The Field, The Economy, Dueling Bostonians, The Foreign Donation Flareup, The Literary Genius of Charles Portis, Printing Our Way Out of Debt, Longfellow, Warren Harding
The Transom: News and Notes From Around the Web
THE FIELD:
 
Just about every Republican I talk to is expecting a smackdown of Joe Biden in the Vice Presidential debate on Thursday that looks something like this. http://vlt.tc/1s8  Ramesh Ponnuru frames why this morning. http://vlt.tc/i3v  While I was obviously an optimist about Mitt Romney’s chances compared to some other commentators in the pre-debate expectations game, I wouldn’t be so brashly confident in Paul Ryan’s abilities to win this debate. It’s a complete mismatch in terms of fighting styles: Ryan, while an excellent debater, is an Excel sheet guy. He speaks in a torrent of numbers and draws graphs in the air with his hands. His language is the language of the technocratic future tinged with an undercurrent of moral fervor, which is one reason he makes so much sense paired with Romney on the ticket. But it’s also a reason why Ryan matches up better with Obama than he does with Biden, a guy who’s gotten everything he’s gotten in life through old school political charm. He is gaffe prone to a ridiculous degree, but Republicans underestimate how savvy he is. He won’t try to outthink Ryan or challenge his numbers. Instead he’ll likely deploy his old Senatorial bonhomie to win over the crowd, complimenting Ryan as a brave, courageous, six percent body fat youngster dedicated to solving the nation’s problems. Biden will say it’s just that his ideas are a bit too extreme for the nation, drowning the stage with empathy for people who are suffering who Ryan wants to cut off from what they need. He can point out with a capped-toothed smile that Ryan supported the auto bailouts Romney opposed precisely because he cares about the plight of people in the Midwest. Biden is uninterested in playing a game of who’s smarter because he has never gotten anywhere by being smarter than anyone – he’s gotten there by being full of old school charm, vim, and glad-handing. His aim will be to disarm Ryan by being an old practiced hand tousling his well-coiffed hair. Now, Biden may not take this line of attack – in the wake of the president’s lousy performance, he may feel the need to be more of a substitute for Obama, which would be a huge mistake – but in a debate along those lines, Biden can easily emerge as the victor.
 
Please chill out about these Pew numbers, everyone. http://vlt.tc/i4c  First, anyone who thinks Democrats +10 – a Pew sample size just a month ago – was outright ridiculous as a frame for Election Day should think a Republican +5 sample size, their latest poll, is equally ridiculous. These are two margins that have never happened before in the modern era and there is no sign either is going to happen this time around. That 15 point swing in party ID, lo and behold, has an effect. Women are driving the Romney surge – he went from -18 a month ago to tied. (Queried one political insider about this 18 point shift, with the response: “Women are so fickle.”) Gallup and the Rasmussen swing state polling depict Obama as having a slim lead, and they are basically unchanged, apples to apples comparisons – and they essentially show an even race. http://vlt.tc/i1h 
 
Tagg Romney, generally considered the canniest of the Romney sons, has for some time been the rumored source of the anti-Stuart Stevens leaks from within the Romney camp. That’s borne out by the fact that the same journalists who wrote that leak piece now write one about him asserting himself in the day to day operations. http://vlt.tc/i5b  “For months, Ann Romney and her eldest son, Tagg, were dutifully supportive of the political professionals running Mitt Romney’s campaign. All the while, their private frustration was mounting. Shortly before the first debate, it finally boiled over. What followed was a family intervention. The candidate’s family prevailed on Mitt Romney, and the campaign operation, to shake things up dramatically, according to campaign insiders. The family pushed for a new message, putting an emphasis on a softer and more moderate image for the GOP nominee — a “let Mitt be Mitt” approach they believed more accurately reflected the looser, generous and more approachable man they knew. Chief strategist Stuart Stevens — whom the family held responsible for allowing Romney’s personal side to be obscured by an anti-Obama economic message — has seen his once wide-ranging portfolio “fenced in” to mainly the debates, and the television advertising that is his primary expertise, according to campaign officials. Tagg Romney, channeling his mother’s wishes, is taking a much more active role in how the campaign is run. The family rebellion, long building despite Mitt Romney’s initial reluctance to change, reached a climax in September, amid mounting evidence that the status quo was doomed to failure. The course correction came after internal polls showed him losing nearly every swing state and a loud chorus of second-guessing among prominent conservatives… One result was Monday’s foreign policy speech at Virginia Military Institute… Stevens, according to several Romney officials, objected to the national security speech, arguing, as paraphrased by one colleague: “We’re not going to win on foreign policy — we’re going to win on the economy.” He lost the internal fight.”
 
