Friday, October 31, 2008

Typo forgiveness

When I re-read my old posts I occasionally find typographical errors: misspellings, an omitted ending “s”, that kind of thing. When I find these, I will fix them without marking the post as updated so long as my fix doesn’t change the meaning of what I’ve said.

Missing the point

There has been a lot of chatter about what Barack Obama is really saying in that January 2001 radio show about “The Court and Civil Rights.” I think most of the chatterers - on both the Right and the Left - are missing the point. Unsurprisingly, the Left is understating how much the show reveals about the continuity of Obama’s commitment to spreading the wealth. I do not necessarily consider this deliberate. If you believe that Obama is a mainstream, moderate, liberal politician, it is quite easy to make the case that what he says in that radio show isn’t terribly significant. Equally unsurprisingly, the Right is overstating how much the radio show reveals about Obama’s commitment to spreading the wealth. More troublesomely, the Right is misstating - and I suspect misunderstanding - what the radio show actually does reveal.

The Right’s general argument has been that Obama wants to use the Supreme Court in particular and courts in general to redistribute wealth and that his comments in the radio show reveal his disappointment that the Warren Court did not do more to effect this redistribution. The Right-leaning commenters than go on to talk about how Obama will thus appoint Supreme Court Justices (and lower judges) that share his redistribution tendencies and how those appointees will then proceed to move money around faster than a roulette croupier at Monte Carlo.

As I explained, I believe this is a grievous misreading of Obama’s remarks. Furthermore because this misreading is easily rebutted by the Obama campaign simply pointing to what Obama actually said, interpreting Obama’s remarks in this way has blunted what could have been an effective Republican attack on Obama. Two examples of the argument the Right - and particularly the McCain campaign - attempted to make and the relatively easy push-back against that argument by the Obama camp can be found in a Washington Post Fact Checker article and a FOX News article. Both articles reported segments of McCain campaign spokesman Douglas Holtz-Eakin’s response to Obama’s remarks:

The American people continue to learn more about Barack Obama. Now we know that the slogans "change you can believe in" and "change we need" are code words for Barack Obama’s ultimate goal: "redistributive change." In a previously uncovered interview from September 6, 2001, Barack Obama expressed his regret that the Supreme Court hadn’t been more "radical" and described as a "tragedy" the Court's refusal to take up "the issues of redistribution of wealth." No wonder he wants to appoint judges that legislate from the bench – as insurance in case a unified Democratic government under his control fails to meet his basic goal: taking money away from people who work for it and giving it to people who Barack Obama believes deserve it. Europeans call it socialism, Americans call it welfare, and Barack Obama calls it change.

Leaving aside the fact that Holtz-Eakin got the date of the interview wrong (“The Courts and Civil Rights” aired on January 18, 2001; on September 6, 2001, Obama was part of another radio show on the same station called “Slavery and the Constitution”), he is making a case that simply cannot be backed up by listening to the January 2001 radio show. In fact, his case cannot be backed up even if all you listen to are the segments of the show that were made into a YouTube video attacking Obama. The Washington Post Fact Checker article makes this point quite convincingly. The FOX News article (which makes some very tenuous claims of its own regarding Obama’s remarks) included Obama spokesman Bill Burton’s effective push-back:

Here are the facts. In the interview, Obama went into extensive detail to explain why the courts should not get into that business of “redistributing” wealth. Obama's point -- and what he called a tragedy -- was that legal victories in the civil rights led too many people to rely on the courts to change society for the better. That view is shared by conservative judges and legal scholars across the country. And so Obama's point was simply that if we want to improve economic conditions for people in this country, we should do so by bringing people together at the community level and getting everyone involved in our democratic process.

What could be more reasonable? Obama said the courts should not redistribute wealth. (Okay, actually he said they “could” not but I’m sure Burton’s huge change in meaning will be overlooked in light of the much more obvious errors made in Holtz-Eakin’s statement.) In fact, Obama is saying we shouldn’t rely on the courts to make things better but instead on the democratic process. It’s hard to argue with any of that and the McCain campaign made a huge mistake when they tried to do so.

However, there is an argument that could have been made from the January 2001 radio show. It requires more patient elucidation than simply saying “Obama judges will take your money” but it could have been made and it would have gone something like this:

In the January 2001 radio show, Obama is not advocating use of the courts to redistribute wealth. However, it is clear from listening to his remarks that he considers the redistribution of wealth to be a good thing. In particular, his comment that he is “not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts” demonstrates both of these points: redistributive change - in fact, major redistributive change - is desirable but the courts are not the appropriate venue.

Obama does make clear how this major redistributive change is to occur: through “the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.” Given Obama’s career path - community organizer, State legislature, United States Senate, President - and his remarkable grass roots organization while pursuing that path, it is clear he is putting into practice what he talks about in the January 2001 interview. He is not pursuing major redistributive change through the courts but through the very “democratic process” Burton says he considers appropriate for such endeavors.

Although the January 2001 discussion of major redistributive change occurs within the context of a discussion on civil rights, Obama’s current campaign makes two things clear. First, he has maintained a continuity of purpose and still supports major redistributive change: his “tax cuts” for 95% of Americans and his comments about spreading the wealth make this crystal clear. Second, his current push for major redistributive change is not race-based: he promises to take money from the more successful of all races and give money to the less well-off of all races.

Although Obama will not appoint judges specifically for the purpose of effecting this major redistributive change, his appointments will nonetheless reflect his long-standing commitment to such change. In that same January 2001 radio show, Obama says “the Court can certainly be more or less generous in interpreting actions and initiatives that are taken by the legislature.” Given his desire to spread the wealth around, Obama will certainly appoint judges who are more generous in their interpretation rather than less generous.

