December 29, 2008

"Free Market"

This is an extremely rare edition of "No, not what digby said."

Writing about the dominance of conservative messaging on the economy in the latter half of the 20th century. She quotes a guy who makes a sweeping and false statement, about Keynes dominating the first half of the 20th century and Hayek the second half, noting that it is not clear that it is "exactly true." As part of that correction, she notes:

Free market fundamentalism (which Hayek didn't actually believe in --- he was more of an evangelical) has certainly been the order of the day for at least a quarter of a century and animated the arguments of the aristocracy(.)

It's important to realize that while this is the message of the Republican party, and of other conservatives, it is not their policy position. Free market fundamentalists abhor concentration of economic power, in oligopolies as well as in the state. American conservatives, especially those in the Republican party, are better characterized as, for lack of a better word, fascist. Crony capitalism is a euphemism for this, with the false implication of competition implied by "capitalism." They believe in the adoption of policies that encourage the formation of oligopolies, and that intertwine those oligopolies with the government.

The taxpayer's role is the same as the consumer's role--to provide monopoly pricing and profits to companies protected from free market competition. You see this everywhere. From the taxpayer's perspective, you see this in the replacement of civil service functions by private no-bid contracts, telecommunications companies integrated into the intelligence community, Blackwater, Haliburton, and pretty much all of the military procurement budget.

From the consumer perspective, you see it in the abuse of patents in Big Pharma's interest, elimination of the public domain from copyright law, preservation of monopoly pricing in telecommunications, cable television, practical exemption from anti-trust law, giving away television spectrum, regulations designed to create barriers to entry by new firms and lots of little policies like not allowing people who intend to leave timber standing to participate in the bidding process. Or not allowing the cattle farmer to note on the label of his beef that he tests all his cattle for mad cow disease, not just the federally required sample.

It's very bad that this meme--the idea that American conservatives favor free market solutions--has been allowed to so completely penetrate discussion about economic and regulatory policy. It's simply not the case that Republicans are free market advocates any more than they are free trade advocates. There may have been some possibility for making this claim before the 2000 elections. But with control of all three lawmaking branches of government by Republicans, free market policies were rejected, while policies designed to encourage greater industrial concentration, less competition, and greater concentration of wealth were embraced.

All of these policies had the effect of making government larger, more intrusive, and directly engaged in providing revenue from general revenues to oligopolistic corporations. There is no "free market" in these policy positions.

[Update: some minor edits for clarity]

December 20, 2008

Over/Under: 50,000 Soldiers

Joe Klein's Iraq update pushed me to unwrap the Jan/Feb issue of Foreign Affairs. I wanted to see how the main reporting organ of the Serious People in the Washington Foreign Policy Community was projecting the future of Iraq. There it was, an article by Richard Haass, President of CFR and Martin Indyk , "pro-Israel lobbyist," and current director of Brookings' Saban Center.

Ever since Cheney remarked that he expected the US to draw down its force commitment in Iraq to 50,000 troops, in six months or so after the fall of Baghdad, I believe the US has been committed to this force level. There are a number of reasons to hold to this belief. The permanent military bases house that many soldiers. Barack Obama has been very cagy in the positions he's taken, speaking always of "combat troops." Iraq has no national defense force, no air power, no armor, no logistical capability, and I strongly doubt the country has a functional chain of command. The US foreign policy establishment would regard this endeavor as failed if the result were not an Iraq allied with the US government, which is impossible if the elections are actually free and open.

The Washington Post op-ed Joe Klein cites, penned by the joined at the hip Senate trio of McCain Lieberman and Graham includes this remark:
Based on our observations and consultations in Baghdad, we are optimistic that President-elect Obama will be able to fulfill a major step of his plan for withdrawal next year by redeploying U.S. combat forces from Iraq's cities while maintaining a residual force to train and mentor our Iraqi allies. We caution, however, that 2009 will be a pivotal year for Iraq, with provincial and then national elections whose secure and legitimate conduct depends on our continued engagement.

So here's what the Haass and Indyk had to say (my bold):
But the situation remains fragile, and the need to pursue a host of second-order tasks should preclude more than modest reductions in U.S. combat and support forces in Iraq through 2009. By mid-2010, however, the Obama administration should be able to reduce U.S. forces significantly, perhaps to half their pre-surge levels. This would be consistent with the accord governing the U.S. troop presence that is currently being negotiated by U.S. and Iraqi officials. In the meantime, the highest political priorities will be ensuring communal reconciliation and an equitable sharing of oil revenues. Diplomatically, as reconciliation gains traction, Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors will have to be persuaded to work with Baghdad's Shiite-led government.

Yep. We're still at 50,000 troops or so. So much for Iraq's sovereignty. 50,000 "residual" troops, with tanks and planes, "supporting" and "training" them is the goal, is certainly not what the majority of Americans, and a larger majority of Iraqis, would describe as withdrawing from Iraq.

And there's a special bonus!   In order to keep Israel safe from Iran's still non-existent nuclear capability, a nuclear umbrella must be extended. And, to match fiction for fiction, Israel should be provided with an anti-ballistic missile system:

Preventive military action against Iran by either the United States or Israel is an unattractive option, given its risks and costs. But it needs to be examined carefully as a last-ditch alternative to the dangers of living with an Iranian bomb. To increase Israel's tolerance for extended diplomatic engagement, the U.S. government should bolster Israel's deterrent capabilities by providing an enhanced anti-ballistic-missile defense capability and a nuclear guarantee.

These people are completely insane. It's like walking into an updated version of Dr. Strangelove.

But the skinny is, yes, indeed, the occupation will continue. The over/under bet is still at 50,000. And Foreign Affairs will take the over.  

December 15, 2008


First, pardon the format changes. I'll be fiddling some more with this template, but at least the fonts now seem to be in control.

There's a question I've been asking, in different forms, for about four years now. (The oldest versions are in the lost archives of Talking Points Memo. Lesson: Do not trust any server but your own.)

I asked it here, last week, and in Swampland comments a day or two ago.

Today's version goes like this. The end result in Iraq is supposed to be an elected government, a sovereign state that does not have any effective national defense force, with no American "combat troop" presence that is allied with the US.

Because this is pretty clearly defines a null set of outcomes--no representative government in Iraq could be pro-American, given recent past history, America's tight relationship with Israel and the affinity of the majority Shiites with the Iranian government--I've been asking what we really should expect to happen in Iraq in the medium to long term.

