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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Democracy Crashes Servers! House.Gov Overwhelmed with E-mail

Financial bailout? Try a server bailout! An eager reader points me to this article from The Hill that reveals all those e-mails we've been sending to Congress have been swamping the servers:

The House is limiting e-mails from the public to prevent its websites from crashing due to the enormous amount of mail being submitted on the financial bailout bill.

As a result, some constituents may get a 'try back at a later time' response if they use the House website to e-mail their lawmakers about the bill defeated in the House on Monday in a 205-228 vote.

"We were trying to figure out a way that the House.gov website wouldn’t completely crash,” said Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the Chief Administrative Office (CAO), which oversees the upkeep of the House website and member e-mail services [Jordy Yager, "House Limits Constituent E-mails to Prevent Crash," The Hill, 2008.09.30].

More citizen participation than the computers can handle—that's my kind of democracy. Keep those cards and letters coming!

IM11 Unnecessary: Abortions Already Declining, at 30-Year Low

Think we need to ban abortion to stop abortion? Think again. Since the Supreme Court effectively legalized abortion with Roe v. Wade, abortions in the United States have dropped 33%. Abortions are down 50% since 1974 among teenagers.

Did stricter abortion laws get us this decline? Of course not:

One of the largest factors in the decline has been the drop in teenage pregnancies and abortions, [Rachel] Jones [senior researcher, Guttmacher Institute] said. "We've done a lot of work addressing teen pregnancy, including comprehensive sex education, access to contraceptive services and providing kids with information to help them delay sexual activity," she said [Steven Reinberg, "U.S. Abortion Rate at 30-Year Low," HealthDay via Yahoo News, 2008.09.23].

Abortion bans don't stop abortion, any more than making it legal and safe increases it. Give women access to birth control and health care, create a healthy economy where women can get good jobs, and build a just society that protects women's rights, and abortion becomes a non-issue (as it should be, politically speaking).

McCain and Obama Health Care Plans: Some Readings

A curious reader asked over the weekend what I thought of the health care plans being proposed by our two main Presidential candidates.

My short answer: neither McCain nor Obama is proposing universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health coverage, so neither one is right.

But at the moment, wishing for Kucinich-Care is about as fruitful as Lady Rothschild whining that Clinton didn't win the primaries or the conservative faithful wishing McCain had picked Condoleezza Rice (or anyone who could enunciate a coherent policy position). So I thought I'd read up and find out what sort of health care plans McCain and Obama wold bring us.

First, the readings. Here are some resources I've found that you may find useful (readers, feel free to add to the bibliography):
The plans for coverage in a nutshell:

McCain: $5000 refundable tax credit for each family ($2500 for single folks) to help pay for health insurance. "Refundable" means that if you only owe $3000 in income tax, you not only don't pay it, but McCain still hands you the remaining $2000 to put toward health coverage. To pay for those handouts, McCain includes health benefits you receive from your employer to your taxable income. If your current salary calculates out to $40K of taxable income and your employer provides a health policy worth $12K, then under McCain you'll pay taxes on $52K.

Obama: Employers either provide health coverage or pay into a public plan that individuals can buy into. The public plan, open to all individuals, pools all participants for bargaining power and protects policyholders from being dropped. Obama pays for it "through the war dividend, allowing the high-end Bush tax cuts to sunset, and ... Medicare savings" [Bernstein].

Again, that's nutshell. If you want an exhaustive description, start with the bibliography above and keep reading.

Want results? The best summary comparison of the plans I've seen is the following graph from the Tax Policy Center (click for larger image):

What matters: right out of the gate, Obama's plan gets more people on health insurance and keeps them there. Obama doesn't insure everyone, but he reduces the number of uninsured by half (34 million with coverage by 2018 who wouldn't have it otherwise). McCain's plan makes an initial dent in the number of uninsured (1 million new folks with coverage in 2009, 5 million by 2013) but loses ground over the coming decade, until by 2018, we'd have as many uninsured Americans under McCain as we will if we stick with the status quo.

Given that the lack of health insurance has been linked to poorer health outcomes (including, my pro-life friends, at least 18,000 unnecessary deaths nationwide), getting more people covered is a reasonable priority. On that count, Obama's plan beats McCain's.

From the immediate pocketbook perspective, McCain's plan doesn't look too bad. That $5000 tax credit will more than offset the increased tax you'll pay on your health benefits unless your employer gives you a really high-end health policy. The subsidy would definitely help Erin and me pay for our non-group policy (and maybe even buy better coverage than our current $7500-deductible plan). But there are two problems:
  1. McCain's plan won't keep up with costs. He indexes the tax credit to inflation, but health premiums "have consistently risen more than three times faster than overall prices" [Bernstein]. The taxes on increasingly expensive employer benefits will overwhelm the McCain tax credit for more and more taxpayers, and more folks trying to buy their own coverage will find the subsidy isn't enough—that's part of why the uninsured go back up under McCain's plan.
  2. McCain's plan drives people off employer coverage and into the dog-eat-dog "non-group" market. In South Dakota alone, 23,000 to 57,000 workers would find their employers dropping coverage and leaving them to buy their own health insurance on the non-group market [Bivens and Gould]. "Non-group"—that's the individual plans you buy directly from an insurance agent. McCain thinks the free market will work better if more of us buy directly. Problem is, market forces also mean group plans have more leverage, while non-group policyholders are on their own:

    [T]his individual market is characterized by poor information about policies, discriminatory pricing, coverage exclusions, refusal to cover pre-existing conditions, and denials of policy renewal.... Even worse, other planks of the McCain plan actually call for removing many of the (already insufficient) consumer protections that currently exist [Bivens and Gould, p. 5].

    There's one more reason McCain's plan doesn't make a long-term dent in the number of the uninsured.
Obama's plan doesn't have me whooping for joy. Until we catch up with the rest of the civilized world and take care of each other with a single-payer, not-for-profit system, the amazing private insurance bureaucracy will continue to foul up health care with waste and inefficiency (not to mention yachts for CEOs instead of pre-natal care for moms). But given the choices on the table in this election, Obama's plan promises better results for more Americans.

Bailout Bust: Bad Medicine, But Necessary?

While Pat Powers breaks his shoehorn trying to fit yesterday's bailout blowout into his partisan worldview (sit down, Karl Rove: some people are actually trying to solve a problem), Ken Blanchard at South Dakota Politics offers a wonderfully non-partisan, sensible explanation of why the House voted no yesterday:

Why did it fail? The answer to that is simple: the United States is a Republic. One Congressman observed that the mail and calls coming in were a thousand to one against. When the Vox Populi is that loud and clear, it is very hard for our representatives to ignore it.

Why was the bill so unpopular with the Populi? The answer seems to be that it was widely perceived as an enormous expenditure of public money, which it probably wasn't, on behalf of a bunch of fat, greedy, money changers, which it was [Ken Blanchard, "Gray Monday," South Dakota Politics, 2008.09.29].

