Friday, October 31, 2008

Powerful endorsement

IowaHawk offers the most compelling statement from an Obamacon I've yet read. (Via Instapundit.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Meanwhile in orbit

The Hubble Space Telescope has been partially restored after a glitch, and got a nice shot of galactic pair Arp 147.

Threats and overreactions

Brink Lindsey finds Obama the "clearly superior alternative" in foreign policy. Why?
Iraq today is a complicated mess, and how best to extricate ourselves is a tough problem. I don't know how well Barack Obama would handle that problem, but at least he sees it clearly: His goal is to get us out of there. John McCain's goal, on the other hand, is to keep us there as long as possible. That fundamental difference is reason enough in my mind to root for Obama.

Me: First of all, McCain's spoken about getting most troops out by 2013, which is not "as long as possible." Secondly, how clearly did Obama see Iraq when he opposed the surge, which he much later acknowledged worked much better than anyone (meaning he) had dreamed? Did he see clearly the genocide that may well have occurred there following a fast U.S. pullout?

More from Lindsey:

The Iraq fiasco was just one consequence of a deeper misjudgment: a panicky overreaction to 9/11 that inflated the real and serious threat of terrorism into an apocalyptic fantasy of World War IV. Delusions of "existential" danger lay behind the Bush administration's resort to torture and its mad claims of absolute executive power as well as its blundering botch job in Iraq. I myself suffered from such delusions in the first years after 9/11, but the accumulation of countervailing evidence eventually freed me from them. Bush, of course, has proved incurable. And McCain's case of 1938-itis is, if possible, even worse.
Me: There's some truth to that. The Iraq War likely would not have happened if there had been no 9/11, and rhetoric along the lines of "World War IV" does seem overblown. But isn't there a danger now of overreacting to the Iraq War, by downplaying threats from hostile nations and terrorist groups, and wouldn't such insularity set a tone of weakness that would make future wars more likely? And if McCain is such a warmonger ("1938-itis"), please explain that part where he led the renormalization of relations with the nation where he was tortured.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Distant landscape

This is not a picture of McCain trying to drum up some last-minute votes.

Government banking

Barry Goldwater, in his famous 1964 convention speech, said it is "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public." (Note the inclusion of "private," which suggests that Goldwater was not as far removed from the Theodore Roosevelt/John McCain tradition as some believe.)

Fast forward to the present: a tremendous concentration of power has emerged in the banking sector, now that government is a shareholder in the biggest banks. This concentration of power is both public and private; it's a nexus of the two, and it offers untold opportunities for corruption, abuse, and politically directed financing decisions. Creating it may have been a needed measure in the midst of crisis (though it should have been done in a more market-oriented way) but, as David Frum rightly notes, a major reason to vote for McCain is that he, unlike Barack Obama, wants to get government out of the banking business as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Libertarians and the GOP

In Reason magazine, Ryan Sager asks: Have libertarians been driven out of the GOP? His answer: Yes.
Two years ago, I wrote a book imploring the Republican Party not to follow its worst elements off a cliff—not to evolve, in short, into an insular party with little-to-no appeal outside of the rural, the southern, the Evangelical. As the McCain campaign flames out in a ball of Rovian disgrace, scorching the center in an attempt to fire up the base, it's difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the battle for the soul of the Republican Party has been lost.
I think it's more complicated than that. The soul of libertarianism has been deeply damaged in 2008. That's the result of the Ron Paul phenomenon -- socially conservative and conspiracy-minded -- which was touted, far more than not, by Reason magazine (and deplored by Sager). Now, Ryan falls back on the definition of libertarianism as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal." But that's a dwindling segment of what passes for libertarianism these days. Ron Paul and Bob Barr, whatever their fallings out, are libertarianism's most prominent figures now.

So, I'm not an admirer of the Rovian politics and social conservatism that Sager decries. But if libertarians are no longer at home in the GOP, then I (who have long called myself a libertarian and still wear the label, however uncomfortably, now) say that has a lot to do with where libertarianism has been going, and not just where the GOP has gone.

Science pork swaps

There was a time, over a decade ago, when opposition to science earmarks -- research spending dictated by individual legislators and not subject to scientific peer review -- was a cause celebre among scientists and defenders of science. But apparently, for some people, such as Christopher Hitchens, if Sarah Palin is opposed to earmarks, then earmarks must be science at its best. Yuval Levin points out this absurdity. Another recent example of misguided pro-earmark sentiment is here.

UPDATE 11AM: Via Instapundit, the DC Examiner has more on the trouble with earmarks.

