Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ralph Nader on Red State Update

I love Red State Update. It's two guys playing rednecks and offering political commentary. Part of the joke is that, underneath the accents and attitude, they're usually pretty dead-on and actually rather intelligent. In this clip, they interviewed Ralph Nader. Props to Ralph for having a sense of humor and talking to them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Julia Roberts and Sarah Palin

This is a clip from The Mexican, a somewhat underrated movie starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and James Gandolfini. I say "somewhat" underrated because it's a good movie, not great, but not particularly well edited. It's very complicated - I watched it at least three times before I really understood the plot. Once you get it, it's fun.

The basics are this: Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are a young couple who can't quite get it together, either in their respective personal lives, or in their relationship. Pitt's in a spot of trouble with the local Mob. Julia Roberts decides to leave him, but inadvertently gets caught up in the same trouble. Said trouble comes in the form of Gandolfini, a gay and somewhat oddly enlightened hit man. As Roberts tells him at one point, "You're a very sensitive person for a cold-blooded killer."

This clip comes near the end of the movie. I love Julia Roberts' monologue here. It clearly makes sense to her, but not to anyone else. Sort of like Sarah Palin!

As a bonus, Gandolfini's answer is actually rather touching and sort of profound. Keep in mind that he is a hit man.

Gandolfini also has one of my all-time favorite quotes in this movie:

"I'm here to regulate funkiness."


Time for a redo; the House did not pass the bailout.

I admit to some relief. Paul Krugman was in favor of it, but just barely (like pretty much everyone who was in favor of it, I think). He was tolerant of the policy, and recognized the politcal reality; this was the best the Democrats could do and expect any kind of Republican support at all.

Kos didn't like it, although he recognizes the need to do SOMETHING.

I'm torn between Krugman and Kos; I don't always agree with either, but I trust Krugman on economics, and I respect Kos on the politics.

All of that, of course, is irrelevant right now. The thing is dead. It won't come back up for at least a couple of days. I don't expect opinions to soften in the interim. The people back home are not going to discover a new love for Wall Street.

It's becoming clear that, for all his ability to manage the crisis day-to-day, Henry Paulson didn't play the politics of this well. That's not really his fault; he's not a politician. But his initial power grab didn't go over well, and springing the "$700 billion" figure out of the blue, immediately after the Merrill Lynch-Lehman-AIG few days of terror, didn't help. That's a huge chunk of change to start talking about all of a sudden.

I'm sure Paulson didn't calculate the politics of how the House and Senate would react; first, he didn't really have time, second, it's not his background. SOMEONE in the Bush White House should have realized that this was not going to play in Peoria. Of course, that would be assuming that someone in the White House would have a clue how this is going to play in Peoria. Which, obviously, no one, least of all Bush, does.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: George Bush's biggest problem isn't that he isn't very bright or isn't intellectually curious or even that he's a stubborn SOB. George W. Bush's problem - and now, our problem - is that he simply isn't a very good politician. He just doesn't know how to read other people very well, particularly when they potentially disagree with him. Which means that he does not anticipate problems like the House Republicans not going all with him. Which means that he has no idea how to GET them to go along with him. He just does not have the empathetic imagination: he cannot imagine another person's perspective very well.

Bill Clinton, of course, was an absolute genius at that. And I mean genius in the literal sense: he was not brilliant at it, he was a genius at it. He could imagine how all the other parties in a particular situation would react, not merely to a policy proposal, but to each other. Bush has no idea that that is even an important thing to try to do.

So now we're stuck with a broken deal and a financial system in crisis. We know what the minuses are: an incompetent, powerless president; a furious electorate; raging uncertainty in the financial markets; a fractured GOP, with open revolt among members.

Are there any pluses? The Democratic leadership seems to be united. Henry Paulson presumably now has a better sense of how to play the politics; he seems to learn fast. The rank and file Republicans in the House have now had their chance to make themselves heard; maybe that was enough for some of them.

Maybe Congress will come up with a better bill. It will come up with a different one, that's for sure. Maybe it will be dramatically different; maybe it will just be tweaked.

One variable I can't predict is how John Boehner and the rest of the House leadership will react. They may very well be furious at Bush for not playing this well; at the very least, they can't be happy with Bush. But if this goes down again, Wall Street is going to hold them accountable.

There's one wild variable: the VP debate is on Thursday. Ain't no way in hell this is going to be postponed. If Sarah Palin holds her own, maybe Republicans will be more confident of victory for McCain in November. But if, as seems more likely, she tanks, they may be ever-closer to panic mode. How that will play is anyone's guess.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama wins!

I watched the debate last night in Hollywood, at a Generation Obama watch party. I thot Obama did well. Obviously, I would like to think Obama won a smashing victory. I don't think that. I think he won, but not by much. He didn't make any mistakes, which was key. I liked his emphasis on Afghanistan, because I think that issue, together with his early opposition to the war in Iraq, shows some good foreign policy judgment. Most people know that he opposed the war in Iraq; I don't think many people are aware that he is in favor of refocusing on Afghanistan. That's a subtle thing, but it's also very important, and I think many people will get it. There are many people who either or opposed the Iraq war initially, or who oppose it now, who support the war in Afghanistan.

Focusing on Afghanistan also could reassure Republicans who are worried about Obama's willingness to use force. He's not a pacifist; he's not opposed to the use of force as a matter of philosophy or ideology. He recognizes that the use of force is sometimes necessary. But he also is far more prudent about how and when to use it than either Bush or McCain. I think that came through.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stop the presses! McCain will debate!

Shocker of the day: John McCain will, in fact debate Barack Obama tonight at the University of Mississippi.

Whew! That was close.

Eugene Robinson has a great description of McCain's campaign:

Changing the subject, which the McCain people have raised to an art form
Ain't that the truth. What did McCain accomplish with this gimmick? "Suspend" his campaign to get some legislation passed? What would he do if it were a real crisis, like 9/11?

A few die-hard conservatives defended him, but most people saw it as what it was: a gimmick. David Brooks is still trying to defend McCain. It's a valiant effort. There is much to like about John McCain. But Brooks is missing McCain's tragic flaw.

John McCain sees politics from the perspective of his personal honor. He has the traditional conservative outlook; small government is good; taxes are bad. But his primary concern is to act honorably. His response to the Keating Five scandal is a classic example. The failure of the S&L's in 1980's came about because of deregulation. Charles Keating encouraged several senators to help him out, and did it with oodles of campaign cash. McCain was one of them; he was reprimanded by the Senate for his role.

What McCain learned from the episode is that campaign contributions are bad. His personal honor was tarnished; the solution is to fight for campaign finance reform, to erase the stain on his person.

But he didn't learn the policy lesson, that too much deregulation in the financial sector of the economy can have disastrous results. I'm still not sure he sees that.

