Monthly Archives: September 2008

Pirate spokesman: “We are happy on the ship”

A U.S. defense official is quoted by the AP as saying that there was a shoot-out amongst those Somalian pirates who recently took over a cargo ship laden with Russian tanks and munitions.

The official in Washington who reported the shootout spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. He refused to elaborate and said he had no way of confirming the deaths.

But the pirate spokesman insisted the report was not true, that his colleagues were just celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr despite being surrounded by American warships and helicopters.

“We didn’t dispute over a single thing, let alone have a shootout,” pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told The Associated Press by satellite telephone Tuesday.

“We are happy on the ship and we are celebrating Eid,” Ali said. “Nothing has changed.”

Ah. Life is truly what you make of it, no? In the matter of the glass being half-full or half-empty, our pirate spokesman clearly is a man who will always plump for the former and not the latter. A beacon of inspiration in this period of doubt and trouble.

I’m going to be listening to Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8 as much as time allows today, via the NPR live stream. At this point — in terms of the material I hadn’t already heard — my thoughts are: knockout.

And just a quick note on the bailout blues: Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Michigan and a Bob Dylan fan) explains his own opposition to the bill, here at his website (referring to “The Brothers Karamazov”!) and below in a television interview. I’ll say it again: these are wild times.

Another review of Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8

Robert Hilburn, who has written so many articles on Bob Dylan over the years, writes about Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8 for the LA Times.

In the various songs here, Dylan still deals with themes of struggle and faith, despair and hope, but his singing and the musical textures are tied to the vintage sounds that thrilled him as a youngster in Minnesota before he began his own musical journey.

On one hand, the music here could exist even if rock ‘n’ roll never happened, but it’s difficult to think of rock ‘n’ roll without the passion and attitude of these tunes.

The songs from the two-CD set will be available in the form of a live stream from midnight tonight through next week, on

Petty Pelosi sinks plan

I was just watching Pelosi’s pre-vote speech to the House of Representatives being replayed on C-Span. Without knowing she had the votes, self-evidently, for a plan she supposedly believes is crucial to saving the economy, she came out and blamed Republicans for everything wrong in the economy, and gave herself and Barney Franks credit for all that is good. Her intention was that the bill would pass, and that her remarks today before the vote would be heard on the evening news shows and would define the day. “This is all the Republicans’ fault; we would all be doomed were it not for me and other brave Democrats.”

If I had been a Republican member planning to vote for this bill, her speech would certainly have been enough to make me go the other way. And, indeed, that’s what is believed to have happened in a significant number of cases. Not that Pelosi was even able to get her own Democrats to vote for it in sufficient numbers, obviously. This is the same woman who accused House Republicans of being unpatriotic a few days ago. Yet, she couldn’t put her particularly nasty brand of bitter partisanship aside even for ten minutes, in order get the votes for something she is claiming is so vital to everyone’s well-being. Quite something.

Source: Over-managed Palin should be looking to bust-out in debate

The global economy may be about to dissolve into some kind of primitive barter system, but I think it will hardly shift the laser-like gaze of the media from the upcoming debate between the vice-presidential nominees, Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden. There would some interest in any case, but with Palin’s fairly weak performances in these taped interviews — especially the most recent one with Katie Couric — the media can smell blood in the water, and they would like to make sure that as many people as possible watch what they hope will be a debacle of historic proportions for the Republican side of this debate.

What’s going on with the governor? While the liberals delight and rub their hands with anticipation, some conservative pundits are already shifting to various shades of buyer’s remorse and recrimination. Their opinion, of-course, is a whole lot less significant than that of average American voters, who always seem to make up their minds in presidential elections with a minimum of regard for any gaffe-prone VP nominees.

As to what’s really happening with Sarah Palin, RWB is proud and excited to say that we have our own very real, bona-fide, genuine, no-kidding, secret source. Bob Woodward eat your heart out. The source is someone who has worked very closely with Governor Palin in the past, and remains connected. From now on I’ll refer to this source as Lone Pilgrim. So, Lone Pilgrim is clearly a supporter of Sarah Palin, but has not been terribly happy with how the governor has been seen in the campaign so far. He agrees with analysis that has appeared in this space to the effect that instead of doing these taped interviews — and being set up for trouble — Palin would have been better off doing a bunch of live interviews (I would suggest on the morning shows). While he does not absolve her of responsibility to better address some of the big issues of the campaign, he does believe that she has been over-managed by some Bush-related campaign people who have been running her show to date. He also says this:

The campaign folks should be helping her craft short, to-the-point, answers to the major issues and then allow her to be…well, herself. The Sarah Palin I see in these interviews (other than Hannity) is trying too hard to sound wise beyond her experience level.

