Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Wildly Successful!

The Cash for Clunkers program has proven to be so successful that the money is already gone, in just a week. Ooops! And yet - voila! - Congress is already appropriating more. Funny how that was ready to go. Funny how, even though the House was about to go in recess, they managed to squeeze that in.

I like how the Democrats played this. Apparently Republicans didn't like the original amount, $4 billion, so it was reduced to $1 billion. But that money disappeared in the blink of an eye! Guess what!?!? It's a government program that has worked extremely well. Who woulda thunk it?

One great thing about this program is that no one has mentioned what it really is: welfare for white people. This is the government finding an excuse to shovel money to middle class people, the ones who are buying the cars, and people in the auto industry, from the manufacturers to the dealers. Many of those folks, particularly the ones making the cars, are middle-aged white guys. How many Latina lesbians do you think work on the line at Chevy? Not a whole lot, I'm guessing.

This is important because a subtext of much of our political debate is white resentment towards the government, based on a feeling that Democrats have been using government to redistribute wealth away from white people, particularly older white men, and towards undeserving minorities. This is one reason the "birther" movement is so bizarrely popular - people think Obama is not one of them, and that he is going to use his power as president to take things away from them, and give it to people who look like him - African Americans. That's why there is resistance to health care reform - same thing. When conservatives hear the word "government," they hear "someone who is going to take away my money, and give it to people who don't deserve it."

So this Cash for Clunkers program is a great idea as part of the battle against that idea. When someone gets a check from the government for a new car, it's a little harder for them to argue that the government isn't doing anything for them. The fact that it's wildly popular, and that Congress had to add more money, is icing on the cake, politically - it generates more publicity, and shows Congress actually doing something for the middle class in a very direct way.

One other unmentioned side benefit of this program is that it will be good for health care costs in this country. Newer cars are both more energy efficient and safer. Just about any new car has airbags all over the place, as well as better steering, handling, and braking. Someone in a crash is far more likely to survive with minimal injuries, or even to just survive, in a new car than in a car made 10 or 15 years ago. I have no idea how to calculate the benefits from fewer injuries, but, again, it's icing on the cake - a benefit that we get from this program on top of the benefits we are already getting.

And it's a great example of bipartisanship! According to the NY Times, "Over all, 239 Democrats and 77 Republicans voted in favor, while 14 Democrats and 95 Republicans voted against the measure."

All these great benefits! And only $1 billion! Of course, as Everett Dirksen may or may not have said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." I would amend to add, a successful government program here, a successful government program there, and pretty soon you're talking about making the government work for the American people!

Quote Of The Day

"Generally, films have dialogue to support the plot," Chung says. "This one has a plot to support the dialogue."
Eddie Chung, director of the "The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans," a documentary about the cult that has arisen about the Coen brothers film "The Big Lebowski."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama, Birthers, and the Assholes and Idiots Theory

I really should stop thinking, not to mention blogging, about the birthers, but this is just so much fun! It's not like shooting fish in a barrel - it's like shooting DEAD fish in a barrel. Big fish. In a small barrel.

Andrew Sullivan had a moment of confusion and made some noise about needing to see the original birth certificate as an example of Obama's commitment to transparency, but then apparently had some coffee, and came to his senses.

Just for fun, let's review how completely idiotic this whole thing is. When a controversy - or alleged controversy - like this comes up, the people promoting the "alternative" view usually at least have some kind of evidence on their side. When there are lots of uncertain facts, as in, for example, the Kennedy assassination, that's legitimate. But here's the thing about this question of whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States of America: there is absolutely no counter evidence. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. There is no evidence that his birth certificate is anything other than what it appears to be. There is no evidence that there is another birth certificate.

But there is also no evidence about the ancillary issues that might raise questions. That comes down to one question: is there any evidence whatsoever that his mother was anywhere other than Hawaii when he was born? Let's break it down even more:

Is there any evidence that his mother was anywhere other than Hawaii BEFORE Obama was born? No.
Is there any evidence that his mother was anywhere other than Hawaii AFTER Obama was born? No.
Is there any evidence that his father was anywhere other than Hawaii BEFORE Obama was born? No.
Is there any evidence that his father was anywhere other than Hawaii AFTER Obama was born? No.

Is there any evidence that Obama's mother and father were not married at the time that he was born? No.

Hawaii is a very isolated place. It is physically and financially difficult to go from Hawaii to the US mainland, let alone another country, let alone a country, like Kenya, on the other side of the world. Obama's mother was 18 when he was born. She presumably had very little money or income. His father was a graduate student, again, presumably not well off.

Is there any evidence that either his mother or father had either the means or the inclination to be somewhere other than Hawaii when Obama was born? No.

Obama's mother would have needed a passport to leave the country. Is there any evidence, in the form of a passport, that indicates that she did so? No. Any plane tickets? No. Pictures of them on vacation in Kenya? No.

One last point on the evidence front: If Obama were not a natural born citizen of the US, he obviously is one now. So at some point he would have had to apply to be a citizen of this country. Is there any evidence that either he or his mother or anyone else ever did so? No.

What's really fun is watching the stalwarts of the conservative moment finally coming to terms with this insanity. TPM has a rundown of some of the people who normally go all-out attacking Obama - Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter - playing their own desperate version of whack-a-mole with these people.

This is a great example of the Assholes and Idiots Theory. One corollary of the A & I Theory is that assholes and idiots can only be contained by those within their party/movement/organization. Robert Gibbs and every liberal blog under the sun can call this nonsense what it is, it won't make one iota of difference. But when Ann Coulter, who is making a living just being a blonde conservative dominatrix, slams the birthers, they have to pay attention. O'Reilly and Coulter agree - irony alert - with liberals on one point: this is bad for conservatism. It's a distraction from, you know, policy discussions, and it makes the GOP look like it is beholden to its lunatic fringe. Clinton contained the assholes and idiots with his Sister Souljah moment (not that she was either). He made it clear that he would stand up to the angry left. O'Reilly and Coulter can whack a few moles, but to really nip this in the bud, someone with something really at stake - i.e. an elected official - is going to have to stand up to them. That will be interesting. And even more fun.

Sarah Palin + William Shatner = Poetry

Just, wow:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Skateboarding in Afghanistan

Every once in a great while, you read something that is both heartwarming and surreal. This is a story about an Australian who brought skateboarding to Afghanistan. Regardless of what you think of globalization, the war on terror, Western cultural imperialism, or even skateboarders, this is simply amazing. In a country with not-really-modern attitudes towards women, girls are finding something new to do.
It was the sight of girls spinning across the concrete, their scarves billowing, that caught the eye of Kenny Reed, a skater from upstate New York. "You know," he said, "I think this is the first time I've ever seen little girls skating anywhere."
It's called Skateistan. I'll never look at skateboarding the same way again.

Gay Marriage in California: 2010 vs. 2012

The NY Times looks at the politics of gay marriage in California, particularly the question of whether the movement for marriage equality should focus on trying to change the law in 2010 or 2012. My feeling is very clear: wait until 2012. One major person involved, David Bohnett, put it well:

“The only thing worse than losing in 2008,” he added, “would be to lose again in 2010.”

