Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Music Blogging

This is a special dedication of hotwaxxxxxx goin out to Eliot Spitzer...The Tubes -- She's A Beauty!

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) You know it's only a matter of time before "Kristen" appears naked in Playboy or Penthouse.

2) We all get our panties in a twist over these kinds of scandals and we all wring our hands over the aftermath: the appearances, the pop cultural references, the fast money to be made. Look, I'm not familiar with this particular trade. Can someone tell me the price to ask a hooker to JUST. GO. AWAY!

3) Read that last link carefully. "Kristen" made a staggering $1,000,000. Yesterday. Without lifting a finger.

4) I can't fathom why anyone would have downloaded her "single". I mean, if it was a record, and she signed it, and you could turn around and sell it for a few bucks somewhere down the road, maybe I can understand that. But her music sucks, to put it politely. 98 cents wasted, if you ask me.

5) The lesson to learn in all this, referring to my column yesterday, is that money trumps all. It trumps morality, it trumps rationality, it trumps even lust. The greed and ambition required to pursue large sums of money could be the greatest single creative energy on the planet.

6) Which raises an issue related to the Presidential race: I guess part of why I'm very concerned about an Obama candidacy in the general election is the sham he's put forth regarding his campaign.

That there are suckers dumb enough to believe a man who served two terms in the state legislature (he would have served less than one if he had won his Congressional race), and less than one term in the US Senate isn't the single greeediest, most ambitious, self-involved, and self-indulgent dog in the pack doesn't surprise me. It's how many of them sincerely believe he's actually different from anyone else, that he somehow has the "good of the people" at heart.

Yes. He's different. By definition, he's worse! Anything other than that is truly naive thinking, if it's even thinking at all.

6) On to other topics...Gold is soaring over a thousand dollars an ounce. Oil is hovering at $110 a barrel. The dollar is collapsing on world markets today because of the Federal bailout of one of the world's biggest brokerages. Yet, Bush is channeling Kevin Bacon in Animal House: "Remain calm! All is well!"

7) Worse, I expect the Economic Club of New York to respond in kind: "Thank you sir! May I have another!" rather than boo his sorry ass off the dais.

8) Bush can offer at least one piece of good economic news: the single largest cause of America's economic melt-down will be gone within a year. On January 20, 2009, to be precise!

9) Exhibit A: Ten billion a month!

10) George Jetson would be proud.

11) It seems more and more likely that the Florida delegation, at least, is going to be seated at the Democratic National Convention as is. There are legal roadblocks to a mail-in primary, which is a sensible solution, and all other avenues seem to be opposed by some rather large group of Floridians or other. The bottom-line is, after 2000 and 2004, the Democrats cannot afford to insult Florida at the convention. They've had a primary and while no candidate campaigned there, all candidates were on the ticket.

Michigan could be a different story, since it was Democrats there who abetted the decertification of delegates.

12) One thing is clear from this primary season: the Democrats simply have to change their delegate selection process to make it fairer to voters. Period. That means no more of this caucus crap and no more open primaries, but it also means minimize the superdelegates. One person, one vote, only Dems. That's it.

13) Obama can't be Jesus. There can't be two of us.

14) In case you were wondering, yes, that's partly why I don't think he should be the candidate. He's sucking up my base: insane liberals.

15) Let me finish with this: I like David Patterson. I liked his dad, Basil, and I think David will make a fine governor. I am concerned, however, that the New York State GOP has been so quick to embrace him as Spitzer's replacement. There's a whole corollary to "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" thing here which is that if your enemy sees your friend as his friend, you have to be cautious.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sex And The Shitty

I think it's about time to weigh in on a topic that's troubled me all of my adult life, but has been crystalized this week with the scandal surrounding soon-to-be former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

The topic is morality.

I think we can all agree, left and right, that the fundamental struggle for humanity is the balance between individual rights versus society's betterment.

I think we can all agree, as well, that no one gets it right. Or wrong, for that matter.

We liberals are often accused of situational ethos: what's good for the goose is not always good for the gander, depending on the circumstances.

In other words, we strive to protect the individual against the "tyranny of the majority", to use Mill's phrase.