His response to this crisis was classic: he will save the day, because he is an honorable man, and what is needed is honorable intentions. He will solve this crisis with his own upstanding behavior.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a politician obsessed with his own sense of honor. Politics would probably be better if more politicians had the same obsession. But there are two problem with John McCain's obsession with his own personal honor. First, it sometimes blinds him to policy questions. Second, he doesn't trust other people. This is why he is willing to take on his own party: he just doesn't trust many fellow Republicans to act honorably. This kind of peer pressure is usually a net positive in Congress. But this week, it has led him to try to pull off the ridiculous stunt of "suspending" his campaign. He just didn't trust the other people involved to resolve this crisis in an honorable way.

Brooks writes that, for a politician, John McCain is a humble man. What he means is that McCain is very open about his own failings. There's little doubt about that. But it's a corollary to McCain's theory about his own honor: a key part of acting honorably is acknowledging your own weaknesses, because that kind of honesty is more honorable than trying to deny them.

So John McCain is very aware of his own failings. Except when his honor is at stake.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Government seizes WaMu

The federal government has seized Washington Mutual. This is the largest bank failure in history.

I'm finding this out late at night, so my thots are brief. I don't bank there, so it doesn't affect me directly.

My first thot is that this makes the bailout picture more interesting, and hopefully brightens the picture a bit, because it takes a large degree of uncertainty out of it. JPMorgan Chase is taking over WaMu's retail operations, and writing down $31 billion in the process. That's a large chunk of change that the government won't have to worry about. So this is one example of the free market actually working. The strong and smart survivor, i.e. JPMorgan Chase, is taking over the weak failure. With the government's help.

It's not good news for WaMu, but it might be slightly good news for the rest of us.

Sarah Palin and Katie Couric - Palin is terrified

I watched a couple of excerpts of Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin. I have to say that I was impressed with Katie Couric. There wasn't any of the perkiness that I associate with her - she was gentle and calm, but in total control of the interview, and asked probing questions. She looked like she wanted to be pitiless, but knew that she had to be diplomatic. That's not because it's Sarah Palin, it's the nature of the beast. The interviewer, particularly one of Couric's stature, can't come across as partisan.

What I got out of it from Palin's perspective is that I think she's terrified of this whole process. I think she knows how far in over her head she is, and she is doing everything she possibly can to hide that fact.

My guess is that if she could go back in time and revisit her decision to accept John McCain's invitation to be vice president, she would turn him down. She's not that stupid. She knows she's being evasive. She knows she's bluffing. Anybody who has graduated from high school has had an experience where they had to fake knowing something. A friend in college was working as a cook at a restaurant. The chef asked her to make a white sauce. She replied "Why don't you show me how you make yours?"

Most people have had tense moments in job interviews. "Tell me X about this position on your resume." "Can you describe a situation where you had to do Y?" Sometimes we're prepared for those questions. Sometimes we have to improvise. Sometimes we're caught off-guard, and the interviewer knows it. Usually, in those situations, we don't get the job. But those situations are also almost always private. When I've been embarrassed in a job interview, I am thankful that it's over quickly, that I will probably never see the person again, and that no one else saw it. And I can rely on understanding from my friends and family.

Running for president is the world's longest and most public job interview. Katie Couric caught Sarah Palin off-guard. She caught her bluffing, and both of them knew it. Katie Couric has conducted literally thousands of on-screen interviews. This was Sarah Palin's third.

Sarah Palin's goal at this point is not to be elected vice president of the United States. I'm sure she thinks she has a chance, because she does. I'm sure she would love to have that job.

But I think her goal is to simply get out of this alive. She wants to retain some semblance of dignity. Dan Quayle is going to go his grave being known as the man to whom Lloyd Bentsen said "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Who among us would want to be known for our most embarrassing moments?

No wonder she refuses to have a press conference. She's going to be criticized for not having one, but that pales in comparison to how she would be roasted if she actually did have one. Many people are not going to notice if she doesn't have a press conference. Everyone will know if she blows it.

John McCain thot he was doing Sarah Palin a great favor by asking Sarah Palin to be his VP. I think he did her the gravest possible disservice. He opened her up to ridicule on an epic, historic scale. And right now, there isn't a damn thing either of them can do about it. I would feel sorry for Sarah Palin if the stakes weren't so impossibly high.

Not suspending blogging

My friends and fellow Americans, and fellow citizens of the world: I want to assure all of you that I will not be suspending my blogging because of the current financial crisis. You may be certain that I will continue to provide deep insights and the occasional witty commentary for your edification and pleasure, despite the hole that Wall Street is in.

Never fear! Even if my presence is required in a distant city, I will keep up my obligations to you. To all of you. I will be in constant communication with our nation's leaders if they do, in fact, require my participation, which they might, because, you never know, there's always an odd chance that the perspective of an ordinary American might be the breakthrough needed to solve this crisis.

I will also keep all of my commitments to late night talk show hosts, even though I currently have no such commitments. If Jay Leno, or David Letterman, or Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert, or even Ellen DeGeneres calls, I'll be there for them. I won't bail on anyone like John McCain did on Letterman last night. No sirree! I would do everything in my power to show up for any of them. I would gladly accept free airfare for a trip to New York, regardless of how it might interfere with my life.

Thank you all for your patience and understanding during these, our trying times. I will continue to post updates throughout the crisis about my determination to keep blogging. Given that I occasionally post movie reviews on this site, I may also demonstrate my commitment to solving this crisis by seeing a movie and writing about it. It's the least I can do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Campbell Brown: Free Sarah Palin

Damn right.

Gotta love Wanda Sykes

One thing Sarah Palin has done: provide lots of opportunities for female comedians.

Should the debate this Friday be canceled?


John McCain wants to cancel the debate this Friday so that he and Barack Obama can focus on the economic crisis. I don't think that's a good idea. I think it's a terrible idea. What Americans need now is the opportunity to hear what the candidates think about the issues. The rest of the people involved in solving this can work around the debates. A debate is one of the best possible ways for candidates to communicate with the American people, which is of paramount importance right now.

If the debates are canceled, McCain and Obama will end up talking to other people in Washington. That's not what we need right now. We need them talking to us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sarah Palin's experience vs. every other VP

Lawrence Lessig has a video analysis of Sarah Palin's experience vs. the experience of every other vice president that America has had so far. His conclusion? She has less experience than almost every other VP, one notable exception being . . . Spiro Agnew. It's a long video, but worth 12 minutes (you'll have to click on the link to watch it, I experienced technical problems when I tried to embed it here. It's from blip.tv, I'm not up to speed on that yet).

Urgent email about the bailout

This is a great commentary on the bailout. I think we've all gotten emails that read like this one:

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I just want to know who: is going to play Henry Paulson on SNL?

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

Live-blogging the Senate hearing on the bailout

The NY Times is live-blogging the Senate hearing on the bailout. Thank God there is pushback from both Democrats and Republicans on the Bush Administration's need for speed.

– Senator Dodd, the Democratic chairman of the panel: “I understand speed is important. But I am far more interested in whether or not we get this right. There is no second act to this.”
– Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican and ranking member of the panel: “Before I sign off on something of this magnitude, I want to make sure we’ve exhausted the alternatives”

What's interesting is the reaction of Republicans from largely rural states. Richard Shelby is from Alabama. I don't know this specifically, but my guess is that there isn't a lot of investment banking going on in Alabama.

