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Friday Cat Blogging - 12 September 2008

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 3:53 PM EDT

FRIDAY QUILTBLOGGING....The cats think they're the center of attention this Friday as usual, but today is actually Friday Quiltblogging. Marian (currently the president of the Smocking Arts Guild of America, by the way, and you should attend their annual convention in Atlanta this year if you enjoy that kind of thing) is a champion quilter, and although you've seen bits and snatches of this particular quilt before, today's photos show it in all its glory. Enjoy!

But this photo shoot was kind of weird. The pictures of Domino were all fine and I had plenty to choose from, but every single picture of Inkblot was out of focus except for the one you see here. Why? Does Inkblot have some magical focus-blocking powers? Did the quilt eventually figure out what I was doing and steal the focus in order to highlight itself? Does my camera not like white fur? Very mysterious.

UPDATE: Sarah Palin on cats.

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Campaign Realpolitik

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 3:23 PM EDT

The McCain campaign has lied about the Bridge to Nowhere, Obama's tax plan, and his vice presidential pick's record on earmarks, attacked the media for not treating Sarah Palin with sufficient deference, and run a series of highly disturbing ads against Barack Obama that leave little doubt they are designed to play on racial fears and stereotypes. "Morally unfit" to be president, one commentator lambasted McCain, who had previously vowed to run an honorable campaign, and been the victim of such vicious smears himself during his unsuccessful 2000 Republican primary run against George W. Bush. If there were a referee, perhaps he could be implored to cry foul and make it stop. But, having lived through 2000 and 2004, it's also not so surprising to observers that this is the kind of campaign that McCain has chosen to run at the top of the GOP ticket. He's determined to do whatever it takes to win, and his party has used such tactics, and successfully, in the past.

So what about seeing the political campaign world as it really is, and not how candidates say they would like it to be? So suggests washingtonpost.com's political writer Chris Cillizza in this chat today:

St. Louis: Since you're so "in the know," I was wondering if you've heard from Republicans -- off the record, of course -- that they're surprised by McCain's campaign. His traditionally Republican campaign is smart -- they win -- but it also seems so out of character for the old McCain we knew in 2000. What are Republican insiders thoughts on this change?
Chris Cillizza: Hmm, was that "in the know" comment a shot at me?
If so, well played. Onto the question....
Republicans have always -- or at least for as long as the Fix memory lasts -- adopted a realpolitik approach to political campaigns.

Earmarks

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 3:17 PM EDT

EARMARKS....So now John McCain is flatly saying that Sarah Palin has never requested an earmark? That's just....confused.

Oops, sorry, confused is a code word for "old," so strike that. What I meant is that he's fibbing because he knows that a huge TV audience will hear what he said and that only about 1% of them will ever see or hear the correction.

But as long as we're on the subject, the infamous Bridge to Nowhere is a pretty good example of why this self-righteous nonsense about earmarks is so annoying. It's true that Congress killed the BtN, but this didn't save the American taxpayers a nickel. Sarah Palin just took the money and used it for other Alaska projects. And that's the way all earmarks work: they're simply ways of directing spending. The actual amount of spending is set elsewhere, and it doesn't usually change whether or not any of it is earmarked.

In other words, even aside from the fact that earmarks don't add up to an awful lot of money, killing them wouldn't appreciably change spending levels anyway. The real question is whether members of Congress should have some direct say in where money is spent in their states and districts, or whether federal bureaucrats should make all those decisions. There are actually pretty good arguments on both sides. The bureaucrats have a better sense of the big picture but members of Congress have a better sense of what local residents really care about. Bureaucrats are less likely to be corrupt but members of Congress are less likely to make decisions with only a shallow knowledge of local conditions. And both sides are probably about equally likely to waste money on idiotic boondoggles.

Personally, I don't care much about earmarks, but to the extent I do, these are the grounds for debate. Not total spending. If I had my way I'd simply set aside a fixed amount for earmarks in transportation and infrastructure bills (say, 2-3% of the total) and then sit back safe in the knowledge that local residents have some direct say in how local money is spent, but that the vast majority will be spent in ways that make sense on a larger regional/national basis. But I'm just dreaming.

Quote of the Day - 9.12.08

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 2:01 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From McCain advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin, commenting on why he thinks Republicans continue to campaign manically on tax cuts even though it's plain that tax increases will be necessary in the near future:

"It's the brand. And you don't dilute the brand."

That's what the American auto industry thought too. It hasn't worked out so well for them.

The First Interview....Revisited

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 1:43 PM EDT

THE FIRST INTERVIEW....REVISITED....Ross Douthat on Sarah Palin:

I know that the people who've decided she's Monica Goodling with a shotgun aren't going to be persuaded by me on this point, but I think Palin really does have the potential to embody the kind of change the GOP desperately needs....But a vice-presidential run isn't the ideal place to develop that potential in the best of times, and a vice-presidential run under the tutelage of the McCain campaign is likely to produce a lot more of what we saw from Palin in her interview last night: Rigorously memorized, carefully regurgitated talking points, a determination to avoid making enormous gaffes, and not much else.

You may be shocked to hear that I sort of agree. I'm not a conservative, but if I were I'd probably find Palin an attractive template for the future of the party. Give her another few years to develop some serious views on non-Alaska issues (and maybe a Senate term to do it in), and she might become a very powerful presence in the party.

