30 September 2008

Sarah Palin: Voracious Reader

Seriously, folks. Even Tina Fey doesn't make Sarah Palin look this daffy. Katie Couric asks "What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?" Straightforward enough, right? Still, Couric really had to press to make headway with this one.

Palin's eventual answer? "Alaska isn't a foreign country where it's kind of suggested it seems like, 'Wow,how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington DC may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?' Believe me: Alaska is like a microcosm of America."

And no, she never mentioned a single title.

Olmert Speaks Out

Imagine any other news week. We'd have spent the last 96 hours talking about hostages in Egypt, Chinese milk, and the death of an icon, Paul Newman. Instead, all I've heard the past week and weekend has to do with our financial crisis and the campaign circus.

So it's no surprise to me that outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert's comments, published in Israel yesterday, got pretty well buried under news of the sliding Dow. What he said, though, qualifies as pretty big news.

He said that traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and that they seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 war of independence.

“With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”

He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

. . . The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.

. . . Elsewhere in the interview, when discussing a land swap with the Palestinians, he said the exchange would have to be “more or less one to one.”

. . . On Iran, Mr. Olmert said Israel would act within the international system, adding: “Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”
Wow. That last is a doozy, though hardly the most controversial thing Olmert said. A divided Jerusalem is regularly regarded as a nonstarter for Israeli discussions. The suggestion that Iran does not pose a threat serious enough for Israel to take unsanctioned military action should come up in the VP debate this Thursday back here in the States. Obviously, Olmert's street value is minimal right now, but the expression of these views are huge. The Israeli daily Haaretz runs a column today assessing Olmert as an "excellent commentator" who "lacked the firmness to execute his ideas."

It's no secret that growing numbers of Israelis are disenchanted with the current state of war and peace in Israel, and that there is also concern for the human rights questions surrounding Israel's isolation of the Palestinian people. Olmert's comments, as the Israeli columnist Aluf Benn points out, would have been so much more valuable a year, two years, three years ago. Imagine reading Olmert like this, instead of Olmert hawking for war with Hezbollah which looked more like war with Lebanon itself.

Since, of course, we're consumed with the financial crisis and the race for the White House, I suppose one could hope at least to get some mention of these comments as they pertain to the current state of the U.S. presidential race. I can find no reaction from the McCain camp to Olmert's comments, but since theirs is the campaign built on not questioning Israel, it seems like asking some pointed questions in that direction, this week, should be fair game.

29 September 2008

Noodling: State of the Campaign

I was just catching a Kiwi friend up on events of the day here in the States, and in the course of explaining the bailout meltdown in the House today I happened upon this lone thought rattling round in my head: McCain sure looks pretty silly tonight. What do you suppose that means?

Here's how I captured it in my email.

Also, what makes this even messier is presidential politics. McCain took credit just this morning for fixing the economy, and then the whole bailout rescue bill fell apart. He's looking mighty silly at the moment, and you can bet he's giving hell to a whole lot of Republicans he thought he could count on. Not sure what that does to the mix. I sort of think it shows you just how unpopular McCain is within his party, and that Republican officeholders around the country have written him off. I mean, if they thought he was gonna be the next Pres, wouldn't they be working pretty damn hard to make sure they're seen making him look good?
What do you think? Am I on to something? Or is this merely an indication of how tough the field looks for incumbents, and Republicans (and Democrats as well, I should point out) in tough races desperately need to make their constituents happy and eke out the votes? First, keep the seat, then kiss the tuckus?

One other possibility, of course, is that the GOP has a Plan, and though none of this makes any sense now it just might in a few days. I'd be curious to know what other thoughts are floating around out there. The more I consider my original thought, though, the more I like it. It's no secret that conservatives don't much like McCain, nor that many Rs think he's pissed in the pot with the Palin pick (sorry, just finished editing a chapter on alliteration). Maybe the GOP really has written this thing off.

Failed Bailout: By the Numbers

UPDATE: Listening to McCain's statement again, I'm really impressed by this:

"The plan is now significantly improved. We strengthened taxpayers' protections and oversight, and the taxpayers were on the hook for less money up front.

. . . I was hopeful that the improved rescue plan would have had the votes needed to pass, because addressing the credit crisis is of vital importance to families, small businesses, and every working American.

. . . I call on Congress to get back obviously immediately to address this crisis. Our leaders are expected to leave partisanship at the door, and come to the table to solve our problems.

Senator Obama and his allies in congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to fix the blame. It's time to fix the problem. I would hope that all our leaders--all of them--can put aside short-term political goals, and do what's in the best interest of the American people."
Smokes, that's rich. Especially because McCain is obviously loath to discuss the numbers. You start to understand why the guy is so angry all the time. How does it jive for his campaign that only 65 Republicans voted for the "improved rescue plan"? Can't be good.


To what extent did politics play a role in Congress' failure to pass a bailout bill? Well that's a pretty easy one to answer. How bad is it, though? Nate Silver:
The congressmen who are retiring this year -- and who therefore can perhaps be described as the most neutral arbiters of the public good -- voted overwhelmingly for this measure.
Not that you need me to translate, but the old goats saw past the inanity and voted without regard for party wrangling to put some protections together for the American people. That means to me that there's an undercurrent among Republican lawmakers to tie the bailout bill to campaign success. Or, perhaps more aptly, to tie a sinking bailout bill to their Democratic opponents, and hope Dems take the hit in the newest round of polls.

Only problem with that tactic? 140 Dems voted for the bill, joined by only 65 Republicans. By comparison, 95 Dems voted against, while a whopping 133 Republicans shouted down the the other third of their party. See the .pdf embedded in the article (sorry--no direct link). Confused? No kidding. And how does that play to McCain's campaign strategy of the past week? No telling, but I can't guess the old maverick's happy about any of this, after taking credit for the bill again just this morning in Ohio. Not to mention he's taken a drubbing in the polls ever since this crisis became the issue of the campaign, and today's failure guarantees Wall Street pole position in the news cycle for another couple days, if not longer.

There's a whole lot of wheeling and dealing and double-backing going on that I can't begin to interpret. Even though a majority of Americans are against the idea of corporate welfare and don't want to fund a bailout plan, there seems to be wide-reaching agreement that something must be done. When the Dow trips like it did today, even my tiny little 401k sees a hiccup. (Just kidding. My 401k got sold years ago due to its insignificance. These days it's just a meager IRA, no matching funds or nuthin'.)

This is two times in a row that Republicans have spoiled the soup. So what's the McCain camp saying about it now? Predictably, it's all Barack's fault.

Denver Post: Bob Schaffer has a Latino Problem

According to an article today in the Denver Post, Bob Schaffer leads Mark Udall by a point, 45%-44%, among white voters in Colorado. The article goes on to cite a recent Quinnipiac poll, however, showing Udall up by 8 overall. Why the discrepancy? Schaffer has a Latino problem.

The lede from the Post:

Early in April, a group of high-power Republican Latinos sat down with GOP Senate candidate Bob Schaffer and pressed him to reach out to the state's Latino voters. They advised him to hire Latino staffers, offered to introduce him to community leaders and reminded him of the importance of attending the community's political events, such as the annual Bernie Valdez luncheon.
And the follow-up?
Schaffer "had a little bit of a problem" with it, said Gil Cisneros, who attended the meeting and is now helping John McCain coordinate a Latino outreach in Colorado.

"He said, 'Well, I've never campaigned like that. I consider myself to be an American first,' " Cisneros said in an interview the day after the parley, suggesting Schaffer didn't like to think about voters based on their racial or ethnic group.
I think Gil Cisneros is probably bailing Schaffer out here a little by suggesting that the candidate doesn't like to think about voters along racial or ethnic lines. This from the campaign that's being managed by Dick Wadhams, former strategist to George "Macaca" Allen. Yes. I'm positively certain that the Schaffer campaign just doesn't like to think about voters along racial or ethnic lines.

Let's not forget that Schaffer found his campaign in a bit of uncomfortably warm water back in August, when his son's Facebook page was discovered to host a slew of unpleasant statements about slavery and gays. The site was scrubbed and Schaffer's son apologized for the racist and homophobic statements, though the candidate never did.

The campaign told the Post that they'll get out the Latino vote on election day, but I have to think that even Wadhams recognizes this as posturing and hot air. Denver's Latino community is expected to turn out in record numbers to vote for Obama, and the Schaffer campaign appears appropriately worried that this will translate to a big D down the ballot. Schaffer, it appears, is going to need more than campaign rhetoric to turn the tide on this one.