What we are witnessing is a breakdown of the Reagan coalition. Reagan brought together religious and cultural conservatives, and Main Street and Wall Street business types. Those groups don't necessarily have much in common beyond an interest in lower taxes and the free markets; Wall Street and Main Street people might be socially liberal.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the fiscal interests of religious and cultural conservatives, particularly in the South, are diverging from the interests of Wall Street. Richard Shelby's constituents do not want to bail out the East Coast elitists on Wall Street. Chris Dodd has a fair number of investment bankers among his constituents, but he's also a Democrat, and there are a lot of people in Connecticut who ARE NOT rich investment bankers.

So if Richard Shelby wants to keep the non-investment bankers in his state voting Republican, he has to stoke the populist fires.

This is going to be interesting to watch. Republicans against corporate greed? Conservatives against the excesses of the markets created by too much deregulation? Hopefully this will be too much hypocrisy even for Republicans.

Andrew Sullivan on The Lies of Sarah Palin

Andrew Sullivan, who is furious about the choice of Sarah Palin, chronicles her lies. It's an impressive list. At this point, I don't trust Sarah Palin to tell the truth about the weather.

Monday, September 22, 2008

100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers

Someone has too much time on their hands . . . thank goodness. This is brilliant.

Burn After Reading

So I saw Burn After Reading. There are some movies that are very sweet and wholesome, yet not saccharine or sentimental, and that engage audiences across all demographics, young and old, rich and poor, those on the mainstream and those on the fringes.

This is not one of those movies.

There is something insanely wonderful about a movie that, taken as the sum of its parts, makes perfect sense, but, taken as a whole, is largely meaningless and pointless, and yet somehow ends up being deliciously wicked and fun.

When I say "insanely wonderful," I mean that in both senses of the word "insane" - insane in the sense of being beyond normal expectations, and insane meaning lacking rationality or logic. The Coen brothers have made a ruthlessly whimsical movie, with smart, beautiful stars playing people who are stupid, or clueless, or both, and alternately charming and nasty.

John Malkovich plays a CIA agent, Osborne Cox, who has been "reassigned" to the State Department, against his wishes. He's not happy about this. You have the feeling he's not happy about much. He's married to Katie Cox, played by Tilda Swinton, who owes the cinematographer and costume designer some big favors for a couple of shots where she is simply stunning. She's gorgeous, the shots are gorgeous, and you have the feeling that the Coen brothers said to themselves "You know what? We're going to make this gorgeous just because we can." Most fortunately, they take that attitude with gleeful abandon at random points throughout the movie. Even when they're not having ridiculous amounts of fun with lighting and camera angles and production design, they're still having fun. This is an exceptionally well-directed movie.

Kaite Cox is not happy about the fact that she's married to Osborne, so she's having an affair with Harry Pfarrer, played by George Clooney, who of course needs no help looking gorgeous. He's married, too, and not terribly happy about that, either, although he's not super-thrilled with this affair, either. Which is one reason he has several others.

Including one with Linda Litzki (Frances McDormand), a trainer at a local gym. She's not happy with her body, and desperately needs cosmetic surgery, although her HMO won't pay for it, which she's not happy about, either. She's also not happy with her romantic prospects, despite the fact that her boss, Ted (Richard Jenkins) all but lays roses at her feet to try to get her attention. Naturally, he's not that excited about the fact that he's invisible to her.

One of Linda's coworkers is Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). He's actually not that unhappy. He's pretty much grooving through life, not thinking too much about much of anything, except how much fun he's having on the treadmill (oh the metaphors) until someone finds a CD with lots of weird data on it in the gym locker room. He and Linda decide to have a little fun with it. This is what some people, usually law enforcement officials, refer to as "blackmail." Don't try this at home.

All this unhappiness and lack of good sex makes for some volatile people and even more volatile situations. Individually, everyone is mostly normal, or at least not that abnormal. The things they do are not that weird. Lots of people have affairs, particularly in movies. Lots of people try online dating. Washed-up alcoholics get fired from the CIA all the time.

Not that many people, however, try blackmail when they have no idea what they are doing, or who they are trying to blackmail, or even what they are trying to blackmail with. Linda and Chad (I love the name "Chad Feldheimer") decide to engage in a little extemporaneous fundraising for Linda's cosmetic surgery needs when they find Mr. Cox's CD. Things don't go as planned.

At this point I have to stop describing the plot, because we are now entering who-cares-what-makes-sense territory. I don't think I have ever been so happy that I did not care one iota that the plot was basically pointless. The performances are just so good, the directing is so good, that I just enjoyed the experience. The actors are clearly having the times of their lives. I think John Malkovich has been waiting his entire career for this combination of self-destructiveness, articulate rage, wildly misdirected competence, and impotent ennui. Frances McDormand throws off an endless stream of cliches, deluding herself that she's smart with all these great insights wrapped up in succinct, trite little packages.

J.K. Simmons has a cameo as some kind of boss at the CIA, who is trying to follow this without the benefit of great cinematography or editing. People he's never heard of are doing strange things for reasons he can't begin to understand. He finally tells his underling, the one feeding him the details, "Report back to me when it all makes sense."

It never does. It never will. At least not to someone outside all the nonsense. To someone on the inside, however, watching this madcap explosion of absurdity turning semi-normal people's lives inside out, it makes perfect sense.

Not that you want it to. That might ruin the fun.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

First thots on the current financial crisis

The crisis in the financial world has exploded so quickly that it's hard to keep up. I haven't been too surprised by the latest turn of events. I've been hearing rumors of Lehman's imminent demise for a while. I didn't know that AIG was in as much trouble as it was, but, then again, apparently neither did anybody else. I had a strong suspicion that the bailout of Bear Stearns wasn't the bottom. This, however, damn well better be the turning point.

One quick observation: I'm glad that, in one respect, George W. Bush did exactly the same thing as Bill Clinton: picked a former chairman of Goldman Sachs as Treasury Secretary (Clinton's choice was Robert Rubin, Bush's was Henry Paulson). I'm not sure I agree with Paulson - jury's still out on exactly what he's doing - but at least he projects a sense that he knows what he's doing, and he's capable of making decisions quickly. At this point, I think I'm glad that Bush seems almost irrelevant to managing this crisis. We should be thinking of Bush at this point in terms of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

The terms of the debate are already taking shape: how much oversight should the government have? Decisions made in the next few weeks will have reprecussions for years, if not decades. Obama is coming down on the right side.
  • No blank check.
  • Rescue requires mutual responsibility.
    Taxpayers should be protected.
  • Help homeowners stay in their homes.
  • A global response.
  • Main Street, not just Wall Street.
  • Build a regulatory structure for the 21st Century.
Thank God Democrats control Congress. Otherwise this could easily be pretty much a straight bailout of irresponsible bankers.

My gut reaction comes down to this: the two driving forces on Wall Street are greed and fear. Everybody in finance knows that. Crises develop when one dominates, and is not balanced by the other. As people are successful, fear recedes, and greed takes over.

