless, it was the most entertaining roll-call moment since at least 1996, when a Louisiana delegate at the Republican convention randomly voted for Robert Bork.

Anyway... come back tonight for the liveblog!

Apparently, the First Amendment has been repealed

Scott Conover, the man arrested for "unlawful photography" in East Tennessee, is set to have his rescheduled court date today. (Previous posts here, here and here.) I'll let you know when I hear anything about how it turned out.

Meanwhile, police in St. Paul seem to making a habit of arresting journalists for reporting on protests -- or, in one case, for simply approaching police officers to ask them about the status of other arrested journalists:
When Goodman arrived at the scene 20 minutes later, she asked the riot police if she could see her producers, who were being held in police vehicles. “I just said, 'I want to talk to a commander,' ” said Goodman, who had her own press badge slung around her neck. “They didn’t skip a beat; they just started arresting me.”

The scene was captured on video -- a clip that was one the most-viewed videos on YouTube.com on Tuesday. In it, Goodman is seen pleading with the police while her arms are twisted behind her back and into plastic handcuffs.

All four journalists were released hours after being arrested. Goodman was officially charged with obstruction of a legal process and interference with a peace officer.
Asking the police for information, then pleading your case when they unlawfully arrest you, apparently now counts as "interference" and "obstruction" in these United States of America. Who knew? I must have missed the memo where the First Amendment freedoms of speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, were repealed.

As in Conover's case, this is nothing but naked authoritarianism, and it must not be tolerated.

Then there's this: "As media organizations protested the arrest of four journalists who were released on Monday, three other journalists remained in a St. Paul jail without hardly a word of support." They, too, were arrested for reporting on protests.

Police in St. Paul also seized three videographers' cameras before the convention even began, ostensibly for "homeland security" reasons. The videographers in question are, coincidentally I'm sure, part of the "Glass Bead Collective, an organization that documents police misconduct."

The incidents in St. Paul follow on the heels of similar occurrences in Denver at the Democratic Convention: an ABC reporter arrested for taking pictures from a sidewalk of senators and campaign contributors, a journalist pepper sprayed during a protest, and so forth. (In the case of the sidewalk photographer, the hotel claims he was "blocking the entrance," but this claim is awfully convenient, highly dubious, and sadly typical of attempts to retroactively justify false arrests.)

This is not a partisan issue. It's a police abuse-of-power issue, and "security" is no excuse for this sort of totally unacceptable and unconstitutional behavior by officers of the law.

Carlos Miller is a great source of information about these unfolding stories.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

RNC open thread, Joementum edition

I don't plan on liveblogging Day 2 (really Day 1, for all practical intents and purposes) of the Republican National Convention tonight. There's no partisan intent to this decision -- nor am I trying to dodge the awkwardness of live-blogging Lieberman, I swear! :) -- I'm just really busy tonight, and don't have time to devote to a full-fledged liveblog. I'll be at least half-watching the convention, and might post a thought or two, but that's about it.

Anyway, feel free to leave your thoughts in comments on this open thread.

P.S. If there's a full state-by-state roll call tomorrow, I'll almost certainly liveblog it; I love the roll call! And I will definitely have a liveblog Thursday night for McCain's acceptance speech, probably with a live-chat feature, like I did for Obama's speech last week. That was fun.

UPDATE: OMG, the president just said "Angry Left"! LOL!!

UPDATE 2: TNR's David Kusnet writes:
For a disliked party with a despised president but a widely admired nominee, the Republicans took the only realistic rhetorical avenue: Reduce the entire presidential campaign to biography (see Jonathan Cohn for more on this), run away from partisan labels, and bludgeon the opposing candidate with ... patriotism and nonpartisanship.

So it was that President Bush, speaking in the slot that the Democrats usually reserve for Dennis Kucinich, praised McCain not only for his heroism but also for having disagreed with him. Speaking by satellite for eight minutes, the President mostly sounded presidential, with the glaring exception of one of the most demagogically divisive lines ever spoken by a chief executive from a White House podium: “If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will.” Somewhere in the executive mansion, a portrait of Richard Nixon was smiling.
Heh. Indeed.

FWIW, my viewing of the first (real) night of the Republican Convention definitely had an impact on this still-undecided voter: it pushed me closer and closer to deciding in Obama's favor, once and for all. Much as the netroots (a.k.a. the angry left) turned me off to liberalism from 2002-2006, conservatives themselves are turning me off to conservatism in 2008. Explaining my thought process in detail is another post for another day, but suffice it to say, if the Republicans keep it up, I may be donating money to Obama's campaign by the end of the week. My "lean" is getting stronger and stronger.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nerdy browser question

When downloading a file that has an identical name to a file you've previously downloaded, is there any way to make Firefox automatically rename the downloaded file by, for example, appending a number, like Safari does?

To give you an example: I frequently save copies of satellite images from this NOAA site. These images have standard filenames -- for instance, the visible satellite photos are always called "vis.jpg." In Safari, when I click "Save image to [my downloads folder]" on one of these files, Safari automatically appends a number to the newly downloaded file's name. So, if you look in my downloads folder, you'll see "vis-1.jpg," "vis-2.jpg," "vis-3.jpg," etc., etc. This way, the old file isn't overwritten, and yet I'm not harassed with a window demanding that I create a new filename whenever I download this sort of file.

Firefox, on the other hand, always asks me for a filename when I click "Save Image As...", and if I stick with the default name -- the file's name on the Web -- it asks me if I want to replace the previously downloaded file with the same name. My options are "Cancel" or "Replace"; there is no "Automatically Rename" option. So, whenever I download a weather file with a standard name, I have to come up with a new and different filename each time. Given how often I download these sorts of files -- often several all at once -- this is an annoying waste of time. I want to just download it and have the naming take care of itself.

I find Safari's download method incredibly convenient to the point of indispensability, and it's really the only thing keeping me from switching to Firefox as my standard browser. So I was wondering if there might be some plugin or setting or whatever that would fix this.