28 September 2008

FiveThirtyEight: Udall Pulling Ahead

In a bit of sunny news for Mark Udall, the boys at FiveThirtyEight.com have moved the Colorado senate race from "Leans Democratic" to "Likely Democratic." You can see the map here, Colorado showing light blue. And here's today's Senate Scorecard, which I'm just going to borrow from Nate Silver and hope he doesn't mind. (I saw him do this the other day, so I figure it's okay.)

I'd be curious to see a quick set of poll results on the nationally televised debate that featured Udall and Schaffer this morning. Schaffer has steadily closed what was a sizeable gap, but he can't quite seal the deal, and now the numbers are going the other way again. My sense is that the farther this race slips away from the GOP, the uglier it's still going to get. That, in turn, may just turn some undecideds off Schaffer. I can't imagine many people are impressed by the Wadhams campaign style, but you never know. My heart goes out to Udall's family, who had to sit by and watch the hatchetwork this morning. But at least maybe they'll see this info and get a good smile out of the day yet.

Schaffer and Udall Debate on Meet the Press

Anyone watch the Colorado bloodbath on Meet the Press this morning? If you missed it you can see it here. Bob Schaffer did a pretty effective job of trammeling over Mark Udall's airtime, which I'm sure was not by accident. To Schaffer's credit, he did nicely to interrupt Udall and introduce detailed accounts of Udall's voting history, though I'll have to fact-check that before I take Schaffer's word for it. Of course, Schaffer might have been more convincing if he didn't appear to be reading a memo an aide placed in his hand 30 seconds before the debate began. He stumbled left and right over the thing, almost as badly as he ummed and erred and backtracked in talking about Iraq.

Schaffer's tactics on Meet the Press, however, had more to do with dominating talk time than with carefully refuting his opponent. Udall, to his credit, showed up the gentleman, but courtesy by itself is not a winning strategy. Not sure what Udall could do differently. Tom Brokaw let the two run, didn't really try to reign Schaffer in. That's probably for the better. Schaffer may have gone too far and turned some undecideds off, though I'm not sure about that. Also, it would have looked terrible if Udall were "saved" by the moderator.

Schaffer oozes eau de Wadhams at every campaign appearance. From the opening moment of the segment, Schaffer looked less composed and ready to engage in serious debate than Udall. While Brokaw intoduced, Schaffer looked unsettled, uneasy, and a little uninterested. "Is this guy still talking?" his demeanor seemed to say. "When's it my turn?" Schaffer clearly attempted to derail Udall's attention, and Udall did great 90% of the time to not even blink, not even pause, as he carried on the grown ups' conversation with Brokaw. But Schaffer wouldn't go away, jabbering in Udall's ear the whole time, and took obvious glee in interrupting Udall every time the topic had clearly begun to roll on. He smiled as he sucked up airtime and asked Udall questions then steamrolled right over the answers.

Schaffer even refused to shut up when Brokaw waded into the mix at one point on the topic of Republican leadership in Congress. Schaffer interrupted the host to argue "I'm not gonna carry the water for every bad decision Republicans and Democrats made." But that's actually not true. Schaffer's fighting so hard right now because Coloradans have become disenchanted with Republican policies. Colorado has turned bright purple, if not blue, with a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature. Being held accountable for failed policies is exactly what this election cycle is about, which is why Schaffer will continue to pull out the stops and fight dirty to cling to a chance in CO.

Schaffer has demonstrated his ease in the public light and his willingness to launch insults and misrepresentations since the first debate between the two candidates back in June in Parker, CO. I had the privilege to sit in on that one, and frankly what I saw today appears to be the natural progression of a completely unchecked negative campaign. Schaffer is the well-polished snake oil salesman to Udall's "aw-shucks" likability. While I'm inclined to believe that Coloradans still value the gentleman-on-the-range common courtesy that Udall projects, it's gonna be a tough sell as a campaign platform. Udall's going to have to figure out how to cut through the Schaffer noise machine and get his points home. I think he did that a couple times today, and Udall was clearly in his element touting renewables and reminding the audience that Schaffer is an oil and gas exec. Coloradans get riled up about the state's resources, and Udall is right to remind folks how much Schaffer has profited off the energy industry. Udall also got off to the better start, I thought, on the topic of the federal bailout. Schaffer rambled on for two minutes, then Udall simply said "People are mad. People are upset. My calls are mixed, between people who say no and people who say hell no."

Udall, over the course of the campaign, has become a little more flexible on the fly, but not a lot. He's going to have to learn to wing it, especially when Schaffer gets going like he did today. Udall's got to deflate and redirect with humor, I think. It's one of Udall's underutilized strengths. Hey, Bob, that's pretty good. Why don't we save it for the windfields back home and you can generate a couple extra watts for heating bills this winter and do good for a change by Colorado families. Chalk that up to quips I'd like to hear.

Not sure where it goes from here. I've yet to see a single, positive ad for Schaffer in Colorado. The campaign and PACs are buying up insane amounts of ad time, and despite the mass exposure I can't tell you a single claim that Schaffer has made on TV about his own qualifications. I can only repeat the dredge about "Boulder Liberal" Mark Udall jacking up gas prices and cosponsoring a Department of Peace bill back in 2003. Knocking on doors, I'm surprised to find out how many Obama supporters say they don't think they'll vote for Udall because of what they've heard on TV. The best Democrats can do is keep registering voters, and let them know that Barack Obama is invested in Mark Udall's campaign. Colorado will be in desperate straits if Bob Schaffer gets a chance to further open the state to slash-and-burn, rape-and-pillage type resource exploitation in the name of development. And, as evidenced on TV today, he'll be a prime candidate to exercise the filibuster if Dems don't get 60 seats in the Senate, which looks unlikely.

Good news is that the Colorado race still leans blue, but not by a whole lot. We'll be at the Denver debate on October 7, and I'll have a report on that shortly after the event. In the meantime, we've got a few more new voters to reach in Colorado before October 6, the last day to register to vote.

27 September 2008

Plavnick Family Optimism

I wanted to take a minute to point out that both Josh Marshall and Steve Benen, whose opinions I'm always interested in, liked Obama as the winner last night. I can't disagree with either of them on the points they raise. And the readers who have commented on my debate post also made excellent points as to why Obama looks the more presidential of the two, the more appealing of the two, and the more prepared to face a 21st century global politics.

I like all this commentary I'm hearing. I also think that if there's no significant movement either way, Obama wins the election.

That said, I must confess my struggle with this condition called the "Plavnick Family Optimism." This is how we affectionately refer to a certain tendency in my family to plan for the absolute worst-case scenario to arise out of any given situation. Part of this, I'm sure, comes from being a lifelong Detroit Lions fan. On the whole, I'd say being a Democrat isn't nearly as bad, but the DNC does have this bizarre ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, just like our Lions.

I'm also a paranoiac. I assume the GOP is already plotting nefarious ways to steal this election. I also assume that Democrats won't be as well prepared to prosecute offenses as the GOP will be to commit them. That's just the way it goes. The robbers are always outsmarting the cops. All this matters because, when I watch the candidates interact, I want to see the momentum build on stage. I want to see the pool of Obama voters swell beyond the margin of error. I want to know that so many votes will come in that the most cunning and conniving Republican strategists understand that there's just no way to take this one. I want those 18% of voters who are undecided to break 12%-6% in favor of Obama. Make that 14%-4%. What I'm watching for in the run-up to November 4 is the removal of a shadow of doubt.

Given the last two presidential elections, I firmly believe that a close race between these two candidates is too close. Call me overly concerned. I'm sure, and I hope, that that's the case. But I believe with all my heart that if John McCain can stay close, then he and his advisors and all the behind-the-scenes types we'll never even hear of will be working their damnedest to steal this thing. I'm afraid I won't relax until I know that's just impossible.

With that, I look at last night's performances as pretty much a draw. But a draw keeps McCain hanging in there. That's why I consider the point his, last night. All those voter suppression tactics, all the noxious robocalls, all the threats and disimmulations--those have yet to start. And if McCain stays in, and the Swiftboat campaigning and downright illegal actions that have plagued the last two elections come around again this year, then it will be a nervous night indeed on November 4.

So aside from ranting about it, what do I do to combat the dreaded PFO? Well, I'm just back from knocking on doors and registering voters. It's the perfect antidote to my worrying mind. Here's hoping that canvassing, steady debate performances, and a slim lead in the polls are enough.

26 September 2008

One to McCain

Some of you won't like this. Many may flat out disagree. But I'm giving the point last night to McCain. He was smug, dishonest, and disrespectful, but he didn't make any major gaffes. Viewers who tuned in to see the wild and senseless maverick who's been stealing headlines since Wednesday were disappointed. They wanted a deciding moment on stage, and McCain didn't give it to them. He wasn't hot headed in his retorts, impulsive in his speech, reckless in his arguments or obviously old in his rationalizations. He was, merely, political.