I'm still trying to figure out which is the greater courage: to face down the dire warnings of calamity and stand against bad legislation (we could've used more of that spirit seven years ago against the Patriot Act) or to vote for unpopular yet necessary legislation. (Readers, care to help me sort that out?)

Even in the face of great public opposition, Congress and the Administration may still need to bite the bullet and take serious action. As Blanchard notes, if there is a financial disaster brewing (and Wall Street, both Presidential candidates, and most of Congress are hollering that there is), it doesn't matter if we don't like the greedy scumbags who started it. Something's got to be done...

...although I am curious: how much longer can Washington delay before someone looks up and says, "Hey! We've waited a week/ten days/two weeks/a month, and the world hasn't ended yet"?

Bailout Shows Whacked Priorities: Write in Bono for President!

Talk about having your priorities straight:

It is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable treatable disease and hunger.

—Bono, addressing the Clinton Global Initiative summit, New York City, 2008.09.24

Not happy with McCain or Obama? Write in Bono for President!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lake Herman: Less Green, Low Bacteria!

"Less green, low bacteria!"—o.k., it doesn't make for the best slogan for promotional brochures for Lake Herman. But the latest update on the 2008 water monitoring project (PDF alert!), as well as visual and olfactory observations by my neighbors and me, points to better water quality on Lake Herman this year.

Charlie Stoneback, Fay Dimick, and I have been taking water samples on Lake Herman this year. So far, we've gotten nothing like some of the "hot" E. coli readings that we got in spring 2007. The highest E. coli reading we've obtained this year was 133 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters in June up at the mouth of the golf course creek on the north end of Lake Herman. No other sample site or date on Herman has come close, and half the time, we've found zero E. coli. The EPA pegs 235 cfu/100ml as the maximum allowable E. coli concentration for designated swimming beaches.

Our water clarity, as measured by "Secchi depth," hasn't been that great, averaging around 2 feet most of the season, but dropping to 0.7 feet in August. I came out of the lake with a lot of green on my waders in August. Still, the mild summer and lots of fresh rain input in June seemed to keep the really bad algae blooms down. The lake had its stinky spots, but rarely did we see the extensive walk-on-water fluourescent scum layers that often come with the dog days of summer.

We'll be out for another round of sampling in October. If you'd like to get involved, the East Dakota Water Development District has funding to support water monitoring next year, too, so give 'em a call, get your sample bags and Secchi disk, and come help do science next spring!

In a Crisis, We Are All Socialists

I hate the Seven Hundred Billion Dollar bailout plan (full text at Huffington Post). Rich guys screwed up, and now rich guys are getting $2300 from each of us so they can keep gambling on the stock market.

O.K., it's not that simple. I understand the Rube-Goldberg nature of our economy. Pension funds now depend on rising stock indices. Investors rely on $46 trillion of magic money in "credit default swaps" to buoy their confidence (I don't understand credit default swaps yet, but they're out there). The bankers and brokers are rich with real estate, but they need liquid assets to make loans so businesses can grow and hire more people so they can buy more stuff at Wal-Mart and keep the GDP from going negative.... Leave the banks all constipated with their illiquid assets (foreclosed real estate that buyers aren't snapping up quite as quickly as the bankers would like), and the economy might indeed creak to a halt.

But thirty years ago, when my dad's personal economy came creaking to a halt after his plant closed and a real estate deal went bad, the government didn't send him any liquid assets. Dad went on the road to find work and slept in his truck. If Pat Powers can't sell any houses this month, the government won't cut him a check for groceries. If some drunk idiot smashed into your car and puts you in the hospital, the government won't rush in to pay your bills; you're on your own.

Imagine this, though: imagine some virus threatened to put everybody in the hospital. Or suppose a hurricane put everybody out of work and home on the Eastern seaboard. Would we say, "You're on your own?" No. CDC, FEMA, the whole Leviathan would be mobilized to fight the crisis.

We would, in essence, socialize the risk, socialize the damage, socialize the effort to save the country from total disaster.

It doesn't even take a nationwide crisis to provoke us to our innate socialism. Ten years ago, a tornado wiped out Spencer, South Dakota, a town of 315 people. Now this is nothing personal (my uncle Howard lives there still), but from a cold economic perspective, Spencer could have been left a pile of rubble, and the state economy (not to mention the national economy) would hardly have noticed. Nonetheless, we didn't say to Spencer, "You're on your own." Republican Governor Bill Janklow raced to the scene in his SUV that night and started directing a massive socialized recovery operation. Janklow put state resources and hundreds of volunteers to work clearing debris and providing other assistance to Spencer residents. Folks didn't ask, "Who's paying for this?" or "Where's my cut?" South Dakotans just came together and solved the problem.

Capitalism is fine and dandy when the sun is shining, although it seems to excuse a great deal of indifference to individual failures. But when the deluge comes—and Bush, Paulson, Pelosi, and Boehner are saying the economic deluge is a-comin'—"you're on your own" just doesn't cut it. In a crisis, we are all socialists.

Update 09:10 CDT: The Economist on the bailout: "Unpleasant but essential."

Dennis Kucinich on the bailout: "I'm not just going to vote no, I'm going to vote hell no!" See Dennis's counterproposal, the Main Street Recovery Plan. Love ya, Dennis!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Obama's the Alpha Male; McCain Can't Lead...

Senator McCain has nothing left to offer his country but bluster. His performance on the Seven-Hundred-Billion-Dollar (that's still an obscene amount of money) bailout during his "suspended" campaign last week proves it. Read Jonathan Weisman's stunning account in the Washington Post of what really happened on Thursday at that infamous White House meeting:

After the cameras left the Cabinet room, Bush thanked everybody for their spirit of cooperation and said he knew it was not an easy vote. He knew elements still needed to be worked out and said he wanted to go around the table to hear people's views.

Pelosi said Obama would speak for the Democrats. Though later he would pepper Paulson with questions, according to a Republican in the room, his initial point was brief: "We've got to get something done."

Bush turned to McCain, who joked, "The longer I am around here, the more I respect seniority." McCain then turned to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to speak first.

Boehner was blunt. The plan Paulson laid out would not win the support of the vast majority of House Republicans. It had been improved on the edges, with an oversight board and caps on the compensation of participating executives. But it had to be changed at the core. He did not mention the insurance alternative, but Democrats did. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, pressed Boehner hard, asking him if he really intended to scrap the deal and start again.

No, Boehner replied, he just wanted his members to have a voice. Obama then jumped in to turn the question on his rival: "What do you think of the [insurance] plan, John?" he asked repeatedly. McCain did not answer.

A man putting country first would have led. He would have proposed a compromise. He would have offered to stay in that room and help hammer out a deal that could win more votes. McCain did none of that. He couldn't even answer Senator Obama's simple question about the plan House Republicans were proposing (a plan Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke had already considered and rejected because it wouldn't work).