Which might very well happen. Nothing much will have changed over those 2 years. The only reason to try again in 2010 is that many people are still seriously pissed off about losing in 2008. But anger is a dangerous motivating factor in politics. It's occasionally useful as well, but this debate is supposed to be about love and marriage and commitment, not beating conservatives.

There is no practical or political reason to try again in 2010, and some very good political and practical reasons why not to. There may not be enough money available, which would increase the likelihood of defeat. If this cause loses in 2010, it ain't gonna happen in 2012. And probably not 2014.

Conservatives are fighting gay marriage for many reasons, but one reason in particular is unique to this time period: this is one of the few culture-war issues where conservatives have won more victories than they have lost in the last few years. Conservatives have lost most other culture-ware battles: civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, abortion, separation of church and state, environmentalism, sex and marriage generally. Conservatives won the economic debate - sort of - when Soviet Union collapsed, but that's long past. About the only culture war issue conservatives have been winning consistently of late is about gun control.

As much as I would like to see gay marriage become legal in California, I don't think there's much chance of it happening in 2010. Time is on our side. That's good and bad. Good, because we know we will ultimately win. Bad, because the "ultimately" part requires patience.

Merce Cunningham 1919-2009

Merce Cunningham has passed away, at the age of 90. I don't know a lot about him, and I'm not even sure I've seen a Merce Cunningham dance live, but it was impossible to be aware of art in America and not be aware of him. At least not today. I remember that he came to Swarthmore when I was a freshman. I had no idea who he was, I just knew that some guy was teaching dance for a semester. It was a great missed opportunity, because I made no effort to see him or his dances while he was there. Swarthmore's most famous musical graduate is Peter Schickele, creator of P.D.Q. Bach. I have no idea how to do this, but it occurs to me that somehow combining Merce Cunningham and P. D. Q. Bach would be a great opportunity for humor.

The other memory I have of him was attending a lecture about a book, Cage Cunningham Johns, about the three of them and their collaboration. It must be a great book; Amazon has some editions selling for $2,500. One thing sticks out: in the Q&A session, someone asked about the relationship between Cage and Cunningham, and it was only then that I learned that they were lovers. It's somehow not surprising that one of the great gay love affairs of the 20th century, between two such public figures, took place largely in secret, but it's also unfortunate.

Today I think I'm going to pick a random moment to skip down the sidewalk. And then I am going to stand still for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

One more question for the birthers

Josh Marshall has a good post outlining some of the legal issues around the birthers' bizarre idea that Obama was not born in Hawaii and is therefore not the legitimate president. Read the post for the specifics, but it has something to do with the legal requirements for a child born to one US citizen and one alien parent being considered a natural born citizen. I had no idea it was this complicated, but, according to law, if Obama was, in fact, born outside this country, he would not qualify as a natural born citizen. It's quite complicated. The birthers' argument, presumably, is that his parents forged his birth certificate to show him as a natural born citizen because, under the law, he would not have been.

There are a couple of obvious problems with this. First, it presumes that the Obamas knew exactly what law governed American citizenship in 1961. But we're talking about an 18-year old woman in Hawaii. In this age of the Internet, it's easy to find that kind of thing out. Back then, it would have been much more difficult. Of course, Hawaii was a new state, so issues of citizenship were probably much talked about. But it's still weird to contemplate an 18-year old woman having the foresight and knowledge of American citizenship law to figure out how to circumvent it.

The second problem is that it presumes that Obama's mother and father would have wanted to prove that he was a "natural born citizen." Of course, it would have made it easier for him to be a citizen later in life, but he would have presumably had a very good chance of becoming a citizen, given that his mother was American. But the only job that I know of that requires an American be a "natural born citizen" is president. Planning for your biracial child born in 1961 to become president in 2008 would be like planning to pay for their college education by winning the lottery.

By far the most serious problem with the whole birther argument, however, is this: it assumes that Obama's mother was not present in the United States at the time of his birth. But she was 18. She presumably had no income of her own, or very much money of her own. As far as I know, she was living in Hawaii because that's where her parents lived. Obama's father was there for grad school. So both Barack Obama's mother and father were living in Hawaii before he was born, when they were married, and after he was born. Hawaii is literally thousands of miles from any other country. It would have been physically difficult, not too mention financially extravagant, for the two of them to travel to any other country, let alone Kenya, before Obama was born. They had every reason not to leave Hawaii: that's where her family was, and the medical facilities were presumably better there than in Kenya in 1961.

So here's the question for the birthers: why, in 1961, would an American woman with very little money, married to a graduate student with presumably not much more money, travel to a foreign country, thousands of miles from her family, to give birth to a child where she didn't have access to the latest in medical care, and then return thousands of miles to her parents' hometown with her husband and son? She would have absolutely no reason to do so, and every reason NOT to do so. So, unless we see concrete evidence proving that Obama's parents did exactly that, the idea that Obama was born anywhere other than Hawaii makes no sense whatsoever.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

All's Well That Ends Well: Obama, Gates, Crowley

Talk about not wasting a good crisis: by inviting Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. James M. Crowley over to the White House for a beer, Obama not only turned this into a "teachable moment," he made everybody, including himself, into a good guy.

One bad thing about a situation like this is that it's incredibly easy for everyone to be right, and therefore to see the other guy as wrong. One good thing about a situation like this is that it's incredibly easy for everyone to be wrong, and therefore to prove the other guy as right. It's easy to question why a man would be handcuffed in his own house; it's just as easy to question why that man would raise his voice to a cop.

One problem may have been that egos and respect were working on monumentally different time scales. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor at Harvard, has worked very hard for his entire life to establish himself as an eminent scholar of African-American studies, and is therefore both personally and professionally heavily invested in the idea of raising the profile of African Americans. In terms of respect, particularly from a representative of mainstream society like a cop, he thinks in terms of years, lifetimes, generations, centuries.

But Sgt. James M. Crowley is thinking in terms of minutes and seconds. When something goes wrong on a cop's beat, there is an implicit possibility that he or she has failed in their duty to protect the neighborhood. For most people, the difference between when they make a mistake at their job and when they are held accountable for it may be hours, days, or weeks. For a cop on the beat, it may be instant.

These perspectives intersected and clashed partially because each of them was caught in the other's timeframe: the professor, thinking in terms of lifetimes, was caught up in an instant; the cop, acting at a moment's notice, ended up arresting one man who suddenly represented millions.

Obama was caught in the crossfire because he is expected to exist in both worlds, and think in terms of both moments and generations, often at the same time. He has to react as fast as the cop to a question posed at a press conference; he has think in terms as grand as the professor while doing so.

Fortunately for all of us, Obama realized that this wasn't just a zero-sum game; it was potentially a negative-sum game. It could have easily turned into constant recrimination, blame, and charges of racism and elitism. The setting was perversely perfect for partisan inflammation, taking place as it did in Cambridge, ground zero for conservatives' claims of liberal elitism. By refusing to blame either, Obama gave each of them something only he could do: permission for both of them to be right. The decision to invite them over for a beer has a nice symbolic value: alcohol is, after all, a mind-altering substance, a symbol of male bonding, and a great way to relax. Let's hope Obama buys a six-pack of the most famous beer from Boston: Sam Adams.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

HSX: Week of July 24, 2009

It's a slow weekend this week, with no summer blockbusters! We do, however, have a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Let's start with that one.

