Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
September 30, 2008
POLITICS: The Russian Border

Beldar, who really has been just far and away the best source on all things Palin, has a long, maps-and-pictures-filled post up looking at, yes, Alaska's proximity to Russia and what Gov. Palin's experience says about her as a potential Commander-in-Chief. I agree with this:

[N]o state governor has executive experience on these matters comparable to that which must be exercised by the POTUS. State governors are, however, executives, with experience running large organizations of a sort that mere legislators at any level - including U.S. Congressmen and Senators - don't acquire. That's part of the explanation for why America has so often elected state chief executive officers (governors) to become the federal chief executive officer (POTUS), often with salutary results

That goes to my longstanding point: no President is prepared for the entire job, but you have to have a base in one of the major parts of the job to avoid being overwhelmed by the learning curve, and in Gov. Palin's case, it's one of the two big ones (executive experience, the other being national security experience; Obama lacks both). Now, obviously Palin doesn't bring to the table the years of national leadership on national security and foreign policy issues that Reagan did, and one can fairly argue that governors with experience more comparable to Palin's - Woodrow Wilson had an almost identical resume when elected - were not smashing successes in the foreign policy/national security arena (these would include George W. Bush, Clinton, Carter, FDR, Coolidge, Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and McKinley, of whom only the Roosevelts and McKinley had some relevant foreign policy/national security experience). On the other hand, unlike Obama, Palin is highly likely to have many months and probably years before she'd be called on to take the reins, and would I be concerned if Palin became the president in, say, the fall of 2010? Of course not, since the best possible training for the presidency is the vice presidency.

The Palin-Obama comparison also reminds me of a silly Dahlia Lithwick column comparing Palin to Clarence Thomas in light of Justice Thomas' views on affirmative action:

Like Thomas, Palin has been blasted for inexperience, and she has fought back with claims that she is not being judged on her merits, but on her gender, just as he felt he was inevitably judged on his race. While it's possible to assert that Sarah Palin is the most qualified person in America for the vice presidency, only approximately nine people have done so with a straight face. That's because Palin was not chosen because she was the second-best person to run America but to promote diversity on the ticket, even the political playing field, and to shatter (in her words) some glass ceilings.

What is amusingly naive, or would be if it wasn't so disingenuous, is the suggestion that running mates are chosen because they are actually the second-most-qualified potential president in their party, regardless of political considerations. This was arguably true of Dick Cheney, whose only political benefit was precisely the fact that he could very seriously have been argued to be the second-most-qualified potential president in the GOP. (And if McCain were choosing today on solely that basis, Cheney would still be the top choice). Other than maybe LBJ, who was in any event chosen for nakedly political causes, though, one is hard-pressed to find running mates who fit that description. Palin does, in fact, bring a good deal more to the ticket than just gender, ranging from things McCain doesn't have (executive experience, rock-solid social conservative credentials, being from far outside the Beltway and from a small town, and having lived most of her adult life in what is basically a blue-collar household, albeit one that by now is quite financially successful) as well as personal charisma (she's a natural at retail politics) and harmony with McCain's basic reformist drive and willingness to take on their own side. Add in the list of reasons why various other people were out of the running, and it's obvious that Palin was a more than plausible choice, which is one reason why the right side of the blogosphere was buzzing about her as a running mate for months before McCain made his choice.

(Another argument I sometimes hear is the issue of whether she was the most qualified woman in the GOP...there's a longer answer when you walk through particular candidates, but the easy answer to that one is this question: how many pro-life female governors are there in the GOP right now? I'm pretty certain the answer to that question is "one," and really the only pro-life female Senator is Elizabeth Dole, and the last thing we need is another Dole on a national ticket.)

Anyway, where Lithwick's column becomes openly contemptible is that she never even breathes the name Barack Obama. I can't imagine there's anybody over the age of 25 who seriously thinks Obama's the person in the Democratic Party most qualified to do the job, and certainly his campaign has never been shy about leaning on his identity as a substitute for things like experience, accomplishment, and leadership ability. Lithwick may have some hidden rationalization why the dynamic she describes doesn't apply to Obama, but she dares not advance it.

Obama has one and only one advantage over Palin: he's been on the campaign trail longer, and thus had more training by now in how to finesse questions he doesn't have a good answer to. That's it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:39 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (28) | TrackBack (0)
BUSINESS: Unmarked To Market

An SEC Press Release issued today offers a clarification that may relieve institutions that feel compelled to use "mark to market" or "fair value" accounting for debt securities as to which there is no liquid market (I'll try to just offer a neutral description here; other people at my law firm will no doubt be offering our clients more detailed advice on this topic). This is just one aspect of the credit crisis, but MTM has acted as something of an accelerant for the financial troubles of institutions holding mortgage-backed securities for which there is no active market. Some people, mainly on the Right, have argued that suspending MTM would give needed breathing space and eliminate the need for Treasury to step in as market maker and buy up MBS, while others have argued that loosening the accounting rules just conceals the problem and delays the day of reckoning.

Anyway, today's statement offers at least some clarification that companies need not be rigidly tied in to market prices where there's no market:

When an active market for a security does not exist, the use of management estimates that incorporate current market participant expectations of future cash flows, and include appropriate risk premiums, is acceptable...The determination of fair value often requires significant judgment. In some cases, multiple inputs from different sources may collectively provide the best evidence of fair value.

The statement goes on to note that distressed sales may also not be the best evidence of fair value and deals with other indicia of value such as broker quotes and methods of determining impairment of an asset (recall that unlike, say, the New York Stock Exchange, markets for debt securities do not necessarily have instantaneous public price reporting of all transactions). This is one example of how the regulators are now acting to use the tools already at their disposal rather than wait for Congress to give definitive guidance.

More analysis here.

UPDATE: McCain camp notes they've been pressing this issue since March. Fuller statement excerpt here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Business • | Law 2006-08 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/BUSINESS: The Day After

Well, the last couple of days could have gone better, couldn't they?

The Wall Street Journal has probably the best overview of Congress' failure. Lest anyone get the wrong idea from yesterday's post, which I will freely admit I wrote in a heat when emotions were very raw as the vote slipped away and the stock market collapsed (the credit markets are worse - LIBOR more than doubled overnight, which should frighten the bejabbers out of anyone who pays attention to this stuff), I do think there's plenty of blame to go around in both parties here (naturally, CNN and other media sources are blaming only the Republicans, ignoring who has a majority of votes in the House):

Congress

Let's start with the obvious: the credit crisis demands action (I'd love to take the purist free market position of letting lots of businesses fail, but while that makes sense in the case of any one enterprise, the credit/debt markets are like the atmosphere of the economy; if there's no atmosphere, things get uglier by multiples for lots of bystanders who didn't make any mistakes related in any way to the crisis. Here's one canary in the coal mine: the New York Sun, quite possibly New York's best newspaper. If you don't believe me, listen to Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma populist who is such a good friend to taxpayers that all four candidates in the presidential race have fallen over themselves seeking a share of credit for battles Coburn led). And more to the point, if any action is going to take place it has to be large, rapid, decisive, complex, unpopular, and unpleasant for principled people on both sides of the aisle.

Congress, of course, was basically designed specifically to not work this way, and by nature it attracts people who don't work that way. On some level you can't fault the House of Representatives for falling back, when pushed hastily to act on something that was clearly beyond most Members' understanding, on just representing popular anger against the bailout plan that was pouring in to their offices. (This is also why we generally don't put Congressmen or Senators on national tickets - we may have low expectations for legislators, but couldn't abide this sort of behavior in a President).

An aside: an awful lot of basic economics is just common sense expressed in equations, charts and terms of art, and is therefore easy enough for adults to understand if they think about it a little. As a result, there are a lot of people in Congress, at least on the GOP side and among moderate Democrats, who I would trust to understand the essentials of how the economy works.

Modern global finance, when you cut all the way to the gray matter of how the system operates, is another story. It's clearly not something a lot of conservative Republicans in Congress undertood, or that most Congressional liberals would even bother to try to understand. And we're stuck with one Presidential candidate who spent his whole life in public service and seems to think that profit motives are somehow a lesser calling, and another who has proudly boasted of turning away from the private sector and is obsessed with income inequality rather than how income and wealth gets created in the first place. Even the Harvard MBA in the White House is an oilman, not a finance guy. Quite simply, our political class is not equipped to handle this crisis. Now, the traditional conservative answer to that is to say, well, that's why we let the market sort this stuff out rather than entrusting politicians with things that, if they understood them, they wouldn't be politicians. But at this juncture, I'd rather trust the Goldman Sachs guy, Paulson, to come up with the answer (and as another aside, thank heavens Bush got a qualified Treasury Secretary on the third try after the two prior efforts to give the job to industrial CEOs).

House Republicans and John McCain

Whether House Republicans voted "no" out of ideological principle, responsiveness to angry constituents, fear of losing re-election, ambition to rise within the caucus, pique at Nancy Pelosi, or some combination thereof, they win no awards for courage or wisdom in a crisis. The GOP House leadership bit the bullet and came back on their shields; they can't be faulted for lack of courage but they were ultimately ineffective in whipping their own caucus.

I have noted a few times that I agreed on policy grounds with John McCain's decision to involve himself in the negotiations, and the record bears out that his involvement helped House Republicans improve the deal enough to get 60+ votes. Patrick Ruffini continues to argue that it was bad political strategy, and he's probably right that McCain neglected my rule that you never fight legislative battles you can't afford to lose. Either way, McCain did not, in the end, come up with enough House GOP votes to ensure passage. He bought into the process, and didn't deliver the final product.

As a matter of pure political theater, if I was running the campaign, the ideal resolution this week would be to have McCain, or better yet Gov. Palin, get the whip count from Roy Blunt of the most-wavering Republicans, and burn the phone lines to round up 12 House conservatives who voted against the bailout but could be persuaded to switch. Given suddenly softening public opposition to the deal after yesterday's market crash, this may yet be possible, and given that the holdouts include a lot of rural/small town Republicans, Gov. Palin may be just the person to speak their language (and promise to campaign in their districts and defend their decision). Then, hold a joint press conference hailing them as heroes for biting the bullet to switch their votes and save the economy and, while she's at it, explain to the media that she has learned as a Governor that being a doer matters more than being a talker. "Nancy Pelosi, here are the votes you couldn't deliver in your own caucus. Now, let's get beyond finger-pointing and do the people's business."

That would be a political masterstroke, which could be accomplished entirely by conservative Republicans without the assistance of a single Democrat or wobbly moderate; it would stand the entire blame debate on its head and totally and instantly remake her reputation going into Thursday's debate. Of course, dramatic gestures of that nature rarely seem to work in politics, but I can't see why it would not be worth a try.

UPDATE: I see Tom Maguire has suggested nearly exactly the same thing.

House Democrats and Barack Obama

Leaving aside policy, Karl Rove pretty perfectly captures here the political and emotional dynamic on the House floor as the vote came down:

H/T. The question of the day is whether the failure of the bailout package was proof of Pelosi's and Barack Obama's incompetence or their deliberate choice.

On the incompetence front, well, most of you will remember how the whip operation worked when Tom DeLay was House GOP Whip and later Majority Leader: Republicans running the chamber basically never lost a floor vote because DeLay would twist arms until they snapped like twigs to get those last few votes, and would not bring a bill to the floor until he damn well knew he had those votes. The House is not the Senate; the minority has no formidable powers of obstruction. The majority gets what it wants, period. If you assume Pelosi wanted this to pass, you would think she could have used every procedural device and lever of influence in the book to make it happen.

But increasingly, it looks like this was deliberate and done to place the interests of blaming Republicans over the nation. Soren Dayton rounds up the damning evidence, including the fact that Pelosi never even had her Whip, John Clyburn, do his job and round up support. Then we get this, which even the New York Times couldn't find an excuse not to print:

Mr. Holtz-Eakin said Mr. McCain had made "dozens of calls" on the bill, some to House Republicans who opposed it.

Aides to Mr. Obama said he had not directly reached out to try to sway any House Democrats who opposed the measure.

H/T. Go back and listen to that list reeled off by Rove, and notice the presence of a lot of Obama allies, including Congressman Jesse Jackson jr, national co-chair of the Obama campaign and a frequent spokesman on Obama's behalf (Jackson's statement is here). (Obama's own Congressman, Bobby Rush, also voted No). Do we really think Obama could not have swayed Jackson's vote on this? Are there really not twelve House Democrats, not even in the Congressional Black Caucus - which voted heavily against the deal - who care what Barack Obama thinks? (If not, that bodes ill indeed for an Obama presidency).

In other words, neither Pelosi nor Obama raised a finger to make this happen, and their defenders must at best argue that they are so ineffective they could not have made a difference if they tried (I mean, if you can't buy William Jefferson's vote...). Barney Frank was bragging that he could persuade a dozen more Republicans if they'd give him the names, but three Massachusetts Democrats, Stephen Lynch, John Tierney and William Delahunt, all voted No as well, and Frank doesn't seem to have made any headway with them. Pelosi's speech laying into Republicans on the eve of the vote just seems the icing on the cake here.

Needless to say, deliberately contributing to the defeat of legislation they professed to support, solely for political gain, would not reflect well on Pelosi or Obama. But as little respect as I have for their competence, I can't look at their inaction and think they are really fools enough that they could have been trying to pass it and acted as they did.

That said, I do not think four years of this would be at all healthy for the conservative movement. (H/T Ace). I mean, it was fun to read and several of the individual factual pieces are worth repeating, but the overall theme and especially the flow chart just reeks of "truther"-style conspiracy theory.

President Bush

I don't especially blame Bush for the vote failure - it's not like he has any political chits left to call in (how totally obvious is it that Bush would have been happy to head back to his ranch about three months ago?). Then again, if one of the lessons of Bush I was that you need to spend your political capital while it lasts, one of the enduring lessons of Bush II is that maybe you shouldn't spend it all and have nothing left for a rainy day.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 29, 2008
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Delay For Its Own Sake

Crash & Burn

SECOND UPDATE: Well, the House has voted the bailout down 228-205, despite 66 Republicans (including basically the entire leadership) throwing in behind the bill despite their distaste for it; the Democrats lost something like 40% of their caucus. Seems to me that McCain, having gone all-in for this bill, now has to do Pelosi's job for her and locate the last 13 votes to get this done. We know Obama can't and won't, despite bragging that he deserved credit for the deal.

