The Business of Losing an Election

“The base and the donors went apocalyptic (on Obama) over the last few years and that was exploited by a lot of people from the conservative world. I won’t soon forget the lupine smile that played over the head of one major conservative institution when he told me that our donors think the apocalypse has arrived.” David Frum.

The most repudiated idea this election cycle is that money can buy quality product.

Romney’s loss last week has opened a peek into the Republican mentality and offered a great study of how they think and operate. Republicans approach elections like a business transaction. Their party operatives and their billionaire donors outsourced the campaign to vendors (Super PACs, unscrupulous pollsters). Donors with money met smooth-talking consultants with promises and sealed their own fate.

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Nate Silver should be named Time’s person of the year.

Are you surprised that Republicans are surprised they lost? If you were following the polls guru Nate Silver’s blog fivethirtyeight.com you would be.

It’s not that I was certain Obama would win. But reading Nate Silver’s estimates before the elections gave me odds to be cautiosly optimistic. The day before the election I estimated the chance of Obama winning (based on Nate’s 91%) like being all in with pocket kings pre flop. You’re in good shape and this is the position you want to be against a single opponent, but that doesn’t mean Romney can’t flop an ace. So Romney’s entire electoral calcualtion was based on flopping that ace, but they acted as if they have already won. I find such baseless certitude stunning.

But it’s not like they didn’t have their own models. Because reality has a well-known liberal bias, Republicans have retreated into their own world where their polls showed that they were leading Obama by 6-7 point margins. They called it “unskewed polls”.

“Unskewed polls” is an entirely new phenomenon that didn’t exist during any of the previous elections. 4 years of Obama presidency really did something to the minds of the right-wing bubble occupants that they have severed any and all connections to reality that they still possessed in some form prior to 2008. Unskewed polls is a way one conservative blogger (www.unskewedpolls.com) dissected the “biased”, in his opinion, national and battleground polls conducted by professional polling firms. What he did in his “unskewing” is even out the proportion of Republicans and Democrats in the polls to bring it to more “fair” ratio. For instance, most of the polls had more registered Democrats than Republicans, simply due to the fact that there are more registered Ds than Rs, it’s a reflection of the population as a whole. He wasn’t satisfied with this weighing as he considered it biased against the Republicans. So in his unskewing he brought the ratio to about even. Of course, if Romney and Obama were tied in official national polls and the sample in question had 44% Ds and 37% Rs, then, after he brings it to 37/37 in his own recalibration, Romney would lead Obama by 6 or 7 points. These are the polls that had Republicans believing, nay, knowing, that they were going to win. How else would you explain the fact that the fireworks were on stand-by near Romney headquarters in Boston and that Romney didn’t even write a version of a concession speech? He knew he was winning! It’s stunning that no one, NO ONE in his campaign had raised any doubts about the overly positive numbers. Looks like the entire campaign was only pleased to be blissfully unaware about the true state of the race, and incapable of dealing with bad news or with reality. That pre-election certitude based on make belief numbers explains the state of shock both in conservative media world and Romney’s campaign headquarters when results rolled in.

By contrast, Obama campaign has always, even when they were ahead in the polls, assumed that they were 10 points behind. I heard it from many folks in the Obama headquarters.

But back to Nate Silver.

It is rare that in our lives, and especially in our politics, one side admits to being wrong. It just never happens, because when you’re not dealing with hard sciences like math and physics, there are always ways to spin the results. Not now. Nate Silver got the Electoral Vote count 100% correct! What’s more he got his detractors to apologize and to admit that they were wrong. They even apoligized for calling Nate Silver names. This is the ultimate revenge of the nerd!

Why I think this is important, and why I think Nate Silver has to receive even more recognition is because I’d like our public, that has gotten used to base their decisions on “gut feeling” and on emotions, to reassess the nature of their decision making. We really need them to come back to reality and reason, rather than immerse in baseless hysteria cultivated by talking heads. Nate showed them how to do it – with numbers. It’s a simple skill that, for some reason, has been discarded, especially on the right, in favor of wishful thinking. In their opinion Obama simply could not win due to a number of unquantifiable factors, like energised conservative base and impossibility of a reelection of a Muslim Socialist! That was a big part of their model. The other part was cooked numbers – an especially delicious part of their delusion as they were only happy to fool themselves.