G-Force (GFORC) is a family action-adventure movie, insofar as that hybrid exists. The "G" stands for "guinea," as in pigs. The stars are some guinea pigs who are also secret agents. My guess is that the government experimented on these guinea pigs (get it?) to make them into these superheroes. It looks funny, and Disney has a good track record with these kinds of things. The stock was moving up quite well for a while, but then crashed, as movies in the summer are wont to do. It's been moving back up since then, and is currently around H$70, or an opening weekend of about $26 million. By almost no coincidence, that is also very close to the strike price, which is H$25. The call (GFOCA) is trading high, up almost H$5, way above the prediction of the stock. The put (GFOPU) is not doing too badly, at about H$2.50. So we have slightly mixed signals here. Fortunately, we have another HSX indicator. The strike price for the Blockbuster Warrant (BWGFO) is H$70, and is currently at H$9 and change. The BW's will cash out on September 7, roughly six weeks from now, or two weeks after this delists. It's going out on almost 3,700 screens, and it's being released in "Disney Digital 3-D," a good marketing ploy. However, it's at only 21% on There are only 14 reviews, but that's pretty bad. Thinking of the demographics, those are actually pretty limited. Kids older than about 10 will probably be turned off. That narrows the range considerably. Variety, however, is optimistic about its potential, and the folks at Variety are very good at this kind of prediction. Let's go long, but look at it more closely tomorrow morning.
Stock: Short
Call: Long
Put: Long
Blockbuster Warrant: Long
Note: Positions were reversed Friday morning (see below)

Next we have Orphan (ORPHA), a horror movie about a little girl who is not quite what she seems. Of course, she is probably exactly what she seems on the poster, which is a standard evil-child horror movie character/plot device. It's at H$28, just off its high, after a steep recent climb up. The well-chosen strike price is H$10, right on target. The call (ORPCA) is H$3.56 as I write, while the put (ORPPU) is at H$2.39, down for the day. Again, mixed signals. It's a nice wide release at 2,750 screens. That generally means the studio has some confidence in it. The reviews are not great, but not bad, at 45% on RT. This doesn't sound like it has great buzz, but expectations and the prices are quite low to begin with, so let's stay long, but, again, watch it tomorrow morning.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

Now we come to the fun part: Katherine Heigl in a romantic comedy, The Ugly Truth (UGLYT). As far as I am concerned, that phrase, "Katherine Heigl in a romantic comedy," is a major selling point. Based on the trailer, I'm not completely sold on her acting in this movie, but that's only one of the features. Gerard Butler is the guy, and he could be good, although I haven't seen him in much. The stock, however, is not doing well, down to H$66 today, from a high of H$78. Things that make you go "hmmmm." Strike price is H$25, which, again, is a good price. Call (UGLCA) is doing well, almost H$4, with very little downward movement. The put (UGLPU) is, as expected by the price of the call, below H$2. It's on almost 2,900 screens, so the studio is feeling good. The reviews, however, are brutal, and it's at only 11% on RT, and Variety is not impressed. I like romantic comedies, but I like romantic comedies with at least one character who is living life on their own terms. It looks like Butler is fulfilling that role here, but I also like romcoms with a huge obstacle separating the characters, some basic fact of their respective lives keeping them apart. Romantic comedies with a main character as a criminal (Out of Sight, Grosse Pointe Blank, Thomas Crown Affair) work well because of this. That's a gimmicky gimmicky plot device, but those movies work. The wall-separating-lovers motif is also why Romeo and Juliet is still around. Love means that much more when its tested by a harsh reality. It looks like all that is separating these two is the fact that they start out not liking each other. Keep working on it, Katherine. I'm keeping the call long because of the possible upside, but going long on the put as well.
Stock: Short
Call: Long
Put: Long

Update Friday morning: GFORC is down H$4.50 this morning. I'm reversing my position on the stock and shorting it. ORPHA is up, and UGLYT is down, confirming those positions.

Update Monday morning: Looks like I was a shade too pessimistic. GFORC had a solid $32 million opening weekend, adjusting up H$15, while UGLYT also did well, adjusting up H$9 on a $27 million opening weekend, and ORPHA adjusted up H$4, on $12 million. I guess I shouldn't have doubted either Katherine Heigl in a romantic comedy, or Disney's ability to work magic with animated rodents.

Obama and the "Birthers"

One rumor/conspiracy theory that has consistently plagued Obama has been the idea that he is not a United States citizen, and therefore not the legitimate President of the United States. Some people believe that he was not born in Hawaii, as birth certificate clearly indicates. I'm not going to bother to link to that birth certificate, first of all because its easy to find, but, second, because, even if I did, members of the "birther" movement don't believe that it's real.

One objection to this idea is obvious: where's the counter-evidence? If he wasn't born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961, where was he born? Birthers, of course, will answer that the fact there is no evidence of him being born somewhere else is just proof of a very effective conspiracy of silence.

It seems utterly illogical for millions of people to dismiss clear and obvious physical evidence of such a simple fact. But there is a certain reasoning behind it. Twisted and bizarre reasoning, but reasoning nonetheless.

One of the basic problems with American democracy is that every four years, a new president is elected who has been chosen by a large chunk of the populace, but who has also been rejected a large - but (usually) smaller - chunk of the populace. So the people who rejected the president have to deal with the fact that their understanding of reality clashes with that of tens of millions of their friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. This requires some occasionally painful mental adjustments. The most difficult such adjustment led to the Civil War.

Liberals have had a particularly difficult time of this of late. From for the 40 years from 1968 to 2008, a Democrat occupied the White House for just 12 years. Democrats developed what was, for me, an unfortunate coping mechanism. It usually boiled down to a simple phrase: "The American people are stupid." Ronald Reagan and the George Bushes, particularly the latter one, were not great men, and Reagan and W were not very bright. The only kind of people who could vote for someone stupid like this must be stupid themselves. But they were elected by a majority of the American people (except in 2000). Therefore the American people must be stupid.

That idea seriously rubbed me the wrong way for a long time. I don't like intellectually condescending attitudes like that because they're obnoxious and wrong, but also because they are highly counterproductive politically. It just doesn't work all that well to say to someone "You're really stupid, would you please consider voting for my candidate or supporting my cause?" This is why Democrats developed a reputation for being arrogant elitists.

As unfortunate as that attitude may have been, at least it was within the bounds of normal political discourse. It may be disrespectful to dismiss a whole class of people as beneath you intellectually, but at least it's not completely deranged.

The birthers are rational in their own way. The problem is that they won't admit their reasonings, because they're deeply offensive. A fair amount of this reaction, if not most of it (or all) can be attributed, in my opinion, to racism. Certain people just don't want to admit that a black man is president. Casting doubts about his legitimacy is a way of expressing fundamental opposition to his presidency without looking like you are racist. The fact that the circumstances of Obama's birth - a foreign father, a young mother, born in the newest state, literally on the geographic fringes of America, both parents dead, an interracial marriage at a time when that was illegal in many states, no other children from that marriage, which dissolved fairly quickly, and then a childhood spent in a Muslim country - Indonesia - that most Americans couldn't find on a map. Most unfortunately, for Obama, the details of his birth, parentage, and childhood play into conspiracy theorists' hands almost perfectly.