Want to know why McCain didn't look at Obama during the debate Friday? There's your answer: Obama proved in that White House meeting, in front of the most powerful people in the country, that he could lead, and that McCain could hardly follow.

...And Neither Can Palin

Sorry to beat the dead pit bull, but people much smarter than I are declaring Sarah Palin unfit for the Vice-Presidency. The latest blast comes from Fareed Zakaria, a noted expert on foreign affairs and Newsweek columnist. I've generally seen him as a level-headed centrist... which makes it all the more surprising for me to hear him say, "Will someone please put Sarah Palin out of her agony?"

Zakaria points to this portion of Katie Couric's painful interview with Governor Sarah Palin:

Says Zakaria:

This is nonsense—a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head....

Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start....

In these times, for John McCain to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fundamentally irresponsible. McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, it is simply not true.

[Fareed Zakaria, "Palin Is Ready? Please." Newsweek, dated 2008.10.06]

My right-wing friends have surprised me before with their capacity to deny reality. But Palin's unfitness for the White House—and McCain's irresponsibility in choosing her for the White House—is becoming clear to Americans well beyond our cheery little left-wing blogospheric echo chamber.

For the good of his party and his country, Senator McCain needs to replace Governor Palin with someone who can do the job. Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Mike Huckabee...

...or he could just let things be, and let the Obama-Biden team handle saving the country, starting January 20.

Study Hard, Serve Your Country, Shoot for the Stars

In Friday's debate at Ole Miss, Senator Barack Obama mentioned the Chinese space program as one reason we need to invest more in science, technology, and education. Said Obama, "We've got to make sure that our children are keeping pace in math and in science. And one of the things I think we have to do is make sure that college is affordable for every young person in America."

So what's the big deal about a couple of Chinese guys poking their heads out of a space capsule, waving a plastic flag, and doing a couple Mr. Wizard experiments? Well, same thing that was a big deal about two American guys planting an American flag on the Moon. It's an adventure, an expression of human courage and dreams.

But for a more specific answer, watch this video of Chinese television coverage of the first Chinese spacewalk. Forward to timemark 7:30 and listen to the American commentator (he sounds like one of our veteran astronauts, but I can't place him yet):

Chinese commentator: This project... actually can inspire many youth to join in science and math. As I just watched the presidential debate... Obama said that China is catching up... the United States should educate, should inspire its children to be joining in math and science education more.

American commentator: This is a real problem in the United States right now. Many young people are reluctant to work hard enough to become scientists or engineers—

Chinese commentator: Because science is hard—

American commentator: —because science is hard and because getting a job in a service industry is easy. A lot of brainpower is being wasted because of that and because of the fixation simply on making money rather than contributing to the betterment of mankind.

Science is hard. It takes time. But I'm not quite ready to blame my generation and the one coming up for laziness. When you come out of college already $20K in the hole and need to buy your own health insurance, you don't feel like you have a lot of time to explore career options that might not pay off as quickly as a job in insurance or banking (although maybe the mortgage meltdown will change that).

Math, science, and engineering are hard (well, not for regular commenter Tony, but he's a mental machine! ;-) ). As a nation, we can encourage young people to pursue careers in those fields by supporting great endeavors like returning to the Moon (returning? heck—try colonizing!). We need to build respect and enthusiasm for science and learning to face the challenges of the future.

Gee, maybe having a President who sounds "professorial" is exactly what we need in the 21st century.

Bring on the professors, the eggheads, and the dreamers: they're the ones who'll get us to the stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Politicians Parade, Pitch Pops, Pencils, Platforms!

Madison's Main Street enjoyed its highest politico-population density rating of the year Saturday morning, as all sorts of candidates found their way to town for Dakota State University's "Trojan Days" homecoming parade (Trojans—you know, those bad dudes in the Iliad!).

Below are some photos of some local and visiting pols who marched Main Street. We had great marching bands, too—for video of the mighty Bulldog band plus musicians from Chester, Howard, and other area schools, see musical coverage at RealMadison.org.

Mom Power! Democratic District 8 Senate candidate Scott Parsley smiles and shows off his secret campaign weapon: his mother Mary! Behind them, Lake County Democratic Party chair Joan Stamm is also smiling, thanks to all the donations pouring into the Dems' cash box. (Look out, GOP—we're catching up!)

Democratic District 8 House veteran and candidate Gerry Lange has the Lake Herman blog vote locked down; can the rest of District 8 be far behind?

Here's Dan Bohl, city commissioner, new blogger, and candidate for Lake County Commissioner, making sure no child is left without high blood sugar. (Note also the cool Lego float by the Madison Community Hospital!)

Hotfoot GOP Senate candidate Joel Dykstra either ran out of candy or doesn't want to get caught in front of the new Lake County Democrat headquarters.

DSU Foundation President and Lake County Commission candidate Chris Giles—maybe at parades, we need to call them candy-dates...

Here's Colman-Egan English teacher Val Parsley, working the crowd for her husband Scott and few of our other favorite Dems. (And yes, kids, your homework is still due Monday morning.)

Matt McLarty, Democratic candidate for the Public Utilities Commission—when even the PUC candidate makes time for the parade, you know he's serious!

Mad about Madison— Democratic District 8 House candidate Mitch Fargen is having a great time at the parade (and he's going knocking on doors afterward!).

My favorite zoning officer, Deb Reinicke, isn't running for anything... She just looks really cool on that bike. You sure you want to make a fuss about that building permit, tough guy?

Republican District 8 House candidate Patricia Stricherz and her husband march the parade route. They're both Army—this Main Street march ain't nothin' for vets like them!

GOP District 8 Senate candidate Russell Olson stops by Dems HQ for some opposition research....

Hey! Jerry Johnson (GOP D-8 House candidate)! Toss some candy this way! (I know, I sound like a typical liberal, expecting treats from government... but those Tootsie Rolls are good!)

I know, it's not much better than that famous Roger Patterson film of Bigfoot, but really, off in the distance, that's the missing half of Chris Lien's face! (Inset: the Lien Machine!)

No politician here... but it's nice to see the automatic pilot from Airplane! has found a new career at East River.

Hey, there's Robb Graham's 160-mpg hybrid. (His mileage is improving!) But if you think that's impressive...

Now that's a hybrid! The engineer who came up with this idea should run for office! ;-)

Proud Dad Moment: Baby Loves Jazz

a shout-out of sorts to my friends at South Dakota Politics...

So we're watching South Dakota Public Broadcasting, and on comes No Cover No Minimum. The tremendous trumpets of NSU's Dominant 7 start to blow. Our two-year-old (don't ask what she's doing up at this hour) looks at the TV and says with her ceaseless wonder, "It's... jazz!"

Bless you, sweetie. Now off to bed.

Christianity's Worst Enemy? Christians Like These...

I like Christians (I'm married to one and raising another). I like guns. I also happen to like Barack Obama.