Does this mean Obama is a socialist? That’s a meaningless question. Socialism is not a yes or no proposition. Here’s a reasonable definition of “socialism”:

An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.

In other words, those who claim our economic policy already redistributes wealth or is already socialist have a point: there are redistributive, even socialist, elements in that policy. We do not have - and most of us do not want - untrammeled capitalism. For example, we want some government control over the production of goods by private enterprise in the form of regulations to keep us safer both physically and economically and in the form of intervention to prevent supposed competitors from conniving to manipulate the market. We want some government control over the distribution of goods in the form of safety nets for the less fortunate: we pay taxes to support Social Security and Medicare for the old and food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid for the poor. We want some government control over the distribution of goods in situations where that will benefit society as a whole: we pay taxes to provide college aid so all qualified students can go to college.

So, yes, the United States economy does have socialist elements but there are two important points to remember. First, in general we support those redistributive elements in pursuit of other goals. We tax ourselves to help the elderly because we don’t want them to suffer. We tax ourselves to help everyone attend college because we believe that helps our society as a whole. We don’t support redistributive efforts based solely on the idea that everyone should have the same or that those who have more should be forced to share.

The second important point is that degree matters. A society can be more or less redistributive, more or less socialist. So the question is not whether Obama is a socialist; the question is whether Obama’s proposals lead our economic system in a more socialist direction. The answer to that can only be “Yes”. By proposing a redistribution of wealth based on the idea that everyone should have the same, that those who are more successful should be forced to share, he is explicitly advocating changing the system so that the government has greater control over the distribution of goods.

Obama's proposals are neither un-American nor anti-American. So long as we are governed within the constraints of the Constitution, Americans can choose whatever path they want and that path is - by the very virtue of their choice - American. However, Obama’s approach does present voters with a remarkably clear choice of paths. Although Americans have chosen to tax themselves to provide safety nets and societal good, they have also been wary of too much drift toward socialism and have preferred to preserve capitalism, recognizing it as the engine of economic growth and economic freedom. Choosing Obama as President means choosing to move much further down the socialist path. Obama is quite correct in his belief that the democratic process is the right way to make the choice between his path and John McCain’s path but he is quite incorrect in his belief that his path is, in fact, the right choice to make.

There you are. The accurate and, I believe, persuasive argument that could be made from that January 2001 radio show. There are two problems in making it, however. First, my argument took about 900 words. That’s close to stump speech length but I don’t know what you could pull out of there as a sound-bite and I’m darn sure those 900 words would never fit on a bumper sticker.

Second, it is probably impossible for the McCain campaign to make this argument at this late date. Holtz-Eakin’s egregious misstatements in his first response frittered away the impact Obama’s words could have made if handled correctly. Any attempt to go back now and say, “Well, what we really meant about what Obama really meant...” is almost certainly going to be ignored and justifiably so.

Furthermore, I don’t have any sense that the McCain campaign has been making a continuous, coherent case against Obama on the economic front. The January 2001 radio show - like Obama’s remarks to Joe Wurzelbacher - have focused attention on this issue and provided specific Obama quotes to shore up McCain’s case against Obama’s economics. However, it’s not like this is news. Obama’s tax policies and spending programs - both those he has voted for in the past and those he is proposing in his Presidential campaign - are not new. The McCain campaign should have been making this argument all along. Than when the gifts of Joe the Plumber and a public radio show fell in their laps they would have been prepared to use them effectively.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mommy, what does the Vice-President do?

I was looking for the full “Hardball” interview with Representative Michele Bachmann and while searching YouTube I found an interview Chris Matthews did with Bill Maher on October 21. Matthews began by asking Maher about Bachmann but before Maher could get his entire answer out, Matthews said

Can I cue you up another one? Here’s something fresh from today, fresh from the world of 2008 politics. This is the Vice-Presidential nominee of the Republican Party talking about her notion of what the Vice-Presidency holds for her.

He then proceeded to play a clip of an interview Governor Palin did with station KUSA in Colorado. Here’s a transcript of the clip Matthews played:

A Vice-President has a really great job because not only are they there to support the President’s agenda - they’re like the team member, the teammate to that President - but also they’re in charge of the United States Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes what will help make life better.

Matthews and Maher then had the following exchange (I’ve omitted the disbelieving nasal sounds):

Matthews: Wow! I heard this begin during the debate when her notion of the Vice-Presidency is she’s gonna run the United States Senate. I thought it was a formality to just break ties and sit up there. She says she’s gonna basically be in charge of the Senate, she’s gonna get through good policies, she’s gonna get in there and work. I guess she has to take a look at the Constitution before she, well, at least takes office.

Maher: Well that would involve reading, Chris. I wouldn’t hold your breath on that. I was just gonna say before you showed the second clip is what I’ve been hearing about this Congresswoman is that she’s the only person in public office who’s actually dumber than Palin but I don’t know. After I heard that clip that you just showed me, that’s a tossup. That’s a real Beavis and Butthead we’ve got there.

I got curious and did some poking around and found the Palin interview with KUSA on October 20, 2008, which runs 8 minutes and 13 seconds.. (Warning: Make sure your sound is turned OFF when you start this. There’s a brief ad before the interview that is nothing but incredibly loud static. Turn the sound back on when Palin appears.)

After watching the whole interview, I can report there are two problems with M&M’s take on Palin’s remarks. One is Constitutional, the other is contextual. Let’s take the Constitutional problem first.