What must drive the birthers absolutely nuts, however, is that for members of Generation X, Obama's history isn't all that unusual. A romance between an American and a foreign exchange student? The details may be different, but I doubt there is a teenage boy in America who hasn't been intrigued by a girl in his high school/college/hometown with a foreign accent (for the cinematic version, see Shannon Elizabeth in American Pie). Years spent in a foreign country? That goes on the resume. It's also great cocktail party conversation. All of the things that make Obama a foreigner, strange, "other," for the nutjobs on the rights are accidents of birth that make him cool for Generation X, Y, the millenials, and the hipper Boomers.

For the GOP, the "birthers" represent a major problem. This is an excellent example of my Assholes and Idiots Theory. Leaders in the GOP are completely failing to contain these people. It's just not a good idea to let complete lunacy infect a party trying to come up with anything resembling a coherent governing philosophy.

At some point, some Republican leader - or at least some Republican elected official - is going to have to stand up to these folks. My suspicion is that it will be one of the senators from Maine, Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe. They're both moderates, so they have room to alienate hardcore conservatives. At least they're moderates in today's GOP. They're both fairly secure in office. As Republican women senators, they are familiar with being slightly outside the political mainstream. They represent a very old state, with deep Yankee traditions. There would be a certain geographic irony of either of them defending the birth of someone born as far away as possible in the U.S. from their state.

It might be John McCain. He, after all, had his own issues with being eligible for president because of his birth - he was born in the Panama Canal Zone (to American parents). He's still got that whole "maverick" thing going on, occasionally. It could be a matter of honor for him to defend the man who defeated him.

Somehow or other, these people have to be contained.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Assholes and Idiots Theory

First, a personal of achievement: this is my 1,000th post. Something of a milestone. Of course, that's about how many posts Andrew Sullivan writes in, oh, say, a month, but still, it's nice to realize I've been writing that much.

To mark the occasion, I am going to write about something that I have been thinking about for a while: the Assholes and Idiots Theory. The Assholes and Idiots Theory says that, in any sufficiently large political organization, i.e a party, movement, or coalition, there will be a certain number of assholes and idiots, and one of the key roles of the leaders of said party, movement, etc., is to contain the assholes and idiots. The A&I Theory makes no distinctions as to ideology; there are just as likely to be assholes and idiots on the left as on the right.

It's not hard to define, for the purposes of theory, "assholes" or "idiots," because everyone has met plenty of both. They're like pornography; you know them when you see them. But, as a philosophy major, I can't resist the urge to define my terms.

There are two kinds of "asshole" for the purposes of this theory. The first is someone whose political activism involves influencing the political system so as to reward members of a group that he or she belongs to with grossly disproportionate resources relative to their numbers and accomplishments. Everyone tries to influence the political system to reward their own group; assholes do so with no regard for anyone else. The second kind of asshole is someone who crosses legal or ethical boundaries in pursuit of their political agenda. Lots of people come close to ethical or legal boundaries; many people blur those lines, intentionally or not. Assholes cross lines knowing full well what they are doing. Real assholes enjoy it.

Of course, just about everyone involved in the political system is trying to influence the political system to reward their group, and just about all of those people would deny doing so in any disproportionate way. Assholes are the ones who refuse to compromise. They tend to deny that their group is in any way privileged or the recipient of generous rewards, and often claim to actually be victims rather than beneficiaries of largesse. On the right, the people who demand cutting taxes for themselves, without accepting simultaneous cuts in services for themselves, are examples of this group. On the left, there are a number of unions who could fit this bill, particularly the ones who demand absolute job security and exorbitant pensions.

An "idiot" for the purposes of this theory is someone who believes that their ideas about how the world should work should be imposed on society, without taking into account how the world actually does work. These people tend to develop grand theories with little empirical evidence. They also tend to have highly refined defense mechanisms that start working as soon as they are presented with evidence that their theories will not or do not work. They often hold positions which do not force them to come to terms with whether or not their theories actually do work. On the right, fundamentalist Christians who believe the Bible is to be taken literally are fit this mold. On the left, academic social critics who spend most of their time arguing with other academic social critics are in this group (I define an academic social critic as someone who sits alone in a room so they can write long, boring essays blaming society for the fact that they are lonely).

There are lots of people who fit in these groups who are neither assholes nor idiots. There are many fundamentalist Christians and union members who are wonderful, upstanding people. There are lobbyists for the banking industry who are very generous with their personal charitable contributions. There are animal rights activists who are great neighbors.

On the other hand, many assholes and idiots are motivated by the best of intentions. Many of them do not seem to be either assholes or idiots. There are many passionate people who are unwilling to compromise, and see their own righteousness as a virtue, while others see it as being judgmental or argumentative. There are many brilliant people who simply do not have a strong connection to reality, and are not interested in getting outside of their own heads, because they are more comfortable there than the real world.

The dangerous assholes and idiots are the ones who are professionally involved in politics and are committed to influencing the political system with little or no interest in compromise. On the contrary, they often have an interest in stoking the fires of partisan combat.

It is crucial for any movement or party for the leader and/or leaders to contain the assholes and idiots. Presidents are particularly important in this respect. Clinton and Reagan were both good at this; LBJ, Nixon, and our recent Bush were not. Bush was a great example of failure in this respect. Bush couldn't contain the assholes and idiots in his party and his movement for one specific reason: he was an asshole and an idiot. Republicans are not alone in this; Lyndon Johnson wasn't an asshole in terms of domestic policy, and he sure wasn't an idiot in that regard, but he definitely was both an asshole and an idiot in foreign policy. Nixon, of course, was just an asshole and an idiot all the way around.

It's easy for presidents to fail at fulfilling this key but unspoken executive political responsibility; success is much harder. Reagan's and Clinton's successes were based on opposite strategies. Reagan had a great deal of credibility as a conservative, so when he disappointed the assholes and idiots on the right, he was insulated from accusations of selling out or compromising. Of course, the fact that he was a really nice guy and was popular with the American people (except me and my friends) didn't hurt.

Clinton didn't have much credibility among the more partisan and liberal Democrats, but they were so thrilled to win back the White House after 12 years that they were willing to cut him some slack. Clinton also had several advantages: extraordinary charisma, a brilliant political mind, both strategically and tactically, and a voracious appetite for policy. Clinton was also blessed with a great enemy in Newt Gingrich and the Republicans in Congress. Clinton was able to contain the assholes and idiots by claiming that he was their best defense against a resurgent GOP. Also, most of the real assholes and idiots on the left had done their greatest damage in the '60's, and the Democrat party had spent the years since containing the worst of the assholes and idiots.

Presidents are only the most visible of any A & I containment strategy. Institutions as large as movements and parties develop their own strategies for containing assholes and idiots. The best - but most expensive - weapon in doing so is usually time. Assholes and idiots, left to their own devices, usually fail, somehow or other. Assholes fail by alienating moderates and others outside their own immediate coalition. Idiots fail because eventually their theories are exposed as inadequate because they don't work. Thus does accountability work in democracy.