Hollywood brokers and investment classics

My Research magazine article on how Hollywood has portrayed financial advisors over the decades,"Brokers and Other Monsters," is now available online. Also, my recent radio interview on the Gabe Wisdom Show about the investment classics of Graham, Dodd and Fisher is now available here.

Post-election at Lolita Bar

Here's something to attend one day into the dawning one-party left-liberal ascendancy (or, alternatively, after a wildly overblown premature political bubble has burst just in time):

Wednesday, Nov. 5, 8pm: “Yesterday Was the Election: What Now?”

Featuring (1) Abe Greenwald, blogger at Commentary, (2) Ben Geyerhahn, advisor to the 2004 Kerry campaign, and finally (3) funnyman Marty Beckerman, author of the fantastic Dumbocracy (and the earlier Generation S.L.U.T.), to say a pox on both your houses.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar. The debates, usually pitting two opponents against each other (in a civil and often humorous fashion), take place on the basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Defending Teddy Roosevelt

Max Boot rightly dismisses the insipid Edmund Morris op-ed in today's Times that conjures an imaginary and bogus interview with Theodore Roosevelt based on out-of-context quotes. Boot also points to a valuable article he wrote that affirms T.R. as a reformist conservative, and not the big-government hack that many knee-jerk antistatists nowadays perceive him to be.

Shades of rightness

Ross Douthat has some thoughts on being a right-of-center Republican who disagrees with Rush Limbaugh about lots of things but still has zero interest in jumping ship to the Barack Obama cause. I can attest, it's not all that hard.

Obama's constitutional flaw

The last time a noted figure said the Constitution was profoundly flawed, without making clear what the flaw is, it was Kurt Godel. Somebody should ask Barack Obama what he was talking about in a 2001 interview here. In particular, what "fundamental flaw" is it that (unlike, say the three-fifths doctrine) "continues to this day"? Does he still hold this view, and if so, how would he seek to rectify said flaw?

Mea culpa on Biden

I was definitely wrong about one thing: my previously relatively high opinion of Joe Biden. I welcomed his veep nomination, and considered him the Democrat I would've preferred among those running in the primaries this year. But he can't open his mouth without causing an international embarrassment, and now has shown he's flustered and incompetent in handling tough questions. If Obama wins, it will be despite his running mate, and a Vice President Biden will probably be spending a lot of time attending funerals in obscure parts of the world.

Libertarians vs energy independence

The standard libertarian position on energy independence is that it's undesirable, infeasible, a form of autarky that makes no more sense than wanting "coffee independence." If "energy independence" is literally taken to mean no imports of any kind of energy from anybody, then yes, it is an ill-conceived goal. But what its advocates really want, I think, is energy security, which would mean a diversified set of energy sources and a diminution of revenues to the anti-American dictators that control a large share of the oil supply. I have yet to hear a compelling argument, libertarian or otherwise, against such energy security.

Axis of illness

First Kim Jong Il and now Ahmadinejad are ill or "exhausted." It looks like President Obama's no-preconditions world tour may be lacking for interlocutors for a while. At least, Hugo Chavez seems to be well, if not entirely happy with oil prices right now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Palin unreserved

Gov. Palin has reportedly gone "off the reservation," rejecting the advice of handlers and setting her own tone. This seems like a good idea, especially since "the reservation," i.e. the campaign, has been so poorly run. A small consolation of what's happened is that the "not-about-the-issues" campaign strategy is being discredited.


I've placed a poll to the right. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to accept votes unless you're signed in to Blogger or something, which will depress turnout considerably. The one negative [actually positive now] vote already cast is my own.

UPDATE: Actually, the thing seems to be completely screwy. I'm not sure if it will correctly count votes at all. But I'll leave it there for now, as a cautionary tale about the limits of democracy.

UPDATE2: It might be working now.

UPDATE 11/5/08: The poll is now closed. Results:

Keep it going. It's a much-needed intellectual compass in these turbulent times: 62%.

Shut it down. It's a pathetic puerile profusion of pointless pixelated procrastination: 0%.

Change it completely. Take the opposite of your positions because you're wrong about everything: 12%.

Whatever, dude: 25%.

Unfortunately, the poll didn't work consistently, such that a significant segment of the electorate may have been disenfranchised. The recorded vote total was 8 million, minus 6 orders of magnitude.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Free Joe Biden!

This oppression must not stand.

Dating on Mars

It's gotten easier, according to

An endorsement

Charles Krauthammer is right.

Scotch preferably

Well, it's not entirely untrue:
"The typical Republican is happy coming home to a 62-inch television, pulling out a fine bottle of cognac or Scotch, putting his feet on the table and enjoying the fruits of his labor...."
That reminds me, I should get some Lagavulin 16 for election night.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bob Barr too busy

Extremely minor candidates Chuck Baldwin and Ralph Nader are debating tonight.