The right wing would claim that they uphold society's rule over the "tyranny of the minority".

Well, neither side has either a lock on morality or a lock on consistency, which is where the "details devil" lies.

For example, the right wing hasn't eaten their own when it comes to Senators David Vitter or Larry Craig, two men who also committed adultery and committed crimes in executing these adulteries (Craig's was not a felony, to be sure). Yet the right wing sure was quick to level calls for Spitzer's resignation.

Similarly, rather than admit that the campaign Hillary Clinton has run is a winning strategy, liberals have painted her as a "Republican lite", as if there was some moral good to come out of running a clean campaign in the primaries, and then gearing up for the general election in a defensive shell.

Myriad other examples abound, of course, and I'll probably include them as this piece goes on, but let me jump ahead a bit.

The fundamental flaw in American society is this: the economic system and the "morality" system are nearly diametrically opposed.

America was created in a Judeo-Christian form, where fair play and compassion for one's neighbors was tantamount.

The American economy was founded in a morally disinterested theory that the individual, striving for his self-betterment, would contribute to society's overall welfare. Yesterday, I wrote how that evolved into a society where government had to step in to fix deeply entrenched social problems, despite the supposed counterbalance of America's moral code.

See, the thing is, money talks. It is objective, easy to measure, has great utility for everyone, thus makes the perfect vehicle for measuring the progress of a nation.

We talk often about the Gross Domestic Product.

When was the last time you heard someone talk about the Gross Moral Product of the country?

It is against this backdrop that morality plays out: my morality and your morality and the right wing morality all must compete head-to-head in an environment where winners are easily found.

You know the bumper sticker: "He who dies with the most toys, wins."

In truth, whatever moral code we have is pretty arbitrary, despite the facade that it is strict, Christian, and widely enforced by society.

It's an extension of the dichotomy you raised in Sunday School: Thou shalt not kill, but people fight wars in God's name, or kill abortion doctors, or bomb Federal offices in Oklahoma City.

There's always a loophole.

This "loopholic morality" becomes magnified the closer you come to real power: it's moral for George Bush to lie us into war, some would say, but not moral for Eliot Spitzer to pay to get laid.

(I'm disregarding the legal aspect of the case: a bad, immoral law should not be obeyed anyway)

I've even heard liberals make the claim that it was OK for Bill Clinton to have a mistress but for Eliot Spitzer to pay for sex was wrong.

Actually, I thought of a rationale for Spitzer that made pretty good sense to me: by not getting involved with "that (generic) woman," Spitzer avoided dragging another person into his sordid psyche, but also he could portray this as a business decision to have sex for relaxation or release or because he was kinky and his wife wouldn't do whatever it was he needed, like, say diapering.

Getting caught with either a mistress or a hooker would be a bombshell, true, but there's an implied contract, I think, in hiring a hooker. It may not be enforceable like attorney-client privilege, but a hooker who blabs about her (or his) clients will soon find he has no clients at all.

All this leads to the point of this post: sexual mores.

If Bill Clinton made the rest of the world, particularly Europe, embarassed for us, what do you think the reaction is about this story in, say, England, which 50 years ago had it's own "showgirl" scandal, complete with Soviet espionage thrown in as a bonus?

Not surprisingly, they focus on Sptizer's hypocrisy, being known as a straight-arrow, no nonsense prosecutor. There is something to be said about applying one standard of behavior for yourself and then a different one for others. It's not about sex, it's about standards.

Trouble is, those standards, in this instance, wouldn't exist if it wasn't about the sex. There's the rub.

America has a pretty repressed attitude about nearly all things sexual. Most people find something someone else does abhorrent, deviant, and therefore immoral behavior.

Me, I'm pretty tolerant. I don't care if you're an athletic handsome Lothario who travels the country on business getting laid in every town by frustrated housewives, or a fat ugly bisexual domme wannabe who swaps partners like I'd swap baseball cards, that's OK.

I'd like to think that's the way most people are, but I have a sneaking suspicion, based on how sex gets manipulated and perverted by people for other advantages, that I'm in a minority.

Take the woman who gets pregnant, marries the father, then a few years later kicks him out and demands alimony and child support. Sex was a weapon.

