Monday, September 29, 2008

Mohonk market message

The financial crisis looks a little different from the mountains. We are at Mohonk Mountain House, where we got married a year ago today. Mohonk was founded in 1869, which means it survived in its earliest years the Panic of 1873 and then multiple other financial crises, including the Panic of 1907 and, of course, the Great Depression itself. The lesson I perceive is that institutions with dedicated people and sound practices can endure most anything that occurs in the financial world. Quality wins out over time.

UPDATE: And this is a good place to store the link to a certain video.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Palin debate

The Palin panic on the right is spreading. Maybe it's just the contrarian in me, but I think it's overblown. I think we're back to where we were in the run-up to her convention speech: If she does well in the debate Thursday, she becomes a valuable asset to the campaign once again. If she does poorly on Thursday, that will be a different story. I expect her to do well, but we'll see.

UPDATE A FEW YEARS LATER: Man, was I wrong. Panic!

In hock

The Economist has an appalling chart on "U.S. total debt as % of GDP." That includes government, corporate and household debt. One hopes the current crisis causes some lasting debt-aversion, much like Germany is tough on inflation because of its 1920s experience.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Belated post-debate notes

Speaking as someone who debates now and then, I think there is much to be said for not being too highly prepped with a bunch of canned statements and ready-to-go one-liners. Improvisation is valuable, though of course it requires that you know what you're talking about, which McCain clearly does on foreign policy, and hence his fairly strong showing last night. On economics, Obama was more polished, though his effort to lay the financial crisis at the feet of Republican deregulation is, to say the least, not the fullest picture of what actually happened.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Investment classics

My article on "The Investment Classics" is now up at Research magazine's website. In particular, it's about the works of Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, strategists of value investing, and Philip Fisher, maven of growth investing. Their basically conservative ideas influenced many investors, notably including Warren Buffett. Taking shape in part in the Great Depression, they are a good antidote to financial recklessness, and are quite relevant today.

Pro-bailout barely

Greg Mankiw joins the ranks of economists with misgivings who ultimately are willing to support the bailout. It may not be a great rallying slogan, but it strikes me as a reasonable position. My own blog posts below evince a similar ambivalence and conclusion.

Presidential intelligence

"How smart should a president be?" It's interesting to see it charted out, even if the data are ambiguous and arguable. If anyone's looking for a thesis idea in political science or psychology, here's one: Correlate presidential performance with Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences.


The left-wing activist group ACORN is reportedly poised to get a windfall from the bailout. If so, this is a gross misuse of taxpayer money. City Journal took a look at ACORN a few years ago.

Let Sarah debate

The people at the Huffington Post should be careful what they wish for. Here's Diane Francis:
If John McCain is too busy saving America to debate Obama tomorrow, why not send Sarah Palin to take him on? After all, he handpicked her and insists that she is qualified enough to assume the Presidency at any time.
I acknowledge that Palin gave an inarticulate answer to Katie Couric's question about what Russia's proximity to Alaska has to do with foreign policy. However, her answer was correct: the maritime border there is an important area of surveillance and potential flashpoint at a time of rising tensions. Journalists and other people who make a living with words should remember that they are much more likely than most people to be scandalized by a poorly worded answer.

UPDATE 2:15 PM: Christopher Beam at Slate has some sound advice for Palin. (Via Althouse.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial radio

Research magazine has posted some clips of me on the Gabe Wisdom radio show, discussing:

-- The financial crisis.

-- Islamic finance.

-- The history of retirement.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hamilton on bailouts

Larry Kudlow:
Ironically, this huge government action will be solved by free-market auctions and private sector loan workouts that will pay us back. I don't like it, but sometimes you just have to stop the financial fear. When I spoke to Alexander Hamilton last night about this, he told me it was the right thing to do. Like he did in the 1790s.
I don't like it either, but I would do it, too. As for Hamilton, it's a bit unfair that he's become a symbol of government intervention in markets. He also knew when not to intervene. When the question was what to do about the fact that many original holders of Revolution-era debt (often veterans) had sold off at steep discounts, Hamilton had the right answer: Nothing. Instead, the U.S. paid the current bondholders, showing not only that the government would honor its debts but also that it wouldn't arbitrarily reset contracts and property rights after the fact.