About that speech: say, Romney’s foreign policies sound a heckuva lot like Obama’s. http://vlt.tc/i50  Paul Bonicelli has the positive look. http://vlt.tc/i52  Foreign Policy frames this response as three smart conservatives, but it’s really a neocon, a conservative, and a libertarian. Here’s some smart analysis: http://vlt.tc/i53  “[W]hat we see here are two strains of thought within the Republican Party's foreign-policy apparatus emerging and seeking to accommodate one another. The first affirms that much of what Obama sought and accomplished in the spheres of war and diplomacy will be furthered in a Republican administration. What could be major points of contention with the Obama administration record – drone campaigns, the Asia "pivot," the 2014 Afghanistan withdrawal – were either explicitly endorsed or left unaddressed in Romney's remarks. If the big story about the current president's national-security policy is how much it continues Bush's, then the big story about Romney's may be how much it continues Obama's. The second strain is apparent in Romney's characterization of the present conflicts in the Middle East as "struggle[s] between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair." ... What it highlights is the probable shape of the Romney administration's foreign policy: continuity with a particular ideological sheen. The persons and tendencies that believed Iraqis in 2003 were basically Czechs in 1989 will return to the corridors of power – but they'll affect the agenda rather than dictate it. Romney won't represent a return to Bush's first term. Instead, as we saw at VMI, he will seek to integrate its reflexes and aesthetic into the existing agenda. What Obama began will continue – but it will appear different at home, if not abroad.” At least he gets a bumper sticker out of it, and a pretty good one. http://vlt.tc/i54 
 
Obama continues to cry wolf on being outspent. http://vlt.tc/i44  “With a month to go before Election Day, it's becoming increasingly clear that Obama's team will top the billion-dollar mark. Democrats bemoaning a crushing tide of Republican spending might not merit a pants-on-fire, but at the very least the dire warnings are proving mostly false. Between the beginning of 2011 and August 30, the last date for which publicly-filed records are available, Obama for America has raised $337 million. The Democratic National Committee raised $111 million. The Obama Victory Fund, a joint account that collects big checks and distributes money to other committees, raised $291 million. And the Swing State Victory Fund, another joint account, has raised $3 million (Those are the total receipts reported before distributions from other committees, so we're not double-counting any money). Over the weekend, the Obama campaign announced it had raised $181 million in the month of September across that Byzantine structure of committees and organizations. All told, Obama's campaign and the committees it controls have raised $923 million. If they raise just half as much in October as they did in September, Obama's campaign will indeed become the first billion-dollar campaign in history.” But not with Goldman money. http://vlt.tc/i5u 
 
RELATED: Obama looks to regroup. http://vlt.tc/i46  Medicare likely to be a focus of Veep debate. http://vlt.tc/i45  Pew also shows Obama lead on health care shrinking. http://vlt.tc/i4b  John Podhoretz asks: was Obama really that awful in the debate? http://vlt.tc/i40   Eeeeevil Bain made money off cigarettes. http://vlt.tc/i4d  Romney closes in Michigan. http://vlt.tc/i4j  Doing well in Pennsylvania, considering. http://vlt.tc/i4l  This seems awfully cherry picked – Romney’s proposed policies are in some places to Bush and McCain’s right, but his record is certainly to their left. http://vlt.tc/i4k  Latest attack on Romney over education. http://vlt.tc/i4q  Peter Ferrara on the Ryan budget vs. the Obama budget. http://vlt.tc/i4r  Obama asks big business to break the law. http://vlt.tc/i61  Government contractor on why he’s voting for Romney. http://vlt.tc/i5e  Princeton economist edition of “you know nothing of my work.” http://vlt.tc/i5f  Give me a break, Chuck Todd. http://vlt.tc/i5h  Is Chicago punch drunk? http://vlt.tc/i3z  The Onion voter’s guide to Mitt Romney. http://vlt.tc/i56  The Onion voter’s guide to Barack Obama.  In his own way, Biden had more to fear from this. http://vlt.tc/i4p 
 
THE ECONOMY:
 
Global recession risk rises. http://vlt.tc/i5v  “"Risks for a serious global slowdown are alarmingly high," said the IMF's World Economic Outlook report, which was released here Tuesday ahead of the fund's annual fall meeting. It was its bleakest assessment of global growth prospects since the 2009 recession. The fund expects the world economy to expand just 3.3% this year and 3.6% in 2013, as growth slows in nearly every major nation and political uncertainties threaten recoveries in the U.S. and euro zone. That is a revision downward of 0.2 percentage point for 2012 and 0.3 percentage point for 2013 from its July forecast. Under the IMF's definition, global gross domestic product doesn't have to shrink for the world to be in recession. "No significant improvements appear in the offing," the IMF said. The global economy grew 3.8% in 2011 and 5.1% in 2010.”
 