UPDATE: Looks like they are voting anyway and at last check, the House is about set to vote the deal down. Hold on to your seatbelts, folks.

So, the word just came down that the Senate will not vote on the bailout package until Wednesday night. House Republicans should refuse to vote on the deal until the ballots are cast in the Senate. And Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should be ashamed of themselves.

Really, I had intended to write up a review of the progress made in the negotiations over the weekend, but it is just astonishing to me that we have not had votes in both Houses first thing this morning, and as the Democrats run the place, this is entirely their fault.

You may or may not agree that the bailout bill is necessary, but the Democratic leadership in Congress is supporting this bill on the publicly avowed theory that it is. And the reason why it is perceived as necessary is to shore up confidence in fast-paced credit markets. Yet not only did we have dithering last week driven by Democratic efforts to turn the bill into a Christmas tree of special interest favors like earmarked handouts to left-wing groups like Barack Obama's friends at ACORN and unrelated corporate governance provisions for the whole economy, but now the Democrats seem in no hurry to bring the bill to a vote.

I know it's hard to get this all written down and digested. (Which, by the way, is one reason all the extras should never have been piled on). But Members of Congress get paid to make decisions. They had all weekend and then some to evaluate the basic merits of the Paulson bailout plan. And every day, every hour that there's no deal, there are additional financial institution failures, further tightening in the credit markets, and uncertainty-driven losses in the stock market.

The reason why the Democrats want delay is extraordinarily simple: electoral politics. Economic uncertainty always plays against the party in the White House. The polls over the last week bear this out. Every day the agony is prolonged and more people lose money, it benefits Obama.

And of course we saw the contrasting reactions last week in the presidential race: John McCain dropped everything to go to Washington and help Republicans battle back, successfully, against all the Democratic add-ons (John Boehner: "if it were not for John McCain supporting me at the White House when I said whoa, whoa, time-out, they would have run over me like a freight train."), while nobody asked for Obama's help and he had no discernible impact on the negotiations. As a result of his decision to take action, McCain ends up more dependent on getting things actually done and delivering, a dynamic that's wholly alien to Obama, who has no experience with needing to get results.

Personally, unhappy as I am with the turn of events that brought the market to this point, I support the bailout. But House Republicans shouldn't let themselves get used to provide political cover for an emergency rescue operation if the Senate's just going to sit on it for another two and a half business days. They should refuse to play along with this effort and should not participate in any vote that doesn't include a simultaneous Senate vote.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:22 PM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (40) | TrackBack (0)
September 28, 2008
BASEBALL: It Is Tempting To Just Propose A 161-Game Season

Another year, another grim defeat.

The Mets have now faced baseball's classic do-or-die game - win and advance, at least to a 1-game playoff or the next round of playoffs, lose and go home - for three straight years and lost each in excruciating fashion, losing on late inning homers in 2006 & 2008 and a first inning meltdown in 2007. This is not unprecedented in baseball history, of course - the Brooklyn Dodgers, for example, also did it three years in a row when they lost the pennant on late inning homers on the season's last day in 1950 and in the legendary playoff in 1951 and lost a 7-game World Series in 1952, plus they lost the Series in 7 in 1947, 5 in 1949, and 6 in 1953. If there's any consolation, most Mets fans were pretty numb by the time the ax fell.

Although the offense came up fairly empty, it was the bullpen in the end that was left to do the team in, and I found a sort of macabre justice in seeing the guys responsible for getting the Mets in this mess finish them off. I definitely want Schoenweis (and Heilman) gone next year, so we have a fresh group without the same ghosts, and I'm not thrilled about Ayala either, although he may just need a new season to get right again. With Schoenweis I argued all year that he was at least useful if used properly to face only lefties, but today he was brought in, the first batter was pinch hit for with a righty, and he served up the gopher ball that broke the camel's back. It's time to move on.

Oliver Perez was, ultimately, what you expect: in a big game he kept the team in the game but couldn't get past the sixth inning. That's who he is.

Endy Chavez really is an amazing glove man, and his great running catch against the wall in the top of the seventh brought back memories. I actually wondered down the stretch why he wasn't starting in right against lefties (like today) with Church in such a funk.

Random observation: Alfredo Amezaga was wearing enough lampblack to make a mask.

The broadcast team noted that Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado were the first quartet of teammates to each appear in at least 159 games since the 1968 Cubs (another team not known for its strong finishes, the late-60s Cubs); those guys really did play their hearts out all year. The Mets entered this season with four major stars in their primes - Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Santana - and you could not realistically have hoped for more from them. They entered with three formerly major stars - Delgado, Wagner and Pedro - and got collectively what you tend to get with a group like that (one major resurrection, one effective but erratic and injury-shortened season, one wipeout). Perez was a bit off what you'd like but won a lot of big games, and the rise of Pelfrey offset the struggles of Maine. Brian Schneider gave the Mets the best you would have reasonably hoped from him...basically, this was a good team whose front-line players did about what they should have, but that just had too many holes, and the bulk of those in the bullpen. Management will still have that core next year, but it needs to do a better job of bringing in new relief arms and sorting through the pile of young players to figure out who is going to actually help.

Nice to see Ralph Kiner in the Shea booth one last time. You can tell Ralph's mind is still there, the words just don't come as cleanly as they used to.

I guess the upside is, I can say I was at the last Mets win at Shea.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:28 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
September 27, 2008
BASEBALL: There Is Only One Johan Santana

I was out at Shea today, undoubtedly for the last time (even if they make the playoffs, I'm not going to be able to score tickets and the free time to go), and witnessed what was probably the second-best clutch, must-win pitching performance in Mets history, behind only Al Leiter's 1-hitter in the 1-game playoff in 1999. Santana was just amazing, not messing around but going right after hitters and thus keeping his pitch count low enough to go the distance on three days' rest to pull the Mets back into a tie. And unlike John Maine, who pitched an even more dominating game in precisely the same situation last season, Santana had only two runs to work with, and thus was facing the tying run at the plate all the way to his last pitch.

Amazingly, Santana now finishes with the best ERA of his career, albeit not the most impressive of his seasons given the switch to a lower-scoring league and park. He's clearly been the second-best pitcher in the NL this season, behind only Lincecum. Nobody can say Santana hasn't earned every dollar of his massive salary this year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:21 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
September 26, 2008
POLITICS: The First McCain-Obama Debate

I kinda hate writing up debates, given the extent to which posts get pored over for any sign of conceding that my side did anything but slaughter the opposition. That said, let's take on a few points about tonight's debate.

(1) This was a great debate. Fiesty, back and forth - there was too much crosstalk, but this was not just a stilted debate of the type that, frankly, you get when George W. Bush is involved. Jim Lehrer sounded old and wheezy but did manage to get the candidates to go after each other.

(2) If I had to use a word to describe Obama tonight, it would be "lawyerly" - he interrupted McCain repeatedly, he let nothing pass without a response. He was well prepared, didn't stammer as much as in past debates and had clearly worked on smiling rather than staring at his shoes when criticized. It was, in fact, a stronger presentation than his past debate performances, although as usual he had no memorable lines. Obviously there were a number of things he said that didn't hold water, but I'm not feeling energetic enough to wade into all that just yet.

(3) The upside for McCain is that he was highly energetic, and probably went a long way to dispelling concerns about his age. His effortless mastery of foreign policy and repeated and pointed dismissals of Obama's naivete were brilliant (Obama really doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy), although on a number of occasions you could see that - betraying the fact that he was winging it - he was rushing to cover vast swathes of ground in a single answer without a prepared spiel. I suppose it was inevitable that he'd refuse to get sucked into the endless debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq. He eventually got good shots in on the surge but never quite cleanly explained how Obama was willing to lose the war. Probably the highlight for McCain was mocking Obama's idea that you could just disavow things said by Ahmedinejad once you've agreed to meet with him. McCain did start building the case that Obama's too far to the left to work across the aisle, but needs to ratchet that case up with specifics in the future.

(4) In general, I suspect this debate comes as a positive for both candidates, but isn't the game-changer the past 10 days of polling sugests McCain needs. Probably my biggest disappointment, among a couple of places where McCain let Obama off the hook, was failing to lay into him as he did in the speech here for Obama's obstruction of reforms McCain had pushed to head off a key element of the credit crisis two years ago. When Obama started to say anything at all about how we got into the credit crisis, the response should have been a "how dare you" moment, and McCain just let him slide. He may live to regret that.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Politics 2008 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: What McCain Needs To Do Tonight

I had thought out in advance a week ago or more what John McCain needed to do tonight. But for better or for worse (in a macro sense, for McCain, probably worse) the financial crisis and McCain's decision to double down on getting a deal done in DC, followed by his unsuccessful game of chicken aimed at getting Obama to postpone the debate, has totally scrambled the situation and thrown everything into chaos. These kinds of structured Q&A debates aren't really either candidate's strong suit - Obama's better at staged speeches, McCain at wide-open forums - but in McCain's case, the advantage he has is that this is head to head, so he can have some effect on his opponent's performance.

Since he's had a bad two weeks in the polls, he has a greater need to move the needle than Obama does; the stakes are high. Beyond the general need to avoid major gaffes and serious no-nos (for McCain, having a 'senior moment' or doing something people see as racially insensitive, for Obama, hitting McCain for his war-related disabilities again or otherwise giving McCain a good reason to play the war hero card), here is what McCain needs to do.

(1) McCain needs to sell what he has been doing this week.

Foreign policy debate or no, the elephant in the room is the credit crisis, the negotiations in Washington, and McCain's brief suspension of his campaign. He needs to address, not necessarily at length but squarely, that he's been hard at work in DC and that a bipartisan deal will get done and will justify his decisions. (Implicitly it reminds people that McCain's been too busy to prepare for this debate, he's going in cold because he knows his stuff). If no deal gets done, this race is over, and McCain and everyone else know it.

Relatedly, McCain needs to be on the offensive in getting economic issues, including energy security and free trade, into this debate. One of the risks he's faced all campaign is that he'd be seen as a foreign policy guy with no real interest in domestic bread-and-butter issues; with those issues dominating the week's news, he needs to communicate that they are very much on his mind.

(2) McCain needs to punch Obama in the face.

Rhetorically, of course. Given the seriousness of this week's events it may be a bit riskier to do it tonight, but he needs to start and to do it in each of the debates. From McCain's perspective, you usually worry about coming off as mean, but people generally don't think John McCain is a nice man; they like and/or respect him because he's a scrapper who is willing to throw a punch and gets up off the mat when you hit him. And especially in the national security area, one of the largest concerns about Obama is his toughness; McCain wants the viewer at home wondering how Obama will stand toe to toe with Ahmadenijad or Putin.

Going after Obama very directly is good as well for the body language; Obama tends to stare at his shoes and look sheepish when he's criticized, and he's extremely thin-skinned and reacts badly to being directly criticized or called out on untruths. For example, Obama will claim that Bush and Maliki are following his plan for withdrawals from Iraq by mid-2010; McCain needs to hammer home that Obama's plan in fact called for complete withdrawal by March 2008.

(3) McCain needs to keep Obama off balance.

This much, he's already done; Obama has had his schedule and focus seriously disrupted this week. McCain thrives on chaos and crisis; Obama does not. McCain needs to keep rattling Obama, keep him out of his comfort zone of gauzy generalities, and force him to answer questions he hasn't thought through.

(4) McCain needs to raise doubts about Obama's staying power in Afghanistan.

The Democrats for some time now have followed a strategy of balancing dovish policies on wherever the U.S. is engaged in a hot or cold war with tough talk about other enemies we aren't confronting at the moment - hence, Democrats talked tough on Iraq in 1998 but not in 2002, or on Iran in 2004, but less so in later years as an actual confrontation became a possibility. But Obama's extended the tough talk to Afghanistan, where we are actually at war.

But once withdrawals from Iraq accelerate and Bush is gone, the anti-war movement's focus will inevitably shift to Afghanistan. If the fight there gets tougher, will Obama have the guts to take the position McCain did with Iraq in 2007-08 and double down for victory, or will he do what Obama did in that period? McCain has to draw that connection to show how Obama's faux-hawkishness will melt under pressure.

(5) McCain needs to start identifying Obama as an arch-liberal.

This is more an issue for the domestic policy debates but it needs to start tonight. At the end of the day, America is a slightly center-right country. McCain is a center-right candidate, the candidate for people who are a step to the left of George W. Bush; Obama is a far-left candidate, the candidate for people who are a step to the left of Hillary Clinton. Yet much of Obama's appeal is the fiction he started building in 2004 that he was some sort of centrist unity candidate. McCain has to shatter the remains of that illusion.

The face to face debates are the best time to drive that point home, both explicitly and through the issues. He can, for example, remind people that this time last year, Obama was promising liberal groups he would "slow our development of future combat systems." In 2004, simply by repeatedly calling John Kerry a liberal in the second debate, President Bush drove up by 6 points in one night the number of people who identified Kerry as a liberal.

Also, one bit of advice for Obama:

Obama needs to ignore Palin

Obama has a lot of trouble letting things go, and has shown a particular problem handling the prominence of McCain's running mate, which leads to lowering Obama's stature by reminding people that McCain's far more experienced and prepared than the two of them put together. Obama should deal solely with McCain.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:30 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Some Straight Talk For House Republicans: Time To Lead From The Rear

The question of the day is whether House Republicans are going to support some form of bipartisan bailout deal. The Paulson plan is pretty much the only plan that is on the table with any conceivable chance of passing a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, period. There will undoubtedly be battles over what to add on to the basic bones of the Paulson plan, or whether to tinker around the edges of its structure, but while people debate the academic merits of plans laid out by Newt Gingrich, the Republican Study Committee, and others, we need to bear in mind that none of those plans has any chance of passing this Congress.

Nobody is threatening a filibuster of the Paulson plan in the Senate, and indeed I have not seen any sign of major organized opposition among Senate Republicans. As we all know from elementary school Civics, if Nancy Pelosi can get her caucus to line up behind the bill, not a single House Republican's vote is needed to pass it. The bailout remains massively unpopular and sets many bad policy precedents, and under ordinary conditions Republican intransigence would be the right and honorable thing to do: make the majority take responsibility for doing something unpopular, present a coherent alternative, capitalize at the polls, and replace as much of the unpopular plan as possible with the alternative after the elections.