Take the guy who demeans his rival by saying to a potential date that he's a womanizer because he has a lot of female friends who find him attractive. "Fear of sex" as a weapon: "Look at all those chicks around him! Look at how he flirts with them!"

Or just look at the gay marriage struggle. Or the abortion fight. Or the persecution of any politician who has even the slightest hint of impropriety in his demeanor.

In this atmosphere, does it surprise anyone that there are women and men, mostly women, who make a pretty good living by indulging sexual fantasies? We're terrified to ask for anything in a relationship that doesn't involve a man, a woman, and a horizontal space.

And does it surprise anyone that, in a society where normal sexual urges are repressed, channeled, and put into boxes like "marriage", "commitment", "romance", and "fidelity", that people will not only stray, but having strayed and found it exciting and good, stray even further? To the point of self-destruction in "polite" society?

I wonder when America is going to grow up?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hump Day Comedy Blogging


Now pardon me while I wipe this egg off my face...

The Single Stupidest Thing David Mamet Has Ever Written

Do I speak as a member of the "privileged class"? If you will—but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view. That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to college (my grandmother). On the other hand, the rich and the children of the rich can go belly-up; the hegemony of the railroads is appropriated by the airlines, that of the networks by the Internet; and the individual may and probably will change status more than once within his lifetime.

The title of the article, in this week's Village Voice, is Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'

Welcome to the party, pal! The last thing we progressives have needed is brain dead zombies.

Essentially what Mamet's piece gets to is the role of government in society is too big. In other words, he's become a libertarian.

This is not inconsistent with being a liberal, Mr. Mamet, or progressive or what have you.

See, big government interferes in lots of ways. Liberal libertarians would like to see government out of our private lives, but more, we'd like to see government stick to the job it really needs to do: referee society.

Government should be like the referee in a hockey game: enforce the rules fairly, and take no part in either side.

Who are the opponents? I'd suggest that the opponents are the commercial sector versus the citizenry, since this is where the bulk of America's problems stem.

Business' job is to maximize profit at the expense of the public weal, to take that which belongs to all of us, resources, and turn them into products or services.

In a fair economy, that's fine. But when business exploits the public for its own selfishness, when business can socialize losses while privatizing profits, when business can pay for government to look the other way while its rapaciousness is snowballing, that's when government is failing.

Like it is now.

There's nothing wrong with free markets, so long as they are fair markets. Even Adam Smith, you know, the original Free Marketeer, said that government is duty-bound to monitor business, to prevent an unbalancing of this fairness by the use of monopolies and other contraventions of the essential free market.

Conceivably, if Adam Smith knew about multinational corporations or megacompanies like ExxonMobil, he'd likely have included those in his warnings that "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

When he wrote those words, I would venture to guess, the largest company around was probably some trading company, or perhaps Lloyds of London or some bank somewhere. None of these would have been offshored business operating out of the Cayman Islands while drawing the bulk of their income from the United States by selling goods manufactured in Taiwan.

It has been in the past thirty years or so that the rise of the corporate-government alliance has picked up steam (the "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower so famously warned of was not JUST about warfare), as corporations have been given equal legal status to individual citizens (again, unlikely that Smith foresaw that) and allowed to have not only corporate rights under contracts, but Consitutional rights under the law.

Worse, the very thing Mamet claims happens in American society, a drift in and out of both poverty and wealth, has slowed substantially, particularly in the past seven years of very distinct government NONintervention! There are more Americans in poverty today than in 2000, and the number of wealthy has not only not gone down proportionately, THEY'VE BECOME EVEN RICHER!

This is an unhealthy situation, Mr. Mamet. I do hope you can understand why I will remain a (not-so) "brain dead liberal."


The more I think about this ridiculous screed, the more angry I become.

The reason government programs were put into place in the first instance was that private & charitable attempts to deal with poverty, hunger, the elderly dropping dead in our streets, pollution, food processing standards and so on...WERE FUCKING MISERABLE FAILURES, you fuckin' a-hole, Mamet!

Just ask Sinclair Lewis, or Rachel Carson, or John Steinbeck! You know...real WRITERS????????