And this, for McCain, given events of the week, was huge. McCain did not appear the monster that this week has led some of us to strongly believe lurks behind that sinister visage. He avoided having to explain his campaign actions this week, which is a good thing for him. He was not forced to take a position on the bailout that might push him into an uncomfortable corner next week. He was not made to answer questions about Fannie and Freddie, which is a missed opportunity, I think, for Obama, because there's an unmistakable sense that McCain isn't being honest about his advisor's role. McCain didn't have to talk about whether Sarah Palin is qualified; indeed, I was glad Obama did not bring her name up, though a question from Lehrer could have been interesting, if slightly tangential. John McCain was not pushed to revisit his role as one of the infamous Keating Five, and I begin to wonder if there is some mandate in Obamaland not to mention that faraway scandal, or simply a desire to hold on to that one, a silver bullet for the final stretch.

Perhaps most importantly, McCain did not give unhappy or undecided Republican voters a reason not to vote for him. Undecideds who want to vote Republican and have been waiting for the debates probably saw a Republican they could vote for last night, even if they have to hold their noses. Rather than show up as the diabolical arch villain he's been perceived as this week, McCain simply showed up as a driven and calculating man of ambition. In other words, human.

Obama, I believe, delivered a very steady debate. He didn't offer the soaring oratory that fires up his base, but he articulated a number of very salient points. He appeared the gentleman at every turn, perhaps to a fault. The American people don't want a president who turns to the moderator and says "May I?" We want a president who says, "You know what, John? Look at me now. You've just told that lie again and I'm gonna call you on it. You don't get to tell shameless lies about [insert bald-faced debate lie here: raising taxes on $42K a year, "failure" in Iraq, presidential face-to-face with Ahmadinijad]. Not uncontested, and not while I'm right here in the room." Obama didn't dazzle us with his grasp of foreign policy or his glib smiles to the moderator when his opponent got away with a quick one. He effectively parried, but he did not get in a single incontestable zinger. Rather than appear as the sublime politician, he simply showed up as a driven and calculating man of ambition. In other words, human.

Obama didn't scare any undecideds off last night, but I'm not inclined to believe he won any over, either. Probably, the undecideds who want to vote Democratic this year saw a candidate they could vote for, though based on the debate itself they must wonder what all the fuss, all the Obamamania is about. A handful of folks around the country heard talking points from each candidate, I'm sure, that appealed to a niche interest. So both candidates maybe picked up offsetting gains.

Both candidates came of as politicians. Nothing more, nothing less. For John McCain that's a good thing. He managed not to betray the surly underbelly of his avaricious character on national TV. For Barack Obama, to appear merely political reveals a certain dulling of the chrome. On the issues, Obama mastered his information fairly well. He was comfortable on the numbers and generally sound on the delivery. But he didn't say anything new, and he didn't come of as The Answer. Of course, undecided voters--and that's really who the debate is for--haven't been swayed by Obama's cult of personality, so maybe last night's constraint is not perceived as a negative.

The one thing I'll give Obama, and this could be bigger than I recognize from where I sit, is that of the two, he spent more time looking more presidential on stage. He looked at his opponent, appeared to listen to his opponent, and made repeated efforts to directly engage his opponent. If John McCain looked at Barack Obama a single time last night, I missed it. And that just comes of as lame, unbecoming of a presidential hopeful.

To step back and evaluate the campaign in terms of the debate alone, I'd say John McCain's people have to be fairly pleased. Their campaign, they've stated openly, is not about the issues but about character. To that end their candidate probably succeeded in softening the dings he took last week and this week, probably added a point back to the polls over the next few days. Obama didn't do anything terribly badly last night, but he also did not do anything exceptionally well. His campaign is based on the issues, but it is also based on the perception of a candidate who is different, who embodies change, who is an exception in his field. And we did not see that candidate last night.

Last night wasn't the performance that will push McCain over the top or cause Obama's popularity to stumble. I predict that Obama's numbers will stay fairly even, and the polls will tighten slightly for McCain if he doesn't do anything palpably ridiculous in the coming week. Is the bar higher for Obama than McCain? Undoubtedly. Is that fair? No. Does fairness matter? No. Has Obama set his own bar exceptionally high? Yes. And that's part of the appeal, and part of the risk. From the 1,000 mile view, McCain didn't look that bad and Obama didn't look that good. That's why I'll call last night's debate a thin victory for McCain.

Ruben Navarrette: Shockingly Sycophantic

Whether Navarrette believes his own spiel or not, I think there are a few people out there who actually think like this. And that's the support he's shamelessly trying to rally, pulling a reverse-cynicism complaint out of his bag of tricks.

I think McCain deserves applause for having his priorities straight. For the past several days, the media and members of both parties have been scaring the daylights out of the American people by calling this the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

. . . After all the doom and gloom, pundits were then somehow surprised when McCain decided to temporarily suspend his presidential campaign and return to his day job in Congress, where he tried to work out a bailout deal with his colleagues.

. . . McCain showed real leadership this week. And frankly, if we were more accustomed to seeing that sort of thing from our elected officials, we might be less cynical and better able to recognize it on the rare occasions when it surfaces.

. . . The presidential candidates can't run from this issue any more than the rest of the country can. That's why both of them should have cleared their plate and gotten to work on a solution. But only one did.
Spare me. Because we doubt McCain's motive we're cynical? That's an appalling stretch on behalf of a candidate who has milked the public goodwill for every last ounce of stretch left in it. I'm thinking history isn't going to judge McCain kindly, after all this, no matter the outcome. And Navarrette will doubtless find something priggish and glib to say about that, too, in John McCain's defense.

Reax II

I just want to take a moment to observe, after my long rant below, that my outlook is much more rosy now that there's going to be a debate again.

PS: Here's one of the questions that makes me feel better. And here's another.


I've never experienced such strong reaction to a politician, positive or negative, as I do now to John McCain. It's what many feel, I think, when they mention George W. Bush. The loathing and revile drips from sarcastic tongues. I've never felt that for our current president. Frustration? Sure. Dismay? Obviously. Disbelief? Regularly. But I've never despised the man. More or less, George W. Bush has simply been the ignorant head of state who's steered us the wrong way for too long.

What I now feel for John McCain is tantamount to what I heard in my father's voice as a child, before I even understood who or what "Nixon" was. It's what I heard in my high school history teacher's voice, when she mentioned how her family wouldn't mention FDR by name, simply referred to him instead, with transparent disgust, as "that man."

I wish I had been as high on Bill Clinton as I am now low on John McCain. I wish that my enthusiasm for the positive change I feel all around me every time I volunteer for the Obama campaign could rival this consuming and daily intensifying negativity I feel toward John McCain.

Let me be clear: I didn't even like the bailout plan. So when I step back, it should not anger me so to hear that it was scuttled yesterday. It wasn't a good plan. The American people deserve better. The U.S. government can't simply invoke socialism when it's convenient, to save the wealthiest 1%, but tell everybody else that they're on their own when it comes to health care and college educations. I'm no fan of the Bush/Paulson plan, but I sort of got the feeling midday yesterday that Democratic leaders and the administration were working out a compromise. Pay out the huge sum in installments. Only give Paulson $250 billion of the requested $700 billion up front. Leave some back for the president to order up should the economy show the need. Allow Congress a 30 day objection period to evaluate the situation. Deliver a sense, however thin, that there might actually be oversight.

As bad as the Bush/Paulson plan was, I was optimistic yesterday that some reality checks had been put in place. Compromises are, by necessity, often disappointing. If what we've been hearing the past week is to be believed, however, this thing had to move forward with a certain urgency. And John McCain "suspended" not only his campaign--which is universally laughable--but also derailed what by all appearances looked like progressive talks between the administration and congressional leaders to work out a compromise that might have promised the U.S. economy and population a little bit of security. Not enough, of course, but some.

Today I am angry. Usually I can maintain a spectator's detachment for all this political tomfoolery, the stunts, the tricks, the bad-faith manipulations. It's politics, right? It's a tough sport. But McCain has riled something in me that I've never known before for a public figure: raw, dripping disgust. Not because the guy has the nerve to get behind a different plan. I'm all for alternative plans. But because he's tacking his election hopes to the safety and security of my future, my family's future. Not just our financial futures, although I'm incredulously considering whether my money actually is as safe as I thought in a simple money market account, of all things, and whether my meager retirement funds might just *poof* disappear one of these days. But with our health and well being. That's what we have to talk about when we talk about the possibility of deep, nationwide, financial collapse.