Alternative investment

Would now be a good time to point out that $700 billion is about what it would cost to build a city on Mars?

Value investing

Contrary to what I wrote earlier, a bailout is looking like an inferior option, when compared to the prospect of investors doing a Warren Buffett and stabilizing banks themselves. The case for government intervention presupposes, to my mind, that there really is no alternative, and it doesn't look like that's really true.

UPDATE 10:05AM: The WSJ disagrees. From today's editorial: "Public capital will be needed to refinance the banking system, whether through the FDIC or some other mechanism. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't understand the extent of the problem." On the third hand, here's Allan Meltzer from last night's News Hour: "The market people caused this problem. They ought to be the ones that pay the cost of having it cleaned up." (Via Mankiw.) It's been a long time since free-market types were so divided on a major economic issue.

UPDATE 1:00 PM: Buffett calls the crisis an "economic Pearl Harbor" and supports the Paulson plan. He says: "I am betting on Congress doing the right thing for the American public and passing this bill." Interesting, though I wonder if he would have made this investment if he thought it actually would be a bad one in the event no bailout gets passed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Radio note

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom show tomorrow at 7 PM Eastern. The long-planned topic is Islamic finance, though I wouldn't be surprised if the discussion veers a bit closer to home.

RCN customer service

The cable company RCN is converting to digital and requiring its customers to get converter boxes. Until very recently, its FAQ page (here retrieved from Google's cache) stated:
Will my bill be affected?
Only if you need to get converter boxes for any of your TVs. If you currently have no converter boxes in your home, RCN will provide you one free standard digital converter box (as long as your account is in good standing). Additional boxes are $2.95 per month.
We received assurances by phone and email from RCN repesentatives that this was the case, even though the first RCN rep we called had stated it was not. Now, however, the company has informed us that the first converter box will actually cost $5.95 a month -- and has changed its webpage to make the above statement go down the memory hole. A small matter, maybe, but who wants to do business with such Orwellian incompetents?


James Pethokoukis makes a strong case against the case against the bailout. Excerpt:
Maybe it's smart positioning to be against the bailout. It's unpopular and, like the Iraq war, will most likely remain so even if it works. And I know conservatives dread having it lorded over them by liberals for the rest of their lives. As Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth put it: "Many politicians are using the current struggle to make free-market capitalism the scapegoat for the economy's troubles when in fact government played a major role in getting us into this mess."

But I don't think being for the bailout means you're either buying into the efficacy of big government or into the theory that the credit crisis is a free-market failure. Rather than risk a financial collapse, the MellonHeads might want to spend more time making the case how big government caused a mess only big government can fix and how we can avoid a repeat.

If I were in Congress, I'd vote for the bailout, and then press hard for tax and entitlement reform before the annual deficit hits a trillion.

UPDATE 2:25PM: Pethokoukis's next post, on his back-and-forth with Newt Gingrich, is worth a read, however.

Barr Paul

The good news for Ron Paul and Bob Barr right now is that hardly anyone is paying attention to either of them.

Fiscal alarm bell

A key thing to bear in mind in the current financial crisis is that the U.S. government can only stabilize financial markets if it itself is financially sound. Hence, as David Walker argues in the Financial Times, "Washington Must Heed the Fiscal Alarm Bell":

The US government truly is too big to fail. However, there are disturbing parallels between the factors that led to the sub-prime crisis and the deteriorating financial condition and fiscal foundation of our federal government. These similarities ought to ring an alarm bell for Congress and the presidential candidates. The question is, will they hear it and wake up?

If there's one lesson we can't take from the current crisis, it's that government is now too busy for tax reform, entitlement reform and generally getting its own house in order.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Romney for treasury secretary

I have not been a fan of Mitt Romney for president. But in the event of a McCain victory, I believe Romney would be an excellent choice for treasury secretary. Knowing a lot about finance without being an insular Wall Street insider, having hands-on experience in corporate restructurings, and being an empirical data-driven guy who likes free markets but is not rigidly bound by ideology -- it's a strong resume for a treasury secretary in the post-acute phase of the financial crisis. And it would set up some interesting competition for post-McCain heir apparent.

Mortgage crisis history

Historian John Steele Gordon offers some perspective on the mortgage mess and its multiple sources. (Found via Walter Olson.)

