Thursday, October 30, 2008

VDH on the Coming American Resurgence

Those blue about the economy can find the antidote in Victor Davis Hanson's enumeration of why Americans are better off than their global neighbors.

For those who think he must be a jingoist to write such, we note that Hanson hardly fits the bill. A classicist by training, he simply observes the realities of history, culture and economics.

Spinning the GDP

Driving to work today, SWNID heard reports that the quarterly GDP report was coming this morning and was expected to show a drop between 0.5% and 1%.

The annoucement is that GDP dropped for the quarter at a rate of 0.3%. That means things are 40-70% better than feared.

Here's how the AP story interprets the event (emphasis and de-emphasis inserted):

The economy jolted into reverse during the third quarter as consumers cut back on their spending by the biggest amount in 28 years, the strongest signal yet the country has hurtled into recession. . . .

While the third-quarter's contraction wasn't as deep as the 0.5 percent annualized decline analysts expected, the poor showing underscored the terrible toll of the housing, credit and financial crises.

Not denying the epochal events in the world of finance in the last several months, we nevertheless note that MSM reports have been anticipating an economic recession now for at least a year and have been repeatedly disappointed that figures still don't show two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. The apocalyptic imagery attached to this better-than-expected report is hardly a surprise, then.

Of course, the current quarter could reveal additional contraction, even deeper than the previous quarter's. Or the current quarter could have a shallower contraction. In either case, we'd meet the classic definition of a recession at last! We will surely be told as much if such transpires. On the other hand, the GDP could recover to grow slightly. In that case we will surely be told that the recovery is weak and that it doesn't benefit everyone.

We do thank the AP for noting that the GDP declined 1.4% in the third quarter of 2001. We recall a different kind of crisis then, though one also largely related to finance because of who happened to be the tenants of the World Trade Center. The journalists did leave it to the reader to do the math and realize that this contraction is a little more than a fifth the size of the previous one.

The end of any business cycle is contraction, of course. But as long as the business cycle is portrayed as the direct outcome of Presidential politics, one can expect that recessions will be excitedly anticipated in the political season.

Yet we caution more carnivorous conservative brethren not to attribute such tendentiousness entirely to the media's leftishness. What journalists want more than anything is a story. Readers don't read dull stories. But if the reader is the victim in the story, the story is always exciting. "Attention Worrywarts and Whiners: You're Not as Bad Off as You Think"* is simply not as compelling as "World Ending: Virtuous, Shrinking Middle Class Hardest Hit." Or at least not as self-serving.

*Attention commenters: yes, we know that real people suffer real economic hardship in recessions. Even our cold, reptilian heart responds to such things. We simply note that not as many are suffering as in the past, nor as much overall, and that what many experience is not worthy to be called suffering.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Politics, Power, Human Nature and Next Tuesday

We thank gentle reader and honorary co-blogger JB in CA for pointing us to the thoughtful column by humorist Kurt Luchs posted today at First Things. In sum, enraptured backers of political candidates offering "change" should consider well the lesson of history and of The Lord of the Rings: that humans do poorly when they assume power.

Sadly, the party of limited government doesn't seem to be listening to the message well, either. Still, one can at least make a choice between the candidate of a party that has at some points acknowledged the limits of humans to change things politically, versus the one for which no promise is too great, as in "I think health care is a right."

When Great Minds Agree, Who Are We to Argue?

We find ourselves almost persuaded by the following bit of incisive analysis from highly qualified political analysts:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Obama's Redistributive Instincts: Prelude to an Administration

As our Republic considers the specter of buyer's remorse after November 4, voters contemplate what an Obama presidency with a Reid/Pelosi Congress might mean for its future.

One contribution is an archived 2001 interview from WBEZ, a Chicago NPR affiliate, in which then-state legislator Barack Obama speaks to the question of redistributive economic policies as the unfinished work of the civil rights movement. We invite gentle readers to turn away from the screen below, which annoyingly offers comments on what is obvious from listening, and merely listen:

Another indicator is Rep. Barney Frank's comment that he expects to finance increased infrastructure spending and unemployment benefits with a 25% cut in military spending.

Another is an opinion article in today's WSJ (still arriving free on the SWNID driveway: is this a preview of socialism under Obama--free newspapers for Republicans?), part of a series comparing the two candidates' positions, that details Obama's labor policies, which would give the United States its most onerously anti-growth labor laws in its history.