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now?

No doubt you've heard the tale of woe of New York's Democratic (you're welcome, Stewart) Governor, Eliot Spitzer, who unwittingly got caught up in a money laundering operation that revolved around an online prostitution ring.:
The federal investigation of a New York prostitution ring was triggered by Gov. Eliot Spitzer's suspicious money transfers, initially leading agents to believe Spitzer was hiding bribes, according to federal officials.
I daresay this is one of those infrequent moments in politics when you lean back and exhale. It was only sex (so far).

Many in the opposing camp of NY State Republicans, chief among them the ethics-challenged Joe Bruno, have called on Spitzer to resign.

Eliot. No. Don't do it. There is no legitimate rationale, based on what's been made public thus far, for you to resign and indeed, to resign might hamper New York politics far more than the battles you will face going forward.

You have a short window of opportunity to put this behind you quickly. From all accounts, this was money you spent out of your own pocket, and the time taken away was your own time. There have been no allegations that state police accompanied you to the DC hotel or stood guard over you.

The real damage you have done is to yourself and more, to those whose trust you have earned over these past forty eight years: your family.

You've made a general apology, no doubt on the advice of your attorney, and kept it ambiguous, again, on the advice of your attorney. That attorney is likely in negotiations with Federal prosecutors to swing a deal.

Here's the deal you should swing:

- A blanket but specific apology to the people of New York, to your family and your friends.

- An acknowledgement that you exhibited poor judgement in your personal life.

- A refusal to resign. Personal weakness is no reason to give up what could yet be a great governorship. Promise to double your commitment to the job and more, to your family.

- Personally see to your administration's involvement in the budget negotiations (New York's fiscal year ends March 31). Convene the Council of Three (Senator Majority Leader Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and yourself) and hammer out the deal. No surrogates. You won't let this distract the state from its business.

This will probably satisfy the DoJ (particularly once Bush is elected out), who are more interested in the money laundering than in counting coup. There is no profit for them in pursuing a two-headed case of prostitution and money laundering. They'd rather focus resources on the real felonious behavior.

One more thing: insist that no charge be levelled against the prostitute in question, the so-called "Kristen". If you walk, she should walk, barring any knowledge of money laundering.

The public humiliation and refocus on your job, particularly in light of your now-dimmed reputation as a stand-up guy, will serve you well.

And make damn sure you remember your wife's birthday this year...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Your Moment of Zen

Women over thirty five who don't support Hillary Clinton ought to turn in their ovaries.

Men over thirty five who don't support Clinton ought to trade for them.

Just When You Thought We Had A Shot...

They moved the goal posts:
The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.
Think about what that would mean: not "keep them in line with Kyoto Protocols," but zero.




No fires. No cooking. No milk farms. No cars. No trucks. No planes. No cigarettes. No cigars. No farting. No belching. No breathing.
Schmittner, lead author of a Feb. 14 article in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, said his modeling indicates that if global emissions continue on a "business as usual" path for the rest of the century, the Earth will warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If emissions do not drop to zero until 2300, he calculated, the temperature rise at that point would be more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
This matters, because even a three degrees rise in global temperatures would have serious, possibly irreversible, consequences for the planet and for even human survival.

So I'm watching this show last night on my TV...

As Is So Often True....

...whenever there is a windfall, we can expect the parasitic maggots to dig in as deeply as possible and try to find new ways to make even more money:
The FBI is investigating Countrywide Financial, the nation's largest mortgage lender, for possible securities fraud, said a person familiar with the probe.

Investigators are focusing on whether Countrywide officials misrepresented the firm's financial position and the quality of its loans in securities filings, said the person, who declined to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak about the inquiry. He described the inquiry as preliminary.

Countrywide is among at least 14 companies the FBI is checking for possible accounting violations related to the subprime lending crisis, including mortgage lenders, housing developers and Wall Street firms that package loans as securities.
Granted, it's a preliminary investigation and granted, there's no conclusive evidence of securities fraud.

Past history, however, is rife with instances where, when markets are booming, someone will try to grab even more of the windfall in profits and money raining down than is necessary.