My defense of Barack Obama's defense of the Second Amendment (again, Obama is not coming to take your shotgun or shut down hunting in South Dakota, contrary to the lies of the National Rifle Association) brought lots of interesting comments from folks on both sides of the issue. I've received good comments online and by e-mail.

Alas, the article also brings me this unpleasant example of an apparent Christian couple who don't read their Bible much. I usually delete even asterisked versions of such language from the comments section, but I feel compelled to hold to the light this example of unthinking verbal thugs who can't even cling to their religion right. I quote verbatim, but my secular humanist values require that I asterisk out the foul language "Mark & Loni" use:

From: "Mark & Loni" mark_loni@msn.com
Subject: The Head Ni**** in Charge wannabe's support of the 2nd amendment
Date: 2008.09.26 19:57

You are a God D****d Mother F***ing liar. You deserve nothing less than to be brutally tortured to death, you despicable Nazi b*****d. You will burn in hell for eternity, because that is God's will.
F** you, a******!

Again, for the record, I have no problem with Christianity. I do have a problem with professed Christians who make Christianity look really, really bad.

Mark & Loni obviously won't listen to me. But if you are a Christian, you might want to contact Mark & Loni and let them know that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we really shouldn't use such language about our "enemies." Maybe we shouldn't even think of our fellow beings as "enemies." Such language doesn't do the cause any favors. (You might also want to ask why, if they think they are speaking in the name of the Lord, they are still ashamed to put their full names to what they say.)

But hey, keep those cards and letters coming! We'll get some civil discourse out of this yet.

Update 09:10 CDT: mark_loni@msn.com also isn't doing much for SAE's image. A quick Google search finds the e-mail address listed alongside this entry in the March 2008 Charlotte Sigma Alpha Epsilon Alumni Directory:

Mark J. Feit
Class [a term used lightly] of 1974
VAKA Chapter of SAE, William & Mary
Valencia, CA
(661) 255-2147

mark_loni@msn.com also posts on a forum called WarRifles.com. I'd sign in to learn more about mark_loni's views, but the site warns, "Jerks, Whack Jobs or Godless Men - Don't Bother Joining This Site." Far be it from me to argue my credentials with those folks.

Manta.com offers a little business information:

Mark J Feit
24028 Gamble House Ct, Santa Clarita, CA 91355-3333, United States Map)
Phone:(661) 255-2147
SIC: Business Consulting Services, NEC
Line of Business: Business Consulting Services

I wonder how good racism is for business in the greater Los Angeles area?

According to OpenSecrets.org, Mr. Feit gave $300 to the National Rifle Association in 2007.

Of course, who knows if Mark J. Feit actually sent the above e-mail. Maybe it was a hacker. Maybe it was his wife Loni. We'll see....

Update 16:34 CDT: There is a Mark Feit who appears to have been a Farmers Insurance agent in Valencia, CA. However, Farmers Insurance does not list Mark Feit as an active agent, only Robert Feit just down the road in Granada Hills.

Loni Feit is listed in various places online as the director of purchasing at the Los Angeles office of New World Travel.

Update 2008.09.28 16:58 CDT: Joseph Thompson asked about "accountability." For what it's worth, and for the record, here's my reply to the above e-mail, sent this afternoon:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Feit:

Yesterday morning I received an e-mail from your address referring to me as a "God D****d Mother F***ing liar" etc. To permit such language and wishes for violent harm to be sent from your e-mail address is poor judgment. To compose and send it yourself, if that is the case, is bigoted, thoughtless behavior that makes you and your professed faith look bad.

If one or both of you composed said e-mail, your fellow citizens have a right to know when members of their commnunity hold such dangerous and uncivil views. I have thus created a blog post to make your e-mail part of the public record. Now, when anyone Googles "mark_loni@msn.com", "Mark J Feit" or "Loni Feit," your e-mail to me will appear as one of the top ten records available for everyone to read. Enjoy.

If neither of you composed the e-mail sent from your e-mail address, do clarify. Otherwise, no reply is necessary; I find even this minimal contact with small-minded people like the writers of the original e-mail to be unpleasant and unproductive.

Cory Allen Heidelberger
Madville Times

While I find this incident unpleasant, I will keep you updated on any reply.

Another Conservative Says Palin Unfit for Presidency

It just keeps getting worse for Governor Sarah Palin. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll this week finds 49% of respondents think Gov. Palin is not qualified to be President. 40% think she is qualified. (Same question on Joe Biden: 64% say he's qualified, 21% say he's not.)

And now another well-known conservative columnist, Kathleen Parker, has declared Palin unfit for the Presidency:

Finally, Palin’s narrative is fun, inspiring and all-American in that frontier way we seem to admire. When Palin first emerged as John McCain’s running mate, I confess I was delighted. She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood — a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.

Palin didn’t make a mess cracking the glass ceiling. She simply glided through it.

It was fun while it lasted.

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

[Kathleen Parker, "Palin Should Step Down—for Our Country," syndicated, retrieved from Whittier Daily News, 2008.09.26.]

Parker finds Palin's statements in her interviews as empty as I found them. Filibusters, deadwood, bluster... those are Parker's words, and Parker wants McCain to win.

And because she wants Palin to win, Parker makes this recommendation:

Only Palin can save McCain, her party and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

[Parker, 2008.09.26.]

No liberal spin here. Parker wanted to believe that Palin could prove herself. "Groundbreaking," Parker called Palin's candidacy. Palin's convention speech, said Parker, "showed... strength, conviction, determination, confidence, a willingness to rumble and fearlessness. No caribou caught in the headlights, she." [see Kathleen Parker, "Palin's Palliative," syndicated, from RealClearPolitics.com, 2008.09.05]

But now, as the headlights have stayed on, Parker has seen that initial image replaced with an absence of substance that could wreck the Republicans' chances of keeping the White House.

The McCain-* ticket may have energized one portion of the base, but it's losing another. Parker, George Will, David Brooks, David Frum... how many other leading apologists for the Republican Party will find they can no longer keep a straight face while supporting their presidential ticket?

District 8 Candidate Videos from South Dakota Public Broadcasting Online!

Hooray for South Dakota Public Broadcasting! They have added the District 8 candidate videos to their Election '08 archive. SDPB invited every State House and Senate candidate to the studio this summer to tape a brief statement to the voters. The U.S. House and Senate candidates also got invites.

SDPB is playing the videos Friday nights at 9:30. But just in case your football game runs long and you miss you favorite candidates, SDPB is also putting the videos online.

As a special treat for the home crowd, below you can watch all five District 8 candidate videos. Wait—five? We've got Scott Parsley, Russell Olson, Gerry Lange, Mitch Fargen, Jerry Johnson... where's Patricia Stricherz? Didn't my favorite new Republican of the year find a moment to get down to Vermillion for two minutes of free TV air time? That may not bode well for the campaign.