Shared sacrifice

Glenn Reynolds notes the instability, and perverse incentives, of a tax system that depends so heavily on income tax from a few, while charging many people nothing. I agree, and like the idea of linking tax levels to federal spending. But what will be needed sooner or later is to move beyond the income tax, and replace it fully or partly with a VAT or other consumption tax, something I discussed in my piece on taxes 30 years ahead. And to make sure the incentive to control federal spending remains, the receipts people get at a store should spell out very clearly how much of what they've just paid is going to the federal government.

Newt on the crisis

Newt Gingrich, unlike the current two presidential candidates, offers some interesting ideas, strikes an admirable note of caution, and at least sounds like he knows what he's talking about.

McCain errs again

Long ago, I wrote a fairly favorable article (for a conservative magazine, no less) about Andrew Cuomo, and I continue to think he has some merit as a public official. But contrary to John McCain, I see no basis whatsoever for making him the SEC chief. As Robert A. George points out, Cuomo plausibly helped pave the way for the mortgage crisis during his time at HUD.

I can appreciate the lure of anti-Wall Street populism. Financial institutions bear enormous blame for what's happened, as does government, as do myriad individual borrowers. But bullying banks is not an all-purpose answer to a crisis that will require a great deal of technical expertise (which, incidentally, Cuomo doesn't have). And McCain's fulminations make him sound as clueless as Theodore Roosevelt did during the Panic of 1907 when T.R. exulted that he had those Wall Street types "on the run."

UPDATE 11:40AM: This is better: "McCain 'Deeply Uncomfortable' with Lack of Bailout Oversight."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Non-reviewable non-acceptable

Don't federal courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court, have a well-established power to review actions by the executive and legislative branches? My understanding, even as a non-lawyer, is that this is called judicial review, and has been part of American jurisprudence for over 200 years. So what's the deal with this clause of the proposed bailout legislation?
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
This either is or should be unconstitutional.

Rocket science finance

Old but interesting: my Insight magazine article on derivatives from 1994. Opener:
They are called "rocket scientists" - financial experts who use innovative and arcane mathematics to weave complicated schemes for making money. Their skills are in high demand at the nation's banks and brokerage firms, but their handiwork is not universally admired. In Congress, concern is growing that one of Wall Street's most lucrative lines of business could bring on a financial crisis that, like the savings and loan debacle, would leave taxpayers stuck with the bill.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Widespread demagoguery

Virginia Postrel thinks McCain is a "demagogic lunatic" for going after the SEC chairman. I agree this was one of McCain's least appealing moments of the campaign. However, if he's demagogic, then so is Obama for running his deceitful ad about immigration. (I'll leave lunacy aside; I think these candidates are engaged in rational, if unpleasant, political calculation.) And that leaves Bob Barr, who's the one candidate to have engaged in demagoguery to my face.

Historic panics

The Wall Street Journal has a worthwhile overview of "Government Bailouts: A U.S. Tradition Dating to Hamilton," covering over 200 years of financial crises. And while I agree with historian Robert E. Wright about Hamilton's efficacy, naming a kid Alexander Hamilton Was Wright is more than I would do. Here are links to my pieces covering the Panic of 1792 and the Panic of 1907, and to a relevant radio interview. [UPDATE: radio link no longer available.]

Friday, September 19, 2008

Clueless crisis conclusion

One misguided meme now spreading is that the present financial crisis proves that converting any part of Social Security to private accounts would have been folly:

Here's something that really ought to grab everyone's attention: McCain supports George W. Bush's idea of channeling at least some Social Security funds into "personal accounts" that individuals would invest on Wall Street. Some of that money would have been entrusted to firms such as Bear Stearns (failed), Lehman Brothers (failed) and Merrill Lynch (sold at a fire sale). Imagine what this crisis would be like if Americans' Social Security benefits were evaporating along with their housing values and their 401(k) accounts.

What such criticism fails to grasp is that Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements are long-term threats to the U.S. government's solvency. It's the Treasury and the Fed that right now are stabilizing failing financial institutions. Their ability to do that over time is in doubt, precisely because of the massive entitlement liabilities borne by the U.S. government. And U.S. bonds as a safe haven only work if there is certainty about the government's ability to pay back.