Perhaps … and I stress, perhaps … the Couric interview, piled on top of other poor showings, is the best thing that could happen to Governor Palin leading up to the debate with Senator Biden. Her competitive nature will likely cause her to be more focused in preparing for this debate. She’s so thin skinned that the last week or so must be driving her nuts. I know that she is keenly aware of how she’s being portrayed.

So, Palin knows that this is make or break, and she should be capable of much better, if not overly directed by these pros.

I see that Bill Kristol has a similar angle today in the Times. He also says that McCain himself is unhappy with how things have been handled and has sent his own chiefs to take charge and to “liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative.”

So there you go. The ironic thing is that while all the focus is on Palin as not coming up to snuff — and her appearances have been disappointing, no question — it is Joe Biden who has made the countless remarkable gaffes. Palin, I would argue, hasn’t made any legitimate gaffes, in the sense of saying something that is just plain wrong, or contradicting the guy at the top of the ticket. Biden has done exactly those things, on multiple occasions. Palin can certainly be said to have phrased things inelegantly, even awkwardly, and to have given the impression of not having much depth on certain issues. But it is Biden who has claimed that FDR was president in 1929 and that he went on television; it is Biden who has told a voter that there will be no new coal plants while Obama is president, contrary to what Obama would like the people of Virginia to believe; it is Biden who has been publicly slapped down by the top of the ticket for speaking against the AIG bailout. And on and on — you really only have to wait a minute for Joe to produce more gold-plated gaffe material.

So, expectations are a funny thing. All expectations aside, Sarah Palin certainly needs to substantially up her game, in what is likely to be the most watched VP debate ever. It’s a pity she hasn’t had more opportunities in the campaign so far to get out there in more spontaneous contexts.

Going, Going, Gone

On July 1st, the mysterious and pseudonymous columnist going by the name of Spengler wrote “How to stop the Great Crash of ’08.” In a very sobering piece, he pretty well outlined what was coming, and offered some prescriptions for ameliorating the catastrophe. He ended:

With the above presentation I have discharged my civic duty. The likelihood that the present administration and Congress will do anything remotely like this, of course, is vanishingly small. My advice to individual investors? Invest in some popcorn, because the next six months will be something to watch.

In today’s column, he comments further on the situation at hand.

Leverage is the secret of American wealth. The average American family in 2004 had a net worth of US$448,000 on an income of $43,000, according to the Federal Reserve’s survey of consumer wealth. Wealth equaled 10.4 years worth of income. In 1989, the Fed survey shows, it was only 7.3 years of income, and just 3.8 years worth in 1962. Measured in years, why should the ratio of Americans’ net worth amount to annual income have tripled between the administrations of John F Kennedy and George W Bush?

That is an odd result. It cannot be due to productivity, because productivity should show up in higher income as well as higher wealth. I suppose one could argue that expectations for higher productivity growth in the future than in the past might jack up the ratio, but that is hard to believe that is true after the collapse of the Internet bubble. The answer is leverage.

If the wealth-to-income ratio falls back to its 1989 level, the net worth of Americans would fall by a third. That is a frightening prospect, but it is not necessarily the bottom.


The trouble is that no one knows where the process will end. American households cannot be worth 10 years of income, but should they be worth seven years of income as in 1989, or just three years of income as in 1962? Where should American home prices find a level? If they return to the prices of 1998, they will fall by half, which is where homes offered in foreclosure are clearing the market today in California and Las Vegas.

Banks that provided the leverage for American households and corporations will remain under siege until asset prices find a level, and that will take two years, give or take a lifetime.

Audio of Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8 by Bob Dylan

Up at Amazon, apparently, are short audio excerpts of the tracks from Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8, which is due for release on October 7th. It’s tempting to listen to clips of the previously unheard songs, but I’m going to resist that temptation.

I won’t, however, resist listening when the 2-CD set is streamed live in its entirety on NPR beginning at 12 a.m. on this Tuesday, September 30th.