The Constitution mentions the Vice-President in Article I which defines the Legislative branch of government and in Article II which defines the Executive branch of government. For our purposes, we need only be concerned with Article I. In Section 3 of this Article, we find the following:

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

As you can see, Palin was Constitutionally correct in saying the Vice-President is “in charge of the United States Senate.” During the Twentieth Century the involvement of the Vice-President in the normal activities of the Senate has waned but I don’t see any reason why the Vice-President could not - if she wanted to - “get in there with the Senators”. She would not be able to vote or debate but as anyone who has tried to get work done in a committee or meeting knows, the person who runs things can wield a lot of power if he - or she - so chooses.

Do modern Vice-Presidents mix it up with the Senate? No. According to the Senate Website:

The first two vice presidents, Adams and Jefferson, did much to shape the nature of the office, setting precedents that were followed by others. During most of the nineteenth century, the degree of influence and the role played within the Senate depended chiefly on the personality and inclinations of the individual involved. Some had great parliamentary skill and presided well, while others found the task boring, were incapable of maintaining order, or chose to spend most of their time away from Washington, leaving the duty to a president pro tempore. Some made an effort to preside fairly, while others used their position to promote the political agenda of the administration.

During the twentieth century, the role of the vice president has evolved into more of an executive branch position. Now, the vice president is usually seen as an integral part of a president's administration and presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed. Yet, even though the nature of the job has changed, it is still greatly affected by the personality and skills of the individual incumbent.

So while Palin is Constitutionally correct in her description of the Vice-President’s role in the Senate, as a practical matter the extensive involvement she envisions is rarely seen these days. I see no Constitutional reason why she could not involve herself as much as nineteenth century Vice-Presidents did but I imagine the Senators themselves would dislike that very much and their dislike would make life more difficult for a McCain administration.

Certainly, M&M could have used the “impractical” argument to make what Palin said sound ridiculous. They would have had to figure out a way to avoid making the Senators sound unconstitutional while making Palin sound like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington but I’m sure they could have managed it. Since they chose to use the “she needs to read the Constitution” argument instead, I can only assume they are far more clueless about the Constitution than Sarah Palin.

As long as we’re on the subject, let’s look at what was actually said in the Vice-Presidential debate, a forum that Matthews pinpointed as the beginning of what he apparently believes are Palin’s grandiose notions about the role of the Vice-President. Based on the New York Times transcript of this debate, the discussion of the role of the Vice-President begins when the moderator, Gwen Ifill, says, “But tell us now, looking forward, what it is you think the vice presidency is worth now.” Palin and Biden do a little back and forth about joking and then:

PALIN: No, no. Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that's not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are. John McCain and I have had good conversations about where I would lead with his agenda. That is energy independence in America and reform of government over all, and then working with families of children with special needs. That's near and dear to my heart also. In those arenas, John McCain has already tapped me and said, that's where I want you, I want you to lead. I said, I can't wait to get and there go to work with you.

IFILL: Senator?

BIDEN: Gwen, I hope we'll get back to education because I don't know any government program that John is supporting, not early education, more money for it. The reason No Child Left Behind was left behind, the money was left behind, we didn't fund it. We can get back to that I assume.

With regard to the role of vice president, I had a long talk, as I'm sure the governor did with her principal, in my case with Barack. Let me tell you what Barack asked me to do. I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. John McCain would acknowledge that. My record shows that on controversial issues. I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration. I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no. But Barack Obama indicated to me he wanted me with him to help him govern. So every major decision he'll be making, I'll be sitting in the room to give my best advice. He's president, not me, I'll give my best advice.

And one of the things he said early on when he was choosing, he said he picked someone who had an independent judgment and wouldn't be afraid to tell him if he disagreed. That is sort of my reputation, as you know. I look forward to working with Barack and playing a very constructive role in his presidency, bringing about the kind of change this country needs.

So when Sarah Palin speaks of “working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies” she’s out of line but when Joe Biden says “I have a history of getting things done in the United States Senate. ... I would be the point person for the legislative initiatives in the United States Congress for our administration” M&M presumably have no problem with that. Personally, I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference between the intentions of the two candidates. Palin may intend to try to use her role as President of the Senate to accomplish what Biden would probably accomplish via personal contacts and, well, schmoozing, but the desired outcome is the same. Each plans to be the President’s liaison with the Senate.

The debate discussion continues immediately with (emphasis mine):

IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?

PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.

IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?

BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.

Oops! Let’s see how many errors we can ring up in Biden’s comments:

1) Article I defines only part of the role of the Vice-President, not all of it.

2) Article I defines the Legislative branch not the Executive branch.

3) The Vice-President has Constitutional duties in both the Legislative and Executive branches.

4) Constitutionally, the Vice-President can preside over the Senate whenever he or she darn well pleases.

5) Constitutionally, the Vice-President has as much authority over Congress (at least the Senate) as he or she chooses to exert. I simply don’t see any way the Senate could refuse to let the Vice-President run things if she showed up, gavel in hand, to do so.

6) The idea that the Vice-President is part of the Legislative branch is a bizarre notion invented not by Dick Cheney but by the Framers of the Constitution. Silly unitary power aggrandizers.

Call me cynical but I’m willing to bet a fair sum of money that M&M never had a little chuckle-fest over Biden’s understanding of the Constitution.

Okay, enough of the Constitutional problem with M&M’s tete-a-tete. On to the contextual problem.

Actually, there are two contextual problems, one immediate and one overarching. The immediate one is that the clip Matthews played is, shall we say, abbreviated. The whole exchange between the interviewer and Palin took about 45 seconds; Matthews played about 18 seconds worth. Here’s the whole exchange:

Interviewer: Finally, Governor, we’ve been trying to engage some local grade schoolers the last few elections cycles. We do have a few more questions from the third grade.

Palin: Good.

Interviewer: Brandon Garcia wants to know, “What does the Vice President do?”

