Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django

Thanks to a reference - though hardly a recommendation - by Grim, I recently watched Sukiyaki Western Django and I really liked it. It’s bloody, violent, and often gross but mesmerizing. I saw bits and pieces of a lot of different movies in it and developed the following viewing guide for anyone who is interested in getting the most out of this movie.

First, watch Sukiyaki Western Django with subtitles ON. They’re incredibly annoying because they cover part of the action but you really need them to understand the dialogue.

Then some weekend this winter when you’re snowed in or recovering from the flu (please wait until your fever is gone) or miserable with a cold, watch the following movies:

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
For A Few Dollars More (1965)
Django (1965)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
From Dusk Til Dawn (1996)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

The order isn’t terribly important except for sequels (A Fistful of Dollars should be watched before For A Few Dollars More and Kill Bill Vol. 1 should be watched before Kill Bill Vol. 2) but I’d probably watch Night of the Living Dead first (I seem to be the only person who watched Sukiyaki Western Django and saw Night of the Living Dead in it but hey, the Marshall) and Django last (it’s the clearest influence).

For extra credit you can also watch Yojimbo (1961) and Last Man Standing (1996), earlier and later versions respectively of A Fistful of Dollars.

Check out the “Other views” list at the end of this post. It’s now safe to read the reviews since spoilers don’t matter and the reviewers provide some background and will have seen things you didn’t. If you’re really snowed in or plan to be sick for quite a while you can watch the movies they reference.

If you want some historical perspective, read the Wikipedia entries on the Genpei War and the Battle of Dan-no-ura. If you prefer your history from the movies, try Gojoe (via Sarudama - I have not yet seen it) or the “Hoichi the Earless” story in Kwaidan.

Finally, watch Sukiyaki Western Django again without the subtitles.

Good luck shoveling out of that snowdrift and feel better soon.


Other views:

Here’s a look at a random group of reviewers and the allusions, references, and echoes they found in Sukiyaki Western Django. I’ve only listed what they saw that I didn’t.

Warning: Most of these reviews contain serious spoilers.

Hollywood Video sees Rio Bravo, Duel in the Sun, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Wild Bunch, Apocalypse Now, First Blood, plus Bruce Lee and Tex Avery.

KPBS sees West Side Story and suggests Duck You Sucker for companion viewing.

HorrorPhile suggests a pairing with Dead Man.

Rotten Tomatoes sees Desperado.

The Armchair Critic sees The Lord of the Rings referring to the Marshall as “Gollum-like”. (This was my husband’s take on the Marshall also.)

New York Times sees Reservoir Dog. (I assume they mean Reservoir Dogs.)

Slate lists The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, Tears of the Black Tiger, and Sholay as other examples of Asian Westerns.

Japan Navigator sees Raiders of the Lost Ark. I didn’t see it myself originally but oh, yeah.

Last but not least, Amoebablog sees turducken.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How bad? How long?

Both of the points I’m making here seem pretty obvious but I haven’t seen anyone else make them quite the way I think of them so here goes. (Plus it’s possible that what seems obvious isn’t always. The Corner recently linked to an article by using the tag line “Bailout capitalism is crony capitalism”. While the article itself said more than just that, I would have thought the only possible reaction to The Corner line would be “Duh.”)

So how bad is the economic mess? It’s bad and I’m not going to try to argue otherwise. However, it strikes me that there are now an awful lot of people whose interests are best served by telling us loudly and often just how bad it is. The current administration wants to retain control of the $700 billion it’s already got plus get more; that won’t happen if things start to look up. The incoming administration knows that the worse things sound now the more credit they get for any turn-around that happens after January 20. State and local governments want money from the Federal government; the best way to get it is to point out just how much trouble they’re in. And as for corporations, how much bailout money do you think the financial system or CitiGroup or the automakers would get if they said, “Sure, things are tough. But we’ll cut back a little here, layoff a little there, slash some executive salaries, and we’ll be able to hang in there until things improve?” Not too much. And if painting the bleakest possible picture of their own financial woes doesn’t bring forth that money, they can always up the ante by reminding everyone that if they go down they take the rest of the economy with them.

I’m not claiming that things are rosy. I’m just pointing out that when the time comes to talk about the state of the economy it’s hard to find anyone who would benefit from passing along whatever good news or rays of hope actually exist. And it’s equally hard to find anyone who would benefit by making realistic claims about their impact on the rest of the economy. So while things are undoubtedly bad they may not be quite as bad as everyone is saying.

