Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Dem Debate

The Dems had their first debate tonight.

Biggest Winner: Mike Gravel. Sure he seemed unhinged, but there's a constituency for that. Gravel is the only one who stood out. I have a feeling he's going to rise from an asterisk into the third tier (there's three tiers.)
Biggest Loser: Dennis Kucinich. Why is he bothering? Still you have to hope that he unaccountably wins: it would be great to have a first lady Dorothy to his President Munchkin.
Most Human: Bill Richardson. Although he could stand to smile a bit more.
Most Evasive: Barack Obama. It's probably just a side effect of being a good politician, but there were two questions that he completely ignored. On the other hand, he had a good moment when he took on Kucinich.
Most Underrated: Chris Dodd. Good man, good answers.
Overachiever: Hillary Clinton. Steady and -- who knew? -- likeable.
Best Answer: Joe Biden's one-word answer to charges that he's too verbose.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Psy-Op Musings

I just finished seeing Bill Moyers' excellent documentary on the media's performance in the run-up to the Iraq war. It reminded me of a detail that I haven't heard mentioned since. In the first hours of the invasion, CNN and other outlets reported that the U.S. was in secret talks with Iraqi Generals to secure their surrender. After the invasion, when no such surrenders were forthcoming, there were no follow-ups.

Obviously, this was a psy-op tactic. Nothing would sow havoc in the Iraqi chain of command more than having Saddam think that he might be betrayed by his top military officers. If the U.S. military were truly in possession of such information, they certainly wouldn't make it public; that would risk the cooperation of these officers, or maybe their removal.

The media was used, and I have to imagine that they must have at least suspected that they were being used. If it had worked, maybe American lives might have been saved during the invasion. Is a journalist justified in betraying his vocation by lying, even when it might save lives?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Vote for Me or Else

Giuliani's shamelessness is just jaw-dropping. How does the guy with no national security experience run on the issue just on the strength of his tough-guy pose?

UPDATE: As usual, Kevin Drum has a smarter take than I do.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Oh, why can't our feckless Democrats frame an issue like Paul Krugman can?
There are two ways to describe the confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration over funding for the Iraq surge. You can pretend that it’s a normal political dispute. Or you can see it for what it really is: a hostage situation, in which a beleaguered President Bush, barricaded in the White House, is threatening dire consequences for innocent bystanders — the troops — if his demands aren’t met.

If this were a normal political dispute, Democrats in Congress would clearly hold the upper hand: by a huge margin, Americans say they want a timetable for withdrawal, and by a large margin they also say they trust Congress, not Mr. Bush, to do a better job handling the situation in Iraq.

But this isn’t a normal political dispute. Mr. Bush isn’t really trying to win the argument on the merits. He’s just betting that the people outside the barricade care more than he does about the fate of those innocent bystanders.

638 days to go.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dowd'ed Down

This is why I can't take Maureen Dowd seriously. You can't bemoan the idiots that lead us and then turn around and apply an idiot criteria to choosing them. This is what got us into this mess to begin with. Remember that oft-repeated bromide: "he's the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with!"?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Org Chart Spaghetti

Via Kevin Drum, here is a characteristically terrific piece by Dahlia Lithwick on the Gonzales testimony:
One of the finest moments comes when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., busts out a big, big chart. Which happens after almost everyone has gone home. The chart compares the Clinton protocol for appropriate contacts between the White House and the DoJ on pending criminal cases with the Bush protocol. According to Whitehouse, the Clinton protocol authorized just four folks at the White House to chat with three folks at Justice. The chart had four boxes talking to three boxes. Out comes the Bush protocol, and now 417 different people at the White House have contacts about pending criminal cases with 30-some people at Justice. You can just see zillions of small boxes nattering back and forth. It seems that just about everyone in the White House, including the guys in the mailroom, had a vote on ongoing criminal matters.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., calls this "the most astounding thing" he's seen in 32 years.