The most visible anti-asshole and idiot containment strategy on the left was the Democratic Leadership Council. It's still around, but I have the feeling that it has mostly outlived its usefulness. Another great tactic that the left has for containing idiots in particular is tenure. Tenure at the college level keeps people who have bad ideas for how to change the world insulated and isolated, so they are rendered, in the worlds of Douglas Adams, "mostly harmless." There are lots of brilliant but misguided people with Ph.d.'s who waste huge amounts of their personal time and energy arguing with each other, instead of trying to tell the rest of us what to do. This is a side benefit of the ivory tower.

Republicans currently have a problem because they do not have a working strategy for containing their assholes and idiots. They also do not have anyone who can execute any such strategy, even if they had one. Such is the legacy of Bush.

They are also cursed with an opponent who is holding a a damn good hand when it comes to containing the assholes and idiots. Obama has everything Clinton had: he has just as much charisma as Clinton, he's just as smart as him, both politically and in terms of policy, and he has one of Clinton's most powerful weapons - Hillary - at his side. While Clinton was not an asshole at the policy level, he was one on the very domestic level. Obama does not have that problem. And Obama, of course, has built-in credibility, and a very large base, as the first African-American president.

Obama also has an even better enemy than Clinton did. Clinton was blessed and cursed with a great enemy; Gingrich was obnoxious and rude, which served him well as a guerilla political warrior, but not so well when he was Speaker of the House. But Gingrich did lead a very effective rebellion when he led it. When he and the Republicans took over the House in 1994, the Democrats were blown away - they had no idea what hit them. Clinton scrambled and managed to adapt, but the rest of his presidency was not what he thot it was going to be. Obama, on the other hand, faces a fractured, demoralized, and seriously weakened GOP. There is virtually no chance that the Republicans will control either house of Congress while Obama is president, even if he wins two terms. Demographics are moving decisively in the Democrats' favor.

Obama has four other advantages over Clinton, all personal: Obama is patient where Clinton could be impulsive; decisive, while Clinton agonized over decisions; disciplined, whereas Clinton could be sloppy. Most important, Obama has a reputation as being motivated and guided by principle, where Clinton was seem as waffling. I thot Clinton's reputation as a compromiser was somewhat undeserved; he was very committed to abortion rights, gun control, and free trade. Part of Clinton's problem was that some of the things he was committed to, like welfare reform, were not popular with the left wing of the Democratic party. Disagreeing with the assholes and idiots about basic principles makes it harder to contain them. Obama is discovering this as he compromises on investigating the use of torture by the Bush administration. On this, many people - some conservatives, notably Andrew Sullivan, as well as many liberals, including me - feel that there can and should be no compromise. But Obama has also done some things right, like banning torture and trying to close Guantanamo Bay.

Tactically, probably the best contain-the-assholes-and-idiots move by Obama early on was naming Hillary Secretary of State. Not that Hillary is either! Not that her supporters are! But putting her in such a high position healed a lot of wounds left over from the campaign very quickly and very effectively. A lot of anger dissipated instantly.

Dealing with anger is key to any good asshole containment strategy, because many assholes are addicted to it. I mean that quite literally; I think anger is addictive. Anger is like cocaine: it distorts your perception, makes you paranoid, and is addictive. Assholes often look for reasons to be angry, and very often have pushers, dealers who feed their addiction.

Idiots may also be addicted to anger, but they are also addicted to their own theories, their own sense of self-righteousness. Of course, assholes and idiots are often interchangeable; one person can easily be both, if they are dysfunctional enough. Which many are.

Ultimately, Obama's asshole-and-idiot containment strategy comes down to one thing: getting things done. Nothing dissipates anger like solving problems. Choosing Hillary as Secretary of State wasn't just a brilliant move because it mollified her supporters; it was a brilliant move because she is absurdly well-qualified. She isn't just doing a good job; she loves it.

Right now Obama's great challenge is reforming health care. Whatever bill passes through Congress will make many people unhappy. It will not be perfect; it will solve problems, but create others, which, in turn, will have to be solved. It's a huge project, with lots of potential for error. But Obama is calm, focused, in command of the details, and determined. Apart from all his other qualities, Obama is also a very, very good street fighter. He knows how to rally the troops and, more importantly, how to focus them. He knows how to get his supporters fired up, and then give them something to do. That's a great way to deal with the A/I problem - get them on your side, and focus their energy and anger on your mutual opponents.

Republicans are terrified of Obama, but the feeling is not returned; he is not afraid of them. That must drive them nuts. When in doubt, go with the guy who can laugh in the face of danger. If Bush utterly failed to contain the assholes and idiots in his party, Obama's great advantage in containing his is that he is neither.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

HSX: Week of July 15, 2009

There's a big movie opening up today; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Maybe you've heard of it? Unfortunately, my post will be short and bereft of links and HSX analysis, because I forgot to post last night (damn these Wednesday openings!), and I am having problems logging on to HSX this morning. But I do remember that the strike price is H$80 for the weekend (Fri-Sun). Be very optimistic - this is going to be a big deal.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

Update Sunday night: I was a little too optimistic - the Friday-Sunday take was just under $80 million, almost exactly at the strike price. The five-day total was $159 million. And that's just domestic. It only adjust up H$8, but it's still close to H$300. Go Harry!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!

Happy Bastille Day! Of course, since it's 11:13 PM Pacific time, Bastille is long since over in France, but still, here's to the spirit of 1789. I found this video by searching for "Bastille Day" on YouTube. It's not a great video, but it does have Nicolas Sarkozy. Sadly, it does not have any shots of his wife. And what is a celebration of French culture without a beautiful woman? I like this video. Lara Fabian isn't technically French (she is Belgian and Canadian), but she sure feels French (embedding is disabled, otherwise I would post the video here).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor's confirmation

Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to be the next Supreme Court justice started today. TPM has her opening statement. The NY Times has detailed coverage, particularly on their Times Topic page on her. I want to take a moment here and give some serious props to the NYT for their Times Topic idea. They collect lots of relevant information and articles about a topic in one place. That's just fantastic. This is what the Web should be for. This is what innovation on a newspaper Website looks like.

OK, back to Sotomayor. There is no question that she will be confirmed. Republicans are trying to paint her as biased in favor of minorities. Good luck on that one. White guys in suits - on camera - complaining about unfair treatment for other white guys is just pathetic.

For me, what's important to note about this is that it's one of the first moments when Obama can make a clear difference. He's already done that in several areas, but this is one time when he can nail a decisive victory. It's a slam dunk. More than that, it will also be an occasion to party. It will be an occasion to fire up the troops. There are, of course, some liberals and progressives who are disillusioned with Obama for various reasons. This is utterly normal. But moments like this are opportunities for Obama to remind those whose dreams have faded a little what is at stake here. A Hispanic woman, from a poor Puerto Rican background, is about to become a Supreme Court justice.

What's most important about this is not the fact that a Hispanic woman is about to become a Supreme Court justice, but that this particular earned this, and deserves it. In her statement, she said
The progression of my life has been uniquely American.
When I was a freshman in high school, one of the first assignments in my English class was to write about the American Dream. This would be a great example. Sonia Sotomayor, by living the American Dream, by personifying an idea that absolutely refuses to become a cliche, is doing two things at once. She is living that dream for herself. But she is also doing something that is itself quintessentially American: she is expanding the definition of the American Dream to include people like her. She is staking a claim to that dream, and there ain't a damn thing the most obnoxious Republican out there can do about it. Fortunately for all of us, there are lots of Republicans who are applauding this dream come true.