UPDATE 10:30 PM: I watched some of it on C-SPAN2, including the closing line: "When Chuck Baldwin becomes President of the United States, this New World Order comes crashing down." Inane.

Anti-fusion jump-start

A preview of a political battle of the future: Greenpeace vs. nuclear fusion. Note that the Greenpeace spokespeople show no sign of knowing what they're talking about.

Poll snapshot

Some interesting poll numbers from IBD/TIPP. Bear in mind that "not sure" (chosen by 12.3 percent) is not an option explicitly given when you're in the voting booth.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin reader

Recommended reading: The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. I've read it, and Sarah Palin's reading it, too.

Not that that's likely to stop critics from accusing her of not being a reader. After all, she gives press conferences, but the critics still complain she doesn't give press conferences.

Pennsylvania tossup?

An interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Obama campaign's polling.

International crisis likelihood

For the record, I agree with Joe Biden.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Polling limits

For those who've been looking at polls lately, here's a cogent primer on how margins of error work.

Libertarian purism watch

There's a debate going on about whether the financial crisis means "The End of Libertarianism," as Jacob Weisberg argued. I agree with many of the criticisms directed against Weisberg (see here and here). The crisis was caused in large part--nobody honestly knows how large--by government actions that libertarians thoroughly disapproved of from the get-go.

However, I must admit I am underwhelmed by this response piece from Jeffrey Miron, which argues that zero percent of the problem stemmed from free markets, and that indeed America has had nothing resembling free markets since (cue villainous music) "a brief moment before Alexander Hamilton engineered the first U.S. bailout of financial markets." What about the unregulated derivatives that spread bad mortgage liabilities far and wide? Apparently, to Miron, that doesn't count as a free market because it didn't exist in a purely free-market economy (the kind, I guess, where you can wall in your neighbor and starve him to death).

It seems to me that a counterargument such as Miron's plays into the stereotype of libertarians as dogmatists whose ideas have no applicability to the real world. Sadly, there's some truth to that stereotype.

UPDATE 4PM: By the way, I wonder exactly what financial markets prior to Hamilton's intervention Miron would characterize as free. Bank of the United States scrip? U.S. treasuries?

Obamacon hackery

In 1983, there was a minor uproar because Ken Adelman, a 36-year-old whose background included much Shakespeare, was appointed to be director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He performed well in the job, showing that his critics' narrow credentialism was wrong. And now this same Ken Adelman, endorsing Obama, has the nerve to apply the same kind of credentialism against Sarah Palin, and even to say "I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency." Feh. Retract your own appointment, Mr. Cakewalk.

Narrow tax base

Both McCain and Obama's tax plans would increase the percentage of people who pay zero income tax. What incentive will these people have not to want to expand the government?

We need to replace the income tax with a system that's broad-based and visible.

Palin's press availability

Readers who rely on Slate or the Atlantic for information might be surprised by this.

Radio note

I'm slated to be on Gabe Wisdom's show tonight at 7PM ET discussing the investment classics.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Independent desires

There's an astute article in the Wall Street Journal by Manhattan Institute fellow John P. Avlon on "What Independent Voters Want." Excerpt:
For Americans who've grown accustomed to hundreds of cable channels and unlimited choices on the Internet, politics is the last place people are expected to be satisfied with a choice between Brand A and Brand B.

Professional partisans in Washington try to ignore this shift, perpetuating the myth that the independent movement is a chaotic grab bag. In fact, the movement has a coherent set of underlying beliefs: Independents tend to be fiscally conservative, socially progressive and strong on national security. They believe in putting patriotism over partisanship and the national interest over special interests.

It should be obvious soon, if it's not already, what folly it is for Republicans to pursue a base strategy rather than reach out to the center. I heard Larry Kudlow (whom I tend to like) on the radio this weekend saying the minimum requirements for a Republican candidate are: pro-life; supply-side tax cuts; and strong on national defense. I'll go along with strong-on-defense as non-negotiable, but pushing to outlaw abortion nationwide, as opposed to emphasizing persuasion and federalism, is a recipe for electoral defeat. And mindless tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, regardless of the fiscal situation and without an interest in broader tax reform, is the same.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Space benefits

Alan Boyle has an interesting interview with Ben Bova, who makes this valid point:
People can watch the Olympics live from Beijing, and wonder what has space ever done for us? They don’t realize they’re seeing signals relayed by satellites. I live in Florida. We watch the weather satellites very, very closely, especially this time of year, when the hurricanes are brewing. Space technology has helped to produce the computer revolution, helped to change our lives. If you’re using a GPS system, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to be in an intensive-care unit in a hospital, if you’d like to go scuba diving, you are using technology derived from space.
There's much more, including on space solar power.