Today, Joe Klein provides some of the euphemisms that will be used to describe the permanent occupation of Iraq.
(G)oing forward, the relationship between Iraq's security forces and the U.S. military--locked in by spare parts, logistics and training regimes--could be every bit as significant as Iraq's fraternal Shi'ite ties with Iran.
What this actually means is that the US will have  a significant troop presence, including armor and air "training" forces for Iraqi's who aren't allowed to fly planes or drive tanks.  The logistical tail for this force will continue to be provided by the US military. And, naturally, the US will play a critical role in deciding who will be allowed to be a candidate for the positions of Prime Minister and President.

Any bets on the over/under for June 2010?  I'm going with 50,000. That's the number the permanent bases were built for. That's the number Cheney said the US would draw down to in a few months, after Saddam's capture.

It will be interesting to watch how the euphemisms grow, flower, and take seed in the media.   It will also be interesting to see whether Iran will sit still for this.  It's no wonder that, worldwide, the US is seen as the most pressing threat to peace.

December 14, 2008


My nominee, anyway. Peter Baker

Obama's core political advisors were circling the wagons:

Even though Mr. Obama had no known personal involvement, the Clinton veterans understood that was only part of the issue. They had Mr. Obama publicly declare he had never spoken with Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich about the Senate appointment. They imposed a cone of silence on colleagues so they would not make a remark that could come back to haunt them. And they ordered an internal inquiry to document any contacts with the governor’s advisers.

Republicans were ready to pounce, rushing out statements linking Mr. Obama to Mr. Blagojevich within an hour or so after the governor’s arrest was reported. They too knew the script and that any opening must be exploited. Politics in this hyperpartisan age, after all, is the ultimate contact sport.

So we have Republicans making baseless attacks. And the media reporting those baseless attacks. What does this mean?

Indeed, except for brief interludes, Washington in the last decade has been governed by a climate of anger and animosity, a modern-day tribalism pitting faction against faction that some trace to the days of the impeachment.

Right. While the current president has routinely flouted the law, treated Congress with contempt, refused to comply with subpoenas all with the support of bloc voting Republicans, we can be sure that both sides are to blame. 

Indeed. Our usual NY Times expert on partisan Democrats speaks out:

It definitely poisoned the well on both sides,” said Representative Peter T. King of New York, one of the few Republicans to vote against impeachment. “Without getting into the merits of anything, there’s no doubt there were Democrats waiting from the day George Bush took office to even the score for Bill Clinton. And Republicans are the same today with Barack Obama and the Rod Blagojevich scandal.”

Right. We'rre talking about the Democrats who took impeachment off the table, the Democrats who caved on major policy decisions ranging from the botched invasion and occupation of Iraq to providing immunity to telecommunications companies that violated the law and the Constitution with a domestic spying operation..

And now, Obama is apparently contributing to this poisoned environment by having the termerity to suggest that the baseless charages are, well, baseless.

Of course, the baseless impeachment, unpopular and fruitless--conviction was impossible--poisoned the political environment, but didn't do much damage to Clinton.

In some ways, Mr. Clinton emerged better off than his foes. He remains on the world stage and, with Hillary Rodham Clinton about to become secretary of state, is opening a new chapter. Most of those who pursued the charges have retreated from public life.
Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston and Tom DeLay, the House Republican leaders at the time, all eventually resigned under pressure for various reasons. Only 3 of the 13 House Republican “managers” who prosecuted Mr. Clinton in the Senate trial will still be in Congress when Mr. Obama is inaugurated.

Imagine.  The two former speakers who, having been sexually involved with a staffer,  pursued impeachment because the president was sexually involved with a staffer.   And this didn't work out well for them. The other guy, Tom Delay, crowed about his crookedness,  and is on his way to hoosegow. 

Of course, Republicans acted from high-minded principle when they impeached Clinton, just before picking the staffer shtupping Livingston:

But those managers still believe they did the right thing holding a president to account for breaking the law. “It was a high-stakes battle over historic American values, the rule of law and the Constitution,” former Representative Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said in an interview this year. “I hope that will be the first line of history — it was a battle over values of extreme importance. Having said that, I think the second line will be that partisan differences meant that they were unable to find a bipartisan solution.”

The bipartisan solution, of course would have been to skip the baseless and doomed impeachment effort.

But the impeachment represented the triumph of partisanship on both sides of the aisle, a partisanship that remains today. Democrats made a calculated decision to stick by a president of their party no matter his transgressions and to promote partisan division in the Congressional proceedings so they could discredit the other side. Republicans were so intent on turning out Mr. Clinton that they turned away from opportunities for a bipartisan solution.

(emphasis mine).  That Baker can write this speaks volumes about the Clinton rules, or, as the Blago angle keeps being pursued, the Democratic rules.  It's not like Baker is unaware of Bush's transgressions.

The result has been a distaste for impeachment but little appetite for consensus. Liberal Democrats agitated to impeach Mr. Bush in connection with the Iraq war, warrantless surveillance and interrogation policies, but party leaders had no interest in going down that road again. “Although there are powerful arguments that President Bush has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there are questions about whether it is prudent to do so,” said Bruce Ackerman, a Yale Law School professor.

So the dirty fucking hippies believed, as Patrick Fitzgerald said last week, nobody is above the law.  The supposedly hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington made it "imprudent" to impeach the president. Those sternly worded letters from Henry Waxman were pretty much equivalent to the unending, baseless political accusations aimed at Clinton. Sternly worded letters are pretty much the equivalent of accusations of murder and an endless fishing expedition by a special prosecutor.

So now's the time to chime in with the next key Republican talking point--that impeaching Bush for breaking the law would impeachment over "policy differences."

Mr. Bush’s defenders would strenuously disagree. In their minds, the very talk of impeachment over policy differences represents the real cost of the Clinton clash. Mr. Bush, after all, campaigned for office promising to sweep out the toxic atmosphere in Washington, only to find that his disputed election had further polarized the capital and the nation. As he prepares to take leave eight years later, he calls his inability to change the political climate one of his regrets.

Of course, what Bush did when he took office was to do all he could to promote that toxic atmosphere, by making appointments and adopting policies that were more consistent with a landslide than a popular vote defeat. And the effect of the Clinton impeachment was to so politicize the act that even when we had a president who would have been, and should have been, justly impeached, he was allowed to flout the law and behave in the most authoririan of ways.  There have now been two impeachments in American history, both for political purposes, which has stripped the nation of its power to remove a corrupt, authoritarian president from office. 

