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Monday, November 03, 2008


how to know when to go to bed tomorrow night

i tried last time around on election day (when this blog was young, our girls were only theoretical, and i could knock back a bouteille of cotes de castillon without fear of wednesday morning) to put together some sort of analysis which would allow me to call it earlier rather than later by looking for some tells. the enterprise was a resounding failure -- i (and many others, i'm sure) overestimated kerry's support going in, and toss-up states turned out to take several hours to call. nevertheless, the fact that some states were 'tctc' when i had believed they would not be was a tell in and of itself.

8:36pm -- florida results up to the minute -- 47.7% in: bush 51.8%, kerry 47.2%

pennsylvania results -- 16% in: bush 30%, kerry 69%

ohio results -- 14.28% in: bush 52.35%, kerry 47.16%

yahoo now has MO leaning back to bush -- man, it's closer than i thought -- given what's come in, it looks increasingly important for kerry to take either florida or ohio as well as pennsylvania -- and then do well in the upper midwest.

this year, thanks to nate silver's fivethirtyeight, a monte carlo analysis of mccain's most likely victory scenarios does all the dirty work for me and far better than i could have.

[T]here are some states that truly do appear to be "must-wins" for McCain. In each and every one of the 624 victory scenarios that the simulation found for him this afternoon, McCain won Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana and Montana. He also picked up Ohio in 621 out of the 624 simulations, and North Carolina in 622 out of 624. If McCain drops any of those states, it's pretty much over.

those are the seven states to watch, then -- when the first one is called for someone not named john mccain, a guy can at least go to bed.

but -- just to be safe -- i'd wait to pop the cork and call an end to the single worst presidential tenure of the entire 232 years of declared independence until inauguration day. lost among all the fleeting issue polling and voter sampling is the darker underlying trend of american politics -- one which made possible a two-term presidency openly dedicated to the idea of the unitary executive which provoked neither an open constitutional crisis nor a military coup nor a popular rebellion. that trend has not yet diminished, and left unchecked will enable in time the dictatorship which those most experienced with democracy have concluded to be its sure terminating phase. that time is probably not now -- but it will come.


Great blog, but you need help when writing about the past. Surely, by the standards of unnecessary military involvement, financial profligacy, overarching government authority and repression of civil liberties, Woodrow Wilson and his Democratic majority make Bush II and the Republicans' tenuous hold on Congress through 2006 look trivial by comparison.

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i wish i could make my understanding of the record bend to that notion, luhp.

i think wilson was certainly one of a lineage of american executives whose actions have gradually undermined the checks and balances of constitutional government. his administration planted seeds which are still growing today. he has obviously become something of a model for neojacobin executives since. but i would argue that lincoln was, in the respects you cite, even more egregious.

the critical aspect in such a system is the capacity of a response from the other power centers in government given the provocation of the executive. though it did not erase the record, the legislative and judicial pushback against lincoln was very strong; the same is true of wilson. the senate ultimately rejected wilson, versailles and the fourteen points -- sending the wilsonian program to defeat and disarray.

but that response did not defeat the legacy of FDR, who in my view represented the first truly material threat to separated powers. thereafter was a danger of an open military coup headed by macarthur which was thankfully defused. and since that time -- with brief interludes -- we have seen a steady deterioration in the resistance of congress and the courts to the executive, much of which was justified by a state of perpetual "cold" war. this has over time appropriated not only the power to declare war from the legislative to the executive, but the power to fund standing armed forces and corollary "secret" surveillance forces at home and abroad -- vastly more important -- though black-box appropriations and the concepts of executive privilege and national security.

it has come to the point where the creation of a largely-artificial "wars" (eg drugs, terror) which serve to facilitate a neverending state of emergency to justify permanent executive overreach are met with acclaim in the statehouse from both sides of the aisle and an utterly pathetic lack of resistance from the bench.

that is a state of affairs we take today to be normal which would in no way have been tolerated in the united states of wilson's time -- indeed, few then could have imagined it, and many would have taken up arms against the government to break it. the change since then has been gradual but profound. and -- though i sincerely hope to be proved wrong -- i frankly expect that an obama administration will do very little to roll back the executive even if it disguises its ambitions better.