How long will the economic mess last? Actually, there are two aspects of the economic mess and we have to consider them separately. The first aspect is the crisis we’re in now where things are going from bad to worse. Unfortunately, I believe this part will get worse yet after the first of the year. Right now consumers are still spending money they really shouldn’t be for Thanksgiving and beyond that for Christmas and Hanukkah. They are unwilling to forego (or have already committed to) travel, food, liquor, gifts, and decorating for the holidays and they’re dipping into savings or loading up their credit cards to buy those items. Once the holidays are over, though, consumers will start cutting back and the crisis will deepen.

Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that this really terrible aspect of the economic mess will begin to subside by the end of 2009. This hope of mine is partly based on a general feeling about what I’m reading. It’s also partly based on politics. By the end of 2009, the new administration will have been in power for almost a year by which time they will “own” the economic mess. It will thus be in their interest to stop harping on how terrible things are and start talking about signs of improvement. Take, for example, the recent AP article titled “4 new reports reveal battered economy” which begins:

Jobless claims remain at recessionary levels, Americans cut back on their spending by the largest amount since the 2001 terrorist attacks, orders to U.S. factories plummeted and new-home sales fell to the lowest level in nearly 18 years.

That sounds terrible but if you drill down into the article you’ll find that the beginning could just as easily have been:

Initial and continuing unemployment claims fell; consumer spending is still not as bad as it was after 9/11; housing is becoming affordable again; and the Dow Jones is rising.

I expect that by late 2009 we’ll see more stories that look like the latter than the former. Even if much of the media isn’t still honeymooning with the new administration, Barack Obama as President will have a powerful bully pulpit to promulgate his views on a recovery. Since it’s pretty clear that Obama’s rhetorical gifts are such that he would be able to sell flame-throwers in Hell and since at least some of the economic misery is psychological, having him push the idea that the economy is on the road to recovery will help lead it there. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that his economic team will be able to effect real improvement.

Unfortunately, the second aspect of the economic mess will not show signs of improvement any time soon. A draggy economy, a slow-growing economy, an economy in the doldrums is going to be with us for quite a while. Why? Simple. Everyone is in debt: individuals, companies, local governments, state governments, and the Federal government.

When you’re in debt what you’ve really done is spend money you expect to get in the future. Let’s say you make $50,000 a year and you’ve got $25,000 in debt between credit cards and your car. Every year you pay off about $5,000 of that debt but you add a new $5,000. You’re constantly in the position of having spent five years worth of money you don’t have yet. That’s workable as long as everyone is willing to stay in debt. This year’s economic growth (aka, spending) is being fueled by money we all expect to get five years from now; next year’s economic growth will be fueled by money we all expect to get five years from then; and so on.

The problem arises when we’re no longer able or no longer willing to stay in debt. I’m pretty sure we’re at the point where many people are no longer able to stay in debt and I sincerely hope we’re at the point where hardly anyone is willing to stay in debt. I believe that’s good in the long run since we’ll start living within our means and probably even start saving for a rainy day. In the short run, though, it’s bad because it means we all have to get caught up with ourselves. That is we have to spend some number of years paying off all the debt we’re currently saddled with before we can start doing a significant amount of discretionary spending. That means that consumer spending is going to go way, way down. I say “way, way” because this is a double whammy: not only are we not going to be living beyond our means anymore by running up debt, we’re actually going to be living below our means to pay off existing debt.

How long will this second, “economic doldrums” aspect last? I don’t know. It depends on what the country’s total debt load is, how much income continues to come in, and how substantially people and institutions can cut back so as to devote more money to retiring debt. If I had to make a pure wild guess, I’d say five years. Five years for us all to dig out of the hole we’ve gotten ourselves into.

There are, however, two ways the economic doldrums period could be interrupted. First, the Federal government can simply pump more and more and more money into everyone’s hands: individuals, companies, state and local government. This would enable everyone to pay off their existing debt and thus avoid the period when people live below their means. In fact, by removing the pain of having to pay off that debt there’s a good chance this course of action would encourage people to go right back to living beyond their means. Of course, this would simply transfer the entire debt load to the Federal government and eventually there would be a day of reckoning either through runaway inflation or simply because the government would be so overburdened by debt it would eventually be unable to finance even its most crucial functions.