The guy is a dumb stud standing on the railroad tracks in the middle of the bridge, playing chicken with a locomotive bearing down with a cargo of 300 million. That's why I'm angry. Because John McCain will do anything to win, no matter who or how many stand to lose. I find this loathesome, and little. Such bravado is unbecoming in any leader. If this guy was a small town mayor with a history of blowing up at people and demonstrating a scornful pride in shooting from the hip, if he was bargaining with the economies, pensions, paychecks, and lives of an entire, delicate, social ecosystem, he'd be recalled pretty damn quick.

I've said this before, though not in such harsh terms. If the last eight years were terrible under an easy going nincompoop, what would four years under an angry sleazebag political cannibal with axes to grind and this terrible thirst to prove something, to be right, look like?

LAT on Palin Interview

Blunt. Palin talks to Couric--and if she's lucky, few are listening.

25 September 2008

The "McCain Plan": Biggest. Gamble. Ever.

Reuters outlines the McCain Plan.

The other news outlets haven't painted the scene in such stark terms. To the extent that the Reuters account is accurate, the observation should be made loud and clear, from town to town and coast to coast, that John McCain, the wild card candidate with a history of gambling, has wagered not merely hundreds of billions of dollars, not simply a campaign or the presidency, but the American economy itself in a politically--no, in a civically--irresponsible electoral stunt. Country first? John McCain no longer deserves the credit he's been generously awarded these past years as a patriot.

And as a maverick? Here's Webster: "an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party." I'd amend that to read "group, party, or country."

It'll be interesting to hear how independent analysts parse the new plan. Obviously, I write from the gut at this immediate moment. Just as the man who wants my vote shoots from the hip.

Swapping Debates?

From liam at TPM Cafe: Obama should agree to delay tomorrow's debate, but not at the cost of losing the VP debate October 2. Instead, Obama/Biden should suggest that the first two debates simply swap time slots. Hold the VP debate tomorrow night, and the foreign policy debate on Oct 2 as the McCain camp suggested. That way all four debates will be held on time and the American voters get all the info. McCain still gets to be in DC to "handle the crisis," the campaigns still advance, and the voters get their money's worth.

More Ambinder

I'm gonna pass on another from Marc Ambinder. In a nutshell, Ambinder called out the Obama camp for complaining that McCain will take his economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, to the (somewhat irrelevant) White House meeting today. Marc wrote that Holtz Eakin "knows as much about the economy as anyone on McCain's Senate staff." He went on to write "McCain's bringing his best policy guy to a meeting, and he gets knocked for it?" From there, he awarded Obama the cheap shot of the day.

But Ambinder later posted an update:

Update: the Obama campaign says that they were told NOT to bring campaign staff to the White House.

So -- there's a double standard here.

I guess it's not a cheap shot. Just irrelevant.

Just as, it turns, the White House meeting might be, since Congressional leaders and the White House have already reached an agreement on principles, and neither Barack Obama nor John McCain had anything to do with it.
Obama must feel like he's walking into the lion's den, between GWB and John McCain in what appears to be a closely coordinated effort to momentarily derail or at least distract from the campaign. What kind of conversation can that possibly be, anyway?

Palin and Couric: Foreign Policy Experience

UPDATE: The original draft of this post began "And dumber than I thought, too." I erased that because I thought it was a shade too rude. But we've talked it over in the office here, and she really does come of as just plain not smart in this clip.

Via Ambinder, here's another round of Couric and Palin. And you've really got to see this, and hear it with your own two ears, inflection and everything, to believe it.

The question went like this.

COURIC: Explain to me why that [Alaska's proximity to Russia and Canada] enhances your foreign policy credentials.

And then the answer.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our--our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of.

Seriously, though. Words on the page fail to capture. It's really, embarrassingly, worth listening to.

Condoleezza Rice at High-Level Torture Meetings in the White House

Could somebody smarter than I am please tell me what this pair of articles mean, exactly? At The Public Record, Jason Leopold published this: "Rice Admits She Led High-Level White House Talks About Torture." And at WaPo today, there's this: "Top Officials Knew in 2002 of Harsh Interrogations."

I've been puzzling it out over the past 45 minutes or so, and I can't decide if these are big news or not. They're not getting much airtime for all the concern over the economic crisis and the hooplah about John McCain's latest campaign stunt, but the pieces strike me as noteworthy.

As far as I can tell, the big deal is that documents released last night by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin put Condi Rice in the room in the White House when torture meetings took place. This is the first confirmation that a cabinet official was in on the meetings. At issue is whether or not either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney were there as well. Rice didn't offer, and, interestingly, Levin didn't ask. I find the latter point telling, but can't exactly identify why.

Does Levin have an investigative ace up his sleeve? Or is there simply nothing to be gained by pressing after the executive on this?

Also at issue, Rice's involvement, and her specific naming of Rumsfeld and Ashcroft as present in the room (both now conveniently absent from the administration), undermines previous suggestions that any acts of torture or questionable conduct were pressed and carried out by a "few bad apples." Hard to imagine the president referring to his key advisors as a "few bad apples."

Another question raised in the articles seems to revolve around the specific dates of the meetings, and whether they facilitated the use of extreme interrogation measures against detainees before the release of the famous John Yoo "Torture Memo" on August 1, 2002. That memo provided the administration with a legal basis to consider as torture only acts that resulted in organ failure or death, thus permitting waterboarding, stress positions, temperature changes and sleep deprivation, among other tactics, to be approved as appropriate interrogation methods.

During the meetings, Rice and others discussed whether to use interrogation tactics against detainees that U.S. soldiers were specifically taught to endure should they be captured across enemy lines.

How does this all add up? I'm embarrassed to say that I'm waiting for someone to spell it out for me. Certainly, White House lawyers have reviewed anything Rice submitted to the committee, so I doubt that there are any stunning surprises here. Still, this steady trickle of information continues to leak out, further eroding any credibility the White House may pretend to have. Hearings are scheduled for today, but assume those will be drowned out by even the most banal developments in the reality soap opera that is the presidential campaign. We should all keep an eye out, however, to see where this goes next.

24 September 2008

How's McCain Polling Tonight Among Those 18%?

All the polls have been big news pretty much since the conventions. With Obama pulling steadily ahead in a number of key states and perceived nationwide as a clear leader during economic crisis, it makes sense that McCain would want to derail that steady, effective messaging of the Obama campaign. How better to do so than to trump the conversation about the economy with the only thing going right now that's just as hot: the campaign itself. Suspend the campaign? Delay the debate? Bump the October 2 VP debate? Man alive. There hasn't been this much inane chatter since the Palin announcement last month.

Which is exactly the point. Since about 2:00 today (mountain time) nobody's been talking about the economy (except the president in prime time, but I'm not sure anybody was listening). Bad as all this is probably bound to play out for McCain in the long run, tonight has got to be a welcome break for the beleaguered campaign staff. Rick Davis? Who's Rick Davis? Nobody could quit talking about Rick Davis all morning, and nobody's talking about Rick Davis tonight, so something might just have worked as hoped today for Camp McCain. Granted, tomorrow presents a whole new host of challenges, suspended campaign or no, but the president just called both candidates in off the trail for a meeting of the minds on the credit meltdown, and I don't see how that's not going to throw Obama's crew off just a little, even if only by annoying them to death with the blatant triviality of the thing.

Back to the polls, though. Here's the only question that probably matters tonight: How is the McCain campaign stunt playing to that 18% of undecideds out there who will push this thing one way or the other on November 4? Are they seeing the media play on all this and wondering "WTF?" just like the rest of us? Or is there a sentiment out there that McCain really is putting country first, putting the campaign aside for the greater good, and making a genuine effort to solve this thing before we're all out of work? Are undecided voters sitting back, waiting to see decisive action on the economic crisis, and saying "Thank God somebody's finally doing something! He's got my vote."

I don't think it's likely, but it's a screwy scene out there and I'm not ready to rule it out. For every undecided who bites, however, I think there's a thoughtful conservative or two trying like hell to find reasons to vote Republican and coming up shy. And today's antics sure aren't helping the cause.

Totally Vapid

I think Katie Couric got the better of this one. Does that make her sexist?

"Just an Idea"

UPDATE: I keep meaning to come back and clean this post up, but there's so much other fun stuff to write about that I keep getting distracted. At any rate, as my Uncle Mark points out in the comments, the math here ain't quite right. But the idea's still an interesting one. Irrelevant, perhaps, but interesting.