It is, in the end, worth noting that when historians do look back, wondering what happened to Congress in this time period, they will spend their time trying to understand why the Republicans chose this president over their country, their constitution, and, for many, their seats.  There are many dirty hippies angry at Nancy Pelosi's inaction after a clear message from voters in 2006.  But the real culprits were the Republicans, who have become so partisan, so polarized that there is no Howard Baker, no Bill Cohen in the party any longer.

They are going to need wankers like Peter Baker if they are to be anything other than a dwindling regional party of modern Know-Nothings.

Media Matters expands on this.

December 13, 2008


My comment on an Yglesias post was kinda terse.

But the characteristic of the Obama campaign was pretty simple. They were trying to win. They weren't trying to retain their cred, if they lost. They weren't using the well-worn strategies of the past. They weren't mindlessly sucked into new media.

The were running to win. Not IA or NH for its own sake. But the nomination. Not the daily news cycle, but the Presidency.

We can only hope that a similar focus extends into the Presidency--that Obama has a four year vision, not a news cycle vision.

December 10, 2008


I'm starting to get an Alice in Wonderland feeling about plans for a US withdrawal from Iraq, under the SOFA, following Obama's "combat troops" out in 16 months in the context of the reality of the Iraqi situation.

So, I'm thinking maybe I'm just wrong about stuff, that I've not been keeping up. But, as far as I can tell, the context is still:
  • Any government, no matter how representative, will have Shiite Arabs running the country, with a practically autonomous province run by Sunni Kurds (with Kirkuk in dispute).
  • There will be no Iraqi national defense capability, to speak of--no air, no armor, no logistical capability.

  • The US and Israel are quite unpopular in Iraq, and will be for the foreseeable future

  • The Iraqis expect to have actual elections
I do not see how an Iraqi government emerges, within this context, that remains allied with the United States, in the absence of occupation forces.  Any such government would have to be selected in some way other than through a representative electoral process. I suppose that the US can continue to play its pre-election role in Iraq that the clerics play in Iran through the next election, but after that, I don't see how that can happen. 

The original plan, of course, was to install a pro-American, English-speaking*, strong man with trappings of apparent elections, but with a result, as Cheney said in 2003, acceptable to the US. NOT like those Palestinian elections. Leaving aside the insane idea that this strong man was supposed to be Chalabi, I don't see how a pro-American (and hence, pro-Israel) government can possibly come to and hold power in Iraq.

I also don't see how relations between Iraq and Iran do not become closer.  Again, this would conflict with the need for a continued US/Iraqi client-state relationship.  Even a government installed by the US, propped up with "foreign aid" and supported, in defense terms by air and armor placed over the border would find it difficult to support US bellicosity with Iran.

Now it may be that Obama will retire the Axis of Evil, and try to improve relations with Iran. This certainly is an overripe prospect; the question is whether it has rotted out entirely, as the US position has weakened, steadily if not precipitously, in the region.  It may be that Governor Richardson's idea of a regional security pact may be negotiated, with Syria, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agreeing to leave a defenseless Iraq alone.

But even so, I simply don't see how the US can withdraw and not leave Iran as the major player in the region, with, at best,  a face-saving agreement with Iraq that is pretty much limited to oil concessions.  And that's the best case scenario.

The worst is an eruption of civil war by proxies of the surrounding states, with the possibility of the conflict crossing borders along ethnic lines, with Saudi Shiites and Turkish Kurds drawn into the conflict, while the isolated, but still angry Sunni Arab Iraqis keep things complicated in Baghdad.

What's bothering me here, more than anything else, is the absence of any discussion of these issues, publicly.  Contingency planning for these instances have to be going on, even if nobody is telling the president about them, right?  A real plan is being worked out to not make things still worse, even if that does mean a much diminished US role?  The possibility of a two-state solution in Israel as part of an overall plan to tamp down the violence is being discussed?  Right? By somebody who has some idea about what they're doing?

*It's ridiculous that this seems be a required criterion for American support of a ruler.  It enormously limits the possible candidates.

December 8, 2008


I cannot believe Bill Keller, NYT Executive Editor, said this referring to Obama:

And even your most devoted admirers don't want to rely just on you for word of what the government's up to, and what it means."

Tell that to Risen and Lichtblau.  And to all of the people who voted for Bush, not knowing of his illegal surveillance.

Link, so you know I am not making this up.

Glenn Greenwald, digby talk about Versailles. Seems over the top, sometimes. 

It's not.

Billy "Big Government" Kristol

The countdown is at 5 more flaccid, ill-reasoned pleas for conservatives to find some semblance of rationality, influence, and  a vague consistency with some revamped verdict of fifty years of lying rhetoric.  Today's is particularly funny.

First off, he admits (discovers, apparently) that the central theme of conservativism--small government--has always been, well, a lie.

It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.

Five Republicans have won the presidency since 1932: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. Only Reagan was even close to being a small-government conservative. And he campaigned in 1980 more as a tax-cutter and national-defense-builder-upper, and less as a small-government enthusiast in the mold of the man he had supported — and who had lost — in 1964, Barry Goldwater. And Reagan’s record as governor and president wasn’t a particularly government-slashing one.

Even the G.O.P.’s 1994 Contract With America made only vague promises to eliminate the budget deficit, and proposed no specific cuts in government programs.

It's true, Billy. Not one Republican Senate, not one Republican Congress, not one Republican President, has ever proposed a budget smaller than the one the year before.   Turns out the real difference is that conservatives are all for big government, they just don't want to pay for it.

If you more or less accept big government, you’ll be open to the government’s stepping in to save the financial system, or the auto industry. But you’ll tend to favor those policies — universal tax cuts, offering everyone a chance to refinance his mortgage, relieving auto makers of burdensome regulations — that, consistent with conservative principles, don’t reward irresponsible behavior and don’t politicize markets.

This one is sort of a laff riot.  Universal tax cuts while the budget grows. So we can strike that "fiscally prudent" bit off the list too.  And, yeah, he really did put "save the financial system" in just before he said "don't reward irresponsible behavior."

Like Douthat yesterday, it's really remarkable to see these guys squirming, trying to revive their bumper sticker policy-making.  Their positions never really made sense, but they were protected by always being able to blame the branches they didn't control from letting true conservatism flower.   So they never truly had the opportunity to deregulate, to cut taxes for the rich, to show the power of  the marketplace to create jobs and fuel robust economic growth. 

Until they did.

It turns out there is still one principle left intact--the mine-shaft gap.

