Tuesday, September 30, 2008

OMG, It Just Keeps Getting Worse

Sarah Palin can't name a single newspaper or magazine she has ever read. Oh, excuse me: She has read "all of them."

Katie Couric deserves a lot of credit for these interviews. Sure makes Charles Gibson look like a chump.

Update: This is probably a good time to recall that Governor Palin was a "communications-journalism" major in college.

A later observation: Watch Couric's eyes when Palin starts talking about Alaska. What do you think she's thinking to herself?

Florida Moves Into Obama Column?

John McCain has consistently led in Florida polls. Until now. A new poll by Public Policy Polling has got it at Obama 49%, McCain 46%.

Is it the economy? Was it the debate?

Or is it The Great Schlep?

Give Me Those 12 People's Names

When Republicans claimed, yesterday, that they had the votes promised to pass the bailout, but the votes went away when Speaker Pelosi made a partisan speech, Barney Frank gave the perfect response. It needs to preserved for posterity. This is how to handle the GOP:

Frankly, that's an accusation against my Republican colleagues I would have never thought of making. Here's the story: there's a terrible crisis affecting the American economy. We have come together on a bill to alleviate the crisis. And because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country. I mean, I would not have imputed that degree of pettiness and hypersensitivity.... [T]hink about this. 'Somebody hurt my feelings, so I will punish the country.' That's hardly plausible. And there are 12 Republican members who were ready to stand up for the economic interest of America, but not if anybody insulted them. I'll make an offer. Give me those 12 people's names and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them and tell them what wonderful people they are and maybe they'll now think about the country.

After taking the required hit at Pelosi, even the Wall Street Journal editorialized:
House Republicans share the blame, and not only because they opposed the bill by about two-to-one, 133-65. Their immediate response was to say that many of their Members turned against the bill at the last minute because Ms. Pelosi gave her nasty speech. So they are saying that Republicans chose to oppose something they think is in the national interest merely because of a partisan slight. Thank heaven these guys weren't at Valley Forge.

The GOP Insane Asylum

David Brooks is again warning of the impending death of the Republican Party. Would that it were so:

And let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.

House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.

This seems to be a recurring theme among the mainstream pundits. My favorite, which I can't find anymore, recalled a famous remark of James L. Petigru, a former Congressman, upon the secession of South Carolina in 1860. The Republican Party, like the Republic of South Carolina, is "too small for a republic, and too large for an insane asylum."

Update: MSNBC's First Read compares the GOP to Lord of the Flies.

Second Update: The Petrigru quote was from The Reality-Based Community.

She's Baaaack

Inexplicably, Sarah Palin sat down again with Katie Couric. Only this time, she brought adult supervision. The whole thing is 2 minutes, 15 seconds.

The McCain campaign is in a downward spiral. The old stuff isn't working anymore.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Up in Smoke

From Americablog.com:

Dow on Bill Clinton's last day in office: 10,587.59

Dow today: 10,365.4

Eight years gone, so far.

The up side: some stocks still managed to gain today.
The down side: it's because they sell suicide prevention kits.

Hey, it's only paper, folks. And money truly is not the most important thing.

Somethin's Goin' On

My primary email address is still at America Online. Frankly, AOL is a horrible place; they seem to think I'm interested in celebrities, and I can't even check my mail without having to click through news about the eating disorders and romantic breakups of people I've never heard of, and could not care less about.

One thing about AOL that has been very interesting to me, though, is that every week for months they've had a presidential poll. To vote, you have to identify what state you're in. AOL displays the winner of each state on a map of the United States; red states are McCain, blue states are Obama.

With one or two exceptions, the map of the United States has been entirely red, week after week. I expect this reflects something about the demographics of AOL's users that they wish were not so.

But here's the interesting thing: They've got a new poll up, and suddenly the AOL users are moving:

Who do you want to win the election?
McCain 43%
Obama 51%

Who do you think will win the election?
McCain 42%
Obama 58%

What did you think of McCain's move to temporarily suspend his campaign?
Thumbs up 40%
Thumbs down 60%

Who do you think won the first presidential debate?
McCain 31%
Obama 45%
Neither 15%

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Something Else to Worry About

Feeling better, now that there's supposed to be a bailout agreement (again)? Then don't read this:

Even as Washington reached a tentative agreement on Sunday over what may become the largest financial bailout in American history, new worries were building inside the nearly $2 trillion world of hedge funds. After years of explosive growth, losses are mounting — and so are concerns that some investors will head for the exits.

No one expects a wholesale flight from hedge funds. But even a modest outflow could reverberate through the financial markets. To pay back investors, some funds may be forced to dump investments at a time when the markets are already shaky.

The big worry is that a spate of hurried sales could unleash a vicious circle within the hedge fund industry, with the sales leading to more losses, and those losses leading to more withdrawals, and so on. A big test will come on Tuesday, when many funds are scheduled to accept withdrawal requests for the end of the year.

Quotes I Wish I'd Never Seen

From Politico:

"What will they say come Monday if another major bank fails — I will not use the name. There's another major bank teetering on the edge." —Sen Robert Bennett (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Banking Committee.

"On Monday or Tuesday, Main Street America will be under dire stress." —Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who went on to warn that companies may not be able to make payroll, and ATMs might stop releasing cash as depositors withdraw their money from banks.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Good One

The Panic of 1907

Jean Strouse, who is THE biographer of J.P. Morgan (and who probably wouldn't approve of my choice of portraits), writes in today's Washington Post about Morgan's role in the Panic of 1907.

Funniest line:

On Sunday, the newspapers published a letter from the president saying that the fundamentals of the economy were sound.

The conclusion:

The crisis itself was relatively brief, but it brought on a severe nationwide contraction that destroyed not only speculative ventures but healthy banks and businesses as well, and threw people all over the country out of work -- a scenario that everyone working around the clock to resolve the crisis of 2008 has to hope will not sound familiar down the line.

The article is well worth the read. JP Morgan was a force. Such a force that 100 years later, his name (as J.P. Morgan Chase) is still in the cast of characters.

Paul Newman 1926-2008

Rest in Peace, Paul. Yours was a well-lived life.

Update: I think the comment by my friend, Dave Lewis, should be included here:

We lost a great man today. Paul Newman was an Oscar winning actor and a successful race car driver but he was so much more.

He was a comitted liberal activist. He was a passionate Vietnam anti-war activist and Gene McCarthy supporter. He championed civil rights and gay rights. He took great pride in being included on Richard Nixon's enemies list.

But most importantly he was one of the most caring and generous men in America.

He founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for very sick children. http://www.holeinthewallgang.org/ There is now a series of camps all around the world including the Victory Junction Gang Camp he co-founded with NASCAR driver Kyle Petty. These camps provide experiences seriously ill children would otherwise never be able to enjoy.

In 1988 he started the Newman's Own company selling his personal recipe for salad dressing. Newman's Own expanded and is now selling dozens of products. Every cent of profits from the company, $250 million to date, is donated to charity. Many people's lives are better today because of Paul Newman.

We should stop and take a moment to remember this remarkable man.


I don't know who this guy is, but Ed Schultz is some sort of radio talk-show host. He says:

Capitol Hill sources are telling me that senior McCain people are more than concerned about Palin.

The campaign has held a mock debate and a mock press conference; both are being described as "disastrous." One senior McCain aide was quoted as saying, "What are we going to do?" The McCain people want to move this first debate to some later, undetermined date, possibly never. People on the inside are saying the Alaska Governor is "clueless."

Oh, stop teasing me like this! Oh, I can hardly wait.

Snap Polls

Here's what the "snap" polls were showing:


Who Did the Best Job In the Debate?

Obama 51%

McCain 38%

Who Would Better Handle Economy?

Obama 58%

McCain 37%

Who Would Better Handle Iraq?

Obama 52%

McCain 47%

Which would better handle terrorism?

Obama 45%

McCain 49%


Who won?

Obama 40%

McCain 22%

Draw 38%

Who would make the right decision on Iraq?

Obama 49%

McCain 55% (I guess some people voted twice!)

Reader Dawg in Virginia is right. The real picture will emerge in the next few days.

"The real test will come in a few days when we see whether support for Obama or McCain changes in polls involving all voters, not just debate watchers," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"In post-debate polls after the first faceoff in 2004, John Kerry got virtually the same numbers as Obama did tonight. Polls released a few days later showed Kerry gaining five points in the horse race."

Good post-debate poll numbers don't always spell success in the horse race, he said.

"Kerry also won the third debate in 2004 with the same numbers that Obama got in tonight's poll, but his support dropped five points after that event," Holland said.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Tie

I'd call the debate a tie, which, considering foreign affairs is supposed to be McCain's strong suit, is fine.

McCain sounded very knowledgeable, but his references to Kissinger in China and such did sort of emphasize the fact that, well, this guy has been around a long time, hasn't he? That's a two-edged sword. And it was McCain, not Obama, who apparently doesn't know the difference between strategic thinking and tactical thinking. Nobody will pick up on that, but it does explain why he's so focused on Iraq.

Anybody think one or the other of them won?

Update: I was wrong. Biden picked up the strategic/tactical thing, too.


You might recall the soundtrack to this video. It was very popular on YouTube about a year ago, and is from a real beauty pageant*. It has been put to good use.

* It was the Miss Teen South Carolina pageant.

We Got Standards Here!

Sempringham is a high-class joint.

Too high class to post a video of Sarah Palin in the 1984 Miss Alaska swimsuit competition. You have to go to YouTube for that kind of low-class stuff.

And too high-class to post a hilarious video of a get-out-the-vote campaign if it contains vulgarity. You'll have to leave Sempringham if you want to watch vulgar videos.

I just wanted you to know that.

Update: The Sarah Palin video is no longer available, it says, because of copyright claims of Splash News, whoever they are. It's just as well. Beauty pageants objectify women, and I am told that is a bad thing.

Second update: It's now available here.

Can't Stop Laughing

National Public Radio informed me this morning that the person who's helping Sen. McCain practice for tonight's debate is Michael Steele, the former Lt. Gov. of Maryland.

This is Michael Steele:

I mean Mr. Steele no disrespect, but it looks like McCain, like most Republicans, needs to practice talking to a black guy.

Sarah's Even Losing Her Base

Kathleen Parker in the Dallas Morning News (yes, you heard that right):

When Ms. Palin first emerged as Mr. McCain's running mate, I confess I was delighted. She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood – a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.

Ms. Palin didn't make a mess cracking the glass ceiling. She simply glided through it.

It was fun while it lasted.

Ms. Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I've been pulling for Ms. Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I've also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

Who's In Charge of this Asylum?

Spotted on Politico:

According to one GOP lawmaker, some House Republicans are saying privately that they’d rather “let the markets crash” than sign on to a massive bailout.

“For the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a Great Depression?” the member asked.

One good thing about a Great Depression II is that it would rid the body politic of these idiots.

[Update: David Brooks apparently agrees with me:

What strikes me most about the House Republican position is the awesome chutzpah. Given all the uncertainty, they are still willing to stake out an astonishingly bold position that goes against the grain of conventional wisdom. If they are successful in blocking the Paulson approach and they are wrong, we will enter another Depression, the Republican Party will be blamed and the G.O.P. will cease to exist.]

To be clear: nobody (except Wall Street) wants a bailout to save Wall Street's sorry butts. The only reason we're even considering it is because many serious people think it's the only thing that will save OUR sorry butts.

About That Petition

According to the Washington Post:

Wall Street economists have mostly endorsed Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.'s plan, or a variation thereof.

But almost 200 academic economists -- who aren't paid by the institutions that could directly benefit from the plan but who also may not have recent practical experience in the markets -- have signed a petition organized by a University of Chicago professor objecting to the plan on the grounds that it could create perverse incentives, that it is too vague and that its long-run effects are unclear.


Many economists fault the Bush administration and Congress for moving so quickly on the bailout package without allowing more time for debate. That sentiment was reflected in the petition organized by John Cochrane of the University of Chicago.

John Cochrane is the high priest of the Milton Friedman cult at the University of Chicago. Just so you know.

Bye-Bye, WaMu

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain Shows Leadership

According to Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

During the White House meeting, it appears that Sen. John McCain had an agenda. He brought up alternative proposals, surprising and angering Democrats. He did not, according to someone briefed on the meeting, provide specifics.


Before the White House meeting, Democrats and Senate Republicans were on track to get legislation to the floor by tomorrow.


As of 6:30, as the Corner notes, Fox's Carl Cameron notes that the mood on Capitol Hill is "remarkably sour."

Reuters says:

Interviewed on CNN, [Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher] Dodd also had harsh words for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who attended the meeting, saying, "What this looked like to me was a rescue plan for John McCain for two hours."

Dodd added, "To be distracted for two to three hours for political theater doesn't help."

Dodd alluded to a new plan being floated by Republicans during the White House meeting. "I don't even know what it is and no one could explain it," Dodd said, noting that this new element could cause lawmakers to start over on legislation, which he did not want to do.