The purpose of regulation is to serve as a controlled and constant application of fear, to counterbalance greed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quote of the day

From a comment on a Wall Street Journal opinion piece critical of McCain's response to the current crisis:

"To say that John McCain is a loose cannon is to denigrate unchained artillery."
And that's from a McCain supporter. This is the next (and only other) line from the comment:

"Casting my vote for that man come November will be one of the toughest things I have ever done."
I think it's fair to say that this person has not made a donation to the McCain campaign.

Sarah Palin: Flash in the pan

Sarah Palin is crashing and burning as a vice presidential candidate. How badly? Check out this graph from Daily Kos. A week ago, her positive/negative rating was 52/35 (52% had a positive impression, 35% had a negative impression).

Today, it is 41/46. So her positive rating dropped 11 points in one week.

So much for energizing the base.

There are lots and lots and lots of issues involved in a presidential campaign. No one agrees with any candidate on every issue. Almost no one completely understands the candidates' positions on the various issues.

But everyone understands "experience," because everybody has experience of some kind. And everyone learns from experience, so just about everyone understands how important it is. This is one reason that Obama was vulnerable on that score.

This is also why I think choosing Palin was a fatal miscalculation on McCain's part. Obama counters his lack of experience with the claim that he has superior judgment, notably his opposition to the war in Iraq. The fact that the primary campaign was so long gave voters months to evaluate him. Sarah Palin is being evaluated in a matter of weeks.

What goes largely unsaid about experience is why it is so important: because there are certain things that can only be learned from it. Almost all of us eventually realize that there is a limit to what can be learned from books or in a classroom.

What Obama consistently demonstrates is that, despite not having a long resume, he has clearly learned from what experience he does have.

Sarah Palin has clearly not bothered to learn much from her experience. Which is something that, again, most people are familiar with. We all know someone who just hasn't figured out what they are supposed to have learned, despite all kinds of experience. Sometimes they just don't get it; sometimes they just don't care; sometimes they think they don't need to learn from experience, because they are always right.

All three of those apply to Sarah Palin. She clearly doesn't get that she needs to learn from experience; she doesn't care whether or not she does, because she hasn't had to so far; and she clearly believes, as Bush does, that she is almost always right.

One of the best ways to learn from experience is to occasionally fail. That forces you to figure out how to do better. Sarah Palin has never lost an election (as far as I know). She has never had that humbling experience in politics. Obama has.

Sarah Palin is about to learn some very valuable lessons.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Obama should go on ESPN

Part of the modern campaign is that candidates go on talk shows that they didn't use to go on - The View, The Daily Show, Ellen, Oprah. I think this is a positive development for democracy, bringing the candidates closer to viewers. As far as I know, however, none of them have ever been on ESPN.

I think Obama should break new ground here. I think he should go on Sports Center. I don't have cable, so I don't watch ESPN that much, but I am aware of the fanaticism that it inspires. There are guys who watch it incessantly. I've heard that Obama is big fan.

The most obvious reason for Obama to go Sports Center is to prove he's a regular guy, and to connect with white guys. More subtly, it would counter charges of him being an elitist. I've noticed an odd twist around the "elitism" issue in this campaign - Barack and Michelle Obama, two people from solidly middle class backgrounds who worked their way up, have problems being perceived at "elitist," while Cindy McCain, born into wealth, does not.

I think part of what "elitism" means in this election has little to do with wealth, and a great deal to do with intellectual ability. The Obamas are smart. That should be a positive in someone running for president. Moreover, they like being smart, they enjoy intellectual challenges, they like hanging out with smart people. Again, these should be positives.

But people who are not as smart as them, who are not paid to enjoy intellectual challenges, resent them because they see the Obamas as members of a class - managers, professionals - who get paid exorbitant amounts of money, and who reward themselves richly for being smart. For blue-collar workers, Barack Obama represents their boss, the guy in the corner office who looks out for himself and his buddies before taking care of the guys on the shop floor.

Going on ESPN would counter this impression, because, among American men, sports is the great intellectual equalizer. A guy who works on the line at Ford and never took a single college class thinks of himself as knowing just as much about why the Yankees are in trouble as any guy with a Harvard degree. Most guys who pay attention to basketball can give you a detailed opinion on why the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the finals.

It would also be a great way to counter the impression that some people have that Obama is somehow foreign.

Sports are bonding experiences for guys. You can tell a lot about a guy by who he roots for.

A little harsh humor at a certain investment bank's expense

Top 5 Lehman Brother's souvenirs. All of these can actaully be found on eBay. # 1 is an "Operating Principles Cube."

Hat tip: Megan McArdle.

Sarah Palin: The more we know . . .

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama have a couple of things in common. They both jumped into the national spotlight when they gave a speech at their party's national convention. Both have less on their resumes than would be ideal.

But after that, there's one powerful difference: the more you hear about Barack Obama, the more there is to like about him. He's got a great education, he has a strong work record that has prepared him a number of different ways for this campaign and for being president, he has great managerial skills and he's a damn good strategist.

The more we hear about Sarah Palin, however, the LESS there is to like. HuffPost rounds up some of the commentators - notably, some conservatives - who are not just disappointed with her, but angry at McCain for betraying their trust in him. Andrew Sullivan is nothing short of furious, and has been documenting her lies on an almost hourly basis.

There are almost too many shortcomings to repeat: she has almost no experience, she lies repeatedly, she's clueless about foreign policy, she's petty and vindictive. Etc., etc. She has inspired the base, but the longer this campaign goes on, the more liberals and moderates are not just upset, but thoroughly angry.

David Brooks sums up the issues very well today. Conservatism, he reminds us, once used to be unabashedly elitist, but has also had a strain of populism. Most important, Brooks reminds us of a very basic truth:

It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills.
No kidding. Guess what, so is rocket science and neurosurgery.

This is why commentators like Brooks are turning on Palin: they have worked long and hard to get to where they are. They are elitists as much as anybody. So when Palin dismisses expertise and experience, she is dismissing them as well as politicians in Washington and the liberal elites of Hollywood.

I've said it before, and I will say it again. The right's enthusiasm for Palin erupted instantly and blossomed very quickly. She became a hero to many people over night. The reaction against her is building more slowly, but it is every bit as powerful.

People like David Brooks and David Ignatius are on the leading edge. By definition, they pay close attention to the details of political campaigns. It will take some time for all of these details to filter into the public consciousness. But the broad outlines of the narrative are being shaped. McCain's friends in the press are his friends no more. And they are read by millions of people.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Village People get their star

The Village People are now officially cool for all time: they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Many years ago, a friend of mine booked the Village People for a party at the University of Virginia, while he was a student there. This was long before they became hip.

So Ian, this one's for you.

Best SNL opening in a damn long time

This has to be one of the best SNL opening skits in years, if not forever. I'm a big Tina Fey fan, but this is easily her best role so far. I liked Baby Mama, but in this skit, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hit it out of the park. Way out.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Republican embarrassment factor

There's one unspoken factor in this election, something I haven't heard from anyone else:

The Republican embarrassment factor.