An analytical article in the same paper notes that historically the only means to "close the gap between the rich and the middle class" is to go through a prolonged recession. We know which party is aiming to do that, and which is depending on higher taxes on those soon-to-be-less-rich folk to finance what John Kerry calls "New Deal II."

And Democratic Party ads continue to promote trade protectionism as a means of economic growth. Mr. Smoot and Mr. Hawley, call your publicists.

As the Big Three automobile manufacturers--the last relics of the post-Depression, post-WWII economy in which highly unionized American manufacturers managed profitability because the rest of the world's manufacturing capacity was either destroyed by war or didn't exist yet--break under the burden of their uncompetitive obligations to workers and retirees, the revitalized liberal wing of the Democratic Party salivates at the opportunity to finish the work that FDR started.

There has arisen a generation that knows not the 1970s, when policies like these had what we hoped was their last appearance. But the experience of the United States in that regard is nothing as compared to our European--and especially British--cousins, whose miserable experiences we seem determined to imitate. To impoverish a nation, one need merely remove the natural incentives to be productive and soften the natural disincentives to be unproductive.

A personal correspondent recently complained to us that when elected, the Democrats will once again save the country and once again get no credit for it. We say that credit should be given where it's due. We duly credit Johnson and Carter for the economic impact of their policies: stagflation. We duly credit Nixon's wage and price controls for their miserable contribution as well. We duly credit Clinton for acceding to political and economic reality under a Republican Congress by reducing capital gains taxes, passing NAFTA and welfare reform, and restraining government spending. We credit Reagan with having changed the debate, though it now seems not once for all, and so changing the economic direction of the country for some 25 years, a move of which everyone in the world is currently a beneficiary, if not for long.

And we will credit the once-and-future Democrats for whatever they will do, and the American electorate for noticing and responding . . . if not in this election, then perhaps in the next.

But back to Obama. His notion of redistribution as the endgame of civil rights strikes us not just as self-defeating but also as completely paternalistic. Do people of color, long the objects of discrimination in our Republic, suffer from a shortage of redistribution or a shortage of opportunity? Not a member of the minority community, we still find it condescending that Obama, himself not the descendant of plantation slaves who have experienced the worst of American racism, implies that the minority community is largely incapable of attaining equality by any means besides redistribution.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Battle of the Neutestamentlers: Tom Wright v. Bart Ehrman on Evil

We've stumbled across an audio file, rather low fidelity but apparently understandable, of a recent debate on evil and the existence of God between SWNIDish hero N. T. Wright and SWNIDish villain Bart Ehrman.

We haven't listened yet, but the thing can't help but be worth listening to, and so we commend it to gentle readers/listeners.

On the side, does it say something about the present state of theological scholarship that the two figures deemed appropriate to talk about the problem of evil from a theological perspective are primarily scholars of the New Testament and not systematic theologians?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Landslide or Dead Heat? Pick Your Poll

NBC/WSJ has Obama up by ten percent among registered voters.

Meanwhile, AP/GfK has Obama up by one percent among likely voters.

Take your pick, knowing that models of likely voters tend to be more accurate than surveys of registered voters yet understanding that the surge in registrations and enthusiasm for Obama among marginalized groups this year may change who turns out. On the art and science of polling, check out Michael Barone's public seminar on the subject.*

We'll make this observation: it wouldn't be this close again for the Dems if they could manage to nominate a for-real moderate-to-conservative. They have plenty of them at the local level, but they can't get through the gauntlet of far-left interests that hold the Democrats' purse.

Both Obama and McCain were going to change politics this year. Instead, politics changed them, and we've got what looks like the third iteration of Bush v. Gore.

*P.S. We thank Rupert Murdock and his minions at WSJ for continuing to leave a copy on our driveway each day this week even though our subscription ran out last week. We consider it a public service to keep SWNID informed. But $249 per year is way too much to spend on dead trees, so don't think you're getting us back at that price.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber: Birth of a 15-Minute Political Celebrity

Here's the original exchange that gave birth to the "Joe the Plumber" phenomenon in yesterday's debate:

We give Obama props for persistence in trying to make his case to Joe. But not for speaking accurately or clearly. He's stylishly blowing thick smoke.