Merkel lands in Greece as protesters mass. http://vlt.tc/i5p  “Thousands of Greeks defied a ban on protests, gathering in Syntagma square in central Athens as Merkel's plane touched down. Two protesters dressed in German military uniforms waved a red-black-and-white swastika flag and held out their arms in the Nazi salute. Many Greeks blame Merkel for forcing painful cuts on Greece in exchange for two EU-IMF bailout packages totaling over 200 billion euros. Police have readied 6,000 officers, including anti-terrorist units and rooftop snipers, to provide security during the six-hour visit. German sites in the Greek capital, including the embassy and Goethe Institute, are under special protection. Merkel was given the red carpet treatment and full military honors at Athens airport. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras greeted her with a handshake as she exited the German air force jet. A band played the German and Greek national anthems. In the centre of Athens, the reception was less warm. On Syntagma square, banners read "Merkel out, Greece is not your colony" and "This is not a European Union, it's slavery".”
 
The OECD: things slow down. http://vlt.tc/i5t  “The OECD said its leading indicator of economic activity in its 34 developed-country members fell to 100.1 in August from 100.2 in July, and its leading indicators for most large developing economies were unchanged or lower. The OECD's leading indicators are designed to provide early signals of turning points between the expansion and slowdown of economic activity and are based on a wide variety of data that have a history of signaling changes in economic activity. "Composite leading indicators…show that most major economies will continue to see weakening growth in the coming quarters," the Paris-based think tank said.” More on the slowdown. http://vlt.tc/i66
 
More people over 65 are still working. http://vlt.tc/i5x  “In September, the number of those 65 and over who were employed was up 21% from the same month in 2008, while broad workforce employment was down almost 1.4%. The size of the retirement-age labor force has also increased 23% during the past four years, while the broader labor force is up less than 0.4%. The group’s average labor participation rate this year is on track to increase 0.55 percentage point compared with 2011 and 1.35 percentage points from 2010 (unadjusted), while the broader participation rate is heading for 0.40 percentage point and one percentage point drops compared with those respective periods. A combination of not saving enough for retirement, getting hammered by two brutal stock-market declines within 10 years, a tough economy and little-to-no return now on the safest assets are all likely factors affecting folks’ decision to keep working after their normal retirement age.”
 
RELATED: Who’s worse off: American youths or European? http://vlt.tc/i5r  The myth of men in decline. http://vlt.tc/i63  Who would be the next Fed chief under Obama? http://vlt.tc/i5s   Toyota and Honda sales in China drop. http://vlt.tc/i5w  Has Facebook become MySpace? http://vlt.tc/i5y  The Lagarde List has another death. http://vlt.tc/i5z  Ireland’s housing plan. http://vlt.tc/i60  Home prices find new peaks. http://vlt.tc/i64  Small businesses navigate red tape. http://vlt.tc/i62  Wal-Mart vs. AmEx. http://vlt.tc/i67 Republican proposes subsidy for companies hiring from among the long term unemployed. http://vlt.tc/i4e  Amazon cuts a deal with Epix for streaming video. http://vlt.tc/i5q 
 
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DUELING BOSTONIANS:
 
I have to restrain myself from just quoting the entirety of Walter Russell Mead on Wilsonians at home, so I will just quote a fourth of it and urge you to read the entirety. http://vlt.tc/i59  “If I had written a Special Providence about domestic politics (and I just might do that some day), I’d have made at least one big change. The Wilsonian school of foreign policy believes that America’s destiny and interests compel it to spread democracy and other sound principles around the world. When Wilsonians turn their gaze toward the United States, they become what I think of as the Bostonian school in domestic politics. Like the New England Puritans to whom they owe so much, today’s Bostonians believe that a strong state led by the righteous should use its power to make America a more moral and ethical country.  This, I believe, is the tradition in American domestic politics that most profoundly shapes President Obama’s worldview; it inspired many of the abolitionists and prohibitionists who played such large roles in 19th century reform politics, and it continues to influence the country wherever the spirit of Old New England survives.”
 