There are a number of Republicans who are disappointed, frustrated, pissed off by the Bush administration. They haven't said much, because they're embarrassed that they voted for him, and they don't want to admit that they are embarrassed. Many of them are sophisticated professionals - doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers - who vote Republican primarily for financial reasons. They're socially liberal, or at least moderate, but they don't like paying high taxes, so they vote Republican, because Republicans lower their taxes.

The key to understanding them is that they're sophisticated professionals. They make their living thinking. They usually have advanced degrees. They're competent. They know how to get things done. Most voted for Bush because he promised to lower their taxes, and they didn't see much appeal in either Gore or Kerry.

But now they are embarrassed by Bush's incompetence. They don't want to admit it. They have been quietly hoping that John McCain will redeem their faith in the GOP. They have been thinking that Bush's biggest problem is that he's incompetent; they're assuming that another candidate, not burdened by this problem, will salvage what's left of the GOP brand. They keep hoping. And keep hoping.

At this point, many of these people are still keeping quiet about their doubts and lack of faith. They're still not sure what to make of Sarah Palin; they can't quite figure out what happened to the John McCain of the Straight Talk Express.

So if you ask them, they'll tell you that they are going to vote for John McCain, because they're confused, and that's their default position. But they are very, very worried.

At least about John McCain and the Republican party. Many of them are not uncomfortable with the idea of voting for Obama. They don't believe the rumors about him being a Muslim. They appreciate the value of an advanced degree from an elite university. Most of them are members of the elite. They agree with Obama on many issues.

They're not quite ready to vote for Obama. They're still confused about John McCain. They're not quite sure what to think of Sarah Palin.

But in a couple of weeks, they are going to start breaking for Obama in big numbers. The numbers in the polls will lag. Embarrassment is difficult to deal with. But once people come face to face with the failure of someone they once believed in, there's no going back.

Serious journalism on Palin: NY Times takes on her record

The NY Times takes a look at Sarah Palin's style of governing, and it's not pretty.

Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.
The more we learn, the scarier this woman gets.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Les Misbarack

I know next to nothing about Les Miserables, but this is great. I assume those of you who know the musical backwards and forwards will appreciate it even more.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan. Of course.

On a personal note, this is my 500th post.

Patience and steel

Andrew Sullivan had adopted the phrase "Patience and steel" to describe how he thinks Obama should respond to McCain's string of lies. I agree completely with this:

The McCain camp is in a death spiral.
This early in a campaign, we are seeing McCain become absurdly desperate. Obama has the luxury of a great ground campaign, lots of money, momentum, and an opponent with nothing to run on. He doesn't have to get negative.

But he can be critical. Remember the rope-a-dope? Obama threw a very careful, but potentially very powerful, punch today. TPM has a quote from Obama spokesperson Hari Sevugan:

John McCain would rather lose his integrity than lose an election.
I think that will get under McCain's skin. It will get into his head. At some point, he is going to lose it. Which will be sad to watch.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Blithering Idiot. Part I

One of the perils of blogging is that occasionally you have to start by stating the blindingly obvious. Thus, the title of this post, which I am going to repeat.

Sarah Palin is a blithering idiot.

I don't quite mean that literally - she obviously has to be somewhat intelligent to get to where she is.

But she is a blithering idiot in very much the same way that George W. Bush is. She believes that she is absolutely right, and does not question that belief. She believes that she is qualified to be President of the United States of America, and does not question that.

What she does not seem to realize is that she is starting to make an absolute fool of herself. This is a slice of the interview that she had with Charlie Gibson of ABC News:

I only managed to watch about the first 10 seconds before I had to pause it and walk away, because it was just too painful. Her ignorance is breathtaking. What is even more astonishing is that she apparently thinks she can talk her way around being completely ignorant of the Bush Doctrine, and somehow get away with it.

She demonstrates two kinds of incompetence with just a few words: first, she's clueless about foreign policy if she isn't familiar with the doctrine formulated by the current occupant of the White House. And it's not that she's unfamiliar with the details - she's clearly never even heard of the Bush Doctrine. It almost makes me wish Gibson had asked her to compare the Bush Doctrine with the Powell Doctrine, but that would have been, I'm sure, even more painful.

Second, she's incompetent at trying to hide the fact that she's never heard of the Bush Doctrine. It's not that this is a concept that she's heard of, but can't quite remember the details. That might have even been understandable. She's never even heard of it.

Dear God, she's doing the impossible: she's making George W. Bush look enlightened and sophisticated. At least he sat in on meetings about foreign policy! Never thot we would see the bar lowered below the standard that Bush set.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The backlash begins: Women Against Sarah Palin

Political organizing ain't what it used to be. Given a candidate with enough publicity, organized opposition can crystallize very, very fast. Thus we have Women Against Sarah Palin. It's a fairly basic site right now, and the YouTube wasn't working when I was there, but they've got some great merchandise. My favorite is this:

"Sarah Palin for VP? You're kidding, right?"

Hat tip to my sister for sending me the link.

Quote of the day

"I'm not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning."

Adlai Stevenson

Hillary v. Sarah: not much yet

Hillary has been lying low since the DNC. Hasn't said much in public yet. Some people are wondering why. TPM has a good post on this: The Obama and Clinton camps have agreed that Hillary should not go on the offensive against Palin just yet.

I agree with this. If Hillary jumps in, it will be a distraction. Obama has to fight this without her help, at least for now. I think Obama has responded well of late, particularly on the "lipstick on a pig" thing. The race is tied right now, but that's partially because of McCain's convention bounce. Palin is getting all of the attention, but that's because she's so new.

This race has to be about Obama vs. McCain, about the Democrats vs. the Republicans, about Obama vs. Bush's legacy. I think Hillary and Bill will be able to make good contributions when Obama has inflicted some serious damage on McCain/Palin. When Obama and Biden has softened up McCain and Palin, then Hillary will be more effective. She should jump in when Obama has set the terms of the debate. Otherwise her presence becomes part of those terms.

Ketchup Spng

I just discovered the "Ketchup Song" on YouTube. It's a great video. Very catchy, very well-done video. The only problem is that I don't know what the song is about. Can anyone enlighten me?

Charlie Rangel's bad excuse

Things are not looking good for Charlie Rangel. The NY Times is reporting that he is claiming that “cultural and language barriers” got in the way of him paying taxes properly on some property in the Dominican Republic.

That's absurd. Charlie Rangel is the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He should be a world-class expert on paying taxes. This does not look good. I doubt it's criminal, and I think we should wait for the results of the ethics committe investigation, but he needs to be more careful.

Starting to get Palin

As the Sarah Palin phenomenon continues apace, I think I am starting to get it. An article in today's WaPo quoted a number of women about how they identified with her. I can only appreciate that intellectually; emotionally, I can never grasp that, because, as a straight white American male, I've never had to wonder about what it would be like to see someone like me in a position of power. Every president up to this point has been my gender and race.

