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Yet More On The Bailout

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
So far I've been writing about the machinations around the bailout bill in a narrowly political sense, but not how I felt about the substance. The fact is - I just don't know. On the one hand, the idea of forking over $700 billion to Wall Street financiers who make 30 gazillion dollars a year makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. Making the Bush administration responsible for implementing the plan makes me want to jam the phone lines of my congress critter's office. On the other hand, doing nothing in the face of a credit freeze and bank failure is just unacceptable. I just got finished reading Schlesinger's "Age of Roosevelt", and Hoover didn't do anything when the market fell apart either. Repeat? Thanks but no thanks.

Experts on divided on this issue, and there are good smart liberals I respect on both sides. I know a little about macroeconomics, but the details of High Finance are a little beyond me. My preference would be to target policy in such a way that the underlying structure of the problem is addressed while those who made the mess have to bear most of the burden for paying for it. I don't know if that's feasible, or what that approach entails. But unlike certain hotheads at big left-wing political blogs that shall remain nameless, I'm not going to call folks on either side of the bailout debate any names.

What I do know is that anyone who thinks that an unregulated free market dominated by large corporations and big investment banks leads to stable prosperity - well, that person is just crazy.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:39 PM

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Re-Writing My Blog

Monday, September 29, 2008
I was all set to talk about tax exemptions for churches today when the House Republicans garroted the stock market. Goodness.

My thinking is that the Democrats should abandon any Republican support for the time being and just craft a good Democratic bill and then dare the Republicans to vote against it. A couple of days of the market getting hammered will put the Republicans under enormous pressure from their donor base to pass a good bill - one that doesn't include $700 billion in handouts to speculators and incompetent CEO's.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:15 PM

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The Presidential Debate

Sunday, September 28, 2008
Analyzing a presidential debate is a strange activity. It's not to be judged as a debate, but as a performance - it's on personality, not points. Expectations (largely set by the media) can matter more than reality. You're looking not at how you view the debate (since your mind is usually made up) but how other people (undecideds) will perceive it. Lastly, the perceived winner immediately after the debate can become the perceived loser a week later, depending on media spin and what's most memorable about the event.

Speaking strictly as a debate, I thought Friday was a tie, and perhaps even inclined towards McCain. By this I don't mean that McCain had the stronger substantive arguments, but that he effectively dominated the discussion. However, he apparently came off as a condescending old jerk, whereas Obama seemed reasonable and calm.

The expectations by the public were that Obama would win, but the press remembered McCain's effective performances - so generally speaking there was no advantage in expectations. But since this was a foreign policy debate, McCain had nothing to gain. McCain has had a 20-point advantage on foreign policy, so all Obama had to do was not embarrass himself to make up ground. So according to expectations, a tie for Obama was a win.

While I was frustrated by Obama's failure to exploit several debating opportunities and lack of aggressiveness, apparently independent voters (particularly older female voters) liked his noncombative style very much. Which just goes to show that when it comes to watching presidential debates, I am not a middle aged female swing voter.

Finally, the immediate polling indicated a clear Obama victory in the debate - but then Gore in 2000 won the first debate too, only to see people focusing on his sighs a few days later, turning it into a loss. From what I can tell of the debate this time, the press is generally following the public's initial impression - that it was a tie on substance but an Obama victory on style, and that McCain came off as an angry old man. If this remains the case during the talking-head-a-thon this morning, we can expect that Obama will have won the first round of debates. Whatever that means.

What a weird business.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:46 AM

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If I Were A D.C. Political Consultant

Friday, September 26, 2008
John McCain "suspended" (not really) his campaign because of an economic crisis that apparently started because the fundamentals of the economy are strong (sorry, couldn't resist). He also said he was not going to the debate until a deal was reached. Now the worst thing that could happen to McCain is for Obama to have 90 minutes of free air time to himself with McCain not there tonight, so I can only assume that McCain assumed Obama would play along - which wisely he didn't.

If I were an advisor to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and wanted to hurt McCain, I would make SURE that no deal - even in principle - was reached today. Play for time until at least tomorrow. That way McCain either has to skip the debate, or has to renege and show up anyway - either of which would be extremely embarrassing. There is also NO WAY I would let the House Republicans hold me hostage so they can give McCain the credit. Forget it. Wait a day or so and the Republicans' Wall Street donor base will be putting so much pressure on them they'll agree to anything.

But then again I've haven't been out-maneuvered repeatedly by the Republicans, so what do I know?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:57 AM

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Quick Notes on a Friday

1. My candidate for County Council was at a League of Women Voters candidate forum the other night. He did wonderfully - easily the most polished candidate on the stage. He's improved amazingly over the last few months. My goal was to help him become a good candidate, whatever the election result. My work here is done.

