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June 23, 2008

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You mean, if we overreact in some horribly destructive way AGAIN. I think you forgot that word.

Just to be contrarian, let me offer a reading of McCain which is, at least, not crazy--though the crazy reading is the one I would base my vote on.

First, take "if they prevail" to be shorthand for "if they prevail in the Middle East". I'd put this at the level of very unlikely, but not impossible; impossible is reserved for Islamic extremism conquering the US. Second, take "our very existence" to be "our ability to live the way we do", aka, "use immense amounts of oil, courtesy of Saudia Arabia". Then the sentence moves from the world of fantasy to the (merely) hyperparanoid and muddled: Cheney's world.

And yes, of course, the last 7 years of US actions have made this outcome the more likely; also, yes, the next sentence (about attacks on the US) suggests that the crazy interpretation may well reflect his thoughts more accurately. Unfortunately, a significant number of voters probably have the same view, though I hope not too many. There is plenty of fear of teh Islam.

Curtis: yeah, I had a bit in there, originally, about that, but cut it in the interests of brevity.

But since you asked: whenever George W. Bush would talk about how they hate us for our freedom, etc., I would think: if you think that, then why are you so determined to give them what they want? Because the only way AQ ever threatened our freedom was via the sort of overreaction that Bush had.

What drives me crazy is the fact that our economic security is crucial to our national security and bin Laden understands this far better than our politicians.

Another successful attack on the United States of America could have devastating consequences.

frankly, he's right - but only in the short/medium term. another attack on the scale of 9/11 would do serious medium-term damage to our economy, just like 9/11 did. but, after 7 years, our economy is pretty much over it.

on the other hand, another attack would cause our chickensh!t lawmakers to do things to our justice system and the separation of powers that would make the recent FISA debate look quaint.

McCain: Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence.

Well, at least in that case I'll have experience in learning a totally foreign language from scratch in order to please our new rulers, as I did when Uncle Ho prevailed over the U.S.A.

And I'd just gotten to like eating spicy soup for breakfast. Damn.

DCA's game effort to play Devil's Advocate reminds me of the woodsman saying "My brother replaced the handle and I replaced the head, but this is our father's axe." I mean, yeah: if you replace every phrase in McCain's statement with a saner phrase, then the total statement DOES make sense :-)

The question an intrepid interviewer ought to ask John McCain is this: would 'another 9/11' show that Bush failed to torture enough prisoners, tap enough phones, and invade enough countries? Or not?

-- TP

Hilzoy: Islamic extremists can inflict casualties on us. But the only way in which that turns from a terrible tragedy into an existential threat to the United States is if we overreact in some horribly destructive way. If we elect someone who does not understand the actual problems we face, and who mistakes a bunch of thugs for a threat to our existence, we do ourselves more harm than Osama bin Laden ever could.

I'm with Curtis; this has already happened.

And continues to happen. This week's edition: Allowing the Senate to join the House in cutting off our ability to discover (and thus to hold anyone accountable for) the extent of our government's illegal spying on Americans, which there is reason to believe preceded the attacks of September 2001 and certainly escalated after them.

If you'd like to do your part to stop this irreversible grant of immunity, read more here.

I realize it can become tedious to be reminded of this, (Not half as tedious as the reminding!) but there are more than two candidates for President. Pretty much always are, actually.

Try this phrasing: "Via Kevin Drum, Fortune's interviews with the two of the candidates for President:" Not appreciably more awkward, and it has the advantage of being accurate.

Brett,

I find your reminder much less tedious than I find the media's repetitious insistance that we only have two options worthy of consideration. Shame on hilzoy (OK, very light shame) for falling into line.

Try this phrasing: "Via Kevin Drum, Fortune's interviews with the two of the candidates for President:"

or "Via Kevin Drum, Fortune's interviews with the two candidates for President who have any chance of winning:"

There are probably at least 20 candidates for president -- only 2 have any appreciable chance to win.

"Via Kevin Drum, Fortune's interviews with the two candidates for President who have any chance of winning:"

Yeah, I'm cool with that, it's an accurate assessment. I don't mind people recognizing that third parties have no hope of winning that office, (It might be due to a damn near vertical playing field, but it's still true.) it's their being airbrushed out of existence that pisses me off.