Worse Than We Thought

Here's another clip from Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin. She's had three weeks to come up with an answer to her foreign policy experience.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Vote NO on Palin

My niece, Debbie, sent this to me:

PBS is doing one of those instant online polls to ask "America" if they think Sarah Palin is fit to be Vice President.

The GOP has launched a successful all out blitz to get Republicans to go on the site and click "Yes". As a result, right now it looks like 62% of "America" thinks Palin is qualified. The Republicans are going to be milking this for all it's worth in their press efforts.

We need to drive more Democrats and those opposed to Palin to the site to click "NO". Let's not give the GOP another easy weapon to put in their PR arsenal!

Here's the link: http://www.pbs.org/now/polls/poll-435.html

When I visited the site this morning, it was tied at 49%, so the netroots action is working. Do your duty!

Meanwhile, Back in Alaska

We're still reading the Anchorage Daily News, keeping track of Troopergate. And we're glad we are, because otherwise we'd have missed this news about the temporary closing of the Botanical Garden:

A bear feasting on a moose carcass along the perimeter fence of Alaska Botanical Garden Tuesday morning has prompted officials to close the facility. The garden will be closed to public use until Oct. 10 to give the bear time to finish its carcass and move along.

And this interactive map, for tracking the ranges of the bears walking around Anchorage. It's pretty cool. You just roll your mouse over the bear's number, and that bear's range is highlighted.

And there's a series of pictures of moose who've managed to get tangled in Christmas lights, chicken wire, and children's swings.

But my very favorite was this picture submitted to the paper from somebody who ran into pre-VP candidate Sarah Palin shopping at -- yup, Wal-Mart.

Quote of the Day

Gail Collins, on President Bush's speech last night:

"There is, in a way, a kind of talent required to tell the nation that it’s teetering on the brink of disaster in a way that makes the viewers’ attention wander."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About Canceling the Debate

Has John McCain stepped in it again?

Does he think these places that host Presidential debates just rearrange tables and chairs in the church basement? Surprise! Ole Miss is definitely not happy with this turn of events. That's $5.5 million worth of rearranged tables for them.

McCain canceled tonight's appearance on Letterman, too. He apparently called Letterman to say he had to fly back to Washington immediately (to handle the financial Crisis! Crisis! We're in a Crisis!). Only problem being that he then headed to CBS News for an interview with Katie Couric. Which Letterman discovered, and tuned the studio monitors in to. Definitely worth watching:

And finally, there's this from CNN:

McCain supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham tells CNN the McCain campaign is proposing to the Presidential Debate Commission and the Obama camp that if there's no bailout deal by Friday, the first presidential debate should take the place of the VP debate, currently scheduled for next Thursday, October 2 in St. Louis.

In this scenario, the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin would be rescheduled for a date yet to be determined, and take place in Oxford, Mississippi, currently slated to be the site of the first presidential faceoff this Friday.
Is this whole postponing the debate thing really about Sarah Palin not being ready yet?

Watch Palin's interview with Katie Couric, then you tell me:

Paul Krugman

If you're really interested in this bailout business, and suspect that Treasury Secretary Henry "Hank" Paulson's plan might have been half-baked, you may enjoy reading Paul Krugman's blog.

Krugman teaches economics at Princeton, writes a regular NY Times Op-Ed column, and is brilliant and knows it, so is a bit much to take sometimes. But he asks the right questions.

I liked this from one of his posts today:

When I noted that the Paulson plan still doesn’t have a name, but that some are calling it Bailie Mae, [Princeton economist Alan Blinder] proposed Hanky Panky instead.


Sometimes I'm amazed at how naive I am. The New York Times tells how it's done in Washington.

WASHINGTON — One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 through last month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain’s campaign manager, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.

The disclosure undercuts a remark by Mr. McCain on Sunday night that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had had no involvement with the company for the last several years.

Mr. Davis’s firm received the payments from the company, Freddie Mac, until it was taken over by the government this month along with Fannie Mae, the other big mortgage lender whose deteriorating finances helped precipitate the cascading problems on Wall Street, the two people said.

They said they did not recall Mr. Davis’s doing much substantive work for the company in return for the money, other than to speak to a political action committee of high-ranking employees in October 2006 on the approaching midterm Congressional elections. They said Mr. Davis’s firm, Davis Manafort, had been kept on the payroll because of his close ties to Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who by 2006 was widely expected to run again for the White House.

Mr. Davis took a leave from Davis Manafort for the presidential campaign, but as an equity holder continues to benefit from its income. No one at Davis Manafort other than Mr. Davis was involved in efforts on Freddie Mac’s behalf, the people familiar with the arrangement said.

Don't Get Too Excited

The Washington Post-ABC News poll of likely voters has got Obama over McCain, 52% to 43%. Amazing. "Two weeks ago, in the days immediately following the Republican National Convention, the race was essentially even, with McCain at 49 percent and Obama at 47 percent."

But remember, Obama's strategist David Axelrod says there is likely to be at least one more occasion for hand-wringing and bedwetting before this is over. And let's get serious -- we're trying to elect a black man as President of the United States. It was never going to be easy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kind of Sad, Really

Some readers will remember that Merrill Lynch used to be Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Smith.

When I was a freshman in college the guy across the hall was the grandson of Smith. A nice fellow, but something of a ne'er-do-well, and he flunked out after the first semester. He had borrowed my Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde album -- a double album! -- and I never saw it again.

It's sad to think of them as gone, nevertheless.

I think every Econ 101 class should be required to watch these confident, optimistic ads.

You remember EFHutton, right?

Whatever happened to EFHutton? This (from Wikipedia):

In early 1987, an internal probe revealed that brokers at an office in Providence, Rhode Island, laundered money for the Patriarca crime family. Although Hutton reported the investigation to the SEC, it wasn't enough to stop prosecutors from all but announcing that Hutton would be indicted.[5]

In a case of especially bad timing, this came only a week before the 1987 stock market crash. By the end of November, Hutton had lost $76 million, largely due to massive trading losses and margin calls that its customers couldn't meet. It also had its commercial paper rating cut from A-2 to A-3, effectively losing $1.3 million in financing. Hutton was now weeks—perhaps days, according to some board members—from collapse. [6] On December 3, Hutton agreed to a merger with Shearson Lehman Brothers. The merger took effect in 1988, and the merged firm was named Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc.

It later emerged that Hutton had faced massive cash shorts as early as 1985, and the firm's management had tried to put it up for sale as early as 1986.[6]

In 1993, American Express sold its brokerage and asset management business—the Shearson and Hutton parts of Shearson Lehman Hutton—to Primerica. Primerica merged them with Smith Barney (which it had bought in 1987) to form Smith Barney Shearson, later shortened back to simply Smith Barney. As a result of several mergers over the rest of the decade, the remains of E.F. Hutton are now part of Citigroup.