2. I realized yesterday that I don't miss New York anymore. Huh.

3. McCain is a wild man - totally erratic. I wasn't crazy with the compromise that was being put together, but I don't agree that we can just do nothing about the financial crisis. An agreement is nearly made and McCain sabotages it for political advantage? How irresponsible can one person be? This man cannot be permitted anywhere near the White House.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:15 AM

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McCain Asks To Postpone Debates

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
McCain FAIL2

This is too much, really. My sides hurt.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:17 PM

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Somebody Explain This To Me

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I'm not an expert on finance, but let me see if I understand this.

The Bush Administration wants every taxpayer in America to hand over thousands of dollars so that we can bail out Wall Street firms that recklessly gambled on inflated home prices, and to do so without greater regulation of said firms, without oversight, and without any assurance that long-term problems either with the housing market or the financial sector will be addressed. Said plan appears to be focused on saving the stock value of primarily upper-income households and corporate executives while doing nothing to protect homeowners looking at foreclosure. This is the same administration that championed deregulation and the house bubble and has demonstrated gross incompetence and waste, not to mention a predilection for ignoring the law.

Do I have that about right?

Are you freakin' kidding me?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:20 PM

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My New Office

Monday, September 22, 2008
I don't my camera with me today so I can't take pictures, but I just had to post about my new office. We moved across campus at the end of last week to a converted dorm. I was pretty leery of the move, since our old building was a neat old house. While it isn't exactly pretty, there are advantages:

1) I have my very own office. It has a door that shuts, a window, temperature control, etc. It's the first office I've ever had that I haven't had to share. I feel like a real grownup.

2) The facing of the window means that I can use my portable XM radio at work. Which is cool.

There are some downsides, of course. The biggest is that there isn't much to eat for lunch in this part of campus, and my commute is all messed up. I used to be very close to Brazen Hussy's building. Now not so much.

All and all, I'm pretty pleased. It's nice when your very low expectations are exceeded.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:12 PM

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When discussing the presidential election, I frequently hear the fear that taxes will go up if Obama is elected. Public opinion polls bear out this fear. Now personally I think that the big deficits typically run up by Republican presidents is a deferred form of taxation, and hence should be considered, but whatever. Here's a link to a useful calculator to determine your probable tax cut or tax increase under an Obama or McCain tax plan.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:39 PM

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This is what I'm talking about

Thursday, September 18, 2008
When asked about Spain, John McCain thought it was in Latin America, and hostile to the United States. Spain. Which is in, like, NATO.

Do you see what I mean that age is a legitimate issue in this campaign? Go back and watch tapes of John McCain when he ran for president the first time, back in 2000. This is not the same man. He might not be technically senile, but he's clearly not functioning at a high cognitive level.

I don't think as a practical matter that Barack Obama can make this an issue, but somebody should.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:14 AM

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Maybe They Shouldn't Be So Arrogant

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I've been experiencing some synchronicity lately. First, after decades of thoughtless de-regulation, Wall Street is being forced to rely on huge government bailouts to avoid liquidation. So much for the "Masters of the Universe." Second, Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO, makes some pretty condescending remarks about the ability of McCain or Obama to run a Fortune 500 company. And third, a couple of days ago I attend a debate between a venture capitalist dabbling in a controversial public policy issue and a respected academic who researches the topic. Let's just say the result of the debate was entertaining - Mr. Moneybags was beaten so badly that he was reduced to weakly stating that his arguments were "just his opinion" while he was sarcastic and defensive to questions from the audience.

It is a near-constant in human nature that an expert in one area believes they are an expert in others. This characteristic is exacerbated when a profession is held up by the society at large as a model and is feted on magazine covers. For years we've been hearing about the brilliance of corporate america and its leaders. They're so cool, we've been told, that we should let them "do their thing," accept their instructions, and everything will be hunky dory. Even now, with all of their manifest failures (I'm talking to you US automakers!), they still think they know best. And their chosen political agents have made a similar mess of the country at large. It's hard to find anything they've been right about.

It's a curious bit of logic:
Premise one: The market rewards success
Premise two: I am successful in the free market
Conclusion: Therefore, I am awesome.

And then this week addendum:

"Can I have some money when I totally screw everything up while you still worship at my feet, please?"

To which I must confess I'm tempted to respond: No.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:43 PM

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Breathe In. Breathe Out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I know everybody's very concerned at the direction of the campaign, but I want to reiterate that there's no need to panic yet. McCain had a successful convention that rallied his own party, but we all knew that was going to happen anyway. Polling leads in the week or so after a convention are mainly an illusion, as evidenced by the recent tightening. We really won't have a clear notion of which candidate has the advantage until after the first presidential debate (on September 26th), but all of the political fundamentals still favor the Democrats.