The other possible interruption of the economic doldrums period is a new economic bubble. I’m not sure how possible this is since a bubble apparently requires the ability to take on lots and lots of debt. However, the government has pumped a lot of money into financial institutions and that money may be ripe for bubbling. One excellent candidate for a bubble is carbon trading.

It’s pretty clear that the Obama administration wants to address Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming. Leaving aside what I think of the basic idea of AAGW (not much), we have to decide how to address it. If the country is stupid enough to go with a cap-and-trade system rather than a simple carbon tax, the bubble won’t even need the money already pumped into the financial system: it can form itself solely from all the new government “money” handed out in the form of carbon allowances. (I find it hard to believe the government is going to auction those off given the sad financial state of most corporations; it’s more likely they’ll be given away.) The markets can go crazy bidding them up - heck, someone will probably even create derivatives - and we’ll have another bubble.

Like massive Federal handouts, though, a bubble is a bad idea in the long run. By definition, a bubble creates imaginary profits and fake productivity. That means there’s always a day of reckoning. Do we really want to concentrate our hopes and our efforts on pushing that day off on our children and grandchildren? We created this mess. I think we should take the hit involved in cleaning it up.

Monday, November 24, 2008

BUB Five

There’s chatter on the Sunday morning talk shows about help for homeowners with unwieldy mortgages and in particular a reference or two to FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair’s “aggressive” mortgage plan. As usual the chatter - and Bair’s plan - focus on helping people who are already in trouble with their mortgages. If you want a plan to help individuals because you feel bad for those who are losing their homes, this is fine. If you want a plan that will help stabilize the economy then this is - I’m sorry - just plain stupid.

Stop playing catch-up. We need to leap aboard the onrushing freight train and start slowing it down, not continue to go chasing after it rendering medical assistance to the people it runs over as it picks up speed. Heck, Austan Goolsbee himself was on George Stephanopoulos this morning talking about how we need to think big in getting out of the economic crisis in order to “startle the thing into submission.” So let’s not parcel out money in dribs and drabs as homeowners get into trouble; let’s clean up the whole real estate mess now.

We need a Bottom-Up Bailout (BUB) and we need it now. There are a number of differences between BUB and Bair’s plan; I believe almost all of them mean BUB is a better plan:

1) BUB cleans up all primary residence mortgages not just those already in trouble.

2) BUB reduces mortgages to no more than 25% of income not 31% as Bair proposes.

3) BUB assumes fixed-rate mortgages; Bair calls for adjustable rate mortgages. (Isn’t that part of how we got into this mess?)

4) BUB reduces principal; this helps soften the landing for the housing bubble implosion. Bair does not reduce principal; this keeps housing prices jacked up too high and will stick some mortgage holders with 40-year mortgages which I think is psychologically tough. Also I don’t see anything about what Bair will do if even extending the life of the mortgage and using adjustable rates isn’t enough to get mortgage payments down to 31% of income.

5) Under Bair’s plan the FDIC provides default protection. BUB does not but by reducing mortgage amounts to 80% of current market value lenders will be protected in the result of default by being able to sell the house for more than the amount of the mortgage.

6) Bair’s plan will “pay servicers who process mortgages $1,000 for each re-worked loan”. BUB has no such provision but it’s a good idea especially since BUB would be mandatory not optional. We just have to remember this is a fixed cost which the government has no hope of recouping under BUB - unlike the mortgage paydown itself.

Anglachel has proposed something similar and - as I say in my comment to her post - although I like my plan better I do like Anglachel’s restrictions on equity extraction once a mortgage holder has availed himself of this program and her restrictions on getting around the payback by transferring the house to the kids or turning it into revenue property.

The other thing I say in my comment’s to Anglachel’s post is (link added):

Third, if Wheelan and you and I have all managed to come up with pretty much the same straightforward plan - easy to understand, simple to implement - why the heck are the people in Washington having so much trouble figuring out something like this? This is not - if you’ll pardon the expression - rocket science.


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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Summers dilemma

Word is that Barack Obama is considering Lawrence Summers for the position of Secretary of the Treasury. This has presented me with my first Obama Presidency related dilemma.

I found Obama’s misogyny during the campaign disgraceful; Summers is probably most famous for supposedly saying “girls can’t do math.” I find it very difficult to resist the temptation to fan the flames of this fire by blogging about how even considering Summers proves that Obama doesn’t respect women and by emailing my woman friends who voted for Obama and saying, “See? I told you so.”

