Friday Cat Blogging - 4 June 2010

Two cats, one bench. On the left, Domino is rolling around and enjoying the sunshine. On the right, Inkblot is being his usual stately and magnificent self. Enjoy!

Is Sarah Palin Already Running in Iowa?

Marc Ambinder thinks Sarah Palin plans to run for president in 2012. What makes him think so? The fact that yesterday she endorsed establishment favorite Terry Branstad in the Iowa gubernatorial primary rather than tea party darling Bob Vander Plaats:

[Branstad is] going to be the next governor of Iowa, assuming that there are no stunning surprises next week and Chet Culver, the Democrat, doesn't mount a miraculous election year comeback....If you're thinking about running for president, and I think Palin really is thinking about running for president, you don't get on the wrong side of the guy who will probably be governor during the caucuses by endorsing his opponent, no matter how conservative and Tea Partyish Bob Vander Plaats seems to be.

I don't know if Palin is planning to run or not, but if she is this is a needle she's going to have to thread pretty carefully. Her fans love her, but they love her because she's not part of the establishment. She's an authentic conservative. But then there's real life, and in real life you end up allying yourself with people like John McCain and Terry Branstad for purely pragmatic reasons. And there's the problem. Stay too far on the outside and you lose the ability to raise serious money and put together a serious ground organization. Become too pragmatic and you lose the support of your true believer base. What's a real American rogue to do?

Fighting Fire With Fire

Bob Somerby continues to be unhappy about the sensibilities of the contemporary progressive media in general and the contemporary progressive blogosphere in particular:

Indeed, the liberal world is increasingly adopting the core values of the mainstream press corps. We run on silly sexy-time tales, and on invented lies by opponents. This is low-IQ tabloid work, pure and simple — and it’s a culture which will never serve progressive interests. By the way: This is the culture of the mainstream press—the punishing culture with which the mainstream chased down, first Clinton, then Gore.

Will progressive interests ever prosper within such a brain-dead culture? We strongly doubt it.

True? Or not so true? Discuss.

The CRA Zombie

Edmund Andrews, finally pushed beyond his breaking point by yet another piece of economic hackery, vents today about the common conservative meme that it was really liberal housing policy that was at fault for the financial crisis:

Of all the canards that have been offered about the financial crisis, few are more repellant than the claim that the "real cause" of the mortgage meltdown was blacks and Hispanics.

Oh, excuse me — did I just accuse someone of racism? Sorry. Proponents of the above actually blame the crisis on "government policy" to boost home-ownership among low-income families, who just happened to be disproportionately non-white and immigrant. Specifically, the Community Reinvestment Act "forced" banks to make bad loans to irresponsible borrowers, while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provided the financial torque by purchasing billions worth of subprime paper.

....What makes this smear so repellant is that it blames poor people — mostly minorities — for bringing on the crisis. But what makes it so maddening is that it’s so demonstrably false. We have reams of evidence that banks and mortgage lenders actively targeted blacks, Hispanics and other immigrant groups for reckless loans. The lenders weren’t forced. They were making a fortune.

The evidence is pretty clear on this: CRA had essentially no effect at all on the housing bubble, and Fannie and Freddie can be blamed, at most, for throwing a couple of logs onto a bonfire that Wall Street had touched off long before. Those logs cost them (i.e., you) a helluva lot of money, but they weren't responsible for the financial crisis.

But it's a convenient story for the Sarah Palin wing of the conservative movement, since it deflects blame from the private sector to the public sector, from George Bush to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and from rich white guys to working class black and brown folks — as the Michael Ramirez cartoon above graphically demonstrates. The only problem is that it's demonstrably not true. Read Andrews's post and follow the links for more.

Mark Kirk Misremembers It Wrong

Aside from its entertainment value, I haven't been all that interested in the recent brouhahas surrounding politicos who have made false claims about their military service. Richard Blumenthal actually appears to have misrepresented his record only once or twice over a ten-year period, Jan Brewer's exaggeration about her father was a political misdemeanor at worst, and Mark Kirk.....

