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Happy National PARK(ing) Day!

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 6:38 PM EDT

parkingday_300x200.jpgIf you drove through San Francisco today and pulled up to a parking spot covered with shrubbery, don't be alarmed: the spot was likely claimed for 2008 National PARK(ing) Day, a global one-day event that transforms metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

Down the street from MoJo, greeters at a busy intersection directed lunchtime walkers to the eco-friendly benches parked in one such spot, themed "Permeability." Part public service announcement, part mini-flash mob, the annotated parking spot map by the McCall Design Group directed visitors to the water-saving landscape solutions present on this patch of asphalt, including composted bark mulch, native plants, tufted hairgrass, and water-filtering aqua-stone.

National PARK(ing) Day was started in 2005 by the Rebar Group, an interdisciplinary coalition of San Francisco artists, designers and activists. Since then, cities such as Portland, Seattle, and Tuscon have followed suit.

According to Nikki Wisser, an associate with McCall Design Group, their permeable spot hasn't drawn any irritated bystanders.

"I'm just glad I'm not driving today," said one man with a chuckle as he walked past.

Photo by Jin Zhu.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 19 September 2008

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 4:17 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Fall is here! I know your puny human calendar says it's still a few days away, but I know better because my seasonal alarm clock has spoken. A few days ago, after a summer of ignoring it, Domino once again demanded (literally) that we clear the junk off the sheepskin pod and put it back up on the couch for her to sleep in. This is a much better indicator than all that solstice/equinox stuff.

Though it may be a little iffy about which season is coming up. Last year Domino demanded the return of the pod right before winter. This is either an indication of a chilly fall ahead of us, or else an indication that Domino has a brain the size of a peanut. But look: if you had a brain the size of a peanut, you'd have trouble keeping track of seasons too. So don't be too judgmental.

Meanwhile, Inkblot doesn't need a pod or any other kind of sleep aid. Just a paw over his eyes and he's set to go.

Market Reform Update

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 4:06 PM EDT

MARKET REFORM UPDATE....Dean Baker is unhappy with the SEC's decision to ban short selling in financial stocks:

So where does the SEC get off banning shorts? Has it determined that bank stocks are undervalued? How did it make that determination? Does it ever determine that stocks are overvalued and therefore ban buying?

....If the issue is price manipulation, it is hard to believe that this is the first time market actors have manipulated prices. If they have the ability to do it on the down side now with financial stocks, then presumably they have also manipulated stock prices on the upside on other occasions. Why is the former worse than the latter?

Point taken. I probably agree, though I don't think I object to temporary restriction during panics. For a more impassioned defense of restrictions on short sellers, "Mad Money" senior writer Cliff Mason has you covered in comments to yesterday's post on the subject.

On another subject, Jon Taplin believes that one of the financial reforms we should insist on once the immediate crisis is resolved is to do away with mark-to-market accounting. He quotes William Isaac:

Fair Value Accounting dictates that financial institutions holding financial instruments available for sale (such as mortgage-backed securities) must mark those assets to market. That sounds reasonable. But what do we do when the already thin market for those assets freezes up and only a handful of transactions occur at extremely depressed prices?

....When there are temporary impairments of asset values due to economic and marketplace events, regulators must give institutions an opportunity to survive the temporary impairment. Assets should not be marked to unrealistic fire-sale prices.

This is an old controversy, and I won't pretend to have a sophisticated opinion about it. Still, I'd be careful about "reforming" this. Mark-to-market is a basic matter of transparency, and overall it helps prevent financial abuses by keeping banks from hiding worthless crap on their balance sheets. Our goal should be to prevent (or ameliorate) panics in the first place, and if we do that then mark-to-market is a feature, not a bug. I'd be inclined to move very slowly on this one.

The Decline and Fall of Sarah Palin

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 2:44 PM EDT

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SARAH PALIN....The Sarah Palin chickens are coming home to roost, and I'm here to crow about it:

Me, on August 29: "Conservatives on the tube are really, really struggling to defend this choice. I almost feel sorry for them. I'm sticking to my guns that before long this will be seen for the debacle it is."

My colleague Jonathan Stein, today: "Palin is simply not the giant-killer we thought she was. Take a look at this chart....she now has the lowest approval rating of any member of either ticket."

The clear lesson from all this: more people should listen to me! Spread the word.

Mission Creep Dispatch: C. Douglas Lummis

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 2:40 PM EDT

lummis.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 C. Douglas Lummis, a former US Marine who teaches at Japan's Okinawa International University, and the author of Radical Democracy.

Pentagon Promise Breakers: Friday the 13th in Okinawa

In her article "How to Stay in Iraq for 1,000 Years," Frida Berrigan takes up the issue of status of forces agreements (SOFAs), those treaties that determine the standing of US troops based or operating in foreign countries. She mentions that the special privileges granted under the US-Japan SOFA have been a particular source of resentment in Okinawa, where time after time GIs who had committed crimes against Okinawans were spirited away by US military police and disappeared, apparently transferred back to the US, leaving it unclear whether they were ever charged in a military court.