641 days to go.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Adobe Gets It

Adobe has announced the release of a new version of its Flash Video Player. It contains important new features which will cement its position as the dominant video format on the web: it will allow downloading, including scheduled downloads in the podcast fashion; and it will also include support for advertising, including unremovability and feedback for advertisers.

The Flash Player already has an unbeatable installed base... better than 90%. Its file sizes are more economic than its competitors and while the quality doesn't match Quicktime, at higher quality settings it looks a lot better than what you're used to seeing on YouTube.

These two new features are important: with the bandwidth we currently have, we'll probably never be able to smoothly stream high-definition video, so scheduled downloads onto a hard drive are likely to be the winning strategy. Likewise, advertisers will probably always be more willing to pay for our eyeballs than we are willing to pay to be rid of their ads, so advertising, rather than pay-to-view or subscription, is likely to be the winning formula.

It is certain that Apple's AppleTV product will have competitors in the race to connect the TV in the living room to the computer in the den, the last step in the internet TV revolution. I no longer consider it likely that Apple's proprietary solutions will give it a dominant market share, although they will be a significant player. Proprietary solutions are getting political pushback, and the media companies will not be willing to have their content controlled by a single company. I think it's more likely that a very diverse market will arise, likely centered on Adobe's open format, and that is all for the better.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sacrifice to the Volcano

It seems that we are now in the midst of an Imus backlash backlash. Bill Maher criticized the firing on his show Friday, somewhat predictably since he's been forced to walk that plank himself. In today's Times Frank Rich speaks out ($) against the response.

There is undoubtedly a public interest in allowing expression that is frank and uninhibited. But just as surely, it is also valuable to enforce norms that forbid unacceptable attitudes and expressions. The Imus firing is the red-hot nexus between those two imperatives. Bill Maher is right when he points out that if the media hadn't amplified Imus's remarks the Rutgers players might not have even heard about it; this isn't about the feelings of those kids. Neither is it a question of Imus's soul: it doesn't matter whether his intelligent interviews or his charity work or his good soul redeem his sometimes crude remarks. It's about letting America know what is acceptable and not acceptable.

Like Al Campanis and Trent Lott and Michael Richards, Imus must be tossed into the Volcano as a sacrifice. The Volcano is our nation's original sin, and all the anger and grief and guilt and desire for redemption that is expelled from it. His prominence only adds to his utility as an example. If the consequences are disproportionate to the crime, that's all for the better too. (I'm not being ironic.)

Sorry, Imus. It's not about you... it's about us.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

New Blue

There are lots of encouraging signs for the future of a progressive movement in the U.S.A., but none so positive as the 30-point lead that Democrats enjoy among under 30s in a generic Congressional choice. Up and coming is the bluest generation since the New Deal.

The data seems to suggest that voting patterns are formed in young adulthood and don't vary much after that. Popular Presidents win over young adults for life; unpopular ones drive them away. If this is true, then a popular Democratic Presidency in 2008 has the potential to realign our politics for decades to come.

With all this potential, I'm struck by how as of yet the movement is still characterized by anti-Bush sentiment rather than ideals, programs and dreams. Perhaps that just comes from living in the shadow of a war.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Buying Versus Renting

There's an interesting article in the New York Times today about the cost of renting versus buying. Money grafs:
Most striking, perhaps, is the fact that prices may not yet have fallen far enough for buying to look better than renting today, except for people who plan to stay in a home for many years...

Over the next five years, which is about the average amount of time recent buyers have remained in their homes, prices in the Los Angeles area would have to rise more than 5 percent a year for a typical buyer there to do better than a renter. The same is true in Phoenix, Las Vegas, the New York region, Northern California and South Florida. In the Boston and Washington areas, the break-even point is about 4 percent.

I've held back from buying so I feel slightly vindicated. Check out the piece. It includes an interactive feature that allows you to plug in the numbers for your particular situation.