The Obama/McCain debate

My basic impression of the debate is that Obama won on style and McCain on substance. The time that Obama spent preparing was well invested (and explains why he was so loathe to fly back to Washington to deal with something as insignificant as the current economic meltdown). He was smooth and, compared to the primary-season debates, his answers were to the point and on message. There was none of the hemming and hawing that he has previously exhibited when stripped of his teleprompter. So, on style, he did very well. McCain, to my eyes, seemed tired at the start of the debate, and it took awhile for him to get into the groove of the debate’s format. This was unfortunate for him, because the beginning of the debate was on the crucial subject of the meltdown and the bailout. He did OK in that segment, on the substance, but he could have done a lot better.

And speaking of substance: Jim Lehrer attempted to pin both candidates down on what they would cut from their campaign promises, given the collapsing economic situation. Herein was a vast distinction that ought have told swing voters a whole lot about the two candidates. Obama tried mightily to avoid naming any specific item that he would cut; finally he conceded that he might “phase in” some of his alternate energy proposals. And throughout the debate, Obama kept mentioning areas in which he would increase federal spending, as if things were perfectly normal. “When I’m president, we’ll put more into blah blah blah …”. Really? McCain also avoided naming a specific area he would cut, but instead said he would consider a complete freeze on all spending — other than defense and veterans care. Obama responded that to do this would be to use a hatchet, when he would prefer to use a scalpel. Voters with any degree of savvy would have been able to read between the lines and see that Obama has a philosophy based entirely on increasing government spending. He can’t talk about freezing spending, because then he’d simply have nothing to do as president. All of his plans are wrapped up in boosting spending on this, increasing “investment” in that — in this he is just a typical liberal Democrat, of-course.

On foreign policy, McCain pretty much cleaned Obama’s clock, although Obama did not lose his composure and so continued doing well on style. McCain succeeded in pinning Obama down on instances where he has been totally and dangerously wrong, i.e. on opposing the surge, and on having face to face discussions, without preconditions, with people like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-il.

McCain, as is his wont on the campaign trail, mentioned the bracelet given to him by the mother of a fallen soldier, which he wears as a sign of his commitment that the sacrifices of U.S. troops in Iraq shall not have been in vain. Obama — perhaps in an attempt to rattle McCain — then produced his own bracelet, given to him by the mother of a fallen soldier who asked him to wear it in order to remember that no other mother should have to go through what she has gone through. Think about that a minute. With all due sympathy to the bereaved mother, what exactly is Obama feigning to commit himself to by wearing this bracelet? The only way to read it coherently is that he is apparently promising that on his watch no other American mother will ever lose her son on the battlefield. That would demand never using the U.S. military again in any situation; in a word, pacifism. Yet Obama does not portray himself as a pacifist — and indeed he would stand no chance of being elected if he did. So, what does his commitment to this bereaved mother and his wearing of this bracelet really mean, when you boil it down?

That’s right: nothing.

McCain’s commitment, as signified by wearing the bracelet, is real and specific: to winning the war in Iraq and to bringing the troops home with their mission truly accomplished. Obama’s commitment is entirely insubstantial, merely a rhetorical flourish designed to convey that he is dead-set against war, except of-course in cases where he might deign to decide that it’s necessary after all.

And that sums up the difference in the character of the two candidates quite well. It remains to be seen, of-course, whether the crucial swing voters will be swayed more by style or by substance.

Paul McCartney in Tel-Aviv

A pause for something more pleasant. Last night, Paul McCartney played in Tel-Aviv, as part of the celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday, defying bitter criticisms and even death threats. Good on Macca. There are video clips on YouTube already, including this one of Paul doing his beautiful song Blackbird, with just acoustic guitar (and a whole lot of audience participation).

Click here to go directly to YouTube or play below.

The person who uploaded it to YouTube leaves this note:

Paul McCartney Sings “Blackbird” alone on the stage, in the concert “Friendship First” in Tel-Aviv, Israel.
He gives a little explanation about the song at the beginning of the video.
You can hear me clearly at the background, ruining this beautiful song.
I’ve waited a long time for seeing him live, and I’ve never thought that the first time I’ll see him live would be in Israel!!!!!
Paul, Thank You Very Much For Coming!

And here is Yesterday:

(These clips might be deleted at any time, I suspect.)

Here’s a story on the show from the Jerusalem Post.