And now back to Obama again. Obama himself has done very little work to bring this moment to fruition. All of his staffers did the work to select her. He hasn't had to campaign much for her - her nomination is a foregone conclusion. He won't do anything once she is sitting on the bench. But he is the reason this is happening.

As momentous as this occasion is, however, it's also important to notice that this moment itself doesn't change anything. Sotomayor is not on the Supreme Court yet, and even after her confirmation, she won't be there for a couple of months. And then she won't issue any opinions for months after that. Then those opinions won't necessarily take effect immediately. Those effects will then take a while to manifest themselves.

But the effects of her presence on the Supreme Court will, in all probability, last for decades, and effect millions. Obama has done a lot of things since becoming president that have not had much effect yet; we are still fighting two wars, debates are still raging about torture, we don't know how well the stimulus package will end up working, GM and Chrysler haven't started making money yet.

But a Hispanic woman is about to become a Supreme Court justice for three reasons: 1, because she is qualified. 2, because this is America, and this can happen here. And 3, because Barack Obama nominated her.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

UFC 100

I watched UFC 100 last night. For the uninitiated, which until last night included me, UFC means "Ultimate Fighting Championship," also known as "mixed martial arts." It's a combination of boxing, wrestling, and martial arts. Two men in a ring slug it out with padded gloves. Their fingers extend beyond the ends of the gloves, so they don't have as much padding as boxing gloves, but they can get a better grip on things, like their opponent's face. That's just one difference between this and boxing. They can also tackle each other, grapple and kick, besides punching and wrestling. It's generally a much more violent sport than boxing, if that can be believed. And it's very real - the floor of the ring ends up with lots of red splotches - that's blood from the contestants (each event has several fights). The matches are also short - the rounds last 5 minutes, but there are only 3 or 5 rounds. Championship matches last 5 rounds, and we watched two last night, along with several other fights. Matches only last 3 to 5 rounds because that's all the contestants can take. Many matches end with a TKO or submission before the end of regulation. There are three judges, again like boxing.

I would normally have no interest in this bloodsport, but a friend of mine invited me to watch it yesterday. This friend of mine has a good sense of adventure and a fine sense of the absurd, so I went. We watched it as bar called Big Wangs, where the waitresses wear low-cut black t-shirts that read "SIZE MATTERS." This is a place where "subtle" means less than 80 decibels.

So I watched a sport not quite as civilized as boxing at a bar not quite as sophisticated as Hooter's.

But I have to admit that I had a good time, even though I watched some guys get their asses kicked. Fans, of course, would say that I had a good time because I watched some guys get their asses kicked. In the welterweight championship match, a guy named Georges St.-Pierre, from Montreal, just decimated Brazilian Thiago Alves. That was actually rather fascinating. St.-Pierre has a fleur de lis tattooed on his leg, a nice touch for a French Canadian. He's also much smarter than Alves, which, oddly enough in this very physical sport, gave him a big advantage. Even more important, he knows he's smarter, which is one hell of an advantage. When he sensed an opening, he would just attack, lunging straight forward, and he almost always took Alves down. He won in a unanimous decision. Gotta love those macho French Canadians.

The heavyweight championship match, which was the highlight of the night, such as it was, pitted a mountain/animal with human organs named Brock Lesnar against a slightly more normal human named Frank Mir. Mir is only 20 pounds lighter than Lesnar (245 vs. 265), but Lesnar just seemed to dwarf him. Mir, however, won their first match, a year ago, so Lesnar was out for blood, literally. He had Mir pinned against the cage and landed several good pounds on his face before the referee jumped in and stopped the match. Mir walked away, but his nose was more blood than flesh.

The most amazing sight of the night came in a match between an arrogant Brit named Michael Bisping and an American, Dan Henderson. Bisping is quite the trash talker. He's also quite the dancer, moving all the time. Henderson, however, had his number, and clocked him good. Bisping went down, and was basically defenseless, but Henderson jumped on him and landed a haymaker on his face before the ref jumped on him. You couldn't have choreographed a more powerful scene. I told my friend that that image isn't leaving my brain for a while.

I also told my friend that I was very glad these guys have some way to channel their aggression. I'm particularly glad of this because apparently they need it. After he won, Lesnar walked around the ring (an octagon) and flipped off the crowd. With both hands. He also said that he was going to go home and drink a Coors (it's sponsored by Bud Light). Supposedly he apologized, but the damage was done. To Frank Mir's face, several million of his brain cells, our civilization's sense of decency, and, quite possibly, my own reputation as a sensitive, artistic kind of guy.

But I did have fun.

And the beer was cold.

And I tipped the waitress well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

HSX: Week of July 10, 2009

Only two movies opening this weekend, both comedies. Let's get the easy one out of the way first: "I Love You, Beth Cooper" (ILUBC) is opening with the least amount of buzz for a wide release that I can remember. I have not seen any publicity whatsoever, which is strange in Los Angeles. I barely knew it was opening. The stock is at H$21, which is off of the high of H$27, but it's been climbing quite steadily. It's directed by Chris Columbus, who is NOT one of my favorite directors (he directed Bicentennial Man, which is one movie I am sure Robin Williams wishes was erased from the planet Earth). The strike price is H$10, which may have made sense a couple of weeks ago, but is now officially absurd. The call (IBCCA) is at H$1.74, surprising only in that it is above H$1. The put (IBCPU) is at H$3.30, which is a very bad sign. It's at 13% on, a really, really bad sign. Nary a positive sign in sight, really.
Stock: Short
Call: Short
Put: Long

Next up is Bruno (BRUNO), Sacha Baron Cohen's second alter ego to hit the big screen, after Borat. This could be either a huge hit or not so huge a hit. It will make a lot of money, the only question is whether it will make massive amounts, or just lots. The subject matter is stirring up strong reactions and controversy, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's at 70% on, and we love that. I've laughed quite a bit at some of the trailers, so I am planning to see it, although I am not quite sure what to think of how politically incorrect it is. At least one gay friend is seriously bothered by it. I am reserving judgment, but I do plan to see it. The stock is at H$108, down from H$124, but holding up. The strike price is H$40, which is exactly in line with the stock price. The call (BRUCA) is at H$5+, but the put (BRUPU) is at H$3.30. I am not surprised at these split signals, given how controversial the movie is. The stock is predicting an opening of $40 million, the call $46 million or higher, and the put about $36 million or lower. I think the call might be on the high side, but I'm going to keep it long, because of the danger of too much upside. I have one reason for optimism in particular: Borat opened on only 837 screens, but did $26 million. With a lot more screens, and much more publicity, I think Bruno could do much, much better than that.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

Update Sunday night: Looks like I picked the wrong week to believe in outrageous British satire. BRUNO had a solid opening on Friday, $14 million. It looked like it would meet the strike price, if not much more, but then it plunged on Saturday, and only would up doing $30 million for the weekend. So I got burned on all three securities. ILUBC, however, tanked as expected, so that made up for it a little bit.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's memorial service was here in LA on Tuesday, at the Staples Center, our big indoor arena. There were 17,500 tickets, distributed free through an online lottery. 1.6 million people applied. People came from around the country; some people came from other countries. Streets were closed; buses were rerouted. But apparently it was not a mob scene, and very tasteful. The LA Times captured the mood:

