Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Response

One of my students (thanks, Mike!) sent me a link to an editorial cartoon that is the McCain equivalent of the New Yorker cover of Obama.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Interpretation

So, the big brouhaha today is the latest New Yorker magazine cover, which depicts candidate Obama in traditional Muslim clothing fist bumping Michelle Obama who has a massive afro and an assault weapon slung on her back. They stand in the oval office with a U.S. flag burning in the fireplace and a portrait of Osama Bin Laden above the mantel.

According to Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post, Barry Blitt the creator of the satiric cartoon aimed to convey the extreme views out there of the Obamas:
I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.

The problem is interpretation. The Obama campaign issued a release condemning the cover as tasteless and offensive. The McCain camp followed with their own condemnation.

It created such a stir that it even got time on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

So, is it a message highlighting the absurd rumor-mongering of the right or is it a tasteless and offensive portrayal of the Obamas?

Perhaps, a title would have helped?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Paying up for Weak Oversight

The bad financial news at the end of this week focuses on the weak foundation of the two largest mortgage brokers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. These two businesses buy mortgages from originating banks, bundle them together, and then sell them to investors as mortgage-backed securities. As more and more Americans foreclose on their homes, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have had to dig into their cash reserves to continue to pay out the interest on the mortage-backed securities, even though they're no longer taking in the money from mortgages-gone-bad. In turn, the companies are having a hard time borrowing money to pay the interest owed to investors. It's another Bear Stearns.

Unfortunately, according to an article in the New York Times, it seems that tax payers may end up bailing out and paying investors their guaranteed interest on the mortgage-backed securities if Freddie and Fannie fail. The article argues that the two companies lobbied hard over the past decade for little oversight as their fortunes grew.

Now that there's been a reversal of fortune, they turn to the government for a bailout.

Not only will the taxpayers pay, but people trying to secure mortgages, and stockholders who are being hammered by this current unstable market (earnings over the past 2 years have been erased in a matter of months) will pay.

The problem is that if the government doesn't do something, and the companies tank, it means the credit market will freeze up. And, that will hurt Americans broadly, too.

If there had been oversight. If government regulators had been doing their jobs. If Congress and the Fed had been engaging in proper oversight, perhaps we wouldn't be in this economic quagmire today. Regulation and regulators have a place in the free market. When they don't, the consequences can be dire.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can John McCain be President?

Floating around have been questions as to whether John McCain constitutionally can be president. He was born on a military base in the Canal Zone in Panama in 1936. The Constitution requires that the president be a "natural-born citizen." McCain didn't become a naturalized citizen until 1937 the year that Congress passed a law granting citizenship to military personnel living in the Canal Zone after 1904.

The debate is over whether that Congressional law in 1937 entails that McCain is "natural-born." According to the analysis by Professor Gabriel Chin, the law was conferred a year too late to make McCain "natural born." Others, including liberal legal theorist Lawrence Tribe argue that it's preposterous for Congress to have created a loop-hole of this sort.

Congress in the spring passed a non-binding resolution that declared McCain eligible to run for the presidency and to hold that office if elected. But, there's a legal case in New Hampshire brought forth by a citizen, Fred Hollander, against McCain, challenging his constitutional right to run for president. The problem here is that generally such lawsuits are thrown out, because the plaintiff can't prove direct injury, and therefore cannot sue.

It's a fascinating legal paradox that likely will go unanswered. My own sense of this is that McCain may not be constitutionally allowed to be president, but that to prevent a guy who was born to American citizens, born on an American military base, and that if he had been a born a year later would be considered "natural-born", as being absurd. But, I'm not a legal scholar. Just a citizen thinking about what is the right and fair thing.

Read the details at the New York Times.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tony Schwartz

For a terrific audio profile of Tony Schwartz, listen to the Kitchen Sister's terrific compilation of interviews and sounds of the great audio genius (and man behind the 1964 Lyndon Johnson "Daisy Ad").

DCCC's Bush Impersonation Ad

[Okay, so I've been a little busy . . . . The end of semester unloaded its torrent of papers to grade and theses to read, then to ICA in Montreal, at which I learned my grandmother on my dad's side had died, so a quick return to Albany to collect Isabel, and then off to Rapid City, South Dakota to attend the funeral, and then grappling for a week with a nasty cold, and since then trying to keep my NSF funded project running, and cranking out manuscripts and juggling other research projects. Tenure review is coming . . . .

AND: Rest in Peace: Tony Schwartz, George Carlin, and Tim Russert]

The Benton Foundation is reporting that a Philadelphia radio station is refusing to run a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advertisement. The ad features a President Bush impersonator who thanks the local Republican congressmember for supporting "Big Oil". They're refusing the run it on the ground that it impersonates President Bush.

I first heard about the ad a few weeks ago, and my reaction was: not cool. No matter what one thinks about President Bush, it's over-the-line to hire an impersonator to put words in the President's mouth. There will be people, either who aren't terribly aware or perhaps who catch only bits of the ad, who think that President Bush is actually saying those things. It's a deceptive ad. The DCCC shouldn't have created it. Surely, there are better, more compelling ways to critique the Bush presidency.