All of this makes Nate’s win unique. His is a clean victory, and the one that is acknowledged by both sides. It also is a win for a common sense over heated rhetoric. It must be brought back into our national discourse.

Wall Street vs. Regulators

“Herod: I’ll tell you what, I’ll be a Good Samaritan. What’s the cheapest gun you got? Not in a case. I mean the cheapest piece of worthless crap you have in the whole miserable store.

Kid: All right. (Brings out the cheapest gun and slams it on the counter). 5 bucks.

Herod: Sold!

Kid: (starts putting bullets in the gun)

Herod: What are you doing? Preacher here’s got the Lord on his side. He only needs one bullet. Just one. Otherwise he might be tempted to shoot his way out of town.”

The Quick and The Dead.

The current dynamics of the regulatory overhaul is a depressing development. While I’m normally quick  to criticize regulators, and for good reason, I also have to admit that monetary deprivation of such agencies by Republicans, as evidenced by budget cuts for CFTC, place some blame on anti-regulatory forces in Congress. Regulators that are currently entrusted with the task of policing Wall Street are facing a well-funded, well-connected and politically shrewd beast.

In essence, regulators are not writing the rules for Wall Street. Wall Street is writing the rules for regulators.

A few months ago, for example, the CFTC was given the power to oversee derivatives and the futures markets. At the same time the Congress plans to cut $25M (a 12% cut form a year before) from CFTC budget in a time when they desperately need more resources to effectively accomplish their new responsibilities. The regulators have resource allocation problem that will prevent them from properly enforcing their mandate.

It is remarkable although not surprising that the most restrictive language in the bill came from Wall Street lobbyists. What’s more amusing is to hear the authors of the bill vying for fair and effective regulation, offering suggestions on how that sort of regulation should be achieved and then cutting funding that would undermine the implementation of those very suggestions. This is schizophrenic!

The new appropriations bill carves out very specific amounts to be spent on very specific assignments. For instance, the Republican lawmakers are absolutely certain that to update the crumbling IT infrastructure at CFTC would cost $32mln. The authors of the bill also demand that before regulators implement anything they must conduct a comprehensive quantitative analysis of the impact of the rules. Shouldn’t the public, by the same logic, demand that before lawmakers make such definitive decisions about how much money the regulatory agencies will need, they, too, should conduct a thorough analysis of the needs of those agencies? I am very curious to know how they came up with the figure of $32 mln to revamp the CFTC antiquated computer systems. Do they expect regulators to hire new IT personnel, buy new equipment, write/purchase new software, not just any software, but the kind that would effectively monitor a number of important markets, including high-frequency trading (HFT), an obscure but powerful Wall Street niche that commands the brightest minds and the thickest purse? And do they also expect the CFTC to conduct a thorough analysis of the possible consequences that may harm the business, a grotesque request in itself, and report the results to Congress in 30 days? And the most curious question of all, is Wall street ready to open their books and submit their HFT trading codes to regulators in order to ensure the analysis they themselves insisted upon is truly “thorough”? Are you, like me, suspecting that no matter what kind of results the CFTC submits, the Wall Street (via Congress) will never be satisfied?

I think it’s a brilliant business model for Wall Street. First, it doesn’t get any headlines – do you expect an average person to read anything that has ‘regulatory’ and ‘appropriations bill’ in it? Second, you can pass as many as 100 tough Dodd Frank bills and placate the public, but then quietly get to work on carving loopholes, exceptions and if that isn’t enough, just starve the damn beast of the funds! Wall Street arms itself with heavy sophisticated weaponry (no amount of money and resources are spared when building a high-frequency trading desk, it’s a multi-billion dollar business; and no amount of money is spared on lobbyists), then, with the complicit help of Republicans in Congress, they deliberately put themselves into position of handing out weaponry to their watchdog, and, surprise, hand him an old 19-century pistol. And then, to add insult to the injury, they also demand the watchdog to conduct an analysis, a thorough analysis, not just and “administrative check”, of what kind of harm that 19-century pistol can wreak on fragile Wall Street “lemonade stand”.