Entitlement reform is needed to put the government on a sounder fiscal basis so it can deal with, among other things, financial crises. If there's one terrible idea that should not be allowed to come out of the current financial crisis, it's that business as usual in entitlements is fine.

UPDATE 9/20, 3:05PM: Obama repeats the meme.

McCain errs

Notwithstanding my support for John McCain, I agree with Nick Schulz and the Wall Street Journal that his scapegoating of SEC chairman Christopher Cox is foolish and inane. Cox would have been a decent choice for McCain's running mate, and deserves a lot better than this.

Chicago aplomb

The Chicago Tribune has some sensible things to say about the financial chaos: "Here's Reason to Stay Calm."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain upsides

I've long been critical of Matt Welch for making what I've considered a one-sided case against McCain. Now he's offering "potential upsides" for libertarians in a McCain presidency. Welch deserves credit for looking at the other side of an argument, an uncommon practice in punditry.

I think, however, that the case is yet stronger than Welch's 7 points-with-caveats would suggest. For one thing, McCain and Bush have not "believed the same thing" about entitlements; McCain, unlike the Libertarian presidential candidate, voted against Bush's Medicare expansion into drug coverage.

Moreover, McCain has been an opponent (if not with perfect rhetorical consistency) of agricultural and ethanol subsidies, has taken a generally secular tone on matters of government and religion, favors competition in education, plausibly will put limited-government types on the Supreme Court, and has a healthy suspicion of international bureaucracy. Plus, as I've noted elsewhere, McCain's rhetoric has an underreported individualist streak.

Still, I think Welch makes a lot of good points in his post.

Guest blogger

Just a note to alert readers that this blog may, in the not-distant future, feature some guest posts by space/science journalist Michael Battaglia.

Space bonds

I know it's impolitic to be saying anything favorable about financial innovation these days, but I wonder how the space bonds I called for a few years ago would be doing right now. It seems to me that investors might want something that's long-term, basically non-correlated with other financial markets, and poised to benefit from development of new energy and commodity sources.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Post-AIG "bailout"

Odd as it might seem, I think it's a good thing that AIG and other financial stocks are falling in the aftermath of the AIG deal. If the transaction really were the bailout that free-market types are decrying, then we'd quickly see investors responding with relief. But a transaction that imposed stern loan conditions, including that AIG's managers leave, and which is probably a prelude to the company's liquidation, is not really as coddling as the term "bailout" suggests.

"Gluttons of privilege"

I think the more damning criticism of investment banks is not that they were greedy, but that they were stupid -- inventing financial instruments they themselves didn't understand, and staking huge sums on such. But in any event, we'll be hearing plenty more anti-Wall Street rhetoric this year, some of it well-founded, some of it not. And as a reminder that anti-financial populism is hardly new, here's from my article "Bulls, Bears and Presidents":
The 1948 presidential election was another one in which the financial world was prominently at issue. That’s because FDR’s successor, Harry S. Truman, opted to run rather forcefully against Wall Street, in the course of defending his office from the challenge posed by Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey.
During the campaign, Truman attacked “Wall Street reactionaries” and “gluttons of privilege.” He said a Republican victory would empower “bloodsuckers with offices in Wall Street…princes of privilege…plunderers.” These were, he warned, “the most reactionary elements,” “silent and cunning men,” who would “skim the cream from our natural resources to satisfy their own greed.” They would, he said, “tear the country apart,” and also make it “go to the dogs.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nuclear crisis

Current reading: Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?, by Brian Michael Jenkins. It includes a chapter that places the reader in the situation of being president when a nuclear bomb has gone off in Manhattan. (I read ahead to that part.) That's a reminder that there are worse things than financial crises.

Fingers pointing

Megan McArdle is performing a public service by monitoring the dumb, superficial and comically partisan "explanations" people are giving for the financial crisis. See here and here, for example.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hard to believe

Obama's only five points ahead in New York (!), according to a poll. Like Glenn Reynolds, I find it hard to believe that New York's in play -- hard but not quite impossible. (And I find it considerably easier to think my home state of New Jersey might be.) There goes the last rationale for voting for Bob Barr -- the Obama's-going-to-win-my-state-anyway argument.