Furthermore the left-leaning media is giving Obama grief about this possibility. What could be sweeter than seeing Obama attacked by the same media that gave him such an easy ride during the campaign? I would be less than human if I did not experience a great urge to encourage such media outlets to keep up their attacks by joining the ranks of commenters who are criticizing Obama for considering Summers. (via neo-neocon)

Unfortunately I have taken a look at the “girls can’t do math” story and I simply can’t find much to it. The story is based on remarks Summers made at a 2005 National Bureau of Economic Research Conference on “Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce.” Summers prefaces his remarks by saying that he is speaking only because he wants to get “some questions asked and some attempts at provocation.” and he restricts his remarks to “the issue of women's representation in tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities and research institutions.”

I’ve tried a couple of times to summarize his remarks but cannot do so without doing violence to his meaning. In fact, I believe attempts to summarize them are what have led to the perception that he is sexist. To judge fairly you simply have to read his remarks for yourself. My conclusion is that Summers was advancing hypotheses for which he had some backup while conceding that not enough is known to be sure about what is really going on.

So I can’t really convict Larry Summers of sexism and, sadly, am going to have pass up this opportunity to club friends over the head with Obama’s sexism and to foment dissension in the Obama-supporting media. Even worse, the other controversies surrounding Summers don’t seem all that damning either. Wikipedia currently has a good summary of those incidents: follow the footnote links to the source documents and most of the controversies appear misrepresented or trivial. In fact, from reading the Wikipedia entry it looks like the charge with the most validity is that he wanted tenured professors to teach more of their own classes.

On the other hand, he does seem to have a talent for rubbing people the wrong way and that may be a bad thing under the current circumstances. Given the state of the economy and the incredible power vested in the Treasury by the bailout bill, it might be advisable to have a Treasury Secretary who plays well with others, thinks before he speaks, and can sound reassuring. Obama will simply have to balance Summers’ negatives - an (apparently unwarranted) reputation as sexist and otherwise politically incorrect plus a reportedly blunt managerial style - against a possibly overwhelming positive - many people consider him both brilliant and competent.


It caused me terrible psychic pain to entitle this post “The Summers dilemma” rather than “The Summers dilemna”. As far as I can remember, I have always used the “mn” spelling rather than the “mm” spelling but my spellchecker and my dictionary both insist “mm” is and always has been correct. In response to which, I can only agree with baysailor’s comment:

*I* think that "dilemna' simply looks better on the page. I think "dilemma" is awkward and clunky.


Every so often during the past endless year of campaiging, I have felt vaguely queasy about Barack Obama. His policies worry me and his misogyny enrages me but I was having a hard time tracking down the source of that low-level nausea. I felt it again a couple of days ago and I’ve now got a pretty good idea what’s bothering me.

Greg Mankiw has up a post which includes the following quote from the “America Serves” section of Obama’s presidential transition Website (emphasis Mankiw’s):

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

I highly recommend Mankiw’s post for content but my roiled stomach was caused by his update:

Update: The presidential transition website to which I linked above no longer uses the word "require." The passage quoted above was copied and pasted from that website (with bolding added by me). But within a few hours after I posted it here, the wording changed to "setting a goal."

I am delighted to see this blog having so much influence on the policies of the new administration. That's change I can believe in!

He is correct. Obama’s Website now says (emphasis mine):

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

I realize changing positions is not new for Obama but this really creeps me out. It feels less like Obama’s famous flip-flops on telecom immunity in FISA, public campaign financing, and NAFTA and more like the Universal Mortgage Credit modification, another small issue that made me feel a little green around the gills.

Why does this make me queasy?

First, the language was changed after it was publicly criticized. (Mankiw wasn’t the only person writing about this.) This feels less like correcting a misstatement that someone has spotted and more like shifting ground to avoid being held accountable. As Holtz-Eakin put it when talking about the Universal Mortgage Credit changes, trying to pin Obama down is like “trying to pin Jello to the wall.”

Second, Obama’s previous statements on community service for students have been ambiguous enough to support either version. In a July 2 speech Obama described his plans to integrate service into learning:

I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you'll have done 17 weeks of service.

We'll reach this goal in several ways. At the middle and high school level, we'll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs, and give schools resources to offer new service opportunities. At the community level, we'll develop public-private partnerships so students can serve more outside the classroom.

For college students, I have proposed an annual American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000. To receive this credit, we'll require 100 hours of public service.

