Kevin Drum - November 2008

Friday Cat Blogging - 7 November 2008

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 3:46 PM EST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....In today's edition of Friday Catblogging, Inkblot and Domino are part of history. As are we all. Have a good weekend, everyone.

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Beating the Clock

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:46 PM EST

BEATING THE CLOCK....A few days ago I linked to a Washington Post story about all the new regulations and executive orders the Bush administration is rushing to put into effect before they leave office. Their deadline is November 20, because executive orders don't take legal effect for 60 days and they want them on the books before Obama takes over. Froude Reynolds explains how they're getting this done:

In an effort to amend the Endangered Species Act to say it doesn't really apply to big federal projects like power plants or dams, the Bush administration claimed it reviewed 200,000 comments in four days. Not all by themselves. They called in fifteen extra people from around the country to work on it all week! With that kind of manpower, each person only had to read seven comments every minute!

You know, I'd almost be disappointed if they weren't doing stuff like this up to the very end. The good news, Reynolds says, is that this behavior is practically guaranteed to be ruled "arbitrary and capricious" by an administrative law judge in the near future after some environmental group or another takes them to court. That being the case, let's hope the true believers in the Bush administration treat all their last-minute regs with the same care and respect for the law that they've shown for the past eight years.

Out, Damned Spot

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:22 PM EST

OUT, DAMNED SPOT....Andrew Tobias isn't quite ready to let go of his bitterness over the Bush years. Me neither! Today he adds yet another chapter to the chronicles of the Mayberry Machiavellis:

I know . . . it's probably not constructive and perhaps not even good sportsmanship to keep piling on....And yet I feel the need to share the story of Skip Orr, whom I met Tuesday night in Grant Park watching President-elect Obama take the stage. A long-time Obama supporter, Skip had flown in from Japan for this....As President of Boeing Japan, he found himself at a Democrats Abroad meeting pitching John Kerry — and then found himself outed as a Democrat in the New York Times. The next day Karl Rove called Boeing headquarters noting his displeasure — and referring to the great deal of business Boeing does with the government. Basically, he wanted Orr fired.

Sweet bunch of guys, aren't they? They can't leave town soon enough for my taste.

Northern Exposure

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 1:29 PM EST

NORTHERN EXPOSURE....The recount in Minnesota hasn't even started yet and Al Franken's deficit has already been cut to 238 votes. It makes Florida 2000 look like a landslide.

And in other post-election news, Jonathan Stein points to this Washington Post piece about the odd goings-on up in Alaska. The official turnout figures are oddly low and the final results are wildly off from the final polling numbers. There is apparently much scratching of heads up in Anchorage and Juneau.

Iraq Update

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 1:15 PM EST

IRAQ UPDATE....Two days ago I was reading stories about how the Iraqis were still flatly opposed to the U.S. version of the security agreement they were being asked to sign. But now everything is different:

Iraqi Shiite politicians are indicating that they will move faster toward a new security agreement about American troops, and a Bush administration official said he believed that Iraqis could ratify the agreement as early as the middle of this month.

"Before, the Iraqis were thinking that if they sign the pact, there will be no respect for the schedule of troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011," said Hadi al-Ameri, a powerful member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a major Shiite party. "If Republicans were still there, there would be no respect for this timetable. This is a positive step to have the same theory about the timetable as Mr. Obama."

Translation: we don't trust George Bush to actually observe the terms of the agreement. But Obama will. Apparently Iraqis are pretty shrewd judges of character, aren't they?

Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 12:19 PM EST

NIGHTMARE ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE....The unemployment rate is at its worst in 14 years. October retail sales were the worst in 37 years. The ISM manufacturing index is at its lowest level in 26 years. And the service sector index is at its lowest level ever.

Welcome to Washington, president-elect Obama. I think you'd better get used to hearing the phrase "at its worst level since ______ "

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Obama's Constitution

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:54 AM EST

OBAMA'S CONSTITUTION....I don't expect to hear anything about this stuff soon from the Obama team, but I hope they don't put off for too long making some explicit statements about:

  • Domestic surveillance/warrantless wiretapping

  • Guantanamo

  • Torture policy/adherence to Geneva conventions

  • Signing statements

  • Military tribunals

Let's call this the "shredding the constitution" file. Or, more hopefully, the "putting the constitution back together" file. The first two items in particular are going to be especially tough for Obama. He's almost certainly going to be told in no uncertain terms by men wearing dark suits and penetrating stares that the wiretapping program has produced reams of actionable intelligence and that cutting it back will endanger American security. And those sentiments won't stay private. They'll be leaked to plenty of friendly reporters if Obama orders the program modified anyway. We can expect some major political firestorms over this.

Guantanamo, if anything, will be even harder. I'm not talking here about Guantanamo the place. The prison itself can be pretty easily moved elsewhere. I'm talking about Guantanamo the problem: namely, what do you do with the remaining detainees there? Battlefield conditions being what they are, it's almost a certainty that the evidence against many of the prisoners — including some of the genuinely dangerous ones — is far too weak to withstand any kind of dispassionate tribunal. But if that means some of them get released, where do they get released to? Kansas City? It's not as if there's another country in the world that will take them, after all.