From a friend of a friend:

Rather than debating how to spend Americans' tax dollars ($700,000,000,000 to be exact) to "bail out" a flawed and failing Wall Street, its group of insiders, and greedy opportunists, I suggest that our government give each and every taxpaying American $700,000 instead. Americans can then take that $700,000 and use it to pay off their mortgages and any (if not all) of their own personal debt. Americans will more than likely still have money left over after paying off all their debt to "stimulate" the economy, put it into to their personal savings accounts, or choice of investments. I do think, at this juncture, we are less prone to foolishly spend our hard earned tax dollars except for the right reasons, and not for someone else's bad business practices and personal greed. Let Wall Street sink or swim on its own. Just an idea.
It took me a minute to really appreciate the numbers. 100 million tax-paying Americans. $700K apiece. That's some serious grassroots purchasing power.

Any economists out there? What would happen if we all paid off our houses, cars, credit cards, medical bills, and college loans next week? Would the banks recapitalize and be able to lend money again, as is the stated goal of the federal plan? Or would the very sudden shock to the system present short- and long-term effects that are actually negative?

Yglesias, Palin, and Miss South Carolina

Let's all just step back, take a deep breath, and consider what's really important: maps.

Also not to be missed, for reasons of purely campy appeal: misssouthcarolina.com

. . . Knows No Bounds

Buried at the bottom of Fox News' report on the McCain announcement:

“The truth is that while John McCain sounded the alarm on the need to reform Freddie and Fannie to protect American taxpayers, Barack Obama took record amounts of their money and refused to take action to reform and regulate them. If ‘lying’ is saying you did one thing when you actually did the opposite, then Barack Obama just lied,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Uh . . . Tucker? Did you even read the the news today?

The 8:30 AM Phone Call

Everybody understands that Obama called McCain at 8:30 this morning to suggest that the two men work together on a joint statement about the economy. Right? Right?

A Simple Lunchtime Walk

Go for a simple, lunchtime walk and come back to a three-ring political circus. Nice.

Millen Gone

In a rare break from politics, I'm pleased to pass along reports of Matt Millen's firing in Detroit. A mere 5 years late. What Millen has done for the Lions since 2001 could be compared to what George W. Bush has done for America during the same time period, though, to be certain, the Lions never had any credibility to begin with.

Not to ask too much, but could somebody do something now about William Clay Ford? Maybe Warren Buffett could make an offer?

Mr. Buffett: the city of Detroit needs you! A piddly $800 million should be enough. Please help!

Channeling Olbermann

Campbell Brown's rant last night evoked shades of Olbermann. Of course, he'd be skewered as sexist by the McCain campaign--and probably some reactionary Dems as well--for calling the McCain camp sexist. Brown being a successful woman, obviously, makes it harder to launch that counterattack. Steve Schmidt might have tried to strip MSNBC's privileges, but he can't afford to cut Brown's CNN out of the loop entirely.

Schmidt and the other bigwigs on the campaign are probably too busy to comment, what with their efforts to bat back reports about Rick Davis' very recent ties to Freddie Mac, so Brown is safe from scolding for now. And if the campaign does comment, will they also argue that Andrea Mitchell is a Communist for likening McCain's press tactics to those of North Korea and Syria?

Fox News Headline: "Report: McCain Aide's Firm Paid by Freddie Mac Until Last Month"

UPDATE: Josh Marshall reminds us that there's a term for what the McCain camp is denying: "Layaway."

Even Fox News can't keep the questionable reports at bay. We heard last week from the NYT that McCain campaign manager Rick Davis had earned over $2 million in 5 years working as head of the lobbying group to troubled lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then we heard what campaign strategist Steve Schmidt had to say about the New York Times:

"Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization," Schmidt announced on a well attended conference call. "This is an organization that is completely, totally, 150 percent in the tank for the Democratic candidate."
Heh, heh.

So will Fox News get similar treatment for passing along a story that Rick Davis earned money from Freddie Mac as recently as last month? To be sure, Fox dutifully reports the McCain campaign's comments on this:
[A] McCain campaign aide disputed the claim that Davis has received any compensation from the firm since taking his leave in December 2006. The aide told FOX News that Davis stopped taking a salary and draws no partnership distribution from the firm.

“Mr. Davis has seen no income from Davis Manafort since 2006. Zero. Mr. Davis has received no salary or compensation since 2006. Mr. Davis has received no profit or partner distributions from that firm on any basis — weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual — since 2006. Again, zero. Neither has Mr. Davis received any equity in the firm based on profits derived since his financial separation from Davis Manafort in 2006,” said McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb.
Yes, yes, yes. And I unquestioningly accept that Davis is no better off just because the public affairs firm that bears his name received $15K per month since 2005 until last month for possibly helping Freddie Mac avoid government regulations from time to time. Obviously, when the campaign ends and Davis returns to his post (and heaven help us if that's not how it goes after November 4) as senior partner at Davis Manafort, it's not like he'll be able to earn benefits off the money then. Right?

Judging by the headline, I'd say even Fox News is beginning to wonder how deep the campaign garbage piles up.

Buffett: The Power of One

Goldman's stock rose 6.5% in a matter of hours after Warren Buffet said "I'm in" to the tune of $5 billion. Wise investment? Corporate philanthropy? Both? Either way, there might be a lesson for the federal government.

From the WSJ:

While Mr. Buffett's investment is unquestionably a vote of confidence in Goldman, it is structured to protect him from losses. The dividends from the preferred shares will remain steady even if Goldman's stock falls. And if it does, Mr. Buffett won't spend the $5 billion to exercise the warrants to buy common. Including Goldman's after-hours stock jump, Berkshire has a nearly $700 million paper profit on the deal already.
Is it too much to ask Hank Paulson to guarantee similar protections for taxpayer investments as Buffet worked out for his Berkshire Hathaway company?

Politicos, alas, are already jumping on the opportunity to, well, politicize. The Journal goes on to report:
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Banking Committee and his party's leadership, called the Berkshire investment "a vote of confidence not only in Goldman but in Washington's commitment to come up with a plan."
[T]he Berkshire news may rev up Republicans who already are arguing that such private investment is superior to a costly taxpayer-funded rescue plan. "People are holding back, and it sounds like Mr. Buffett is trying to lead by example for the financial community," said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, a member of the Financial Services Committee and Republican leadership.
Indeed. I was just waiting for somebody else to go first, and now I'm ready to ante up my first $100 million to help right the country. Anybody with me?

We'll learn more, and hear more opportunistic sound bites, as the day progresses.

23 September 2008

Terry Gross, Gretchen Morgenson, and the Government Bailout

Terry Gross interviewed Gretchen Morgenson tonight on the issue of Wall Street and the federal bailout. Verdict? Take 38 minutes to listen. Morgenson is refreshingly down to earth, and she makes the outsized problems comprehensible. Solutions? Not likely any time soon.

The takeaway revolves around a couple key ideas. First and foremost, the government probably saw this coming back in 2006. Morgenson strongly argues that only a fool or a catatonic could have missed the clear signs. Her feeling is that government lied when they told us that the risks and the damages would be contained to the subprime mortgage lending industry. In her words, we're simply all too "interconnected," and the markets are too interconnected, for any major financial failure to be effectively contained.

Now comes the tricky part. Gross asked her guest to comment on whether the current crisis is a repudiation of the Bush administration philosophy that free markets, unregulated, correct themselves. Morgenson, to her credit, avoided cheap shots or lectures and simply said that yes, the current situation is a pretty clear repudiation of that philosophy. She went on to argue that, had the government intervened back in '03,'04,'05, and '06, when people didn't "have to be ambulatory" or "have a pulse" to get a mortgage, when her "cat could have gotten a mortgage," we probably wouldn't be in quite this bind now.

Had the government regulated the Wild West of subprime lending, at least curtailing the most carnivorous practices of the worst predators, that would have helped. But the administration favored a laissez-faire approach, essentially allowing the very practices that eventually corrupted the more stable investment environments (think Morgan Stanley, Bear Sterns, Lehman, AIG) to fester and swell unchecked.

Extending bad loans to people who never had a chance to make the repayments was an effective--if deplorable--way to make money in the short term. But so much credit was extended over such a wide and unreliable base that, when the breaking point was finally reached, the repercussions were disastrous, as evidenced today. Simply put, too many homeowners couldn't pay back their loans, and no amount of repossessions could set that to rights because there wasn't enough credit left to fund new buyers of repo'd houses. Lenders took back the houses but couldn't turn them around, and the reverberations went right up the food chain. Turns out credit is a finite resource after all. Once it's used up on bad loans, lenders pull back and refuse to lend to even the most credit-worthy in an effort to simply hunker down, keep the capital close at hand, and weather the storm.