Powell and beyond

It turns out that one of the reasons Colin Powell opted to endorse Obama was because of a noxious remark by some Republican congresswoman from Minnesota (whom hardly anyone has ever heard of) that the press should be "investigating" lawmakers to see if they're "pro-American." This makes me wonder, though, how much weight Powell gave to (a) comments from Obama supporters, such as Rep. John Lewis, and (b) whether a McCain defeat really would promote the center-right wing of the Republican Party, which I earlier argued it would not. More likely we'll just see a lot of internecine fighting, which has indeed already begun.

On the other hand, if Obama wins (as his Intrade contract currently gives an 83 percent probability) it will be an interesting time to be a center-right writer, as there will be plenty of material to cover during the new left-liberal ascendancy (including about whether the right is mounting productive responses). So, as someone whose politics were shaped in no small part by reaction against the Jimmy Carter era, I at least have a certain sense of professional anticipation.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who's Gordon Brown?

If CNN has "the best political team on television," you have to wonder why it has one of the least informed audiences.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Powell's choice

Not that Colin Powell's been known to read this blog, but I would say to him that if he wants the tradition of center-right Republicanism to remain alive, and have a chance at thriving, then a speculated-upon endorsement of Obama would not be the way to do it. If McCain loses, and loses big, which becomes yet more plausible if Powell backs the Democrat, then the never-compromise, never-rethink-anything element of the Republican Party will become more dominant within the party than it ever has been. That also means the party will have a decent chance of never winning a presidential election again, and going the way of the Federalists.

If, by the way, Powell surprises the pundits by endorsing McCain, then we have a whole different story. Whether McCain wins or not--and his chances of winning would significantly increase--being backed by Powell would be a message that the Republican Party genuinely is, as it used to be called, a "big tent" with a conservative core but room for a healthy range of political views. This would also help prevent a stultifying dominance by a Democratic Party in which the Clintons are now suspiciously centrist. Just a thought.

UPDATE 10/19, 10:40 AM: Sadly, I couldn't persuade him.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How far could it go?

The potential impact of Joe the Plumber, that is.

UPDATE 10/17, 11:45 AM: Pretty far, I think, if the left keeps attacking him.

The youth vote today

Here's something for the dumb-as-bricks* file:

"I'll probably vote for Obama,'' said a 20-year-old student, Baron Remeisen, from Fort Lauderdale, who will cast his first vote in a presidential election. "I was thinking of voting for Bob Barr (the Libertarian candidate) but because of pressure from my family, and Bob Barr probably won't win, I'll vote for Obama.

"I really don't have a good reason not to vote for McCain,'' he said. "I guess the Democrats are more popular right now.''
* - see here.

"The only involvement I've had with ACORN..."

It seems to me that, with all the attention on ACORN, for Obama to misstate his relationship with them is pretty bad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate ending

Almost over. McCain closes with an eloquent appeal to choice and competition in education.

Overall, I'd say McCain had the edge in this debate, not in articulateness but in having something interesting to say. In a few minutes, it'll be hard to remember anything Obama said.

Sen. Government

McCain just referred to his opponent as "Senator Government," before correcting to "Senator Obama." But was he really wrong?

Debate note

A little more than halfway through. Obama, I think, is successfully pursuing his strategy of being so boring that most people can't imagine he would do any real harm as president. McCain got in a few zingers but mostly is his usual not-very-articulate self. But you never know what people will like or dislike.

A bargain at 18? (redux)

I took down an earlier post that linked to the Intrade contract for McCain to win (it was trading around 18, which I thought might be an opportunity for value investors), because the link caused some browser problems when clicked. If interested, you can find the contract via the Intrade home page.

Best line of the year

A woman in a focus group: "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

Perhaps not the least thing she got wrong is, McCain is the one who wants to separate health insurance from employment.

Space art

There are a lot of nice pictures in this book: NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration. A related gallery is here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thanks, Jesse

This should help McCain win Florida:

PREPARE for a new America: That's the message that the Rev. Jesse Jackson conveyed to participants in the first World Policy Forum, held at this French lakeside resort last week.

He promised "fundamental changes" in US foreign policy - saying America must "heal wounds" it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the "arrogance of the Bush administration."

The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end.

Jackson believes that, although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.