As for Sarah Palin, her numbers are already starting to decline, and people don't really vote for the Vice President anyway.

So chill.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:27 AM

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The Problem of Political Deceit, or, The Sucker Election

Monday, September 15, 2008
Everybody knows John McCain is lying. A lot. About nearly everything. The real question is whether he gets away with it, and if so, what that says about our democracy.

The convention wisdom about politicians is that they're all liars. I've been in politics a while now, and yes, quite of few of them are. But they aren't usually liars in the normal sense of the term - they're more like master spin arts and exaggerators. Politicians will try to frame facts to their advantage, but they very rarely entirely invent new facts. Campaign ads and speeches are usually in the range of "50% lies", things are are only partially true, not 100% lies. Until now everyone thought that you couldn't get away with 100% lies. Now McCain is trying to re-write the rule-book. Bush pushed the line, and occasionally stepped over it, in his two presidential campaigns. But I've never seen anything as breathtaking as the actions of the McCain-Palin campaign, where they call black what is clearly white, and when called upon it, continue to do so. Their chutzpah is truly amazing.

So contrary to popular belief, not all politicians are liars. Most of them say what they believe to be true the vast majority of the time, and the others tend to skirt the truth rather than truly abuse it. But the McCain campaign, confronted with a truly hostile political environment, has decided to lie, lie, lie and see if it takes them to the White House.

Why should care? Why is lying such a big deal? Well, the question I have to ask you is - what happens in the next election? If McCain's gambit is successful, what's to stop every candidate for every office to lie with impunity? The cynics out there might suspect that this has always been the case, but the cynics would be wrong. McCain, for all his talk of "honor" is apparently trying to make our democracy truly corrupted, to poison the political discussion for decades.

And worse, McCain's efforts threaten democracy itself. That's a pretty radical statement, I know, but hear me out. Democracies are about letting voters decided - about giving the whole people the opportunity to govern themselves. In a representative system like ours that means that candidates campaign for people's votes. If they do so while engaging in wholesale dishonesty - if they lie their way into office, and lie once they're there, then have the people really decided? McCain's rampant lies aren't just crass manipulation of the voters, it's an attempt to short-circuit the process of representative government. If the voters don't have the ability to make meaningful choices because they don't have the facts (because those facts have been concealed or grossly distorted), then they aren't really governing themselves. The liars are. McCain's election would amount to an unarmed coup.

There is some evidence that the media has finally turned on their darling John - that he's gone too far. If they started negatively spinning everything he does like they did to Gore, then McCain is probably doomed. If McCain's gamble fails, then the danger has been averted and future campaigns will think twice. But if he wins, we are in deep, deep trouble.

In sum, I think of this election as a grand test for democracy. This election will be the Sucker Election. On November 5 we will know precisely what percentage of the American people can be played for patsies. Here's hoping that number is under 50%.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:46 PM

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The "Experience in Foreign Policy" Issue

Wednesday, September 10, 2008
While I believe that McCain has abandoned his right to use "experience" as a campaign issue, some people are still using it. Recently I was asked about responding to the argument that McCain is a safer choice because of his experience, because some friends had been making that claim. I was planning on posting about this anyway, and decided that the email was close enough to my idea for a blog that I should just cut and paste it. So here's what I wrote:

1) A preliminary question - Did they ever vote for Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter? Or George W. Bush over Al Gore? In both cases, they would have voted for the candidate with considerable less experience.

2) I think to a great degree McCain is a prisoner of his experiences. His formative experiences were all during the Cold War, when the U.S. faced a conventional adversary in which materiel was more important than morale, and one that was essentially bipolar. In his statements vis a vis Russia, China, Iran, etc., he has demonstrated a profound lack of understand of a multipolar world in which the U.S. faces nonconventional threats. In comparison, Obama has demonstrated a much keener appreciation of new dynamics.

3) I would contend that experience in and of itself is a contentless concept. The question is - what reason do we have to believe that a candidate can skillfully manage the significant challenges of the day? Yes McCain has a much longer track record than Obama, but it really isn't a very good track record. The reason you want an experienced hand in foreign policy is to prevent the country from becoming embroiled in a series of destructive wars that would endanger the nation's security - to use diplomacy and force in a restrained way so as not to exhaust the nation's resources. McCain's response to foreign policy challenges have always been of a single type - threats of force. As we've learned from the Bush administration, this policy tends to create far more dangers than it eliminates.