These are not normal times. House Republicans need badly to come to grips with four very unpleasant realities, and to do so ASAP - and if ever there is a time for John McCain to lead them, this is it:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:02 PM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (31) | TrackBack (0)
September 25, 2008
POLITICS: The Curious Incident of Reid and Pelosi In A Crisis

Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

In politics, actions speak louder than words, and inaction sometimes speaks even louder. With John McCain leaving the campaign trail to go to Washington to join the negotiations over the Paulson bailout bill, there's a fair debate about exactly how important his presence there is, as I will discuss below. But judging by the actions of everyone involved, there's no doubt that even his own Democratic colleagues recognize that Barack Obama is completely irrelevant to the process.

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POLITICS: Stump The Veep

Like a lot of conservatives I was gnashing my teeth on two levels at the initial interview clip yesterday of Governor Palin, in response to a question from Katie Couric, not being able to name any examples of John McCain pushing for more regulation in his 26-year career - that's like if somebody running with Joe Lieberman couldn't name examples of him bucking his party. McCain may not be the knee-jerk hyper-regulator that many Democrats are, but he's built an extensive track record of pushing for more regulation in numerous different areas (e.g., campaign finance, health care), much too often in fact for my taste, and while you'd expect Palin to have focused more on boning up on policy than on her running mate's lengthy legislative record, it's not that hard a question.

If you watch the full(er) clip, though (and from the choppy editing it's still hard to tell how much ended up on the cutting room floor), you can see that what happened was that Palin was talking about a specific example of McCain pushing for more regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Couric pressed her for other examples from McCain's legislative record specifically dealing with securities regulation:

H/T. Now as it happens, if you do your homework on this, it's not hard to find such examples; McCain voted for Sarbanes-Oxley, and voted against the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (one of only four Republicans to do so) and the 1998 Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (which passed 79-21), for example, and joined with Carl Levin to propose that if companies "don't account for their stock options as a cost in earnings reports, then they cannot claim them later as tax deductions." Of course, I can tell you those things because I'm a securities lawyer and I have access to Google; I'm not sure McCain would have all those examples at his fingertips offhand, much less Palin (indeed, I often find that people even in my business are surprised to hear that he voted against the PSLRA, and obviously Couric couldn't find them or she wouldn't have falsely stated as fact that McCain "almost always sided with the, less regulation, not more"). In that context, it's not much of a "gotcha" moment to demonstrate that Palin doesn't know chapter and verse on one of the more arcane corners of McCain's lengthy career. (Unlike, say, the time Barack Obama had to admit to a voter that he didn't know anything about the Hanford Nuclear site, the largest nuclear waste dump in the Western Hemisphere and a decades-long ongoing controversy). That said, she does need to get better at the essential skill of how to not answer a question she doesn't know the answer to.

Of course, most conservatives would challenge Couric's assumption that piling regulation on regulation is always a good thing, but Palin's not the top of the ticket here; McCain is, and you don't want to get off his message (the opposite problem bedeviled Mark Sanford earlier this summer when he got stumped trying to name ways in which McCain's economic plan differs from Bush - I'm sure Sanford could think of examples but he was unable to name any without highlighting the fact that they'd be things Sanford opposes).

Finally, note that as edited, Couric opens with a question about money paid by Freddie Mac to the former employer of McCain campaign strategist Rick Davis, in which he may arguably still have some financial interest. This might be a reasonable line of inquiry if she explained why this matters, i.e., McCain's much more extensive bill of particulars against Obama himself on this issue, but instead Couric presents the story as if the only issue is Rick Davis. (Video of McCain taking on Obama on this is below the fold; the McCain camp's full and formal response on the Davis story is here). Which is pretty much the argument in a nutshell for why people like Couric are not worth talking to at all.

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September 24, 2008
BUSINESS/POLITICS: How We Got Here

Daffyd ab Hugh at Big Lizards has an insanely long but comprehensive and comprehensible post on the nature of the current financial crisis and the Paulson bailout plan. (H/T Ace) As somebody who was familiar with a good deal of this stuff before it hit the front pages, I can vouch for the fact that this is a smart, clear, insightful summary. My main question about it is that Daffyd seems to assume that Treasury will be buying MBS at the low, distressed market prices now available, and I'm not sure we have assurances that is the case.

By the way, I was listening to the horrible Mets game rather than watching President Bush's speech tonight, but on paper at least the speech was a fairly clear layman's explanation of how the crisis developed. I know some conservatives wanted a more partisan finger-pointing speech, but Bush isn't running for office, he's trying to hold together fragile bipartisan support for a bill nobody likes. And he does seem to give credence to Daffyd's reading of how the bailout will operate:

[A]s markets have lost confidence in mortgage-backed securities, their prices have dropped sharply. Yet the value of many of these assets will likely be higher than their current price, because the vast majority of Americans will ultimately pay off their mortgages. The government is the one institution with the patience and resources to buy these assets at their current low prices and hold them until markets return to normal. And when that happens, money will flow back to the Treasury as these assets are sold. And we expect that much, if not all, of the tax dollars we invest will be paid back.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:45 PM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Should McCain Send Palin To Oxford?

Here's the state of play as I write. Bush and Capitol Hill Democrats are hammering out an agreement to, in essence, bail out financial institutions and possibly other companies that hold bad debt, mainly mortgage-backed securities. Pretty much everybody on all sides agrees that the bailout proposal stinks to high heaven and is a fundamental violation of everything conservatives believe in and everything liberals believe in, is likely to be hugely unpopular with the public, and in the short term at least will put a big crimp on federal finances. But lots of people on all sides believe that the markets will be stabilized by the deal and will really implode without it, wrecking the rest of the economy. Since markets are all about perception, that could end up being the case, which makes the deal or something very like it necessary. McCain proposed a plan of his own which is not too dissimilar; Obama hasn't proposed anything. So there aren't really a lot of alternatives on the table, and no good ones.

Given the general rule that nothing this bad happens in Washington if it's not bipartisan, the Democrats in the majority are deathly - and justifiably - afraid that if they agree to the deal, McCain and Congressional Republicans will run against it and crucify them. Republicans seem mostly resigned to support the deal in large numbers as long as the Democrats don't try to hang too many wish-list items on it and turn it into the Mother of All Pork Barrels. And of course, McCain has long experience being the last holdout in the middle whose views dictate the direction of a bipartisan deal. So Bush, Paulson, Reid, Pelosi & Co. actually seem to need McCain in Washington to do what he's done so often before, get in the middle of things and influence how a deal gets worked out that is just minimally acceptable enough for everyone to sign it. Obama's presence, by contrast, is mostly superfluous, since nobody really thinks he's a factor in what goes on in DC, and hot air is never in short supply anyway.

On the campaign trail, by contrast, Obama is benefitting in recent polls from the general sense that bad things are happening and somebody new might have better ideas; he clearly knows better than to spoil that by actually doing anything or having any ideas. Whereas McCain hasn't been able to get traction from the outside looking in, and doesn't really seem comfortable blowing the deal up, knowing the consequences. Accordingly, what McCain did today was announce that he's suspending his campaign over the next several days to come to DC to get a deal done before markets open on Monday, and call on Obama to do the same and to reschedule Friday night's debate in Oxford, Mississippi, the first one scheduled, focusing on foreign policy/national security. Obama has refused on both counts.

Which has led to the question of the day. McCain is needed in Washington; Obama's not - and neither is McCain's running mate, Gov. Palin, who obviously is not a Senator. Should McCain send her to appear on his behalf and debate Obama on Friday night?

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September 23, 2008
BASEBALL: 100 Years Later

With the Cubs in New York on the 100th anniversary of their greatest moment here, it's worth a look at Tom Elia's post with a video tribute to the Merkle Boner.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: A Tale of Two Vettings

In response to Stanley Kurtz's detailed story on Barack Obama's role in working with unrepentant terrorist and left-wing radical Bill Ayers to arrange the financing for a project that "poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists" under Ayers' dubious theory of treating left-wing political activism as "education" (a story I discussed at length here), Marc Aimbinder wants more details:

What "radical" ideas did Obama and Bill Ayres come up with to foist on the Chicago school system?

What specific projects -- "radical" projects -- did Obama work on with Ayres? Is there evidence that they collaborated and schemed to ... do anything "radical" together? Ever?

These are fair enough factual questions, although I think in this case Kurtz has already laid out a powerful case as it is that (1) Ayers is not a person who should be trusted to design this sort of project, (2) Ayers' theoretical approach to education pretty much guaranteed that he'd be pusing left-wing politics, and (3) the people who got the money were left-wing groups whose agendas most Americans would find to be outside the political mainstream.

But the mindset in Aimbinder asking them is deeply revealing of the contrast between how the media has approached the vetting of Sen. Obama and the vetting of Gov. Palin.

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POLITICS: I Will Now Lower Your Opinion Of Ralph Nader

I know what you are thinking: that can't be possible! My opinion of Ralph Nader cannot go any lower! But behold:

H/T. I thought the highlight of this ad was the fact that Nader stares at the floor the whole time instead of the camera, or the fact that he thinks voters want a President who sits alone in a room talking to his parrot.

But that was before the part about the sex with the panda.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: No Relief In Sight

Among the solutions being mooted about for the Mets' ghastly bullpen problem is relying more on hard-throwing rookie Robert Parnell...if there was ever a mark of desperation, this is it. Parnell certainly throws hard, and it makes all the sense in the world to consider him for a relief job next season, but look at his career: the guy (1) has a 4.03 career ERA in the minor leagues, (2) has made a grand total of 8 appearances above AA ball, and (3) has made just 2 appearances as a reliever in his 94 games in the minors. In 151.2 IP this season over three levels, mostly at AA, he's averaging 0.83 HR, 3.92 BB and 6.94 K, none of those especially impressive figures.

You can make a live arm into a productive reliever even when he has a mediocre record like that, but if this is the best option the Mets have left to throw to the wolves right now, the situation is dire indeed (we saw graphically last night how this is not the time for a talented young pitcher's growing pains). John Maine's return, of course, would be welcome news, but at this point the only question is whether the bullpen's implosion takes the Mets clear out of the Wild Card race, or whether it continues to haunt them in the playoffs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:51 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Obama-Ayers Education Story

Today's must-read: after months of investigation, in which he had to weather all manner of stonewalling and intimidation by the Obama camp, Stanley Kurtz finally has the story, in today's Wall Street Journal, of Barack Obama's involvement in unrepentant former terrorist Bill Ayers' project to spread left-wing politics under the guise of 'education' in Chicago schools. Here's a flavor of Ayers' project:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
September 22, 2008
BUSINESS/POLITICS: Monday Bailout Roundup

I tried over the weekend to do a more serious post with my analysis of the credit crisis and the bailouts, but basically there's just no way for me to get into this further without running afoul of my day job. At this juncture, given the limits on what I can write, the best I can offer my readers on the whole Wall Street/bailout issue is a roundup of links and what I can see and hear going around the political side of things:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:30 PM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Yankee, Go Home

I'm going to be frank here: I won't miss Yankee Stadium.

Yes, yes, in part that's a reflection of how I feel about the Hated Yankees. And yes, it's also colored by the fact that it's extremely inconvenient to get back and forth to Yankee Stadium from where I live in Queens, and that most of my experiences there over the years have been night games in the upper deck. And yes, I know that most of the nostalgia about any baseball park is about the memories of great moments there - that's as it should be - and Yankee Stadium has had more than its share.

But as to the structure itself, I always found it an unpleasant place to watch a baseball game, and of the six other big league parks where I've seen games (Shea, Fenway, Dodger Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Camden Yards, and Tropicana Field) I can't seriously rate it ahead of any but the Trop, and there largely because of Tampa Bay's horrendous parking situation and some of the curious decisions made about its scoreboard. The clogged arteries at the heart of the stadium - the steep, narrow staircases leading to and from the higher decks - make entering and exiting the place slow, hot, crowded and claustrophobic. The interior of the stadium is dark and grim. Yankee Stadium lacks the intimacy of Fenway or the charm, bells and whistles and better sightlines of the newer parks, and isn't a family ballpark in the way that Shea is or a relaxed, sunshiney place like Dodger Stadium. Much as I despise the Yankees, their franchise has long deserved a better home.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Why, No, You Should Not Be Surprised...

...so I'm not linking to this to surprise you, if you were already quite sensibly expecting the Obama campaign and its chief strategist, David Axelrod, to peddle patently false, debunked smears directed at (who else?) Sarah Palin via purportedly independent outlets on the web that appear to have been designed to create deniability. I'm not pretending to be shocked because I'm not even slightly surprised.

Rusty has all the details, and is promising a followup with more.

Ace looks at the ensuing, immediate and wholly predictable coverup, and why it confirms Axelrod's involvement, here and here. (H/T).

Why bother linking, then? Well, it never hurts to document these things. And to remind everyone who always claimed to be against such things but now support the Obama campaign...well, this is what they do; it's who they are. This is Obama's "new politics," and really always was.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:43 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
September 20, 2008
BASEBALL: End of His Rope

You know, Pedro Martinez may well not be done as a quality pitcher; I would not bet against him returning to a second act as a winner. But he has basically all but run out of things he can do to signal that he is done.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Factual Accuracy and McSame Syndrome

We stand today deep into the silly season of the 2008 presidential election; most of us have our dander up, and naturally some Obama partisans like Josh Marshall and Joe Klein have floated off on clouds of rhetorical overkill in an effort to push the idea that their opponent is somehow running an unusually dishonest campaign. Even aside from the partisanship, you have to be pretty willfully ignorant of history to think the 2008 race is at all exceptional in this regard, other than perhaps the degree of personal villification of one of the vice presidential candidates in a very short period of time. Now, personally I'm not as cynical as Jay Cost or Ross Douthat as far as saying "everybody does it, so what?," but...well, I look at the accuracy of claims made in advertisements, speeches, etc. under three general categories:

(1) Is it literally true? Does it say anything factually false?
(2) Is it essentially true? Does it say something about the candidate or his/her opponent that is consistent with the point being made?
(3) Is it the whole truth, without any arguably important context or nuance omitted?