“Bostonians over the years have changed their ideas about morality; few today would agree with Increase Mather and John Winthrop that the state should punish any deviation from Biblical morality as understood by 17th century puritan divines. But when it comes to punishing offenses against righteousness as defined by a congress of humanities professors, multiculturalist activists and foundation grants officers, the liberal morality police are ready to march — and to smite.  Today’s neo-puritans would certainly agree that once morality has been re-defined in a suitably feminist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-tobacco and anti-obesity way, it is the clear duty of the Civil Magistrate to enforce the moral law—and that our governing constitutions and laws must be interpreted—by the godly who alone ought to be seated on the judicial tribunals—to give said magistrates all the power they require for their immense and unending task of moral regulation and uplift. Wilsonianism abroad is Bostonianism at home. In both cases, the heirs of the Puritans believe that a strong executive must act to enforce the moral law and that a strong and effective state is the moral agent of the community. They only worry about a strong state in ungodly hands: their idea of politics is to build a powerful government and make sure that only the righteous stand at the helm…”
 
“While President Obama owes the most to the New England spirit, both 2012 presidential candidates have a bit of Boston in them. The Mormon apple didn’t fall all that far from the Congregationalist tree. Brigham Young’s Utah was the closest thing to an American theocracy after the puritans lost their hold on New England, and early Mormonism was born in and shaped by the cultural ferment of the New England diaspora in the chaotic aftermath of the Second Great Awakening.”
 
“Romney and Obama share a propensity to meddle in the lives of the poor in the effort to uplift them. President Obama would take away their bologna, their Twinkies and their gas guzzlers—not to mention their guns and their right to whop their kids as they see fit; Romney would force them to jump through hoops for their welfare checks and their food stamps. Neither man would have left Huck Finn’s father alone; both would try to figure out how the government could improve him. One might want to put him in the hoosegow for public drunkenness and the other for child neglect, but both would think that Mr. Finn needed his conduct more thoroughly supervised by the powers that be. Neither man would want him to have access to cheap tobacco in any form, and both would tax his alcohol in the hope of persuading him to take less of it. The state, led by the wise, must push the unworthy masses up the mountain toward higher ground.”
 
“The core differences between the two candidates here are about the relationship of state power and individual moral uplift… Both men think that society should set up a system that will gradually compel Mr. Finn to straighten up and fly right. They differ about the architectural rules by which government should be used in the task of social reform, and President Obama is far more optimistic than Governor Romney about how much can be done, but both are political moralists. Talleyrand would have rolled his eyes at both of them, and unregenerate, anti-Bostonians like Mark Twain and H.L. Menken would have seen both men as pompous, bloviating windbags and delighted in cutting them down to size.”
 
THE FOREIGN DONATION FLAREUP:
 
Peter Schweizer and the Government Accountability Institute have a big report on the defects of credit card reporting among presidential and congressional campaigns which allow for foreign and fraudulent donations, particularly small dollar ones. http://vlt.tc/i4f  Their Daily Beast piece distilling it is here. http://vlt.tc/i4g  “Further complicating the issue are websites like Obama.com—which is owned not by the Obama campaign but by Robert Roche, an American businessman and Obama fundraiser who lives in Shanghai. Roche’s China-based media company, Acorn International, runs infomercials on Chinese state television. Obama.com redirects to a specific donation page on BarackObama.com, the official campaign website. Unlike BarackObama.com, Obama.com’s traffic is 68 percent foreign, according to markosweb.com, a traffic-analysis website. According to France-based web analytics site Mustat.com, Obama.com receives over 2,000 visitors every day.”
 
“The name Robert W. Roche appears 11 times in the White House visitors log during the Obama administration. Roche also sits on the Obama administration’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, and is a co-chair of Technology for Obama, a fundraising effort. (In an email exchange, Roche declined to discuss his website, or his support for the Obama reelection effort, referring the inquiries to the Obama campaign team. The Obama campaign, in turn, says it has no control over Roche’s website; it also says only 2 percent of the donations associated with Obama.com come from overseas.)” John Ekdahl digs in to the report, and what it doesn’t detail, here: http://vlt.tc/i4i  From the report: “In 2006, Acorn International was registered as a Cayman Island corporation. In 2007 the firm went public and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Robert Roche holds over 90% of Acorn’s stock through a series of trusts. His Chinese partners own the rest.”
 