Someone at work forwarded me an email with two pictures that clarified this for me. The top picture was of Sarah Palin standing next to a motorcycle. It's a huge thing, probably a Harley. Below is a picture of Barack Obama riding a bicycle, wearing a helmet. The message is obvious: Sarah Palin is tough, Obama is a geek.

What I realized after seeing this is that voters want to identify with politicians the same way they want to identify with movie stars: they want to live vicariously through them. If Sarah Palin is tough, then women who vote for her feel tough.

That's a powerful message. That message - that Sarah Palin is as tough as any man - has a strange relationship to traditional liberal feminism. On the one hand, Sarah Palin opposes traditional feminist values - she opposes abortion, etc. On the other hand, her success was made possible by feminists like Gloria Steinem. And no one can question Gloria Steinem's toughness. Even her strongest opponents have to admit that Gloria Steinem has fought long and hard for her ideals, and has dedicated her life to her cause.

So while Sarah Palin may disagree with Gloria Steinem and other liberal feminists, she owes them her career. If it had not been for the ground that they broke, she would not have been able to run for Vice President of the United States. She clearly understands that - she has acknowledged Hillary Clinton's groundbreaking campaign. Of course, many other conservatives don't want to admit that.

Where Sarah Palin's candidacy poses problems for Obama and other Democrats is that she is neither afraid of men, nor angry at them. In this respect, she is very different from some - but not all - of traditional liberal feminist groups. Traditional liberal feminist groups, like NOW, have a reputation for being anti-male. Those groups dispute that characterization as grossly unfair, and I think they're mostly right. But not entirely. I agree that the vast majority of feminists are confortable with men, and I know many, many women who call themselves feminists and have normal, healthy, relationships with lots of men - their fathers, brothers, husbands, friends, lovers, sons, bosses, coworkers, etc.

But there is a small percentage - maybe 1% - of feminists who hate men. For whatever reason - personal, political, ideological, whatever. The problem that traditional feminists have with people like Sarah Palin is that they don't admit that there are feminists who do hate men. Those women are tolerated within mainstream feminism. The vast, vast majority of feminists may be angry at men for various reasons, but they don't hate them. But there are some women who claim the title of "feminist" who do hate men, and they infect and discredit the movement. And wind up alienating women who have found, in Sarah Palin, a tough woman they can identify with.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The better Palin for President

Michael. Michael Palin for President. For many, many reasons, all of which are better than any reason for Sarah Palin. Particularly because of the deep understanding of politics that he displays here:

Sarah Palin as VP means liberals have won the culture wars

I've had one thot that I haven't seen much in the commentary about Sarah Palin as VP on the GOP ticket:

Sarah Palin as VP means that liberals have won the culture wars. Done. Game over. Time to move on.

The idea that a woman can work outside the home? Liberal.
The idea that a woman can successfully balance work and being a mother? Liberal.
The idea that a woman can successfully compete with men? Liberal.

Liberals have won all of those arguments about feminism. Conservatives, of course, will not admit to this. Liberals are also winning the war for increased tolerance of diverse family structures. Conservatives were not judgmental about Bristol Palin being pregnant before she got married. "These things happen in families all the time" was a refrain that I heard.

So when a liberal idea applies to a conservative family, suddenly conservatives buy into the liberal idea. Funny how that works.

The irony is that, because liberals have won the culture wars, voters don't necessarily feel inclined to vote for a liberal. By choosing Palin, John McCain effectively conceded that liberals have won the culture wars, but also coopted the liberal message of the need for change. So McCain is ceding one aspect of the culture wars that he already knew he had lost. But, by choosing Palin, who is, if anything, more conservative than him, he keeps the culture wars alive.

I exaggerate when I say that the culture wars are over. They aren't, and they never will be. On a couple of major issues, however, specifically the roles of women and the rights of minorities, liberals have achieved a smashing victory. There are still issues simmering out there; gay rights, gun control, crime, abortion, evolution, etc. But in terms of the two biggies, liberals have won. This is one reason that conservatives are so intent on keeping other cultural issues alive - they have to keep fighting battles, because they lost the war.

Obama's problem now is that he has to fight the culture wars on slightly different ground than what he was planning to. This is going to be an interesting thing to watch. I think Obama can pull it off, but it's going to be tricky.

It's going to be tricky because one of Obama's great strengths as a candidate is his bipartisan appeal. Obama does not want to fight the culture wars. This is a weakness as a candidate, but it will be a strength as president, because the culture wars get in the way of governing. On gun control, there is a great deal of common ground that has not been explored. NRA diehards and gun control advocates both agree, for example, that felons should not have access to firearms. The question is how to engage in that dialogue. Obama has a gift for being able to do that.

But he doesn't have a strong enough track record for people to immediately understand that he can listen well to people who disagree with him. That's what campaigns are for.

In this respect, Palin is a perfect foil for him. I think there will come a moment in this campaign when the Obama camp will be able to force Sarah Palin to acknowledge the feminists who laid the groundwork for her. If she doesn't admit that Gloria Steinem had a point, she will come across as ungrateful. That's going to be a delicate maneuver. But it's what campaigns are all about.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Getting Palin wrong

I've been catching up on stuff in my personal life over the last couple of days, so I haven't been blogging. But there is so much going on that requires attention.

I have to admit that I completely underestimated Sarah Palin as a potential vice president. When I read her bio a couple of months ago, I dismissed her as a lightweight - one and a half years as governor? Mayor of a small town? Of course, I was very much aware that Barack Obama has a thin resume, as well, but at least he is a US Senator.

What I didn't get was the thirst among the religious right for a leader. Totally missed that. I assumed that they considered George W. Bush one of their own. Apparently either that isn't enough, or they want another president like him, or they are disappointed in him, just like the rest of the country.

I also didn't think McCain would choose her. I didn't think he had any good choices, but I figured he would go with the least worst, which I figure was Romney. Wrong on that one.

One of my first reactions to the Palin choice is that McCain is going to lose a chunk of the professional class, and many of those he loses will be Republicans. By that I mean doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, stockbrokers, etc. My guess is that many of those people understand and respect Obama, because they've been to grad school, and they appreciate the importance of a great education. Many have faced the same choice he and Michelle did: climb the corporate ladder, or work to change the world?

For many of those people, the contrast with Palin will be strong, and will only get stronger. They will pay attention when she makes a mistake about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The first impression that Sarah Palin made was impressive, and many conservatives were fired up because of it. But many people will be reserving judgment, and listening carefully. Because she's so new to the national scene, many people do not have an opinion of her yet.

Of course, people vote for the president more than the vice president. McCain's age, however, makes the issue of his vice president a key one. It's also significant because if McCain wins, and serves out this term but retires after only one term, Palin will be the front runner for president. If McCain serves two terms, she'll be in that much of a better position. Even if McCain loses, she'll be a front runner for 2012. Unless she loses her next election for governor.

So voting for John McCain this time around is voting for Sarah Palin as a leader of the Republican Party for years to come. As that realization sinks in, more and more people will start to wonder not only about her qualifications to be president, but about John McCain's judgment in choosing her.

Bill Clinton's speech

This is terribly late, but I finally got around to watching Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC a couple of days ago. I liked it. I don't think it was his best speech, but even a slightly-above-average speech from Bill Clinton is better than one from almost any other politician.