And who can mention Smith Barney without remembering John Houseman?


Oh, THAT Jim Cramer

Back on September 16 (it seems so long ago) I included a video of this guy, Jim Cramer, talking about AIG, and said I thought I remembered him being equally emphatic about something that turned out not to be true.

Found it:

Reassuring Words

10 Skills

Consumerist.com offers 10 Skills to Have in the Post-Financial Apocalypse.

A sample:

7. Cooking. The days of getting take out every single night are over. You must learn to cook, and by cook, we mean "Prepare nutritious meals at a reasonable price." You will probably not need to own any saffron.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bailout Danger

There are many policy dimensions to the Paulson/Bernanke bailout. Will this work? How do we protect the American taxpayer from this turning into a windfall for a bunch of grossly irresponsible people? Why does Paulson want this to be beyond oversight by Congress and the courts?

But there's a political dimension that's barely been examined. Last Wednesday, Rasmussen published a poll that disclosed:

Only seven percent (7%) of voters think the federal government should use taxpayer funds to keep a large financial institution solvent. Sixty-five percent (65%) say let the company file for bankruptcy.

These numbers are generally the same across Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
The timing of the poll was probably critical: it was taken after the government refused to bail out Lehman Brothers, but on the second day of polling, Paulson and Bernanke decided AIG was too big to fail. And it was before Bernanke and Paulson had their "Come to Jesus" meeting with Congressional leaders to ask for $700 billion, with no strings attached.

Is there still such antipathy to bailouts, or have people been scared silly by the dire warnings emanating from Washington?

A hint here. Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach spent a day in Manassas Park, Virginia. His report:

Hours of interviews in Manassas Park turned up exactly one resident in favor of the [Paulson/Bernanke] bailout, a fellow in a Harvard T-shirt in a big house near the golf course.

This suggests there could be political support for, at a minimum, taking a couple of extra days with this, to make sure the American taxpayer is protected more than Wall Street.

We've got a difficult situation for politicians here. There are dire warnings of financial collapse if we don't follow the Paulson/Bernanke plan, but no assurances the plan will solve the problem. Whatever course we take, we'll never know what would have happened had we taken another course. The economic consequences of making the wrong decision could be enormous; the political consequences will most certainly be so. But the political consequences of making the right decision could be ugly, too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Even George Will is Catching On

Crooks and Liars has video of a portion of today's ABC Roundtable. You can find it here.

George Will's summary: "John McCain showed his personality this week and made some of us fearful."

The Failures of the "Conservative Movement" (13)

Here's a good little essay on things in the market (especially the links) for those equally obsessed with trying to discern whether we are headed for Third World-dom.

I especially liked this:

I also find myself drawn to [adding] provisions [to the Paulson/Bernanke Plan] that would serve no useful purpose except to insult the industry, like requiring the CEOs, CFOs and the chair of the board of any entity that sells mortgage related securities to the Treasury Department to certify that they have completed an approved course in credit counseling. That is now required of consumers filing bankruptcy to make sure they feel properly humiliated for being head over heels in debt, although most lost control of their finances because of a serious illness in the family. That would just be petty and childish, and completely in character for me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Musical Interlude -- Everybody Knows

Hard not to feel cynical these days. So here's a little Leonard Cohen, with Spanish subtitles for my mother, who's learning Spanish.

Waste and Fraud Still Exist

Oh, I hate stories like this one. But, if true, this is so egregious people need to go to jail. A teaser:

Virtually every career [Long Island Railroad] employee — as many as 97 percent in one recent year — applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found. Since 2000, those records show, about a quarter of a billion dollars in federal disability money has gone to former L.I.R.R. employees, including about 2,000 who retired during that time.

The L.I.R.R.’s disability rate suggests it is one of the nation’s most dangerous places to work. Yet in four of the last five years, the railroad has won national awards for improving worker safety.

“Short of the gulag, I can’t imagine any work force that would have a so-to-speak 90 percent disability attrition rate,” said Glenn Scammel, long one of Capitol Hill’s top experts on railroads. “That defies both logic and experience.”

Said Dr. J. Mark Melhorn, co-editor of a book on occupational disability published by the American Medical Association: “No one has a rate that high — that just doesn’t happen.”

And it is not just engineers, conductors or track workers seeking disability payments. Dozens of retired white-collar managers are doing it as well, including the former deputy general counsel, employment manager, claims manager and director of government and community affairs.

In fact, two formerly influential figures at the L.I.R.R. — a married couple, one from management and one from labor — are retired and drawing about $280,000 annually in combined disability and pension payments, according to estimates based on public records.

Our Current Troubles

I'm properly worried about things financial. Right now I'm putting trust in Secretary Paulson mostly because I don't see any alternative on the horizon. As Bernanke and Paulson reportedly explained it to members of Congress, it's either give them unlimited authority to spend $700 billion or the whole economic system will collapse.

Like we have $700 billion.

The budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 is projected to be $482 billion. Giving this kind of additional spending authority will require raising the national debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion! As Peter Goodman writes, "Some question the prudence of adding to the nation’s overall debt at a time when the Treasury relies on the largess of foreigners to cover the bills."

Talking Points Memo is publishing some interesting, contrarian views from some of its readers. I think they raise interesting points worth having the answers to.

While the Resolution Trust Corporation was a moderately well regarded solution to the 80's S&L scandal, this proposed idea does not, and almost certainly will not be similar, though its proponents will claim it is. The RTC took over failed banks and sold off the banks' assets. Very simple. It was simply an enormous bankruptcy trustee.

The crucial difference here is that this bailout will not be taking over failed banks, just taking over the bad debts of the failed banks. So the banks will be able to live on and be free to do the exact same thing all over again. I cannot think of a worse philosophical, policy, or practical solution than this.

You have banks and investment houses that lobbied Congress to remove restrictions on their activities and now their own activities have loaded them down with the crushing weight of bad debt from which they all profited handsomely before they got stuck holding the pile of s**t. ...

If we are going to subsidize taking over these bad debts, then we should be taking over the entire banks and liquidating them. Period.

And a political sentiment I sympathize with regardless of how this is decided:

Is it just me? With this last enormous bail out of our Wall Street Investors/Corporate America, I have this picture in my mind of these cartoon Republicans sweeping out the last of the people's money from the vaults. It took eight years, but they managed to get it all. The War/Private Contractors, the Oil Companys, the deregulation and fleecing of America. These Republicans started their tour of duty eight years ago with the coffers overflowing, flush with cash.