Um, yeah. Mark Kirk. The Republican Senate candidate from Illinois. That whole "Intelligence Officer of the Year" thing was pretty embarrassing, and he's finally apologized for it, but today Steve Benen rounds up Kirk's entire record:

At this point, it's genuinely difficult to keep track of all of Kirk's claims about his service record that have been proven false. Let's see if I have them all: Kirk (1) falsely claimed he served "in" Operation Iraqi Freedom; (2) falsely claimed to "command the war room in the Pentagon"; (3) falsely claimed to have won the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award; (4) falsely claimed to have been shot at by the Iraqi Air Defense network; (5) falsely claimed to be a veteran of Desert Storm; and (6) falsely claimed to be the only lawmaker to serve during Operation Iraqi Freedom. There may very well be other instances, but these six are confirmed.

The Chicago Sun-Times version is here. Kirk says that in the future "I need to be humble about my military record." Roger that.

Employment Picture Still Struggling

Today's employment news is pretty anemic:

The U.S. Labor Department said in its closely-watched jobs report Friday that nonfarm payrolls rose by 431,000 last month, the largest gain since March 2000. That followed an unrevised 290,000 increase in April....However, the May figure was boosted by the hiring of 411,000 temporary workers for the Census. Only 41,000 private-sector jobs were added.

....Employment in professional and business services rose by 22,000. Manufacturing continued to trend up, rising by 29,000. The industry, which has been leading the economy's recovery, has added 126,000 jobs over the past five months. Construction, a sector of the economy that remains soft, lost 35,000 jobs in May.

The construction sector number comes as no surprise. With the federal government's tax credit for first-time home buyers expiring, the housing market is losing what little steam it had earlier in the year, and that promises to continue. As CBPP's Chad Stone says, "Under these circumstances, policymakers should have no qualms about passing a robust jobs bill — indeed, they would be derelict not to." Preach it, brother.

Left and Right in the Blogosphere

It's now conventional wisdom that the political blogosphere has been pretty thoroughly professionalized, but James Joyner points out something I hadn't quite noticed:

These things are no doubt happening, especially on the left. Barbara O’Brien‘s observation that “The evil MSM seems to pick up 50 Erick Ericksons for every one Nate Silver” is just bizarre.1 I can’t think offhand of a truly conservative amateur blogger who has been bought out in the manner of Mickey Kaus, Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Steve Benen, Dave Weigel and others who have had hobby blogs bought out by major media sites or ideological think tanks and gone full time. Megan McArdle is the closest I can think of but she was already a professional journalist, writing for the Economist, by the time anyone had heard of her.

So why is this? There are political magazines and political think tanks on the right. Why haven't they hired a bunch of successful hobby bloggers instead of developing their own in-house talent? Why is it that Glenn Reynolds, Erick Erickson, Michelle Malkin, Charles Johnson, and the Powerline folks haven't been hired as bloggers by a magazine or think tank? Is it because conservative magazines didn't want to hire outsiders, or because they made offers and conservative bloggers weren't interested?

1In fairness, I suspect that Barbara was thinking less here about bloggers and more about talking heads and columnists, where conservatives seem to get hired at a pretty good clip.

Cyber Charters and You

The New York Times has a fascinating story today about "cyber charters," a phenomenon I probably should have heard about before but haven't. I'm still not exactly sure what they are, but as near as I can tell it's basically a way of home schooling your kids using online lessons instead of books. The Times piece is about CAVA, a virtual academy that's a subsidiary of K12 Inc., which provides the online curriculum. Unlike ordinary home schools, however, CAVA is certified by the state of California and therefore gets paid as much per student as an ordinary bricks-and-mortar school. So where does all this money go?

“A virtual education is expensive,” said Katrina Abston, the head of schools for CAVA, and a K12 employee. The nine K12 California schools share the cost of a 10,000-square-foot office and storage space in Simi Valley. “There’s back-end support and computers and the type of curriculum we use is expensive,” Ms. Abston said. “They make sure we’re cutting edge.”

Luis Huerta, an associate professor of education at Columbia University, is suspicious:

“Nationally, cyber charters on average receive the equivalent amount of funding as traditional schools,” Professor Huerta said. He added that there was minimal overhead and minimal accountability. If virtual charter school costs are lower, Professor Huerta said, “then where is the money going?”

“It doesn’t add up,” he said.

Well, maybe not. But K12 isn't wildly profitable, so they're spending it on something. More here.

Quote of the Day: The Shack

From Nathan Heller, explaining William Paul Young's mega-bestselling religious allegory, The Shack:

Theologically speaking, there is something for everybody in The Shack, but mostly in the sense that there is something for everybody in a meatloaf.