Billy's close includes:

You might then suggest spending a good chunk of the stimulus on national security — directing dollars to much-needed and underfunded defense procurement rather than to fanciful green technologies, making sure funds are available for the needed expansion of the Army and Marines before rushing to create make-work civilian jobs. 


Douthat Compromised

Yesterday Ross Douthat had an absurdist op-ed in the NYT, where he claimed that pro-choice folks are "absolutist" while the generous,  thoughtful and carefully reasoning pro-life people were seeking compromise.

Well, first, what digby said.

But the ball is in the court of the anti-choicers. They refuse to accept the compromise that has been written into law stating that abortions can't be easily obtained after the first trimester and more recently can't be obtained at all after the second. That's a compromise and a very real and serious one. And it's not enough. In fact, nothing will be enough until abortion is outlawed.

And then they will begin the war on condoms in earnest. In fact,
they've already started.
This is a pair of key points. First, Roe v Wade IS a compromise, a compromise between the pregnant woman and the developing fetus.  It's a compromise that reflects the broad public consensus of safe, legal, rare and early.  Second this is not about abortion. It's about reducing women's status, removing their authority over their reproductive lives. Abortion is just the ickiest part of this, so that's where they focus.

The "compromise" Douthat seeks does not reflect the actually difficult social issue of the status of a developing fetus viable some time before birth versus a woman's right to control her own body and her own reproductive decisions.  The "compromise" he is talking about is having the state regulate who is eligible to exert this control.

Barely nubile young women raped by their fathers whose lives would be endangered by the pregnancy qualify.  After that, eligibility should be determined by how the pregnancy happened.  Parental notification to discourage teenagers.  Waiting periods. Mandatory "counseling."  He doesn't mention shunning, but I'm sure it's on his list.  It's this kind of thinking that made (shockingly) Sarah Palin a heroine, because of her daughter's commitment to "abstinence" and the pregnancy that so frequently results.

This isn't  a serious argument.  The column is labored, because he has to dance around the obvious compromise, the one that has always been on the table--improved sex education for teens, and public health measures to ensure broader availability and use of contraception.  

If this were really about abortion, there would be condoms in every pew.


November 29, 2008

Stupid Hippies

I am now passed irked and into ticked off.  EJ Dionne:

Obama's national security choices are already causing grumbling from parts of the antiwar left, even if Obama made clear six years ago that while he was with them on Iraq, he was not one of them.

Ironically, Obama is likely to show more fidelity to George H.W. Bush's approach to foreign affairs than did the former president's own son. That's change, maybe even change we can believe in, but it's not the change so many expected.

If EJ wants to make claims like this, he needs some quotations. Because none of the dirty fucking hippies I know had any doubts about Obama's foreign policy plans.  In fact, Glenn Greenwald has been writing for years about the Democratic establishment in Washington being completely on board with (what I call) the Great American Hegemony Project, that having a seat at a foreign policy table in Washington requires committing to the use of military force, on a routine, unilateral basis. 

There was never any indication, whatsoever, that Obama was not part of this Village Society.  In fact, it was so clear that he was part of the Village that he was never popular with the left wing of the party.  It's true that Obama was forced into voting against a supplemental bill that many of the left believed he supported, in his heart of hearts. And it's true he was forced to distance himself from Samantha Power after she made remarks that cast doubt upon the seriousness of his sixteenth month Iraq  withdrawal plan.  But nobody is surprised that he has just put Power into a position on his transition  team, at least nobody who was paying attention during the campaign.

This narrative--that this is an unexpected direction is taking hold.  It's false, and its effect will be to undermine a Presidency that we very badly need to succeed.

November 28, 2008


Karl Rove, via a Matt Browner-Hamlin tweet, quotes Michael Boskin:

Stanford economist Michael Boskin reminds us that conservatives favor permanent, or long-lived, measures to revive the economy -- incentives like lower income-tax rates, actions to speed recovery of capital costs like bonus depreciation, and steps with an immediate effect on job creation such as cuts in corporate tax rate.

He left out the fairy dust.  What makes them think that they can just keep repeating this stuff, over and over again, and thus make it true?  Any cuts like this are necessary temporary, mostly driven by manipulation of tax returns, and proven not to work over the eight year Bush administration implementation of such policies.

Permanent policies like this can't have any particular effect. One of the things that is bad about such policies is that, if markets work, their value gets incorporated into the price of whatever securities are involved. Take the home mortgage deduction. The value of that tax deduction is in the price of the house you buy.  Look at this two ways. First, if you've ever been to a realtor, they have this work sheet, entitled "How much can you pay?"  and work up the highest possible monthly payment you can afford, net of the tax benefit.  This was true even when banks required 20 percent downpayments.  Second, think what would happen if the mortgage tax deduction were eliminated. Prices would fall, right?

Same thing here. If investors demand X% return after tax, lowering taxes can only have a one-time effect, not a permanent effect. In practice, what happens is that these taxes get jerked around, shifting spending according to the tax calendar rather than business requirements.  In a first best world, there would be no corporate income tax in any case.  There would be individual taxes, at the rate regardless of source.

(And, in my first best world, confiscatory estate taxes.) 

Thankgiving Change

Well, it took several conversations, but I finally understand.  I've been finding it pretty inexplicable that people regard it as surprising that Obama's appointments are in the least bit unexpected, or inconsistent with his message of change.  I've been seeing on the blogosphere more of the former, but I'm having a hard time distinguishing these posts as actual disappointment, or lobbying for a leftward shift in the appointments. As folks at FireDogLake, Eschaton, DailyKos have been saying all along,  the guy ran as a centrist. It's not surprising that he is making appointments from the center of the party. Obama promised to get things done. He is not going to get things done if his appointees spend the first six months getting up to speed.

Jane  did a nice job on Rachel Maddow's show summarizing this point of view, in the video above.

(Nice to see a guest lineup that represents a little more of America. Just sayin'.)

In any case, I haven't heard much, other than in the traditional media, that these appointments are an indication that Obama has backed away from his campaign commitment to "Change,' by not choosing radically enough.   I thought this was just a lazy media narrative, and another application of the Clinton rules.  Since all Obama can do, visibly, at this stage is make high-level appointments, it's an easy story to write to say "Okay, so, where's the Change?" As atrios has pointed out, as well, this seems to reflect the media buying McCain's campaign's presentation of Obama as some kind of wild-eyed, socialist radical who would be putting David Sirota in as Treasury Secretary and Cliff Schecter as Chief Spokesman.

