Saturday, December 06, 2008


Open Thread

Feel free to bailout your host and say whatever you think.

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Friday, December 05, 2008


"Black"-Steele In The Hour of Chaos

Sad as it might be to contemplate, the RNC Chairman's race could lead to more black-on-black violence.

Former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell became a candidate for party chair Friday afternoon, making -- with former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele -- the first time two African Americans are seriously battling it out for the chairmanship of a major party.

This is rather interesting: Blackwell is perceived as more "conservative" than Steele. But both men are pro-life and both believe in "traditional marriage" (then again, so does Barack Obama). Steele's apparent "moderate" public profile has more to do with his inclination to work with often-dissident liberal Republicans like Christie Todd Whitman.

Question: Could a Blackwell-Steele contest ultimately split the black vote, thus allowing a white candidate to slip in? Right.

More seriously, would Blackwell himself also be seen as a "celebrity" candidate -- and thus anathema to some RNC members ? After all, he's never been a committeeman -- nor even been a party chair. On the other hand, could his more conservative profile cause RNC members to back his candidacy as a compromise between the more traditionalist segment of the committee and those who -- in this year of Obama and Palin -- believe the party needs a fresh non-traditional Repubican to promote its policies?

Which way will the "Party of Lincoln" go?

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Plax Goes To Heller

The Plaxico Burress situation has been making headlines in New York all week. For the most part, it fell into the category of "dumb" football player making a pretty stupid mistake: Football player with unlicensed gun in his sweatpants, goes into nightclub, last Friday night/early Saturday morning; gun slides down his pantleg, he tries to reach for it; gun goes off, wounding player.

From there it becomes uber-complicated, as Burress' fellow Giant -- defenseman Antonio Pierce -- allegedly hides the gun in his (or another player's car); Plaxico is taken to a hospital where other Giants have been treated before; his wound is treated -- but, contrary to New York laws, the hospital doesn't report the gun shot wound to the cops. The club didn't report the incident either; the Giants didn't report the incident, even though they reportedly learned about it several hours before the cops. (The Giants dispute this allegation.)

However, one of the most frustrating aspects of the case has been the attitude of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One of the mayor's biggest causes over the last few years has been has been his jihad against illegal guns. He's formed an ad hoc association with other mayors to pressure Congress for stronger laws against illegal guns (Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- how creative).

So, this Burress situation is right in Bloomberg's wheelhouse. This week, he's been taking every opportunity to insert himself into the case. On Monday, he demanded that Burress be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." He demanded to know why the hospital hadn't followed the law; he was enraged that the State Liquor Authority hadn't started looking into the nightclub's liquor license. Not surprisingly, with each pronouncement coming out of the mayor's mouth, each city -- and often, state, agency -- has been making sure that every "i" is being dotted and "t" crossed on this case. The law Burress may have broken is a tough one: He's been hit with two charges of gun possession and faces 3 1/2-15 years in prison. The Giants have essentially suspended him for the season.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been a little bit of backlash on the mayor. Several callers to local TV and radio sports shows have noticed that the mayor's outrage in following the law is rather selective. You see, Bloomberg and the New York City Council recently changed a term limits law twice passed by referendum. As a result, the mayor and council members now have a twelve years in office, instead of eight. Bloomberg, barely a year ago said that no change to the term limits law should be made without it being put through the referendum process. So much for that. (The fact that the mayor also seemed more exercised over a football player who shot himself in the leg -- rather than a city bus driver who was brutally stabbed to death by a thug who got on without paying -- also raised questions about Hizzoner's priorities.)

And then comes Dave Kopel. Writing in the Wall St. Journal online, he touches on a point that, unfortunately, no one else has: There may actually be a difference between an "illegal" gun and an "unlicensed" one. No one disputes that Burress' gun is not licensed in New York. However, it has yet to be proven that he purchased the gun illegally: Burress has had a gun permit for the state of Florida where he maintains a home. And, significantly, New York has likely the most stringent gun control law in the country. Indeed, in light of the Supreme Court's recent District of Columbia v. Heller decision, New York's law might be unconstitutional:

The Heller decision did not say that requiring a license to carry a gun was unconstitutional. But in New York State, nonresidents cannot even apply for the licenses to possess or carry a handgun. Unlike most other states, New York refuses to honor carry permits issued by sister states. Most observers believe that the Supreme Court will eventually make state and local governments obey the Second Amendment. If it does, New York's discrimination against nonresidents will probably be ruled unconstitutional.

And then there is the issue of the permitting process for residents. In 40 states, including Connecticut, law-abiding adults are issued permits once they pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety class. In New Jersey, carry permits are virtually never issued. In New York City, carry permits are issued, but to applicants with some form of political clout rather than on the basis of his or her need for protection.