Even during Wild West times, so revered in American mythology as the time of true rugged individualism and unfettered capitalism, not even a conniving villain had the chutzpah to demand the sensitive treatment. If you love allegories, like I do, there’s a fitting scene from The Quick and The Dead, where Gene Hackman (Herod) is buying a gun for his dueling opponent Russell Crowe (Cort). Except that Herod doesn’t demand Cort to be gentle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RdrYt1eFGk

Our regulators are no Cort. They have not been trained to shoot. Especially with one bullet.

Jamie Dimon wins this round.

After listening to Jamie Dimon’s testimony before Congress the other day I became less enthusiastic about Volcker Rule. No, I didn’t suddenly turn into a laissez faire supply-sider, I simply became more convinced that if such matter is entrusted into the hands of regulators we would have to be dependent on these regulators struggling with definitions, like what a hedge is. That would be too painful to watch.

I have to admit that, perhaps, capital requirements and other Basel III rules   can be more effective than outright ban on certain kinds of trades.

My comrades on the left might disagree. But think about it: banning something outright will simply ban it on paper but in reality such ban will not prevent smart and resourceful Street guys from finding ways around it. Even potheads could for years find ways around the drug laws. Moreover, a sweeping ban will make a great excuse for the ever-complacent or complicit regulators to fall asleep again while giving the public the illusion of things being under control. Besides, show me any ban that has prevented people from obtaining/providing the illegal goods or services. What would prevent various exceptions and exemptions from being forced quietly into the legislation that renders the entire brick wall between deposits and trading desks useless?

Jamie Dimon and many others on Wall Street want regulations to be simple and effective. So do I. And so do regulators, I suspect, who are helpless in the face of complexity. Having capital requirements will be hard not to enforce simply because it’s quantifiable. All they have to do is build a spreadsheet where column B is needed capital and column C is actual capital, subtract one from the other and voila, there’s the list of those who meet the criteria and those who don’t. I’m being slightly facetious and simplistic, but you get the idea. Much easier than wrestle over definitions of what is a “directional trade” or a “macro hedge” with those who made a career out of twisting the terminology. Arguing over a definition of a “hedge” is a battle that the regulators, in their current state, can’t win.

It was almost comical to see senators asking Jamie Dimon his opinion on how to regulate the financial system. Here’s Jamie Dimon’s idea of sensible regulations: Proper capital requirements, proper liquidity, proper risk management and risk controls. It does not sound unreasonable at all. I could almost sense the slight disappointment among some (mostly Republican) Senators as they haven’t received anything less of “let the market take care of it”. The whole Senate testimony was worthy of a Monty Python’s skit in its absurdity, as the only voice of reason was coming from a Master of the Universe (Tom Wolfe accurately described this dynamic almost 25 years ago in his Bonfire of the Vanities). I wonder what was going on in Jamie Dimon’s mind at that point, but if I had to speculate I’d say disbelief, amusement mixed with a breathtaking realization that he’s the sole de-facto arbiter of a system that affects millions of people and trillions of dollars.

Meanwhile, capital requirements under current Basel III rules would have prevented Goldman from buying CDS contracts from AIG, for example. Or at least they would require Goldman to post higher capital in these kinds of trades to account for the risk of AIG becoming insolvent. While we can’t be sure such a trade would not have been done, we can be sure it would have been much smaller in size.

If OTC derivatives have been cleared through the exchange, there would be no high-stakes “who has what” poker game going on between the biggest financial institutions, trying to figure out who has what in ‘Assets available for Sale’ section of the balance sheet or other hard to decipher nicknames given to toxic assets. These holdings would have been more transparent. Thus, as Jamie Dimon rightly pointed out in his testimony, JP Morgan would not have been asked to take the bailout package, as everyone would see their minimal exposure to the crappy assets, compared to other firms. Thus, it is quite possible, that the bailout could have been smaller and more targeted (to Citi and BofA) and not sweeping and imposing.