Scott Parsley:

Russell Olson:

Gerry Lange:

Mitch Fargen:

Jerry Johnson:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Economist: South Dakota Pays Teachers Enough

University of Rochester economist Michael Wolkoff tells Judge Wilbur and all interested parties in the school funding lawsuit that South Dakota is paying its teachers enough to keep the schools staffed with good professionals.

Now I could say we don't need some egghead elitist telling us what South Dakota schools need. But I would also have a personality meltdown if I took that line. Professor Wolkoff cites a fact I myself cited yesterday (and which my commenters frequently cite as well): all of South Dakota's wages are in the tank. Wolkoff concludes therefore that in-state market forces won't pull good teachers away from teaching.

Wolkoff also addresses out-of-state wage competition: he finds that 91% of teachers stay in teaching in state from year to year (87% stay at their current school; 4% take a job at another SD school district). Only 9% either leave to teach in another state or quit teaching all together.

I'm not an expert on these numbers, but they compare fairly well with the "quits" rate for education nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells me that the annual voluntary turnover rate in "educational services" was 11.5% in 2007, and has ranged between 10.9% and 12.5% this decade. Compare that to the annual quits rate in financial activities (18.5%), health care and social assistance (18.8%), or retail (no annual average given, but the monthly rates add up to well over 25%).

I've said we have to focus on offering teachers wages that compete with the offers they can get across the border. Wolkoff's numbers say that even if we haven't been competitive with Minnesota and Wyoming, we've still been able to fill all of our positions.

Now before I decide I've been wrong for all these years arguing that we need to pay teachers more, let's look at the weaknesses in Professor Wolkoff's testimony:
  • Wolkoff admits he hasn't spoken to any administrators in South Dakota. He says we can't let anecdotal evidence skew our view of the big picture.
  • Wolkoff also doesn't look ahead: Do we have enough applicants to fill the coming retirement boom? Do we have enough aspiring teachers in-state to fill those positions, or will we need to import talent from out of state?
Wolkoff is testifying to support Pierre's head-in-the-sand approach. Maybe Wolkoff should have talked to a few more local officials. The administrators and school boards who can more directly observe what's happening on the ground in education seem to believe the system does need more funding. The local administrators are the ones having to gamble on picks from smaller applicant pools. The Madison and Watertown school boards both felt compelled to offer significant pay boosts this year to attract and retain talent. And remember: while South Dakota's local districts rank 24th in the nation in their provision of per-student revenue for education, Pierre remains in a very stingy 50th place.

Pierre doesn't think schools need more money. The folks making education happen every day seem to think otherwise.

City Commissioner Dan Bohl to Blog Local Government!

Madison City Commissioner Dan Bohl has taken up some civic blogging. Actually, Dan tells me he's been active for some time on various sports blogs, so he's familiar with the rough-and-tumble world of online commentary. Now he's ready to start blogging about city government. His first post on RealMadison.org discusses why he cast the sole vote in favor of changing the city electric bill Step-Up program from opt-in to opt-out. Commissioner Bohl says he was voting in alignment with the majority will expressed on the city's online poll and in the numerous comments from voters he talked with.

Interestingly, Commissioners Ericsson and Delzer were able to offer the same justification for their vote against changing the program. (Delzer said in Tuesday's MDL that two thirds of the people he talked to opposed the change; Ericsson said everyone he talked to opposed it.)

But hey, we have a real live city commissioner online! Yahoo! Talk about being "In Touch with the World!" (Oops, sorry—that's the old city slogan.) Head on over to RealMadison.org, leave Commissioner Bohl a comment, and make civic conversation blossom!

Now, let's see if we can get a school board member to start blogging....

House GOP (and McCain?): Let's Try More Deregulation!

As Governor Palin continues her unrelenting search for more examples to bring to Katie Couric of Senator McCain supporting stricter regulation (maybe she'll find Nicole's real killer while she's at it), she can skip the House Republicans' bailout alternative. Her boss mentioned it yesterday at the big White House meeting; Secretary Paulson said directly that it won't work; the House GOP are still fighting for it.

And what does that GOP alternative ask for?

Before the Thursday-afternoon White House gathering, Bush aides were trying to rally support in anticipation of a close series of votes. But congressional Republicans were ginning up an alternative plan that would allow banks to purchase insurance for mortgage-based assets.

In a morning meeting with Sen. McCain, the group proposed charging premiums to companies that hold mortgage-backed securities and using that money to create an insurance fund for these products. The House Republican proposal would also remove regulatory and other barriers that they say block private investors from pumping capital into ailing financial institutions [emphasis mine; Greg Hitt, Damian Paletta, & Deborah Solomon, "Bush Promises Bailout Will Pass," Wall Street Journal, 2008.09.26].

Talk about fighting fire with fire.

McCain Stops Bailout: My Hero?

40% of me wants to cheer for John McCain this morning. I'm still not convinced that the federal government needs to hand $700 billion to banks that made bad decisions. On the surface, it would appear that by declaring a faux suspension of his campaign, sitting silently through most of the White House meeting yesterday, and voicing only vague doubts at the end, McCain has thrown a monkey wrench in the great socialist works. Ah, the drama! the intrigue!

That's where the other 60% of me gets suspicious, of myself and of Senator McCain. I've spoken before of my love for great political theater... but as I get older, I'm realizing that my desire for great spectacle and surprise is great for directing plays but not so apt for sound government. Sure, a leader needs to make bold decisions and bring big ideas to the table. But citizens, the markets, and diplomacy also require a steady hand at the executive tiller. And over the past month, Senator McCain has shown increasingly erratic leadership, throwing everything—schedules, caution, reason, principles—to the wind in a desperate pursuit of personal political gain.

Let me try to live in Senator McCain's head for a moment. I'm not convinced (nor are those economists I mentioned yesterday) that a federal solution is necessary, but Senator McCain talks like he is. Senator McCain apparently believes that a solution is needed, and fast (McCain, Monday: "Congress must act and must act quickly"). Yet whatever the senator did in Washington yesterday, he does not appear to have made much effort to actively participate in crafting a workable solution. He's not even the leader of the revolt: it's House Republicans bolting from their President and offering an alternative insurance plan, while McCain follows along for reasons that don't square with his words about urgency (not to mention putting country first).

The more I watch, the more I see McCain playing Hamlet, acting melodramatic if not plain crazy to keep his enemies off guard, and driving the whole Danish crown to ruin (and into the hands of his opponent Fortinbras). Or maybe the more apt metaphor is old King Lear. My fellow English teachers, knock yourselves out with that one.

Senator McCain is showing a declining capacity for coherent political leadership and action. All he has left appears to be scheming and surprise. That's another reason why, contrary to my own theatrical inclinations, I'll find myself voting for someone known as "No Drama" Obama.