The Second Amendment might not require New Jersey or New York City to issue as liberally as Connecticut does. But with a population of several million and only a few thousand (consisting mainly of politicians, retired police and celebrities) able to get permits, New York City's licensing process is almost certainly unconstitutional on a number of grounds, including sheer arbitrariness.

To underscore, Kopel's point: Non-residents, like Burress, aren't even allowed to apply for a permit in New York.

Now, none of the above takes away from the fact that Burress was reckless in the handling of his gun -- not having it holstered, having the safety off, possibly drinking while carrying it, etc. However, similarly the facts of the case can't eliminate the likelihood that the law Burress is accused of breaking is unconstitutional -- and even a gun-hating mayor has to follow the constitution, whether he likes its particular application in this situation or not.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Is "Celebrity" the New "Black"?

Um, appears to be the case, if you happen to be an African-American running against Republicans for an office that, heretofore, has been held only by Caucasians.  Or, I dunno, maybe "celebrity" is just some conservatives way of saying that a certain person is, um, articulate. 

I didn't have any real problem when the McCain campaign called Barack Obama a "celebrity." Given the huge crowds the man was getting, all the magazine covers, the fawning media, etc., "celebrity" seemed to be a a fair word.

But, then along comes this Washington Times story:  

Curly Haugland, an RNC member from North Dakota and the former North Dakota Republican Party chairman...called on [Michael Steele] to quit the contest for Republican national chairman because he is not an RNC member.

"In my estimation, 168 committed members of the Republican National Committee are a powerful army of qualified advocates for Republican principles; certainly much more threatening to the Democrats than one celebrity spokesman," Mr. Haugland said. 

He added that selecting Steele would be an example of the RNC "outsourcing" its leadership.  Now, this criticism might be understandable were Steele to have no connection to the party infrastructure.  But Steele was once Maryland state party chairman -- thus a former member of the committee. And, selecting an outsider for chairman isn't unheard of.  Indeed, in 1990, the RNC selected Bill Bennett as chairman to replace the dying Lee Atwater. Bennett eventually turned it down for financial personal reasons.  But Bennett was never a committeman (neither was Atwater, for that matter). In addition, there have also been several "shared" chairmanships in the past, where a committeeman did the day-to-day running of the party, while a slightly more telegenic and -- yes, "celebrity" -- spokesman was the official face of the party.  (This blogger makes the point that being a committeeman seems to be some sort of tradition when the party doesn't control the White House)

But even so, attacking a candidate because that individual is a "celebrity spokesman" is still something new.  

But then, of course, the question presents itself:  

Under what metric is Michael Steele a "celebrity" -- aside from being both telegenic and able to discuss Republican issues without coming across as elitist or offensive? But ask 100 avg. Republicans, and I would be surprised if 30 could identify Michael Steele by name -- right now. Maybe I'm being too sensitive about raising the racial implications, but "celebrity" is a pretty weird word to use against Steele.   

Now, earlier in Thanksgiving week, I was talking to a smart, conservative former RNC apparatchik who I greatly respect: He used the same word -- "celebrity" -- to describe Steele. He's the last person I would consider racist -- and he had solid reasons for why he thought Steele wouldn't be a good choice (he loved the idea of
Ken Blackwell as committee chair). When he used "celebrity," it didn't set off any bells for me. But the fact RNC committeman Haughland also used it suggests that this is a meme that anti-Steele forces have adopted (obviously, in politics, you only need two examples to make a trend, not three). My source probably just "got the memo" and passed it along to me, without thinking about the implications.

But the anti-Steele forces better re-think this strategy, because I can't be the only person to make this connection.

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No 60 This Year...

Saxby Chambliss easily wins run-off reelection bid in Georgia, denying Democrats of a de jure filibuster-proof majority (regardless of what happens in Minnesota).  Obama played it smart, frankly, by not campaigning there. No reason to expend political capital on a race that the GOP were likely to hold onto anyway (Chamblis narrowly missed the 50 percent threshold he needed to win outright on Election Day). 

However, it may just be delaying the inevitable, given that Florida's Mel Martinez announced two years early that he won't run for re-election in 2010.  This suggests that Republicans bleak last two cycles may actually continue for a third even though Obama will be in his midterm (usually a moment to vote against the guy in the White House). The economy will probably still be pretty crummy.  Though more Republican seats are up for grabs (19 vs. 16 for Democrats), the last thing the GOP needs is more Republican retirements.  An open seat is always a better target for a challenger than one filled by an incumbent.  

The former RNC chairman has done his party no favor here (cynics -- and those actually in the know -- would say that he did his party no favors when he was chairman for that matter).  Hunch is that Martinez will go down in history as the most memorable Florida senator since Paula Hawkins!  



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Monday, December 01, 2008


Throw The "D"(epression)

For unexplainable reasons, I find myself listening to a lot of late-80s/early-90s hip-hop -- of the Ice Cube/N.W.A. variety. Who knows, maybe it's because that was the last serious economic downturn (the '00 tech bubble and '01 dips don't count for a variety of reasons).