Palin: Aw, that’s something that Piper would ask me as a second grader, also. That’s a great question, Brandon. And a Vice-President has a really great job because not only are they there to support the President’s agenda - they’re like the team member, the teammate to that President - but also they’re in charge of the United States Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes what will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom. And it’s a great job and I look forward to having that job.

Now Governor Palin sounds just a tiny bit simplistic in the clip Matthews played and her affect is definitely kind of cheery, for lack of a better word. Once you realize she is in effect talking to a ten-year old, though, she sounds more like a mommy than a lightweight.

The overarching context is this: the entire interview was just over eight minutes long. The 45-second exchange Matthews carved up and ran came at the very end of the interview. This would seem to mean that someone must have sat through the entire interview to find this little segment. Surely that someone could have found something newsworthy in Palin’s answer to the following questions:

1) Are you ready?

2) Are you surprised at the intensity with which some have gone after you?

3) Why should a voter who is struggling economically put his trust in you?

4) The First Lady of Colorado supports a tax increase to help children with autism, Down syndrome, and similar issues. Do you support that?

5) What Democrats would be a good fit for a McCain/Palin administration?

6) Why isn’t there more comment about oil shale extraction?

7) Is there such a thing as clean coal?

Palin was at least as impressive as Biden is in similar interviews. She knew her facts and marshaled them well. In fact, throughout the interview Sarah Palin was - if I may plagiarize Joe Biden - "articulate and bright and clean and ... nice-looking.” (Although I have to admit I wasn’t crazy about that red leather.)

Why didn’t Matthews play some of the earlier interview for Maher? We have so many possible explanations it’s hard to settle on just one. In the tank for Obama? MSNBC misogyny (aka, dog bites man)? Class prejudice? I know. How about “All of the above”?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Redistribution and the Constitution

A YouTube video featuring clips from a 2001 Barack Obama interview is making the rounds. You can view it here. This video is about four minutes long and concludes with the clip of Obama talking to Joe the Plumber about spreading the wealth. I’ll write later about some of the claims that others have made with regard to what Obama’s comments mean but in this post I want to analyze what Obama does and does not say in this interview.

The four minutes in the YouTube video are pulled from an interview that is much longer: 53 minutes and 22 seconds. This interview took place on January 18, 2001. It was entitled, “The Court and Civil Rights” and was a segment of a program called “Odyssey” on WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago. The interview was hosted by Gretchen Helfrich and her guests were:

Susan Bandes – Professor of law at DePaul University and the editor of the book, “The Passions of Law”
Dennis Hutchinson – The William Rainey Harper professor in the college, senior lecturer in the law school and editor of the Supreme Court Review at the University of Chicago
Barack Obama – Illinois State Senator from 13th district and a senior lecturer in the law school at the University of Chicago

The redistribution issues are covered in approximately the last 20 minutes of the interview. The entire interview is interesting if you have time but to evaluate what Obama is saying you can focus on the last 20 minutes. You can find the complete interview here apparently in RealAudio format.

I’ve transcribed much of those last 20 minutes below so if you want to read the actual interview before I discuss it, just page down until you see “Partial Transcript” then come back here for my analysis.

Let me talk first about what Obama does not say. First, despite claims to the contrary, it is crystal clear that Obama is not suggesting the United States Supreme Court can or should be the vehicle for redistributing wealth in the United States. On the contrary he explicitly rejects the Court as such a vehicle partly because he feels the task is beyond its capabilities, partly because it raises separation of powers issues, and partly because he recognizes the difficulty of legitimizing such action by the Court. Earlier in the interview he also discusses the fact that the Supreme Court cannot or will not get too far ahead of the general social consensus and this may enter into his determination as well. Obama explicitly regrets that the civil rights movement focused so heavily on the Supreme Court (or possibly courts in general) that it gave short shrift to political and organizational activities that offered a hope of effecting redistributive change in a way litigation did not.

Obama is a little fuzzier on the issue of whether State Supreme Courts can be effective in this regard and speaks about how San Antonio v Rodriguez seems to have resulted in issues of redistribution and wealth being litigated at the State level with mixed results. Nonetheless he certainly does not make an argument that litigation at the State level is an appropriate or desirable approach to achieving redistribution of wealth.

Second, Obama does not think the redistribution of wealth is an “administrative task”. He speaks of administrative issues as part of the separation of powers issues you run into if you attempt to use the Court to achieve wealth redistribution.

On the other hand, I believe the interview does make clear that Obama considers the redistribution of wealth to be a desirable goal and seems to consider such redistribution a component of - or possibly a precursor to - “more basic issues such as political and economic justice”. I know that this is not exactly news - see Joe the Plumber - but the focus in this interview is subtly different. In speaking with Joe the Plumber, Obama said:

It’s not that I want to punish your success, I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too. I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

In that formulation, redistribution of wealth is to help less successful people become more successful. This could be interpreted as a carelessly rendered version of George Will’s description of conservatives: they believe in equality of opportunity. That is, Obama can argue he is redistributing wealth to help the less wealthy achieve more wealth themselves through, for example, a better education financed through more tax dollars.

Obama’s views in the January 2001 interview are somewhat different. He does speak of the redistribution ramifications of truly implementing Brown v Board of Education and that could again be interpreted as using more tax dollars to achieve better education to in turn help the less wealthy achieve greater wealth. However, he also speaks of the Supreme Court “invest[ing] formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples” but not “venturing into the issues of redistribution of wealth and more basic issues such as political and economic justice”; about the need to “put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change”; about the fact that he is “not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts”. (That word “major” really bothers me.) This seems to lean more toward the idea of redistribution of wealth as a good thing in and or itself rather than as a necessary condition for - or a side-effect of - other specific policies like equalizing educational opportunity. In this interview, Obama seems more like George Will’s description of liberals: they believe in equality of outcome.