First, his "tax cut for 95% of Americans" will be considerably less than the tax cut that they have already received under Bush. There's no actual legislation on this, of course, but it's estimated at hundreds of dollars a year for middle-income earners, not thousands. Much would depend on particular behaviors, like enrolling in college or buying a fuel-efficient car. To say that Joe would have got richer quicker under Obama is to grossly overestimate the effect of such a small reduction. How many years of a $500 tax cut does it take to buy a plumbing business, and would you even want to if you know that Uncle Sugar would take 40% of your profits?

Second, Joe had him when he said that Obama should favor a flat tax. Obama responded not to a flat tax, which means applying the same tax rate to all income, but to what Huckabee and others called the "fair tax," which is a consumption tax (i.e. a federal sales tax) rather than a tax on income.

In fact, Obama's plan is to move farther away from a flat tax toward an tax system that relies even more on revenue from the very highest earners. As it stands, about 40% of tax returns are filed by people who owe no federal income tax at all (the Bush tax cuts put SWNID in that blessed category for a short season of bliss, but alas, they also propelled the household into a level of prosperity at which we resumed federal income tax payments). The next 20% pay only 4% of federal income taxes. That leaves 96% of federal income taxes paid by 40% of Americans, and 40% of taxes paid by the top 1% of taxpayers.

It's pretty tough to imagine a scenario in which the well-off should pay more than that, let alone calling such an arrangement fair. It's also easy to see how such tax rates would discourage the investment that drives a modern economy. But when nearly half the country pays nothing, it's also easy to see why people don't see government spending as something that concerns them. It's not their money that's being wasted.

Of course, Obama makes all this work by offering a "tax cut" to people who don't pay taxes, that is, by giving them a tax credit that produces a refund even if they don't pay taxes. So his higher marginal rate on the rich is nothing more than redistribution of income from the rich to others. We've got a lot of that now, in the form of various public assistance programs and the Earned Income Credit. Do we need to make such handouts an entitlement for a considerable number of America's middle class?

Further, Obama is disingenuous in saying that most American small businesses earn less than $250k/year. He's never said whether that figure represents gross or net, for example, at least that we've heard. But beyond that, he's never indicated how he counts small businesses. Perhaps businesses aren't "small" above $260k per year, so he's only counting those in between. Perhaps he counts every S Corporation and Schedule C filer, most of which are sole proprietorships that don't create jobs, as a "small business." If so, then the SWNID household has two small businesses. Very small, with no employees and little income, yet paying taxes. At any rate, his numbers are opaque. Deeply so.

But back to Joe and Barack. The whole episode demonstrates that Obama's gift is not in formulating policy or even explaining it but in filibustering his way through tough spots. He's not explaining his point or even acknowledging others' points. He's bluffing, effectively.

It's effective because this is what people want to hear. They've been messed over by the rich, who take too much that ought to belong to the Sainted Middle Class. Time to get the torches and pitchforks, storm the castle, tar and feather the nobles and take their loot.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another Reason to Take Megabus, Vote Republican

Chicago may raise to a whopping 33% its tax on parking in the Loop.

That's another reason why out-of-towners visiting Chicago for business or pleasure should take Megabus, which is often cheaper for a round trip than a day of parking. For internal transport, the CTA remains safe and reliable, not to mention easy and cheap if one purchases a visitor's pass in advance.

It's also a reason not to vote for Obama, a product of the Democratic Party machine that has ruled Chicago since the retreat of the glaciers.

Mayor Daley wants the new tax to cover a budget shortfall, but the truth is that Chicago's budget is loaded with special interest money, pet projects of alderman, political quid pro quos, and unchecked corruption. Given the political platform of Chicago's favorite son, we fear that our Federal Republic could end up in similar straits under an Obama administration, which is to say in a worse way than it is now.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nature and Same-Sex Unions

Today's Gray Lady amazingly includes an even-handed article on people who make a case against same-sex marriage by invoking biology rather than dogma.

SWNID approves, since today's Christians in the public forum ought to be able to argue their case at least as well as Paul did.

More Economic Analysis from It's a Wonderful Life

Having invoked the Frank-Capra-and-Jimmy-Stewart classic ourself more than once recently, we defer to the estimable Ross Douthat who offers an especially timely application of It's a Wonderful Life to understand the present financial crisis.

