March 06, 2008

Spens-Black Rules the World: Former Unit 3 resident (and NBA great) Kevin Johnson tosses his hat into the ring up to become the next mayor of CowTown. FWIW, KJ is an Obama supporter, and, as I recall from our days at Berkeley, a fan of Camus. Our rise to prominence continues inexorably....

March 05, 2008

The de la Hoya Candidate: Remember the first time Oscar de la Hoya lost? It was to Felix Trinidad in 1999, when both men were undefeated; it was boxing's last "Battle of the Century" of the 20th Century. Most observers, including myself, felt that the Golden Boy was an easy winner, and by almost any objective criteria, such as punches landed, he should have won. But the ringside judges didn't agree, and gave a split decision to Trinidad, who was the aggressor from start to finish. It was a disputed outcome, but not, truth be told, a surprising one: judges have always preferred the boxer who carries the fight to his opponent over the one who dances and piles up the points. And it certainly didn't hurt that Trinidad was managed by Don King.

I thought of that today in the context of the Wednesday post-mortems of the Ohio and Texas primaries yesterday. The Golden Boy of the Democratic Party has built up a comfortable lead through a series of decisive victories last month, but now discovers that he still has a few rounds to fight. His campaigning in the week before was sluggish, and he got clocked by his opponent on some nondescript punches. So his first instinct is to rest on his laurels, dance out the final rounds of the fight, and win on points.

Bad idea. For one thing, like de la Hoya after the ninth round of the Trinidad fight, he's not up by as much as he thinks he is. Thanks to the ridiculous distribution of delegates in states like Texas, the meme that the nominating process is not particularly democratic is starting to catch on. Just being ahead slightly in what have come to be known as "elected delegates" isn't going to win the nomination, particularly if Obama closes on a losing streak that includes Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina (and, Kobe willing, any revotes in Michigan and Florida).

SuperDelegates are not an amorphous mass that can be bullied or cajoled into supporting a nominee in August just because he did well in February. The entire reason they exist is that the rank-and-file Democratic primary and caucus participant does not have an astute track record in choosing nominees. They will look to what their constituents want, as reflected in the actual voter preference of their states and districts, and that math is not unfavorable to Ms. Clinton.

Obama needs to close strong. A win in Pennsylvania would help, but bagging North Carolina and either Michigan or Florida would be just as good. There is no reason to believe that party insiders and pols overwhelmingly favor Clinton; in fact, the opposite is probably true.

But most of all, he has to start acting like he has a pair. Only a string of defeats to close out the primaries will convince the Supers that he isn't a viable nominee, so he should stop coasting, and finish off his opponent, the way de la Hoya didn't do against Trinidad.

March 04, 2008

Requiem for February:
An average of 3,960 bankruptcy petitions were filed per day nationwide last month, up 18 percent from January and up 28 percent from a year earlier, according to Automated Access to Court Electronic Records, a bankruptcy data and management company.

February was the busiest month for filings since Congress overhauled the bankruptcy law in 2005. Bankruptcy experts said the rise was particularly worrisome because those changes made filing for bankruptcy more complicated and expensive.

This number of bankruptcies may be under-representative of the true financial distress consumers are feeling because of the steps Congress has taken,” said Jack Williams, a scholar in residence at the American Bankruptcy Institute and a professor at Georgia State University.

The latest figures show the financial pain is spreading from states like California and Florida, which exemplified the housing boom and subsequent bust, to those along the Eastern Seaboard like Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, which were among the 10 states with the largest percentage increase in filings in January and February. “You are seeing a good-size uptick everywhere,” said Mike Bickford, president of Automated Access.

Bankruptcy experts caution, however, that data from just one or two months can be misleading.

The monthly bankruptcy filing rate has a lot of cyclicality,” Robert M. Lawless, a professor of law at the
University of Illinois College of Law, wrote on Tuesday on the widely read bankruptcy blog, Some experts, for example, say bankruptcies often seem to rise in February as debts from the holiday season come due. Even so, the trend is definitely upward, Mr. Lawless wrote. States as disparate as Kentucky and Rhode Island joined the top 10 list, and the absolute number of filings rose significantly.
--N.Y. Times (3/5/2008). In fact, the cyclicality mentioned above normally increases even more in March, April and May, with the X-mas holiday and summer months being the slow time for filings. People like to hang on through the holiday season, max out their credit cards to insure that a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year is had by all, then file after they get one or two bills behind (something like that also happens during the summer, when it's vacations and weddings for which debtors go all-in).

On the other hand (you knew that was coming), the fact that the number of filings reached a post-YBK peak last month is not particularly interesting. Almost every month since BARF went into effect in October, 2005, has seen an increase; the most noticeable thing YBK accomplished was that it created a panic before the new law went into effect, leading many people who hadn't planned on filing, or even desired filing, to head to the Bankruptcy Court to get their bankruptcy done before the change occurred. In the twenty-eight months since, it has taken the toxic combo of a collapsing real estate market and a massive credit crunch (brought on, in no small part, by YBK) leading to recession that has returned the monthly level of filings to its historic, pre-BARF norms.

March 03, 2008

My Two Cents: Hillary has to win Ohio and Texas tomorrow. Losses in either state, and Barack is the presumptive nominee. That's obvious, and I don't think there's any credible way the junior Senator from New York can maintain a viable campaign without a sweep.