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Gaius: Doubling down on Lincoln is not a wise move. He was neither a Jacobin nor a Napoleonic imperialist. The Emancipation Proclamation confirms this. He did not "free the slaves" in Maryland, Kentucky or Missouri because the Constitution gave him no authority to do so. He did use his authority as Commander in Chief to confiscate enemy contraband and to dispose of it - i.e. to grant the individuals liberty - as he saw fit. With regard to Wilson there was very little "pushback". He nationalized the railroads and imposed confiscatory marginal tax rates with Congress' hearty approval. The objection to the Fourteen Points by the Senate was provoked by Wilson't refusal to consult with either the Democratic or the Republican leadership and his foolish decision to attack Lodge personally in campaign speeches. That destroyed what had been the same kind of bi-partisan consensus that just enacted the TARP bill and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the "War on Drugs" since the 1930s. Looking for a particular political villain is a largely useless exercise; as your fellow Chicagoan, Professor Mulligan, might put it, the voters usually get what they want. Or, as Congressman Udall is supposed to have said after losing his seat, "The voters have spoken. The bastards!" All the best.

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lincoln was, i agree, not a jacobin. but he was decidedly an authoritarian in times that allowed for authority. (that does not, of course, imply malice.) there is room for interpretation always, but that lincoln gave form to american empire by rescinding the right of states to secede to protect the interests of the puritanical mercantilist north -- in essence, providing the imperial framework -- is i think fundamental to understanding american development.

as to the emancipation proclamation, it seems to me that its deference to the border states was entirely political in nature and not at all legalistic or normative -- it was a bid to retain strategically important states for the union where public opinion on secession was deeply divided. indeed the emancipation itself was a political gambit -- lincoln had been on record repeatedly from the campaign forward as subordinating emancipation to the preservation of the union. and that of course is not to mention the suspension of habeas corpus and his defiance of the high court in doing so.

lincoln is i think best read as a deeply political figure. his goals were not abstract; neither were his methods. while that preserves him from being called a jacobin, it also properly contextualizes his regard for the abstraction of law during his political career. much of that perspective has been rewritten subsequently in moralizing american mythology because that is the function of mythology.

anyway -- re pushback -- the corrective for wilsonian progressivism (which was more specifically jacobin, i'm sure we agree) began toward the end of his term when republican majorities were returned to both houses in the elections of 1918. harding's victory in 1920 was a continuation, but the corrective really manifested throughout the 1920s in social responses from the KKK to the quota act of 1921 and immigration act of 1924 to sacco and vanzetti to the skeptical current in literature of hemingway and mencken. the passive, morally agnostic politics of harding and coolidge were the antithesis of wilsonianism in many ways and fit the reactionary nature of the times.

re the current situation -- it's not really for me about looking for a political villian -- i tend to subscribe to the idea that the actions of government ride atop a social current, and the course of western civilization since well before the split from england has been toward the demotic. the product of this course, as in many previous civilizations, trends away from institutional power and toward populist dictatorship. and that is in my view the evolution we've been seeing in not just the united states but western civlization as a whole. defined as such, there is no aspect of our society that escapes culpability. the unitary executive is the product of a process spanning generations, it seems to me, not just the bush administration. but again there is obviously room for interpretation.

thanks for the provocative feedback, luhp -- thoughtful stuff!

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I can't argue with your Spenglerian thesis, but I think appealing to the "right" of secession weakens your case. As you know, the Constitutional Convention had bastard origins (it was supposed to be about solving the revenue problem, not rewriting the entire rules of Federal government), but no one who approved the document either at the Convention or the State Legislatures, when it was ratified, ever mentioned the right of secession. I have always thought it was disingenous in the extreme for my Southern ancestors to find such an implied right, given what they know about Andrew Jackson and the nullification controversy. Disingenous but understandable. When you fight a war over slavery and then lose, you have to find some other rationale for the folly. Few of us have the fortitude to be as completely honest as General Longstreet. I know I don't. ATB.

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