Douthat is one of those renegade conservatives that some call "crunchy." So he expects a future in which the pursuit of universal home ownership will be restrained but not forgotten, with its object more in New Urbanism than suburban sprawl.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

After Another Dismal Day for Stocks

A glance at a logarithmic graph of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since its inception in 1928 can provide some perspective on recent losses.

The logarithmic scale of the graph linked above is helpful in showing the change in the index as a percentage of its value rather than as units of the index. With that in mind, the present selloff, though certainly sobering, does not look unprecedented.

Actually, much worse for the country was the period from the mid 1960s until the early 1980s when stocks hardly moved at all. Thoughtful folk like SWNID will attribute that prolonged economic stasis to the misguided economic policies of the time, especially to high marginal tax rates that discouraged productive investment and sent money into tax shelters.

With the present selloff, one also observes that since 1999, the market is similarly in prolonged stasis. We attribute that to the prolonged rise in stock values from 1982 to 1999. The market then was overbought and has corrected. Now, we suspect, it is oversold.

In the longer term, the graph shows that the present is hardly like the worst of the past. In fact, its rather like a lot of the past, all of which was followed by better times. Investment bargain hunters will do well in times like these, as will those who use dollar-cost averaging to make steady progress over time.

And Now, the SWNIDobel Prizes

As Nobel season comes to a close, we award the first-ever SWNIDobel Prizes.

What is a SWNIDobel Prize? It is recognition granted by SWNID in the same fields as the Nobel Prizes. The selection committee consists of SWNID and his multiple personalities. The criteria for selection are that (a) the recipient must be alive (like the Nobel Prize); (b) the recipient must have had a direct impact on the life of SWNID and those like SWNID; (c) the recipient must not have won a Nobel Prize and be extremely unlikely ever to win such; (d) information about the recipient must be available on the internet, so that SWNID doesn't have to spend time in research.

Winners receive notable mention on this blog, with all the rights, honors and privileges that pertain thereto.

And so, without further ado, the SWNIDobel Prizes for 2008:

Physics: John Lasseter, Creative Director of Pixar. We honor Lasseter for physics not because of his technical command of computerized animation but because he has extended the delightful tradition of imaginary physics that has enriched animation for generations, but at the same time ridiculed it with the occasional imposition of realistic physics in his narratives (e.g., "falling with style").

Chemistry: Dr. John Franz, inventor of Roundup. There's no chemical in our garage that we treasure more than this scourge of all plant life. Thanks, Dr. Franz, for helping us keep the grass out of the sidewalk cracks!

Physiology or Medicine: Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks. We medicate ourself every morning with a homebrew derived from his addictive but necessary product.

Economics: Luther George Simjian, John Shepherd-Barron, James Goodfellow, Don Wetzel, John D. White and Jairus Larson who independently claim credit for the invention of the ATM machine, by which SWNID and millions like him are never far from some negotiable banknotes.

Literature: Mort Drucker, the brilliant cartoonist whose spot-on caricatures of public figures made Mad the formative influence on SWNIDish sarcasm.

Peace: General David Petraeus, whose transformation of strategy in Iraq has saved countless thousands from dictatorial tyrrany and genocidal insurgency.

Addition to SWNID Fiction Club

We draw attention to the latest addition to the SWNID Fiction Club, a book that we read and deeply appreciated some time ago but only recalled as a club selection when today prompted by a note on Facebook.

It is Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. Meeting mixed reviews when published, the book has made a deep impression on many readers who see in it the story of faith in profound darkness. We think the book may be impossible to appreciate for those not tuned to such frequencies.

Hall-of-Mirrors-Style Infinite Regression in College Rankings

Attention, gentle readers: there now exists a means of ranking the rankings of institutions of higher education. The Institute for Higher Education Policy now offers the Rankings Systems Clearinghouse, a means of explaining the myriad college rankings and their significance to make them (using that most opaque of overused metaphors) "transparent."