However, I didn't figure it out until the T-Day conversations, but there is something else going on here. When I tried to say that if you want change, good places to start are ending the radical policies of the Bush administration, returning to Constitutional precepts, the resuming the foreign policy consensus of the last 50 years (the "pragmatic," "realistic" Great American Hegemony Project discussed in each issue of Foreign Affairs), sane fiscal policy, a shift to a less regressive system of taxation, and the application of laws and regulations passed by Congress and signed by the President.  Pointing out this is quite a bit of change was met with, shall we say, skepticism.

Of course, I said that a little less succinctly, in the event. And used different pieces of it at a time.

The point is that most people do not seem to regard the last administration as significantly different in form or philosophy from the Clinton administration. They simply see it as less effective, and less competent.  And, frankly, not that much less competent. As the media focuses on the seeds of some of these policies of fiscal deregulation as set in the Clinton era,  the extreme nature of the Bush administration is going to become blurred. 

It's ironic that the left blogosphere assists in this blurring, with many people viewing the Clinton administration as not progressive. Just be aware that this was Ralph Nader's argument in 2000, that the two parties are essentially identical.  It was for this reason that Summers looks to have been a bad choice, even in a behind the scenes advisory role.  He and Rubin are seen as progenitors in the current narrative, even though Greenspan and the Fed look to be the source of most of the difficulty. Oh, and the Bush SEC relaxing leverage rules ( to 30-1) on uninsured institutions that were too big to fail.

But that's neither here nor there. The Change theme is going to cause trouble throughout the transition.  Not enough movement leftward for either lobbying or disillusioned lefties, not different enough for centrists who don't understand just how radical the Bush Administration was, and a source of derision of the "Drill baby drill" style from the right. "So where's all the change?"

The only response that can be made is that there have been a few dozen people, nameless, who have been working on the policy elements of the new administration for months. All indications are that policy is going to come from the White House, not the Cabinet.  And as much as Little Tommy Friedman would like to move the inauguration up, putting his Suck.On. This. nightmare into the past,  this will have to wait until January 20th.

November 24, 2008


I tweeted this already. It's probably not any better with more characters. 

The story we invidual suckers have been told is that if you want to keep your money safe, then it should be in FDIC insured accounts, with the maximum of 100,000 dollars.  At my co-op (a 40 unit building in NYC), we manage our holdings to make sure that none of our capital reserve exceeds that amount at any one bank.

So we have, for years, accepted lower yields than we could have gotten in other investments because our investments were safe.

I suppose they are just as safe. But it turns out that if you were betting the corporation, over and over again,  on red vs black you were also safe.

Moral hazard? It's what for breakfast.

Why would anybody, ever, be prudent?


November 23, 2008

Netroots Primer Part 1

Predictably enough, the last week’s developments, particularly the first round of Cabinet appointments, and Joe Lieberman’s continued chairmanship generated a lot of blogospheric discussion. And just as predictably, the traditional media and their unnamed sources made remarks regarding the unhinged left once again not getting their way. Of course, now the codeword for “the unhinged left” is “the netroots,” or as we like to call ourselves, in parody of the attendant derision, the dirty fucking hippies*.

Reading a couple of articles, several posts and some comment threads, I realized we need a primer for those  who came to the movement during this election cycle. 

“The netroots” is obviously a coinage related to “grassroots.”  People who regard themselves as members of the netroots see themselves as a collection of ordinary citizens using the internet to organize.  The simplest way to think of the netroots is as an open source citizens’ lobbyist group.

“Open source” means “anyone can participate.” “Citizens’ lobbyist group” means “people who are trying to influence government in the general public interest.”

All lobbyists say this bit about the general public interest, of course. I suspect even the guy who lobbies for the retention of mohair subsidy has a spiel worked out on how terribly important it is to America that mohair producers not be subjected to foreign competition. I doubt he uses the original national security argument, as we stopped using mohair in Army uniforms sometime after World War I.

But we really mean it. It turns out this is disconcerting to elected officials. At least, in my personal experience you get a double-take if, in response to a staffer who says (and they do invariably say this) “Who are you with?”, you say, “Nobody.” 

Lobbyists try to advance the interests of the causes they represent by

1)  Talking to elected officials and their staffs, explaining the importance of their clients’ interests

2)  Providing information about the impact of legislation on their clients, to the point that they are frequently involved in early drafts of the relevant parts of that legislation

3)   Bribing elected officials.

The first two methods are self-evident, and actually make some sense. Most people don’t know a whole lot about the mohair industry, and it’s entirely possible that nobody on some Congressional staffs that are charged with reviewing the current set of tariffs and subsidies knows anything at all about mohair production. However, it also seems self-evidently wrong to have an industry being regulated actually writing the legislation.

The bribery thing needs some explanation. (By the way, one reason they call us dirty fucking hippies is we say stuff like this out loud in polite company.) There are all sorts of ways that lobbyists bribe Congressmen.  The first, most open, and therefore, least effective is through campaign contributions.  That is not to say that it is not effective. One reason the turnover rate in Congress, up until the last two sessions anyway, was less than that of the Politburo’s, is because incumbents provide a very high rate of return on campaign contributions. 40,000 dollars from your industry can easily generate a hundred million dollars worth of contracts.  One way to see this rate of return is by checking the relationship between an elected official’s committee assignments and his donors. 

Less visible is lifestyle enhancement.  Senators and Members of Congress don’t make very much money relative to the amounts of money they control the disbursement of, even when you include perqs.  The people seeking to influence those disbursements don’t make large fractions of those disbursements for influencing them, but small fractions of those very large numbers still leaves them with salaries in the millions and tens of millions.  So lobbyists provide access to a lifestyle substantially swankier than the public servant salaries would support.  As Duke Cunningham and Ted Stevens demonstrate, there are limits to how much of this lifestyle enhancement you can get away with. And, as William Jefferson demonstrated, you’re much better off sticking to  enhancement in kind. 

Next up are lucrative jobs for spouses and staff.  Spouses can be very complicated. Elected officials are often already married to wealthy people with interests in government affairs before they assume office. Sometimes it’s probably true that they would not have been able to get elected at all without those spousal connections.  Other times, the spouse finds doors open for lucrative employment, following the election, that would not have been available beforehand.  Likewise, elected officials are dependent on staff who are very talented, very well educated, very diligent and very underpaid.  Long term relationships with staffers often leads to their spending parts of their careers in lobbying organizations making boatloads of money.  (It’s easy to think of McCain here, but he’s just been very visible lately.  Recall the recent stories about Democrats telling K Street that there better be some Democratic jobs opening up.)