In this formulation the community service for middle and high school students sounds like it’s going to be required: if Federal funding is contingent on “service programs” then schools will require service. Unless, of course, the schools are only required to “offer ... service opportunities” and will get their Federal money regardless of how many students avail themselves of those opportunities.

The college community service sounds totally voluntary, just a nice way to offset some of the costs of higher education.

Meanwhile the Obama campaign Website says:

Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. They will develop national guidelines for service-learning and will give schools better tools both to develop programs and to document student experience. [snip]

Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Obama and Biden will establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year.

In this formulation the middle and high school service sounds more voluntary - there is no mention of tying Federal funds to community service - although the “set” part of “set a goal” is pretty ambiguous. Meanwhile the description of the American Opportunity Tax Credit here is virtually identical to the description from the speech but the heading before the description clearly says “Require 100 Hours of Service in College”.

A third source, the campaign National Service Plan Fact Sheet, says (pages 3-4):

That plan [school funding] conditions that assistance on school districts developing programs to engage students in service opportunities. Obama and Biden believe that middle and high school students should be expected to engage in community service for 50 hours annually during the school year or summer months. [snip]

Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university. Recipients of this credit will be required to conduct 100 hours of public service a year, either during the school year or over the summer months.

At the middle and high school level, we’re back to Federal funding being contingent on schools “developing ... service opportunies” while student community service is now “expected” - whatever that means. Meanwhile the college community service still sounds voluntary - you only do it if you want the Tax Credit - but the label still says “Require”

The upshot of all this is that Obama’s campaign positions on integrating service into education can be cited to support both the original “required” policy on the Website and the new gentler version that has replaced it. Which brings me to:

Third, the new gentler version doesn’t actually mean the original “required” version isn’t accurate. The new version doesn’t say anywhere that community service won’t be required. It just no longer says that it will. In other words, it reintroduces the ambiguity that we’ve seen on this issue throughout the campaign.

So why does this kind of maneuvering make me queasy? Because it does away with accountability both in campaigning - which is irrelevant now but will be important in four years - and in governing. In campaigning, an opponent cannot make a charge against Obama stick. If that opponent says, “Obama is going to require community service,” Obama can reply, “You are misrepresenting my position. I simply want to encourage students to participate.” On the other hand, if that opponent says, “Obama is going to give schools money to develop community service programs but the schools can simply take the money and do nothing,” Obama can say, “A typical Republican smear. I make it perfectly clear community service is expected from schools in return for Federal funding.” (No wonder Obama was afraid of those ten town-hall meetings. The more time he spends talking without a script the harder it is for him to get away with this sort of “nuance”. An answer he gives in Dayton in July can be used against him if attempts the opposite answer in Pittsburgh in August.)

More crucially, such maneuvering will make it almost impossible to hold President Obama accountable for what candidate Obama promised. If four years from now eleven-year olds are still playing video games rather than picking up trash in parks, Obama can tell voters who are disappointed that he only promised to encourage community service and it’s not his fault that American children didn’t answer his call. On the other hand, if Obama marches fifth graders off to help with ACORN voter registration drives he can tell those who object that he said he was going to do just that before he was elected.

No wonder everyone who supports Obama can see exactly what they need to see when they look at him. And no wonder I feel queasy from time to time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Rahm Emanuel strategy

There’s been a lot of chatter about what Rahm Emanuel’s selection as Chief of Staff will mean. I don’t have any strategic analysis to offer but after watching him on “Face the Nation” this morning, I believe I do understand what his strategy is going to be when explaining Barack Obama’s administration to the country: use many words, say nothing, and put everyone to sleep.

Kudos to Bob Schieffer who began the analysis portion of his show with:

Well, gentlemen, I have to preface this by saying I don’t think we found out a lot this morning from Rahm Emanuel.

First word after the election

I would never have been completely happy that Barack Obama won the Presidential election. Given my concerns about his policies and his inexperience, I would always have preferred a different result. All the same, I would have liked to be able to wholeheartedly rejoice in the fact that his victory has provided incontrovertible proof of how far the United States has come in healing racial wounds and has thus meant so very much to so many people.

Yet I cannot. I can appreciate the abstract importance of his election and honor the meaning it has for so many African-Americans. But I simply cannot be even the slightest bit glad Barack Obama has won the Presidential election. The misogyny unleashed by Obama, his campaign, and his supporters has been disastrous for women. While it has left parents of all races, ethnicities, and religions more able to honestly tell their sons that any little boy can grow up to be President of the United States it has also left them far less able to tell their daughters the same is true for little girls. Obama has asked all Americans to believe that "[our] dreams do not have to come at the expense of [his] dreams" but his own philosophy is quite different. He believed achieving his dreams required vandalizing women’s dreams and he was perfectly willing to do just that.