Finally, the NY Times' Paul Krugman writes:

No deal

I hate to say this, but looking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal. Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets.

As I posted earlier today, it seems all too likely that a “fair price” for mortgage-related assets will still leave much of the financial sector in trouble. And there’s nothing at all in the draft that says what happens next; although I do notice that there’s nothing in the plan requiring Treasury to pay a fair market price. So is the plan to pay premium prices to the most troubled institutions? Or is the hope that restoring liquidity will magically make the problem go away?

Here’s the thing: historically, financial system rescues have involved seizing the troubled institutions and guaranteeing their debts; only after that did the government try to repackage and sell their assets. The feds took over S&Ls first, protecting their depositors, then transferred their bad assets to the RTC. The Swedes took over troubled banks, again protecting their depositors, before transferring their assets to their equivalent institutions.

The Treasury plan, by contrast, looks like an attempt to restore confidence in the financial system — that is, convince creditors of troubled institutions that everything’s OK — simply by buying assets off these institutions. This will only work if the prices Treasury pays are much higher than current market prices; that, in turn, can only be true either if this is mainly a liquidity problem — which seems doubtful — or if Treasury is going to be paying a huge premium, in effect throwing taxpayers’ money at the financial world.

And there’s no quid pro quo here — nothing that gives taxpayers a stake in the upside, nothing that ensures that the money is used to stabilize the system rather than reward the undeserving.

I hope I’m wrong about this. But let me say it again: Treasury needs to explain why this is supposed to work — not try to panic Congress into giving it a blank check. Otherwise, no deal.

We all need to stay tuned to this debate.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama Holds His First Press Conference as President

Remember what it was like when we had a President who knew what he was talking about? Obama's press conference today reminded me of those days.

I've put the whole 22 minutes of it below, but it's really the Q & A session with the reporters that impressed me. Obama is thoroughly conversant with the issues in this economic melt-down, sounds calm and reassuring (No "Crisis! Crisis! We're in a Crisis!"), has his own take on things, but prioritizes properly.

Can you imagine McCain standing up to a Q & A like that? Competence does count for something, doesn't it? This is not an "empty suit," guys.

Kevin Drum Channels Sempringham

Not to toot my own horn, but (ahem)...

Kevin Drum, if you're not up on this sort of thing (i.e., you have a life), is one of the smartest bloggers around.


Stating the Obvious

Mark Kleiman's got it right:

What is — or ought to be — deeply shocking [in the current economic crisis] is the obvious irrelevance of the White House. No one is even pretending that the Decider is making any of the actual decisions. Evidently Bernanke and Paulson think they have more credibility both on the Hill and in the markets than does the President.

Personally, I'm reasonably happy to let the experts and the legislators work this one out. They can invite the Beloved Leader in for the signing ceremony. But we shouldn't soon forgive the Republican Party for sticking us with a leader who has to be pushed aside when the real money is on the table.

It really is amazing how irrelevant Bush is. He retired months ago. I don't know if Bernanke and Paulson are doing the right thing, but I'm grateful they're there. I've written before that the interns are running Washington right now. This is not true at Treasury, thank goodness.

It Was Bound to Happen

Via the Huffington Post comes this video of Sarah:

The Palin-McCain Administration?

On a peripherally related issue, have you ever noticed how often Sarah refers to her running mate as just "McCain," and not "John McCain" or "Senator McCain?"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Biden Hits the Right Note

''It's time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.'' -- Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, speaking about wealthier Americans paying more taxes, in an interview on ABC's ''Good Morning America.''

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Cure for Nocturnal Enuresis

Tomorrow's NY Times will have a story that says, in part:

Polls taken after the Republican convention suggested that Mr. McCain had enjoyed a surge of support — particularly among white women after his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate — but the latest poll indicates “the Palin effect” was, at least so far, a limited burst of interest. The contest appeared to be roughly where it was before the two conventions and before the vice-presidential selections: Mr. Obama had the support of 48 percent of registered voters, compared with 43 percent for Mr. McCain, a difference within the poll’s margin of sampling error, and statistically unchanged from the tally in the last New York Times/CBS News Poll in mid-August.

Besides that, there were some battleground state polls that had Obama moving ahead, and others where he was close and challenging.

From NBC's Mark Murray
New battleground polls from CNN/Time, conducted among registered voters September 14-16:
-- Florida: McCain 48%, Obama 48%
-- Ohio: Obama 49%, McCain 47%
-- North Carolina: McCain 48%, Obama 47%
-- Indiana: McCain 51%, Obama 46%
-- Wisconsin: Obama 50%, McCain 47%
And if that's not enough to give you pleasant dreams, how about this poll of attitudes towards the candidates? [Don't know enough html to put this all in correct columns, but you can figure it out.]

MCCAIN 48 45 7
OBAMA 55 37 8
BIDEN 50 33 17
PALIN 44 45 11
No bed-wetting tonight, okay?

Hors d'oeuvres

Gail Collins in the Times:

“The people of Ohio are the most productive in the world!” yelled John McCain at a rally outside of Youngstown on Tuesday. Present company perhaps excluded, since the crowd was made up entirely of people who were at liberty in the middle of a workday.

Folks were wildly enthusiastic as the event began. That was partly because Sarah Palin was also on the bill. (With Todd!) And when McCain took the center stage, they were itching to cheer the war hero and boo all references to pork-barrel spenders.

Nobody had warned them that he had just morphed into a new persona — a raging populist demanding more regulation of the nation’s financial system. And since McCain’s willingness to make speeches that have nothing to do with his actual beliefs is not matched by an ability to give them, he wound up sounding like Bob Dole impersonating Huey Long.

Really, if McCain is going to keep changing into new people, the campaign should send out notices. (Come to a rally for the next president of the United States. Today he’s a vegetarian!)

And Roger Cohen:

They’re listening to Coldplay down on Wall Street:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

The leverage party’s over for the masters of the universe. Shed a tear. When you trade pieces of paper for other pieces of paper instead of trading them for real things, one day someone wakes up and realizes the paper’s worth nothing. And Lehman Brothers, after 158 years, has gone poof in the night.

We’re witnessing the passing of more than a venerable firm. We’re seeing the death of a culture.


They’re listening to Coldplay down on Wall Street:

Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!