In the end, they brought Michael Jackson to the one place where his life always made sense -- beneath a spotlight and in front of his adoring fans. The superstar, in a gleaming gold coffin, was celebrated in a Staples Center memorial service that was beamed around the world and, like the icon himself, strove mightily to be all things to all people.
I'm not a big Michael Jackson fan, although I like many of his songs. But as I was watching the "Beat It" video the other day, I realized something about him. It's a good video today, but it was a great video back then. It seems standard now, maybe even cliched, to see the singer leading a dance routine. But it was groundbreaking back in the day. Of all the great male rock and pop stars, Michael Jackson was far and away the best dancer, one of the only ones who had the natural talent to move with that kind of grace. Elvis, of course, was famous for his moves, but he was also mostly standing in one place while he shook his hips. The Beatles? Rolling Stones? The Police, Jimmy Buffett, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin? Mick Jagger is very athletic and charismatic, but even he doesn't have the kind of rhythm Michael Jackson did.

Most lives worthy of celebration have their share of controversy, but death has a way of rebalancing the scales of fame. Michael Jackson was famous for his talent and his art, then he was famous for being famous, then he was famous for being weird. Now he's back to being famous for what he was originally known for; some damn good music.

Michael Jackson started on the road to stardom a long time before MTV was born, but he did it, and it did him, some very large favors. Like most people between the ages of about 25 and 55, I have long since lost interest in MTV. I'm one of those old-fashioned people who like music videos. This is why I like YouTube. I watched "Beat It" on, but then tried to find some other favorite videos, and of course was greeted with a message that they were somehow lost. But MTV was going to get them back! That's just sad.

But in honor of The Gloved One, I'm going to end this post with a link to

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ross Douthat Insults the Working Class

Ross Douthat takes on the thankless and somewhat odd job of sort-of defending Sarah Palin after her completely bizarre announcement that she will be resigning as governor of Alaska. I'm glad the New York Times believes in ideological diversity, because his argument almost sort of makes sense, but only in the funhouse that is the conservative punditry's attempts to come to terms with Sarah Palin. I'm glad he made this argument on the pages of the New York Times, because that means that many people will have an opportunity to refute it. He opens with a simple five-word sentence: "She should have said no." Meaning that she should have said no to John McCain, because then her life, both inside and outside of politics, would still be somewhat normal.

He then proceeds - let me repeat, on the pages of the New York Times - to attack liberal elites for denigrating her because of her working class roots. Taking the fight to the enemy, that's what he's doing. Sort of. He writes well, and might actually believe this argument. But that doesn't change the fact that it's a terrible argument.

I have a five-word response: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Both of them were from the working class. Neither of them were elites, until they worked their way into the social and economic stratosphere. But they both worked for it. I disagreed with Reagan on just about everything, but he did work for his success. I've also realized, long after his presidency, that he wasn't as stupid as I thot he was. I saw a video of him in the mid-1960's attacking communism, and I couldn't believe how articulate and profound he sounded. Bill Clinton was from farther down the social ladder than even Palin - he was white trash. But he went to elite universities, Georgetown, Yale Law, and Oxford, because he's smart, ambitious, competent, hard-working, and curious about the world.

Here's another two-word answer for Mr. Douthat's claim that Americans judged Sarah Palin poorly because of her social class: Abraham Lincoln.

Americans love an underdog who climbs up from poverty to success. Michelle Obama's father was a municipal employee in Chicago.

All of my grandparents started out in life as members of the working class. But they ended up solidly middle class - both of my grandparents became professionals who owned their own businesses and sent all of their kids to college. And they were thrilled when I went to an elite liberal arts college in the East. I had plans once to earn a Ph.d., and my fundamentalist grandmother's response was "We'll finally have one."

Sarah Palin's failure as a candidate, as governor, and as a politician in general had nothing to do with either her gender or her class. There are lots of very successful women politicians in this country, and many very successful politicians from the working class.

Sarah Palin failed in so many respects because she's incompetent, lazy, and irresponsible, not to mention a pathetic wimp and delusional and pathological liar. She's a whining idiot who is incapable of either admitting her mistakes or taking responsibility for her failures. None of those traits mark her either as a typical member of her gender or her class. To imply otherwise is to insult women and people who make an honest living with their hands.

My grandparents started out as members of the working class (one of my grandfathers was a coal miner at 16), and, like Sarah Palin, were conservative Republicans and devout Christians. Unlike Sarah Palin, however, they were also smart, honest, competent people who didn't complain about their lot in life, took responsibility for their decisions and actions, and finished the jobs that they took on.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Quote of the Day

"He’s a stud.”

-Pete Sampras on Roger Federer after Federer broke Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles by winning Wimbledon. This is Federer's sixth Wimbledon singles title. Sampras also commented that Federer might win 17 or 18 before he's done.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sarah Palin in 2012: Nail In The Coffin

Some people are arguing - and I am not going to bother linking to them - that Sarah Palin's resignation is a brilliant move in her strategy to run for president, because now she has more time.

These people are forgetting one thing: Barring unforeseen circumstances, she will be running against Barack Obama. During the 2008 campaign, Obama's biggest obstacle was his lack of experience. Just about every candidate in the Democratic field had more experience than he did. John McCain certainly did. Sarah Palin, however, did not, and does not. This is one of the (many) reasons McCain's choice of her as his running mate was such a bad move; it weakened one of his best arguments against Obama: that he, McCain, was more experienced. Democrats and Republicans traded charges of who was more or less experienced - Obama or Palin? What counts more, being a United States senator, or a governor? Does being mayor of a small town count as "executive" experience? Is that somehow more important than the "legislative" experience Obama had?

But in 2012, all that will be moot. There were many people who had serious doubts about Obama in 2008 because of this lack of experience. In 2012, not so much. Obama was always a great candidate - inspiring speaker, great story, very charismatic. In 2012, he will have the experience to match.

But Palin will only have a little more than two years as Governor of Alaska. Her last notable decision in that position will be to quit.

Thinking of it in these terms, I think I have a little bit more of a clue as to why she quit. Right now, she hasn't failed at anything. Other than being governor, that is. She's still very popular with the Republican base. If she really wants to be president, she should run for reelection in 2010, to address the experience issue. Being a one-term governor would still mean questions about her experience - two terms puts that to rest. But Being governor in 2012 will interfere with her ability to campaign, considering how far away Alaska is from, say, New Hampshire.

More importantly, being governor in 2012 and running for president will also interfere with her ability to make money. She won't be able to go on quite as many highly lucrative speaking engagements, etc., etc.

So suppose she doesn't run for reelection in 2010, but does decide to run for president. She'll be spending almost all of her time doing that: raising money, meeting people, etc. Fundraising for her presidential bid will interfere with her fundraising for Todd and the kids.

But there is one little six-letter word which really captures the great impediment to her ability to make money: losing.