Exit visas

At tomorrow's debate, someone should ask Obama what he thinks about this ACORN idea.
At times, ACORN opts for undisguised authoritarian socialism, as when it proposes that “large companies which desire to leave the community” be forced to obtain “an exit visa from the community board signifying that the company has adequately compensated all its employees and the community at large for losses due to relocation.” How much longer before ACORN calls for exit visas for wealthy or middle-class individuals before they can leave a city?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fannie Mae in space

Taylor Dinerman has an astute piece at the Space Review about "Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Lessons for Space Commercialization."

Northern exposure

Well, here's one sign the McCain-Palin campaign is opening up to the press: Levi Johnston speaks.

Volatile indicators

Roughly speaking, every 1,000-point drop in the Dow over the past month has correlated with a 2-to-3-percentage-point gain by Obama in the polls. Without attempting to disentangle causation from correlation, or even guess which way the cause-and-effect arrow might be running, it should be interesting to watch that relationship over the next few volatile weeks.

UPDATE 4:15 PM: And then there was a wild 900-plus point rally. Who should be worried about that?

Total media accessibility

I agree with this prescription for McCain and Palin from Bill Kristol:
Provide total media accessibility on their campaign planes and buses. Kick most of the aides off and send them out to swing states to work for the state coordinators on getting voters to the polls. Keep just a minimal staff to help organize the press conferences McCain and Palin should have at every stop and the TV interviews they should do at every location. Do town halls, do the Sunday TV shows, do talk radio — and invite Obama and Biden to join them in some of these venues, on the ground that more joint appearances might restore civility and substance to the contest.
McCain should do what he used to do -- sit down with the press and talk with them until they have no energy left for more. And he should ask Palin to do the same thing. They'll make headlines, they'll inspire some Obama-leaning voters to rethink, and really they have nothing to lose.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A real debate

I agree with the cross-ideological Open Debate Coalition that wants to change the rules for the next presidential debate. Let's have a real debate, with follow-up questions and audience input, rather than the stilted events we've seen so far. Todd Seavey does a better job in a Lower East Side bar basement than the smugly incompetent Commission on Presidential Debates does with its national forum.

Human capital transfer

Fareed Zakaria has an intelligent article on the silver lining of the crisis: "A More Disciplined America." Among other things, here's one major benefit: As the financial sector reels, a lot of math and science degree-holders who would otherwise be inventing incredibly complicated ways to lose money are now going to be doing something way more productive.
The financial industry itself is likely to shrink, and that's not a bad thing, either. It has ballooned dramatically in size. Curry points out that "30 percent of S&P 500 profits last year were earned by financial firms, and U.S. consumers were spending $800 billion more than they earned every year. As a result, most of our top math Ph.D.s were being pulled into nonproductive financial engineering instead of biotech research and fuel technology. Capital expenditures went into retail construction instead of critical infrastructure." The crisis will stop the misallocation of human and financial resources and redirect them in more-productive ways. If some of the smart people now on Wall Street end up building better models of energy usage and efficiency, that would be a net gain for the economy.
I suspect some of them are also going to do some real rocket science.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Not Cobra Verde

"What's your favorite movie?" Compare the presidential candidates' responses.

Asteroid entrepreneur

I'm sorry to read that Jim Benson, the founder of SpaceDev, has passed away. I interviewed him a decade ago, and I think he was, in a good way, ahead of his time. It may be hard to believe amid the current economy, but the era of people owning asteroids and such is still on the way.
Jim Benson plans to declare ownership of an asteroid orbiting between Earth and Mars. And he doesn't much care what the United Nations has to say about it. "If the U.N. doesn't like it, they can send a tank up to my asteroid, which of course they can't," he told the San Francisco Examiner this past February. In an interview with REASON, the 53-year-old entrepreneur is in a less belligerent mood, but the gist of his message remains the same. "There's really no entity to which such a claim of ownership can be made," he explains. "Therefore I believe it just needs to be made to the public in general."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Political twists

Yesterday I gave my take on what McCain should say, which boiled down to a more market-oriented rescue with Mitt Romney as Treasury Secretary to lead it. But I see some people are coming up with yet more dramatic gambits McCain might make at this time. (Via Kausfiles.)

Market rebound

Good grief, the Dow's actually up as of this moment (8,726.61; +147.42 / +1.72% Oct 10 3:34pm ET). That seemed as unlikely this morning as, well, a McCain rebound. As for the Italian prime minister's suggestion that world markets be closed, I think that would be folly. That might work when you're preempting a selloff, as at the outset of World War I, but not when you're already well into one. Here's how J.P. Morgan regarded such an idea in the 1907 Panic:

Then, on October 24, J.P. rescued the stock market. That day, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, the intriguingly named Ransom H. Thomas, rushed over to Morgan’s Wall Street office to tell him that some 50 brokerage firms were about to collapse, unless massive rescue funds could somehow be provided. Thomas began talking about shutting the Exchange.