Yes, the death of the old is also the birth of the new. In my end is my beginning. It’s time for the best and the brightest to step forth and rediscover the public sphere.
And Steven Pearlstein in the Post:

This is what a Category 4 financial crisis looks like. Giant blue-chip financial institutions swept away in a matter of days. Banks refusing to lend to other banks. Russia closing its stock market to stop the panicked selling. Gold soaring $70 in a single trading session. Developing countries' currencies in a free fall. Money-market funds warning they might not be able to return every dollar invested. Daily swings of three, four, five hundred points in the Dow Jones industrial average.

What we are witnessing may be the greatest destruction of financial wealth that the world has ever seen -- paper losses measured in the trillions of dollars. Corporate wealth. Oil wealth. Real estate wealth. Bank wealth. Private-equity wealth. Hedge fund wealth. Pension wealth. It's a painful reminder that, when you strip away all the complexity and trappings from the magnificent new global infrastructure, finance is still a confidence game -- and once the confidence goes, there's no telling when the selling will stop.

Breathe Into This Paper Bag

Matt Frei at the BBC has a good essay here about the current economic troubles. Lines that caught my eye:

I rang my banks in the UK this morning.

One had the phone operator giving me his personal guarantee that the bank will not collapse.

Fine then.

The answering machine message of another bank had been switched from piped Mozart to a special recorded announcement about insuring your deposits in volatile times.

That is like the captain of the plane telling passengers to read the flight manual for the emergency landing.

The safety of our deposits is something that we would dearly like to take for granted.

A friend in London told me about all the Lehman dads who had suddenly gathered with their children at the school gate for the morning drop off.

A whole generation of Masters of the Universe is about to master the school run and the trip to the supermarket. Personally, I feel that any schadenfreude is immediately trumped by a gnawing fear that worse is still to come and that all those comparisons with the Great Depression may be more than just an excuse to play some old black and white footage on the TV.

I know from some friends that their sound businesses are in mortal danger because banks refuse to honour the credit lines which they need in order to function.

The Failures of the "Conservative Movement" (12)

It's too bad the non-regulators got to destroy everything before we got to throw them out. We'll be stuck with the mess for a long time.

We'll also be stuck with the mess in the Supreme Court for a long time.

WASHINGTON — Judges around the world have long looked to the decisions of the United States Supreme Court for guidance, citing and often following them in hundreds of their own rulings since the Second World War.

But now American legal influence is waning. Even as a debate continues in the court over whether its decisions should ever cite foreign law, a diminishing number of foreign courts seem to pay attention to the writings of American justices.

“One of our great exports used to be constitutional law,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “We are losing one of the greatest bully pulpits we have ever had.”

The rest of the story is here.

Another Trend to Believe In

The following chart is data from the Diageo Hotline Poll, which tracks a 3-day rolling average. The question asked was, "Who would do the best job handling the economy?"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Whatever Happened to Immigration?

Remember when immigration was the big issue? It was not that long ago. Senator McCain -- the other guy, not the guy running for President -- worked hard to build a compromise that would allow illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, but the Torture Party's right wing wouldn't have anything to do with it. It died.

Well, somebody is still talking about immigration: Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Yeah, you read that right: Montana. Schweitzer is definitely one of the up and coming in the Democratic Party. This will give you a flavor of why:

[Gov. Schweitzer] noted that various anti-immigration movements have come and gone in American history - anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-Eastern European and now, anti-Hispanic.

He talked of anti-Irish sentiment that pervaded the country in the early 20th century. Despite that, a poor girl in Ireland applied for a passport. She was lucky. About one in 10 who applied were successful.

Just as she was about to leave, a young man proposed marriage, so she stayed in County Cork. In her place, her 17-year-old sister, Hannah Friel, took over the passport and entered Ellis Island illegally.

"They looked at her passport, saw she had red hair and freckles, so they let her in," Schweitzer said.

Friel nearly starved after arriving in New York in 1909. An Irish family took her in. Then she heard about a free train ride to Montana, where she could acquire 320 acres of land to homestead. So she went on her own to the Big Sky. She settled, later married and raised five children.

"To the folks in Washington, D.C., who are anti-immigration and are telling Hispanics here illegally to go back home, I say, 'You would have sent the governor of Montana's grandmother back to County Cork, Ireland," Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer offered strong language to those who advocate such a policy.

"I say, 'Hey, big shot. Who the hell do you think you are? What about you? Unless you're Blackfoot or Crow, your people got off a boat somewhere."

Looks Like We're Going to Own an Insurance Company

The latest on A.I.G.

In an extraordinary turn, the Federal Reserve was close to a deal Tuesday night to take a nearly 80 percent stake in the troubled giant insurance company, the American International Group, in exchange for an $85 billion loan, according to people briefed on the negotiations.

All of A.I.G.’s assets would be pledged to secure the loan, these people said, and in return, the Fed would receive warrants that would give it an ownership stake. Stock of existing shareholders would be diluted, but not wiped out.


Until this week, it would have been unthinkable for the Federal Reserve to bail out an insurance company, and A.I.G.’s request for help from the Fed of just a few days ago was rebuffed.

But with the prospect of a giant bankruptcy looming — one with unpredictable consequences for the world financial system — the Fed abandoned precedent and agreed to let the money flow.

I guess they saw the Jim Cramer video, below.

Update: McCain was opposed to the A.I.G. bail-out. I wonder if Gramm told him why.

Offshore Drilling -- Where the Oil Is

From The Oil Drum:

"The area involved is a band between 50 and 100 miles out, along the East and West coasts. These are areas that may contain a little oil, but are not areas where geological evidence would suggest that a significant amount of oil is likely to be available."

[You'll need to click on the picture for a clearer view. Hit back arrow to return here.]

Palin Favorability

Anybody see a trend?

[You'll need to click on the picture for a clearer view. Hit back arrow to return here.]

AIG -- What the Hay?

I don't have cable, so don't see this guy, Jim Cramer, too often. [Thank goodness.] But I think I have a video of him somewhere here making equally emphatic statements about something that turned out not to be true.

It's interesting to watch this, none-the-less. If a lot of people think like he does, we're in for a ride if AIG fails.

Update: According to Paul Krugman,

"So the markets think that the toughness in tough love is pretty much over — big rally today on expectations that the Fed, which didn’t bail out Lehman, will bail out AIG."

We'll see.

Crisis! Crisis! Crisis!

What in the world is going on with John McCain these past two days? Has he totally flipped?

When he said yesterday, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," he was taking a defensible position. He could have parlayed it as the voice of calm when all around him were losing their heads. He could have called Obama Chicken Little, and assured everyone that the national economy would feel the latest troubles, but would pull through it.

He could have been the voice of age and experience. He would have been accused of being the next Herbert Hoover, but still -- it was a defensible position.