SWNID now plans to seek a grant to develop a meta-meta-ranking system to rank the rankers of ranks.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More Telegraphic SWNIDisms for Trying Times

Today SWNID thinks that:
  • McCain probably helped himself in last night's debate, as he came across as the more accomplished and experienced person for uncertain times. His response to the final question--What don't you know and how will you learn about it?--epitomized that, as by contrast Obama made a self-depreciating joke and then reverted to a stump speech. McCain didn't "attack" Obama, even when he had obvious chances to do so. We assume he's leaving that to advertising and Palin, while he strives to look experienced and POTUS-like.
  • We actually think that the "town hall" questioners in last night's debate asked some thoughtful, penetrating questions. As a result, the body politic was spared the wholesale quantities of populist rhetoric that have infected the campaigns recently. So three cheers for Joe Lunchbucket (we can't bring ourselves to say "Sixpack").
  • Tom Brokaw asked a superb question when he asked the candidates their "doctrine" (a fine, theological word) about intervention to prevent genocide. Asking whether health care was a privilege, a right or a responsibility was pretty good too, especially because he included the tertium quid, so wisely embraced by McCain in contrast to Obama. Brokaw laid a couple of eggs too, but only the most rabidly partisan could see him as a dishonest broker by the end of the evening.
  • Palin probably helped the ticket last Thursday, as polls since then show McCain closing the gap yet again and she continues to gather large crowds. She is perhaps misunderestimated in the way of other popular conservatives (Reagan, Dubya), though, as the saying goes, time will tell. Meanwhile and against the tides of media opinion, even the likes of Camille Paglia confesses that she's impressed with the Governor of Alaska.
  • We find ourself feeling old as we tell the younger folk of our acquaintance that we have lived through financial and economic events of similar or greater import to those of recent days. "I've worked for a bank for five years, and I've never seen anything like this," was a remark made to us. We tried not to laugh condescendingly but instead summoned 1987 and 1977-82, which in turn prompted us to give thanks that we can do that with a full set of teeth and head of hair that's mostly not gray.
  • Boston Red Sox fans have been completely transformed from doughty supporters of a benighted but plucky franchise to spoiled, condescending triumphalists. Success has spoiled them. "Red Sox Nation" today is a foul odor in the SWNIDish nostrils, and we grew up idolizing Carl Yazstremski, for goodness sake. We now feel for the Boston franchise what we once felt only for that team in the Bronx.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Cincinnati Public: Best in Class

Ohio State Report Card performance measures show that for last year, Cincinnati Public Schools were as good as it gets among urban districts in Ohio.

Expecting the usual knee-jerk responses from confirmed opponents of all public schools including especially CPS, we stress the following:

  • The Ohio State Report Card is not the best measure imaginable for a school district's performance. It is at least arguably more reliable than anecdotes and dicta about "what everyone knows."
  • SWNID has never been an apologist for CPS as a whole, just an eager advocate for those who live in Greater Cincinnati to realize that the district has pockets of consistent excellence that make it entirely possible to live in the city and provide a fine education for one's offspring without paying tuition.
  • SWNID does not ascribe moral virtue to those who choose to live in the city and navigate its educational and social labyrinths for the sake of its economic and cultural benefits. We simply find it a wise choice for a cheaper, more interesting lifestyle, one made more accessible by the ready availability of good public schools.
  • Similarly, we don't ascribe moral turpitude to those who have moved to the 'burbs for the schools. Your choices keep the urban core of the city affordable for people like us, so ironically enough, we have you to thank.
  • Urban education is a problem for everyone in our Republic, even those who eschew urbanity. What will we do with the many humans who live in cities if we don't educate them effectively? Revert to a sweatshop economy? Radical dismantling of public education might be an expedient worthy of consideration, but waiting around for it to happen without a transition plan is hardly a thoughtful way to address the problem and its implications.

Faux Economist SWNID Yields to Real Economist Samuelson, Faux Politician SWNID Criticizes Real Politician McCain

Robert Samuelson, dean of America's economics journalists, today offers historical and economic perspective on the lingering finance crisis (or growing financial crisis, depending on your perspective).

His point: things could get very bad, but at present there are many reasons to think that they aren't that bad and won't turn out to be.

Meanwhile, SWNID decries the McCain campaign's craven concession to the Democrats of the metanarrative about the financial crisis. Listening to McCain ads, the longest of which was ably delivered though sadly not factually and tactically corrected by Sarah Palin last Thursday night, one would think it a matter of settled common sense that the financial crisis is entirely the consequence of the government's failure to regulate greedy Wall Street capitalists and predatory lenders.