Blog Readers More Polarized Than General Public

The latest Madville Times poll has concluded, with a result that surprises me a little. I asked readers to take a look at the candidates for all the offices on their ballot—President, U.S. Senate and House, state legislature, PUC, and whatever local offices may be up for grabs (here in Lake County, that's just county commission). The results:It's a small sample, but the distribution of votes surprises me. Typical voting patterns and the American tendency toward split government would have led me to expect more folks in the middle rather than straight-ticket voters. But there they (you!) are, strict GOP and Dem partisans alike outnumbering the leaners and even-splitters.

Of course, it could just be that the real Independents out there don't bother reading all this nuttiness in the blogosphere.

Either way, thanks for your votes! There'll be more to come as the election approaches!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Drill Here, Drill Now... for South Dakota Wind Power!

Drill here, drill now? South Dakota's already on top of that. We're drilling all sorts of holes... for new wind turbines! The Tatanka Wind Farm was dedicated yesterday: it has 120 turbines straddling the North Dakota–South Dakota border in Dickey and McPherson counties.

And here's Scott Parsley Monday at Sanborn Central over by Forestburg, speaking at the groundbreaking of that school's new wind turbine, one of eight around the state sponsored by the Wind for Schools project.

Drill, baby, drill, indeed! And then stick a wind turbine in it, for clean power South Dakota can use now and never run out of!

South Dakota: Low Taxes, Low Wages, Low Business Ranking

The South Dakota Republican Party is not getting its money's worth from its paid online propagandists. Republican Tide, the official state GOP blog, touts the fact that South Dakota has the lowest individual state tax burden in the nation (click image to enlarge):Now we don't have a state income tax, but a large part of that ranking may come from the fact that the working man doesn't have much wealth to tax in the first place. South Dakota also ranks 51st in the nation for wages1:
Break it down this way2: when a South Dakotan gets done paying Pierre, the average wages left in his pocket would be $28,373. His neighbor in Minnesota pays St. Paul and has $37,907 left.

Ah, but surely our low state taxes make us a better place to do business than those socialist republics on our borders, right? Well, according to the most recent rankings from Forbes.com:
...we're better than Wyoming, and we beat Montana, barely. Yay.

Side note: Forbes.com ranks our state regulatory climate 46th, worse than California's. So much for Governor Rounds's red carpet for business.

The South Dakota Republican Party continues to think that all they have to do to lure businesses to our state is chant "Low Taxes" over and over. But when our wages are the lowest in the nation, workers don't rush to move here. When we lack workers (see our low unemployment figures), businesses don't see opportunity for growth. Paying low taxes doesn't matter nearly as much as the opportunity to grow and make a tub of money that will help you afford whatever the taxes are (and enjoy better schools and roads to boot).
1. Sorry, 2006 wage figures were the most recent I could find, even from the U.S. Department of Labor. Readers, if you can find newer numbers, do submit them!
2. Yes, I'm mixing years. Again, I invite you to do better.

Economists Urge Caution, Highlight Three Pitfalls of Bailout

Don't worry, Stan: I was kidding... sort of!

Tony points us to an NYTimes Freakonomics post on an "emerging consensus" view among economists that the $700-billion mortgage bailout is at least dangerous, if not unnecessary. To understand why, see this new open letter to Congress from almost 200 (as of this a.m.) economists of all political stripes who see three big pitfalls to the bailout:

1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

"Illiquid and opaque assets"—sounds like something warranting a call to the Lake Herman Sanitary District, not the Treasury Department.

You want to spend $700 billion helping bankers flush their bad assets? Oh my.

Couric Interviews Palin -- "Better Answers in Novice Extemp"

My wife watched Katie Couric's CBS interview with Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin last night (YouTube, transcript). My wife's assessment: "I've heard better answers judging a novice extemp round."

Novice extemp: a speech contest event in which ninth- and tenth-graders in often askew neckties have thirty minutes to prepare 4–6-minute speeches in response to randomly drawn domestic and foreign policy questions.

Why was Sarah Palin's performance so painful to watch? Palin repeats the same line, almost word for word, about Rick Davis "recusing himself from the dealings." Palin says things that don't make sense, like "I'm all about the position that America is in and that we have to look at a $700 billion bailout unless this nearly trillion dollar bailout is what it may end up to be, unless there are amendments in Paulson's proposal, really I don't believe that Americans are going to support this1." When asked why she would say Americans are waiting to see what McCain will do on the bailout and not Obama, Palin recites what she likes and what she hopes Americans believe about John McCain, not evidence of expressed public opinion. Palin can't articulate a single policy detail she would recommend for the mortgage bailout, although she's sure it needs to be a "multifaceted" and "comprehensive, long-term solution." Asked for examples of McCain's calling for stricter financial sector regulations aside from his 2006 call for more regs on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Palin dodges three times before her pathetic promise to "try to find ya some" and "bring 'em to ya."

It's not even funny anymore. It's not accurate to refer to the "McCain-Palin" ticket; it's nothing but McCain. Sarah Palin brings nothing substantive to the McCain campaign. She offers no clear policy vision. Even after four weeks, she can't elaborate on a single answer beyond her assigned and drilled talking points. Her understanding of world affairs sounds no deeper than a summary of the conservative talk radio commentary she perhaps hears on the radio in her motorcade on the way through Manhattan to the studio. She doesn't even understand her running mate's legislative history. She brings nothing but looks and fundagelicals to the McCain campaign.

Is that sexist? Anti-religionist? Just partisan? Believe what you want. But this isn't a beauty pageant (that was the '80s, Sarah): you're applying to be second-in-command of the free world. I expect a vice-president to be able to offer intelligent, direct answers with occasional factual support and policy detail. Evasive, uninformed answers like what Palin gave Couric wouldn't get her hired at McDonalds.

I seem to recall Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau regularly drawing George H.W. Bush as nothing, a blank spot in the cartoon panel with word bubbles popping out of thin air.

Word bubbles out of thin air—I can offer no more apt description of all Sarah Palin brings to the McCain campaign.

Update 11:07 CDT: But let's balance the partisan hackery of the Madville Times with a more sensible voice from the right, reporter Philip Klein of the conservative magazine American Spectator:

On second thought, maybe it's a good thing that the McCain campaign is shielding Palin from the media. Her interview with Katie Couric was absolutely painful to watch. She clearly stumbled twice -- when asked how McCain has fought to reform Wall Street and about Rick Davis's ties to Freddie Mac. Her answer that not supporting a bailout could mean a Great Depression was off message and irresponsible. For the rest of the interview, it was just lots of tired cliches, and random jargon that made it seem as if she was reading off of mental index cards. I know a lot of conservatives like Sarah Palin and always rush to her defense. But it's absolutely not meant as an insult to say that she simply is not ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency [emphasis mine; Philip Klein, "Palin's Silence," American Spectator blog, 2008.09.25].

Count on the Madville Times for more of the best of the
conservative media....

1. Update 2008.09.26 07:17: As some readers point out, Palin sounds like she says "ill," not "all." Whenever possible, I take quotes from written transcripts rather than audio/video. CBS's own transcript continues to list the word as
all. I guess I should watch more TV....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Palin Convinces Me...