Last and not least are jobs for yourself when you leave office.  Tom Daschle left office, and walked into a job that pays millions.  So, in office, you can be sure that you will be able to continue your swanky lifestyle when you leave, thanks to your lobbyist friends.

Of course, it’s not as crass as this description. What really happens is that if you’re a Senator, you are treated the same way as a captain of industry, hob-nobbing with other rich people, even married to one, becoming concerned for their needs, and they for yours (Bob Dole spent his entire career, pre-retirement, in public service, and left office a rich man). You come to take a certain lifestyle for granted, a certain deference, a certain collection of friends.   There comes a time when it is not self-evidently a bad idea to have them writing legislation regulating themselves.

This also means you don’t see many ordinary citizens.

This is where the netroots come in.  People have noticed that it is hard to get in touch with your Member of Congress or Senator (despite, as Christy Hardin Smith likes to say, he or she works for you) unless you are part of these lobbying groups.  But there wasn’t a whole lot you could do about that, other than throwing things at the teevee and stomping around.

Moreover, many people have noticed that our elected officials aren’t passing laws in the interest of the general public, but rather in the interests of the lobbyists they spend so much time with.  The internet made it possible for people who had been throwing things at their teevees to meet each other and organize, in the hopes of turning more legislators' attention to the common good.

 The netroots have two goals.

  1.  Lobbying public officials to vote in their constituents’ interest and in the public interest.

  2. Getting public officials elected who will vote in their constituents’ interest, and in the public interest.

You’ll note there is no ideology in this formulation.  However, it turns out that most of the time when actions are taken that are in the public interest, they end up falling to the left of the currently defined political spectrum.  There are exceptions. The Wall Street bailout covered the political spectrum. Everybody was against it, left, right and center. Many, many people told their elected officials they were against it.  It passed nonetheless.  (More and more it looks like the general public was right about this.)  But, in general, the issues that interest the netroots involve preservation of civil liberties, women's reproductive rights, reduced use and size of the military, more effective regulation of corporations, a more equal income distribution, recognition of climate change as a problem, and a generally reality-based approach to governance.  As things currently stand these are positions left of center, hence the term “left blogosphere.”

But you will find that most of the positions the left blogosphere support are positions that are also supported by the majority of Americans, often by wide margins.  Mainstream America is against the war in Iraq, against domestic surveillance, against immunity for lawbreaking corporations, in favor of products being tested for safety, in favor of products being labeled accurately, for universal health care coverage,  for the right to get a morning after pill and so forth.  Oh, and they don't like President Bush. At all.

This is the end of part 1 of this primer. 


The netroots is an open source citizens’ lobbying group, that tries to advance causes in the public interest through citizen actions and through support of candidates who vote in the public interest.


*Exegesis of this phrase, which I suspect was coined by Atrios, is worth a footnote.  It’s a shorthand reference to various narratives about commentators in the left blogosphere. The “hippie” part are those that make us out to be a bunch a crazy, flower-tossing, stoned fantasists, with no understanding of the real world, hopelessly trapped in a mythical version of the sixties.   The dirty part refers to our being unfit for polite company, Vinny from Queens, posting drivel from his parents’ basement dressed in his underwear while covered in Cheetoh dust. The “fucking” part refers to the fact some of us actually use the words in our phosphor print that are used in august places like the Senate cloakroom or the New York Times newsroom. 

We embraced the phrase because it is shorthand way of noting the absurdity of these characterizations. 

November 22, 2008

Policy vs Power

Fifteen years ago, Bill Kristol famously wrote a memo* saying that Clinton's health care plan had to be stopped at all costs, because it would be so popular in the general public that Republicans would lose the middle class.  Steve Benen  has a piece in the Monthly this morning about the current plan to stop reform at all costs.   The key point to take away from this is they oppose universal health care because, in parallel with Social Security, it would be very effective policy, and therefore popular with the middle class and most Americans.

And therefore must be stopped.  

There could not be a clearer statement of where these people's interest lies.  They do not decide that they need to find a market based method that will be just as effective. They work as hard as they can to make millions of Americans are without health care, miserable thereby, and will be willing to vote Republican.

*December 2, 1993 - Leading conservative operative William Kristol privately circulates a strategy document to Republicans in Congress. Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party. Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the "Contract With America," Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America's majority party. Killing health care will serve both ends. The timing of the memo dovetails with a growing private consensus among Republicans that all-out opposition to the Clinton plan is in their best political interest. Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol's strategy signals a new turn in the battle. Not only is it politically acceptable to criticize the Clinton plan on policy grounds, it is also politically advantageous. By the end of 1993, blocking reform poses little risk as the public becomes increasingly fearful of what it has heard about the Clinton plan.

November 21, 2008

Republican Collapse

Josh wonders about two consecutive wave elections, for the same party.  These are as he points out very rare. To have a large number of swing seats fall to one party in one year means there shouldn't be any left for following election, and that some of them should swing back.

Instead, it surged, with the Republicans losing MS-2, Delay's seat and Hastert's seat before the election proper and still more after that.  Nobody predicted 56+1+1 (which still may become 57+1+1) in the Senate in 2006, although people like digby (and myself) were more optimistic than the conventional wisdom.  

Josh wonders about this, which is the key, IMO.

For a brief interlude after the election, it looked like the congressional GOP might move into some sort of quasi-opposition to the president, at least distance themselves significantly from him. If you remember, there was a brief period of equivocation on Iraq. And then, nothing. Within a month or so, it was clear that elected Republicans were doubling down on President Bush, the Iraq War and pretty much everything else. And that decision was reflected in the presidential nominating campaign as well.
Josh wasn't the only person confused by this. I recall, very distinctly, Schumer saying he expected withdrawal from Iraq to receive Republican support by the end of the summer. While this was just one more Friedman unit, the 2006 election had made it clear that the public was very unhappy.  When the Republicans remained in their bloc, and decided they were going to drive their party over a cliff in fealty to Bush, Reid and Schumer were perfectly well pleased.

It seemed crazy that people like Chris Shays and Gordon Smith would risk their seats over an occupation that could be, at best, a foreign policy disaster, one that the public had firmly said they wanted nothing to do with.  The President's popularity was cratering, the undermining of Social Security had failed, and the Republicans could point to not one single success.  It seemed, at the time, that you'd have to be crazy not to start voting against the President if you wanted to keep your seat in a fair number of districts.  Moreso in the Senate, where there were a lot of seats up, immune from gerrymandering.