UPDATE 9/16 4:15 PM: And there's more on that shrinking New Jersey gap.

Libertarian manifesto

Richard Epstein has a new column in Forbes, and opens with a "Libertarian Manifesto" that sounds pretty good -- and moderate -- to me:

That classical liberalism eschews any affection for anarchy in the name of individual liberty. It recognizes the need for state force not only to prevent aggression and enforce contracts, but also to raise (flat) taxes, supply infrastructure and constrain monopoly. The public sector that emerges from a consistent application of these principles is not small potatoes. It easily encompasses a midsized antitrust law, some (modest) form of regulation over network industries like telecommunications and railroads and control of public nuisances through the targeted application of environmental law.
Ah, but the flip side. This approach also seeks to curtail the active use of government power to disrupt the operation of competitive markets with a dizzying set of subsidies, taxes and regulations that usually lower labor productivity by raising administrative costs--all in a fruitless effort to equalize incomes or create job security. The classical liberal works to design political institutions and legal rules to allow government to preserve social order without taking over decisions better served by private institutions and actors.
No anarchism. No conspiracy theories. No mindless alienation. No cult of Ron Paul. I think Epstein's out of step with a lot of libertarianism today.

Past financial crises

When financial markets are in turmoil, I like to link to my articles about how Alexander Hamilton and J.P. Morgan dealt with financial crises past. Not so much that the specific measures they took carry great relevance for the situation today (though they did innovate a lot of what public and private decisionmakers have used in financial crises since); it's more that they exemplify the serious but calm state of mind needed when you face such things.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Inverse relationship

Andrew Sullivan is boasting about his rising Technorati rank. I wonder if he's noticed the negative correlation between posts containing "Andrew Sullivan" and Obama's poll results. Could it be that the more people read him, the more they're inclined to vote McCain-Palin?

UPDATE 5:40 PM: Between Sullivan and this, I'm tempted to cancel my Atlantic subscription. Except I pay for it with frequent-flier miles (as do, I suspect, many people) so there'd be no money saved. And the cover story wasn't bad, even if the photographer's too clever by half. (Via Instapundit.)

Ramapough pow wow

We attended the Ramapough Mountain Indians'* autumn pow wow in Ringwood State Park. The Ramapough have a long, complex history, and have sought in recent decades to receive formal recognition as a tribe from the federal government.

Two men near the ceremonial fire. Note the flags in the background: U.S., Canadian, and POW/MIA, as well as Native American flags.

Ceremonial dancing. A young man interprets the hunt.

Women dancing. The fringes, we were told, represent members of the tribe.

There were sheep present.

Ringwood Manor was just across a field.

* - Update 4:52 PM: As I link to the official Ramapough Mountain Indians Inc. website, I see the pow wow is not sponsored by them.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Barr regret

By now, I've actually started feeling sorry for Bob Barr. I strongly suspect he regrets getting involved in the presidential race (much like Joe Biden) and is wondering if a performance around 0.5 percent of the popular vote will be enough for a talk radio gig in any major markets.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Gravel on Palin

Presumably, the left-wing Pacifica radio hosts thought that Mike Gravel, Democrat-turned-Libertarian, would have some harsh things to say about Sarah Palin. Instead, Gravel defends Palin (for whom he won't be voting), attacks the Democrats as the "party of war," and generally rips his hosts to pieces. It's worth all 9 minutes of listening. (Found via Lew Rockwell.)

Palin doctrine

Ross Douthat and Kristen Soltis are less than happy with Palin's interview performance. I have mixed feelings. Yes, I would've been happier if she'd shown some sign of having heard of "the Bush doctrine" as a term that's been thrown around in foreign-policy circles. On the other hand, I read a decent amount about foreign policy and had not seen much mention of "the Bush doctrine" for several years, and as noted elsewhere its meaning has been vague and varied.

I think the honest approach, as David Frum suggests, is that she emphasize that her expertise is in domestic policy, especially involving energy and reform, and that she's learning about foreign policy, knows how to get needed information and assemble a reliable team, and could rise to the task if she were to become president in the next four years. I also think that anyone who's criticizing her lack of foreign-policy expertise but also voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 is incoherent.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bushido Sullivan

I think anyone repeating "Patience and steel. Patience and steel" who's not some kind of Samurai or Shogun is probably a little off, to say the least.

