Blogs

Retired Building Supply Regional Manager Would Have Been King

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:14 PM EDT

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George Washington gained such fame as the hero of the American Revolution that people literally begged him to become king of the United States. He declined, of course, and set a precedent for the peaceful transition of power when he voluntarily left the presidency after two terms. What if he had accepted? What if the United States had become a monarchy with power passed down through the generations? Who would be king today? Ancestry.com claims to have answered that question. Washington died without a direct heir, but genealogists tracked four different family lines that grew out the greater Washington clan and found 8,000 people, now living, who can trace their ancestry back to the first president. But there can be only one king, and according to Ancestry.com's Megan Smolenyak, a retired regional manager for a building supply company "won the sweepstakes." Paul Emerson Washington, 82, of San Antonio, Texas, is the man who would be king. Not that he's upset about losing the throne. "He's always been a modest, soft-spoken person," his son told the Associated Press, adding, "the idea of one individual having supreme power over all others is an antiquated idea."


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from cliff1066.

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Bush Policies Help Bring the Financial Crisis Home

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:12 PM EDT

With U.S. banks now partially nationalized, the government is struggling to hold the line, finally linking up in an international network to staunch the hemorrhaging that has been going on in financial markets here, and now around the globe. As the financial crisis spreads out across the world, it is also trickling down to state and local governments, and right up to the doorsteps of most Americans..

This dire picture is rendered even grimmer by the policies of the Bush administration, which has pushed for deep cuts in vital domestic programs amidst this crisis. This will place even more pressure on the states, whose budgets already are badly strained. The downsizing of federal support, combined with the financial crisis, will make it difficult for many states to continue providing basic services to their residents in the coming months and years.

The administration's crusade to cut spending on a wide array of domestic programs is revealed in studies by the usually reliable Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, an independent think tank that tracks and critiques federal spending with special attention to domestic programs. Under the administration's 2008 budget, the Center reported last year, "domestic discretionary programs—the programs that are funded each year through the annual appropriations process, other than defense and international programs—are slated for sizable reductions over the next five years."

This Campaign Could Get Really Fun...

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

This photo restores some of the faith in mankind's creativity that I lost on Monday. Props to Kos for catching it.

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And, frankly, the signage isn't far off. Late last night, CNN flashed a poll that said not only did debate-viewers prefer Obama on the economy by double digits, they preferred him on Iraq by about four or five points. That has to signal the beginning of the end for McCain, doesn't it? Iraq is supposed to be the one issue he will always own; the fact that it's drifting away from him suggests that more and more Americans are talking themselves into a President Obama and his ability to handle all the tough issues.

For what it's worth, Obama won just about every category in last night's polls. Numbers here. I'm guessing Sarah Palin is really going to regret her brief excursion into national politics in a month or so.

Real Conservatism

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 12:58 PM EDT

REAL CONSERVATISM....NRO's Andy McCarthy is seriously pissed that John McCain didn't turn last night's debate into a slugfest over Obama's terrorist/socialist/UN loving ways. Ross Douthat comments:

You know, part of me actually wishes that John McCain had started talking about Bill Ayers, the Annenberg Challenge, Rashid Khalidi, and how the Global Poverty Act will line the pockets of Hugo Chavez. (Maybe in his answer to one of the questions about the economy — why not?) Because that way we wouldn't have to hear — as we will hear, from McCarthy and others, for months and years to come — that the biggest problem with the McCain campaign was that it just wasn't willing to really takes the gloves off and call Barack Obama the terrorist sympathizer that he is.

Actually, it's worse than that. If McCain loses, as he's almost certain to, we're going to see two reactions. First, Steve Schmidt wasn't nasty enough. In the future, Republicans need to return to their Lee Atwater roots and really teach Americans what liberal treachery is all about. Second, we told you a RINO couldn't win. The conservative base will be convinced for years that the big problem with McCain was that he was trying to be a pale shadow of liberal Democrats. (Sarah Palin will be conveniently forgotten, or else finally seen for the tokenism she really is.) The nation still hungers for genuine conservatism, they'll say, and they knew McCain was a phony all along. If only the party had nominated a Romney or a Huckabee the public would have swarmed to their cause.

This is delusional, but it's probably good news for Democrats. It means the GOP is going to be riven by factional warfare for years, with moderates unable to get a purchase on the party apparatus because of the McCain albatross hanging around their necks. Eventually, like Britain's Labor Party in the 80s, they'll find their Tony Blair, but in the meantime they're likely to double down on the most strident possible social conservatism, convinced that the heartland will respond if only they regain the true faith. Ronald Reagan, who was more pragmatic about these things than any of them ever give him credit for, will be rolling in his grave. And Democrats, at least for a while, will go from strength to strength.

Elect Conservatives to Limit the Power of Incompetent (Conservative) Government!

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 12:35 PM EDT

Tom Frank has a delightful line in his Washington Post column today. I'll provide the setup. The line I'm referring to is in bold.

Feedback Pedantry

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 12:34 PM EDT

FEEDBACK PEDANTRY....Vikas Bajaj of the New York Times explains the financial crisis:

The technical term for it is "negative feedback loop." The rest of us just call it a panic.