So I am not happy that Obama won and I am not likely to be. Nonetheless he will be my President after January 20 and I will support him when I believe he is right and oppose him respectfully when I believe he is wrong. And I very much wish him a wildly successful Presidency - we desperately need one.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Final word before the election

On August 3, 2008, Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry appeared on “Meet the Press”. This was just a few days after Barack Obama had made a series of stump speeches in which he said:

Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.

I deeply admired Senator Lieberman's response to that:

I want to say just a word about the, the racial question here. And I, I speak personally. In the first place, the McCain campaign is, to use Barack Obama's words, raising the question is he a risky guy? But it has nothing to do with his name or his skin color. It has to do with his lack of experience and bad judgment, his unreadiness to be president. When you use the expressions that Senator Obama did three times this week, you're making a personal insult to John McCain.

I, I know John McCain. I've been with him for 20 years, private and public. This man does not have a bigoted bone in his body. His wife and he adopted a baby from Bangladesh, who, who they love. It's just wrong for Senator Obama to have done that. It was right for the campaign to call him on it. Let me just add a final word, Tom. In 2000, Al Gore gave me the extraordinary honor of being the first Jewish-American to run for national office, and Al Gore said he had confidence in the American people that they would judge me based on my record, not on my religion. And I urge Barack Obama to have the same faith in the American people that they will judge him on his record, or lack of record, certainly not on his name or his race.

Why I would never vote for Obama



I am about to say the sooth

During my Italian class Thursday evening the teacher spent some time talking about a long-ago trip to China. Finding this irrelevant to my desire to learn Italian, I amused myself by jotting down what I believed would be the undesirable international consequences of an Obama Presidency. Before I got around to posting them I found that Ralph Peters had covered many of the same issues and done so in a far more interesting fashion that I can. Nonetheless, given the name of my blog I feel compelled to prophesy and after all there's absolutely no downside to being totally wrong.

International prophecies

Taiwan will fall to Mainland China. This will probably not happen militarily but without a United States strongly committed to Taiwan’s independence the move into China’s control will be inevitable.

As part of the drive to cut defense spending by 25%, Obama withdraws troops from South Korea. Once the United States tripwire is removed, South Korea realizes it is wide open to attack from the North. It must choose between accepting protection from and control by China or fighting a bloody and probably unwinnable war against North Korea. It is possible Japan will be sufficiently alarmed by the drawdown of United States troops and the opening this gives China to extend its sphere of influence that Japan will decide to remilitarize and offer South Korea Japanese protection. That would inflame China; consequences are unpredictable.

Obama will give Iraq a choice between fully funding the United States military presence in Iraq with its oil revenues and losing United States troops. If Iraq’s government chooses the former, the resultant financial upheaval and resentment will breathe new life into al-Qaeda’s efforts which will destabilize the government and permit Obama to either declare Iraq a lost cause or declare the Iraqi populace wants the United States out. Either way he will withdraw the United States troops. If the Iraq government instead chooses to lose the United States troops rather than pay for them, Obama will claim he is simply bowing to the will of the United States Iraqi government and withdraw the troops. Once the United States military is gone, Iraq will devolve into chaos until another strongman ruler arises from the conflict.

Despite his current claims that Afghanistan is the real center of the war on terror, Obama will be unwilling to mount a major military endeavor there and will pull all United States troops out of Afghanistan. The country will return to Taliban control. Pakistan will be left to deal with the Taliban as best it can. Odds are Taliban control will spread into much of Pakistan and perhaps take over the central government there as well.

Iran will achieve nuclear weapons. This might happen under a McCain Presidency as well but the consequences under an Obama Presidency will be more devastating. Israel will credibly fear a nuclear strike by Iran and request that the United States commit to full-scale retaliation against Iran if that happens. Obama instead turns to the United Nations. Realizing the futility of depending on the United Nations for protection, Israel immediately launches a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Iran retaliates and at that point the best the United States can hope for is that the war does not engulf the entire Middle East thereby making its oil unrecoverable. (In the extremely unlikely event that Israel does not actually have nuclear weapons, Iran will launch a nuclear strike against Israel as soon as Obama turns to the United Nations. Israel will be annihilated.)