But right now? Underprepared hardly begins to describe her. It was late last night and I didn't explain in any detail why I found her Charlie Gibson interview so embarrassing, but the answer is simple: she wasn't even able to regurgitate the usual high school-level talking points that politicians thrive on. It was more like kindergarten level talking points. President Bush is ridding the world of Islamic extremism. Terrorists are hellbent on destroying our nation. We must do whatever it takes. We must not blink, Charlie. Terrorists are hellbent on destroying America. All options must be on the table. And that's why winning in Afghanistan is so important. Oh, and Iraq too. We have to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. The surge is great! We need a surge in Afghanistan.

This is like a parody of warblogs circa 2002. Somebody apparently told her that no matter what the question was, she only needed to parrot mindless bellicosities (but be sure to mention that war should be a last option!) and then move on. This is just not serious stuff. More here from James Fallows.

Pre-Palin, McCain Slammed Paltry Foreign Policy Cred of Mayors and Governors

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 1:36 PM EDT

This may be the best illustration of the cynicism of the Palin pick I've yet seen. In the primary, John McCain claimed Rudy Giuliani didn't have the foreign policy credentials to be president because he was "a mayor for a short period of time," and Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney didn't because each of them was "a governor for a short period of time."

If John McCain ever did interviews or press conferences, he might be asked about this apparent discrepancy.

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By This Logic, Any East Coast Mayor Could Be John McCain's VP

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 1:04 PM EDT

If you've read any coverage of Sarah Palin's interview with ABC, you know that she is continuing to insist she has foreign policy credibility because you can "see" Russia from her state. Mike Tomasky takes the idea for a test run.

"Russia," as a political entity, isn't a bunch of rocks in Siberia. It's Moscow. We don't dispute that, right? Right.
So let's do a little experiment. How close is Juneau, Alaska's capital, to Moscow? It's 4,559.6 miles. Meanwhile, how close is, say, Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, to Moscow? It's 4,498.8 miles. (Distances calculated using this site.)
So there you have it. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is more geographically qualified to speak of matters Russian than Palin is. I wish someone would make this into a commercial. They'd never trot this argument out again.

Adjusting for (De)flation

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 12:53 PM EDT

ADJUSTING FOR (DE)FLATION....The New York Times reports on consumer activity:

The price index for finished goods, a measure of the change in prices businesses pay, fell 0.9 percent in August after a 1.2 percent increase in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Consumers' spending on retail and food decreased 0.3 percent in August after a 0.5 monthly drop in July, according to the Census Bureau. Economists had been expecting an increase of 0.2 percent.

Does this mean that actual sales of goods and services were down 0.3 percent? Or, if you adjust for inflation, does it mean that retail sales were actually up?

I have no idea, and nowhere in the NYT piece do they tell you. Nor do the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. The only way to find out is to go to the Census Bureau press release itself, which says:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for August, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $381.2 billion, a decrease of 0.3 percent (±0.5%)* from the previous month, but 1.6 percent (±0.7%) above August 2007.

So the reported drop is from July to August, not from last year. And it's not adjusted for inflation. Actual, inflation-adjusted sales were probably up a bit compared to last month, but down about 4% from last year.

This is all a bit murky since we don't have final inflation/deflation numbers yet for August, and overall I don't know if this is good or bad news anyway. But that's the news. Why can't the financial press report it?

Obama Goes on Offense: McCain Is "Out of Touch"

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 11:58 AM EDT

With his supporters increasingly grumbling about what feels like a campaign perpetually fighting back against John McCain's attacks, Barack Obama began an offensive assault today.

The Obama campaign is seizing on a statement by McCain Thursday night on CNN in which the Republican senator said, "It's easy for me to go to Washington and, frankly, be somewhat divorced from the day-to-day challenges people have."

In a conference call with reporters Friday morning, top Obama surrogates hammered McCain for the statement. Dick Durbin, senator from Illinois, said, "[McCain] wants to continue with George Bush have failed. If he would, you know, be in the real world of American families in New York, Illinois or Florida, he would understand that."

Rahm Emanuel, a representative from Illinois and part of the Democratic House leadership, added, "[McCain is] removed from the day-to-day challenges people have faced in their lives. And you see it manifest itself in the thing when he says, you know, I don't use a computer. I don't use e-mail. There's a whole economic revolution going on. And it fundamentally changed the economy, and fundamentally changed people's lives, and he is removed from it."

An unnamed Obama campaign official told Politico that the campaign's message is simple: "Out of touch, out of touch, out of touch."

New McCain Ad: Racist or No?

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 11:47 AM EDT

The McCain campaign has a new 30-second spot out, hitting Obama and Biden for mistreating Sarah Palin. It's below. Near the end, Obama's face is shown with the words "HOW DISRESPECTFUL." "Disrespectful" is actually the title of the ad.

Some are questioning whether that's racist. Here's TPM's David Kurtz: "Doesn't it just drip with contempt? The sort of old-fashioned contempt that whites often held blacks in (and obviously still do)."

I'm not sure I agree. I think "how disrespectful" could be effective if paired with an image of a white politician, too, as long as that white politician's calling card was civility and positivity. Tarnishing such a reputation doesn't depend on the politician's color.

Anyway, it's not often when an ad is obviously racist or obviously sexist. Ads are almost always in a gray area, as this one is. Each viewer can decide how he or she feels.