Kevin Drum - August 2008

Stock Market Watch

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 4:41 PM PDT

STOCK MARKET WATCH....From the AP today:

Stocks sank in light trading Monday as worries about American International Group Inc. touched off broader concerns that the deterioration of the credit markets will bring more big losses for financial companies.

Damn liberal media. Everyone knows the market is down because the start of the Democratic convention has Wall Street worried that Barack Obama might become president next year and wreck the economy. Don't these guys ever stop shilling for their liberal darlings?

UPDATE: With my hand over my heart, I swear I wrote this post before surfing over to The Corner to see what professional nutbag Larry Kudlow had to say about today's market swoon. Sure enough, he came through for me.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama and Change

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 3:19 PM PDT

OBAMA AND CHANGE....Joe Klein sat in on another of Frank Luntz's focus groups of undecided voters yesterday and, among other things, came away with this:

"Change" as a theme is over. Too vague. And Obama's rhetoric has begun to seriously cut against him. "No more oratory," one woman said. "Give us details."

I imagine Klein is going to get a lot of grief for this in the lefty blogosphere, since, after all, Obama has white papers up the gazoo for anyone who wants to know what he really stands for. But I'd be careful about shooting the messenger here. If Obama hasn't closed the sale, then he hasn't closed the sale, and railing about it won't change the facts on the ground.

What's more, I think there's something to this. Sure, "time for a change" is an evergreen theme, adopted by out-of-power parties since the first leader of a neanderthal clan failed to kill enough mammoths to keep everyone back in camp happily sated. And it'll be part of Obama's message all the way until election day. But by itself it might not be enough to get him elected, and even if it is, it won't be enough to allow him to govern.

I just finished writing a short essay on more-or-less this very topic, so I won't anticipate myself too much here. But the nickel version is this: the goal of this election shouldn't be just to win, it should be to talk a big chunk of the electorate into becoming friendlier toward liberal goals and ideas. Not just friendlier toward change, but friendlier toward specifically liberal change. That means a public that, at least at the margins, is more convinced that we need universal healthcare and that Obama can deliver it; that we need to withdraw from Iraq and reboot our foreign policy; and that some sacrifices are acceptable in the service of a serious energy policy. So far, though, Obama has simply been too cautious about standing up and really hammering home a simple, easily understood case for these and other specifically liberal goals.

FDR got away with this in 1932, running a mushy campaign and then turning around and delivering the New Deal a year later. But FDR was a genius who had the Great Depression around to scare the hell out of everyone. Obama just won't have that, which means that working on public opinion is even more important now than it was in 1932. That woman in the focus group was practically begging to be not just inspired, but inspired in the service of a specific goal. Obama needs to listen to her.

And Speaking of Georgia....

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 10:35 AM PDT

AND SPEAKING OF GEORGIA....Matt Yglesias makes sport today of the fact that within minutes of giving his warmup speech at the GOP convention next week, Dick Cheney will be hustled far, far out of town to visit lovely Azerbaijan. And sure, that's kind of amusing. On the other hand, here's the full itinerary:

Vice President Cheney will travel abroad beginning September 2, 2008. President Bush has asked the Vice President to travel to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy for discussions with these key partners on issues of mutual interest.

Looks to me like Bush thinks Cheney is the perfect guy to get the Cold War started back up. Unless, that is, you can think of any other issue that's of "mutual interest" to those three particular countries. Stay tuned.

Georgia Update

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 10:17 AM PDT

GEORGIA UPDATE....Events are proceeding apace in the Russian parliament today:

Lawmakers in both houses of parliament voted unanimously for the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where a decades-old rebellion ballooned this month into a bitter, bloody struggle between Russia and U.S.-backed Georgia.

...."Currently, it is important for us that South Ossetia should gain independence legally from the point of view of the world community," South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioyev told the Interfax news agency. "After this, we shall be able to seek accession into the Russian Federation, but this issue will be postponed for the future."

Not too far in the future, would be my guess. For more, check out Megan Stack's report on how thrilled the Russian public is about giving the U.S. a poke in the eye.