Hitler didn’t worry about Islam either. As a matter of fact, he lamented the fact that Germany was Christian. His theory was that if the Christians had lost at the Battle of Tours, Germany would have been an Islamic nation, and that would have made things easier for him. Germans armed with a warlike religion would overwhelm the world in Hitler’s mind. He may have been right.

Since every Muslim sub-group seems to center itself around some sort of ethnocentric identity, indigenous North American Muslim converts would likely have their own sect. Perhaps they would be called Namoldi Muslims (North American Muslims of Latter Day Imams).

Namoldis would probably be able to drink beer because Allah would tell Ted that beer is OK. And if a Namoldi Muslim’s daughter’s honor were violated, Allah would probably say that Namoldis don’t have to honor kill their daughters, they could honor kill the boyfriend. Because that’s what Allah told Ted. There probably wouldn’t be too many doctrinal changes with respect to civil rights though.

Islam is a threat to a lot of things, but Islam is not a threat to conservative white males.

"every Muslim sub-group seems to center itself around some sort of ethnocentric identity"

Um, no. This is not true of most of the major sects of Islam.

I don’t know Hilzoy. The Pashtuns seem to fight as a unit in the mountains. The MILFs seem to fight as a unit in the PI. The Shia world is centered in Persian DNA while the Sunni world is centered in Arab DNA. The white Albanians don’t seem drawn to the fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Druze stick together. Kurds fight for Kurds and Turks fight for Turks. Arab Muslims don’t have a problem purging Black Muslims.

I’d say that there are racial, ethnic, doctrinal, and cultural fissures throughout the Islamic world. I don’t think that America will go Islamic. But if it did, I’d bet that there would be racial lines drawn among the sects that would emerge. I can guarantee that there would be a large neo-Nazi sect. The texts encourage tribalism because they discourage unity.

But I agree with Obama, Islam is not nearly the threat to the union that energy is. We should suspend environmental law for energy projects, build nuclear power plants, and electrify our railways immediately.

did a post disappear?

Um, no. This is not true of most of the major sects of Islam

Hilzoy, with respect, please let him be. I think he's heading somewhere weird and unexplored and I can't wait to see where it lands.

Kind of a Bill Burroughs "cut-up" treatment of the haditha, crossed with the hallucinatory dystopian imagination of a Philip K Dick, crossed with the idiosyncratic latter-day apocalyptic vision of a Joseph Smith.

All boiled down into that highly unusual literary genre, the road kill cookbook.

Unprecedented.

Who would want to stand in the way? Not I.

Thanks -

Perhaps one can identify Islamic extremism as the gravest threat because it is so difficult to control, and so difficult to project how bad the results of additional attacks could be.

My understanding of most folks' "energy policy" (at least as it relates to gasoline) is that it consists of increasing CAFE standards and gasoline taxes to lower the amount of gasoline used and spending X dollars to fund the study of new energy supplies and the building of systems to harvest currently available renewable supplies. That seems to me to be pretty predictable with regard to costs and expected benefits.

Similarly, runaway entitlements and healthcare are pretty much actuarial problems right? Knowable to some extent.

The effects of Islamic extremism are less knowable IMHO and therefore more concerning. Does an attack at a nuclear plant take that type of power off the table for us? What about for Italy? What affect would there be on the US, not to mention the world, economy of an incident at the port of Long Beach? What about an attack on the water supply?

So, perhaps the gravest threat to our economy is indeed the threat with the most uncertainty around it. IMHO that's Islamic extremism.

Look, the greatest threat that Islamic extremism poses to the US is not economic. The American economy is incredibly resilient. It will take more than another 9/11, or even another handful of 9/11's, to put a stake in it's heart.

The biggest threat that Islamic extremism poses to the US is in civil liberties and the rule of law.

Flight 93 was, apparently, headed for the Capitol. If it had been successful, I have no doubt that we'd be living in a police state right now. My guess is that the very thought gives Dick Cheney a hard on every time he thinks about it, to this very day.

In my very humble opinion, we owe our survival as a constitutional republic to a couple of dozen people who happened to take a plane ride that morning.

Ponder that for a bit.

Money will take care of itself, no question about it. Freedom, and the rule of law that guarantees it, different story.

Thanks -

McCain did have a couple of energy policy related announcements today:


  • A $300 Million prize to the developer of an advanced battery;

  • A Tax Credit to purchasers of Zero Emissions Vehicles;

  • A push to develop more alcohol-burning vehicles.