Before the convention, many people wondered if the Clintons would get behind Obama. My instinct was yes; it is in their best interests to have Democratic president rather than a Republican one.

One thing I picked up from Bill's speech is that he is a fighter. He loves to mix it up politically. He loves a challenge, particularly if the challenge involves both politics and policy. He lives for this stuff. This campaign will be one of his last best chances to do that. During the primary, he was fighting Barack Obama on behalf of his wife. Now that that is past, he has joined with Obama, put his ego aside, and joined the fight. For him, it's unfortunate that Hillary lost, and he has a few emotional bruises (bruises, not scars - the wounds weren't that bad) from the campaign, but he is a man who heals quickly. He's over that.

I'm sure that he's realized that electing Obama represents a repudiation of Bush, which means some sort of redemption for him and his presidency. One reason people will vote for Obama is that they remember the good times they had under Clinton. So this is an opportunity for him to remind both voters and professional Democrats he is one of two Democratic presidents who won reelection in the 20th century.

Now on the to the fight against Republicans.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Definition of a "community organizer"

In her speech last night (I caught part of it, but not the whole thing), Sarah Palin mocked Barack Obama's background as a "community organizer":

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities."
Clever line. Gov. Palin apparently does not know what a "community organizer" does. Let me give her some examples:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a "community organizer."

Rosa Parks was a "community organizer."

Mother Teresa was a "community organizer."

Nelson Mandela was a "community organizer."

One of the regular visitors to my church is a nun, Sister Margaret, who runs a place called Covenant House, which helps teenagers with problems get back on their feet. She brings them to our church. That's one definition of "community organizing;" helping people in your community help themselves.

Other examples? The term is new, but the idea is as old as civilization. St. Paul was a community organizer.

Members of the Junior League are "community organizers." So are members of the PTA. My Dad was a "community organizer" when he was the Scoutmaster for our local Boy Scout troop.

You know that term "street cred?" That's what you get when you walk the streets and get things done that other people can't. That's what you get when you're a community organizer like Barack Obama, and you literally pound the pavement, walk the streets, and get things done that other people can't.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin: we need a handle on her

Rarely has a figure in American culture generated such a wide diversity of opinion so insanely fast as Sarah Palin. Most controversial people - Martha Stewart, Angelina Jolie, Karl Rove, Kobe Bryant - are on the scene for a while before opinions harden. It's been less than a week for the good governor. We already know that she's a flip-flopper on the Bridge to Nowhere, she is petty and vindictive, and has some unusual friends, like the Alaska Independence Party.

What we don't have is a good nickname. She was known as "Sarah Barracuda" in high school, apparently, so that's old.

I propose this: Sarah Palin: The Most Beautiful Good Old Boy In the World.

Of course, Sarah Palin doesn't look like a good old boy. She's got a great smile, amazing cheekbones, fashionable glasses, a good sense of style, and great hair. I don't know whether or not she liked the Dukes of Hazzard (I liked the TV show, hated the movie), or whether she watches NASCAR. In this day and age, thanks to the fact that we are living in an enlightened age, a woman can be anything she wants to be. Even a good old boy. And that's what Sarah Palin is.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a good old boy. Bill Clinton was basically a good old boy with a degree from Yale Law. Good old boys can be very charming, particularly if they're the kind of good old boy who's got your back and wants to invite to his place for a barbecue. I like to think of Bill Clinton as a very progressive version of the good old boy.

But let's be honest: good old boys take care of each other first and foremost, and that what Sarah Palin is all about. Of course, there's nothing wrong with taking care of your own. It's just that when doing that interferes with taking care of others as well that we start to have problems. Good old boys take care of people other than their own, but mostly when it's convenient.

That's what Sarah Palin does - takes care of her own. Sarah Palin is no reformer. She's not a "maverick." She's a good old boy. Not technically, of course, there's a chromosomal issue that can't be avoided, but culturally. She's not from Washington, but she's tight with Ted Stevens, she knows how to get her city and state some good old fashioned earmarks. She knows how to work the system. And all the regular good old boys love her because she's gorgeous, and she knows how to play their game. Figure out the rules, figure out how to get yours, figure out how to be ruthless who you need to be, and figure out how pretend to be a victim when it suits you. Don't screw people over unless you really have to (or unless you really want to), and then try not to get in too much trouble when you do.

The best thing for Sarah about being a good old boy is that no one expects it of her. Talk about an advantage: make sure people are paying attention to the smile on your face, not the knife in your hand. Having a beautiful smile makes that SO MUCH EASIER!

And try not to piss off too many people that they end up ganging up on you. I'm not sure if Sarah is really prepared on that last one.

I don't want to underestimate her. She's obviously got something going on if she managed to make it from being a small-town mayor to Governor of Alaska in just a few years. That's the thing about good old boys: they can be easily underestimated. Bill Clinton and George Bush both used that to their advantage.

I don't think Democrats are going to make that mistake.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Palin Death Watch

I give her 24 hours. As I am writing this, it's 10:48 AM Pacific time. If Sarah Palin is to pull out in time for the Republicans to nominate someone else as Vice President at this convention, she has to withdraw before Wednesday evening. Given that they need a certain amount of time to put someone in place, the hard deadline would be sometime Wednesday morning.

There's so much flying around it would take me an hour to link to all of it. I think the deal killer is membership in the Alaska Independence Party. I'm not absolutely sure that she was a member, but she's clearly associated with it. That's absurd.

24 hours. Noon Minnesota time, September 3rd, 2008.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Experience: Obama v. Palin

One of the rather more comical arguments floating around in defense of Sarah Palin for VP is that she has more "executive experience" than Barack Obama. The first time I heard this, I found it laughable. How could anyone say this with a straight face? While Obama was serving in the Illinois state legislature, Palin was Mayor of Wasila, Alaska, population 8,000 or so. I've lived in neighborhoods with more people (specifically, the East Village in NY). The man is a Senator. She's been governor of a state with a miniscule population for a grand total of a year and a half.

Nonetheless, the idea seems to be taking hold with some people. A couple of the bloggers at Obsidian take apart this nonsense. Hilzoy argues that Obama has done such a good running his campaign that we no longer have to wonder about how good of a manager he is - the answer is, he's a superb manager. Publius parses the difference between "executive" and "legislative" experience, and why Obama's experience is better.

I want to expand on these arguments. Allow me to propose a hypothetical. Suppose you are being sued, and you need a lawyer. You have two choices: one guy who has been a lawyer for 30 years, and a woman who has been a lawyer for 10 years. Going strictly on the "more experience is better" line, you would choose the old-timer.

Now suppose I told you that the guy with 30 years under his belt went to a small, obsucre law school, and has been a sole practitioner in a small town for his entire career. He's handled mostly divorces, contracts, wills, traffic tickets, the occasional DUI. The woman with only 10 years of experience, on the other hand, went to a top law school, worked as a federal prosecutor for 5 years, and then worked for one of the top law firms in the country as a litigator for 5 years. She's busted Mafia guys and defended large corporations. The older man likes to take off Friday afternoons for golf. The young woman routinely works 80 hour weeks, and is never without her BlackBerry. Now which one would you want as your lawyer?

