2009 - %3, May

Did Obama Need to Win Hispanics?

| Fri May 29, 2009 11:46 AM EDT

Elections (and baseball) stat guru Nate Silver kicked off a wide-ranging blogosphere discussion yesterday when he asked whether Republicans can sacrifice the Hispanic vote (presumably by stepping up anti-immigrant, anti-NAFTA rhetoric and bashing Sonia Sotomayor) and still win elections. He said "si pueden":

If you could gain ground in the Midwest or the South by pursing an anti-immigrant, anti-NAFTA, "America First" sort of platform, you really wouldn't be putting all that much at risk by losing further ground among Latinos. Yes, you could make life (much) harder for yourself if you screwed up Florida or put Arizona into play in the process, but it's not a bad strategy, all things considered.

About half the Hispanics in the United States reside in California or Texas, and another 20 percent are in New York, New Jersey or Illinois, none of which look to be competitive in 2012. (Yes, the Republicans could lose Texas, but probably only in a landslide). There just aren't that many Hispanic voters near the electoral tipping point.

On Friday, statistician Andrew Gelman advanced the discussion by analyzing the Latino vote's impact on President Barack Obama's election win. He says "the removal of the Hispanic vote wouldn't have changed the election outcome in any state." Check out the proof.

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Quote of the Day

| Fri May 29, 2009 11:19 AM EDT

From Will Wilkinson, who'd like to see a libertarian nominated to the Supreme Court but knows perfectly well that Barack Obama is a liberal who will nominate liberals to the Supreme Court:

So I was hoping for a relatively centrist liberal who sees some merit in libertarian arguments, especially about the protection of economic rights. As far as I can tell, there is nothing especially worrying about Sotomayor. She’s obviously super-qualified. And from what I’ve read, she seems like a highly competent, fairly moderate liberal who sticks pretty close to the law (which nobody really likes when they don’t like the law!) and is perfectly willing to side with Republican-appointed judges when that seems to her the right thing to do. What are people going batshit crazy over? I don’t get it. And I really don’t get why many Republicans have taken this opportunity to reinforce the already widespread impression that they are morally odious morons. God, I hate politics.

I feel your pain, Will.  The craziness is coming so thick and fast that I can't even keep up with it.  It makes my brain hurt.

Liz Cheney Doesn't Understand the Definition of Libel

| Fri May 29, 2009 10:52 AM EDT

Elizabeth Cheney, who I guess gets to be on television because having actual experts on would be boring, clearly does not have a good grasp of the definition of libel. In this clip from MSNBC, she claims that referring to Dick Cheney and the people who waterboarded terrorist suspects as "torturers" is libelous: 

Europe and Guantanamo

| Fri May 29, 2009 10:29 AM EDT

Getting European countries to accept resettlement of Guantanamo prisoners was always going to be a hard sell, but the Washington Post reports that it's recently gotten even harder:

Rising opposition in the U.S. Congress to allowing Guantanamo prisoners on American soil has not gone over well in Europe. Officials from countries that previously indicated they were willing to accept inmates now say it may be politically impossible for them to do so if the United States does not reciprocate.

"If the U.S. refuses to take these people, why should we?" said Thomas Silberhorn, a member of the German Parliament from Bavaria, where the White House wants to relocate nine Chinese Uighur prisoners. "If all 50 states in America say, 'Sorry, we can't take them,' this is not very convincing."

....More trouble emerged when Washington stipulated that the Uighurs would be barred from traveling to the United States.

"If the U.S. says they should come here, but they cannot travel to the U.S., we would have to ask why not?" said a German Interior Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. "Does that mean they are dangerous?"

Good question!  When the time came to actually accept Guantanamo detainees, European countries were always bound to run into more trouble with domestic politics than they anticipated.  But with the American talk radio contingent making it virtually impossible for the U.S. to accept even a small number of the safest detainees ourselves, it's now inevitable that Europeans are going to back off.  You'd have to be politically suicidal to resettle prisoners that the United States has all but tattooed "terrorist."

So now what happens to them? Stay tuned.

The Best "Downfall" Parody Yet

| Fri May 29, 2009 10:23 AM EDT

If you are not aware of all internet traditions, you may not know about the "Downfall" parodies. You're missing out. The New York Times explained the phenomon back in October 2008:

On YouTube, we’re in a bunker, and the enemies are always, always closing in. The ceilings are low. The air is stifling. A disheveled leader is delusional.