4) The other key element to evaluate in a candidate's handling of foreign policy is how they respond to pressure. Obama has demonstrated remarkable poise and an unwillingness to become rattled by the events of the day, whereas McCain is a disturbing mix of the erratic and the stubborn - in this respect, he is a great deal like Bush. I'd rather have the calm, calculating type running my foreign policy than the temperamental gambler, thank you very much.

5) To specifics: Obama has been consistently right in his approach to foreign policy questions, and McCain consistently wrong. Whatever time in Washington he has, McCain hasn't seemed to learn very much. McCain was wrong about going into Iraq, wrong about how difficult the task would be, wrong about not phasing out our commitment to Iraq, and wrong about neglecting Afghanistan. Most disturbingly, McCain is outrageously wrong in intimating war with Iran - an act which would exceed even Iraq as the biggest blunder in the history of American foreign policy.

6) Please do not underestimate the importance of the U.S.'s moral prestige in the world, which Bush has gravely undermined and which Obama's election and positions are explicitly designed to improve, . It is difficult to accomplish much when the world doesn't like you, in part because when we lack cooperation, we have to use force and intimidation to accomplish our ends - which just makes us less popular and makes the next task even more difficult. Successful intervention by the U.S. under the cloak of international authority gives the action far greater legitimacy and makes the task far, far simpler (and cheaper). McCain's policies and public persona would do nothing, and in fact would probably continue the decline, or our relative standing in the world. Remember Machiavelli: it is more important to be feared than loved, but avoid being hated.

6) Finally - and here is the really telling point - there is not a single substantive area in which McCain's prospective foreign policy differs from Dick Cheney and George Bush. If your friends truly believe that the strategy we've followed for the last 7 years is the smart one, if we are becoming more rather than less secure, in short if they think Bush and Cheney are correct - then vote for McCain. Because whatever his purported "reformism" in domestic policy, in foreign policy McCain really is more of the same.

One last thing - the fact that McCain is 72 years old and actuarily has about a 15% chance of dying in office should greatly undercut any greater comfort with McCain's experience relative to Obama. Palin's experience in foreign policy is precisely zero.

And that's how I would deal with the "experience issue" with respect to foreign policy.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:18 PM

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How A Man Of "Honor" Campaigns

Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Apparently John McCain is running ads attacking Barack Obama for a sex ed bill he supported in the State Senate, on the grounds that it teaches young kids about sex. The bill, by the way, was designed to teach kids how to protect themselves from sexual predators.

What a scumbag.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:36 PM

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What's At Stake In This Election

Four years ago, I was confident that Kerry would win, and I was wrong. Brazen Hussy has never forgiven me for it. Looking back, I let my desire for Bush's defeat cloud my judgment. This cycle, I am considerably more confident that Obama will win, and have said so repeatedly.

By any objective measure, the last four years have been a total mess, and by the usual pattern the incumbent party should be turned out of office. Most political forecasting methods suggest a narrow to comfortable Democratic victory in 2008 - which is what happens when you have a weak economy, an unpopular president, and 80% wrong-track numbers. My only real concern has been that an unknown number of Americans who might otherwise vote for a Democrat might not vote for Barack Obama because of his ethnicity. I suspect that most of those people wouldn't vote for any Democrat, but you can't be sure until election day. I've not always been happy with Obama's strategic decisions, but on the whole it's been a good campaign.

I refuse to over-react to the polls. I've said many times that the polls are going to bounce around a great deal after the two conventions before setting down around the time of the first debate. I expect Obama to do quite well in the debates, and alleviate some of the concerns about his candidacy. I also refuse to take the importance of any running mate selections too seriously - people don't vote for president based on running mates.

But McCain is keeping this election close, and has a chance to win.

This election is a test case for me. It's when I'm going to make up my mind about some things. I could give the American people and the democratic system in this country excuses in 2004, because after 9/11 people were (naturally) freaked out. But the vast majority of Americans now say that they're very dissatisfied with the direction of the country. McCain has been a loyal member of the governing majority that has chosen that direction. Hence, his election to the presidency should be nigh impossible. Should be.

And if McCain wins? Do I decide that the American Republic is so hopelessly corrupted, so easily led astray by ridiculous (and let's be honest, evil) campaign appeals to xenophobia, group loyalties, fear and hatred? Is the media coverage of American campaigns so valueless, so compromised, that a fair election is impossible? Is the Republic essentially broken?

I think this election really comes down to one simple question: are Americans still capable of governing ourselves? If the electoral process does not discipline the party in power after repeated failures, then how is any democratic accountability possible? If Obama wins, then there is reason to believe that the system, however creaky, still works. If he doesn't, then there is equally reason to believe that what has historically been true about this country is no longer true; that our democracy is no longer self-correcting.