With the urging of the United Nations, the United States will commit troops to areas in Africa facing genocide. The United Nations will cheer lead but will provide virtually no support. Fighting alone, the United States will be bled dry of troops and money.

Meanwhile, suffering in the rest of Africa will increase. Obama will shut down George Bush’s disease-fighting initiatives and funnel all American help for Africa through the Global Poverty Act. Whether provided to governments of poor nations or funneled through the United Nations, most of the money appropriated under this act ends up sticking to the fingers of bureaucrats before it ever gets to those who need it most.

With defense spending cut by 25%, all new defense projects cancelled, and troops and money gobbled up by unwinnable wars, the United States is increasingly perceived as less and less powerful internationally. The less committed the United States is to its own best interests in the global arena, the stronger this perception grows. Seeing no advantage to a close association with a weak and self-destructive United States, allies drift away. The United States receives more favorable press internationally but becomes more and more isolated.

Domestic prophecies

The Employee Free Choice Act becomes law. Secret ballots for unionization become a thing of the past.

A new Fairness Doctrine becomes law. Much First Amendment litigation ensues.

As part of his drive for renewable energy, Obama turns to the Pickens Plan. Millions of people in the wind corridor from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian border lose their homes to eminent domain. Bats die in large numbers, felled by pulmonary barotrauma. Pollination suffers while insect populations explode. Food production nosedives and food prices at home and abroad, already driven up by Obama’s ethanol subsidies, rise still higher. Obama blames global warming for agriculture's woes and increases the amount of land given over to wind power.

It’s a bad time to live in Alaska. Federal regulators and investigators flood the state while Federal money goes elsewhere. Alaska Democrats make it clear to the voters that if Palin is re-elected governor in 2010 this situation will continue. Palin wins overwhelmingly.

Confirmation bias

Let’s take a look at an article on ABC’s Political Radar blog, dated October 31, 2008, and headlined, “Palin Fears Media Threaten Her First Amendment Rights”. The article begins:

ABC News' Steven Portnoy reports: In a conservative radio interview that aired in Washington, D.C. Friday morning, Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin said she fears her First Amendment rights may be threatened by "attacks" from reporters who suggest she is engaging in a negative campaign against Barack Obama.

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama's associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate's free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations," Palin told host Chris Plante, "then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."

The article is referring to this interview. Palin’s one-sentence quote is taken from a longer exchange that can be found at the beginning of “Chris Plante Interviews Sarah Palin Part 2”:

Host: And of course Rashid Khalidi is not the only radical that Barack Obama’s associated himself with over the years and you also have been kind of out there on the pointy end of the spear talking about William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn to a lesser extent perhaps but William Ayers and once again the role of the news media in this campaign when it comes to Barack Obama’s relationships over the years with Rashid Khalidi and William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn and Father Pfleger and all of these other people. Is, is the news media doing its job, are you getting a fair shake, the Republicans getting a fair shake this year?

Palin: I don’t that that they’re doing their job when they suggest that calling a candidate out on their record, their plans for this country, and their associations is mean-spirited or negative campaigning. If they convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media. Look at Joe the Plumber, good old Joe the Plumber in Toledo, Ohio. He just asked a simple, straightforward question and the media started investigating and attacking him. So there is some fear there and in those terms, no, I don’t think that they’ve been doing their job in that kind of context.

Is Political Radar’s description of what Palin said accurate? Certainly the first sentence in the second paragraph is way off base:

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama's associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks.

Palin most certainly did not say “that her criticism of Obama's associations ... should not be considered negative attacks.” (Is there such a thing as a positive attack?) What she said was that it is not the media’s job to declare her criticisms of Obama “mean-spirited or negative campaigning”. In other words, the media does not get to decide what is and is not a valid criticism of her political opponent. (I believe that would be the job of the voters.)

There is nothing new about what Palin is saying in this regard: many who oppose Obama have expressed frustration that much of the media seems to consider virtually any criticism of Obama an irrelevant distraction at best and downright racist at worst. Palin is simply arguing that Obama has succeeded in getting the media to enthusiastically support his rules for the general election:

[Obama] can’t be called a “liberal” (“the same names and labels they pin on everyone,” as Obama puts it); his toughness on the war on terror can’t be questioned (“attempts to play on our fears”); his extreme positions on social issues can’t be exposed (“the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives” and “turn us against each other”); and his Chicago background too is off-limits (“pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy”).