So now what? The same government that happily promoted its self-regulating, laissez-faire lending environment is now screaming for debt relief in the form of a $700 billion taxpayer rescue fund to buy up "toxic" investments in the hopes that banks will be able to recapitalize and start lending consumers money again. Each day brings a new promise from the Bush administration of imminent doom if we don't act now, no hesitation, no questions asked, no oversight, and no accountability no matter what we find out later. I've already mentioned how I feel about that. And taxpayers are offered nothing in return. Morgenson says there's a word for that, and it starts with an S. "The government is privatizing gains and socializing losses. . . There's something really wrong with that."

Morgenson doesn't know what happens next, but it's pretty clear to her that, bailout or no bailout, Wall Street and the U.S. economy are in deep trouble. Least of the problems is that more banks will fail. The bailout itself can't stop that, and appears designed in fact to simply avoid a total collapse of U.S. markets in the short term (and there's no telling what the next administration will actually face once January 20 rolls around). Much larger than individual bank failures, however, looms the possibility that this financial disturbance could be large enough and far reaching enough to turn foreign investors off of American debt. If China chooses to sell off its current investments in U.S. bonds in favor of an alternative that's "safer than the United States government," we could be in for catastrophic financial consequences. U.S. borrowing power would plummet, dollar values would certainly drop, and inflation would skyrocket.

On an upside, Morgenson believes that the American people have what it takes to rally and to pull through this "morass." She worries, unfortunately, that the government won't really live up to the best of American problem solving and ingenuity. If she's right about the first, and I of course believe she is, then we can all be hopeful. If she's also right about the second, though, we may have some unimaginably difficult times ahead.

Set aside some time, pull out a sudoku, and listen to the interview. I can't effectively critique Morgenson's economics, but her sensibilities sound right. Furthermore, she answers the key questions a lot of us are asking right now, and puts the whole scenario in terms we can understand, even if we may not like them.

Palin Finally Ready to Testify in Troopergate Probe . . .

. . . but not before the special prosecutor appointed by bipartisan committee (4 Democrats and 10 Republicans) back in August. Instead, she's ready to talk to the Alaska State Personnel Board, which is, conveniently, appointed by the governor.

Anchorage Daily News sums it up here:

Less than a week after balking at the Legislature's investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire.
Yup. I guess they don't pull punches up there in AK. Wish we'd take a note down here. The American voter should know that any claim made by the McCain/Palin campaign that the governor has been completely cooperative and forthcoming is total garbage. The American voter should know that, but CNN makes it hard to see through the smoke when they help promote the smoke screen.

One other detail the ADN article catches but CNN skips? At least one of the Personnel Board members, Alfred Tamagni, Sr., donated to Palin's gubernatorial campaign back in 2006.

22 September 2008

Particularly Telling

Via TPM, McCain strategist Steve Schmidt cries foul, and reporters tally up the errors cited during the conference call.

Todd Palin: Wingman, Lobbyist, Chief of Staff?

WaPo has a long article on the extent of Todd Palin's involvement in Alaskan state politics. Obviously, he supports his wife. He's also got her back. And he's frequently involved in advancing policy, whether by making phone calls, attending meetings, or weighing in on hot button issues. The upshot? Nobody can say for certain, but based on personal accounts from colleagues and friends, there's reason to ask questions.

From late in the article (screen three):

The extent of Todd Palin's involvement in issues is partly obscured by the refusal of the governor's office to release documents detailing internal communications with him. In a recent response to a citizen's public records request, the office refused to turn over 1,100 e-mails but released a log showing that 44 of those held back were sent to "T. Palin." The log showed him copied on e-mails regarding, among other issues, the union that represents state troopers and a parental-consent abortion bill.

. . . Even as Sarah Palin's popularity ratings soar, locals harbor some concerns about the pressures of the couple's lifestyle and Todd Palin's quasi-official status.

Tom Whitstine, a fellow Wasilla conservative, snowmobiler and North Slope oilman, is critical of the Palins. "How he works and his exact position with the administration is pretty gray," he said. "It's not any great secret, but where is the accountability?"
It's probably not unusual for spouses to get involved. But Todd Palin sounds very involved. Enough so that Sarah Palin's supporters have taken to the pages of the local papers.
Criticism of the Palins often brings a personal response. Longtime Sarah Palin supporter Bud Knox, a gun dealer and retired plumbing business owner, wrote a letter to the Anchorage newspaper noting that while he and the governor are "close friends," he was concerned by her husband's prominence. "I did not vote for Todd. So keep quiet; I don't need to hear from you," he said.

In short order, the phone rang. It was the governor, calling to respond. "In Alaska, that's the way it works," he said. "Politics doesn't stop at the front door of your house. It goes outside and can go anywhere."
Interesting letter, interesting response. The notion seems to be that that's just the way it works in Alaska. Small population, everybody knows everybody, everybody speaks their minds. The article does not delve so much into that aspect, which is too bad because I'd love to learn about the trends of other political spouses and their roles in the spotlight and the policy making.

21 September 2008

Saying No to the Bailout

Via TPM, Krugman doesn't like the bailout plan. Reading his brief post makes me wonder: where have all the fiscal conservatives of the Republican Party fled to in this time of trouble? Why can't the Treasury and Wall St. work out a plan that guarantees the funders, aka the taxpayers--who are under more financial duress now than at any time in recent memory--some security if the high-risk plan doesn't work?

If the trillion dollar bailout is designed to restore markets by encouraging consumer confidence, then why can't the Treasury come out with details of the plan? Why are Republican lawmakers taking meetings with lobbyists to ensure that the legislature doesn't tack any taxpayer protections to the bill? Not exactly confidence inspiring.

From the WSJ:

The plan offered to Congress also gives the Treasury legal immunity from any lawsuits. "Decisions by the secretary pursuant to the authority are non-reviewable … and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency," the proposal says.

The proposal doesn't detail how Treasury would manage the assets, but does give Mr. Paulson the authority to hire private financial institutions to conduct the program, as well as to create other entities to purchase mortgage assets and issue debt.

"Treasury will have full discretion over the management of the assets as well as the exercise of any rights received in connection with the purchase of the assets," the Treasury fact sheet said.
Emphasis mine. Let me see if I get this right. We're supposed to trust the same government that has time and again funneled high-priced privatization projects to favored contractors without oversight, the same government that, as a result of incompetence and croneyism, failed to effectively root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afhganistan, the same government that led the U.S. into a quagmire in Iraq, and the same government that failed to effectively respond when Katrina swallowed New Orleans, we're supposed to trust that government with $1 trillion, no questions asked? And the Treasury Secretary gets to appoint private firms to handle public funds without oversight?

On top of that, Krugman raises the excellent question of price. At what price will the government purchase (on behalf of the taxpayer) these troubled investments? At fair market value, which would obviously be low right now, or at premium or above premium prices in order, as I understand it, to send an infusion through national and world markets, a shot in the arm to restore confidence? The problem there is that falsely inflated premiums, paid to troubled institutions and made with theoretical money for which the taxpayer is on the hook, offer nothing more than another bubble, another illusion, another trick with numbers bound to fail and give way to the harsh realities of fiscal fact. And the fact is that fiscal irresponsibility cannot save us from the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility. We don't call that a rescue, we just call it "throwing good money after bad."

Obviously, to protect American (and global) financial interests, government must intervene. The U.S. government, despite hits it's taken in the past several years, is still the only entity big enough to assert effective might to leverage the markets, unless we'd like to ask China to help. And the taxpayer may have to foot the bill. But all this secrecy can't be the answer. No details, no guarantees, and no provisions to protect the taxpayer. Treasury is willing to gamble only if nobody will ever know what happens to the money, what decisions are made, and nobody, regardless of the outcome of all this, will ever be held accountable.

At this decisive moment we need Congress to step up. We need oversight written into any bill that passes. Yes, we need emergency funding and we need it quickly. But this plan reeks of a short-term fix that will make the next upheaval inevitable and all but impossible to address.

At every turn, at every crisis in the past 7 and 3/4 years, this government has failed the American people. At a glance I'd say it's setting up to do so again. Somebody please tell me why this is the best bailout plan we get.

20 September 2008

"Country First or Obama First": McCain's Campaign Slogan

UPDATE: A quick search shows that you have to go back to Warren G. Harding to find a presidential candidate who invoked his opponent's name in the campaign slogan. This list may not be all inclusive, but it's pretty telling. Plus, given McCain's status as the oldest nominee in history for the Oval Office, there's probably some ripe fodder for late night humor in connecting McCain's tactics to Harding's campaign. Maybe that's how they did it back when McCain was a kid?