As one of Josh's reader points out, then came Katrina, which both illustrated and symbolized the Republicans incapacity for governing, at least under this president.  And yet, still, they doubled down.

And still, with their favorability falling to low double digits, the Democrats on the Hill continued to mount feeble protests of "I've fallen down and I can't get up" variety, and let the Republicans control the agenda. Only on issues where there was broad Republican support were bills successful. If the Republicans voted in unanimity, then the bills were killed.

The effect was (and I'm still surprised that it worked) that the Republicans owned every bad thing that happened over the last eight years. People were indeed angry at the Democrats too, as in that link from November 2007 where I also raised this issue, but it's one thing to blame Schumer for Mukasey (and I did, and I do) but Bush nominated him and all the Republicans, from Coleman to Smith voted for him.  

I still don't understand why.  All I can think is that they thought they could suppress enough votes, legally and illegally,  to keep a reasonable number of seats, without having to risk being subject to a primary from the right.   So I guess it's appropriate that Josh Marshall inspired this post. Because it may that when historians look back, they will point to his work in exposing the plans to win the purple states by hook or by crook. Further irony here is that, if this was the case, the blowback was brutal. The response to the problems in 2004 and 2006 was to implement early voting more widely. Early voting is death to the Republican suppression tactics, from the legal (last minute false oppo ad that can't be refuted in time, challenges at the polling place) to the unethical (scaring people into thinking they'll be arrested) to the illegal (phone-jamming, filing false charges) to the beyond reprehensible (putting a governor in jail for having the temerity to win.

Conservative Principles

DemfromCT points me to Russ Douthat, who tries to make an argument about restoring conservativism :

This problem is not, repeat not, a matter of conservatives needing to abandon their core convictions in order to win elections, as right-of-center reformers are often accused of doing. Rather, it's a matter of conservatives needing to apply their core convictions to questions like "how do we mitigate the worst effects of climate change?" and "how do we modernize our infrastructure?" and "how do we encourage excellence and competition within our public school bureaucracy?" instead of just letting liberals completely monopolize these debates, while the Right talks about porkbusting and not much else.
This attempt to rekindle the faith is touching. But it's no longer possible to sustain the set of lies that conservatives have been telling about their core principles.   The mythological conservative, firm believer in market principles and their application to sound policy formation demonstrably does not exist.  The people who believe that sort of thing are called economists, and reside all across the ideological spectrum, although with their reflexive belief in market processes generally lean somewhat to the right of center.  Sometimes their ideas are hijacked by conservatives; that's pretty much what AEI is about. But when they, say, advocate a voucher system of education, that is no more about a voucher system for education as is an anti-abortion  stance about abortion.  The former is about breaking the teachers unions. The latter is about the central goal of the conservative program: the restoration of the supremacy of the white (straight) male.  

We went through a version of this during the Reagan administration, when the manager of the Office of Management and Budget styled himself a libertarian.  The oxymoronic nature of that stylization seemed to escape most observers, but there it was.

At this point, though, it's impossible to do anything other than echo Chico Marx: "Who you gonna believe? Me? Or your own lying eyes?"  Given the keys to the castle, the sports car, not to mention the liquor cabinet, conservatives have demonstrated that they are, if anything, the polar opposite of principles they espouse when out of power.  That it's Douthat's generation's turn is his misfortune, because this time, they held power for long enough to expose that these conservative principles are shams.

The policy direction under not merely Republican control, but conservative Republican control--Inhofe, not Snowe, Delay, not Shays--has been toward centralization of political power in the executive, centralization of economic power in the hands of a large corporations, at the expense of small businesses, and a rapid growth in government engaged essentially in income transfers from households to corporate management and shareholders. These transfers take various forms: direct subsidy as with big agribusiness,  price hikes through   monopolies create by patent and copyright  law as with big media and big pharma, replacement of civil servants and soldiers with private contractors like Blackwater and Verizon and, of course, the socialization of any losses--financial or environmental--that unfortunately happen from time to time.

Ths authoritarian program exists in a framework of unreality. Douthat mentions climate change as something that conservatives need to deal with using market mechanisms. This is, of course, what those economists I mentioned above recommend.  But this is not what modern conservatives recommend. They recommend denial.  This denial extends across a remarkable swath of reality, to the point that a candidate for Vice President's family planning practice consisted of recommending abstience with crossed fingers, and celebrating any teenaged, unwed  pregnancy that results.  This denial of reality in the realm of the individual household, "the castle" consists of advocating the state impose these fantasies onto non-compliant individuals.   This is not hypothetical. Whenever possible they act to impose their fantastic beliefs onto their fellow citizens, as in North Dakota and its abortion law, in the president's executive order defining a 4 cell blastocyst as a child or with the insistence that the state purposely teach other people's children outright falsehoods.

That is, the answer to Douthat's three questions is, "They don't."  They don't believe in climate change. They don't believe in maintaining infrastructure.  They don't believe in better public education.

Douthat can say that he believes in these things. But American conservatives do not.  Republicans do not.  He really needs to get his nose out of The Fountainhead and look around, because if he believes this stuff, he is not a conservative.

November 20, 2008

Answering JMM

It's a question worth considering in very real terms. How much would things be different if Barack Obama had been sworn in on November 5th?
It would be worse. Time is needed to make these transitions. We've made them earlier as transportation and communication technology has improved.

There's a tendency to focus on the shit that is happening now, is breathing hard, and is getting covered.  But it's a lot better to follow Obama's model, with a longer view.

It's funny. Since Ford, he's our JockEst president.  He enjoys team sports, and plays at least one well.  One thing that you do team sports, is a commitment to the common goal.  There's a lot of "Team of Rivals" dissin' out there. But every basketball team is  a team of rivals. Working together for a common cause.

Obama needs to build a team. They will, in the event, be unhappy with their minutes. But that's the way it goes. Speeding the transition would make it harder to define roles, and build the team.

November 18, 2008

Homer? Or Some Other Guy With the Same Name?

Michael Scherer pointing out Mike Huckabee's failure to get some biblical detail right inspired this, and I can't just leave it in a comment thread that nobody is gonna read. Better to put it here for people to not read, I figure.

This stuff really makes  me laugh. Getting the details of things that aren't true, or real, but have been written down, right.