One of the reasons I enjoy writing longer-form blog essays is the freedom to drill down to all the relevant context and explain a point even in light of all the facts, all the context, all the nuance. But in the real world of short-attention-span politics, with its 30-second ads and soundbites, we have to accept that #3 is a hurdle that even the best-faith politicians frequently fail, and where politicians who do try to give the full context can end up losing their audience or tying themselves in "I voted for it before I voted against it" verbal knots.

That said, you do need to be able to defend a claim on both ground #1 and #2. If a claim is literally true but conveys a totally false image, you are basically in the Bill Clinton "it depends what the meaning of 'is' is" position; if it is intended to convey something people believe but rests on fabricated facts, that's the Dan Rather "fake but accurate" defense. Either position is ultimately indefensible.

Let's look at two main examples of recent controversies and how they measure up, as well as examining what I refer to as "McSame Syndrome."

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BUSINESS: The Man To Read

I know I tend to link a lot to my colleagues at RedState, where I am currently one of the site's Directors; we have a tremendous and varied group of writers and thinkers on the site, and while I don't necessarily agree with any of them all the time, we have quite a number of people who are always worth reading.

But if there's one of my co-Contributors to the site who you really need to be reading regularly, it's Francis Cianfrocca, who writes under the pseudonym of "blackhedd." He's scary-smart about Wall Street issues he knows from personal experience, he's utterly unsentimental and willing to think outside the box, and unlike most people in the blogosphere, nearly everything he writes is 100% original content you can't get anywhere else. And he's been warning the rest of us about the falling sky in the credit markets pretty consistently since about June 2007. And unlike me, he's not hemmed in at all turns from writing about these issues (I have to avoid writing in any but the most general terms about my firm's clients, which includes almost everybody).

Here's his stuff just from the last week:

*Explaining the root causes of the crisis.

*Henry Paulson and the First National Bad Bank of the United States.

*The AIG bailout here and here.

*The Fannie/Freddie bailout here.

*The non-bailout of Lehman Brothers here.

*Other roundups of the week's events here, here, here and here,

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:47 PM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 19, 2008
POLITICS: A Word About Accountability and Leadership

A lot of conservatives are up in arms about John McCain's call for the firing of Chris Cox as SEC Chairman due to the collapse of numerous Wall Street firms on his watch. There is a more than fair argument against McCain's position: that Cox is a smart, capable conservative and expert in the area who hasn't really done anything wrong, or at least hadn't until the recent move against short sellers (I don't buy that Cox is above criticism, but I don't think this mess is in any way his fault). But there is also a case to be made for the emerging McCain leadership style. As McCain explained today:

Dwight David Eisenhower, when he was commander and he was in charge of the largest military operation in history, the invasion of Normandy. He went to his quarters the night before the invasion and wrote out two letters. One of them sent a letter of congratulation, a messgae of congratulations to the brave Americans who landed in Normandy and made the most successful invasion and partly brought about the beginning of the end of World War II. The other letter he wrote out was his resignation from the United States army, taking full responsibility for the failure of that invasion.

My friends that kind of accountability and responsibility is missing in Washington today and that's why I believe the chairman of the SEC should resign.

That's McCain's view in a nutshell: you produce results, or you step aside, regardless of how well you performed your duties. You own your watch. It's a decidedly military outlook, as befits a man who spent so many years in the Navy. It's perhaps an odd way for McCain to approach leadership - in his book Faith of My Fathers, McCain movingly recounts the bitterness he inherited over how his grandfather was scapegoated unfairly by Admiral Halsey for a mistake Halsey himself made in steering the fleet too close to a storm, mistreatment that McCain ascribes as a possible cause for the elder Admiral McCain's fatal heart attack on his return from the war.

I don't, personally, think that this unforgiving, only-results-matter management style is the best possible way to run an organization in terms of motivating people, and neither is it really a good or fair way to treat subordinates, but it's one well-established leadership style, and it's been successful for plenty of people in business, the military, politics and sports. Certainly it's a sharp contrast to President Bush; while Bush has sacked a lot of people (including Harvey Pitt, his first SEC Chairman who was also just in the wrong place at the wrong time), he's nonetheless frequently found himself in trouble for leaving loyal but incompetent subordinates in place too long after they became obvious political liabilities. McCain is sending a message: the likes of Mike Brown, Alberto Gonzales and Scott McClellan will not be left in their jobs in his White House. Loyalty will give way to accountability.

On a purely political level, in the real world of politics, there's a case to be made about being unsentimental about letting people go when they represent a serious political liability. I wouldn't blame Bush in the least, for example, if he sacked Cox regardless of the merits of his job performance. Political leaders fight for a cause, and that cause is bigger than any one man. A politician who errs on the side of scapegoating people who through no fault of their own preside over disasters is going to do better in the long run than one who fights till the last dog dies for friends he can no longer afford. It's an ugly business but it must be played to win in the real world.

This is a management style that suits McCain, an old man who is likely to serve only one term and already has an impressive collection of enemies. It's a style that's also well-suited to McCain's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. One of the recurring themes in Palin's various jobs is that she fires a lot of people - people who don't agree with her policy goals, people who don't follow her orders, people who oppose her in public, people who are too close to corrupt interests or political foes. This is, again, a good way to make enemies who compile vendettas against you - it was her firing of an agency head who was publicly insubordinate that led to the 'Tasergate' investigation headed by a representative of the Obama campaign - but removing the people who are not 100% with you is the one best way to impose your will on an organization, a task that's famously difficult in large public bureaucracies. That was how Rudy Giuliani ran New York, and why he delivered results as an agent of change. A McCain-Palin Administration may not be the friendliest workplace, but the one thing it won't do is let the grass grown under its feet as far as holding subordinates accountable.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
September 18, 2008
POLITICS: Don't Panic

Don't PanicIf there's one lesson we should all bear in mind as fear stalks Wall Street and the presidential race keeps getting tighter as it races towards its conclusion, it is this: Don't Panic.

Now, the current crisis is not an illusion; at its core, it's about markets that valued assets one way and now value them as being worth considerably less, and that has all sorts of ripple effects when it threatens to close down major financial institutions or force the fire-sale liquidation of portfolios of billions or trillions of dollars worth of assets for which there may not currently be a liquid market. People have lost real money and real jobs, and serious people in business and government alike do need to think long and hard about how to contain the damage and reassess and rationalize government's regulatory roles going forward.

But financial markets, credit markets and even consumer spending markets all depend on trust and confidence, and can all be brought to a grinding and ultimately self-defeating halt by panic.

Now, John McCain has never been accused of being a financial whiz, but the one thing we can trust McCain not to do is panic in a crisis, or encourage anyone else to panic. McCain's survived three plane crashes, multiple bouts with cancer, the loss of a presidential primary campaign, five years in captivity, months on end in solitary confinement, countless hours of torture, being at the epicenter of a shipboard fire that killed 134 people, being named in a front-page scandal that killed multiple major political careers, being beaten by an angry mob, having one of his top legislative priorities torpedoed by his own party's base, standing stubbornly for a war nearly everybody had declared lost, and just a year ago found his presidential campaign broke, rudderless and declared dead by nearly everybody. Yet time after time after time, McCain picked himself up, dusted himself off, gritted his teeth, set his jaw, and refused to give up, whether that meant lying broken in a filthy cell as a young man or trudging on week after week to sparsely-attended rallies in the New Hampshire snow as an old one.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Business • | Politics 2008 | Comments (37) | TrackBack (0)
September 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Adam's Guts

Rany Jazayerli looks at Adam Pettyjohn's long road back to the majors from ulcerative colitis.

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POLITICS: Swingers

The further we get into the fall, the more meaningful the state-by-state polls become. But it's nonetheless useful to bear in mind the hard numbers from past years to keep a realistic view of what the range of possibilties are in any given state. A few months back, I had gone through the Federal Election Commission website and put together a spreadsheet, which I'm only getting back around to now, tallying up all the votes for federal office (President, Senate, House) in the last four election cycles (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006) comprising two presidential elections, four House elections, and a full cycle and a third of Senate races. The chart below lays out the results.

Now, let's be clear: while the underlying numbers are actual votes cast, basically what I'm doing here is using a metric, not a statistic; I'm combining different types of votes over time in a way that's not scientific, but rather an effort to take disparate pieces of data and make them digestible. Obviously, there are a host of reasons why this isn't science: turnout is much larger in presidential years, some incumbents in the Senate and House run unopposed (although this is itself usually a sign of strength), a third of the Senate seats are counted twice here, gerrymandering affects House races, and of course, there's no fixed way to measure the relative probative value of 2006 results vs. 2000 results in measuring 2008's political terrain. That said, using three levels of balloting over four election cycles does help give us a large enough sample size to get a look at the real, underlying partisan makeup of particular states, and limit the distorting effects of individual personalities.

Here's the methodology. I present two sets of numbers: "raw" numbers that treat each of the four elections alike, and "weighted" numbers that give a larger weight to more recent results. For the raw numbers, I tallied up all votes cast for each of the two major parties (ignoring third party votes, for simplicity's sake) in presidential, Senate or House races in 2000, 2002, 2004 or 2006. For the Weighted totals, I weighted the votes by year as follows:

2006=1
2004=0.75
2002=0.5
2000=0.25

i.e., a vote for a House candidate in 2006 was worth twice the weight of a vote for the same candidate in 2002, and four times the weight of a vote for that candidate in 2000.

The final two columns attempt to combine the electoral vote weight of each state with its partisan composition in order to put the closeness of the state in the context of the reward for presidential candidates of swinging it, dividing the number of electoral votes by the square of the margin separating the two parties (the sum is then divided by 100 just for ease of the reader). The equation is:

= (EV/(D%-R%)squared)/100

Without further ado, here is the chart:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 15, 2008
POLITICS: Scandal!

Yes, apparently Gov. Palin requested federal funding to upgrade an airport servicing...a military installation!

Clearly, not a matter of any interest to the federal government.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:59 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Cliff Dweller

One of the really remarkable things that has happened thus far this season is Cliff Lee - almost certainly the AL Cy Young Award winner - not just bouncing back from a horrendous 2007 when he posted a 6.29 ERA to toss an MLB-best 2.28 mark (and it's for real: a staggering 157-28 K/BB ratio and just 10 HR allowed in 210 IP), but racking up a 21-2 record for a team having a dismal year. The Indians are 72-77 (.483), a respectable but unspectacular 7th in the AL in runs scored but with a wrecked bullpen (Jensen Lewis leads the team with 8 saves). It's unusual for an ordinary pitcher to have such a great year, but doubly so to do it for a severely struggling team. For a comparison, CC Sabathia, who some people are touting for the NL Cy Young, posted a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts for the Indians between April 22 and July 2 (during which he pitched 3 complete games, two of them shutouts, and averaged 7.45 IP/start) - and went 6-5.

How hard is it to do this? Well, I looked at the all-time leaders in winning percentage, and Baseball-Reference lists 37 pitchers in the game's 133 year history who won 85% of their decisions. 8 of those pitched mainly in relief, which skews W-L records, 2 pitched for the 1884 St. Louis Maroons who dominated the Union Association (a 1-year league that was barely "major" in any sense) and 3 of those are this season. In other words, prior to this year, in 133 years of NL, AL, Federal League and 19th century AA seasons, it's been done by a starting pitcher only 24 times, only 21 times since the mound was moved back to its current distance in 1893.

Anyway, of the 24 prior starting pitchers to crack 85%, all but two of them pitched for teams that won 55% or more of their games. The only exceptions were Randy Johnson in 1995 going 18-2 for a Mariners team that won the division playing .545 ball and Mike Nagy, who went 12-2 for the 1969 Red Sox, a .537 team. Lee's accomplishment of reaching 20 wins while winning 90% of his decisions for a losing team is entirely unprecedented.

And yet, he might not be completely alone. One of the other two pitchers who will finish at or above an .850 winning percentage if he avoids losing over the season's final two weeks is Dice-K Matsuzaka, 16-2 for the powerhouse Red Sox, but the other is Tim Lincecum, who stands at 17-3 for a truly horrendous Giants team - they're playing .456 ball, but outside of Lincecum it's .395, as the team is 14th in the NL in Runs Scored and 10th in ERA.

In baseball, even after a century and a quarter, you truly can see something new every year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Why Aren't The Candidates Talking About "The Issues"?

Over the last few weeks, in between devoting untold column-inches and airtime to anything and everything but actual issues, the mainstream media and liberal commentators (to the extent one can distinguish the two) have been complaining - as has the Obama campaign itself - that we have not had a discussion of "the issues" or "the real issues." To understand why this is happening, we have to understand three things:

1. What they mean by "the issues"

2. How we got where we are in terms of the political climate

3. Why that climate, combined with the nature and strategies of the two candidates, dictated that head-to-head clashes on particular domestic policy issues were going to take a back seat in this campaign.

As you will see, the net result is that Barack Obama has been hoist by his own petard. Obama made a deliberate choice in light of the political environment to run a campaign of broad themes rather than one with an identifiable issues-based core, and it's too late in the game for him to reverse that decision.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
September 14, 2008
BLOG: Cooperstown Travelogue

I had started writing this up when I got back from my vacation in August and got sidetracked - I'll just offer up a truncated version here.... we spent a week in Lake George and the last few days in Cooperstown making a pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame. It was the first time I'd been back since the inductions in 1982. The Hall seemed different in a number of ways, although it's always hard to tell how much of that is not being 11 years old anymore. There are a lot more Hall of Famers, now, of course - you can basically go by a set of panels that collect in one place the stars of the 70s, and by now the 80s collection is fairly well-stocked as well. When I was there in 1982, there was basically nobody there I'd seen play; now there are guys like Ripken and Boggs I remember as rookies, and even one guy (Kirby Puckett) who came to the majors, played his whole career, retired, got inducted in the Hall, and died since the last time I was there. Oddly, at random places there were a few shiny new plaques for Hall of Famers who'd been in a while - I guess guys like Ruth and Bob Feller needed their original plaques replaced at some point. (Odd promotion: they were advertising for 9/10 year olds to do a sleepover in the Hall itself, on its hard stone floors among the plaques. That seems very cool but also kinda ghoulish).