This is the premise of more than 100 videos on the Web — the work of satirists who for years have been snatching video and audio from "Downfall," the 2004 German movie of Hitler’s demise, and doctoring it to tell a range of stories about personal travails and world politics. By adding new English-language subtitles, they transform the movie’s climactic scene, in which Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) rails against his enemies and reluctantly faces his defeat, into the generic story of a rabid blowhard brought low.

The problem for "Downfall" artistes, however, is that not everyone likes being parodied, and the targets of such mocking (and the studio that owns the rights to "Downfall") sometimes send takedown notices to YouTube under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Parody, of course, is protected by the fair use doctrine in copyright law, but that usually doesn't stop YouTube from following through with the takedowns. It's cheaper and easier to just take down everything that the site receives a DMCA notice for than to review individual claims. Now the heroic Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced the ultimate meta-Downfall parody, in which Bruno Ganz' Hitler tries to send takedown notices for all the Downfall parodies. The result is amusing and informative:

Lessig's Change Congress Accuses Democratic Senator of Corruption

| Fri May 29, 2009 9:34 AM EDT

Geek god Lawrence Lessig's new-ish organization, Change Congress, aims to expose and curtail the influence of money in politics. They're not being polite about it. On Thursday, Change Congress accused Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) of "Good souls corruption"—"legal, even ethical acts that reasonably lead the public to wonder whether it is the merits or the money that is driving this Senator's decision."

In this particular case, Change Congress makes the shocking observation that Nelson's receipt of millions of dollars from insurance and health care interests might call the sincerity of his (now-renounced) opposition to a public health insurance option into question.

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Bush v. Gore Lawyers Team Up To Save Journalism

| Fri May 29, 2009 9:24 AM EDT

David Boies and Ted Olson are this week's odd couple after the pair teamed up to file a constitutional challenge to California's gay marriage ban Wednesday. The two lawyers made headlines in 2000 when they squared off before the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, with Olson representing Bush and Boies representing Gore. Despite the acrimonious election battle, Boies and Olson aren't mortal enemies. They're lawyers--people schooled in the notion that an adversary is not an enemy.

As such, Olson and Boies are so friendly that last summer they took a bike trip through Italy with Tom Brokaw and media mogul Steve Brill, who, incidentally, is now responsible for another one of their joint ventures: Journalism Online, Brill's new attempt to save journalism by making people pay for it online. Boies and Olson are on the company's board of advisors. But Brill didn't pick the pair for the novelty factor. His legal team suggests that he intends to start the war that newspapers so far have shied away from: forcing Google pay for the news content it now steals for free.
 

The Real Sotomayor Gamble

| Fri May 29, 2009 9:13 AM EDT

The New York Times reports:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s lucky streak is apparently at least six months long.

A financial disclosure report for the judge, released on Thursday, included this nugget: income of $8,283 for a “Jackpot Game Winning” on Nov. 23, 2008, almost exactly half a year before President Obama tapped her to be on the Supreme Court.

A spokeswoman for the White House said Judge Sotomayor hit it big while gambling with her mother at a casino in Florida.

Impressively lucky, but anyone can win a jackpot game. I'd be more interested to learn whether Judge Sotomayor is any good at poker. President Barack Obama has been known to play.

On "The Ed Show": Rain, Sotomayor, and Me

| Fri May 29, 2009 8:36 AM EDT
From the Thursday's night edition of MSNBC's "The Ed Show." I don't know if you can tell, but I was being rained on, as we discussed the SCOTUS nominee. You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

Regulating Derivatives

| Fri May 29, 2009 12:41 AM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports that big banks aren't happy with the Obama administration's plans to make trading of credit derivatives more transparent by putting them on a public exchange:

Wall Street banks with large derivative-trading businesses have been outwardly supportive of greater regulatory oversight of the $684 trillion market. But behind the scenes, there has been hand-wringing over the details of certain proposals and discussions about how the industry can help shape the rules.

Potentially billions of dollars in revenue is at stake. An effort earlier this decade to improve transparency in the corporate-bond market ended up cutting bank fees by more than $1 billion in a year, according to some studies.

....For credit-default swaps, information about intraday trades and prices has long been controlled by a handful of large banks that handle most trades and earn bigger profits from every transaction they facilitate if prices aren't easily accessible.

For example, credit-default swaps tied to bonds of companies such as General Electric Capital and Goldman Sachs typically have a pricing gap of 0.1 percentage point between the bid and offer price. That translates into a $40,000 margin for every $10 million in debt insured for five years. Greater price transparency could narrow that gap, lowering costs for buyers and sellers but reducing fees for banks.

That's a sad story, isn't it?  When you make trades public, suddenly banks find that they can't rob their clients blind anymore.  Break out your violins, boys and girls.