Look, I’d love to have regulators who are smart and capable of doing their job, but the truth is, they will always be at least one step behind, because they don’t have the capacity and the wits to anticipate what is the next product to be invented on the Street. Regulators are a reactive force, not proactive. Lawmakers proved to be no better at understanding the complexities of the current financial system and dealing with the repercussions. Good intentions are a poor excuse. What we care for are the results.

We also would like to offer some advice to Jamie Dimon and other Wall Street alpha dogs – be a mensch, stop being offended at being called names. It’s not Obama’s job to become friends with Wall Street. He plays his game – you play yours. At this point of their careers neither Jamie Dimon, nor Lloyd Blankfein nor many of others on top of the Wall Street hierarchy care about money – they care about their legacy. Right now none of them look like socially conscious tycoons of the 1900s, no strangers to consolidation and market manipulation, sure, but who nonetheless understood the long-term dynamics of the society and came to rescue the system with their own money when the circumstances called for it. And yet, the bar has been set so low, and in part by our own public servants, that even Jamie Dimon, a fox guarding the hen house, looks as having more integrity than the subservient watchdogs. As evidenced by ingratiating senators who are on Wall Street’s payroll, asking Dimon for advice on how to run things, all Wall Street’s powerful men’s grievances about unfair treatment look nothing more than a simple disingenuous posturing. Guys, let me break it to you: You run the freaking game! You don’t have to have a TV show (like Ace Rothstein in the Casino), or bring attention to yourself by verbal sparring with various politicians; you have to have the whole thing to be quiet. Please, no more displays of victimhood and defensive language. And I’d like to conclude by posing a question to Mr. Dimon to ponder: imagine a less sharp and more reckless man inheriting your job one day. Wouldn’t it be a fitting legacy for a man in your position to help build a system that is less dependent on someone having both superhuman qualities and spotless integrity and more dependent on built-in levers of control that work regardless of someone’s pedigree and ambitions?

Conservative case for taxes and regulations.

Damn, Joseph Stiglitz beat me to it. I have been working on the related topic of why the top 1% should also be worried about current income disparity.

It’s no secret to anybody that Republicans in Congress in general and the top 1% of earners in particular are no big fans of taxes and regulations. In this post I’d like to demonstrate that this is a rather short-sighted view and, out of their own sheer self-interest, they should be for higher taxes and government regulations.

Imagine, you are a billionaire and the economic reality around you has been rather, shall we say, anemic. But why should you give a fuck? You’re set for life, live in a gated community, have private security, household help – in other words with money you can theoretically shield yourself from daily struggles that the peons face every day. There are many reasons why you should (give a fuck), beginning from the fact that, if you’re a billionaire, your worries are of a different scale, namely, you want to close deals, sell products and make smart investments. None of it can be done in a vacuum. You need a solid consumer base, a partner on the other side of the deal, people who want to buy when you want to sell, the suckers at the poker table if you will! In order to be the king of the hill, you have to have the freaking hill! You have to have a vast and robust middle class whose wages are rising consistently year after year. Henry Ford was no fool when he paid his workers high salaries – so that they could buy his cars. The taxes have been falling for the last 30 years but that did not bring the promised prosperity and jobs to the middle class. Let’s admit that we tried it and it didn’t work.

I must also admit that the game that you played for the last 30 years is spectacular in its shrewd, take-no-prisoners ways: pushing for tax breaks and lobbying for favorable legislation, eliminating competition, skimming consumers. Congratulations, you won. Now you’re all dressed up and ready to play but there’s no one left to play with. Now you’re a lonely player at the poker table with mountains of chips in front of you, wondering why is it that no one wants to come and play with you. Maybe it’s because people have no more chips left. In real poker, as in most games, being the last guy standing is the most optimal and desirable outcome, because there are other tables and other games always readily available. But the point of a real life game is not to win the most chips, but to keep the game going, simply because we only have one table. Besides, taking chips and going home is anathema to any businessman worth his salt: chips are supposed to be working. Now that you have that picture of yourself with all the chips let me ask you: Will the dealer taking smaller rake from the pot (I’m drawing an analogy with smaller taxes here, for those who don’t play poker. The dealer takes part of every pot, a ‘rake’) offer real solution to the lack of players at your table?