I don't know how the brain trust hatched this, but it seems to scrape the bottom of the barrel. When a candidate actually invokes an opponent's name in the new campaign slogan, the desperation becomes tangible.

I can't think of a time when this has happened. Can any of my older readers recall an official campaign slogan that carried an opponent's name? No matter how a candidate crafts his or her arguments, no matter how he attempts to frame the debate, no matter what platform he chooses to run upon, or how low the road takes him, the slogan is that one shining opportunity to define himself and to define his campaign. And McCain & Co. choose to define their campaign in terms of their opponent. To seize on the perception they launched that Obama is a big, narcissistic celebrity, an empty suit with a golden tongue.

This, I believe, marks another turning point in the campaign. Obama has been aggressive on the stump the past week, and his comments seem to register with voters. And this week, when the economy is in turmoil, the new commander in Iraq has issued a caution that progress there is extremely fragile, and the news out of Afghanistan is troubling, you'd think John McCain has something positive to offer the American people about how our country will navigate back to a position of credible leadership in the world. Alas, no.*

*McCain's attempts to tie Obama to Fannie & Freddie have already been pretty well discredited here and here.

19 September 2008

Oktoberfest, Ground Games, and a Little Issue Called Troopergate That Won't Go Away

Funniest grab of the day:

One of the nice things about being a Democrat with a stock portfolio is that your risks are fairly well hedged. If the market goes up, then you make money, and if the market goes down, then you're more likely to see a Democrat elected President.
In other news, we were dramatically disappointed at Oktoberfest. First of all, no Sea of Accordions. Nobody seems to know what time the marchers take to the streets, but it wasn't today. Next, ignore the guys from Wyndham Hotels pretending to give out free money in exchange for a few moments of your time. I know, I know. But it seemed like they really wanted me to have that $25.

Despite the disappointments, Oktoberfest did live up on two fronts: beer and voter registration opportunities. If you like to drink and vote (or at least register to vote, update your registration, or apply for a mail-in ballot), Larimer Street this weekend is the place for you. One of our party mentioned that he hadn't seen a single McCain canvasser. Anywhere. Come to think of it, we haven't really either. Predictably, the boys at FiveThirtyEight have already posted about this very phenomenon in another western state, so I'll let them fill you in. Highly worth the read.

Oh, and in case you haven't heard, Sarah Palin may not be telling the whole truth about this Troopergate thing.


I love following the political news out of Vermont, mostly because I know what a strange and beautiful town Brattleboro can be. I also happen to think very highly of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I assumed this headline, "Vermont candidate to prosecute Bush if she wins," would also come from Brattleboro, home of the Bush/Cheney arrest warrant and of public nudity in a town center parking lot, of all places (eeesh!).

Upon review, however, I can find little evidence of a connection between Charlotte Dennett, the candidate for Vermont attorney general, and Brattleboro, the quirky town that could provide all the scenic backdrop and seamy characters necessary to populate another David Lynch series. The Reformer actually reports that Dennett is from Cambridge, VT, not terribly far from Lake Champlain or the Canadian border. For whatever that's worth.

As Goes Colorado . . . or Mighigan . . . or New Hampshire?

Yesterday, Nate Silver awarded Colorado "Most Important State" status in the presidential election. Meaning that, without CO, Obama would have a hard time putting together the votes needed to reach an electoral win.

Today, E.J. Dionne says "If he carries Michigan, many routes to victory are open for Barack Obama. Without Michigan, he's got a big problem."

I think both of these guys are pretty adroit analysts. Silver's assessment is the result of current polling information gathered across the country. That assessment is, no doubt, subject to change based on the sensitivities of the various polling models and Silver's system for interpreting 20-30 poll results and basing projections on the aggregate. Dionne's assessment is, I believe, the result of watching, listening, and guessing as to the possible challenges faced in MI and in the nation. In either case, the outcome is incredibly important.

According to a Campaign for Change spokesperson I heard speak at the opening of a new office in our neighborhood Wednesday night, Coloradans have knocked on more doors on behalf of the candidate, registering voters and asking questions about the issues, than any other state in the nation. Probably, that bodes well. More doors knocked on translates to more new voter registrations, more voter registration updates, and more mail-in ballot applications to relieve confusion and congestion at the polls.

As one of those canvassers, however, I've discovered that the walk lists aren't necessarily up to date from week to week. I've unwittingly knocked on a handful of doors that have already been knocked on. Unless a canvasser can provide new information, or can follow up on a specific question or concern that previous canvassers could not address, this is a pretty off-putting experience for the resident on the other side of the door. A simple visit can sway an undecided voter in favor of a candidate. Repeated simple visits, especially at the dinner hour, and especially by equally eager door knockers who aren't equipped with new information, can push that undecided voter the other way out of sheer annoyance and exasperation. The impression is of a disorganized campaign. And that does not reflect well on the candidate.

It remains to be seen how accurate the metric is regarding number of doors knocked on. If the campaign is unwittingly double counting, that's bad. On the other hand, if enough new voters and mail-in voters cast their ballots successfully for the Democrat, then Colorado could be the break-out state Obama can capture for a national win. Silver currently has Obama ahead slightly in both CO and MI, but both projections are well within the margin of error. It remains to be seen if he can improve upon those slim leads. Also, in a post from late last night, Silver points out the possibility of an electoral tie if McCain wins New Hampshire, which is still entirely possible.

At the end of the day, of course, the only poll that matters won't happen until November 4.

18 September 2008

Electoral Eye Candy

From FiveThirtyEight.com:

The job of our model is to see the signal through the noise. There is quite a bit of noise, with so many pollsters in the field in so many different states, and so many different factors affecting voter preferences. Everything from national news events to advertising blasts in individual states will impact these numbers -- a really heavy ad buy in a particular state can sometimes move the numbers there by a couple of points, often only for no more than 24 hours.
I'm not sure how their model works, nor how adjustments are made to make the model more sensitive to individual poll results, nor exactly what they mean when they refer to "Penumbra states" or "Penumbra tables"; those on the periphery? Taking the site as an aggregator, though, I'm fascinated by the daily movements and the multiple scenarios, plus percentages and likelihoods, at any given moment. And all those charts and graphs, ooooh . . . so much eye candy.

17 September 2008

Alaskan Women (and Men) Against Palin

UPDATE II: I'm leaving the scars on this post as, well, as I don't know what. But check out the pics at Mudflats.

UPDATE: There seems to be a problem with the picture source. Will try to sort this out. Thanks for your patience.

Old news by now, but check out this Anchorage rally. By one account, over 1,400 attended.

Some of the more amusing signs:

Special thanks to Mudflats blogger AKMuckraker for permission to reprint the photos.

Couric to Interview Palin

Via TPM, two women with something to prove. Couric still wants to show America she's got the chops while CBS struggles for ratings, and Palin probably needs to explain why she's got the chops to run the country when McCain's own adviser says Palin couldn't run a company.

My only question: Why two nights? Is the campaign forcing the networks to stretch the exposure in order to get an appearance at all? Or are the nets looking to milk the Palin phenomenon for all it's worth?

Ruth Marcus: All Politicians Lie, but McCain Simply Lies Too Much

Addressing the media neutralizer, "All campaigns fall short," WaPo's Ruth Marcus observes "it is a phony evenhandedness, comfortable for journalists but ultimately misleading." The whole column is worth a read.

16 September 2008

The Fundamentals, Again

Whoa. That didn't take long. I'm not even sure this qualifies as a negative ad, but it's pretty hard hitting. Thoughts?

15 September 2008

Fundamentals of the Economy and a Bridge in Alaska

From the AP:

"Let me tell you, instead of borrowing my lines he needs to borrow some of my ideas. Change isn't about slogans. It's about substance."

. . . Saying that McCain had put some lobbyists in key roles of his campaign, Obama said, "If you think those lobbyists are working day and night for John McCain just to put themselves out of business, well I've got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska."
I can't get enough of that stuff. But seriously, today's been a pretty good day for Obama. John McCain said just this morning that the "fundamentals of the economy are sound," and Obama had the right response: "Sen. McCain, what economy are you talking about?" A few hours later, McCain had modified his message.

When the McCain campaign regroups to address genuine concerns about real issues that the Obama campaign specifically cites, then chalk one up for the Democrats. Obama is at his best, and McCain betrays his weaknesses, when discussing straight-up issues of substance. And today at least, as Steve Benen put it, "no one's talking about lipstick, arugula, tire gauges, Paris Hilton, or sex-ed for kindergarteners."