In any event, as the Dow Jones plunged another 679 points Monday (ending a five-day fakeout rally), it's looking like this recession is going to make the '90-'91 one look like a walk in the park.
- According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the United States economy has been in recession since Dec 2007. Why does that not surprise me? I can't believe we are paying seven prominent economists, who make up the NBER, to tell us something most of us already know and have felt as we watched our investments wither away in value.

- Mr. Bernanke, in a speech today, warned that the economy would "probably remain weak for a time," with particular problems ahead for exports and household spending. Another piece of insight that I am sure we all did not already know. He went on to make another blatantly obvious statement - "Judging the effectiveness of the Federal Reserve's liquidity programs is difficult". Here's my judgement - the bailout and rescue plans have NOT worked! By the time they take effect we may all be broke.

- More analysts have stopped calling a market bottom, instead changing their talk to how low the market can go. Is Dow 5000 in sight as I wrote a few weeks ago? Just last week a number of these overpaid analysts were saying that the market has bottomed. Also, you know when the CNBC "experts" start getting pessimistic about equities in a broad sense, then things are really bad.

- The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy slumped at the fastest pace in 27 years in November. Further, manufacturing gauges in China, the euro zone and the U.K. each showed significant drops, with the Chinese and British gauges dropping to record lows. Clearly folks all over the world are not buying things, and so the companies that make things either are going to seek government assistance or go bust. Either way, it paints a dark scenario in terms of employment and economic growth for the year ahead.

- Crude oil futures plunged 8% to trade below $50 a barrel, amid economic concerns and as OPEC chose to postpone further production cuts. Normally this would be a good thing, but in an ironic twist, Oil has become a barometer for the future health of the economy. Falling oil prices are a signal that global demand and growth are contracting. Here's hoping to higher oil prices!

- The National Retail Federation estimated that shoppers spent 7.2% more than last year during Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend shopping, but another poll found that 70% of consumers only purchased deeply-discounted merchandise. This means that while the sales volume's were higher, the profit margins of the retailers did not benefit. And a company that does not make money, cannot stay in business long. Unless you are a US automaker that is.

- Oppenheimer's leading and well known analyst Meredith Whitney said, "Credit Card companies will reduce lending by more than $2 trillion over the next 18 months in a dangerous and unprecedented move for U.S. consumer spending. There are signs of "broad-based declines" in consumer access to capital". So the primarily business credit crunch, will become a full blown consumer credit crunch. With consumer spending driving more than 60% of US GDP, this is a grim prognosis. While the longer term impacts of reducing our dependence on credit will be a good thing, short term it will be brutal to our already weakened economy.

While that "D" word is being tossed around, Peggy Noonan seconds my view that Obama might as well forget about his presidential honeymoon. More precisely, his "honeymoon" is now -- trying to balance a position of no power, except that is to calm the markets. That seemed to work for a few days as his economic team was being rolled out.

So much for that.

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Open Thread

Blame the turkey for me forgetting to thread this weekend...

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Wheaton returns...

Ken is back. And more than just a little bit here and there at his under-updated romance site -- probably because he's now married! ;-)

Go check his blog.

Meanwhile, in his day blog-job, he comes up with a rather smart idea to help New York's MTA deal with its current funding shortfall -- without cutting services to a dangerous level:
Obviously, we can't let the MTA dig itself out of this hole. From the up-and-down deficits and surpluses to the agency's complete inability to accurately price projects (or finish them), it would be clear to a blindfolded albino cave rat that the show's being run by a bunch of incompetents.

So I say we wrap every train with advertising. They've been doing this for years now with the shuttle train between Grand Central and Times Square. Hell, every time they do it, it gets press for the MTA and attracts gawking tourists. Even here in the jaded halls of Advertising Age, such subway wraps are likely to prompt discussion. (And we all know how discussion is just as good as an actual sale.)

Some so-called purists may object to all this ad clutter, especially on "public" property. But I suggest they help themselves to a huge mug of STFU. An ad wrap is certainly better than the illiterate scrawlings of graffiti artists (though I'd bet a number of marketers would go for that look). It'll put at least a couple of dollars in the MTA coffers. Besides, have you seen the inside of a subway train at any point over the last few decades? Sure, it might be a shame to lose out on the creative masterworks advertising personal-injury lawyers, third-tier colleges that make Phoenix University seem like Oxford and, last but not least, Dr. Z. But I doubt many people will complain.
Sounds good to me. So far, only the History Channel is doing mass advertising on the sides of trains. I think it's the perfect time to increase that. For that matter, there are quite a few train station hallways that could use more signage. Anything better than cutting lines -- especially when those that are cut tend to be in outer-borough neighborhoods already underserved by the subway.

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