I'll need to up my information level to properly evaluate those proposals (except I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the more alcohol-burning vehicles bit looks like a reversal of his previous (and I thought correct) stand in opposition to the promotion of corn ethanol).

crionna: What affect would there be on the US, not to mention the world, economy of an incident at the port of Long Beach?

I guarantee there would be one less freelance copy writer bidding down the price of freelance copy writing jobs.

I agree with McCain that Islamic extremists are the most dangerous threat to our economy. By their very existence, they induce Republicans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in completely unnecessary ways. That's doing more damage to our economy than gas prices.

I'm not clear on precisely what enterprise third party candidates are engaged in, but it is not politics in the normal sense.

Should we also complain that Michael Skok did not get to participate in Democratic primary debates?

Why should parties, none of which received even one half of one percent of the vote last time around, and who could not even secure one percent of the vote between them, expect to be taken seriously? Perhaps Barr will make the Libertarians have an impact this year, but really, these parties are basically little more than freak shows.

"Because even though he would have destroyed us 'had he prevailed', he wasn't going to prevail."

The right wing in all countries seem to have a curiously myopic view on this question. Most of them see Al Qaeda as heralding imminent fiery doom, despite them having no significant army, weapons or money.

I think this is simply because they assume (and will go on fiercely and righteously assuming, and fabricating evidence to 'prove', dismissing any evidence to the contrary) that all Muslims are basically Al Qaeda. They see Muslim immigration as a plot to destroy America, Mosques as enemy military installations, Muslim organisations as fifth columnists, and insist that the Qu'ran is basically a long drawn-out set of orders focused on killing all non-Muslims.

I assume McCain shares this view, since he seems to share their irrational fear of the Islamic horde. Or perhaps he does have a brain, and merely wants to promote this view in order to exploit the resulting fear for political gain.

"Why should parties, none of which received even one half of one percent of the vote last time around, and who could not even secure one percent of the vote between them, expect to be taken seriously?"

Because they actually do elect people, albeit not to the Presidency?

Because they do so poorly because they're the victims of discriminatory campaign regulations? If you had to run a marathon merely in order to arrive at the starting line for the marathon that counted, merely crossing the finish line would entitle you to be taken seriously...

At any rate, "the two candidates for President I take seriously" would have been an acceptable way of stating it, too, since it doesn't claim there are only two parties. I'm not urging fairness here, I know that's off the table. I'm urging honesty. Not referring to "the two candidates" in a race where there are three or four is a simple matter of honesty.

Brett: I'm urging honesty. Not referring to "the two candidates" in a race where there are three or four is a simple matter of honesty.

Odd though it may seem, I agree with Brett.

Not referring to "the two candidates" in a race where there are three or four is a simple matter of honesty.

To Brett's point, I follow American politics at least as much as the average person, and I am not aware of any candidate other than McCain and Obama.

There are a lot of points of view that I support that are not represented by either of those guys. It's my loss that I'm unaware of any other choice, no matter how marginal.

At the Presidential level, I agree that it's kind of noise, but President is not the only game in town. There are, frex, 50 governors, 100 senators, and 435 members of the house. Surely there's room for more than just (D) and (R).

Thanks -

I'd have to agree with the idea that religions (not just Islam) get linked to ethnocentric groups - but only because politicians seeking power like to make the "others" more alien and threatening. After all, it's much easier to unite your tribe by saying that the neighboring tribe is a bunch of ungodly heretics who are killing our mammoths and threatening to start breeding cave bears as weapons of war (as opposed to our tribe's civilian cave-bears-for-fur-coats breeding program).

Because they do so poorly because they're the victims of discriminatory campaign regulations? If you had to run a marathon merely in order to arrive at the starting line for the marathon that counted, merely crossing the finish line would entitle you to be taken seriously...

So you're in favor of affirmative action for other political parties?

"To Brett's point, I follow American politics at least as much as the average person, and I am not aware of any candidate other than McCain and Obama."

That's not because nobody else is running, it's because our media here generally make a point of not acknowledging the existence of other parties; That "airbrushing" I was speaking of. They didn't used to do that, it's something they started doing about the time the major parties took the Presidential debates away from the League of Women Voters for trying to include a third party candidate.

I suspect there's some not so subtle pressure going on behind the scenes. But I doubt that anybody is threatening Hilzoy with not getting any more off the record interviews if she mentions a third party candidate in the same context as the majors.