Is this a hairsplitting difference? I don’t think so. For example, in writing about the YouTube video (not the interview itself), Ann Althouse says:

Now, there remains the question of how much he would want the legislative branch to do in the name of economic justice, and obviously, the phrase "redistribution of the wealth" gets people going. But that's the same old question we've been talking about for months. [snip]

But we don't know how much, so we're back to where we were before we listened to this clip. Obama favors some degree of progressive taxation and some programs to benefit people in lower income groups and so forth ... as do the great majority of Americans, including John McCain.

I favor progressive taxation but not because I explicitly want to redistribute wealth. Rather I believe that, for example, a 10% tax rate imposed on someone making $15,000 per year is far more of a burden than a 10% tax rate imposed on someone making $150,000 per year and so the person making more can afford to pay a greater percentage of his income in taxes with less pain. The effect may be partially to redistribute wealth but my rationale for a progressive tax rate is not redistribution of wealth. (I suppose you could characterize it as a type of “economic justice” but it has nothing to do with a civil rights aspect of such justice. Although not at all religious, I’ve always found the Parable of the Widow’s Mite compelling.)

Similarly, I am not willing to let old people starve or lack for medical care so I support Social Security and Medicare. I am not willing to let poor people - especially poor children - live on the streets or go hungry or do without health care so I support food stamps, some type of income assistance, and Medicaid. I believe the country as a whole benefits when everyone who is qualified can get a college education so I support government assistance to students. All of those policies require some redistribution of wealth but I’m willing to accept that redistribution in order to achieve specific goals, whether moral or practical. That is far different from pursuing a goal of redistribution of wealth for its own sake, which is what Obama seems to be advocating in the January 2001 interview.

Is Obama advocating a strictly racial redistribution of wealth? After all, this discussion is taking place within the context of the civil rights movement and Obama segues into wealth redistribution and social and economic justice by talking about what the Warren Court did not do in its expansion of those rights. This question is hard to answer because it is so difficult to disentangle the 2001 Obama the Constitutional lawyer from the 2008 Obama the candidate. I believe that if I had listened to this interview in 2001 I would have first thought Obama was talking about transferring wealth to improve educational opportunities for African-American children but by the end of the interview would have moved to thinking he was proposing some type of reparations for African-Americans. However, I do not believe the 2008 Obama the candidate thinks of wealth redistribution strictly along racial lines. Certainly his tax plan is targeted solely by income and has no racial component. He advocates the redistribution from the wealthy of every race and ethnicity to the less wealthy of every race and ethnicity. You may oppose his plan but you must give him credit for color-blindness.

In what is for me a more serious issue, the January 2001 interview raises questions about how Barack Obama views the Constitution. Certainly the views he expresses in this interview can be interpreted as a conviction that it is desirable to “break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution ... that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties”. However, it is also possible to argue he was speaking of what the Warren Court did - interpreting the Constitution as it had always been interpreted - rather than of what he wishes it had done or wishes the current Court would do.

I would probably be less concerned about this issue if I had not listened to another interview Obama did with WBEZ on September 6, 2001, where the discussion was about “Slavery and the Constitution”. The remarks that concern me begin about 45 minutes into the interview. After Richard John, one of the other guests on the show, talks about his view of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the host (Gretchen Helfrich again) asks Barack Obama what his views are on those documents.

Obama: I think it’s a remarkable document.

Helfrich: Which one?

Obama: The original Constitution as well as the Civil War amendments but I think it is an imperfect document and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture, the Colonial culture nascent at that time. African-Americans were not, first of all they weren’t African-Americans. The Africans of the time were not considered a part of the polity that was of concern to the Framers. I think that as Richard said it was a nagging problem in the same way that today we might think of environmental issues and some other problems where you have to balance cost benefits as opposed to seeing it as a moral problem involving persons of moral worth. And in that sense I think we can say that the Constitution reflected an enormous blind spot in this culture that carries on until this day and that the Framers had that same blind spot. I don’t think the two views are contradictory: to say that it was a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now and to say that it reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.

I can’t figure out what this means and perhaps only another Constitutional lawyer could. I certainly understand that the Constitution's original treatment of people of African ancestry living in what became the United States was a moral problem but I’m uncertain of the leap from there to environmental issues. What exactly is the “enormous blind spot”, “the fundamental flaw” in this culture and country that Obama sees so clearly? I very much wish someone would sit down with Obama, read his comments to him, and ask him to expound on them.

In summary, the January 2001 interview is not the redistribution bombshell some pundits believe it to be but it does put a different slant on Obama’s “spread the wealth” argument, making it seem more like a long-standing and freestanding goal and less like a well-within-the-mainstream variation on the sort of redistribution Americans find acceptable in order to implement desirable policies. In particular his apparent (although probably deniable) desire to “[bring] about major redistributive change” (emphasis mine) is troublesome and in the right hands (about which I’ll write in that later post) could be political dynamite.

The Constitutional concerns raised by the January 2001 interview and exacerbated by the snippet from the September 2001 interview are far more serious. I would very much like to be reassured about Obama’s views on the Constitution and how he believes it should be interpreted and perhaps modified. I’ve just spent eight years with a President who does not share my understanding of the meaning, primacy, and enduring value of the United States Constitution. I’d really hate to end up with another President who hails from a different party but is nonetheless cut from the same cloth.