The Hall, of course, is a must-make pilgrimage for any serious baseball fan. It's still basically a museum you can cover in one day - although I got rushed through one or two sections because of the kids, we basically covered the whole place with hours to spare. (One thing that struck me in the equipment exhibits: Honus Wagner used a much thicker-handled bat than guys who played at or shortly after the same time, like Sam Crawford. Also, I hadn't known that in the 1880s they used color-coded uniforms, like today's NFL numbering schemes, to distinguish the different fielding positions). I also stopped in the day before at the library (it's only open M-F) - I'd still like to do a book someday if I get the free time, so I wanted to get a concrete sense of how research is done there and what's available. It's basically a one-room reading-room by-request operation, no public stacks at all, but nonetheless very user-friendly.

If I had one beef with the Hall, it's that the caliber of the stuff in the gift shop didn't match up to the souvenirs we got 26 years ago. Back then, we came home with, among others, a book collecting pictures of all the plaques and a punch-out book of cardboard replicas of actual old baseball cards of all the Hall of Famers. I went looking for similar things for my kids this time and came up empty, as too much of the selection was generic MLB merchandise.

We also took some time after lunch to check out a "Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum" down the street. This was a bit less of a serious fan site, but it was a fun mid-day diversion you can cover in an hour or so. The exhibits are eclectic - amidst the ballplayers there's George Costanza, a League of Their Own exhibit, Joe D and Marilyn, even George W and Rudy at Yankee Stadium after 9/11. But they also clearly made use of their unauthorized status to get a hookup with Pete Rose (they seem to have a fair bit of stuff that came from Rose himself) and an exhibit on Joe Jackson. Definitely worth seeing if you have kids.

Driving around upstate New York, you realize how many vast stretches of sparsely-populated greenery and farmland there still is in what people in the rest of the country still think of as a densely-settled urban state. After you've driven through stretches like that in New York, Pennsylvania, even Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and then compare them on the map to the size and scale of the whole rest of the U.S., you really start to appreciate how enormous this country is and how little of it looks like New York City and its immediate surroundings, where I have spent most of my life along with the Boston-Worcester area, northern New Jersey, and Washington DC.

A brief political note: we did see an Obama TV ad or two in Lake George, which struck me as odd since I couldn't see why he'd be advertising in New York (the closest neighboring state is Vermont). We saw a lot of ads for the incumbent Congresswoman, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who was still ripping the Iraq War but solely on grounds that it costs money that could be spent in her District.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 12, 2008
POLITICS: Obama Walks Into A Minefield

Earlier today I discussed the Obama campaign's ridiculous attack on John McCain as being 'out of touch' because he doesn't send emails, despite McCain's lengthy legislative record - as extensive as anyone in Congress - dealing with high-tech, telecom and internet issues.

The obvious and unconcealed subtext of the ad was an attack on McCain being old and uncool compared to the web-savvy younger generation - a risky line of argument given the large number of old people who vote, but perhaps driven by Obama's need to raise money and enthusiasm among the young and the wired. (Leave aside what the use of email has to do with competence to be President).

But more than a few conservative bloggers immediately wondered whether there was perhaps a reason why McCain does not have a Blackberry or type out emails, and with a little Googling Jonah Goldberg and others have discovered the answer: McCain finds it too painful to type because of his war injuries.

You can read the details from Goldberg here and Allahpundit here, including the fact that McCain does dictate emails to his wife, he just can't type them himself. I won't repeat here Goldberg's point, with which I agree completely, about what McCain's wartime service does and doesn't mean for his qualifications for the presidency; but no matter what it means in the abstract, the fact remains that the Obama people have now gone on record mocking him for things he can't do because of injuries he sustained while being tortured in the service of his country. What imbeciles. And the greatest irony is that as they hit McCain for not being tech-savvy, they are the ones who didn't bother to Google this stuff before firing off their ad.

Jacob Weisberg's column from 2000 pithily ties together both reasons why this avenue of attack is nuts:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (37) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Quick Links 9/12/08

Ah, what the heck: more campaign stuff, as well as a few random links:

*From the Colorado Senate race, which has tightened considerably from what had looked like a sure Udall win, an ad knocking Udall's support for Dennis Kucinich's "Department of Peace":

As Moe Lane points out, this was a fun ad but probably not an especially damaging one until the Democrat flipped his lid over it, responding - I kid you not - by complaining that "there is nothing in the Department of Peace legislation that authorizes the purchase of a van or that says one of the activities of the Department will be smoking marijuana in a smoke filled van."

Um, yeah. You run with that.

*Jake Tapper rips McCain over the education ad that accuses Obama of, among other things, supporting a bill in Illinois that would have required teaching explicit sex education to kindergardeners. Jim Geraghty defends the accuracy of the McCain ad here and here...typically the critics aren't dealing with Geraghty's points, but it's not an ad I would have run; even if Geraghty is right that the bill was dropped in large part precisely because its literal language would have extended anti-HIV education down to the kindergarden level, there's enough ambiguity in how that language interacts with the pre-existing statutory requirement of "age appropriate" instruction that it's not really a clean shot at Obama, and probably more trouble than it's worth once you get done walking through the language. My guess is that Obama, as is often true in these cases, was only working off a bill summary anyway and never bothered to read what the bill actually said, which is why he's so indignant about it.

*The NYT notices that Joe Biden is a "human verbal wrecking crew," collecting a number of Biden's more notorious gaffes since Obama picked him as his running mate (there have been every bit as many as expected - Biden's the most gaffe-prone politician I have ever seen, and that's considering some extremely stiff competition). I'd feel bad for how Biden's been the forgotten man in this campaign, but really, the guy's ego could survive a nuclear explosion. Watch the video of him asking the guy in the wheelchair to stand up:

His saving grace is that he doesn't stop talking after he pulls one of these - he reminds me of the old Bill James riff about Lonnie Smith, how other outfielders get flustered when they fall down in the outfield, whereas Lonnie does it so often he has a pop-up slide perfected for the occasion.

*Second poll in a week showing Republicans with an advantage on the "generic ballot" question (i.e., which party people prefer in the abstract). I honestly have trouble believing this - Republicans never lead in the generic ballot, at least not this far from Election Day, even in years when we are rolling to victory. The main thing is, we're not getting killed on this anymore. Relatedly, Capitol Hill Democrats are now worried and sharing a "sense of doom" that Obama may drag down Democrats across the ballot.

*Revisiting a tactic that didn't come off too well the first time when George Soros tried it, Obama is taking a shot at McCain as being too old to use email. Of course, unlike Obama, if you want to judge McCain's views on technology, you can look at his record. McCain spent seven years as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, during which he was continuously involved in debates, legislation and hearings on internet issues. In 1996, he blasted the Telecommunications Act as "nothing less than an elaborate influence-peddling scheme." In the 2000 campaign, he touted his work on the Y2K Product Liability Reform Act and the Internet Tax Moratorium Act; he has continued to fight against taxation of internet commerce. Obama may think he invented internet fundraising, but in 2000 McCain's primary campaign raised millions of dollars over the web, a fundraising surge that was essential to keeping his campaign afloat; at the time, he was on the cutting edge of such tactics. In 2002, McCain introduced the broad-ranging "Consumer Broadband Deregulation Act of 2002", a comprehensive bill that "would prevent localities from doing anything to interfere with the provision of any consumer broadband service by limiting local governments- rights-of-way compensation to 'direct and actual costs reasonably allocable to the administration of access to, or use of, public rights-of-way.'" McCain has continued to press for broadband access at high-tech forums during his presidential run, and chosen as chief economic advisers a pair of high-tech executives, Meg Whitman of eBay and Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard.

You can certainly raise issue with the substance of McCain's views on high-tech, but to suggest that the man is unfamiliar with the tech lanscape is...well, like so many of Obama's efforts to attack McCain, it depends on a certain suspension of disbelief.

*Tom Maguire: "Everything Barack Obama knows about public education he learned by working with an unrepentant terrorist and sending his kids to private school; Sarah Palin started in politics as a PTA mom." Of course, I agree that private schools are probably the right choice for Obama's kids. That just makes it all the harder for him to explain why they are not the right choice for other people's.

*Obama and Gordon Brown ducking for cover at the idea that Brown endorsed Obama.

*Armando, of all people, tries to talk sense into hyperventilating lefty bloggers. It's truly a bizarro world when Republicans read the words of guys like him and Jerome (Vis Numar) Armstrong and nod along, but I guess the primary left these guys a little too clear-eyed about Obama.

*Andrew McCarthy goes to Wikipedia to establish the one thing Wikipedia is actually probative of - what the average person thinks - on the term "Bush Doctrine." Of course, I noted last night in the comments this 2003 post in which I distinguished the three different Bush Doctrines.

UPDATE: Josh Trevino looks at how the media has defined the term.

*If you are keeping score at home, Mary Katharine Ham is now at The Weekly Standard and Beldar is blogging at Hugh Hewitt's place.

*"Do you read the New York Times?" This is hilarious - Taranto says the the NYT dispatch on this event was filed by...wait for it...Elisabeth Bumiller. The Times people's fixation on Bill O'Reilly is positively comical.

*Unlikely defenses for Gov. Palin from Mike Gravel and Rod Blagojevich. You gotta listen to the Gravel one, in which he doggedly bats back every effort by left-wing radio hosts to get traction against her. And memo to Blago: Cornelius from Planet of the Apes called, he wants his hairdo back.

*September 24 trial date for Ted Stevens, so his case may well be wrapped up before the election.

*Not politics: a proposal for 2-year law school that's long overdue. And really, words cannot do justice to this video.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 11, 2008
POLITICS/WAR: Talking Points Memo Does Not Understand The NATO Charter

TPM's David Kurtz headlines an excerpt of Gov. Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson tonight "Palin Foreign Policy: War with Russia." Kurtz is working off an alarmist ABC News headline "EXCLUSIVE: GOV. SARAH PALIN WARNS WAR MAY BE NECESSARY IF RUSSIA INVADES ANOTHER COUNTRY"

Unfortunately for Kurtz's effort to make Gov. Palin into Dr. Strangelove, his post includes a direct quote from the interview:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Narrowing The Field

With 54 days until the election and four debates still to go, a lot can happen; the presidential race could still end up getting badly away from either McCain or Obama. But now that we have the benefit of polling done entirely after the two VPs were picked and the two conventions held, it's possible to get a sense of what the playing field really looks like. On a national level, the race is still close, but looks much better for McCain, who leads by 2.5 in the RCP poll average; of the 9 polls listed, McCain leads in 6, Obama one, and two are tied, with all showing fewer undecideds than existed a month ago but only one poll giving either candidate 50% (the USA/Gallup poll showing a 54-44 McCain lead among likely voters - a result that would mean the race is effectively over if it was repeated in multiple polls, but which is apparently a serious outlier).

The race, however, will be conducted on a state-by-state basis, which sends us back to the Electoral College. You can run the polls yourself, but below the fold I will walk through what my gut is telling me after looking at those polls. The bottom line is that for all the talk of how Obama and McCain were map-changing candidates, this race now looks like it will go down to the wire in just a handful of crucial battleground states, with most of the Bush-Gore/Bush-Kerry red-blue patterns holding steady (the persistence of these patterns being good news for Republicans after the 2010 census, but that's another day's argument).

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:38 PM | Politics 2008 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Seven Years On

Remember.

It never ceases to amaze me that we've gone this long without a followup attack. Oh, there have been major followup attacks against non-U.S. targets (Bali, Madrid, London), and a few random, unaffiliated crackpots at home (the DC snipers, the LAX shooter), but Al Qaeda and similar groups have been limited, for seven years now, to attacks in active theaters of combat, and don't have much to show for pouring all their resources into those theaters.

At the same time, we still haven't caught bin Laden, and can't even be sure to this day whether he's still alive or not. If you'd told anybody seven years ago that we'd go this long without being hit again and without catching bin Laden and Zawahiri, they would not have believed you.

I'll just post this one item worth reading, for the day, from Tuesday's NY Sun: with Musharraf gone and no further need to pull our punches to prop him up, U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Petraeus have now reportedly escalated to daily incursions into Pakistani territory. As has been true of operations in Pakistan for years now, our government and media can't afford to give us the whole truth about what's going on there, to avoid an unnecessary or at least premature collision backlash among Pakistan's radical elements. But I do find it encouraging that with Gen. Petraeus assuming the broader command of CENTCOM, we are finally accelerating the pace of operations in Pakistan proper.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:16 AM | War 2007-14 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 10, 2008
POLITICS: Gasoline on the Fire

Good grief.

I was more than happy to leave Obama's "lipstick" comment be after yesterday - it was an amusing little example of Obama putting his foot in his mouth - other than to note that by calling it "swift boat politics" this morning he basically confirmed what I have been saying for years: "swift boating" means "accurately quoting a Democratic politician." Frankly, it was foolish for Obama to even respond this morning unless he was going to offer some sort of apology - anything else just prolongs the agony. To say nothing of the fact that any time the story is Obama vs. McCain's running mate, McCain wins.

But whether out of stubborn insistence on being right or a desire to keep those $5 donations pouring in from his activist base, Obama is not content to let the matter drop - he's on David Letterman tonight digging himself in deeper:

"What I like about this scenario is because they - the Republicans - demanded an apology," Letterman says, "so that means there had been a meeting at some point somewhere along the line (of) they got together and said, 'You know what? He called our vice presidential candidate a pig.' Well, that seems pretty unlikely, doesn't it?"

"It does," agrees Obama. "Keep in mind that, technically had I meant it this way - she would be the lipstick!"

The audience laughs, but Letterman is confused.

"You are way ahead of me," says the late night host.

"The failed policies of John McCain would be the pig," Obama says.

Now, as one of Vodkapundit's commenters points out, this is really considerably more insulting than calling Palin a pig. The latter is nasty and juvenile, but the former is dismissive, and really puts Obama back where he was when he was calling her the "Mayor of Wasilly" and refusing to acknowledge that she is a Governor.

This is why you do not put a rookie on the top of the national ticket. All Republicans have to do now is sit back and laugh.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:11 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (35) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Just Laying Down A Marker

I hate to jinx the Mets, but I can't get around the feeling that last night's win was the one that iced this division race. Yes, it's just a gut feeling about momentum. Yes, the lead is 2 1/2 games with 18 to play. But there you have it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:56 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Same Old Song

Back in February, Barack Obama sounded a familiar note in defending himself against charges that his campaign was "just words" - in fact, a note taken almost verbatim from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, also a client of David Axelrod:

Patrick eventually tried to help by explaining that he had offered up his words to Obama to use.