Meanwhile, In Iraq....

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 2:01 PM EDT

MEANWHILE, IN IRAQ....Juan Cole reports on the latest from the political reconciliation front:

The Iraqi parliament failed for a fifth time to pass a law on provincial elections.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that after months of wrangling in parliament over the enabling legislation for provincial elections, parliament has failed to find a mutually agreed-upon formula. Worse, the parliamentary debates on this issue have deepened the dispute between the Kurds and a Sunni-Shiite Arab coalition. There are fears that the sectarian civil war (between Shiites and Sunnis) will now be followed by an ethnic one, between Arabs and Kurds. The escalation of this conflict has been in significant ways impelled by the imposition of the Kurdish paramilitary, the Peshmerga, on areas outside Kurdistan proper.

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Biden Aggressively Defends Upper Class Tax Raise

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

From the department of you-don't-see-that-everyday, here's a politician running for national office willing to stick to his guns on a tax raise:

Katie Couric: Your vice presidential rival, Governor Palin, said "To the rest of America, that's not patriotism. Raising taxes is about killing jobs and hurting small businesses and making things worse."
Joe Biden: How many small businessmen are making one million, four hundred thousand—average in the top 1 percent. Give me a break. I remind my friend, John McCain, what he said—when Bush called for war and tax cuts—he said, it was immoral, immoral, to take a nation to war and not have anybody pay for it. I am so sick and tired of this phoniness. The truth of the matter is that we are in trouble. And the people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break. We take the tax cut they're getting and we give it to the middle class.

Points for courage, certainly. More on the taxes-as-patriotism line from Jonathan Cohn.

Goose Meet Gander

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

GOOSE MEET GANDER....Matt Yglesias says he's willing to go along with the Treasury's plan to bail out Wall Street if that's what it takes to rescue Western civilization:

But tactically, I think it'd be crazy to just hand this package over for the President's signature. Every time progressives in congress try to get something done for working people, conservatives either block it or else hold it hostage to some nutty tax cut. Why not tie this bailout to something like the second stimulus package of enhanced food stamps, extended unemployment insurance, and enhanced aid to state governments straining under the yoke of Medicaid payments?

This does seem like a good opportunity to yoke all this stuff together, assuming that the legislation is ready to go. Would Republicans really be willing to hold up the entire bill just because they hate the idea of spending federal money on actual workers? I doubt it. Let's yoke away.

The Other Bailout

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:28 PM EDT

THE OTHER BAILOUT....As a followup to the previous post, I will, of course, note for the record that if Uncle Sam can afford to spend a trillion bucks or so rescuing Wall Street, it would be nice if they could spend a trillion bucks shoring up all the poor saps losing their homes because they can't make the payments on those option ARMs they were talked into buying during the boom years. We could do it if we wanted to, and the risk wouldn't even be appreciably different from the Wall Street bailout. The feds would have to make distinctions (just as they will with overleveraged banks), and some homeowners would qualify for a rescue package while others wouldn't. The ones who qualified would get loan relief, which most of them would eventually make good on, in the form of restructured financing. People would be helped, the subprime crisis would get attacked at its roots, and although it would cost a lot of money up front, in the long term the price might end up being fairly modest (by present-day brobdingnagian standards, that is). Moral hazard is an issue, but no more than it is for the bank bailout.

So: why are we willing to fund an enormous RTC-like agency to bail out bankers, but not an enormous RTC-like institution to bail out ordinary people? Lack of lobbyists? Republican ideology? A desire to punish irresponsibility regardless of the disastrous sytemic consequences? Or what?

Polling Tidbits: Sarah Palin Now Least Popular of the Big Four

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:18 PM EDT

If Democrats are good at anything its wailing, beating their chests, and tearing their garments (no, that isn't like "flagging the molecules"). But it's clear now the despair over Obama's supposedly doomed presidential chances was silly. The main reason? Palin is simply not the giant-killer we thought she was. Take a look at this chart (via Wonkette). Due to weeks of unrelenting vetting by the media (i.e. sustained negative press), she now has the lowest approval rating of any member of either ticket.

palin_approval.png

And this is the end-result of hiding her from the press. Can you imagine what would have happened if the McCain campaign had treated her like an adult and put her in front of reporters?

In other numbers-related news, the quant geeks over at FiveThirtyEight.com report that the possibility of a 269-269 electoral tie is climbing. The reason is relatively simple: the election is nearing but the race is still close in key states, meaning that the likelihood of one of the two candidates winning in a blowout is going down. FiveThirtyEight points to one tie scenario above all others:

...there is one specific scenario that is driving this outcome. That is the scenario wherein Barack Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, but loses New Hampshire. Of the 320 times that our simulation ended in a tie, this particular scenario was responsible 294 times. Indeed, we presently have Obama winning precisely the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, so all that would be needed to make a tie occur is to flip New Hampshire back to McCain, and entirely reasonable possibility.

What an absolute horror show that would be.