But we can't keep surveilling American citizens forever and we can't continue to keep prisoners locked up based merely on rumors and hearsay (or confessions extracted by torture). I don't expect Obama to clean this stuff up on his first day in office, but here's hoping that the constitutional law professor doesn't wait too long. It would be nice to have our country back again.

Viva Obama

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 1:43 AM EST

VIVA OBAMA....Great moments from the annals of debate prep:

For the second debate, a town-hall format, Obama was told to be careful to hold the mike by his side — not straight up in his lap — when he sat down. The same instructions had been given to John Kerry four years ago. It wasn't hard to persuade the candidates to mind the advice, said an aide; all you had to do was show them a video.

Roger that.

Raw Data

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 8:03 PM EST

RAW DATA....Via Steve Benen, Steve Waldman says that Obama has shrunk the God gap:

Obama got 43% of weekly church-goers vs. 55% for McCain. In 2004, Bush got 61% vs. 39% for Kerry. What this means is that Bush beat Kerry by roughly 27 million among weekly churchgoers, and McCain beat Obama by only 15 million — a stunning 12 million person shift.

Hold on a second. I made a pain in the ass of myself over this subject in 2004, and I'm going to do the same thing this year.

First things first. In 2004, Kerry lost to Bush nationwide by 2.4 percentage points. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 6.3 percentage points. That's a swing of about 9 points nationwide, which means that any group that also swung by 9 points in Obama's favor was doing nothing except following the national trend.

So how about those churchgoers? They went from -22 for Kerry to -12 for Obama. That's a swing of ten points, almost identical to the nationwide swing in Obama's favor. Weekly churchgoers just didn't do anything unusual, which means there's no reason to think that Obama did anything special to appeal to them. More than likely, they voted for him in larger numbers this year for the same reason as everyone else: they were tired of Bush, tired of Republicans, and trusted Obama more in tough economic times. There's really no justification for a special narrative to explain those 12 million extra voters.

But as long as we're on the subject, which groups did Obama do especially well with? That is, which groups did he swing by margins substantially more than 9 points? Based on the 2004 and 2008 exit polls, here are the groups that swung in disproportionate numbers this year:

  • Income $200,000 or more (+34)

  • First-time voters (+33)

  • No high school (+27)

  • Latinos (+27)

  • 18-29 year olds (+25)

  • Under $15,000 (+21)

  • Full-time workers (+19)

  • Urban (+19)

  • Non-gun owners (+18)

  • Non-religious (+16)

  • Parents with children under 18 (+16)

The swing in first-time voters (which overlaps heavily with 18-29 year olds) and Latinos was especially stunning. Also worth noting, just because they're such obvious swing groups, are Obama's large gains among moderates (+12) and the unmarried (+14).

And which groups did Obama do substantially worse with than his overall national trend? Here they are:

  • Gay/lesbian (-11)

  • Last minute voters (-8)

  • Union members (0)

  • "Other" religions (0)

  • Gun owners (+2)

  • White women (+4)

  • 45-59 year olds (+4)

Gays and last-minute deciders are the only groups where Obama performed worse than Kerry. The other five are groups where he did better than Kerry, but not by as much as he did with the country as a whole.

I don't have any special narratives or analysis to offer for any of this. Maybe later. For now, it's just raw data for your noodling pleasure.

Kevin Drum Smackdown Watch

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 7:05 PM EST

KEVIN DRUM SMACKDOWN WATCH....Felix Salmon says we shouldn't be demonizing credit default swaps as the source of our recent financial turbulence. Earlier this morning I said I wasn't so sure about that. Today Salmon responds, and he starts out strong:

Add Kevin Drum to those who think that a bit of CDS demonization is not such a bad thing at all. Unfortunately, he's a bit shaky on the facts....

Sigh. Story of my life when it comes to the credit crisis. Salmon's response is too long to excerpt, so click the link and read it. I find it disturbingly persuasive, especially this part, which is something I've been wondering about too:

It's not surprising that CDS desks haven't lost a lot of money, because CDS, like all derivatives, are a zero-sum game.

Well, yeah, what about that? Mortgage losses are absolute: if a homeowner defaults, then the noteholder loses a lot of money and nobody else makes any. But derivative trades always have two sides, so if banks have lost jillions of dollars on derivative speculation then there ought to be a whole lot of people licking their chops right now in anticipation jillions of dollars in gains. But as Salmon says, that doesn't seem to be the case. So maybe that means there aren't a lot of losses?

So....I dunno. As always, it bugs the hell out of me that there's so much disagreement even about things that strike a layman like me as fairly basic. I mean, recently the Minneapolis Fed published a paper saying that the credit markets were actually in fine shape, and a few days later the Boston Fed published a paper saying they were all wet. Hell's bells. A bunch of Fed economists can't even agree on something as basic as whether credit is contracting? WTF?

In the same way, I guess we really don't know how big the losses have been in derivative speculation related to the subprime crash — which, of course, isn't a bad argument for making derivative trades a little more transparent in the first place. In the meantime, though, I'd sure like to hear some other experts respond to Salmon's points about the CDS market. His arguments seem well formed to me, but then, if I was wrong once I could be wrong again, couldn't I? Are there any finance gurus out there to dive into this?