On the bright side, you get to see some hilarious scenes at events like the Presidential debates, if you go in person. The camera angles they set up to avoid any evidence of a third party making the evening news coverage can be remarkably awkward...

"To Brett's point, I follow American politics at least as much as the average person, and I am not aware of any candidate other than McCain and Obama."

That's not because nobody else is running, it's because our media here generally make a point of not acknowledging the existence of other parties; That "airbrushing" I was speaking of. They didn't used to do that, it's something they started doing about the time the major parties took the Presidential debates away from the League of Women Voters for trying to include a third party candidate.

I suspect there's some not so subtle pressure going on behind the scenes. But I doubt that anybody is threatening Hilzoy with not getting any more off the record interviews if she mentions a third party candidate in the same context as the majors.

On the bright side, you get to see some hilarious scenes at events like the Presidential debates, if you go in person. The camera angles they set up to avoid any evidence of a third party making the evening news coverage can be remarkably awkward...

Sorry 'bout the double post; Who'd have thought hitting the back button when I got a blank screen would do that?

"So you're in favor of affirmative action for other political parties?"

Absolutely not, I think the preferential treatment the major parties receive is outrageous.

Oh for the love of God. Despite supporting McCain for nearly a decade, I'm not even sure that I'll vote for the guy. Yes, Obama is that damn sexy. But I'll take the bait.

If anyone here supports McCain: please tell me, with a straight face, how you can vote for someone who answers this question in this way.

Because we understand framing -- something that Obama does as well -- and because the McCain quote was incomplete and misleading. From Forbes:

"Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against radical Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence. Another successful attack on the United States of America could have devastating consequences."

Not America's dependence on foreign oil? Not climate change? Not the crushing cost of health care? Eventually McCain gets around to mentioning all three of those. But he starts by deftly turning the economy into a national security issue - and why not? On national security McCain wins.

If your outraged by this, you'll be outraged by everything -- such that the word outrage itself becomes meaningless.

But he starts by deftly turning the economy into a national security issue - and why not?

Because it makes him sound like a dope.

Thanks -

On national security McCain wins.

Sez who? This is the guy who can't tell Shia from Sunni, who wants to keep bases in Iraq for 100 years, who made sure that there was no law against torture sent to the President, who approves of Gitmmo.

Only in the eyes of the press (their hands dripping with mcCain's BBQ suace) and 29%ers does "McCain win on national security".

On national security McCain wins

Insofar as 'national security' means 'killing dark people without let or hindrance, on no, cooked, or scanty evidence, for purposes of manipulating domestic politics', and 'wins' means 'wins votes', then, yeah, you're right.

Unfortunately, that's what 'national security' has come to mean.

McCain can look at the camera and say “I will kill for you, to calm your fears, and stroke your ego’—and people will buy it.

Obama can’t.

There are things worse than losing elections, and trying to win a poker game played with the bodies of dead brown people who worship the wrong God is one of them.

Eventually McCain gets around to mentioning all three of those.

Shorter [*] McCain:
"Terror! TERROR!!! TERROR!!11!! [small voice] andd, oh yeah, that other stuff [/sv]

Whoops -- missed the footnote:

[*] IAAOAIT

what von said. I had a similar comment that apparently got swallowed last night. Did you read the entire Forbes article, Hilzoy? I'm quite sure Drum did not. He apparently assumed that a Forbes email intended to be provocative constituted the entire article. McCain framed. Enough said.

But since we're on the topic, I thought this thought by Obama was interesting:

Over the last decade or so, this economy grew substantially, and more than half of the total growth was captured by the top 1%."

this is a talking point he is has elaborated on elsewhere:

But I think the basic principle of restoring fairness to our economy and encouraging bottom up economic growth is important. So for--you know, here's what we know. We know that over the last decade or so, that more than half of the economic growth has been captured by the top 1 percent of US citizens. That means the other 99 percent have seen their effective incomes go down.

So even if all incomes go up in real terms, that means the "effective incomes" are going down? Doesn't he mean the relative incomes? I understand the income disparity is growing larger. That is different than saying the "effective income" of those in the 99 is going down. And I appreciate the concern about income disparity if it is driven by non-market forces. That's a conversation I can have.

But for all the talk of "bottom up" economic growth, there are few specifics except raising taxes. Not sure how that will help. Sounds too much like simple income redistribution.