When we talk about "experience," a big part of what we are talking about is who the person has dealt with. The small town lawyer deals with average people with fairly simple problems. The aggressive woman in the big city deals with other aggressive people, like the other lawyers she is arguing against, the judges, whoever she is prosecuting, whoever is suing her clients. She's dealing with large problems: rape, murder, theft, bribery, discrimination. Lives, reputations, and millions of dollars may be at stake for her.

Palin's formative political experience was on the city council and as mayor of Wasila, Alaska. Obama's formative political experience was as a state senator in Illinois. Palin would have been responsible for about 8,000 people; Obama was responsible for at least 200,000. Palin would have been dealing with other members of the city council, on issues like how to fill potholes and who to hire as police chief. Obama would have been dealing with multi-billion dollar budgets, and laws that affect 12 million people. He would have been dealing with the governor of one of the largest states in the country. He represented part of Chicago, a city famous for nasty and brutal politics.

In their current jobs, Palin is governor of a state with about 600,000 people. Obama represents all of those 12 million, or 20 times as many people. Palin has to deal with the Alaska state legislature. Obama has to deal with the President, 99 other senators, 435 members of the House, various parts of the executive branch, including the military, and powerful representatives of other countries. Obama votes on bills that affect all 300 million Americans; Palin signs or vetoes legislation that affects 1/500th of those 300 million.

And, of course, Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. I like to think that thinking and arguing about the Constitution is good preparation for being president. That probably make me an elitist.

Obama has dealt with larger issues, on a grander scale, with and against more demanding people, than Palin. Palin has won one statewide campaign, against a highly unpopular opponent. Obama has already won a successful primary campaign against a very tough opponent with substantial advantages, Hillary Clinton.

This idea that Palin has more experience than Obama is complete and utter nonsense.

Innovation in education

Education is a perennial obsession of American politics; we always seem to be failing at something, and in desperate need of improvement. Personally, I think it comes down to this: we have a great educational system for the late 19th century. We have seen an extraordinary amount of change in many areas of our society. But our educational systems have not changed as quickly as other parts of our society, like, say, the workplace.

Yesterday's LA Times had the best piece on educational reform that I have read in many years, if not ever. The premise is simple: the federal government needs to encourage and foster educational innovation in much the same way that the National Institutes of Health do for health care.

The federal government should encourage innovation - what a concept!

There are multiple ironies in this idea and the tangle of politics surrounding it. The defining federal educational legislation of the Bush era is, of course, No Child Left Behind. But the purpose is not to encourage innovation; the purpose is to set standards and demand that states meet them.

I'm ambivalent on the question of forcing more kids to take standardized tests. I don't like the idea of teaching to the test, but I'm in favor of high standards and accountability.

But on one issue I am clear. One of the bedrock principles of conservativism is that government regulations interfere with the workings of the free market. Governments should regulate as lightly as possible, because too much regulation impedes innovation and imposes unnecessary costs. The argument makes some basic sense, although it is often used by conservatives and businesspeople to fight environmental, labor, and other laws just because they don't want to pay for them. But the basic idea is this: imposing excessive regulations from the federal government impedes innovation.

But that's exactly what NCLB does! The worst possible way to encourage Americans to innovate is for the federal government to impose excessive regulations, according to conservatives. And yet, a conservative Republican president did precisely that in the realm of education. What boggles my mind is that no one seemed to notice.

So this article will hopefully start some very fruitful thinking. One meme that has started percolating around LA is that the problem with education is not lack of money (although more wouldn't hurt), but the bloated bureaucracy at LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District). This is one reason I am in favor of charter schools; they are outside of that bureaucracy, and are better at coming up with creative, entrepreneurial solutions to educational reform.

There are many, many, many passionate, dedicated teachers out there who know how to teach kids (like my brother). If you took of survey of them and asked how many of them think we need more rules, regulations, and bureaucracy in education, my guess is that the number answering "yes" would be not many.

At the heart of the conservative argument is that we should trust businesspeople over the government. I know many trustworthy businesspeople (including my Dad). But, personally, I trust teachers more than I trust businesspeople.

One interesting aspect of this article is who wrote it. Cory Booker is the Mayor of Newark, who has made quite a name for himself by taking down the political machine of the former mayor. I know nothing about Ted Mitchell. The third person is easily the most influential. John Doerr is a venture capitalist, probably the most successful one ever. Some of the companies he has help start include Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Netscape, Amazon, and Google. The man knows something about encouraging innovation. We should listen to him.

Bristol Palin's pregnancy

Bristol Palin, Sarah Palin's 17-year old daughter, is pregnant. This is certainly an interesting campaign, isn't it?

The political implications are complicated. The NY Times has a wonderfully understated line:

It is not clear how social conservatives will respond to the latest news.
At the very least, some of them will be disappointed, for the simple reason that this family has let them down. That's going to be part of the reaction, fair or not. Everybody, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, wishes Bristol and the father and all the Palins much happiness. But it's still complicated.

I think everyone agrees that the discussion should not be about Bristol Palin. Families, particularly minor children, are off limits.

But some of those social conservatives who support McCain will be disappointed and angry, not necessarily with any of the Palin clan, but with McCain. He knew before he asked her to be VP that Bristol Palin was pregnant. And, obviously, if she's five months pregnant now, she will have the baby after the election. There's no way to hide this.

McCain had to know that this was going to be an issue in the campaign. It may be unfortunate that a 17-year old's romantic life is dragged into the spotlight of the national media, but that's how the world is these days.

But he could have managed it better than he did. Apparently many of his staff, as well as just about everyone in the Republican party, were surprised by the choice of Palin as VP. That's not a big deal; McCain is a "maverick," after all. It definitely stole the thunder from Obama the day after his great acceptance speech.

The fact that Sarah Palin has a 17-year old daughter who is unmarried and pregnant should have been a fact that was made known as soon as it was announced that she had accepted McCain's invitation to be VP. It only took a couple of days for that fact to become public. Anyone could have predicted that. Thousands of people, from reporters at large newspapers, to random bloggers, are going to be investigating and examining every detail of Sarah Palin's life. It was going to become public knowledge. Even refraining from judgment, the fact itself is newsworthy.

I think how McCain handled this has demonstrated extraordinarily poor judgment on his part. If the fact that Bristol Palin is pregnant was part of the VP announcement, there would have been some mumbling about "family values" and sex education, but it also would have been one detail in the larger picture, and not a big deal. But now it is its own news story, and the issues of "family values" etc. are front and center. Social conservatives bash Hollywood and liberals for promoting sexual promiscuity among teenagers. They were thrilled that, with Sarah Palin, they had another solid role model, a "hockey mom" who would be a voice of moral authority on these issues.

Not anymore. I'm certainly not going to take Sarah Palin seriously as a moral authority on things like sex ed.

And there is no way in hell I am going to listen to John McCain preach about "family values."