Morgan asked Thomas what time the Exchange normally closed — a datum the financier did not know even though he worked just yards away. (“Stock trading was vulgar,” explains historian Ron Chernow in his book The House of Morgan .) Informed that would be 3 p.m., J.P. wagged a finger at Thomas and commanded, “It must not close one minute before that hour today.”

Solar opening

Interesting: Solar-power shares have fallen even more than the rest of the market, even though Congress just passed an extension of tax incentives. I suspect that somewhere some little-known investor with cash on hand is starting to buy up solar shares now, and that this person will someday be regarded as an investment genius.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What McCain should say

Memo to John McCain: You should make an announcement like the following:

"My friends, we face an economic crisis of major and deepening severity. I have supported the rescue plan developed by the Treasury Department, and I have proposed measures to ensure that homeowners receive a helping hand. But I am determined to make sure the free-enterprise system survives and thrives in America, and that means we must rely on markets, no less than government, in working our way out of the current mess. That's why I have determined that when I am President, the government will provide capital to banks by matching the funds that the private sector is willing to invest to finance those banks. There will be no free gifts to the bankers. They will have to earn every penny of federal help they receive."

"Moreover, I am now ready to announce, in advance, my choice of Mitt Romney to be the Treasury Secretary of the United States in a McCain-Palin administration. Mitt was my opponent in the primaries, but we've become friends and colleagues. And, as an expert on corporate restructuring with a history of economic turnarounds, Mitt Romney is the most qualified individual to implement the McCain-Palin solution to the current economic crisis."

Science pork defenders

A bunch of scientist-bloggers are complaining about McCain's criticism of Obama's planetarium earmark. These scientists are dead wrong. Pork-barrel spending is a threat to science. It circumvents peer review and allocates money based on politics rather than merit. Moreover, it opens the way for money to be diverted from science altogether and into other areas. I wrote about science pork back in the early '90s and the problem has not gotten better since.

All candidates have stupid supporters

David Weigel and Andrew Sullivan are impressed that someone caught on tape some mindless drivel by some McCain-Palin supporters. (But note: not everything they say is wrong; for example Obama did work with Acorn, which the woman described accurately.) And then there's a seemingly drunk woman who spouts nonsense about Obama but says she wants Hillary Clinton for president; somehow, Weigel thinks that reflects poorly on McCain-Palin too.

Fortunately, one never sees any obnoxious know-nothingism from Obama supporters in more intellectual places like the Upper West Side....

Double your money II

The Bush administration is considering taking ownership stakes in banks, injecting money directly into banks that request it. I hope, but don't particularly expect, they'll do it in the market-oriented way proposed by Greg Mankiw; see below.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Double your money

Greg Mankiw has a plan for fixing the financial system: The government matches the funds raised by banks from private capital, taking non-voting equity stakes in the institutions. This can be done, he thinks, based on the already passed rescue/bailout legislation, using a portion of the $700 billion. It seems to me that the ideas needed to get past this crisis will use government to bolster rather than replace free markets, and this idea seems to fit that bill.

Meanwhile above Enceladus

The Cassini space probe is about to make a flyby just 25 kilometers from the Saturnian moon's surface. That's less than the distance from New York to Paramus.

A McCain weakness

Ross Douthat is right:
This has always, always been a problem for McCain: His strongest instinct, when confronted with any domestic-policy problem, is to find a black hat to pin the blame on and then punish them for it, rather than looking for the smartest possible solution. And in a crisis that nobody really understands, and where the blame for what's happened runs through Main Street as well as Wall Street as Washington, McCain's usual "punish the bad guys" message just doesn't seem like what voters want to hear.
McCain should pin blame (rightly) on the Democrats for Fannie Mae and the Community Reinvestment Act, and on Wall Street for too-clever-by-half financial engineering, and then say something like: "Let's have some real straight talk. Irresponsible borrowers helped bring this on, as well. But the key thing now is to fix it."

Palin presser

It's been a while since I've agreed with Andrew Sullivan on much of anything, but I think he's right that Sarah Palin should have a press conference before the election. It would be a high-profile opportunity to discuss just about everything--from the financial crisis to Bill Ayers to the mindless anti-Palin vitriol spread by the likes of Andrew Sullivan. It might even be the elusive "game changer."