In June, Obama tried a different inspiration on for size, swiping the structure of Mario Cuomo's famous 1984 Convention speech:

Just yesterday, Obama's "lipstick" remark came at the end of a riff he swiped from Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles. Obama has now admitted that he took the line from a friend but didn't know where it had originally come from.

If you followed the John Edwards campaign, you may have heard this Edwards riff on education:

Edwards criticized . . . the 5-year-old [No Child Left Behind] law, calling it a bad measure of how much children are learning. Children don't learn anything from taking tests, like those mandated by the law, he said.

"I borrowed this line from a friend of mine who's from the South, but the way he says it is, 'a hog doesn't get fatter by weighing it,' '' Edwards said.

Well, here's what Obama said yesterday:

Obama made another porcine reference in Lebanon, Va., last night, speaking about education reform.

"You don’t fatten a hog by weighing it," he said. "The same thing is true with children's minds -- you have to feed them with knowledge."

Less pithy than Edwards' usage, but I'm guessing that this wasn't a phrase Obama picked up in Hawaii or Chicago, but rather from listening to John Edwards.

A few more examples here.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:00 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Not Good With Lipstick

You know, for a guy whose chief asset is his mouth, Obama sure has a way of stepping in things he really should know better than to step in, in this case the inevitable kerfuffle over whether the "lipstick on a pig" line is intended to refer to Sarah Palin. Ben Smith notes that "The crowd apparently took the 'lipstick' line as a reference to Palin, who described the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull in a single word: 'lipstick.'" To that extent, Ace's comparison to Obama appearing to give Hillary the middle finger in an appearance in the spring is on point - the crowd gets the thrill of seeing Obama be "tough" in a decidedly immature way by appearing to get rudely personal against his opponent, but Obama gets to angrily deny that he actually did what his supporters just assumed he was doing.

Was it actually deliberate, or just an unfortunate choice of words that people are taking the wrong way? Certainly the "lipstick on a pig" line is a common one that any number of candidates, McCain and Obama included, have used before. I don't see what in the "fish" reference is supposed to suggest that he was being deliberate. It's not like he was in the middle of a riff about Palin specifically at the time - he was talking about McCain. So it's possible he was just being stupid and not thinking through how some people would inevitably read the line. I don't rule out George Allen levels of stupidity at all.

Then again, Ben Smith notes that this is the very same day that Congressman Russ Carnahan, appearing on behalf of Obama, took a direct shot at Palin's record with the line "There's no way you can dress up that record, even with a lot of lipstick," which would appear to suggest that you have a concerted effort to make this one of today's talking points.

Well, nobody ever said that Obama was a master of diplomacy, anyway.

UPDATE: Let me just put it this way, after thinking this through a little further. I'm frankly embarrassed to be arguing that Obama intended to call Palin a pig (although I think we can agree that if that was what he intended to do, it was damned ungentlemanly of him, to put it mildly). But really, if I was on the other side of this one, I'd be at least equally embarrassed that my candidate was that big a damn fool to go and say this, no matter what he meant, knowing full well the context - his own and his supporters' hypersensitivity on matters of race, his ugly history with Hillary, the blowback that's already gone down over attacks on Palin that were seen as sexist. I'd be throwing things at my TV screen. If we give Obama the benefit of the doubt here, he just comes off looking like that much bigger a fool.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:06 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (43) | TrackBack (0)
September 9, 2008
FOOTBALL/LAW: Facenda v NFL Films

The very existence of this lawsuit makes me sad.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 PM | Football • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: They Have His Number

Oliver Perez entered tonight's game with a 5.84 ERA this season, and 5.45 career, against the Nationals. That will go up considerably. You hate to go to the bullpen this early, given that with Wagner now out until late next season at the earliest, that's like getting on a bus with no brakes. This one's gonna be a long slog, even with the Mets having tied the game at 7 through 4 innings.

UPDATE: Nationals grab 8-7 lead, Beltran & Delgado homer to make it 10-8 Mets. What a seesaw.

Mets win 10-8! I am staggered that they made this stand up.

You know, looking at Luis Ayala's record before 2008 and with the Mets this season, you have to wonder what the Nationals were doing this year to screw him up so badly.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:59 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Wedges and Fables

One of the more popular fables retailed by the Democrats is that Republicans use social "wedge" issues that have nothing to do with the business of government to win elections, and Democrats do not. Now, I don't deny that Republicans often run campaigns that deal with social issues and the values of the candidates, and I'm not going to get into a long debate here about the relative degree to which social issues like abortion, crime, immigration, the death penaly, same-sex marriage, racial preferences, etc. do or do not have anything to do with the powers of government as they exist in the real world. But the idea that Democrats don't do this stuff, or that they don't sometimes succeed in prying off voters on "values" issues, is utter nonsense. They complain about it largely for two reasons: (1) Republicans tend to win more votes than they lose in most fights over social/cultural issues and (2) members of the national media who share Democrats' values like to believe that their positions on these issues are the only acceptable ones, and that it is only divisive to disagree with them, even if the people doing the disagreeing constitute a decisive majority.

The nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for Vice President has produced a spate of efforts to drive a wedge between her and the voters on precisely these sorts of issues. In a few cases, there are fair arguments to be had: Palin is an uncompromising pro-lifer and supporter of gun rights, and obviously there are a lot of voters on each side of those issues. But several efforts to paint her as a social-issue extremist are, at best, seriously lacking in supporting evidence. Maybe something we don't know will come out, but on a couple of these it seems pretty unlikely from what we do know. Let's look at a few of those.

I. Book Banning

Democrats are claiming that Palin is some sort of fan of banning books. A list was circulated on the web purporting to show books she had had banned as Mayor of Wasilla, which even the Huffington Post described as "transparently fake" and Jesse Walker of Reason, also no fan of social conservatism, found to be basically a non-issue on the evidence we've seen. Taranto has a more comprehensive review today. The whole story amounts to Palin, when she first took office as Mayor in 1996, having had some abstract discussions about banning books with the librarian, who she later fired (one recurring theme in Palin's tenure as Mayor and Governor: she fires a lot of people). She told the town paper even back then that the discussion had been purely "rhetorical." (Here is the story written at the time - as an aside, notice how easy it is to find things said and done during Palin's early career in Wasilla, compared to how hard it is to track down anything said - let's not get into "done" - by Barack Obama between 1996 and his 2002 war speech?)

Let's face it: an awful lot of social conservatives in this country have had that conversation about, say, banning pornography, and in many cases about things that may be offensive for other reasons. It's one thing to have the idle conversation; it's another to actually put state power behind banning particular books, even if the "ban" just means not spending taxpayer money on them and even if you could boil the list down to the most patently offensive. Accepting that distinction is, in fact, part of the process of maturing from a rookie politician (which Palin was 12 years ago) into a responsible administrator. Absent any evidence that Palin ever lifted a finger to get any books banned, this is at most a charge that Palin has concerns about the state of our culture and has wished at times that we could do something about it. Do the Democrats really want to run against even that wish in the abstract? Maybe they do. But the charge that Palin actively supports banning books has nothing to support it, and you should not believe anyone who repeats the charge if they can't come up with evidence to support it.

II. Abstinence-Only Sex Education

A good many social conservatives, preferring not to surrender to the government the instruction of their children on matters of sexual morality, either don't like public-school sex education or insist that governmental instruction on sex should be limited to encouraging teenagers to not have sex (a/k/a "abstinence-only" sex education).

Now, as Megan McArdle reminds us, the main reason why abstinence-only education is ineffective is because sex education in general is ineffective - a point that if anything supports social conservatives' skepticism about the necessity of teaching sex in school:

Kids get pregnant because they have poor impulse control, hazy conceptions about the future, and possibly, parents who they are afraid will find birth control. None of these are problems that sex ed helps with.

In fact, as McArdle further notes, public behavioral education programs in general don't famously work all that well (so much for Obama hectoring us to abstain from driving on underinflated tires):

Do you believe that drug education reduces drug use? If you're reading this web site, I bet you don't, and you're right--the most famous program, D.A.R.E., has consistently failed to show any positive effects, something which is disguised by the program producers by constantly changing the curriculum so that whatever program just flunked a reality check isn't the same as the awesome new program they're using now.

Do you think that driver's education reduces risky driving? If you do, it's because you were home schooled and never met any teenagers. Teen fatalities have declined thanks to other laws, but not because we told 'em they might be killed. The future beyond next month is not very real to teenagers, which is surprising, since they're immortal.

Indeed, as the proponents of comprehensive birth control education often readily comprehend in other contexts, such as smoking education and high drinking ages, telling kids that something is risky often makes them enjoy it more.

A lot of Palin's critics jumped on her supposed support for abstinence-only programs like a starving man on a sandwich to justify their continuing interest in the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter. But they seem to have skipped the step of actually looking carefully at Gov. Palin's position - again, this LA Times piece comes from Walker's article at Reason:

In July of [2006], she completed a candidate questionnaire that asked, would she support funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs instead of "explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?"

Palin wrote, "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."

But in August of that year, Palin was asked during a KTOO radio debate if "explicit" programs include those that discuss condoms. Palin said no and called discussions of condoms "relatively benign."

"Explicit means explicit," she said. "No, I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don't have a problem with that. That doesn't scare me, so it's something I would support also."

Again: if the Democrats want to characterize this position as outside the mainstream, we have to wonder what "mainstream" they have been bathing in.

III. Evolution

Another issue on which there seem to be an awful lot of single-issue, litmus-test, nothing-else-matters voters on the left side of the spectrum is the teaching of "intelligent design" or other forms of "creationist" or quasi-creationist theories of the origin of species that refuse to accept the mostly-consensus scientific view of evolution. This tends to be a debate that leads off into a lot of linguistic dead ends (for example, modern evolutionary biology has moved on a good deal from Darwin), but as a general rule the debate tends to boil down to one of three positions: (1) ban the teaching of evolutionary biology - a position almost nobody supports anymore; (2) require the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside the teaching of standard evolutionary biology; or (3) ban the teaching of anything but standard evolutionary biology. I'll leave aside for now the merits of that debate, because yet again there's a bunch of smoke here with basically no fire.

Here's the quote from Palin from a 2006 debate that is the reed on which most of the criticisms about her are based:

During a 2006 gubernatorial debate in Alaska, Palin was asked if she supported teaching an alternative to evolution.

"Teach both," Palin said at the televised debate, according to a news story in the Anchorage Daily News. "You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

But....

After the debate, Palin told the newspaper she would not push the state board of education to add evolution alternatives to the mandatory curriculum, nor would she base appointments to the board on the candidates' views on the issue.

More:

Sarah Palin was questioned more closely about her views on creationism a couple of days after the debate. She then seemed to deny that she did want to introduce creationism into the school curriculum. Rather, she said that she didn't "think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class," but that it "doesn't have to be part of the curriculum". Religion was not "a litmus test", she added. She was more interested in gas pipelines. In her answers to personal questions, a degree of ambiguity persisted. She did believe in a creator, but "I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be". Her father had been a science teacher; they had had discussions when she was a child about "his theories" of evolution: "He would show us fossils and say, 'How old do you think these are?' "

As with the libraries issue, this wasn't a years-later effort to conceal her position, such as we've seen from Barack Obama's attempts to whitewash his votes and legislative proposals on guns or abortion; Palin was immediately making clear that this was basically just her personal view that she was not going to foist on anybody, and Palin has kept that promise. The bottom line is that Palin hasn't actually spent much effort on social issues in office. In Washington, she won't be able to avoid social issues, of course, and indeed her sincere convictions on issues like abortion are one of the major attractions of Palin's candidacy. But the relevant point on intelligent design, as with book banning and abstinence education, is that in 10 years in executive office she hasn't actually used state power to support any of the things she's accused of supporting.

It's usually not that hard to understand that distinction. Joe Biden can say that life begins at conception, but only an imbecile would call him "pro-life," because he doesn't want the government to do anything about it. For political purposes, the issue is how this all translates into public policy. And that's exactly where Palin's critics have come up empty.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 8, 2008
POLITICS: The Organizer-Based Community

obamablackboard.jpg

One of the major themes in the reaction on the Left to the Republican convention - and we have seen this directly from the Obama campaign as well as from left-leaning bloggers - is to scream bloody murder at Mayor Giuliani and Governor Palin for mocking Sen. Obama's experience as a "community organizer," mainly for the three years between his college graduation and his entry into law school, although Obama's subsequent career as a "civil rights lawyer" was largely a continuation of the same work, which really constitutes the entirety of his experience outside elected political office.

Now, when you launch a line of criticism in politics and the other side starts shrieking at you for having done it, one or more of three things is usually true:

1. You have done something genuinely outrageous, or at least something the other side genuinely views as outrageous.

2. You have hit a nerve and the other side is trying to delegitimize your argument rather than respond to it.

3. The other side misunderstands what you are talking about.

The Obama camp's furious response (see the end of this post for full quotes from fundraising emails by Obama's campaign) to the criticism levelled at Obama's time as a community organizer strikes me as a prime example of #2, although there's an element of #3 here as well. I suppose I understand why to some on the Left it feels like #1, but at the end of the day that's an argument that fails the John Edwards test. Sen. Obama has brought this line of criticism on himself, and if his career reminds people a little too forcefully of people the average voter despises, well, maybe that's something the Democrats should have considered before nominating him for President.

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September 7, 2008
BASEBALL: Second Most Valuable Met Carlos

If the Mets win this game tonight - I write this in the middle of the 4th inning - you will probably hear a little more of Carlos Delgado for MVP on the strength of a 2-RBI single off Cole Hamels to make this must-win game (the Mets nursing a 1-game division lead and this their last game against Philly after losing the first two in the series) 3-1 in the first and a long homer in the third to make it 4-2, answering a homer by Ryan Howard.

It's a nice sentiment for the importance of Delgado's comeback with the Mets, but don't believe it; he's still the team's 4th or 5th most valuable player, behind Wright, Reyes, Beltran and maybe Santana. Delgado does nothing that doesn't show up in the box score - he's at best mediocre in the field as a 1B, a liability on the basepaths, and his .346 OBP is OK but nothing special, 12 points below the average NL first baseman.