After eliminating that sentence, what remains of Political Radar’s description is:

Gov. Sarah Palin said she fears her First Amendment rights may be threatened by "attacks" from reporters who suggest she is engaging in a negative campaign against Barack Obama. [snip] for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate's free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

The article has elected to confound two different points Palin made: her concerns about the First Amendment and her concerns about “our” being able to ask questions without fear of “attacks” by the media. Let’s separate these out.

The First Amendment concerns are the hook on which most of the commentary criticizing Palin for this interview has hung its hat. You can take a look at HuffPo (channeling Jeff Greenwald); ThinkProgress (which apparently feels no commentary is necessary - other than that picture - but does get full credit for providing audio - although not text - of the whole exchange); Daily Kos (channeling Alex Koppelman); Keith Olbermann (nope, not linking); The Young Turks; and a slew of other sources. The thrust of this commentary is that Palin is so stupid she thinks the First Amendment does (or should) protect her from the press when in fact the First Amendment protects both free speech by individuals and a free press from interference by the government. The Young Turks video provides the best summary:

She’s saying that the media is challenging her First Amendment rights when they say that she is lying or running a negative campaign. But the whole point of the First Amendment is freedom of the press. I mean, it’s in there. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Both things are in there. And second of all, it doesn’t negate your freedom of speech if someone else speaks. Third of all, you’re a politician. The whole point of the First Amendment was to keep our politicians in check.

(I’m not going to rant and rave about The Young Turks’ decisions to translate “mean-spirited” as “lying”. The whole discussion of what constitutes lying in a political campaign is a huge one that I suspect will become extremely germane if we end up with an Obama administration.)

Is Palin saying “that the media is challenging her First Amendment rights when they say that she is lying or running a negative campaign”? Maybe. It’s certainly one interpretation of what she said. However, I think that interpretation is most likely to occur to people who are already convinced Palin is stupid and doesn’t understand the Constitution. The very people, for example, who are (wrongly) convinced Biden wiped the floor with Palin when they discussed the Constitution during the Vice-Presidential debate.

There’s an alternative explanation that I find more likely. Oddly enough, I believe Governor Palin was agreeing with The Young Turks: “The whole point of the First Amendment was to keep our politicians in check.” You see, Barack Obama is a politician also. If the majority of the media goes along with his campaign’s desire to define his opponent’s criticisms of him as invalid then what keeps him in check? In Palin’s formulation, the press has not only refused to criticize Obama themselves, they have also delegitimized her attempts to do so. Palin is arguing - admittedly very sloppily - that when so much of the press is so supportive of one politician over another then the press is not doing the job envisioned for it by those who wrote the First Amendment.

Is she advocating somehow making the press do her bidding? I really can’t see that. So far as I know, Palin has not suggested anything like banning further interviews with a Florida station for raising unpleasant issues; ejecting non-endorsing papers from her campaign plane; or mobilizing supporters to flood WGN with phone calls for inviting a guest critical of McCain. In fact, despite her claims of mainstream media bias she hasn’t even proposed enacting a new Fairness Doctrine.

Rather Palin is using the power of the bully pulpit. She is stating that the press is not doing its job and expressing her concern about what the consequences will be if the voters do not realize that.

What about Palin’s second point, her concerns about asking questions without fear of the “attacks” by the media? Here Palin is talking about the chilling effect non-governmental actions - specifically media attacks - can have on ordinary people questioning politicians. Again I don’t think she’s advocating muzzling the press but is stating her belief that the press’ job does not include attacking citizens who challenge Obama.

The criticisms of Palin’s remarks have both sprung from and reinforced previously held beliefs about her: she is too stupid to understand the Constitution and committed to the “standard” Republican agenda of leashing the free press. Those beliefs have made it easy for the media - and those they inform - to focus on her reference to the First Amendment and ignore the full meaning of her remarks: the media are attempting to delegitimize not only her criticism of Obama but also any negative remarks leveled at Obama from any source. And should the full meaning of her remarks slip through, well, the “fact” that she is both stupid and thuggish renders her points invalid. After all, how could someone like her possibly have anything legitimate to say about anything?

I sincerely hope I’m alive twenty years from now when objective observers are able to take a long, hard look at the Sarah Palin phenomenon. The political analysis will be fascinating, of course, but even more interesting will be the sociological analysis of the class-based nature of Palin’s treatment by the media and the psychological analysis of how people so clearly saw exactly what they expected to see when they looked at Palin.