Partial Transcript beginning about 34 minutes into the interview

Obama: After Brown v Board of Education a major issue ends up being redistribution, how do we actually get more money in the schools and how do we create equal schools and equal educational opportunity. Well, the [Supreme] Court in a case called San Antonio v Rodriguez in the early 70’s basically slaps those kinds of claims down and says, “You know what? We as a court have no power to examine issues of redistribution and wealth inequalities with respect to schools. That’s not a race issue, that’s a wealth issue and we can’t get into this.”

Hutchinson: And the Federal Constitution doesn’t provide any warrant for intervention.

Obama: Exactly. So now but what’s interesting is a whole bunch of folks start bringing these claims in state courts under state constitutions that call for equal educational opportunity and you see state courts - with mixed results - being more responsive to it. The reason I think that’s relevant is not to say that I’m not worried about the lack of protections coming from the Supreme Court but it is to say though that you’ve got a cultural transformation that changes how states operate and how states think about the protection of individual rights in ways that didn’t exist prior to the Warren Court and that I think is an important legacy to keep in mind.

There is a brief discussion about Bush v Gore and how the Florida Supreme Court was active in a way that would be preferred by liberals and so a realization that Federalism may have advantages. Then at about 38 minutes in:

Hutchinson: I think the interesting development here is the one that Barack has emphasized and that is that questions of both litigation strategy and political strategy are tending to move more back toward the states now given what the Supreme Court is doing and given Republican control over effectively both Houses of Congress. And so we’re seeing a shift in strategy and a shift in location and it’s important to keep that in mind. I think we can be too Supreme Court of the United States obsessed sometime in thinking they can deliver questions of social justice in kind of an unbroken vector from Brown v Board of Education. And my favorite example that Barack and I were talking about before we went on the air this morning is the question of welfare rights. You know this obsession with the Due Process Clause, thinking if you can just force these welfare administrators to hold face to face hearings before they cut people off from certain welfare benefits will produce more social justice, more money for deserving people, and the like. There was a decision in 1971 that mandated that and what it did of course is to mean that more money earmarked for welfare went to hearings as opposed to benefits. And then the Supreme Court changed its mind five years later and said, “Well, you don’t have to have a face to face hearing, you can just have a paper review of the record.” And the idea that somehow you could use the Due Process Clause for redistributive ends socially that would be stable I think was an astonishing assumption in the mind of litigators about what they could accomplish over time and it just didn’t last very well.

Obama: And it essentially has never happened. I think that if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court. I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I’d be okay. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and more basic issues such as political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it’s been interpreted and Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the Federal government or the State government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so Court (court?) focused I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. And in some ways we still suffer from that.

The show then took phone calls from listeners. The first two questions were from “Joe” who sparked a brief interesting discussion on the fact that the civil rights movement had a moral/religious base but at the same time there is a feeling of discomfort with religion in political issues. Obama referred to this as a “long-standing contradiction” in “the liberal community”. Then a caller named “Karen” asked a question:

Karen: The gentleman made the point that the Warren Court wasn’t terribly radical. My question is - with economic changes - my question is it too late for that kind of reparative work economically and is that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place?

Helfrich: You mean the Court (court)?

Karen: The courts or would it be legislation at this point?

Obama: You know maybe I’m showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor but I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way. You just look at very rare examples where during the desegregation era the Court was willing to, for example, order changes that cost money to local school districts. And the Court was very uncomfortable with it. It was hard to manage, it was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues in terms of the Court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time. The Court’s just not very good at it and politically it’s very hard to legitimize opinions from the Court in that regard. So I think that although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, I think any three of us sitting her could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts, I think that as a practical matter our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it.

Bandes: I don’t necessarily disagree with that but I think it also depends on, much of the time what we see the courts are doing is ratifying the status quo. And in fact the Court makes redistributive decisions or distributive decisions all the time.

Obama: Right

Bandes: Let me give you an example which is that the Court considers whether it’s okay to take a program, a Federal Medicare program, that provides compensation, that recompenses people by insurance for every medical procedure they can have except abortion and it upholds that.

Obama: Right.

Bandes: We can except abortion from that. Well, that’s a decision about what kinds of subsidies we’re willing to uphold and what we’re not.

Obama: Although typically the Court can certainly be more or less generous in interpreting actions and initiatives that are taken by the legislature. But in the example of funding of abortions or Medicare and Medicaid the Court’s not initiating those funding streams. Essentially, what the Court is saying is at some point, “Okay, this is a legitimate prohibition or this is not” and I think those are very important battles that have to be fought and they do have a distributive aspect.

A caller named “Anna”, a community organizer planning to go into labor organizing asks why community organizing was given less emphasis than litigation. Obama answers that community organizing is harder than litigation, saying “it’s difficult to mobilize change at the local level”. Then:

Helfrich: It seems to me that there is a perception abroad that legislative solutions are somehow unstable as a result of the fact that you can then take them to the Court and the Supreme Court is this sort of last word. That you can struggle and struggle and struggle and get something done, get something passed but that may not be the end of the story.

Hutchinson: Well, traditional solutions are unstable, too. Because facts can change. You’re always arguing in a binary situation, there’s always another side to the case. And much of the desegregation efforts proved how hard it was for Federal District judges to continue to superintend how many students go from one section of town to another section of town and, oh, since the demographics have changed the following year we have to look at it again one more time. That doesn’t accomplish stable social change because you always have the intervention of a not clearly predictable actor, that is, the judiciary in play.

The show wraps up with a brief discussion of the limits on the Supreme Court’s power, that it’s all based on reputation, the Court has neither the power of the purse nor the power of the sword.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Parsing Powell

I have now read the transcripts of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama on “Meet the Press” and of his talk to reporters after the show. Charles Krauthammer has addressed the dirty campaign issue Powell raised to partially explain his endorsement although that part of Powell’s argument would never have moved me given my own analysis of this issue. (Somewhat tangential question: Is falsely accusing your opponent of running a dirty campaign in and of itself a dirty campaign tactic?)