The junk bond scandals of the 80s would, you'd think, have alerted investigators overseeing other market bubbles, since in that scandal, several of the biggest names involved in the marketing of sub-prime (there's that word again!) corporate debt were eventually convicted of securities fraud: names like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken stand out in the convictions from those heady days of Reganomics.

Yes, change the world, indeed!

During the dot-com bubble, we saw corporations like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup cited and fined by the SEC for fraudulently humping stocks of companies like WorldCom, JDS Uniphase, Global Crossing, Cisco, and Lucent, all of whom eventually had to answer for some of their own greed.

I personally recall wondering how Cisco Systems could continually make precisely one penny more per share than analysts' estimates each quarter and then realizing there had to be fraud involved. You can't get a much clearer sign than that.

So it's not surprising that, in this latest bubble, there would be fraud going on. Shady mortgages, shady repackaging of those mortgages to shed the risks of the shady mortgages, those stick out as the most obvious strategies a nefarious executive could do in order to squeeze the undeserved buck out of investors and mortgagors.

There's probably more. These things don't happen in a vacuum. I would expect some allegations to be made regarding at least collusion if not conspiracy to commit fraud amongst lenders like Countrywide, DiTech, and other mortgage brokerages and lenders.

Hey, it was practically free money that was lying there for the taking! Who among us wouldn't scoop a little up if we saw a pile of cash in our driveways?

On top of this news, comes some other distressing financial developments, courtesy of Southern Atlantis, we see that the "D" word might have to be used soon:
During the Depression in the 1930's, banks suffered or shut down because their cash amounts and revenues through loans could not meet the balances of their depositors. The Federal Reserve at that time countered the need for cash that remaining banks had through special loans to those institutions. The term auctions the Fed is holding now serve the same purpose, though the interested or borrowing member banks are not mentioned. That, of course, works in the banks' favor: their stock prices don't take a hit, or, at worst, there's no run on the institutions.
OK, so what evidence do we have for this happening now?

Just these:

1) Citi sees $9 bln writedowns at U.S. investment banks

2) Goldman says can't rule out Fed emergency rate cut

The combination of lowered interest rates as well as writedowns of that magnitude will create a deep uncertainty amongst bank account holders. Can you say "run on the bank"?

Too, inflation is already roused, and the rate cut will not help that. Add now the economic slow down we've been experiencing, and you're talking about stagflation, something I've warned about since November of last year.

Another piece of this very complex and ugly puzzle is our foreign relations stances will not be helping us this go-round. Most other developed and -ing nations seem to be doing fine or at least hanging on (there's some trouble in Japan, but growth continues in China and India and Europe).

Normally, we might browbeat some of our allies and trade partners, but I fear that Bush's hubris and naïveté has cost us that potential tool in limiting the damage from a depression that could be as deep as the Great Depression of the late 20s and 30s of the last century.

The real scary part about all this for me is, I can't see the end game to this dip. There's not much good news laying about, no uptick in productivity, no surge in hiring, no growth sector that can't be attributed to inflation or exports.

2008 will not be fun.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

No Sizzle, No Steak

Apparently, the media is starting to wake up to the fact that Obama is nothing more than a pretty face.
Outside Washington, Mr. Obama was a multimedia sensation — people offered free tickets to his book readings for $125 on eBay and contributed thousands of dollars each to his political action committee to watch him on stage questioning policy experts.

But inside the Senate, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, was 99th in seniority and in the minority party his first two years. In committee hearings, he had to wait his turn until every other senator had asked questions. He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments. And some senior colleagues were cool to the newcomer, whom they considered naïve.

Determined to be viewed as substantive, Mr. Obama kept his head down, declining Sunday talk show invitations for his first year, and consulted Senate elders for advice. He was cautious — even on the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a Senate candidate. He voted against the withdrawal of troops and proposed legislation calling for a drawdown only after he was running for president and polls showed voters favoring it.

And while he rightly takes credit for steering through an ethics overhaul that reformers called a “gold standard,” like most freshmen he did not play a significant role in passing much other legislation and disappointed some Democrats for not becoming a more prominent voice in other important debates.
(emphasis added)

It seems that this man of principle, this man dedicated to changing politics as usual in DC, is as committed to the status quo as any man (or woman) who runs on poll-driven platforms: "Gee, that rhetoric tests nicely, but we'll get killed in the sticks if we actually vote that way!"

