2008 - %3, September

"It's a Question! Run!"

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:56 PM PDT

The McCain campaign is protecting Sarah Palin from questions the way the Secret Service protects the president from bullets.

From the pool report account of what happened after McCain and Palin's meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko:

McCain then looked around the room and gestured as if to welcome questions. The AP reporter shouted a question at Gov. Palin ("Governor, what have you learned from your meetings?") but McCain aide Brooke Buchanan intervened and shepherded everybody out of the room.
Palin looked surprised, leaned over to McCain and asked him a question, to which your pooler thinks he shook his head as if to say "No."

No, sweetie. No questions for you.

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Cell Phone Update

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:50 PM PDT

CELL PHONE UPDATE....A new Pew study confirms something that Nate Silver wrote about a couple of days ago: We've finally gotten to the point where there's a serious cell phone bias in political polling:

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has conducted three major election surveys with both cell phone and landline samples since the conclusion of the primaries....A virtually identical pattern is seen across all three surveys: In each case, including cell phone interviews resulted in slightly more support for Obama and slightly less for McCain, a consistent difference of two-to-three points in the margin.

Back in 2004 the cell phone effect wasn't big enough to worry about, but cell phone penetration has continued to build, and now it is. A 2-3 point margin is pretty significant in an election cycle where the two candidates have rarely been more than five points apart.

At this point, I think political polls probably ought to routinely disclose whether they include cell phones in their calling samples. If they don't, they should be assumed to be at least moderately inaccurate. They can probably fix part of the problem by overweighting young people in their landline sample, but that's an iffy workaround. It's true that cell phone polling is more expensive since it has to be done by human beings, but I'm afraid that's going to be the price of entry for serious pollsters in the future.

And if that means fewer polls? Consider it a feature, not a bug.

If These Are the Tainted Chinese Imports the FDA Is Catching, What Are They Missing?

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:16 PM PDT

Recently released records for the month of August confirm that the FDA is still intercepting shipments of tainted seafood coming in from China. The first item on the rejection list? Frozen Breaded Shrimp, refused entry for containing "veterinary drug residues." But no Refusal Actions list is complete without the tainted Eel we've reported on previously. Sure enough, only nine items down—past the Prawn Crackers withheld for "unknown coloring" and the Unidentified White Powder lacking any directions whatsoever—there it is, the persistent Eel, Frozen, Vacuum-Packed, Prepared, Cooked, and complete with "unsafe additives."

Highlights of August's records include Frozen Cod Portions, Cod Blocks, Cod Fillets, Sole Fillets, Mahi Mahi Fillets, and Canned Chunk Tuna that were withheld for being "filthy, putrid, or decomposed," while the Frozen Squid Salad contained "a poisonous and deleterious substance." And that's just the seafood. It begs the question—if this is what the FDA is catching, what are they missing?

William Hubbard, a retired senior Food and Drug Administration official who served under seven presidents, told Mother Jones that as of this spring there were only about 300 inspectors to spot-check more than 13 million annual shipments. Given this, it's pretty certain that some of this tainted seafood is making its way onto your dinner plate.

Want more information? Here's where to find it.

The Real Issue

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:08 PM PDT

THE REAL ISSUE....Michael Lewis summons his inner Jonathan Swift:

America Must Rescue the Bonuses at Goldman Sachs

Indeed.

Meet the New Boss

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 11:55 AM PDT

MEET THE NEW BOSS....Noah Millman on the future of finance:

If there's a new establishment a-borning, it's not going to be composed of the smartest guys in the room, but the old-fashioned bankers who are worried about being fleeced by the smartest guys in the room.

Seriously: if you were a regulator in 2004-2005, the best way to identify likely problems would simply be to look at which areas are making too much money on Wall Street. Any profit center showing extraordinary growth, extraordinary margins, and/or an extraordinary Sharpe ratio in its returns was likely to be a place where risk-management was not adequately capturing the tails of the risk distribution. The more evidence that risk management had looked at everything and nothing could be found, the more worrisome that should be for regulators.

Now....let's say the regulators actually use this rule of thumb going forward: when someone's making too much money doing something new, our job is to figure out how to stop them. Who rules in that world?

I think he's right. For about five years. Then it'll be time to come out of our holes and par-tay!