After writing about The Shack a couple of months ago, I finally got around to reading it recently. And as Heller suggests, it's about a lot of things: sort of a weird stew of conventional Christian theology mixed with lots of new-agey spiritualism whose goal is to reconnect you with Christ. Among other things, Young rattles on about the Trinity, the nature of time, what it's like in heaven, the power of redemption, and a hundred other things. At its heart, though, The Shack is concerned with perhaps Christianity's most intractable question: why does an omnipotent God permit the existence of evil? In other words, it's a meditation on theodicy.

And to give Young credit, he doesn't shy away from asking God to account for a case of serious evil: a ten-year-old girl named Missy who's kidnapped, possibly sexually assaulted, and then murdered in a remote shack by a sadistic serial killer. Her father, Mack, quite understandably has his already tenuous faith shaken by the fact that a loving God could allow this to happen, so a couple of years after the murder God invites him to spend a weekend in the shack (along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost) where everything will be explained. 200 pages later, here's the payoff:

"Could I have prevented what happened to Missy? The answer is yes."

Mack looked at Papa [i.e., God], his eyes asking the question that didn't need voicing. Papa continued, "First, by not creating at all, these questions would be moot. Or second, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration, and the latter was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now. At this point, all I have to offer as an answer are my love and goodness, and my relationship with you."

Italics mine. This is, needless to say, not exactly a cutting-edge contribution to the theodicy literature. In the end, God doesn't really have any answers at all for Mack, at least not in the usual sense of "answer." However, it does turn out that God and Jesus are really extremely charismatic folks, and that's enough. Mack finishes up the weekend feeling much better about things because he finally trusts God.1

I suppose it says something that this is enough to sell 7 million copies (or whatever it's up to now). I'm not sure what, but something. Here's Heller's crack at it: "[Young's] theories — how to believe in Adam while supporting particle-physics research; why the Lord is OK with your preference for lewd funk more than staid church music — accomplish what mainstream faiths tend to fail at: connecting recondite doctrine to the tastes, rhythms, and mores of modern life. The Shack's wild success doesn't reveal how Bible-thumpy this country is. It shows how alienated from religion we've become. And though the novel, as a novel, is a sinner's distance from perfection, it's an eloquent reminder that, for those who give some faith and effort to the writing craft, there is, even today, the chance to touch and heal enough strangers to work a little miracle." Maybe so.

1Plus God gives him a glimpse of Missy in heaven, and she's pretty happy there. So that helps too.

Basel III Update

So how are the Basel III negotiations going? You know, the ones that would tighten bank capital requirements, reduce leverage, and, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, "have greater implications for banks and the global economy than the U.S. regulatory changes emerging in Washington"? Here's the latest:

International regulators are moving toward an agreement that would require banks to raise vast sums of new funds to cushion against future losses, but in a concession to the industry and some governments, the rules are likely to take effect later than expected, according to people familiar with the matter.

....France, Germany and Japan have pushed for as much as a 10-year window before the rules go fully into effect, and U.S. and U.K. officials recently have indicated that they would support a gradual time frame, according to people familiar with the matter. "I'm perfectly comfortable with us negotiating reasonable transition period to help make people more comfortable that they can live with those new standards," U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday afternoon in Washington, before leaving for the G-20 meeting.

Hell, even I don't have any problem with this. And it sounds like no one else does either. If the new requirements are stiff enough to actually make a difference, we'd be nuts to demand that banks adopt them immediately in an environment where growth is already slow, lending is anemic, and raising risk capital is difficult. The real question isn't so much the timeframe for adopting the new rules, it's whether the rules are any good. Here's what we know about that:

Other crucial details remain unresolved, including disputes over the types of funds banks will be allowed to count toward toughened capital and liquidity requirements. Bank executives, sometimes with backing from their governments, have been waging an intense lobbying campaign to water down parts of the so-called Basel proposals, known for the Swiss city in which the accords traditionally have been negotiated.

This is the real battleground, but the Journal doesn't have anything to tell us about that. The best we have right now, via Felix Salmon, is an article from Global Risk Regulator a few days ago that suggests the Basel negotiators are likely to stick to their guns and issue tough new regulations in the very near future. Keep your fingers crossed.