UPDATE: What? The history of U.S. housing prices plotted on a roller coaster? Apparently they hacked an Atari game to get this result. What's next? Using first person shooter kills to plot mortgage defaults?

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Sopranos Back in Form

Last night's season opener was one of the best episodes of the series. I know this sounds pretentious, but there was something Chekhovian about it: the lingering melancholy and hidden resentments, the telling details, all of that crippling nostalgia for a life gone by.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Where All Hires are Political Hires

Sometimes articles come out too soon. This important Boston Globe piece came out last year, before the current scandal at Justice, but it highlights what is probably an even worse manifestation of politicizing than the recent firings:
In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants -- not political appointees.

But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers. For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected.

Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

653 days to go. Via TPM.

Katie Bar the Door

Here's Kate O'Beirne on Meet the Press this morning (my transcription):
They're [Congress] not trying to circumscribe the President's regal powers, they're trying to circumscribe, the White House argues, his Presidential powers... what they're not permitted to do is to appropriate funds and then tie the Commander-in-Chief's hands with respect to how to deploy those troops and how to conduct those military missions.

I don't think this is what the White House is arguing at all, although I'm sure they're happy to have their allies chat it up. Here's the President at his last press conference:

Q When Congress has linked war funding with a timetable you have argued micromanagement. When they've linked it to unrelated spending, you've argued pork barrel. But now there's talk from Harry Reid and others that if you veto this bill, they may come back and just simply cut off funding. Wouldn't that be a legitimate exercise of a congressional authority, which is the power of the purse?

THE PRESIDENT: The Congress is exercising its legitimate authority as it sees fit right now. I just disagree with their decisions. I think setting an artificial timetable for withdrawal is a significant mistake.

For whatever reason, the White House has already ceded the constitutional point.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Book on the Race

Because markets are highly efficient aggregators of information, I'm convinced bookies give a more accurate outlook on the prospects of an electoral race than pundits do. So here, without comment, are the latest prices from Intrade. Consider them as the equivalent of percentage odds:

Democratic Nomination
Clinton - 48.0
Obama - 31.7
Gore - 9.0
Edwards - 8.0

Republican Nomination
Giuliani - 29.0
Thompson - 19.8
McCain - 19.2
Romney - 16.9

General Election
Clinton - 27.2
Obama - 19.9
Giuliani - 16.0
McCain - 13.7
Thompson - 10.3
Romney - 7.9
Gore - 7.8
Edwards - 5.0

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Obama Cash-O-Rama

The speculation had been that Obama was putting off announcing his first quarter fundraising totals because it was either very good or very bad news. Well, it's very good. With $25 million raised, Obama is just a shade under Hillary's $26 million, but his fundraising base is far wider: more than 100,000 people gave, just about twice Hillary's total. 90% of his contributions were under $100.

This bodes well for Obama's future fundraising prospects. It probably means that fewer of his donors are maxed out, and are thus likely to keep on giving.

Also of note: two of the Dem's leading candidates beat out the Republicans' leading fundraiser, Mitt Romney ($23 million.) This just might be that rare cycle where the Democratic candidate has a monetary advantage over the Republican.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Nasal RIP

Okay, this is too good to not pass on. Keith Richards admits to having snorted his cremated father's ashes. Could this start a trend? ("When I go, son, spread me among your mucus...")

Street Art from Ukraine

If you like these images, there's more incredible street art from the Ukraine here.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Drudge's Favorite Democrat?

Here's the headline from the Drudge Report: "America Loves Hillary". Well, the big fundraisers do at least. Hillary raised $26 million in the first quarter of 2007 and transfered $10 million from her senate fund. More impressively, Obama raised around $22 million and Edwards raised $14 million, both without Hillary's tried-and-tested donor database. All three in the top tier are going to have the money to compete. Despite the Hillary camp efforts at spin, there will be no aura of inevitability around her.