Endorphin Branding

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 11:15 AM PDT

ENDORPHIN BRANDING....Via Andrew Sullivan, Newsweek's Andrew Romano passes along a PR spiel for an innovative new way of selling your candidate to the public:

Endorphin branding is the use of scent as a means of imprinting a highly emotional, positive experience in tandem with a targeted signature scent, which can be reintroduced at a later time to trigger and recreate the desired response. This strategy should be implemented at political events, which are positively charged environments ripe for this type of scent branding.

By coincidence, a few days ago an editor asked me which science fiction book I'd suggest people read before the election. I recommended Fred Pohl's The Merchant Wars. It probably seemed an odd choice, but here's an excerpt:

New York, New York!....I saw a miraculously clear stretch of sidewalk....I walked past — and WOWP a blast of sound shook my skull and FLOOP a great supernova flare of light burned my eyes, and I went staggering and reeling as tiny, tiny elf voices shouted like needles in my ear Mokie-Koke, Mokie-Koke, MokieMokieMokie-Koke!

...."I warned ya," yelled the little old man from a safe distance....He was still waving the signpost, so I staggered closer and blearily managed to deciper the legend under the graffiti:

Warning!
COMMERCIAL ZONE
Enter at Own Risk

...."What's a 'Mokie-Coke'?" I asked.....There was a vending machine, just like all the other Mokie-Koke machines I'd been seeing all along, on the Moon, in the spaceport, along the city streets. "Don't fool with the singles" he advised anxiously. "Go for the six-pack, okay?"....Poor old guy! I felt so sorry for him that I split the six-pack as we headed for the address the Agency had given me. Three shots apiece. He thanked me with tears in his eyes but, all the same, out of the second six-pack I only gave him one.

...."Dr. Mosskristal will review your medical problem for you." And the tone said bad news...."What you have," she explained, "is a Campbellian reflex. Named after Dr. H.J. Campbell. Famous pioneering psychologist in the old days, inventor of limbic-pleasure therapy."...."Let's just say that you've had your limbic areas stimulated; under the influence of that great upwelling of pleasure you've become conditioned to associate Mokie-Koke with joy, and there's nothing to be done about it."

Doesn't seem quite so much like science fiction after reading about endorphin branding, does it?

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Mission Creep Dispatch: William Hartung

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 11:14 AM PDT

hartung.jpgAs part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.)

The following dispatch comes from William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and coeditor (with Miriam Pemberton) of the recent book Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War.

How Can We Reduce the US Military Footprint?

Mother Jones' map and articles on the US global military footprint are mind-boggling, but rather than be intimidated by these facts on the ground, we need to think about what can be done about them. Chalmers Johnson suggests that the US empire may be the last of its kind, with the main political issue soon becoming "empire liquidation—peaceful or otherwise." As he rightly notes, maintaining 761 military facilities in 192 UN member states is "a remarkable example of imperial overstretch." The question of whether US imperial decline will be peaceful or violent hinges on two key questions, one culturally and psychologically driven, and one militarily driven.

Group Behind Controversial Anti-Islam DVD Identified

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 10:44 AM PDT

The Inter Press Service reports on a previously unidentified group spearheading the distribution of a controversial DVD, "Obsession," being circulated to as many as 28 million voters with their newspaper delivery. Critics charge the film is anti-Islamic propaganda, and one newspaper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, has refused to distribute it.

On Iraq's Northern Front, Echoes of Georgia?

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 10:44 AM PDT

The following post is from occasional contributor Douglas Macgregor, an independent military strategist, retired Army colonel, and author of Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century.

Evidence is piling up that the Turkish government will commit its armed forces against the de facto Kurdish state in Northern Iraq sooner rather than later. During his trip to Ankara last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was assaulted with questions from Turkish authorities about Kurdish activities in Kirkuk designed to drive out the remaining Arabs and establish Kurdish control over Iraq's northern oil and gas resources.

What most Americans don't know is that the Turkish government has tried to negotiate a settlement with the Kurds through its new Special Envoy for Iraq, Murat Ozcelik. People who know Ozcelik insist he is the best person to negotiate Turkey's peace with the Kurds. Unfortunately, his Kurdish counterpart, Massoud Barzani, has turned out to be a fool who thinks he leads a pan-Kurdish movement inside Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Quote of the Day - 9.24.08

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 10:37 AM PDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, on Karzai's meeting yesterday with Sarah Palin:

"She was asking all the right questions."

Asked what questions those were, Hamidzada said he couldn't exactly recall.