I know that a lot of people use this term during a crash because "negative" is the same thing as "down," but I don't think this is right. It's a positive feedback loop he's talking about, where every action in a particular direction feeds back to cause even greater action in the same direction. In a bubble, it means that the market going up causes buyers to get ever more excited, causing the market to go up even more. In a panic, it means that the market going down causes sellers to get ever more hysterical, causing the market to go down even more. It's bad news in both directions, and it's a positive feedback loop whether that direction is up or down.

Unless, of course, this is some kind of weird term of art in the finance biz. Which would probably serve me right. Anyone know?

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Friedman on the Patriotism of Taxes

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 11:57 AM EDT

We go back and forth on Tom Friedman here at MoJoBlog, but we have to give him props for standing up for the basic civic function of paying taxes. He mentions that Sarah Palin dismissed paying taxes as "not patriotic" and has some follow up questions.

Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed?

And he's just getting warmed up.

Sorry, I grew up in a very middle-class family in a very middle-class suburb of Minneapolis, and my parents taught me that paying taxes, while certainly no fun, was how we paid for the police and the Army, our public universities and local schools, scientific research and Medicare for the elderly....
I can understand someone saying that the government has no business bailing out the financial system, but I can't understand someone arguing that we should do that but not pay for it with taxes. I can understand someone saying we have no business in Iraq, but I can't understand someone who advocates staying in Iraq until "victory" declaring that paying taxes to fund that is not patriotic.

Preach, brother! Look, here's what people like Sarah Palin do not understand, or pretend to not understand. If we could achieve our necessary public policy goals without taxing American citizens, we would obviously do it. But we can't. Taxes are the building blocks of a healthy, functioning society that protects its citizens are provides them with an opportunity for a brighter future. Conservatives argue that the American people built America into what it is. I would argue that the American people and the taxes they pay have built America. And they can rebuild America. How is that not the very definition of patriotic?

Doonesbury and McCain's Wall Street Lobbyists: Day Three

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 10:53 AM EDT

As promised, here's yesterday's Doonesbury strip in which Garry Trudeau, bless his heart, keeps spreading the good word about John McCain's Wall Street lobbyists:

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Doonesbury © 2008 G. B. Trudeau. Used by permission of Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Today, Trudeau keeps listing lobbyist after lobbyist but throws in an acknowledgment that eventually this series, while worthwhile, could get boring. We'll carry that strip on MoJoBlog tomorrow, boring or not.

Debate II - McCain Offers a Man; Obama Offers More

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:32 AM EDT

Last Thursday, during a McCain campaign town hall meeting in Denver, one participant stood up and challenged the GOP presidential candidate: "When are you going to take the gloves off?" His fellow McCain supporters in the downtown hotel roared with approval. "How about Tuesday night?" John McCain replied, referring to his second debate with Obama.

How about not? The McCain campaign in recent days has pumped up its effort to delegitimize Barack Obama, with its top strategist apparently calculating that McCain cannot vanquish Obama if the election is about issues. At a recent rally in a California suburb, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin declared, "Our opponent...is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." (This was a reference to Obama's past association with Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground radical who became an education expert). And on Monday, McCain delivered a blistering attack on Obama that was loaded with inaccuracies and distortions. So one expectation among the politerati was that McCain would continue swinging--or thrashing--at the second debate. Work in Bill Ayers. Refer to Jeremiah Wright. Depict Obama as shifty and untrustworthy.

That did not happen. McCain, trailing Obama in the polls, mainly trained his fire on policy matters. He did continue to hurl misrepresentations at Obama. (As the debate proceeded, I received 40 emails from the Obama campaign making this point.) For instance, McCain once again claimed that Obama has voted 94 times to raise taxes, a charge that has been widely debunked by various factchecking outfits. But there was no frontal assault on Obama's character--and only one or two slight digs on his qualifications. The debate was more high-minded than anticipated. But it demonstrated a tough reality for McCain: he is out of sync with his own campaign. He cannot pull the trigger, when his advisers seem to believe a machine gun blast is needed.

Obama and his campaign are fully integrated. He calls for a break from the past eight years on both domestic and foreign fronts and famously urges fundamental change. As a new face--and a black man--he sure does represent change. He is his message. And his campaign for over a year and a half has not had to go through any strategic lurches or had to reconfigure either its candidate or its core pitch. That's not true on the McCain side. His campaign has been nothing but lurches. And the most recent one--a turn toward even more negative campaigning--undercuts his old and now practically worn-out reputation as a straight-talking maverick. So come Debate II, McCain was confronting a tough choice: damned if he does (go negative) and stalled if he doesn't.

Deciding to forego the nasty stuff, McCain relied on policy differences to hammer Obama. The problem: Obama's policy prescriptions are not unpopular.

Hack-A-Vote

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:01 AM EDT

MDvotingmachine.jpg Graduate and undergraduate students at Rice University are learning how easy it is to wreak havoc on today's voting machines. As part of an advanced computer science class, students do their best to rig a voting machine in the classroom.

Here's how it works: The class is split into two teams. In phase one, the teams play unscrupulous programmers at a voting machine company. Their task is to make subtle changes to the Hack-A-Vote's software that will alter the election's outcome but that can't be detected by election officials. In the second phase, the teams play software regulators who certify the code submitted by the hacking team.

The results prove it's easy to insert subtle changes to the voting machine. If someone has access and wants to do damage, it's a straightforward hack. The good news is the regulator team often find the hack. Often, but not always.