Which is a very scary thought, isn't it?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:34 AM

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McCain Is Aware Of All Oratorical Traditions

Friday, September 05, 2008
How shall I describe John McCain's acceptance speech?

Pathetic. Weak. Fumbling. A disgrace to the tradition of public speaking. His exhalations did not so much inspire as slowly expire. McCain appeared not so much the old soldier as the old relative, prattling on to his irritated relatives at a family function. McCain's shaky delivery, his feeble grasping for a peroration, his half-hearted gestures to a domestic policy, all of these were mere preparation for the truly galling moment - when he justified claim to the people's office based not on his vision of a common future, but on his personal sufferings forty years past. Themeless, formless, a long-winded ramble of patriotic appeals, a last attempt to revive his never-deserved reputation as a reformer, his jettisoning of a party while hewing to that party's disastrous policies - this was the best case for John McCain? With no real purpose, or rather many purposes - to rally a dispirited base, to reach out to independents (older voters, I suppose?), co-option of the desire for change? Rather than doing any one of these things well, he did them all poorly.

McCain is fortunate that oratorical skill alone does not determine the outcome of elections, but one must ask oneself - do we really want this exhausted shadow of a man to lead us through the wreckage his political allies have wrought?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:21 PM

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McCain's Speech

Thursday, September 04, 2008
No, really, who's the Republican nominee?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:09 PM

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What's the Big Deal?

So I did my civic duty today and watched the Sarah Palin convention speech from last night. I have to say I find the media coverage and the reaction from liberals in the blogosphere somewhat befuddling. It wasn't great oratory, and she wasn't particularly charismatic. It was a perfectly workmanlike speech that could have been delivered by any moderately competent Republican elected official. No big deal really.

First, the positives: she had a friendly demeanor, established a good rapport with the crowd, and only took a little while to loosen up. She made some effective statements establishing her middle class bona fides and her status as an anti-Washington reformer. She also did a better job than most of tying McCain's POW status to the challenges America faces today. Contrary to what you might expect, only about a third of her speech was explicitly negative.

And then to the negatives. The setting was quite bad, with the blank black screen behind her (but I suppose that wasn't her fault). He delivery was fairly flat - not much variation in tone or volume. The speech itself was pretty disjointed - there was no central set of themes, and certainly no inspiring peroration. I also thought that her demeanor was a little too sarcastic, which probably made her speech seem more negative than it really was. The speech itself was remarkably vague - the only real specific was that we should drill more - as a whole it was virtually substanceless. And, of course, the speech was full of outright lies - that Obama will raise taxes on everybody, that she oppose the bridge to nowhere and cut taxes, and that Obama hasn't passed any reform or bipartisan legislation. And can I also say it's a strange speechwriting decision to praise McCain's bipartianship in one breath and then attack Harry Reid in the next? Not that anybody even knows who Harry Reid is!

What I find most striking is what the speech did not do. Other than her "identity" position as "regular folks" and her commitment about special needs children, there was nothing in this speech for swing voters. It was essentially a base mobilization speech. Furthermore, whatever happened to the appeal to Hillary Clinton voters? Did the McCain camp just give up on that?

Overall I thought Palin was perfectly adequate. Certainly not "Reaganesque" or anything else worth hyperventilating about (the Republicans sure are desperate and the Democrats paranoid, aren't they?). Interestingly she did just well enough, and the media coverage has been positive enough, that expectations for her performance in the future have been raised substantially. We'll see what happens when she finally has to hold a press conference.

Let me say finally that I don't think she did anything to address the multitude of scandals surrounding her candidacy - her abuse of power, her lack of broad experience in national policy, and her radical ideology. Frankly what I find objectionable about her isn't that she's unqualified, but that she's another George W. Bush - a corrupt, incompetent, ideologue.

No wonder the wingnuts love her.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:47 PM

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Bored Now

Wednesday, September 03, 2008
After nearly a week of one ridiculous story about Sarah Palin after another, I am officially ready to move on to other subjects. Palin's selection as McCain's running mate will neither prevent nor ensure a Democratic victory. This election isn't about Sarah Palin - it's about ending the disastrous policies of the last 8 years, and making sure that the next four aren't even worse. Palin is only relevant in the sense that she demonstrates what a absurd old coot John McCain is.

Which makes me happy that the Obama campaign seems perfectly willing to just ignore her - which is precisely what he should do.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:56 PM

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My Thoughts on Palin

Tuesday, September 02, 2008
No, seriously, who's McCain's running mate?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:58 PM

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