If she runs for president in 2012 and is the Republican nominee, she will get creamed by Obama. Unless he completely screws up, and it looks like he won't, he'll win in a cakewalk. He's already done it, he'll have all the advantages of incumbency, and most demographic trends are going his way. He owns the African-American vote, the young vote, and Hispanics are ever-more alienated from the GOP.

But she probably won't even make it to the point of being the nominee. Remember Rudy Giuliani? Haven't seen him on a talk show recently. Whether or not she is governor in 2012, she might very well get whacked in the first primary.

I think she quit because she knows she has to strike while the iron is hot. Part of her appeal, let's be honest, is the fact that she's beautiful. But she's 45, and she's not getting any younger. I think she's bored and frustrated with being governor of Alaska, and she knows that if she runs in 2012, she may very become even more of a laughingstock than she is now.

She'll always have fans. But right now, she has the most she will ever have. The vast majority of them do not live in Alaska, but would love to vote for her, and are willing to do so with their wallets and purses. She's doing exactly what conservatives advocate as a basic tenet of capitalism - acting in her own best self-interest. What I find odd is that there are still people who think she will somehow act in their best self-interest, too. You don't have to fool all the people all the time to make some good money.

Happy Fourth of July From Andrew Sullivan and Jimi Hendrix

I had technical problems trying to embed this, so click here for the most amazing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner as a guitar solo that you will ever hear.

This is one great example of why we have the First Amendment and freedom of expression.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another Shot of Weirdness From Sarah Palin

Well, that's weird. Just in time to make everyone's Fourth of July really interesting, Sarah Palin resigns as governor of Alaska. Her resignation speech, at least what I've read of it so far, is just bizarre. Here's a taste;

Life is too short to compromise time and resources... it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: "Sit down and shut up", but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out. And a problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just hunker down and "go with the flow".

Nah, only dead fish "go with the flow".
"[O]nly dead fish 'go with the flow.'" OK, first of all, somewhere Taoists and Buddhists are screaming, but I suppose Sarah Palin isn't worried about losing that constituency. But what is this nonsense about keeping your head down and plodding along being a "worthless, easy path?" Huh? I was under the impression that meeting your commitments was a fundamental part of "being responsible."

Speculation is flying as to why she's doing this. So she can spend more time campaigning for president? Maybe, but quitting your job as governor is not a great way to demonstrate effective leadership. I think there might be a clue in one line in her speech:

Todd and I are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills in order to set the record straight.
She's referring to all of the ethics investigations that she is going through. That's a chunk of change. I think that might be part of it; she needs to make more money in the private sector to be able to pay all of these legal bills. But doesn't she have some kind of legal defense fund?

The speech is just riddled with the kind of boilerplate nonsense that is too stale to even pass off as cliched. But I love this euphemism:

In the words of General MacArthur said, "We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction."
Then there are lines that just befuddle:

I cannot stand here as your Governor and allow millions upon millions of our dollars go to waste just so I can hold the title of Governor.
Millions of dollars will go to waste if you hold the title of governor? She's found a way to sound noble and proud about the fact that she is quitting her job well before it's done. How does this woman stay sane?

Josh Marshall and his crew are having a field day with this. I'm having fun just reading the headlines of their posts. My favorite so far is "Surreality Only Beginning."

Andrew Sullivan, who has made chronicling her lies (he's up to #30) a mainstay of his blog, had this comment, which sums it up pretty well:

I'm too stunned to say anything else, to tell you the truth. And yet not surprised at all.
Sully also gets some style points for quoting Wittgenstein. The quote is in German, which I don't know at all, but there is really one line from Wittgenstein that is a famous quote, and is somehow appropo for today: "Beyond that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent."

Oh, no. There's a lot we can say about this. And will.

Daily Kos has a great poll about why she's quitting. The number #1 answer, with 70%, is "There's another shoe left to drop." There is something else going on here. Maybe it's another good sex scandal!!! Let's not think about that. It's tacky. Funny and potentially very entertaining, but tacky. Also possibly sexist.

I think the person who may come out of this the best is David Letterman. I don't know this, but my guess is that he has felt somewhat chastised by his unfortunate encounter with her when he made that crack about her daughter. Not anymore! Now that she is, once again, proving herself to be a soap opera all by herself.

I think the best quote to sum all this up is from Hunter S. Thompson:

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sanford Should Leave

Josh Marshall wrote yesterday that he thinks Gov. Mark Sanford should leave his wife for this woman in Argentina, who he calls his "soul mate."
But am I the only one who thinks that he appears to be deeply in love with this woman and should just go be with her?
No, Josh, you're not the only one thinking that. I agree. What seems increasingly unusual about this scandal is that Sanford is actually in love with her. He really went out of his way to see her. In just about every other political sex scandal I can think of, the other woman (this feels a tad perverse, but I am somewhat looking forward to a sex scandal involving a woman politician and another man - a milestone for equality!) was fairly close geographically and professionally. Except in the case of Eliot Spitzer, obviously, but at least those women were within a few hundred miles, on the same continent.

One great question, of course, is whether or not he can save his marriage. Josh doesn't think so.
The marriage seems clearly to be over. And if it wasn't on his first day back from Argentina, it's hard to conceive how it isn't now.
Jenny Sanford released a statement today opening the door to reconciliation. She's in a little bit of a bind. If she lets him go, she retains some dignity, but she also gets rejected for another woman. OTOH, if she keeps him, people will forever wonder about her motives for doing so, although she is apparently very successful on her own. Look at Hillary. She's stayed with Bill, but she's also paid a price for it - there are a number of people - primarily women - who just don't trust her because of that.

The best outcome for Jenny Sanford would probably be to divorce Sanford, extract a good settlement, and then go find another man. I'm sure she will not have much trouble in that regard.

Sanford is quickly losing support among Republicans in South Carolina. Jim DeMint, A Republican senator from South Carolina, is quoted at length in an article in The State, South Carolina's major newspaper, about Sanford. DeMint uses just about every rhetorical trick in the book to call on Sanford to resign without actually using the word "resign." It's a textbook example of spin.
“I have just encouraged him to do what’s best for the state and if we give him a little room, I know he will”
. . . . .

“A lot of us are talking to him behind the scenes in hopes that he’ll make the right decision about what needs to be done.”
. . . . .
“They say, when you are explaining, you are losing. And particularly on that subject, I think, he was,” the senator said. “I’m concerned of whether or not he is in a position that he can continue to lead the state.”
Protocol demands that a senator, in some respects senior to a governor, be the last person to demand a resignation like this, because as soon as he does, it's over. A senator is one of the only people besides the governor who represents the entire state, and therefore has his pulse on what everyone in the state is thinking. DeMint clearly wants Sanford gone, but he also doesn't want to be the one to pull the trigger. He would like Sanford to "do the right thing" and thereby retain a shred of dignity. DeMint is pretending to have some respect for Sanford, probably because he's known him for a while, and it's the decent thing to do. But Sanford is toast. The only question is, when does he realize it and act accordingly?

So why exactly do I think Sanford should give up his marriage, his kids, his career? He is apparently deeply in love with this woman, but he has spent years building this life - there might be some way to salvage part of it. She lives in a different country - all kinds of logistical problems immediately loom large. So why exactly should he give up everything for her?

Because he already has.