Such a perspective is hardly accurate or complete enough to be deemed "true" in any true sense of the word. Worse, it cedes the discussion to a kind of "bipartisan" consensus in the completely wrong direction of making the American economy more hostile to business development. Such a political scenario reminds us entirely of the way that the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations (different only in the degree to which they applied the approach, not in the approach itself) approached the Depression in ways that kept things depressed: with government intervention that never improved the business climate.

Whacking personae who don't represent a significant portion of the electorate ("Wall Street," "speculators," "the wealthiest 1%") may be the kind of thing that focus groups respond to, but it isn't a platform from which to govern effectively.

Friday, October 03, 2008

SWNID Endorses Sensible Campaign

Citizens of Chicago enjoy many fine amenities. They also labor under a political regime distinguished by its inconsistency and corruption.

Whether the subject of this post is a matter of the former or latter is immaterial. But the fact is this: the Chicago Public Library insists that it cannot restrict access to pornography on public terminals in its libraries. As a consequence, patrons and librarians in Chicago's libraries are commonly subject to an assault of obscene images as computers are used commonly to access porn, even by registered sex offenders.

We commend the efforts of our friend and former student Amanda Maglish Bratschie to bring attention to this situation and galvanize the public to bring needed change to a valued public institution.

Gentle readers can learn more at her web site.

So whatever happened to the librarian who made people behave themselves in the library?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

And as to Political Blame

Jonah Goldberg nicely summarizes the MSM's post mortem analysis of the first bailout bill: even though the House is controlled by the Ds, it's the fault of the Rs that the bill didn't pass.

The Speaker didn't whip it, she let 16 committee chairs vote against it, and she blames the Rs. The left's only objection was that the bill didn't contain enough spending on their favorite causes, all unrelated to stabilizing the financial system. And the resulting larger deficits would be the fault of Rs too, presumably for not raising taxes to 110%.

We think that the Rs who voted no on "principle" are uninformed, but at least they had something resembling principle.

"Cheap politicians are actually very expensive and the same principle applies to CEOs."

So writes Thomas Sowell. His column on the stupidity of regulating corporate CEOs' pay is genuinely amazing, both in style just as much as substance.

We can't begin to select the bits to quote from this piece, but here is one, commenting on the fact that the "golden parachutes" that so offend the public are for corporations a cheap, quick way to get an ineffective executive replaced:

But what about the “social justice” of it all?

Such questions seem to carry great weight with people who act as if they are God on Judgment Day. But one of the little overlooked differences between themselves and God on Judgment Day is that God does not have to worry about what is going to happen the day after Judgment Day.

Brilliant! Read the whole thing, or you're never allowed to read this blog again.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

For Jazz Neophytes

We just wrote the following to a student asking for recommendations of jazz artists. We share it, lightly edited to conform to the style of the blog, for the benefit of gentle readers needing a respite from politics and economics:

There are so many great artists to recommend! We'd recommend exploring at this web site as a way to begin. Ken Burns's PBS documentary on jazz is not necessarily the definitive word, but you won't listen to any bad music by listening to what he recommends.

Here are some of the great names of jazz who comprise much of our personal playlist:

Louis Armstrong
Duke Ellington
Count Basie
Benny Goodman
Lester Young
Art Tatum
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Miles Davis
Clifford Brown
Charles Mingus
Thelonius Monk
John Coltrane
Herbie Hancock
Wayne Shorter
Stan Getz
Art Blakey
Oscar Peterson
Chick Corea
Winton Marsalis
Branford Marsalis

We recently gave a friend the one-disc version of the two-disc set described here. We could definitely recommend this as a fine collection of great performances with very accessible grooves.

Note that we eschew the subgenre labeled "smooth jazz," which is comprised largely of repetitive R&B-style licks without a lot of substance. "Smooth jazz" is for people who don't want to listen to the music. If unobtrusive background sounds are what you seek, you may be out of luck with all our recommendations, which tend to cause the listener to tap feet, snap fingers, sigh contentedly and occasionally exclaim, "Oh, yeah!" or "Go, man!" In that unfortunate case, go for the contemptible wallpaper music of Dave Koz, Kenny G and other extinguishers of the flame. Then there's the "New Age" school of Windham Hill Records, with such pabulum as George Winston. This is "music" for people who find smooth jazz too challenging, the aural equivalent to Zoloft and warm milk.