You can beat that to be MVP as a slow, slugging first baseman only if you are truly the league's preeminent slugger and RBI man. But Delgado is, entering tonight, 8th in the league (and third on the Mets behind Wright and Beltran) in RBI, fifth in the league in HR, and second on the team and not in the league's top 10 in Slugging. That's a heckuva season for a 36-year-old who spent the spring on the verge of being cut, but it's no MVP.

UPDATE: Delgado adds a HR in the fifth, another bomb off Hamels, and the crowd chants "MVP". I stand by my point, but man is his timing good right now.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:21 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
September 5, 2008
BASEBALL: Go Time

Yes, I realize I have been terribly delinquent on the baseball side of the blogging ledger the last 2 weeks, being absorbed with the political conventions and the VP selections as well as having a lot of stuff going on outside the blog. It really doesn't seem like this should be it, but here we are: the last Mets-Phillies series of the season, 3 games at Shea, Mets up by 3 in the standings. Amazingly, the Mets have actually scored more runs than the Phils this year, 693 (4.95/game) to 676 (4.83/game), the margin being 5.08-4.74 on the road, so this is not solely a factor of Shea being more homer-friendly this season. So much for a team with only one reliable outfielder (Endy Chavez, batting .272/.311/.336, is second among Mets outfielders with 265 at bats), no regular second baseman (Damion Easley, batting .265/.318/.361, leads Mets 2B with 294 at bats) and a defense-first catcher being unable to keep up with the vaunted Phillies offense (go back and see my preseason preview on why the Phillies' offense is overrated, but please do not look at my preseason previews of the AL East and the two Central divisions while you are there....)

In marked contrast to last season, the Mets have thus far faced down their division opponents head to head. They are 10-5 against the Phillies, accounting for more than the margin of their lead in the division, and explaining why the Mets are 10 games over (32-22) vs the NL East, while the Phils are 4 over (29-25).

A sweep by the Phillies would erase all of that; a sweep by the Mets would effectively end the race, with Philly lacking the head-to-head matchups to repeat last year's late charge. It's a big weekend.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:07 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
September 4, 2008
POLITICS: John McCain's Night

Last night was the fireworks at the GOP Convention, the high-wire triumph of Sarah Palin, the street fighting of Rudy. Tonight was the hard work: John McCain laying out his policy vision. So, what did I think?

John McCain is a great talker, but not a great speaker - he's the polar opposite of Obama, who gives a tremendous speech but does not converse and answer questions so well. Those of us who have grown to know McCain's speaking style well over the years did not have great expectations for this speech. This is his weak suit. He was inevitably going to be a bit of a letdown from Wednesday night.

Moreover, this was not the speech I would have written for McCain, were I advising him. He laid out his domestic policy vision, specifically in some cases (e.g., education, energy, trade, job training, business taxes), more vaguely in others (health care). But he didn't walk issue by issue through the differences between his mainstream positions and Obama's extreme positions. He explicitly distanced himself from the now-departed GOP Congressional majority, but he never explicitly explained the fact that he's very different as well from President Bush, and he never told the voters that the Democrats now control Congress, despite polls indicating that a good many voters don't even know that. He explained his support for the surge in Iraq, but he didn't contrast it with Obama's call for a complete withdrawal by March 2008. I don't think tonight was the night to attack Obama, but it was the night to contrast McCain's positions and record on the issues with Obama's. He missed that opportunity, and may regret it.

But as the saying goes, you disserve the reader when you review a book or movie you didn't see rather than the one that is actually in front of you. McCain's speech tonight, on its own terms, was OK, if rather long and not all that exciting. This was old-style pre-1960s patriotism, and elevating himself above partisanship as McCain so loves to do. I did really like his explanation that hyper-partisanship (which I, of course, don't disdain the way McCain does) isn't the problem but a symptom of a self-interested political class.

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POLITICS: Shock and Awwwwww

It is, as I have said, so hard to be really objective about convention speeches - Republicans see one thing, Democrats another, and what really matters is the view of independent "swing" voters.

That said: man, was this a great night for Republicans. Could not possibly have gone better. I watched on CNN and the panel was just totally swept away, to the point where Campbell Brown was gushing about Gov. Palin and John King was anguishing over how CNN is harder on the Republicans than the Democrats. What a difference a day makes.

There were an awful lot of smiles tonight. Bill Clinton and maybe Brian Schweitzer were the only really happy warriors at the Democratic Convention; Obama's speech was almost wholly joyless (did you see him smile once?)

We started with Mitt Romney. Romney was....Romney: smart, tough, technocratic (few convention speeches use words like "largesse" and "moribund") and hard-hitting, but probably inspiring only to boardroom Republicans. Romney landed some punches, but I doubt many people watched him and thought "I really wish we'd nominated this guy." A good start to the night, but just a start.

Then, Huck. I had really hoped that Huck's mission in this convention would be to hit Obama, and hard, on his extremism on abortion. But I suppose with Palin on the ticket, they decided that that issue hardly even needed to be raised. Instead, we got a lot of Huck's blue collar background and folksy stories. And Huck tells a great story.

PS - Yes, Huck still hates Mitt, as you could tell in several little ways.

Then, Rudy, and Rudy came to fight. You know, of course, that I love Rudy. There's perhaps no more effective tool in political rhetoric than mockery, and there is much about Obama to mock; Rudy picked a few juicy targets and drilled them. The best riff was on Obama's "present" votes in the State Senate - words can't really capture Rudy's facial expression in mimicking Obama finding it "too hard" to make decisions. I swear I have laughed less at many standup comics than Rudy's takedown of Obama. And Rudy, who has always stressed the unique and important role of executives, emphasized over and over the superiority of Gov. Palin's experience as a Governor and even a small-town Mayor compared to Obama's time as a legislator. Rudy had the best nod to media-created rumors that the Republicans would dump Palin with his crack that Biden better have the VP job in writing.

Then, the star of the show: Sarah Palin. Yesterday's storyline may have been whether McCain goofed by picking Palin, but after the speech the talk is shifting to whether she's too tough on Obama. It was truly a tour de force of a speech, one that eliminates the notion that she's the deer-in-the-headlights Dan Quayle in a skirt. It's not the last test for Palin, but she passed the first test with flying colors.

Alaska Democrats have spent a good deal of the last week warning national Democrats not to underestimate the nation's most popular Governor, who got that way for a reason - but did they listen? Nooooo. And now they know why. Palin started slowly, and I personally would not have dwelt on her family so long, but Rudy was such a 'hot' act to follow that she had to get the crowd eating out of her hand first. The crowd in the hall, of course, has gone wild over Palin and needed little prompting to get in her corner. Other writers can express better than I the emotional impact of Palin's family. And then she moved in for the kill on Obama's disdain for small-town America and his rhetoric and fancy props where he ought to have accomplishments.

What impressed me most about Palin as a speaker was her timing. She didn't force things, didn't step on her applause lines, let the speech and the crowd build and come to her. The set of her jaw actually reminded me a bit of Bush after delivering an applause line, but of course she has her own unique sort of flair that Bush never did - I was positively bursting with confidence after Bush's convention speech in 2004, but I never have seen him control a crowd the way Palin did tonight. The McCain camp's strategy of hyping up expectations of how well Palin would do in the speech was richly rewarded. And McCain came out for a well-deserved victory lap over his selection of Palin after the audience got to see her for themselves.

It was a good night, one that could not have gone better. We shall see tomorrow how McCain himself closes out the convention now that the spotlight finally shifts back to the man at the top of the ticket.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:14 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (49) | TrackBack (0)
September 3, 2008
POLITICS: What Gov. Palin Needs To Say Tonight

Tonight's speech at the Republican National Convention by vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is probably the most important convention speech in memory by a vice presidential candidate. Gov. Palin made a smashingly good impression with her initial appearance on Friday, but her relative inexperience combined with a ferocious left-wing/media assault on her and her family has left a lot of the public up in the air as to what to make of her. Obviously, she's enormously popular with Republican activists and hated by the cultural Left, and there is copious evidence that people in general and women in particular are upset at how she has been treated over the past several days (note: when Obama and his allies are turning off the likes of Lindsay Lohan, they are really playing with fire), but sympathy is one thing, and respect is entirely another. Tonight's audience will be looking to Gov. Palin to show them why they should respect her.

With that in mind, a few thoughts about what tonight's speech should look like. Gov. Palin has a lot of work to do to close the sale with voters who only first met her five days ago, whether they like her or not, and it's not going to happen all in one speech. It's important for a speech not to try to do too many things, lest it fail to accomplish any of them. For example, Barack Obama's race speech back in the spring was a smashing success, at least temporarily, because it had just two goals: redirect attention away from Rev. Wright, and let Obama speak movingly about a subject he cares deeply about. By contrast, Obama's convention speech really was not that impressive - Obama was trying to give out some of his patented rhetoric without looking too grandiose, he was trying to reassure people on national security, taxes and social issues, he was trying to prove he could get specific, he was trying to mend fences with Hillaryites...too many goals for one speech. Gov. Palin needs to focus on a few achievable goals.

1. Go light on the 'girl power' stuff. The key sound bites from her Friday speech, which most people who would be watching tonight have already seen on the news, were about the historic nature of her candidacy as a woman. That doesn't need to be repeated at any length. Palin's mere presence is enough to remind people of that history.

2. Go light on the mooses. It's hard for any politician to establish a clear identity with the public, let alone in less than a week, but the media blitz around Palin has already hammered home the basic nutshell: mother of five, small town girl, "hockey mom," pro-life and really means it, pro-gun, shoots moose. That's actually quite a lot of brand identity already built in, and some of it can be reinforced by her introduction. Gov. Palin doesn't need to sell people on why they should like a woman with that background (many will, some won't); she needs to sell them on why they should believe that a likeable, relatable woman is also ready to be the Vice President and, if necessary, the Commander-in-Chief.

3. Guns and abortion are Obama's problem. Relatedly, Palin's "pro-life, pro-gun" credibility is not going to be questioned - she needs to expand that issue profile beyond social issues, not worry about proving her bona fides. If she does get into issues like abortion and guns, it should only be to attack Obama's extremism on those issues. (I had assumed before the Palin nomination and the hurricane-shortened convention that Mike Huckabee would give the speech that tears into Obama's positions on those issues, but it is unclear now if Huck will even get his speech shown by the cable networks).

4. Stick to the broad themes on foreign policy. Gov. Palin won't prove herself an expert on national security in one prepared speech and shouldn't try. Leave the thorny issues like South Ossetia, Waziristan, Iran's nuclear program and the future of the Atlantic alliance to McCain, who has built decades of credibility on them. Gov. Palin can start the process of reassuring Republicans on her national security credibility by hitting a few marks on the most familiar questions - 9/11, terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan - and leave for later the process of fleshing out her views.

5. Sell her record as Governor. Traditionally, Governors, whatever their foreign policy experience or lack thereof, have sold themselves to the public as serious people by running on their record of accomplishment and showing how they have grappled with the issues that have come accross their desks. In Gov. Palin's case that means a heavy focus on energy policy, on which she is legitimately an expert from her time both as Governor and on the Oil and Gas Commission, and on battling corruption and wasteful spending. The Washington Post notes that "Palin is likely to emphasize her areas of policy expertise -- particularly energy and political reform -- rather than focusing on her biography or gender," and that's what it needs to be about. If Palin can convince voters that she is 100% ready on day one to deal with pocketbook issues, she is halfway home.

6. Show some steel. A convention speech is not the time or place to waste time rebutting the other side's attacks, whether personal or poilitical. Gov. Palin can probably best deal with the personal stuff by sitting down with someone like Barbara Walters or even Oprah (anybody appropriate to the task is in the tank for Obama, so why not someone who is open about it?). But the message does need to be sent in more general terms that she is accustomed to the brickbats that come with standing up to the establishment, that she can - in Harry Truman's words - take the heat in the kitchen, and that no matter what gets thrown at her, she won't back off or back down and will keep doing the people's business. Plus, a few well-timed Churchillian lines of that nature, ideally as the conclusion of the speech, will absolutely bring down the house in a convention packed with delegates who are just dying to put on a rousing show of support for a woman most Republicans feel is being unfairly slimed by a media that's been all too reluctant to do the same thing to the other side's presidential nominee.

That is her mission tonight.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
September 2, 2008
POLITICS: More Than Just The Mayor

Leon Wolf over at RedState has a hilarious and spot-on post about Obama's (1) ridiculous claim that running for president qualifies him to be president and (2) insistence on comparing his record to Sarah Palin's record as Mayor of Wasilla while refusing to acknowledge that the woman is Governor of Alaska. As Leon notes, using Obama's own terms of comparison:

Interesting that you should claim that the total annual budget of your campaign is approximately $432 million a year, Mr. Former Harvard Law Student. The Alaska State Budget is roughly ten times that amount. Interesting that you should mention that your campaign employs 2500 individuals. The government of the State of Alaska (which Sarah Palin is Governor of - I hate to keep mentioning this, but you and your supporters keep forgetting it) has approximately six times that many. And, just in case you're forgetting, she's been doing it for longer than you've been running your campaign (which was not nearly always as large as it currently is).

Ed Morrissey makes a similar point.

Also on the campaign:

*David Brooks on why McCain likes Palin and the shortcomings of their combined ticket. Brooks is nothing if not a guy who knows McCain's mind. An excellent read despite the horrifying implication that Brooks thinks Robert Gates should have been McCain's running mate.

*Obama refuses to follow the lead of Bush, Kerry and Gore in releasing college transcripts. (H/T). Note that McCain also does not release his, although in his case there would not be much point, as he has freely admitted graduating in the bottom of his class. But Obama stands to be much more embarrassed if his grades do not match his reputation, or perhaps by his course selection.

*I cannot possibly offer you better advice on the Palin selection than to read Beldar, who is just way ahead of everyone else on this story, in part because he was an early advocate of a Palin selection and was doing his homework on her all summer. Among others, he explains the difference between a windfall profits tax and the oil company taxes Palin actually raised, which seem to deal more directly with the oil companies' business directly with the government; tells you everything you need to know about Gov. Palin's respect for her family's privacy; tells us about Palin's background as a debater; and revisits her role running the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.