Too, in that passage are a few other hints regarding Obama's, um, mettle.

Let's take a closer look at them: "He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments."

Now, fair enough. He's was the 99th Senator out of 100 at that point. Press releases might not cut it. I wonder if the 98th Senator called reporters? Or the 90th?

Or is Obama's ego so overinflated that he felt he needed that kind of media spotlight? It seems it must have killed him to be "declining Sunday talk show invitations".

I can't imagine what Michelle must have thought, those first two years. I would imagine they've had it so easy up to this point, everyone pretty much getting out of their way, laying rose petals at their feet. I mean, come on, does anyone seriously believe that the best the Illinois GOP, the party of Abraham Lincoln, could run for Senate against Obama was Alan Keyes? Someone sat on their hands. (and yes, I'm well aware of the crumbled candidacies that preceded Keyes')

More important to me, however, is this: "And some senior colleagues were cool to the newcomer, whom they considered naïve."

This raises a substantive issue, the same substantive issue that a Bloomberg or other independent run would raise.

That is, how would Obama govern?

He hasn't been in the national political arena long enough to forge the connections and network that assists a President in getting his job done, getting his legislative agenda passed. Ask Minnesota about Jessie Ventura for an example. Or look to history.

A quick review of Presidents over the past 30 years points out some bad trends against an Obama presidency. Jimmy Carter was a governor until he stole the nomination away from Ted Kennedy. His first term was beset by woes about legislation and how to fix the crises that hit the nation. He didn't include the Congress in his policies until well into his term, and by then, it was likely too late. He had pissed them off early on by slamming some Democratic bills as pork.

Trying to change politics as usual. It wasn't until 1979, the energy crisis and his Cabinet shake up that Congress came back around to his side. That was more than two years wandering the wilderness and all but guaranteed a Reagan presidency.

Bill Clinton had early legislative successes, primarily because he spent four years building a coalition of support from within, the Democratic Leadship Council, his so-called "Third Way" which included many people in congress and national politics who were respected and listened to for it.

Of course, like Carter, Clinton's hubris about a mandate eventually got in his way, as well, on healthcare. Here, Hillary steps to centerstage. While the final plan was not badly flawed-- indeed, much of it is in her widely regarded and praised healthcare plan in her campaign-- getting to that final plan was, well, like the proverbial watching them make sausage: you didn't want to know how it was being done.

That was pretty much the end of Clinton's Congressional honeymoon, since the following year, Newt Gingrich took over Congress.

In fact, much of Clinton's last six years in office was spent trying to staunch the blood of the zealous and overexuberant legislation of the Republican Congress.

So much for "governing from the right".

The only two state-level Presidents who hit the ground running with Congress were Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. We can see that Bush's connections to his fathers White House helped fill his Rolodex, while Reagan's long-standing in the Republican party-- he ran against the incumbent President, Gerald Ford, in 1976-- gave him an in with the party faithful and insiders long before he won the nomination.

Barack Obama, sadly, has not even the level of exposure that Jimmy Carter has, which is why superdelegates haven't precisely been flocking to his side, despite the media perceptions of Clintonian evil versus Obaman sainthood. While neither of those perceptions is precisely accurate, the media flouting of them should have created a stampede of SDs.

After all, "old" Washington governs by polls, don't you know?

To others, though, the mismatch between Mr. Obama’s outside profile and his inside accomplishments wore thin. While some senators spent hours in closed-door meetings over immigration reform in early 2007, he dropped in only occasionally, prompting complaints that he was something of a dilettante.

He joined a bipartisan group, which included Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Mr. Kennedy, that agreed to stick to a final compromise bill even though it was sure to face challenges from interest groups on both sides. Yet when the measure reached the floor, Mr. Obama distanced himself from the compromise, advocating changes sought by labor groups. The bill collapsed.

To some in the bipartisan coalition, Mr. Obama’s move showed an unwillingness to take a tough stand.