McBama and terrorism

I'm in the minority in this Instapundit poll, since I voted that there's "no difference" in the likelihood of a terrorist attack under a McCain or Obama administration. Terrorists are motivated to attack the U.S., with little regard to who's president. (See, e.g., Al Qaeda in the 1990s.) A McCain administration may be more aggressive in fighting terrorists, but whether that would mean fewer terrorist attacks (or more), especially in the short run, is questionable.

The bigger difference in foreign policy between McCain and Obama, I think, involves dealing with other nations. Whoever's the U.S. president, some nations will be tempted to test U.S. resolve, whether it's China threatening Taiwan, Russia threatening Ukraine, or North Korea threatening South Korea. That temptation will be greater if Obama becomes president, bringing little experience and offering a softer approach. McCain, being a familiar figure and a hard-line type, will be in a better position to prevent international tensions from turning into crises.

9/11 anniversary

Seven years after 9/11, I link back to what I wrote for Research magazine on the atrocity's fifth anniversary about "Heroism and Resilience." Compared to when I wrote the article, Al Qaeda is in worse shape now, having been dealt a blow in Iraq; there's been some progress at Ground Zero; and the stock market is mediocre, but for reasons mostly unrelated to terrorism.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Barr no-show

There's chagrin in hard-libertarian circles that Bob Barr didn't show up for Ron Paul's press conference today. It makes my opinion of Barr go up a notch.

UPDATE 3:15 PM: Plenty more here. I bet some of the pro-Barr people at last June's debate are pretty confused now (I mean, more than they were then).

Orbital power plant

This Friday, the series Discovery Project Earth will focus on space solar power, including what's billed as a breakthrough in wireless power transmission. Should be interesting. An approach that actually generates clean power seems to me like a more desirable option than the other large-scale projects the series has been highlighting (such as covering Greenland with reflective wrap) that are aimed only at mitigating the effects while the pollution continues.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Glamour chocolate

I agree with Virginia Postrel that the new WSJ magazine is not very interesting, though for me an exception was the article about the guy who gave up his criminal-law practice to make artisanal chocolate. I think going from $1 million/year to defend murderers to $100,000 for making chocolate that sells at $8/bar is a reasonable tradeoff, all things considered.

Books and blogs

I don't see why we have to choose, and anyway a millennium is a long time: "Three hundred pages in, I fervently resolved to shut down my blog and spend the next millennium reading books."

The book I'm currently reading is short but dense: Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy, by Yuval Levin.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Class disgust

In a cogent column in this morning's Financial Times, Clive Crook explains why the left-liberal reaction to the Palin nomination is such a disaster for Democrats:
For days, the derision poured down from Democratic party talking heads and much of the media too. The idea that “this woman” might be vice-president or even president was literally incomprehensible. The popular liberal comedian Bill Maher, whose act is an endless sneer at the Republican party, noted that John McCain’s case for the presidency was that only he was capable of standing between the US and its enemies, but that should he die he had chosen “this stewardess” to take over. This joke was not – or not only – a complaint about lack of experience. It was also an expression of class disgust. I give Mr Maher credit for daring to say what many Democrats would only insinuate.
Someone needs to get this memo at The Atlantic.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Palin rumors

Recommended reading: The Palin rumors clearinghouse. I expect it will continue to grow. (Found via this post.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tell Me How This Ends

There's a chance it will be overshadowed by Woodward's new book, but Linda Robinson's Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq deserves a large audience. Based on many in-country interviews with military people from Petraeus on down, it gives a vivid picture of the massive task that was the surge and counterinsurgency strategy. Petraeus comes out looking extremely impressive, and not the gung-ho type he's stereotyped as being ("tell me how this ends" was his worried request early in the war), while improvisation by troops on the front lines was a crucial ingredient in the success.

The too-sectarian Maliki government looks less good in the book, as do the generals and admirals who opposed the surge. The Bush administration gets favorable treatment only insofar as it managed to reverse some of its own mistakes. The politicians who were ready to pull out, damn the consequences, are mentioned only in passing, and will find little comfort in this book.