Hey, cut me some slack: I haven't mentioned Sarah Palin since Saturday!

CBS's Katie Couric asked Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin whether there could be another Great Depression if Congress doesn't approve the $700 billion bailout plan. Gov. Palin's response:

Unfortunately, that is the road that America may find itself on. Not necessarily this as it's been proposed has to pass or we're gonna find ourselves in another Great Depression. But there has got to be action taken, bipartisan effort -- Congress not pointing fingers at this point at-- at one another but-- finding the solution to this -- taking action, and being serious about the reforms on Wall Street that are needed. [Governor Sarah Palin, 2008.09.24]

Ooh, ya, maybe it's comin'....

O.K., I had my doubts, but now I'm convinced. There's no Depression coming. There's no crisis. Congress could go home now, let the banks take a bath on mortgages, and we'll still be better off than if we saddle our kids with $700 billion of debt to bailout people who weren't ready to move up from Monopoly money.

Get Out the Chicken Suit! McCain Asks to Postpone Friday Debate!

I just heard it on NPR's Talk of the Nation, and Greta Van Susteren says so, too: John McCain has asked to postpone the Presidential debate scheduled for Friday evening at Ole Miss!

What, don't tell me McCain needs more prep time. Sure, there's a lot going on with the bailout package before Congress, but the world is always busy when you're running for President. Suspend the campaign to work on the bailout? President Bush managed the war on terror without suspending his 2004 presidential campaign.

Or could it be McCain is getting nervous about going toe-to-toe with a resurging Obama? Sounds to me like McCain wants to stop someone's momentum....

You have a job interview with the American people Friday night, Senator McCain. We expect you and Senator Obama to show. Let's rumble!

Obama Respects Second Amendment; NRA Keeps Lying

The National Rifle Association just won itself a Pants on Fire rating from PolitiFact.com for its claim that Barack Obama would ban the use of firearms for home defense. Senator Obama proposes no such plan and has never voted for any such plan. PolitiFact explains the truth well; here's a highlight:

...Here's Obama speaking at a forum sponsored by WJLA-ABC7 and Politico.com on Feb. 12, 2008: "I think we have two conflicting traditions in this country. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally. And a lot of people — law-abiding citizens use it for hunting, for sportsmanship, and for protecting their families (emphasis added). We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage…We can have reasonable, thoughtful gun control measures that I think respect the Second Amendment and people’s traditions.”

That doesn't sound to us like someone planning to "ban use of firearms for home defense." Quite the opposite, actually [PolitiFact.com, downloaded 2008.09.23].

Not that this will stop the NRA from continuing its lies. But I find myself increasingly annoyed at how much influence the NRA wields purely by lies and fear-mongering and not any rational proposal to solve the major problems facing this country.

Just what solutions has the NRA proposed or implemented to make life better for all Americans? What good has the NRA done, ever? All those pistols in your drawers and assault rifles in your closet: How well have they helped you keep your job? How much more food do those guns put on your table (and please itemize the full cost per meal, including ammunition, maintenance, and person-hours tromping through slough and shelterbelt)? How well have those guns helped you refinance your mortgage? Find affordable health insurance? Get your kids through college? Fight corporate greed and reform Washington?

In my younger days, I might have been persuaded that we need our guns so we can keep our government scared that a well-armed citizen militia might rise up to challenge any attempt at tyranny. But that's bunk: even if there are brave NRA members with great stockpiles of heavy weaponry in their bunkers, ready to play Minuteman, I haven't seen them lock and load and march on Washington over anything. The thought of Gooney McBuckshot oilin' up his AK-47 in the barn hasn't stopped President Bush from asking for $700 billion for his Secretary to play mortgage czar.

Senator Barack Obama offers plans to fix the economy, create green jobs, get America off foreign oil, give tax breaks to 95% of Americans, make health care more affordable, and tackle a bunch of other pressing problems, and the NRA spreads lies because they're afraid they won't get to shoot as many tin cans with their toys.

The NRA lies, and they miss the big picture. Guns offer no solutions to the real problems this country faces. A good economic plan will stop a lot more crime than Granny on the front porch with a machine gun.

No one's coming to take our guns, not Barack Obama, not Tim Johnson, not anyone asking for your vote. So put your rifle back on the shelf—or the locked cabinet—where it belongs, and let's focus on how we're going to solve the real problems of the economy, energy, and health care.

Tar Sands: Big Oil's Subprime Lending Collapse in the Works?

An eager reader recommends this article from the UK Guardian which highlights a new report that claims tar sands could turn to financial quicksand for Big Oil.

To review: tar sands are basically a mix of sand or clay, water, and really heavy oil called bitumen. It's hard to extract: instead of just punching a hole in the ground and drinking the milkshake, you have to use all sorts of steam, filters, chemicals, and whatnot just to separate the bitumen before it can be refined into usable fuel. All that extra work means extra expense. Extracting that "unconventional" oil from the muck only became profitable recently as conventional oil prices shot up.

We have tar sands in Utah; the Canadians have the mother lode in Alberta. That's the stuff TransCanada hopes to be pumping through our fair state in a couple years (and probably the stuff Hyperion hopes to be refining in Union County).

But now some market analysts worry that BP and Shell, the biggest backers of tar sands development, may be risking financial disaster by investing in the petro-equivalent of subprime loans, a risky investment that ignores market fundamentals:

Mark Hoskin, senior partner at the ethical investment advisers Holden & Partners, expressed concern about the increasing focus on tar sands at a time when oil companies are being shut out of traditional drilling areas such as Russia and Venezuela.

"The recent banking crisis has shown how the financial markets can totally misjudge both the risks and values inherent in company balance sheets," he said. "Oil companies depend on oil reserves for their market values. BP and Shell are two of our most trusted UK stocks, but it is a shocking fact that 30% of Shell's oil reserves are in tar sands.

"This report unveils how dangerous this approach is. There is a good chance that tar sands could be to the oil industry what sub-prime lending was to the banking sector" [Terry Macalister, "Tar Sands: The New Toxic Investment," Guardian UK, 2008.09.17, p. 27].

Greenpeace and Platform, co-sponsors of the report, cite four big factors that could negate the profitability of tar sands development:
  1. Low carbon fuel standards under consideration by US presidential candidate Barack Obama and already implemented in California threaten to close sections of the American market to products derived from tar.
  2. Acute labour shortages and the rising cost of delivering gas to the tar sands threaten to stifle the planned expansion of the sector.
  3. An unrealistic reliance on untested carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology risks leaving the companies with huge stranded assets in the future, as international climate change regulations are strengthened at Copenhagen next year.
  4. The extensive clean up operation and potential future litigation from local communities carry significant brand risk.
I suspect Big Oil won't be persuaded directly. The analogy to subprime lending feels tenuous. I get the feeling, though, that Greenpeace is trying a different tactic: instead of fighting directly with the industry, they are working on the investors, the fickle stock market speculators who are much more susceptible to whim and worry. By making even a metaphorical link between the great fiscal demon of the moment, subprime lending, to what some consider the greatest environmental demon of the decade, tar sands opponents hope to frighten some capital away from Big Oil.