Another, more mundane reason why you should support taxes is unpleasant visuals that can spoil your day, if you’re not a complete sociopath. Do you like seeing bums on the streets or on subway trains, or, especially heartbreaking, neatly dressed middle-aged, resumes in hand, standing in unemployment line? Neither do I. Conservatives’ standard solution to this kind of situations and other life’s misfortunes is personal responsibility and charity. I disagree. It’s hard to be personally responsible if you’ve been a victim of forces beyond your control: mental disability for example as is the case with many homeless, or mass layoffs. The problem with charity is that it’s selective and whimsy. While there’s no shortage of charity causes here in New York City, the problem is that they mostly target arts, children and breast cancer. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but you can see how many other areas worthy of charity get omitted because, let’s face it, some of them are not picture perfect. And in a bad bonus year even those “New Yorkers for Children” (my favorite moniker on emotionally manipulative scale, to be surpassed only by “New Yorkers for Puppies”) charities will take a back seat to personal priorities of an otherwise generous and vain Wall Street soul. As for the unemployed, I have yet to hear any conservative to explain what is exactly wrong with government hiring those people for useful projects? Because government is evil?

But we’re way past worrying about the homeless problem. At this stage we need a charity ball for the middle class. I’m afraid that such a task is insurmountable, even to Koch brothers and Warren Buffet combined. There’s only so many maids and drivers that they can hire.

Sometimes I think that I’m more conservative than conservatives because I prefer order to chaos, rules to anarchy, so that I don’t have to spend most of my waking hours solving logistical problems like dysfunctional or non-existent public transport, unsafe drinking water in the tap, malpracticing doctors. Which brings me to regulations.

“I can’t be bothered with that shit”. This is my favorite argument in support of regulations. Do you really want to spend valuable time experimenting in choosing the best vendor who sells the best meat, doctor who practices solid medicine, insurance provider that pays off? Especially if you work 12 hours a day? If we lived in the realm of neighborhood mom-and-pop shops (many conservatives still think that this is the world we live in), where you could just go to the other one down the street if the first one treated you unfairly then you could make that case. But unfortunately we live in towns where only 2 or 3 big vendors exist for any product. What is your recourse against, say, an insurance provider to whom you dutifully paid premiums for several years, and who refuses to pay off if an accident happens? Are you going to follow a classic conservative advice and go to another provider? No, you’re going to call your lawyer. Moreover, if you can do your own “testing” of the quality of meat, how are you going to know the promised quality of products that you have no expertise of measuring, like software, for example? Or how about products which questionable quality you can measure only after you’re no longer a consumer, like bad surgery or faulty car breaks? Or how can you be sure that the guy managing your 401(k) is not a crook? Do you want to spend months doing research, aside from your main job, making sure that the guy you’re entrusting your money to is not the next Madoff? And more importantly, who’s going to enforce business contracts that you enter into? Who is going to help you collect? Nicky Santoro?

Sports have strict rules. That doesn’t keep athletes and teams from succeeding. In fact that makes the game more exciting because it is the ultimate ‘let the best man win’ situation. The beauty of a fair competition is that no particular party has an advantage at the beginning of the game. There are stronger teams and weaker teams, of course, but they all play by the same rules. By the same token, I do not resent the fact that there are rich and there are poor, contrary to conservatives’ cries; I resent the fact that there are different rules for different classes, that the game is rigged.

Conservative insists on being left alone, but who is should provide that aloneness, that peace of mind, that mechanism that makes trains run on time, the streets lit up at night, the garbage picked up in the morning? Hire a guy to do that for you. Let that guy have enforcement powers if someone is out to screw you. Such guy is the government, whether you like or not, whether you admit it to yourself or not.

By the way, speaking of Nicky Santoro. What can be better to conclude my post than this insightful quote from the movie, where Nicky laments on how reckless the Mafia has handled the casino business:

“But in the end, we fucked it all up. It should have been so sweet, too. But it turned out to be the last time that street guys like us were ever given anything that fuckin’ valuable again.”