*I hope you watched Fred Thompson's barn-burner of a speech tonight (Fred was in fine form, although in a few spots he could have used a pause to get a drink of water). Unfortunately, I gather that most of the networks skipped the speech, or at least the first half of it. Which stinks, given that the GOP already shaved the first night off its convention. Of course, a fair amount of what Fred covered is well-known enough to people who read blogs, but it was still very well done, and even I learned something - I had not known that McCain opposed President Reagan's deployment of peacekeeping troops to Lebanon, a decision Reagan later described as the worst mistake of his presidency. (Lieberman's speech was solid and more directly aimed at swing voters, but of course his delivery is famously dry).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:34 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Palin Chronicles, Part I

The great question of the week, which I am unfortunately only now getting around to starting to answer, is what to make of John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Let's hit some of the early points here, with more to follow.

I. Euphoria

I really was unprepared for how euphoric my reaction was to McCain's choice, and there are really two reasons for that.

A. Strategery

The first, which I touched on Friday - it seems so long ago now - was the way the McCain campaign pulled this whole thing off. Whereas Obama had built up suspense on his pick while leaking a 3-man 'short list', promised his supporters they'd be the first to know via text message, and then had to deal with a late-evening leak that trumped the 3am text message and left his announcement of Biden over the other two finalists broken up over two news days, McCain managed to stun everyone Friday morning, picking a candidate whose name had never made the veepstakes lists except as a dark horse and favorite of the blogosphere. It was clear that many of the leaks made beforehand had been deliberate misdirection, including the floating of Tim Pawlenty, the long-time favorite, the night before. One way that McCain maintained operational security on this was by using Pawlenty, Romney, Lieberman, Ridge, Cantor, etc. as his surrogates and traveling companions, but not Palin. It also turns out that the McCain's many houses came in handy in getting Palin in and out of Arizona for vetting unnoticed. The Democrats had been gearing up to attack a bunch of other candidates - Palin wasn't even on that "Next Cheney" website, and even though she actually has a lot in common with Cheney in terms of her upbringing, her public image is very much the opposite of what the Democrats have been looking to run against - and they were caught utterly flat-footed and forced to serially revise their plan to attack her. Obama's initial press release started by attacking her inexperience, the one place Obama can't afford to go, and also ripped her as being a tool of Big Oil, thus proving they hadn't even paid attention to her actual record in Alaska.

The sudden announcement of Palin swept Obama's convention speech right off the front pages instantly - for four days now, Palin and not the presidential matchup, has dominated the news. The choice of Palin was vintage McCain, the bold stroke, and you can't help but be impressed with how he carried it off; the man knows how to keep secrets and use timing to maximum effect. That kind of skill is very encouraging to watch.

B. Energy In The Executive

The second reason for the initial euphoria is that it's been such a long time since Republicans and conservatives have had something really exciting to cheer for. At the beginning of February 2005, we held the commanding heights of politics - a President freshly re-elected with the first popular majority since 1988, the largest GOP Congressional majorities in a century, democracy on the move in Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine and Georgia, the possibility seeming at hand of legislative progress at home and victory over our enemies abroad.

We can discuss at another time how all that unraveled, but while there have certainly been victories along the way - most notably the stunning turnaround in Iraq since early 2007 and the 2005-06 confirmations of Justices Roberts and Alito - and had our share of fun with the Democrats' current leadership, nothing has come easily for Republicans and conservatives since early 2005. We've been engaged in a protracted rearguard action, a sort of political equivalent of the Chosin Resovoir, and chosen as our leader a man long mistrusted by the party. The mood on the Right for a long time now has been one of grim determination to ride out the storm and hold on for better days down the road. When it looked like Pawlenty, I spent most of Thursday night talking myself into the idea that it was wise for McCain to take the safe, don't-make-waves choice who would basically get out of McCain's way. But the selection of a VP nominee who is young, energetic, a fresh face from outside the Beltway, glamorous, and undeniably conservative on a fundamental cultural level is fun. McCain may be startlingly energetic for a man his age with his disabilities, but there's a level of enthusiasm that Palin brings to the trail that's already infectious. It really is difficult not to get swept up in that.

II. The X Factor

I have been thinking for a while that I wanted to see Palin on the national ticket in 2012, but as regular readers know, she wasn't my first choice for VP - my long list of "don'ts" included a few strikes against her, and in the days before the rollout, I backed Eric Cantor and viewed Palin as too much of a rookie for the national ticket. Had Palin run in the GOP primaries, I would certainly have opposed her on grounds of being insufficiently experienced to head the national ticket, as I did with 1-term Governor Mitt Romney. So, what to make of her as McCain's running mate?

I won't say that I'm unconcerned by her inexperience on national security matters; we really do know precious little of her views on those issues. Her main national security responsibility is commanding the Alaska National Guard troops tasked with important functions in the missile defense system, and it's a bit of a stretch to make that out as more than it is.

Palin will be inevitably compared to Barack Obama, given that so many of the criticisms leveled against Obama not only by Republicans but by fellow Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have focused on his inexperience. There are certainly some similarities between Palin and Obama (and more between Palin and Tim Kaine, one of the finalists for Obama's running mate). But there are two very important distinctions between Palin and Obama.

A. Their #1 = Our #2

The first one is obvious: Obama is running for President, not Vice President. Given the vast gulf between McCain's and Obama's resumes, it's clear that the issue of experience, accomplishment and qualification requires Obama to change the subject at every possible opportunity. And now he is changing it to compare himself to Sarah Palin.

Obama has now gotten himself sucked in to comparing the Democrats' #1 to the Republicans' #2:

"My understanding is that Gov. Palin's town, Wassilla, has I think 50 employees. We've got 2500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe 12 million dollars a year - we have a budget of about three times that just for the month," Obama responded.

In so doing, he is comparing apples to oranges comparing his campaign in 2008 to Palin's record as Mayor of Wasilla in 1996-2002 back when Obama was just a State Senator, while completely ignoring her job as Governor. He is also, amusingly, claiming that he is qualified to be president based on...running for president. But even aside from that, the #1 vs #2 dynamic is precisely where McCain wants Obama:

"When they're comparing our vice presidential candidate's experience to their presidential candidate's experience and John McCain is just flying above it all," says one senior McCain adviser, "that's a good place for us to be."

The old saying we have heard in many a campaign is that the presidency is no place for on the job training; the vice presidency, by contrast, consists of little else. None of that is a reason to gamble on a complete cipher for the job. But that brings us to the second point: Palin's qualifications are clearly superior to Obama's because she is an executive. The presidency is fundamentally an executive job - this is a major part of why I originally backed Rudy, and only by invoking both a very long (25 year) career in Congress and an equally long (27 year) career in the Navy was McCain able to overcome the usual presumption that the GOP would pick an executive like Romney, Rudy or Huckabee. Obama, by contrast, was blessed to run almost entirely against a field of other Senators - only Bill Richardson among the Democratic field had ever been a chief executive.

As I have explained before at length, there are five types of experience that are particularly useful in preparing for the presidency: executive experience, national security experience, political (especially political leadership) experience, military service, and private sector business experience. No one of these is essential, but national security and executive experience are the two most important, and if you can't have anyone on the ticket who has done both, the next best thing is a ticket that combines an executive with a veteran national security hand - exactly what the GOP is running.

While Palin's resume in major public office is, like Obama's, relatively short, and her national security experience negligible at best, her experience is as a chief executive, the person to whom an entire state government reports, the person who gets the call when things go wrong, the person on whose desk the buck stops. The buck has never stopped with Barack Obama, or with Joe Biden for that matter. Obama has various bills he tries to take credit for (sometimes accurately), but he does not have the kind of record to run on that every governor has. We have had presidents before who were relatively short-tenured governors. Woodrow Wilson, for example, was elected with effectively the same resume as Palin - small-scale executive experience (his tenure as president of turn-of-the-century Princeton University is comparable to being mayor of a town of a few thousand people) followed by two years as a reformist, anti-machine governor. Wilson's presidency may not be the best role model (I have noted before that the public had no way of knowing what kind of Commander-in-Chief Wilson would be) but he did turn out to be a highly effective leader both in domestic legislative battles and in commanding American troops; Wilson's failings were more about his impractical ideas.

Obama's lack of any of the kinds of relevant experience is really staggering, and not at all like Palin. Nobody with a resume like Obama's has ever been elected president (Abe Lincoln, who had a relatively short resume as a legislator and to whom Al Gore audaciously compared Obama, had a good deal more private sector responsibility than Obama and had served in the military as a captain in the Black Hawk War. And Obama's no Abe Lincoln).

That's the difference between Palin as Governor and Obama as Senator. And the pattern repeats in their prior job experience. I regard Palin's two three-year terms as Mayor of Wasilla, like Obama's four two-year terms as State Senator from Hyde Park, as useful life experience (it helps to see how government interacts with the people at ground level) but not really a substitute for the necessary step of serving in major public office like being a Member of Congress or elected statewide as a Governor or Senator. But even then, Obama wasn't the guy responsible for Hyde Park (he has since tried to make a point of his not having "clout" in the State Senate); he was never in a leadership position in his party and until his last term in the State Senate he was (just as in the first two years in the US Senate before he stopped showing up so he could run for President) a member of the minority party. If anything, Obama's worked hard at avoiding being the guy who could be held responsible for anything that's happened around him his entire career (his presidential campaign has involved a seemingly endless series events, up to and including this weekend's barrage of attacks on Palin, in which Obama claims to have no responsibility for what his own subordinates do). Wasilla may be a small suburban town, but for two terms Sarah Palin was in charge of it.

III. Identity Politics

One obvious question about Palin is the gender issue: we she picked because she's a woman?

Duh.

Look, Palin's record in Alaska is such that even if she were a man, she'd certainly have already made a sufficient impression to be marked as a rising star in the GOP. But I don't believe that McCain would have chosen her if she'd been male; he would have gone with a more veteran governor like Pawlenty or looked elsewhere. Republicans hate playing identity politics, but where elections are concerned, it's the world we live in, and the game the Democrats have played in this election; if they are going to nominate the icon of a group that makes up 11% of the electorate and could not possibly be more solidly Democratic, we may as well go after a group that makes up a majority of the electorate and includes a lot of swing voters. And, again: that sort of ticket-balancing calculus has always been the province of the bottom half of the ticket, the difference being that in years gone by the attention was more to geographic rather than demographic balance.

Does 2008 sound the death knell of the two-white-guys ticket that has been the staple of presidential politics since 1789? Maybe, or at least it will probably be a rarity in the future. Depending on how things turn out this November, it seems likely that the next Democratic ticket will include Obama and/or Hillary, and the next Republican ticket will include Palin and/or Bobby Jindal.

Totally random thought: if McCain wins, will Palin's idiosyncratic fashion - the glasses, the beehive hairdo - become a national trend? It has nothing to do with politics, just wondering.

IV. Be Careful What You Wish For

Finally, for now - I have to get separately to some of the other stories about Palin, many of which are being adequately covered over at RedState - I offer a word of caution to my fellow conservatives. Palin is undeniably an appealing person with bedrock cultural conservative credentials. She may well end up being the next great conservative leader. But once the initial flush of infatuation has worn off, we will be looking more closely at how she carries conservative policy goals into effect. And we have a long, long line of examples of public officials - Mike Huckabee, Condi Rice and Arnold Schwarzenegger come to mind - to remind us that an appealing personality and/or biography and the ability to sell some parts of the conservative message does not necessarily equate to someone who will build a record conservatives will be happy with.

V. The Secret Weapon

Finally, let's remember that at the end of the day, politicians are not just paper credentials and position papers. And probably Palin's greatest asset to the ticket is that she comes across as fundamentally a normal person. Of the four candidates on the national tickets this year, we are actually blessed not to have anyone of the Kerry/Gore variety - all four are to one extent or another likeable and/or charming people. But what you would not call the other three is normal - McCain is basically an action hero, a Jack Bauer/Han Solo/Indiana Jones figure, the kind of guy most Americans know more from the movies than from their day to day lives. Biden, for all his affability, is someone if you met him not knowing who he is, your first reaction would be "this guy must be a U.S. Senator." Obama, when you get him away from his cultic acolytes, his TelePrompter and his branded logos and trappings of grandeur, is at heart an academic. All of them really did have ambitions of public glory from an early age. But Palin has the rare Reagan touch of having fallen into politics rather gradually and backwards, and even Reagan was always to some extent a performer; Palin is probably the most relatably normal person on a national ticket I can remember, and maybe the closest to a normal person on a national ticket since Harry Truman. Obviously that, too, is not without its downsides; she has to convince people that she is ultimately capable of managing the superhuman demands of the job of the Presidency if needed. But don't underestimate what Palin's personality will bring to this race.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:55 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (60) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: DNC Late Entries

I'm overdue to catch up on baseball blogging and still working on a piece on Sarah Palin...meanwhile, over the weekend we finished watching some of the Democratic Convention speeches I hadn't seen live. Quick thoughts:

*I really thought people had been eggagerating the malice in Michelle Obama's eyes when the Clintons were speaking, but they were not. Man, does she hate them, and she would not be a good poker player.

*Brian Schweitzer really is very good on the stump, and you could see that Bill Clinton, who knows political talent, was visibly impressed. Of course, the substance of Schweitzer's speech was nonsense, but that's beside the point. Frank Caliendo would not even need makeup to do a Schweitzer imitation. They could be twins.

*Bob Casey would have endorsed a grilled cheese sandwich if it was written on the TelePrompter. Talk about an empty suit.

*I suspect the Palin pick has the Democrats regretting all the "girl power" stuff surrounding Hillary's appearance.

*Chelsea really sounds just like her mother (well, you can tell she's younger, but that's it).

*Both Bill and Hillary had great closings to their speeches....and just kept on going.

*That interview a few months back where McCain said that the fundamentals of the economy were solid but a lot of people were hurting? The Democrats just could not get enough of the first half, and only the first half, of that sentence. They wanted to take it home and marry it.

*I really could not watch Mark Warner. His speech wasn't any livelier on paper. This line was priceless:

I spent 20 years in business. If you ran a company whose only strategy was to tear down the competition, it wouldn’t last long.

Yeah, and in the private sector if you collaborate with your competition, you go to jail.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:26 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)