That said, what happens if Clinton does win the Buckeye and Lone Star States, along with Rhode Island, where she has a clear lead in the polls? It's unlikely she will make much of a gain in the pledged delegate gap, regardless of how well she does tomorrow night. Moreover, due to the byzantine structure of the Texas delegate selection, it is almost certain that Obama will win a majority of delegates in that state, even if he loses the primary. Aren't we talking about a race that is already a foregone conclusion in favor of Barack Obama?

My counterintuitive take is that a pair of primary wins tomorrow trumps any delegate math, and for that reason, Clinton still has a shot if she wins. It's already pretty certain she isn't going to catch Obama in terms of the delegates elected in primaries and caucuses, no matter how well she does tomorrow or in the remaining contests. When all is said and done, Obama will have won more delegates in the contested battles after the last primary on June 2, but will not likely have a majority unless he has a breakthrough win in one of the four large states left, in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. So it then goes to the SuperDelegates.

Since she won't have the mandate of the voters in Democratic contests, she has to have another argument. And I think that argument is going to be that the arcane rules the party has for delegate selection are undemocratic and anti-majoritarian, and that the SuperDelegates have to intervene to ensure that the true interests of the party are served.

That's where the potential for mischief in Texas will enter into the equation. If, as I suspect, Hillary Clinton wins the primary but fails to capture the lion's share of delegates tomorrow night in Texas, she has a perfect argument to illustrate the screwy manner in which the delegates have been chosen in this campaign. If the will of the Democratic voters in Texas isn't reflected in the delegate allocation, how can it be less fair for SuperDelegates, many of whom actually have to win a majority of votes to earn public office, to craft a more equitable solution? Since, in all likelihood, Hillary will not significantly reduce Barack's lead in the delegates even if she somehow wins a plurality of delegates from Texas, winning the vote but losing the delegates tomorrow night may be win-win for her, since it underlines the one good argument she has left.

But she has to win both states....
Charlotte Allen, the columnist whose WaPo piece yesterday on "Why Women Act so Dumb" has managed to unite both Atrios and Captain Ed in astonished rancor, was also the lady who recently penned this idiotic column in the LA Times.

March 02, 2008

On why acting skill and political awareness are not shared attributes:
In the interview, given to French TV show Paris Premiere, [Marion] Cotillard appears to suggest the attacks on the World Trade Center were staged to avoid the expense of refurbishing them.

"We see other towers of the same kind being hit by planes, are they burned?" she asks. "There was a tower, I believe it was in Spain, which burned for 24 hours.

"It never collapsed. None of these towers collapsed. And there [in New York], in a few minutes, the whole thing collapsed."

The Twin Towers, she claims, were a "money sucker" that would have cost much more to modernise than to destroy.

The actress goes on to cast doubt on the Moon landing of 1969. "Did a man really walk on the moon?" she asks.

"I saw plenty of documentaries on it and I really wondered. In any case I don't believe all they tell me."
Okay, so this year's Oscar winner for Best Actress is dumber than a bag of hammers. What of it? I'm resigned to expecting my favorite golfer or baseball player to have reactionary political views; what's important is what he does between the lines. Were it to turn out that Phoebe Nicholls is a Trotskyite or a Tory, I'd still scan IMDB every day for updates. Athletes and actors aren't paid to be policy wonks, so anyone who takes their political views seriously is playing a fool's game.
David Leonhardt has a good analysis of the history of immigration as a political issue in the United States. An excerpt:
Immigration has a fantastically complicated political history in the United States. It has produced enough populist anger to elect Know Nothing mayors of Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and San Francisco, all in the 1850s and, more recently, to help Lou Dobbs reinvent his television career and become a best-selling author. But when national politicians have tried to seize on such anger, they have usually failed — and failed quickly. “While immigration has always roiled large sections of the electorate,” said Eric Rauchway, a historian at the University of California, Davis, “it has never been the basis for a national election, one way or the other.”

That appears to be truer than ever in 2008. Mr. McCain will all but clinch the Republican nomination on Tuesday with victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries. In the Texas campaign, except for a couple of obligatory questions about a border fence during a Democratic debate, immigration has been the dog that didn’t bark. The candidates who would have made an issue of it exited the race long ago.

There is, however, one more historical parallel to consider: as a political matter, immigration probably won’t go away on its own. The anti-immigration movements of the past may not have created presidents, but they did change the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act helped cut the immigration rate by more than 40 percent at the close of the 19th century. The Nativist movement of the 1910s and 1920s had even more success passing laws to reduce the flow.
I think the reason it fails as a political issue, but not as a matter of policy, has always been about the inherent decency of the American voter. The bigots and xenophobes who are most obsessed by the "illegals" can stir up a hornet's nest for awhile, but as with the issue of welfare reform thirty years ago, it's hard to get a voting majority behind candidates motivated to do something about it. It wasn't Ronald Reagan and his racist talk of "welfare queens" driving Cadillacs that changed the system; it was Bill Clinton and a generation of neo-liberals who approached the issue pragmatically, disassociating the debate from its genesis as a wedge issue.

The same thing, I believe, will ultimately happen with immigration. The nation is entitled to have control over its own borders, and to establish a policy concerning who may enter the country. But voters tend to recoil from the ugly language that is often used in the debate, with "illegals" replacing "wetbacks" as the code term du jour. Immigration reform will only come when the wonks make their voices predominant on this issue.
Josh Marshall reverts to his pre-9/11 form, when a high percentage of his posts were about Chandra Levy and Gary Condit, with this bit o' snark. Seems to me if you're going to summarize a column in that fashion, it would have helped if the columnist had actually made Joe Lieberman the point of comparison. I guess we all have bad days.