There are other substantive problems with Powell’s endorsement: Obama is experienced enough but Palin is not; the disingenuous claim that all taxation is redistributive so the issue of Obama wanting to spread the wealth is irrelevant; the fact that Obama was wrong on the surge and - from Powell’s viewpoint - wrong on the Iraq war itself doesn’t matter since the war is winding down; discussion of Ayers is trivializing but no similar condemnation of the New York Times front page story about Cindy McCain. I find all of these troublesome and, frankly, disappointing since I would have welcomed the chance to vote for Colin Powell himself for President.

I do agree totally with Powell’s strong statement that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Muslim in this country and that being Muslim should not disqualify someone from running for President. I think this is a very important point and one that needed to be made and I applaud General Powell for making it as forcefully and eloquently as he did. I do, however, regret that Powell did not point out that Obama himself has not pushed back on this issue.

I also agree with Powell that Michele Bachmann from Minnesota is not a good poster child for Republicans. (I assume this is who Powell was referencing when he referred - somewhat inaccurately - to “the congressman from Minnesota who's going around saying, ‘Let's examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America.”) I am not, however, convinced that the existence of Bachmann is a good reason to endorse Obama while the existence of, say, Carol Fowler does not seem to have entered into Powell’s decision. (Via Sarah Palin Sexism Watch)

However, there are two perhaps small points, personal rather than policy oriented, that bother me most about General Powell’s endorsement. First, Tom Brokaw pointed out that Powell had met with Obama at least twice and Powell himself talks about having conversations with Obama while deciding which candidate he will endorse. Yet when dismissing Governor Palin, Powell said:

And I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She's a very distinguished woman, and she's to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.

A small point, as I said, but it bothers me that General Powell did not actually meet and speak with Governor Palin before coming to this conclusion.

Second, in speaking with Brokaw, Powell referred to “my beloved friend and colleague John McCain, a friend of 25 years”. After endorsing Obama, Powell then goes on to say:

It isn't easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that.

It sounds very much like Powell did not inform McCain of his decision before appearing on “Meet the Press”. I sincerely hope that is not the case. A minor point, I know, but distressing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I just spent a week with four friends, all of whom are voting for Barack Obama. I retained my sanity and calm good nature by clinging to my new philosophy: If Obama wins in November and his Presidency is as disastrous as I anticipate, I will at least have the satisfaction of being able to say “I told you so” for the next four years.

(When I asked a select group of correspondents if there was a word for saying “I told you so” - the same sort of word as, say, “hypocrisy” or “irony” or “gloating” - my brother said “The word is life.” Hence the title of this post.)

Back on the grid

I’m back to full Internet access and comments are re-enabled.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Off the grid

I’m going to have very little if any access to the Internet between now and October 22, so I’m shutting down comments for the blog.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

BUB Four

Boy, Item 2 of this plan sounds famliar:

To be honest, I don't know the exact details of how this Wall Street "fire" ought to be fought. I suspect it should involve two simultaneous strategies:

1. A government fund to buy distressed derivatives, which would inject capital into the system and provide some mechanism for pricing these opaque securities. The first step toward recovery is making the securities liquid again, meaning that they can be bought and sold at a predictable price, even if it's a low price.

2. A government fund to buy mortgages in foreclosure, or at risk of foreclosure, from lenders at a discounted price. So if I've got a $200,000 mortgage and I can't make the payments anymore, the government would buy it from my lender for something like $180,000. The lender still gets a haircut, but probably ends up better off than taking on the administrative expense of foreclosure and then having to sell the house in a dismal market.

The government would then restructure my loan with terms that I could afford, such as stretching the payments over 40 years instead of 30, or perhaps even lowering the value of the outstanding loan.

As a homeowner, I, too, should have to pay a price for borrowing more than I could afford. The government should be entitled to any profits on the eventual sale of my home up to the amount of whatever break they've given me. So if the Treasury knocks my mortgage down from $200,000 to $160,000, and I'm eventually able to sell the house for a profit, I should send a check to Uncle Sam at closing for $40,000 -- plus interest.

That's the essence of a sensible plan: Restore stability to the housing market at realistic prices; and inject liquidity into Wall Street, again at realistic prices. Just to stop the fire from spreading.

I don’t know whether to feel gratified or terrified that an economist Greg Mankiw references came up with practically the same plan I did. Although I wasn’t going to take the whole profit at resale. And my government wouldn’t charge interest.


Since I keep adding BUB posts, I updated this on December 13, 2008, to put all BUB posts in their own category. That way they can easily be found without my having to keep updating all the existing ones each time I add a new one.

Two Americas (Bill Maher version)

[October 24, 20008: Updated title to remove apostrophe from “Americas”. I can’t believe I made the Useless Apostrophe Mistake. I’m totally humiliated.]

Bill Maher appeared on The Daily Show and provided an excellent thumbnail sketch of the progressive view of the Presidential election:

I do think that America’s a country now, it is two Americas. There’s the progressive European nation that a lot of us live in or would like to live in and it’s being strangled by the Sarah Palins of the world. It can’t quite be born because this other stupid redneck nation won’t allow it.

There you have it. For progressives, this election is a choice between, oh, say, ”Cousin, Cousine” and ”Deliverance”.

Does that mean I’m regressive if the contrast between a European nation and Sarah Palin instead makes me think along the lines of ”Last Tango in Paris” versus ”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Major mistake

I just heard Major Garrett on Fox’s Hannity & Colmes ranting about how when Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin about John McCain’s regulatory efforts Palin didn’t bring up McCain’s attempts to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Wrong, Major. Here’s the exchange (emphasis mine):

Couric: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?