Your hipster professor,

Recommended "Viewing"

SWNID extremely recommends, passing along a recommendation of WODGC, the offering of political dialogue between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury. The two accomplished public intellectuals speak honestly and unaffectedly about developments in the presidential election.

There's not much to see in this stuff, which looks like it was put together with web cams. But there's plenty to listen to, and it can be speeded up to 1.4x real time for busy folk.

We've been intrigued by Loury since reading his One by One from the Inside Out. These dialogues remind us that we need to get caught up on his more recent books.

Today's Take Two

As the American Ship of State continues to list from side to side, we offer two observations on what may be a fateful morning.

First, we delegate analysis of Monday's debacle to the formidable David Brooks, whom we quote at some length for understanding of matters political and economic:

House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.

I’ve spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy.

We’re living in an age when a vast excess of capital sloshes around the world fueling cycles of bubble and bust. When the capital floods into a sector or economy, it washes away sober business practices, and habits of discipline and self-denial. Then the money managers panic and it sloshes out, punishing the just and unjust alike.

What we need in this situation is authority. Not heavy-handed government regulation, but the steady and powerful hand of some public institutions that can guard against the corrupting influences of sloppy money and then prevent destructive contagions when the credit dries up.

We add that House Republicans will indeed get most of the blame, not because Democrats did nothing blameworthy but because the public intuitively expects so little from Andrew Jackson's heirs.

Second, the Senate, where cooler heads sometimes prevail thanks to that body's now-somewhat-diluted-constitutional differences with the House, will vote shortly on a revised bailout bill. the Gray Lady, quoting its usual courageous band of anonymous sources, says that the bill will contain: "tax breaks for businesses and alternative energy and higher government insurance for bank deposits."

We SWNIDishly observe that this is the way our federal legislature works: when something needed doesn't get votes, like a Christmas tree it gets decorated with colorful geegaws that will induce our lawmakers to do the right thing. Hence . . .

  • Tax breaks for businesses are generally a good thing these days, especially in a global economy in which American business taxes are higher than everyone's save the Japan's. This issue, however has nothing to do in the short term with the financial crisis, which requires getting enough confidence back in the banking system that banks will lend to each other. Deeper in the article, the Times notes that individual tax breaks are included as well. These are also welcome but just as irrelevant to the crisis. Given their placement in the article, they're apparently not of much interest to the Times's reporters and editors.
  • Alternative energy is so stylish and gives its advocates such a strong sense of their moral superiority and foresightedness. But it couldn't have less to do with the present issue if it were a statement about the likelihood of life on other planets. Claims that these measures will create "tens of thousands of jobs" don't even deserve comment.
  • Higher government insurance for bank deposits actually makes sense, as this is a measure that will convince nervous depositors not to withdraw their money from commercial banks in what could become a disastrous run on banks like the one that FDR had to fix. The FDIC's $100,000 limit hasn't been revised upward in as long as most self-conscious life forms can remember.
  • Notably missing in this list, but thanks to the Times's crack reporting perhaps a part of the bill, is revision of mark-to-market accounting rules that put the (highly regulated, by the way) banking industry in a precarious capital situation that has precipitated banks' lack of confidence in each other, freezing inter-bank lending and drying up credit liquidity. That would be the most helpful addition to the House's failed bill, but either the Senate doesn't have the wherewithal to realize that or the Times doesn't have the wherewithal to recognize its significance.
So, tax cuts for Rs, alternative energy for Ds, deposit insurance for common sense, and no change to accounting rules because Congress doesn't understand the issue or doesn't want to get tarred politically with the canard that they let the Greedy Wall Street Speculators hide their cupidity on their balance sheets. That sounds like America to us.

OK, three observations. We are LOL* over Harry Reid's rhetoric, as quoted by our Newspaper of Record:

It has been determined, in our judgment, this is the best thing to move forward.

It has been SWNIDishly determined, in our judgment that when a politician combines the divine passive and the royal plural in the same sentence, that politician proves simultaneously his enthusiasm for his own importance and his unwillingness to accept blame.

*This is our first and last use of the popular acronym-cliche. Reid deserves such contempt.