Back to Schweizer: “This makes it all the more surprising that the Obama campaign does not use a standard security tool, the card verification value (CVV) system—the three- or four-digit number often imprinted on the back of a credit card, whose purpose is to verify that the person executing the purchase (or, in this case, donation) physically possesses the card. The Romney campaign, by contrast, does use the CVV—as has almost every other candidate who has run for president in recent years, from Hillary Clinton in 2008 to Ron Paul this year. (The Obama campaign says it doesn’t use the CVV because it can be an inhibiting factor for some small donors.) Interestingly, the Obama campaign’s online store requires the CVV to purchase items like hats or hoodies (the campaign points out that its merchandise vendor requires the tool).” That leads to them processing donations like this – it was the bank, not the campaign, which spat this donation back. http://vlt.tc/i4h 
 
FEATURES:
 
The literary genius of Charles Portis. http://vlt.tc/i5a 
   
BUILD ME UP, BUTTERCUP:
 
Baby hedgehog yawns. http://vlt.tc/i68
 
JOB POSTING:
 
Director of Development, GWU Museums. http://vlt.tc/i69 
 
ITEMS OF INTEREST:
 
Obama weighs Libya retaliation. http://vlt.tc/i47 
 
Diplomatic security unit under scrutiny. http://vlt.tc/i5l 
 
Israel forces strike Gaza. http://vlt.tc/i5m 
 
Leading from behind in Asia. http://vlt.tc/i5n 
 
Syria opposition may have to cut deal. http://vlt.tc/i5o   
 
Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie cut a deal for the RGA leadership. http://vlt.tc/i5g  Jindal will now be in a particularly strong position should Romney lose.
 
Mississippi fights PPACA. http://vlt.tc/i48 
 
Costs will rise on mid-size firms under health care law. http://vlt.tc/i49 
 
Issa investigates loans to Freelancer’s Union. http://vlt.tc/i5d 
 
ACOs produce little health care savings. http://vlt.tc/i4u  Health Affairs paper here. http://vlt.tc/i4w 
 
Obama keeps it up with the silliness that insurers should oppose Obamacare repeal. http://vlt.tc/i4v 
 
Massachusetts’ mixed health care record. http://vlt.tc/i58 
 
Food stamp participation rises. http://vlt.tc/i42 
 
A response to David Brooks on social order. http://vlt.tc/i41 
 
Two stem cell scientists – using your own, not those of fetuses – win the Nobel prize. http://vlt.tc/i43 
 
Trollier piece – this? http://vlt.tc/i3t  Or this? http://vlt.tc/i3u  No, wait, it’s this. http://vlt.tc/i5k
 
Do you have the right to resell your own stuff? http://vlt.tc/i4t 
 
Does fast food marketing make kids fat? http://vlt.tc/i4z 
 
Marginal Revolution University. http://vlt.tc/i57 
 
The importance of side gigs. http://vlt.tc/i5c
 
Muslim complaints make Modern Warfare 2 remove Favela map. http://vlt.tc/i4n 
 
Life imitates South Park. http://vlt.tc/i4s 
 
Anna Kendrick’s cup trick. http://vlt.tc/i4y 
 
Aaron Paul and Pierce Brosnan at a Radiohead concert, for some reason. http://vlt.tc/i4o
 
Cervantes Street, reviewed. http://vlt.tc/i4m 
 
Web shorts are becoming increasingly no different from TV production. http://vlt.tc/i4x
 
Keifer Sutherland for Acer. http://vlt.tc/i5j 
 
Trailer: Broken City. http://vlt.tc/i5i 
 
Honest trailers: Prometheus. http://vlt.tc/i55
 
Pundits and politicos as they looked in the 1980s. http://vlt.tc/i51 
 
PODCAST:
 
Can we print our way out of debt? http://vlt.tc/i3w
 
POEM:
 
“The strife for triumph more than truth.” http://vlt.tc/i3x
 
THE TRANSOM RECOMMENDS:
 
Brigham Young, John G. Turner, $20. http://vlt.tc/i3y
   
QUOTE:
 
“His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the mindscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.” ― William Gibbs McAdoo on Warren Harding

This collection of news and notes from around the web is edited by Benjamin Domenech, research fellow at The Heartland Institute, co-host of Coffee & Markets, and editor in chief of The City. The views expressed within are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers.
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