Burma, At Length

George Packer turns in a rather long assessment of the situation in Burma for The New Yorker and somehow misses the obvious: American policy toward the country drifts because Burma is a strategic irrelevancy. It was a sideshow in World War II, and less than that now.

Russian Air Force Oopsies

Apparently the Russians turned in a less-than-impressive performance in the air, despite the non-formidable opposition.

The Next Bubble?

The Economist thinks prices for farmland are getting out of hand:

Tobias Levkovich, an equity strategist with Citigroup, thinks investors have been seduced by the bulls’ “everyone’s got to eat” mantra and are ignoring the warning signs, just as they did with the housing market in 2005-06. In an uncomfortable echo of that boom-turned-bust, land prices in America have deviated dramatically from their long-term growth rate (see chart). In relation to farm cash flows, they are now much higher even that they were in the late 1970s, the last golden age for ploughmen. The ratio of prices to cash-rent rates—the farming equivalent of the price-earnings multiple on stockmarkets—looks frothy too.

The previous decline in farmland prices in the mid-1980s set the stage for quite a few developers to make fortunes by securing property on the cheap.

Jimmy & Bert & Tip & Bob

Rick Perlstein of Nixonland fame is back with an article that contends that Obama, should he be elected, will have to strike fast if wants to record any significant legislative achievements. The striking thing about is its use of the early Carter administration as an example, and his claim that the now more-or-less-forgotten Bert Lance scandal sapped Carter’s momentum:

Even though Lance was eventually completely exonerated, the damage was done. Carter, like Obama, had run as a “different kind of Democrat” — pure, unsullied. So saboteurs like Safire had a clear challenge: “prove” that Carter was just another impure politician, if even on the shakiest of pretexts.

Having a good memory of that time, I’m not convinced. Carter’s problems in dealing with Congress started early and came because he didn’t get along with the Democratic leadership. Then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill was famously contemptuous of both Carter and the president’s staff. And O’Neill’s counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Robert Byrd, was scarcely more favorably disposed to them. Carter came into Washington like Christ come to cleanse the temple; the moneychangers, however, were having none of it. 

Obama’s approach to this campaign is rather different from Carter’s in 1976. He’s not running against Washington, per se, and certainly enjoys better relations with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than Carter had with O’Neill and Byrd at any point in his political career.

The PUMA Factor

It’s been a meme in the ‘sphere and now it looks like McCain is buying into it:

Thing is, I don’t buy it and don’t think it’d work for McCain as a strategy, for any number of reasons.

  1. As Kevin Drum points out, there really are few policy disagreements between Obama and Clinton. 
  2. Women already have a number of very strong disincentives to support the GOP, and will have a few more if the Bush administration’s backdoor attempt to equate birth control with abortion gains widespread publicity.
  3. I seem to recall Clinton and her team at different points in the race believing they could make inroads into key elements of Obama’s potential coalition (blacks early, Hispanics late). That didn’t work; Obama holds his voters.
  4. The softness in Dem-to-Dem support for Obama observed in some polls seems to me no more than the usual drop-off the party’s nominee always has to deal with. We wouldn’t be a 50-50 country if this wasn’t a factor.

All that said, Obama needs both Clinton speeches at the convention to go right. Bill’s should stress how well things were going for the country at the close of his administration, and draw some well-chosen contrasts with the way things are going now. Hillary’s has to make a case for Obama himself. I see reason at this point to think they’ll do otherwise. Hillary has no chance to be a rebound nominee in 2012 if she’s seen as having torpedoed Obama. 

McCain, meanwhile, would signal true buy-in for the PUMA strategy if he makes a woman his veep selection. But that would represent a Hail Mary. At the end of the day, most all this talk about dissension in the Democratic ranks is being fed in the ‘sphere by Republicans. It’s either disinformation, or strategic self-deception.

USA 118, Spain 107

Spain brought its A game to the final, but so did Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade and Team USA prevails in a rather exciting fourth quarter. I maintain that this was LeBron’s team but in the final he was Kevin Garnett to Bryant’s Paul Pierce — the glue, but willing to let the hotter hand have the spotlight. As for the Spaniards, Pau Gasol was much better in this game but not better than his brother Marc, who gave Team USA fits inside. And the guard combo of Navarro and Fernandez was lights-out all night long. A churl could say that nobody played much defense but in truth this was what the game looks like when the rules favor fluid movement instead of the bump-and-grind the NBA has become since the Pistons’ 1989 and 1990 titles.

One Conservative’s Take on Biden

James Poulos:

No, Biden is not a sign of desperation but its opposite: calm. Recall that Picking Biden is a giant kiss-off to the Democratic party since Clinton — and a reminder that Biden would have made, by championship long jumps, a better Presidential nominee than a hapless knob like Dukakis or a professional chump like Walter Mondale. These guys are Losers, and Biden has only lost repeatedly at one thing in his life: running for President.

Port Traffic Cools

The folks who run the seaport in Wilmington, NC, are seeing a drop-off in traffic:

Tonnage of bulk and breakbulk cargo handled at the Port of Wilmington – including lumber, cement, fertilizer and other products – dropped nearly 9 percent last year, or more than 200,000 tons. Port officials say it’s a sign of a slumping U.S. economy and housing market, as well as a weak U.S. dollar.


All in all, I don’t think the choice makes all that much difference to Obama’s chances. The more important thing is that it didn’t hurt, and didn’t create downstream problems in potentially running the government, as the choice of Clinton undoubtedly would have. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight basically agrees:

What’s noteworthy is not so much that Biden will turn a lot of McCain voters on — Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton would have done a better job of that — but that he’ll turn very few Obama voters off. As a result, this method projects a net swing of 2 points toward Obama, which is better than he’d do with any of the other candidates.

I’m not convinced there’s any swing at all. 

What the pick does tell us is that Obama feels confident enough about his chances that he didn’t have to risk a Hail Mary, which is what Clinton on the ticket would have represented. The analogy here is to 1980 when Reagan briefly considered putting Gerald Ford on the ticket and then decided, wisely, that an administration is only big enough for one president, and that picking Ford would have communicated weakness.

The question now is what will McCain do. The past five weeks are notable for his having completed the process of bringing the right on board. He has more latitude now and doesn’t have to chose a Huckabee, say, to shore up his credentials. Romney has had an air of inevitability about him but it’s well known that McCain just doesn’t like the guy personally. But a more off-the-wall pick like Lieberman would have a Hail Mary quality all its own.