It was like reading the piece in the WSJ over the weekend about the Professor of Islam  in Germany who was questioning the existence of an actual guy named Mohamed. Some other academic  noted that the evidence for an actual guy named Jesus was a heckuva lot more tenuous, so the Mohamed thing was looking pretty good to him.

"Low bar,"  I said to myself. And it doesn't matter, really, because there are any number of details, like God coming down and dictating the thing to him that are obviously not true. There are so many details attributed to the figure that are clearly false that it doesn't really matter if the guy was a guy or is a composite of  several guys, or whether there is some guy who one could generally say was the guy to whom (thanks Ben,  playing KO quoting Churchill, caught that trailing preposition) they attribute all this not true stuff.

And then I mentioned this to someone else, and SHE said "Low bar on the Jesus thing? What about the God evidence? Goodness knows there isn't any of that.  Not to mention a fair amount to the contrary."

November 11, 2008


It's odd that with the election over, and Lieberman's traitorous ways having had no tangible effect, that it somehow makes perfect sense to me that Reid and Obama are more concerned about how many noses than they can count in the next year than with whom was standing beside McCain on platforms this year.  Nobody has ticked me off more.  Lamont would have been a great Democratic senator, and, instead, we have, well, Lieberman.  As they say, more, better Democrats is what is needed,  and Lieberman is neither.

So I understand why people are angry about this.  But I ask those people to consider how they would react if Snowe or Collins (pro-choice, New Englanders who supported McCain but have the most liberal Republican voting records on the National Journal scorecard) switched parties.  Would they say no, we don't want your kind?

November 7, 2008

New Rule

Only pundits who excoriated Bush for appointing a divisive, ideological cabinet in 2000 is permitted to suggest that Obama should appoint a bipartisan cabinet.

Even that's a stretch; Bush lost the popular vote, almost certainly had more Floridians vote against him than for him, and was put in office in the worst way since Adams in 1824 (yes, worse than Hayes in 1876).  But at least it would cut down on the number of them.

BoBo Variations

David Brooks is concerned today.

Only 17 percent of Americans trust the government to do the right thing most or all of the time, according to an October New York Times/CBS News poll.

So, therefore, the most intrusive elements of government, domestic spying, suspension of habeus corpus, secret executive orders, and the suspension of other Constitutional protections against untrustworthy government should be immediately revoked upon Obama's inauguration?


So the members of my dream Obama administration understand that they cannot impose an ideological program the country does not accept. New presidents in 1932 and 1964 could presuppose a basic level of trust in government. But today, as Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution observes, the new president is going to have to build that trust deliberately and step by step.

Ah.  So despite a decade of polling that shows broad support for a greater role in government in providing health care, education, and other social services, the case has not been made.  Moreover,  after two consecutive elections reject and repudiate, in no uncertain terms,  the use of the Federal tax, regulatory and contracting apparatus to transfer income from poor to rich,  any change must be taken deliberately.

What's the best way?

That means there won’t just be a few token liberal Republicans in marginal jobs. There will be people like Robert Gates at Defense and Ray LaHood, Stuart Butler, Diane Ravitch, Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Jim Talent at other important jobs.

The Obama administration of my dreams will insist that Congressional Democrats reinstate bipartisan conference committees. They’ll invite G.O.P. leaders to the White House for real meetings and then re-invite them, even if they give hostile press conferences on the White House driveway.

Yep, the right way to restore trust in the US government is to reinstate the people who have just been repudiated, to the sounds of spontaneous cheers throughout the country--throughout the world for that matter.  The most important step  to be taken in a country where the government is not trusted to do its job is to put back into power the people who invaded Iraq and couldn't get around to dealing with Katrina, who have presided over the looting of the Treasury,  and the destruction of the US credit marketplace.

Yeah. that's the ticket.  Even if they give hostile press conferences after playing a significant policy-making role in a new bipartisan administration.  That was the "bipartisanship" thing that just a few months ago was synonymous with "date rape."

They’ll do things conservatives disagree with, but they’ll also show that they’re not toadies of the liberal interest groups. They’ll insist on merit pay and preserving No Child Left Behind’s accountability standards, no matter what the teachers’ unions say. They’ll postpone contentious fights on things like card check legislation.

Most of all, they’ll take significant action on the problems facing the country without causing a mass freak-out among voters to the right of Nancy Pelosi.

That is, defense spending is off the table.   And, yes, of course we can't freak out the country by ending the Cold War occupation of Germany, in the light of the fall of the Berlin Wall a generation ago and Japan, in light of the Chinese government holding markers on a good chunk of the American economy.  (You don't knock off folks who owe you money.)

And then, Obama will turn the line item veto over to a Blue Dog Congressman:

My dream administration will announce a Budget Rebalancing Initiative. Somebody like Representative Jim Cooper would go through the budget and take out the programs and tax expenditures that don’t work. “If we have no spending cuts, then we’re saying government is perfect. Nobody believes that,” Cooper says

Yep. That's the kind of change BoBo believes in.

October 31, 2008


The Washington Post has an article about McCain's closing advertising push, noting 

The desire for parity on television comes at the expense of investment in paid boots on the ground," said one top Republican strategist who has been privy to McCain's plans. "The folks who will oversee the volunteer operation have been told to get out into the field on their own nickel."

This has been the central strategic issue of the campaign.  McCain has suffered from being far behind Obama in money throughout the race. During the primaries, when McCain was down to a skeleton staff, Obama was opening field offices and developing ground forces in both primary and caucus states.

During advertising the general, McCain has caught a double-whammy. Not only is he limited to his federal matching funds (which is more than he could have raised), he's getting no support to speak of from 527 organizations. Not only does this stretch his ad dollars still more thinly, but the campaign iteself has to own all the most loathsome tactics that have been adopted.

Translation?  He never sold his candidacy to the base.  The campaign did everything they could, even picked a "whack-job" for Vice President, and he still isn't getting the love.  Worse, no matter how heinous the tactic, he is still being criticized for going too easy on Obama from his right.  

From, the beginning this was going to be a national media campaign, with expectations of a lot of earned media from a press corps that adored him.  Kowtowing to the base not only cost McCain that critical adoration, but has turned also him into a figure of scorn and mockery in much of the traditional media.

It may not have mattered, though. Even if he had spurned the base, put Lieberman on the ticket, won the floor fight that his staff said would ensue and run a positive campaign, he'd still be the same terrible, incoherent candidate advocating a failed foreign and domestic policy regime.

Saddest news of all for the Republicans is that he probably was also their best shot.