McCain's individualist streak

Below I noted a statement John McCain made last year after the Kelo case. Here are some more McCain quotes that stress individual rights and freedoms. The old joke goes that Wagner's music is better than it sounds; I think the same could be said of McCain's rhetoric:

Conservatives believe in the pursuit of personal, political and economic freedom for everyone. We believe that free people may voluntarily unite, but cannot be compelled to do so, and that the limited government that results best protects our individual freedom. In health care, we believe in enhancing the freedom of individuals to receive necessary and desired care. We do not believe in coercion and the use of state power to mandate care, coverage or costs. -- Des Moines Rotary Lunch, October 11, 2007

So it’s important that we remind ourselves that limited government and the rule of law are more than the arid cliches of partisan political debate. In fact, they are the essential underpinnings of our freedom, and the principles for which the Federalist Society has been fighting since its formation over 25 years. To lose either would be to lose freedom, for they are our strongest bulwarks against tyranny. -- Remarks to Federalist Society, November 16, 2006

Tough times can breed fear, and the Democrats are using those fears to push an agenda that is tired, dangerous, and will rob us of economic freedom. Once again, they want the government to make our choices for us -- not respect our dreams, and trust our decisions on how best to seize our opportunities. -- Prosperity Michigan Summit, January 12, 2008

I intend to do that by fighting for the principles and policies I believe best serve the interests of the American people: for a government that takes and spends less of your money and competently discharges its responsibilities; that shows a proper respect for our rights and values; that provides a strong and capable defense; that encourages the enterprise and ingenuity of individuals, businesses and families, who know best how to advance America's economy, and secure the dreams that have made us the greatest nation in history. -- Potomac Primary Victory Party, February 13, 2008

Meanwhile in the asteroid belt

The European space probe Rosetta is about to fly by asteroid (2867) Steins.

More on McCain

Nick Gillespie notes he's "simply tired of [McCain's] genuinely awe-inspiring war bio." I can appreciate that sentiment. Those of us who are political junkies have heard the McCain POW story many times now. (And there are many libertarians who claim not to be political junkies, but nonetheless are.) But an enormous part of the population is only getting interested in the presidential race right about now, and some of this stuff about Hanoi might be news to them.

More substantively, Gillespie writes that McCain "really leaves me cold with the emphasis on service and communitarian-type ideals." To a degree, I share that sentiment too. I'm not as libertarian as the people I used to collaborate with at Reason, but as a McCain supporter I would like to hear more from the candidate about how a sense of national and community solidarity is needed in a free, individualistic society, precisely to protect that freedom and individualism.

Lest anyone say that this is not McCain's view, I refer them to his statement after the Kelo Supreme Court case that "individual liberty and the free market are paramount."

UPDATE 2:53PM: And see post above.

New Jersey Sun?

The New York Sun is in financial trouble and may have to close at end-September. I second the notion by one commenter: Why not try branching out to the suburbs, where more center-right people live?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

McCain speech reaction

A pretty good speech, targeted more at the largely centrist audience watching on TV than at the conservative one in the hall with him (and whose support he's now firmed up, as of this week). One of my favorite parts: the promise to make the authors of the next pork-barrel bill famous.

Barr chutzpah

Bob Barr, who for some reason is still running for president, has a complaint:

Palin didn't explain what the Republican ticket would do differently from the current Republican administration and past Republican Congresses. For example, the words Social Security, Medicare, national debt, the deficit and the Constitution didn't pass her lips. Yet Social Security and Medicare alone face an unfunded liability of more than $100 trillion. The national debt runs $9.5 trillion. The deficit next year will be a half trillion dollars.
Who was it again who voted to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare?

Palin market news

The "Sarah Palin to be withdrawn" prediction market took a tumble overnight.

Price for Sarah Palin to be withdrawn as Republican VP nominee/candidate at

UPDATE 12:43PM: The Intrade chart is an active feed (I wasn't sure if it would download that way or as a snapshot), so the data from "last night" (late Sept. 3/early Sept. 4) will soon be gone. But it's an interesting chart to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Speech reaction

My reviews:
Romney -- So-so. Nothing terrible, just nothing particularly good.
Huckabee -- Very appealing, funny and with a surprising emphasis on limited government.
Giuliani -- Witty and smart, though some of the wording ("we'll be safe in [McCain's] hands") was not to my liking.
Palin -- I had high expectations, and she met them. And seeing the entire family, including daughter's fiance, onstage afterwards was a perfect rejoinder to the mud-throwers.