Look at my personal example. I employ two people, providing for two families. I bought a building to provide adequate space and had the privilege of paying taxes on the money used to purchase it, so I had to take out a loan. I am struggling making a fairly high gross income in order to pay salaries, the California cost of living and taxes. And someone wants to give me LESS incentive to work? I already work 70 hours per week. Right now a government job with full benefits working 40 hours with no headaches looks pretty good.

That's one of the things lacking from the discussion. The assumption is that the high wage earners are all living like trust fund babies when in fact many work extremely hard for their incomes. Take away the incentive and who wants those 60 hour plus weeks?

If I go take a government job (which I am really considering) there goes two jobs in my community. How many more like me are there out there . . . [/personal rant]


hilzoy: If anyone here supports McCain: please tell me, with a straight face, how you can vote for someone who answers this question in this way.

I don’t and I can’t and I won’t. However, Obama’s remarks make little more sense IMO, and amount to little more substance than McCain’s do. trends may continue, demand is outstripping supply, innovate (HOPE) alternate fuels (CHANGE)… Most of Omaba’s remarks lately strike me as pure platitudes. McCain is actually more correct in the short term IMO: drill, new refineries, nuclear plants, ASAP. IOW – increase supply…

OCSteve: Well, one big difference is that Obama's answer cites something that really is a plausible candidate for 'biggest economic challenge'. McCain, on the other hand, cites something that is complete fantasy.

Welcome back, by the way. The place isn't the same without you.

hilzoy: McCain, on the other hand, cites something that is complete fantasy.

Sure. Or at least, I’ll take your point that it is irrelevant to the primary question he was asked. But I don’t think that McCain’s bad answer makes Obama’s answer any more solid.

Welcome back, by the way.

Thank you! I’m not really back as I have another day of vacation and I’m just throwing out comments here and there on threads I missed while I was gone.

But it’s a sign of how much I missed you guys that I feel compelled to catch up after I have been gone a while. Or maybe just a sickness of some kind…

I'll take a swing at this. Given the nature of the primaries and the need to work with HRC to overcome any raw feelings, are you surprised that Obama's comments are leaning in the way they do? Or should he throw himself under the bus, and set down things in stone, not only ahead of whatever tacking he has to do for that, plus whatever positioning he needs to do for the debates?

I also think that the energy problem, while serious, is only going to be solved over a long term, by slowly building a consensus. It would be a mistake (and quite against Obama's nature, from my read) to rush into it without first getting people to accept the extent of the problem and the possible disruption that far ranging solutions could cause.

So even if all incomes go up in real terms, that means the "effective incomes" are going down?

Not that I want to speak for Obama, but I think the idea here is that the purchasing power of a given, or typical, income -- what you can actually buy -- has gone down.

I think there's something to that. A simple example: if you bought a home 10 years or more ago in a lot of parts of the country, chances are you wouldn't be able to buy that same home now, assuming you're making a comparable income.

It's not just housing. Gas costs more, milk costs more, bread costs more, etc., all proportional to income, rather than merely in absolute terms.

I appreciate your comments about being a small business owner and employer. I am a salaried employee, so I'm somewhat immune from that, but I think the hardest transition to make is jumping from a one-person shop, or perhaps a purely family-operated one, to one that employees a small number of people. The legal and financial obligations involved in employing someone else are a huge PITA.

Regarding taxation as a negative incentive to working harder, it seems like that effect should hold but I'm not sure it really does. Beyond a certain point, most folks don't increase income by working more hours. They do it by leveraging investment.

If you can take a dollar and make 50 cents on it, you will. If you can take a dollar and make 30 cents on it, you will.

Maybe if you can only make 1 cent on it, the risk and annoyance involved become prohibitive, but that's not really the proposal on the table.

Regarding the folks receiving the top 1% in income, here is my thought.

More than half of the total growth in the economy over the last several years has gone to that top 1%.

Did they generate more than half of the value that that growth represents?

If so, I can see that they could, with some justification, claim to be receiving unfair treatment if their taxes rise more than those of others. It might behoove them to not make that claim, in the spirit of noblesse oblige and/or generally counting your blessings, but they could make that claim if they wished to.

If, in fact, they are not responsible for creating over half of the wealth that growth represents, I don't see that they have a basis for complaining if their taxes go up in greater proportion to the rest of the population.

Thanks -

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