One Last Shot

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 9:55 AM PDT

ONE LAST SHOT....I won't pretend to know why Newsweek chose to turn over 3,000 words (!) to professional liberal Obama hater Sean Wilentz in their current issue (his opening claim that "I would like to see him succeed in fulfilling his promise" is one of the more transparent howlers I've seen recently), but it really has to be seen to be believed. Be sure to especially check out the second-to-last paragraph:

Liberal intellectuals actually could have aided their candidate, while also doing their professional duty, by pressing him on his patently evasive accounts about various matters, such as his connections with the convicted wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko, or his more-than-informal ties to the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, including their years of association overseeing an expensive, high-profile, but fruitless public-school reform effort in Chicago. Instead, the intellectuals have failed Obama as well as their readers by branding such questioning as irrelevant, malicious or heretical.

Um, sure. That would have been a great way to help out Obama. Should liberal intellectuals also have viciously attacked his wife just to toughen him up for November? Questioned whether he was really the father of his children? Dug more deeply into his Muslim heritage?

If Newsweek wants to publish stuff like this under Karl Rove's byline, whatever. At least everyone knows what axe is being ground. But how many of Newsweek's readers know that Wilentz was a one-man hurricane of pro-Hillary/anti-Obama agit-prop for months and months during the primary? Not many, I'd guess, and they might read this bitter diatribe a little differently if they did.

The Mortgage Meltdown

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 8:57 AM PDT

THE MORTGAGE MELTDOWN....From the LA Times this morning:

Long before the mortgage crisis began rocking Main Street and Wall Street, a top FBI official made a chilling, if little-noticed, prediction: The booming mortgage business, fueled by low interest rates and soaring home values, was starting to attract shady operators and billions in losses were possible.

"It has the potential to be an epidemic," Chris Swecker, the FBI official in charge of criminal investigations, told reporters in September 2004. But, he added reassuringly, the FBI was on the case. "We think we can prevent a problem that could have as much impact as the S&L crisis," he said.

You gotta be kidding. Even a guy at the FBI saw this coming? But the rocket scientists at the Fed somehow slept through it anyway? Yeesh.

Still, the conclusion of the story should restore your faith in the federal bureacracy: after writing his memo, Swecker's budget was cut. "Nobody wanted to listen," Sharon Ormsby, the chief of the FBI's financial crimes section, explained. Partly this was because of an increased focus on counterterrorism, but apparently much of it was also because Ashcroft & Co. insisted on shifting resources into the movement hot button areas of illegal immigration and child pornography. Now that's the approach to regulatory and fraud issues we've come to expect from the Bush administration.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Those Olympic Ceremonies

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 8:47 AM PDT

THOSE OLYMPIC CEREMONIES....I think I've finally figured out what it is that bugged me so much about the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing a couple of weeks ago. I know there are plenty of candidates for this honor, but here's mine: it reminded me of the annual Easter Pageant at the Crystal Cathedral. That's an odd thing to say since I've never actually seen the Easter Pageant even though I've lived within ten miles of the CC (and its predecessor) my entire life, but there you have it. I think the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics are what Rev. Schuller would stage if he had $300 million and 20,000 people to do it with.

Self-Parody Watch

| Sun Aug. 24, 2008 2:34 PM PDT
SELF-PARODY WATCH....This is just bizarre. Has any presidential candidate ever before run an ad mocking his opponent for not choosing a particular running mate? I think the folks running McCain's war room are getting cabin fever or something.

But who knows? Maybe an attack ad this transparent will be just the thing to finally get all those ex-Hillary supporters fully on board with Obama. Sort of the way trash talk from the Yankees ends up on the front page of the Boston Globe and fires up even fair weather Red Sox fans. That's pretty much how it would affect me, anyway.

In any case, since this is an ad that's obviously aimed at insiders and the media, not actual voters, Jon Cohn has some pointed advice:

Having said all that, the media has some responsibilty here, as well. Controversy makes for good coverage, I know. But for all the talk of disunity, the really remarkable story about the Democrats right now is the absence of meaningful dissent on the party's agenda. When it comes to substance, the Democrats are arguably more united than they have been since the early 1960s. Yes, you can find divisions on both domestic and foreign policy, on everything from the relative priority of deficit reduction to America's response to Darfur. But these debates don't match the kind we've seen in the past.