 

In Praise of Communal Values

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I’m Russian, let’s just get that out of the way. May 9th is a special day for any Russian. It’s both a joyous celebration of our victory over fascist Germany in 1945 and also a day of reflection and remembrance. To many people it’s the most treasured and most profound, a knot-in-the-throat holiday, as sacred as 4th of July is for any American. Every family has a relative who died or fought in that war. With sadness I watch more and more veterans leave our ranks every year and I contemplate over these special men and women and wonder what I would do if I was born in 1924. Would I have the guts to do what they did, to be on the frontlines, to face an armada of German tanks pacing toward me when I had just a rifle and a grenade? There’s no place of cynicism and individuality on the battlefield. My generation grew up watching war movies and talking to live witnesses of those events, we played “war” and our heroes were young partisans. We grew up picturing ourselves in those situations and admiring real war heroes, just like young Americans grow up admiring comics superheroes. During those games and those daydreams what was always present is the collective spirit. “We’ll show them!” – our thinking went. There was no “I” on our imaginary playground battlefield. Contemplating the victory in World War II (or Great Patriotic War) for a Russian is to invoke the “us” narrative.

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Macro View on Emerging Election Dynamics

Romney seems to have settled on the emerging theme of Obama being a “nice guy generally” but who is “in over his head”. This kind of positioning is supposedly meant to attract voters who like Obama personally but are unsure about his managerial abilities to run the country. What I think is really happening is that various conservative operatives have resigned to the idea that Romney is not going to excite new voters into voting. The scenario that they have assumed in their models is that Romney is a stiff, uninspiring, polenta candidate that simply has to appear on stage, wear a suit and say dull things. That’s all that is required of Romney now. The real job of winning an election will fall onto Right-leaning Super PACs, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and various political-minded billionaires.  And can we really expect them to spend their hundreds of millions of dollars on a lukewarm message that Obama is a nice guy who’s just not up to the task? I doubt it. There will be a tsunami of crazy shit coming Obama’s way the closer we get to the election.

I, of course, do not underestimate the power of slime. Just recall what happened to John Kerry in 2004. We have to expect more of the “Secret Muslim” and “Where’s the real Birth Certificate” lines of attacks to resurface again among other things. These ads, to be clear, will not be designed to make any new converts, they will be designed to rile up the paranoids to come and vote in droves. So for Republicans these sorts of ops are more of a Get out the Vote (GOTV) exercise rather than converting the undecideds.

I’m not entirely crazy about Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” message because this message is directed at the obstructionist Congress, not at Romney. Something along the lines “A fight for the Middle Class” would be more effective. Obama has to give equally compelling reasons for people to show up at the polling station. “Republican War on Workers” is a more gripping message. First, Obama is already accused of waging a class warfare, so he might as well reap the benefits by talking about decades of stagnating wages and growing inequality gap. Maybe that will bring him some votes from the white working class. Remember when was the last time a presidential candidate talked about growing inequality? Neither do I. And then we’re surprised that white working class is voting Republican every time! I think Republicans are really afraid of this kind of talk, because they have nothing to say against it but the re-recycled and tired message of “trickle-down economics”.

Obama is being accused of so many outlandish things right now that his hands are essentially untied. “If that’s what you think I am” – his campaign thinking should go – “then this is what I shall become”. It’s like buying a cheap bond that cashflows: the downside of the trade has already happened, there’s only the upside left. For instance, those who think that he will take their guns away will not change their minds when shown the facts: they will just think it’s some kind of conspiracy. How much more apoplectic and enraged can they become if Obama really does come and take their guns away?! (I do not advocate it, I merely illustrate the point). Right now those who think he’s not tough enough do not have a compelling reason to walk over to the voting booth, while the Ted Nugent crowd will crawl on broken glass to cast a vote against Obama. Pointing out that Republicans are crazy is useless – everybody knows that. Talking about what is Obama going to do about it – is what people want to hear. And this would involve saying things that will drive Republicans off their rails. This would involve some bare knuckle politics and some strong language. Politically speaking, the coming negative onslaught is a golden opportunity for Obama, a carte blanche; he should be seeking such a battle not avoiding it.

Ultimately the election will come down to GOTV, not converting the swing voters. Romney doesn’t have the skills and personality to do it, so the shadow political groups will do it for him by bringing their voters to the polls. Obama should do the same. The time to reason have passed a long time ago. The opposition is sufficiently nuts.  Now is the time to give people a reason to show up at the polls and vote for Obama. And if he does not fight back he deserves to lose.