Palin: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie - that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.

Couric: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

Palin: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you've said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?

Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.

Couric: I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.

Palin did not bring up McCain’s attempts to rein in Fan-Fred because Couric had already taken those off the table. Palin, did, however, emphasize that those attempts were “paramount”.

Sheesh. How bad are things getting when even Fox is misquoting Palin?

(I’d never read the whole exchange before - usually sources just report the initial Couric question and Palin answer and then the final Couric question and Palin answer. Palin sounds better now that I see the whole thing. I may have to go read the whole transcript.)

Kicking the can down the road

A more accurate title would be “Kicking the cans down the road” because there are at least three reckonings the response to the financial crisis is postponing: taking losses on mortgage-based assets (MBA); paying for the bailout; and fixing the root of the problem.

Today the Securities and Exchange Commission ”clarified” the rules on mark-to-market accounting. The SEC hasn’t made new rules but has cleared the way for entities that hold the “illiquid” mortgage-based assets to use information other than market price to decide how much those assets are worth. The best explanation of why this is believed to be helpful in easing the crisis is probably found in Newt Gingrich’s Forbes article:

Mark-to-market accounting (also known as "fair value" accounting) means that companies must value the assets on their balance sheets based on the latest market indicators of the price that those assets could be sold for immediately. Under such a rule, declining housing prices don't just reduce the value of defaulting mortgages. They reduce the value of all mortgages and all mortgage-related securities because the housing collateral protecting them is worth less.

Moreover, when a company in financial distress begins fire sales of its assets to raise capital to meet regulatory requirements, the market-bottom prices it sells out for become the new standard for the valuation of all similar securities held by other companies under mark-to-market. This has begun a downward death spiral for financial companies large and small.

The basis for this argument is, of course, that the market value for the MBA don’t reflect their actual value; that is, the market for them will recover eventually so the MBA retain value. This is also the part of the Paulson Plan that is now being talked about more: the government will make back some or all of its $700 Billion when the market recovers; we might even make a profit. This contention on the part of those who support the Paulson Plan makes it difficult for them to argue against suspending mark-to-market accounting.

The problem is that we don’t know what value the MBA will ultimately have. As I discuss here, Mort Zuckerman believes the housing market will fall another 20% and insists we have no idea how much the MBA will be worth once the dust settles; Jeffrey Miron states flatly that the MBA may well be worthless. If the MBA do turn out to be worthless - or even worth substantially less than whatever value their holders assign them after abandoning mark-to-market accounting - we have simply postponed the point at which someone somewhere will actually have to suffer the pain of the losses they have incurred by investing in these assets.

That postponement may work to our benefit: if the losses are incurred over a long period of time as the assets mature or as a rolling average price gradually accounts for the market drop then the financial system may absorb the shock better. We simply need to remember that allowing financial institutions to go back to marking these assets to “make believe” doesn’t change the fact that they may be worth exactly what the market now says they are: nothing.

The second reckoning being put off is, of course, the cost of the bailout. If we spend $700 Billion to buy up toxic MBA and Zuckerman and Miron are right, we are not going to get back that money. It will add to the debt and that debt must be paid at some point by us, our children, and our children’s children. The Blue Dog’s “recoupment” provision and the provisions to give the government some kind of equity in the assisted firms are attempts to insure we get our money back even if Zuckerman and Miron are right. It will be interesting to see if they make it into the final bailout bill.

The third and most important reckoning is fixing what caused this problem. I believe the basic cause is simple: people bought houses they couldn’t afford. We can have lively arguments about why: CRA, speculation, greed. I suspect they all had a hand in it. Regardless of why this happened, there are two simple rules that would have prevented this meltdown and can prevent future ones:

1) No Adjustable Rate Mortgages
2) Lenders must require a 20% down payment and a reasonable income to mortgage payment ratio based on income tax returns

If the consensus is that people who cannot meet these requirements should still be able to buy homes then the government itself should act as the lender, thus keeping risky loans segregated from the financial system as a whole.

Part of the reason I prefer a Bottom-Up Bailout is that it is easier to effectively regulate the behavior of consumers seeking mortgages than it is to regulate the behavior of financial institutions making asset-buying decisions. Whether we use government money to help people who made stupid home-buying decisions or to help institutions that made stupid MBA-buying decisions, we are protecting those we help from the risks inherent in their decisions. That protection will encourage further imprudent risk-taking since the expectation will be that any later crisis will be addressed by the government. To avoid that “moral hazard” it will be necessary to regulate behavior to prevent such behavior in the future. It is far easier to regulate the behavior of mortgage-seekers (as with my two simple rules) than it is to regulate the behavior of institutions that pay whole departments of bright young employees to develop more and more incomprehensible vehicles and strategies.

Bail out the institutions that hold MBA and it is almost impossible to both restrict their idiotic behavior and allow their creativity free rein. Bail out the mortgage holders and it is very simple to restrict future mortgage-seeking behavior by simply outlawing the lending practices that got us into this mess.

As a last thought, this is why I hate the spate of articles that have sprung up arguing the American people simply don’t understand what’s a stake in the bailout or they wouldn’t have opposed it. Some writers seem to feel that Americans are willing to cause the whole economy to fail in order to “punish” fat cats on Wall Street. Perhaps. But I would argue that Americans may well realize that if we bail out the financial institutions that made bad decisions there is simply no way for us to make them believe we won’t continue to bail them out for future bad decisions and no good way for us to regulate them to prevent those future bad decisions. Maybe Americans are willing to take their medicine now rather than kicking that can down the road.