That's really true, isn't it? On trade and economic issues, the left and right of the party have both moved in each other's direction since the early 90s and the remaining disageements are pretty moderate. Nearly everyone is united on some form of liberal internationalism as our favored foreign policy stance, and nearly everyone wants to withdraw from Iraq. Social issues have largely sorted themselves out. There's surprisingly broad agreement about what our energy policy ought to look like. And there's virtual unanimity on the broad contours of how we should tackle healthcare.

It's not all sweetness and light, but aside from optics and personality issues, liberals really are remarkably united this year. It's kinda scary in a way. I blame the blogosphere.

FORMATTING NOTE: It took me a while to figure out how to embed YouTube clips over at the old site so that they looked decent, but I haven't quite figured it out here yet. This clip looks fine in Firefox, but it's sort of squashed in Internet Explorer and a complete disaster in Safari. Sorry. I'll fiddle around some more later and try to figure out the magic bullet.

On the other hand, I just noticed that link highlighting works a whole lot better in IE and Safari than Firefox. Win some, lose some, I guess.

Barn Doors

| Sun Aug. 24, 2008 11:15 AM PDT

BARN DOORS....Via TPM, Mark Halperin said this morning that Barack Obama was foolish to bring up the issue of John McCain's seven house because it "opens the door" for McCain to air inflammatory ads about Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, and other dark chapters from Obama's past. It opens, to coin a phrase, the gates of hell.

But wait, you're thinking: wasn't all this stuff going to come up anyway? Turns out George Stephanopoulos asked precisely that:

Stephanopoulos: Don't you think that was going to come up anyway?

Halperin: I think it would have been hard for John McCain, given the way he says he's going to run his campaign, to do all this stuff without the door being opened.

It really does make you wonder what planet Halperin is living on. Last month McCain hired Karl Rove protege Steve Schmidt, and since then he's run ads mocking Obama's celebrity, charged (repeatedly) that Obama puts his career ahead of his country, pretended that Obama had refused to visit wounded soldiers unless the press was along, run an ad saying that Obama was responsible for high gas prices, and conspicuously declined to comment on Jerome Corsi's bestselling claim that Obama is really a secret Muslim. At this point, who cares how McCain "says he's going to run his campaign"? Halperin can look at McCain's actual campaign and see what kind of campaign he's running. It's been sunk in the gutter for weeks now.

Anyway, as Halperin is certainly well aware, McCain and his cheering section are beavering away on all this stuff anyway. Over at National Review, for example Stanley Kurtz has been hard at work badgering the University of Illinois to give him access to the archives of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Why? Because his heart is turning somersaults over the possibility that something in the archives will show that Obama had a conversation or three with radical leftist Bill Ayers during the period when both served on the board of CAC in the mid-90s. Do you think Kurtz was waiting for a "door to be opened"? Or Jerome Corsi? Or Steve Schmidt? Please.

The Great Road of Georgia

| Sun Aug. 24, 2008 10:41 AM PDT

THE GREAT ROAD OF GEORGIA....The Observer reports that despite Russian claims that they're withdrawing from Georgia, they appear to be doing no such thing:

The country's forces were in control of several key areas outside the original conflict zone — including the Black Sea port of Poti and the western town of Senaki. Additionally, troops had established new 'buffer zones' around the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

There was compelling evidence yesterday [] that Russia is planning a long-term occupation of Georgia. The Observer witnessed Russian soldiers digging trenches seven kilometres outside the port of Poti next to the Rioni river and the main highway to Tbilisi.

....The Kremlin's plan now appears clear: to maintain a significant military presence in Georgia, capable of choking the country's economy and shutting down its major trade routes. It also allows Russia the option of a future invasion, should it want one.

OK, fine. If the West is looking for a way of supporting Georgia that doesn't involve dumb ideas like boycotting the 2014 Olympics or kicking Russia out of the G8, how about building the Georgians a new cross-country road and rail link? One further south that wouldn't be under Russian control?

Now, I know what you're thinking: every place south of the current cross-country road is full of mountains. And so it is. But that didn't stop the Ming emperors from building the Great Wall of China, did it? If they can build a thousand miles of wall, we ought to be able to build a couple hundred miles of road and rail. So let's get cracking.