Rocket scientist

Contrary to the Wall Street Journal's worries that the "appointment of a 35-year-old former Goldman Sachs employee as the auction czar doesn't call to mind Paul Volcker arriving at the Fed in 1979," I think the arrival of Neel Kashkari is a promising development. Financial rocket science helped bring about this mess, and financial rocket science is part of what's needed to get us out of it. And being literally an ex-rocket scientist, rather than solely a finance geek, suggests he has the kind of broad-ranging intellect that will be crucial in his highly complex position.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Post-debate consensus

Interesting. I didn't look at any other reaction to the debate while I was liveblogging, and now I see that a quick media consensus has congealed that Obama won. It didn't seem that way to me, but such quick media consensuses do play a major role in how these things are perceived.

More liveblogging

9:52 PM: Nobody's answering whether "health care should be treated as a commodity." Which is fine, because the question was pretty meaningless.

9:55 PM: How about as an answer: "Yes, I think health care should be traded like pork bellies."

9:56 PM: Obama: "I think [health care] should be a right for every American." Translation: Health care providers should be forced to serve you at a government-set price.

9:58 PM: Obama's opposed to letting people shop state by state because all the insurers will go to some state with no regulations. But if people want lots more regs, why would insurers do that?

10:01 PM: A questioner gives McCain a chance to opine on national security.

10:02 PM: Obama has canned answer "There are some things I don't understand..." like why we went into Iraq. Canned but possibly effective.

10:07 PM: McCain mentions times he opposed intervention, e.g. Lebanon, Somalia.

10:11 PM: "Talk softly and carry a big stick" is a solid rejoinder to Obama on Pakistan.

10:12 PM: McCain wants to get public support in Waziristan.

10:13 PM: Obama keeps bridling at the rules. That's a sign he's worried, I think.

10:14 PM: "Green behind the ears"? Shouldn't that be "wet"?

10:22 PM: Obama says he warned about Georgia back in April. I wonder what exactly he predicted.

10:23 PM: Google search obama letter georgia april uncovers nothing of interest.

10:26 PM: What if Iran attacks Israel? I can't imagine Obama is happy with the amount of foreign policy discussion going on.

10:30 PM: Zen-like question: What don't you know and how will you learn it? Generates nothingness answer from Obama.

10:32 PM: "I hope all of you are prepared to continue this extraordinary journey called America." Sorry, can't do that.

10:35 PM: McCain knows what it's like to have other people pick him up and put him back in the fight. And he's still in this fight, I believe.

Liveblogging the debate

Why not some real-time commentary....

9:07 PM: McCain off to a good start. A detailed answer on the crisis, including mention of longer-term reforms and debt.

9:10 PM: Obama does a me-too; Warren Buffett for Treasury. Would Buffett's huge assets go into a blind trust?

9:12 PM: McCain emphasizes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and ties them to Democrats. About time.

9:15 PM: Obama attacks McCain as a deregulator. Tell that to the Ultimate Fighting people.

9:17 PM: McCain talks directly to Obama, something he didn't like to do last time.

9:19 PM: Obama starts answer with "Well, look...." and advises woman to "remember just a little bit of history."

9:20 PM: Obama says he's for a "net spending cut." I'm highly interested in how that will be fact-checked.

9:21 PM: McCain mentions a few of the things--campaign finance reform, climate change legislation--conservatives hate about him.

9:23 PM: The CNN focus group audience loves "energy independence." I'd prefer "energy security" but subtlety is hard to do on national TV.

9:25 PM: Obama's "In 10 years time we are free of dependence on Mideast oil" is much more vague than JFK's moon speech. Most U.S. consumption not from Mideast now, but oil is fungible.

9:30 PM: I wonder how many people know what "earmarks" are.

9:32 PM: Another Obama bad opening: "You know, a lot of you remember 9/11."

9:35 PM: "Nailing jello to the wall." Focus group didn't like that.

9:37 PM: Obama wants to respond, but Brokaw won't let him.

9:39 PM: Obama repeats his "tax cut for 95 percent of Americans" nonsense. About a third of Americans don't pay income taxes as is.

9:42 PM: I wonder if the focus group that responds negatively to anything negative said is (a) telling the truth and (b) representative of anyone else.

9:45 PM: "Nuclear power" is fine. But I'd love to hear McCain say "and we have to explore more long-term possibilities like space solar power."

9:46 PM: Obama just confused "the computer" with "the Internet." He should call Al Gore for clarification.

More to come in another post, maybe.