Tolerance watch

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I was at the Chautauqua Institution and attended a lecture by biologist Ken Miller, and a discussion on Jewish psychology held by the local Chabad Lubavitcher. Miller, a high-profile defender of evolution, happens to be Catholic.

I guess by the standards some people are now applying to Sarah Palin, I should have stormed out of those events. After all, I'm not a Catholic or a Hasidic Jew, so what was I doing there? By the way, I'm not a spiritualist either; I guess I should have wrestled one of the Lily Dale cold readers to the ground.

Douthat's respect

Ross Douthat refers to "the coverage of Sarah Palin to date - by colleagues I used to respect and publications I normally admire." I won't put words in his mouth, but I think I know whom he means.

Waiting for Palin

Looking forward to tonight's speech. One thing that the left-wing assaults have helped accomplish is to ensure that Sarah Palin will have a large, attentive national audience.

UPDATE 11:37 AM: Lorie Byrd draws out the implications (via Althouse). Excerpts:
Television viewers/voters who might otherwise have turned the channel to HGTV or Sci Fi channel or Spike when the convention airs tonight, will watch the Palin speech to see what all the fuss is about. Some will be curious to see America's hottest governor, others will watch to catch a glimpse of Bristol's baby bump in the crowd or a shot of her handsome young hockey player fiance. Others will watch to see if she is really the "Dan Quayle in a skirt" they have been hearing about. Some will even be interested in her take on the issues....
If Palin performs even half as well as she did in Ohio last week (without a teleprompter much less) they will find out that in addition to being a mayor she has (to paraphrase a friend of Christopher Orr) played tough with "Big Oil" as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission negotiating a proposed Alaska natural gas pipeline, exposed corruption in her own party, cut taxes and wasteful spending, slaughtered an incumbent governor in a primary with a 30 point margin of victory and won the general over a former Democratic governor. She will no doubt list many of her other life experiences, both personal and professional, that have prepared her for the vice presidency.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Beyond gossip

Here's one sign the anti-Palin smear campaign will not succeed: The gossip site is denouncing it as character assassination.

God's will...

Wait a second. The latest criticism of Palin is that she said she was trying to do "God's will"? Here are remarks from Obama in July:
And in time, I came to see my faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community; that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn't be fulfilling God's will unless I went out and did the Lord's work.

Palin's critics

I agree with Abe Greenwald here: "They Have Nothing." And if Obama does fail to get elected, the Sullivan/Kossites' lack of ethical and epistemological standards will be a plausible reason.

Libertarian Palinism

Recommended reading: "The Libertarian Case for Palin," by David Harsanyi. (Via Althouse.)

Plus, Virginia Postrel has some thoughts on merit, and notes the Battlestar connection.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Welch tries to outdo Sullivan

Matt Welch, master of the misleading anti-McCain diatribe, is now complaining that McCain went
from saying that "Ethanol does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve air quality" (2003), to saying that a McCain administration would focus on "creating new markets for farmers by providing incentives to create low carbon auto fuels like ethanol" (2007).
But McCain was consistent in his opposition to ethanol subsidies. Here's a report from December 2007, shortly before the Iowa caucus:

The presidential candidate voiced his opposition to ethanol subsidies during a recent speech before an energy group in Virginia and during a debate this week in Des Moines, Iowa....
McCain has said he supports creating a market environment to encourage production of ethanol and other alternative fuels, but not government subsidies.

And McCain was no less clear in his opposition to ethanol subsidies last month.

Welch also complains that McCain wrote "God has given, shown us how to use it, but left it to us to dispose of as we choose," and later wrote the following about Charles Darwin: "It is hard for me to appreciate the history he made without seeing in its accomplishment the hand of providence....God is not indifferent to our suffering nor has He left us bereft of hope." How these sentiments are supposed to be contradictory is left unexplained. And I don't see how either contradict McCain's characterization of Paul Weyrich as "a pompous, self-serving son of a bitch."

Who benefits most from Welch's ill-informed, ill-considered rants? It's not Reason's readers.