14 September 2008

Tax Policy Center: Report on the Obama and McCain Tax Plans

UPDATE II: The source has been located. Bradley Schiller, Sept. 5, 2008.. Sorry for the original inaccuracy.

UPDATE: I mistakenly read the the quoted text in Ben's note below as having come from the Tax Policy Center report. This is incorrect. It comes from the Wall Street Journal. I still need to track the author and article down. I'll post more info as soon as I have it.

My friend Ben sent me this report from the Tax Policy Center. In a nutshell, it says that neither presidential candidate has proposed a tax plan that can reduce the deficit. In fact, both candidates' plans will only grow the deficit.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have proposed tax plans that would substantially increase the national debt over the next ten years, according to a newly updated analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Neither candidate’s plan would significantly increase economic growth unless offset by spending cuts or tax increases that the campaigns have not specified.

. . . The Obama plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income families, but raise them significantly for high-bracket taxpayers (see Figure 2). By 2012, middle-income taxpayers would see their after-tax income rise by about 5 percent, or nearly $2,200 annually. Those in the top 1 percent would face a $19,000 average tax increase—a 1.5 percent reduction in after-tax income.

McCain would lift after-tax incomes an average of about 3 percent, or $1,400 annually, for middle-income taxpayers by 2012. But, in sharp contrast to Obama, he would cut taxes for those in the top 1% by more than $125,000, raising their after-tax income an average 9.5 percent.
Just yesterday, Alan Greenspan expressed concern over McCain's tax cuts.
"I'm not in favor of financing tax cuts with borrowed money," Greenspan said during an interview with Bloomberg Television. "I always have tied tax cuts to spending."
My friend Ben is both more informed and more articulate than I am on this particular issue, so I'll use his words to explain part of the problem I think Greenspan is aware of. Ben advised me, when writing about the candidates' tax plans, to consider the situation one of them will inherit in January:
You should include the 407 billion dollar debt by month's end . . . 500 billion by the time Obama or McCain takes office, then look at the tax assessment . . . I'm sure both McCain and Obama will be forced to reconsider, meaning, promises made now will be broken and it will be business as usual in DC because it HAS to be.
Unfortunately, Ben's right. This is what Democrats must be worried about when they hear Obama make tax promises before a crowd of 76,000 in Denver and another 38 million on TV. Granted, the Tax Policy Center's report finds that Obama's plan will treat struggling American families more kindly than McCain's, but with the mounting debt the country faces, how can Obama live up to the promise?

Ben goes on to slice and dice the McCain approach.
The Republican platform of cutting taxes is a beautiful theory but there is nothing compelling that shows it works. Consider what we have read in the news lately:

$500 billion dollar deficit - we'll need to borrow more from China; how much of the US does China own again?

The theory that by cutting taxes for the "well-to-do," such people reinvest the $$ for jobs, new business and etc. But what we are seeing is soaring unemployment rates, lowering of real wages for middle and lower class, and upper income wealth growing.
Here's the biggest insight I take from Ben's note. Current economic indicators are not reliable in the same ways they used to be. Especially our gross domestic product.
GDP is up, that's a good thing. [According to the WSJ,] "U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis revised its assessment of GDP growth in the second quarter of this year. Rather than growing at the anemic pace of 1.9% as reported in July, the April-June quarter actually registered a healthy GDP growth rate of 3.3%. Growth at this rate exceeds the long-term U.S. growth rate of 3.1% over the past 50 years."

BUT there are huge problems with using GDP as a measure for where we are going . . . i.e. great GDP has gone up but wages are either stagnating or going down (depending on how you look at it), pensions are beginning to shrink or in the case of some industries just [disappear], and the whole debate on income inequality is magnified now more than ever with the rise of executive pay. So all of a sudden GDP is not really measuring what we think we are measuring.
What does it all mean? I'll have to follow up with Ben for a tidy summation. Loosely, though, I think it means Americans will have to do the following to get out of being indentured to China: 1) Get out of Iraq and start the difficult assessment of how to reallocate our military resources to protect the country against the real threats we do face without continuing to hock the country's future. 2) Tighten the belt. We have to cut spending, even after the U.S. gets out of Iraq. It's the plain truth of the matter. We need a government that says no to largess while explaining to the American people why we can't afford certain things.

Infrastructure, education, and health care need to be where we spend our money, not the military industrial complex. If a President McCain decides to keep this country spending on war efforts to the tune of $10 billion a month, he's going to have to convince his compatriots, the American people, that it's so worth doing that we can give up some of our luxuries and entitlement items in order to support a wartime economy. There are problems with Obama's plan, to be sure. But McCain wants to offer tax cuts to the richest 1% while we're at war? Give me a break.

Fey on Palin

"Good evening, my fellow Americans." From those opening lines, Tina Fey brought her ringing genius to bear throughout the hilarious, opening skit for this year's season of Saturday Night Live. We stood before the screen, riveted, watching the artist outdo her subject: Sarah Palin.

Meta dripped from the skit, art imitating the life that has been compared to the art. No doubt millions of us will google "flurge" to discover exactly what Amy Poehler's Hillary was talking about. Poehler couldn't render Clinton's voice and intonation like Fey captured Palin's, but she sure said some of the things we'd like to hear from Hillary Clinton. The commentary beneath the commentary, pointing up the ridiculousness of the sexism claims, was rich. And the scathing review of the media--"I invite the media to grow a pair, and if you can't, I will lend you mine"--at the end of the sketch was priceless for its brutal appropriateness.

If reporters, pundits, strategists and politicians still can't quite get a grasp on the cultural phenomenon that is Sarah Palin, let's at least take comfort that our comics haven't struggled with the same challenge. Here's hoping for more in the coming weeks.

Now I've got to go research Palin and dinosaurs.

13 September 2008

Time for Some Campaignin'

No matter your politics, this is hilarious. Equal opportunity irreverence. Enjoy.

12 September 2008

Gail Schoettler on Colorado Amendment 48

"An extreme measure." Gail Schoettler took a look at Amendment 48, also called the Personhood Amendment, in Wednesday's Denver Post.

If a woman diagnosed with cancer has a fertilized egg, this measure would deny her treatment.

. . . This amendment would make the pill and IUDs illegal because they keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It would prohibit the "morning after" pill that a woman who has been raped can take if she fears she might have been impregnated by her attacker.

Schoettler goes on to mention the setbacks 48 would present to couples who pursue in vitro fertilization, because all those leftover, fertilized eggs would by law be regarded as human lives. And the setbacks 48 would present to stem cell research.

Then she asks an interesting question:

Then, what about property rights? Can some ambitious lawyer file lawsuits on behalf of a bundle of cells to get property, inherit money, win a judgment in an auto accident? Now here's a whole new field of legal opportunity.

In a nutshell? No on 48.

More Viral Video: Ask Your Doctor About Republican

From my father-in-law. And actually pretty funny.

Viral Video: One Heartbeat Away

This is not an ad by the Obama campaign, but it should be.

Hurrican Ike

At first glance, I thought this was a picture of snowy trees beside a county road. It's not. The man in the picture is standing on the sea wall in Galveston, TX. Courtesy of CNN.

Make that Two

First, CBS News expressed displeasure at the McCain campaign's appropriation of the CBS brand to justify lies about Barack Obama. Now, via the LAT, the usually apolitical FactCheck.org has some strong words as well.

We don't object to people reprinting our articles. In fact, our copyright policy encourages it. But we've also asked that "the editorial integrity of the article be preserved" and told those who use our items that "you should not edit the original in such a way as to alter the message."

With its latest ad, released Sept. 10, the McCain-Palin campaign has altered our message in a fashion we consider less than honest. The ad strives to convey the message that FactCheck.org said "completely false" attacks on Gov. Sarah Palin had come from Sen. Barack Obama. We said no such thing. We have yet to dispute any claim from the Obama campaign about Palin.

They call the ad "Fact Check." It says "the attacks on Gov. Palin have been called 'completely false' ... 'misleading.' " On screen is a still photo of a grim-faced Obama. Our words are accurately quoted, but they had nothing to do with Obama.

Sounds kinda like lipstick, doesn't it. Yeah, Obama said it. Lipstick on a pig. But Sarah Palin wasn't part of that conversation about McCain's economic policies. Not until the McCain campaign put her there.

The McCain campaign keeps gambling that if they call an apple an orange enough times, the American public will bite. The campaign is counting on the mainstream media not to publish pictures of apples and oranges side by side.

Here's hoping the media calls an apple an apple. Period.