Financial crucible

The upsides of a four-digit Dow: There are certainly some buying opportunities, and it will lead to a search for better ideas in finance. That's what happened in the Great Depression, as mentioned in my recent piece on "The Investment Classics":
It was in the Great Depression’s crucible that the classic theories began to take shape. [Benjamin] Graham, who had come to Wall Street in 1914 at age 20, had started a high-flying career as an analyst and money manager but was battered badly by the 1929 Crash. The year before, he had taken up a sideline of teaching at his alma mater, Columbia University , and now his lectures there focused on developing a safer investment strategy. In 1934, Graham and fellow instructor Dodd published Security Analysis, a textbook that soon will be available in a sixth edition issued for its 75th anniversary.
[Philip] Fisher also got a close-up view of the Crash and its aftermath. He began working as an analyst at Anglo & London Bank in San Francisco in the late 1920s, and was head of the institution’s statistics department when the market plunged. In 1931, he started his own investment firm, Fisher & Company, reasoning that customers still in the battered market might be ready at this point for a new broker. Plus, it was a good time to be doing investment research, since managers at hard-hit companies now had more time to talk.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Economic optimism

Good line from economist Robert Baur at the Financial Planning conference this weekend: "Never bet on the end of the world. It can only happen once, and then you can't collect."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Candidates' challenges

I'm in Boston attending the annual meeting of the Financial Planning Association. David Gergen gave an interesting speech this morning, giving McCain about a 40 percent chance of winning the election and saying that attacking Obama won't be enough to make it happen. "McCain," Gergen said, "needs a plan for post-bailout." I agree, and would like to see McCain mention such words as "$53 trillion in unfunded liabilities" in discussing what the next financial crisis might look like.

Gergen also said: "The uniform experience of recent presidents is when you've been in office only a couple of months, your adversaries around the world are going to try to test you. And if they can, they will roll you." That's a key challenge Obama would face as president, and it will be a question of how fast he learns to deal with it. I agree with that, too.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Palin v. Kelo

As some of us were hoping for, Sarah Palin offers the Kelo case as an example of a Supreme Court decision with which she disagrees.

Meanwhile near Mercury

The Messenger spacecraft is about to do its second flyby of the first planet, a prelude to going into orbit in 2011. One goal on Monday will be to take a look at a never-before-photographed area about the size of South America.

Hard to believe

The stupidity displayed by a prominent blogger here is beyond parody. (Via The Corner.)

Driving Zen

Some tips for avoiding road rage. "Take a Zen-like approach" is not so easy if you drive in the New York City area, but it's still not bad advice.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Personal responsibility

For my money, this was Palin's best moment tonight (particularly the line below in bold):
IFILL: ...Now, let's talk about -- the next question is to talk about the subprime lending meltdown. Who do you think was at fault? I start with you, Gov. Palin. Was it the greedy lenders? Was it the risky home-buyers who shouldn't have been buying a home in the first place? And what should you be doing about it?
PALIN: Darn right it was the predator lenders, who tried to talk Americans into thinking that it was smart to buy a $300,000 house if we could only afford a $100,000 house. There was deception there, and there was greed and there is corruption on Wall Street. And we need to stop that. Again, John McCain and I, that commitment that we have made, and we're going to follow through on that, getting rid of that corruption. One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we're taking personal responsibility through all of this. It's not the American people's fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.
UPDATE 10/3, 1:40 PM: Jacob Sullum disagrees, arguing against the very concept of predatory lending: "Exactly what is a predatory lender, and how does he profit by lending money to people who can't pay him back? That sounds more like a stupid lender." How about: lending such that the borrower is on the borderline of being able to pay back; focusing on short-term profits and assuming you won't be in the job once the bill comes due; passing the risks onto other institutions via opaque mortgage-backed securities; assuming the government will bail out your own institution if a lot of borrowers default. These seem like predatory practices to me.


Quick analysis: Palin was very strong throughout. Biden was pretty good, rallying after a clunking first half. Overall, she had the edge. The upshot is the election isn't over as of yet.

Vice presidential Fun Fact

The Constitution Party's VP candidate, not invited to be onstage tonight, is Darrell Castle, a personal injury lawyer.

Debate night

I think tonight is the night: the election hinges on the Biden-Palin debate. McCain and Obama at this point are basically known quantities, Biden considerably less so, and Palin is the wild card. Voters who are wavering or undecided are likely to be highly influenced by how these veep prospects comport themselves and whether they seem to know what they're talking about.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The missing case

The answer I wish Sarah Palin had given to the question of what other Supreme Court decisions (besides Roe v Wade) she opposed: Kelo v New London. But it would be interesting to know what Barack Obama or Joe Biden think about that decision, which allowed a local government to take away a women's house under eminent domain in order to award it to private developers. I am unable to find any evidence of the current Democratic candidates opposing the decision (unlike, incidentally, not just conservative/libertarian types but also Howard Dean, Ralph Nader and Bill Clinton). John McCain has weighed in, by the way.

UPDATE 10/2, 1:40 PM: I recommend Ann Althouse's analyses of the Supreme Court-related answers of Palin and Biden.

UPDATE 10/3, 11:25 PM: Good news.