But he decided to get weird, instead. First, he (his handlers, really) come up with the ridiculous cover that "when he says the fundamentals of the economy, he is referring to the workers." Then, he starts running around the chicken yard shouting "Crisis! We're in a crisis!" And then, finally, having convinced us we're a nation in CRISIS, he tells us what he thinks should be done about it. Are you ready for this?

Appoint a committee.

No, seriously, that's what he says.

Read this, from the NY Times' The Caucus. Does McCain sound confused to you?

On NBC’s “Today” show, Matt Lauer, from the floor of the New York Stock exchange, described Monday’s 500-point drop as a “bloodbath” and asked Mr. McCain how he could say that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” while his campaign released an ad saying that the economy is in crisis. “Clarify this for me,’’ Mr. Lauer said. “It doesn’t seem as if both things can be true.’’

Mr. McCain replied by saying that when he spoke about the fundamentals of the economy, he was referring to the workers – which is different from how he has described the term before.

“Well it’s obviously true that the workers of America are the fundamentals of our economy, and our strength and our future,’’ he said. “And I believe in the American worker, and someone who disagrees with that – it’s fine. We are in crisis. We all know that. The excess, the greed and the corruption of Wall Street have caused us to have a situation which is going to affect every American. We are in a total crisis.’’

Mr. Lauer asked if there was something wrong with the fundamentals of the economy that was causing the difficulty.

“There’s nothing wrong with the workers of America,’’ he said. “I believe that they’re the fundamentals. You may not, others may not. I think that the worker of America is the reason that we’ve been the preeminent economy in the world for a long, long period of time. America is in crisis today.’’

“We need a 9/11 commission, and we need a commission to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it,’’ he said. “And I know we can do it and how to do it.”

He continued the reformulation – that when he says the fundamentals of the economy, he is referring to the workers – at the rally here. “The working people of the state of Florida and this nation are the most innovative, hardest working, the best-skilled, most productive, most competitive in the world,’’ he said. “And this foundation of our economy, the American worker, is strong. But it’s been put a great risk by the greed and mismanagement of Wall Street and Washington.’’

In his remarks in Colorado Tuesday, Senator Barack Obama responded to the idea of a commission to study Wall Street’s woes: “Senator McCain offered up the oldest Washington stunt in the book – you pass the buck to a commission to study the problem. But here’s the thing – this isn’t 9/11. We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out."

Schadenfreude, Again!

Oh, this is so sweet!

This clown was a Colorado delegate to the Republican Convention. He is interviewed on Link.tv.org about what McCain's policies should be. He sums it all up, "Less taxes, more war!" See for yourself:

I wish more McCain supporters would tell us what they really think.

And why am I guffawing so merrily about this melon-brain? The Pioneer Press has the rest of the story. Thanks to TPM for telling us about this one, which I offer as Exhibit A for proof of the existence of God.

Fun While It Lasted

So much for our vast fortune.

Many investors also are expecting the Fed to lower the federal funds rate today at the regularly-scheduled meeting of its monetary policy committee here in Washington. At 2 percent, the short-term rate is already below the rate of inflation and delivering plenty of economic stimulus. And with the Fed always reluctant to appear that it is manipulating markets, it is more likely that it will merely deliver a promise to cut if economic conditions deteriorate further.

And make no mistake, they will deteriorate. The developments of the last two weeks, while dramatic, are simply part of the process by which the markets and the economy are adjusting to the bursting of a massive credit bubble. That bubble, which artificially inflated the value of stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities, diverted too much talent and resources to the financial sector and encouraged households and governments to live beyond their means. The process for correcting these excesses is never neat or even fair. The challenge for policymakers is to keep that process as orderly as possible without trying to protect failing companies or prevent the inevitable decline in incomes and asset prices.

Stop that whining.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Biden's Speech

Joe Biden's big speech today didn't get any coverage on ABC News tonight. But it was a good one.

Eight years ago, a man ran for President who claimed he was different, not a typical Republican. He called himself a reformer. He admitted that his Party, the Republican Party, had been wrong about things from time to time. He promised to work with Democrats and said he'd been doing that for a long time.

That candidate was George W. Bush. Remember that? Remember the promise to reach across the aisle? To change the tone? To restore honor and dignity to the White House?

We saw how that story ends.

... A nation more polarized than I've ever seen in my career. And a culture in Washington where the very few wealthy and powerful have a seat at the table and everybody else is on the menu.

Eight years later, we have another Republican nominee who's telling us the exact same thing:

This time it will be different, it really will. This time he's going to put country before party, to change the tone, reach across the aisle, change the Republican Party, change the way Washington works.

We've seen this movie before, folks. But as everyone knows, the sequel is always worse than the original.

...My dad used to have an expression: "Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."

The whole speech is here.

Update: McNeil/Lehrer covered it.

A Blog about History, too

If you don't know the story of Napoleon's march to Moscow, here's a good summary from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1812 that Napoleon's army invaded the city of Moscow. Napoleon had hoped to conquer all of Europe, and he had almost succeeded. He had invaded Russia in June of 1812, but the Russian forces kept retreating, leading his army farther and farther into the country.

The Russians practiced a scorched-earth policy of retreat, burning all the farmland so that the French army wouldn't have any food to draw on. The troops were exhausted and hungry by the time they reached Moscow on this day, in 1812. As they approached, they found the gates standing open and the streets deserted. Then they noticed that all over the city, small fires had started. The Russians had set fire to their own city. By that night, the fires were out of control.

Napoleon watched the burning of the city from inside the Kremlin. He finally fled when a fire broke out inside the Kremlin itself, and he barely escaped the city alive. He began his retreat across the snow-covered plains on October 19.

It was one of the great disasters of military history. Thousands died of starvation and hypothermia. Of the nearly 500,000 men who had set out in June, fewer than 20,000 ragged, freezing, and starving men staggered back across the Russian frontier in December.

The Death of Conservative Economic Thought (2)

Floyd Norris, in the NY Times:

Those who were complaining, only months ago, that excessive regulation was making American markets uncompetitive, had it exactly wrong. It was a lack of regulation of the shadow financial system and its players that allowed this to happen. The regulators might not have gotten it right if they had tried to put limits on leverage, or assure that it was clear what risks were being taken, in the world of derivatives and securitizations. But deciding not to even try, and assuming that risks traded secretly would somehow end up in the hands of those most able to bear them, reflected ideology, not analysis.

Perfidy, thy name is Phil Gramm.

Hold on Tight

Paul Krugman gives us an assessment of the significance of the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros. He starts:

Will the U.S. financial system collapse today, or maybe over the next few days? I don’t think so — but I’m nowhere near certain. You see, Lehman Brothers, a major investment bank, is apparently about to go under. And nobody knows what will happen next.

and ends:

And so here we are, with Mr. Paulson apparently feeling that playing Russian roulette with the U.S. financial system was his best option. Yikes.