Honest Conservatives

It is possible, although decreasingly so in American politics, to admire, if disagree with, your political opponents. I keep a dwindling collection of conservatives, who are not preoccupied with vengeance, destruction, pledges and sexual politics. I call them thinking conservatives and perhaps the matters where we disagree would come down to economics and foreign policy. David Frum is on that list, so is David Brooks. William Buckley, the lucid founder of conservative magazine National Review, whose son Christopher Buckley famously left his father’s venue and voted for Obama in 2008, was a pleasure to read before he passed away, if not for agreement but for his deft command of English. I can hardly imagine a current day conservative to publicly criticize Ayn Rand, as well as denounce John Birch Society as “far removed from common sense”. Who does the Right have now to carry the torch – Rush Limbaugh? Charles Krauthammer? It’s beyond embarrassing! Continue reading

A Party without Judgment

Capt. Willard: “They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.”

Col. Kurtz: “I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. … And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. … If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”

John Milius & Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now.

 

I remember how in the run up to a debt ceiling debate last summer I wrote on my wall: “In the battle between the Tea Party and Wall Street I’m betting on Wall Street.” How naïve I was back then. How much faith I put, wishfully, into Republicans’ supposed concerns for other people’s hard earned money. How much weight I gave to the notion that Republicans will put business interests, money and fiscal responsibility first. How much significance I assigned to the bond between Wall Street and Republicans. In my head I had pictures of Wall Street moguls frantically dialing their buddies in Congress, saying: dude, look, I understand you hate Obama and stuff, but I have a huge position in this and that, you have to pass this, I don’t care about politics – just pass the damn thing! That was my bet. I lost, of course. I underestimated the will of the Republicans to cut off the arms of little children if it meant victory. Continue reading

Thoughts on Republican presidential field.

You gotta feel sorry for Republicans. I do. Now that Christie is out it comes down to Romney vs. Cain. To a collective gasp for both moderate Republicans and Tea Partiers. I think it’s time for us on the left to stop calling Tea Parties racist, since from the copious, albeit unsatisfactory, field they ended up preferring a black guy. I also look in amazement at how much they must hate Romney! Losing Christie has deprived us from a promise of a good fight. He would be a formidable opponent to Obama. I guess Tea Partiers like Christie because he’s always angry and moderates like him because, anger aside, he’s rather middle of the road in his views on guns, gay marriage, and in general he errs on the side of getting things done rather than sticking to rigid principles. Not that I’d root for him, but he seemed like the most decent, honest and straightforward guy among the roster.

I also have a few words on Rick Perry. In my view, he showed his human side when he called those who want to deny illegal immigrant’s children a chance at education “heartless” only to be quickly brought down from the pedestal by the same people who elevated him there just a few weeks ago. They certainly didn’t like to hear the truth about themselves even coming from a gun-toting, death-penalty loving Texan. I’m afraid that with so many requirements for a perfect candidate and unwilling to compromise on any of them the Tea Party will never get laid.

From my partisan standpoint I like what I see in the opposition camp. But from the broader and more significant perspective I weep together with and for moderate Republicans for what the party of Lincoln and Regan has become. That’s the best you’ve got? In the whole South and the Midwest, from the plethora of Republican governors and senators, you’re down to flip-flopping guy from Massachussetts and a black guy who has never held a public office (the last one is particularly ironic). You refuse to even give a good look to Jon Huntsman or Gary Johnson or even to Ron Paul, for Christ sake, who loves your Ayn Rand so much as to name his son after her. Btw, since I mentioned Jesus and Ayn Rand in the same sentence let me expand on it: if Jesus and Ayn Rand married and had a child together the Tea Partiers would still be unsatisfied: Atheist who loves the poor, what a nightmare!

The best thing for Romney, should he get the nomination, would be to pick Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, for VP spot. Tea Partiers love him, he can attract the Hispanic vote that went overwhelmingly for Obama last time and they will have groomed the next GOP presidential contender for 2018 or beyond.