No one said an argument has to be rational for the strategy to be effective. (Just ask the McCain campaign.)

John Sweet Blogs!

Today's RealMadison.org feature!

Can my world get any more topsy-turvy? Last November, I suggested that the Madison Central School District might engage parents, students, and the general public more effectively by starting a blog. A surprise visit to the comment section reveals that one Madison superintendent may have been listening... just not the current one. John Sweet is blogging! Dr. John Sweet, former Madison Central superintendent and not the most... garrulous fellow, is posting his thoughts online from his chair as chief executive officer of Delano Public Schools in Minnesota.

Madison folks may recognize some irony in Dr. Sweet's becoming a mogul of online interactivity (he has a podcast, too!), not to mention my favorable mention thereof. But there it is: Dr. John Sweet has a heck of an idea that our own Superintendent Vince Schaefer should jump on!

More commentary at RealMadison.org!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

$700 Billion, Just to Stop a Recession?

Ben, is that the best you can do?

When the President asks for Seven Hundred Billion Dollars, more money than we'll spend in the next two years (by this estimate) on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more money than we've spent in 50 years on space exploration, I expect the reason to be impending economic catastrophe.

And what does Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke say will happen if we don't pass the bailout?


What? Recession? No depression? No collapse of the Republic? Dogs and cats sleeping together? Mass hysteria?

As my old-school friends in the debate-judging world would say, if you want us to vote for that plan, you've got put death on the flow. And Bernanke ain't doin' that for me, not against the disads Democrats and Republicans are throwing at Team Bush-Paulson:

Senator [Chris] Dodd [D-CT] called the Treasury proposal “stunning and unprecedented in its scope and lack of detail.”

Asserting that the plan would allow Mr. Paulson to act with “absolute impunity,” Senator Dodd said, “After reading this proposal, I can only conclude that it is not only our economy that is at risk, Mr. Secretary, but our Constitution, as well.”

Another expression of disgust came from Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, who said the plan would “take Wall Street’s pain and spread it to the taxpayers.”

“It’s financial socialism, and it’s un-American,” Mr. Bunning said.

Congress is going to do something, but it won't be Bush's plan. And unless Team Bush can put a bigger threat than recession on the table, it shouldn't be. Scale it down, keep your heads... and try to leave some money for our kids.

Update 16:53 CDT: Even Herbert Hoover didn't throw as big a freakout as Bush:

In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, the government created the Reconstruction Finance Corp. to make loans to banks, railroads and others. President Hoover asked for $2 billion—equivalent in today's money to $30 billion—and spent just under that amount in the RFC's first year. The country then was in the midst of an economic catastrophe. Economic output had dropped 45 percent. Production of steel and autos were each down by three-quarters. Unemployment was 24 percent, and so on.

The allocation sought by Paulson is 23 times bigger. And it is in addition to the tens of billions pledged to back loans to Bear Stearns, Fannie, Freddie and A.I.G. [Roger Lowenstein, "The Wrong Emergency," The New Republic online, 2008.09.23]

Update 17:22: But quit listening to me: check out this very detailed dissection of the Bush-Paulson plan at Naked Capitalism. Excellent explanation of what's wrong with this picture, including one unnamed source who claims to have heard Sec. Paulson tell the House Democratic Leadership that Treasury plans to pay above market rates for the mortgages banks can't unload.

Madville Times Poll: Are You Voting Republican, Democrat, or Split Ticket?

Hey, check out my new poll in the right sidebar, right below the "Latest Comments"!

I'm curious how my readers are voting with respect to party come November. Take out your ballot (Secretary Chris Nelson can give you a copy in ten seconds online), look at all the candidates (we'll get to the initiatives later). Look at every office: President, U.S. Senate and House, PUC, state legislature, and whatever fun local offices you may have to vote on. If you were to vote today (and remember, you can by absentee ballot!), would you make your mark next to all Republicans? All Democrats? A mix? Or would you mark as many third-party candidates as you have available? I'm curious—let me know in the poll... and let me know your reasoning here in the comments!

McCain: Mayors, Governors Lack Leadership, National Security Experience

Senator McCain's people had fun last month running a campaign ad showing Senator Joe Biden at an August 2007 debate saying "I think that I stand by the statement" that he made previously during his own Presidential campaign that Obama wasn't ready to be President.

Fine, fine. Biden has changed his mind since August 2007.

Evidently he's not the only one who said things during the primary season that he couldn't possibly believe are true now....

The fact is, I'm running on my record as a reliable conservative of 24 years. And the indicators of that, obviously, is that I've fought wasteful spending, I have had a strong and a long relationship on national security, I've been involved in every national crisis that this nation has faced since Beirut, I understand the issues, I understand and appreciate the enormity of the challenge we face from radical Islamic extremism.

I am prepared. I am prepared. I need no on-the-job training.

I wasn't a mayor for a short period of time. I wasn't a governor for a short period of time. For 20-some years, including leading the largest squadron in the United States Navy, I led. I didn't manage for profit, I led for patriotism. [Senator John McCain, Republican debate, Orlando FL, broadcast by Fox News, 2007.10.21]

Historical note: Senator McCain was responding to a question comparing himself and Mitt Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts, population 6.5 million, for four years. He spoke immediately after Rudy Giuliani, who served as mayor of New York City, population 8.3 million, for eight years.

Far be it from me to hold a guy too hard to things he said to win the primaries. Heck, when McCain made the above statement, I was planning to vote for Dennis Kucinich again. My guy dropped out; so did Biden's. We both looked at who was left and said, "Obama's our best choice." Things change.

McCain needed to beat candidates with more buzz and bucks. He attacked their strengths and tried to make them look like weaknesses. And now, with a running mate whom his campaign admits will be getting four years of on-the-job training in national security...

...Boy—sometimes things really change.

George Will: Obama More Rational Choice Than McCain?

"The queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said without even looking around."

-- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

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

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated.

I wish I'd come up with that. It certainly fits what I've been saying about the GOP taking us through the looking glass.

But I didn't. I learned about the above statement in that dastardly Huffington Post, but it comes originally from well-known conservative columnist George Will in the Washington Post (which takes forever to load on my computer, so click at your own peril). Calling Senator McCain's call for Cox's head a "childish reflex," Will worries a McCain presidency would operate just like his campaign, more on "vehemence that coherence," on polarizing antagonism, and, most worryingly to Will, on impulse rather than sound judgment:

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

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed? [George F. Will, "McCain Loses His Head," Washington Post, 2008.09.23, p. A21]

I think I could spend the rest of the campaign reading nothing but conservative press, and I could still produce a coherent argument for why Senator Barack Obama really is the best choice to be our next President.