Update: The Washington Post's story gives an idea of the complexities of this mess. Not for the faint of heart.

Another Update: From Slate, in an article called "Nightmare on Wall Street".

The NYT says Sunday was "one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street's history" that will "reshape the landscape of American finance." The WSJ agrees and notes that the "American financial system was shaken to its core" yesterday, an assessment that is easily backed up by all the panicked statements from Wall Street insiders, who are bracing for bad news when the markets open today. "These are the most extraordinary events I've ever seen," said the co-founder of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group. "We are in a hysteria," a banking analyst tells USAT. "This is frightening as hell," another analyst summarizes to the LAT.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

SNL Is Back!

To tell you the truth, I did not see this last night -- I heard it in the next room. Tina Fey has got Sarah Palin down cold. You HAVE to watch this. It will be a cultural reference point.

Paging McCain's Soul

McCain has got to be rethinking his campaign right now. If he has any sense left, that is. He has lost his base, the press.

Steve Chapman is a conservative columnist for The Chicago Tribune. Chapman wonders if McCain has lost his soul.

I'm as concerned about McCain's soul as the next person, but I can't see how this isn't good for Obama.

: The Washington Monthly is cataloging columnists who shout "Enough!"

Update II: This soul selling thing is starting to make the rounds. Here's Tom Friedman:

I respected McCain’s willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party’s nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sarah Palin's "Loyalty" Tests

When the stories of Sarah Palin's book banning proclivities were first reported, her question to the town librarian, "Would she be willing to ban books?", was dismissed as a "loyalty test," rather than a proposal to ban books.

I've been sitting here for almost 2 weeks, wondering if anybody was going to look into that "loyalty test" business. I've worked with people who demanded personal loyalty, and they are never a net benefit to the organizations they work in. At best they are acting out high school issues; at worst they are seriously disturbed.

It turned out the NY Times thought it was weird, too. So they looked into it. Not a pretty picture.

Book Banning Update

From Ben Smith's Blog on Politico:

The Times adds context to the allegations that Palin considered trying to ban books in Wasilla, context that's likely to add juice to one social issue that hasn't become divisive this cycle: gay rights.

The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin’s predecessor. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

The campaign has said that when she asked about banning books, it was a "rhetorical question."

Where It Stands Right Now

Here are three things that paint the story. First, a piece called "Wheels Come Off Straight Talk Express?" from NBC's First Read:

From NBC's Mark Murray
For a candidate who prides himself in "straight talk" -- and whose political image in part is based on that truth-telling reputation -- Saturday proved to be a brutal day for John McCain and his campaign.

First came a front-page New York Times piece noting that McCain "has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching the truth." There was also an accompanying fact-check of McCain's latest TV ad, which called it the "latest in a number that resort to a dubious disregard for the facts."

The Washington Post gave "four Pinnochios" to McCain's recent assertion on "The View" that Palin never took earmarks as Alaska governor. Then the Boston Globe reported that Palin didn't really travel inside Iraq as has been claimed. And Bloomberg News said that the McCain camp may not have been exactly truthful in estimating the size of its recent crowds. "Now officials say they can't substantiate the figures McCain's aides are claiming."

To top it off, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said this to the Politico about the increased media scrutiny of the campaign's factual claims: "We’re running a campaign to win. And we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.”

Not surprisingly, the Obama camp has pounced on all this, issuing a memo to reporters entitled "Unraveling the myth of the Straight Talk Express." The memo argues, "Since naming Governor Palin as their vice presidential nominee, the McCain campaign has distorted, distracted, and outright lied to the American people about her record in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that a McCain/Palin Administration would be nothing more than a continuation of the failed Bush policies of the last eight years."

And it concludes, "While the media is slowly starting to call the McCain campaign on their dishonest tactics, McCain’s staff boasts that they don’t care. As a McCain spokesman told the Politico, 'We’re running a campaign to win. And we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.'"

Second, the status of the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll:

[Click on the chart for a clearer view, then hit back arrow to return here.]

Third, comments from David Axelrod, Obama's Campaign Strategist, also from First Read:

I think...that this race is pretty much where it was right before the convention. Why isn't [McCain] doing better? Why after all this ballyhoo and all this fascination isn't he doing better than he was before the convention started? This race is basically a very close and competitive race going into the convention. It is now. It's likely to be right up to the end. I think the American people are very serious about this election. You can see it in the amount of eyeballs that were on the conventions. Huge audiences watching both conventions. I think you'll see huge amount- numbers of people watching the debates.

Pray for Galveston

Right now it's looking even worse than they thought:


Friday, September 12, 2008


There's somebody the McCain Campaign forgot to vet: McCain!

Is This the Best They Can Do?

Another McCain/Palin ad. I wonder who it's aimed at.

Adding Insult to Injury

Republicans are caricatures of themselves:

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

The article here.

Tidal Surge Heads for McCain

I have no evidence to support this, but I'm suspecting the press is feeling a little responsible (as well they should) for the disaster that is the Bush Administration. When the Bush campaign told lies about Kerry, they didn't report, "This is a lie!" They said, "Democrats contested the allegation."

The result? Well, you know the results.

But there's some evidence the press understands this country is in too deep of a hole to let the next President be chosen based on lies. Thus, this article from the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The "Straight Talk Express" has detoured into doublespeak.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a self-proclaimed tell-it-like-it-is maverick, keeps saying his running mate, Sarah Palin, killed the federally funded Bridge to Nowhere when, in fact, she pulled her support only after the project became a political embarrassment. He accuses Democrat Barack Obama of calling Palin a pig, which did not happen. He says Obama would raise nearly everyone's taxes, when independent groups say 80 percent of families would get tax cuts instead.

Even in a political culture accustomed to truth-stretching, McCain's skirting of facts has stood out this week. It has infuriated and flustered Obama's campaign, and campaign pros are watching to see how much voters disregard news reports noting factual holes in the claims.

McCain's persistence in pushing dubious claims is all the more notable because many political insiders consider him one of the greatest living victims of underhanded campaigning. Locked in a tight race with George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, McCain was rocked in South Carolina by a whisper campaign claiming he had fathered an illegitimate black child and was mentally unstable.

Shaken by the experience, McCain denounced less-than-truthful campaigning. Vowing to live up to his "straight talk" motto, he apologized for his reluctance to criticize the flying of the Confederate flag at South Carolina's state Capitol in a bid for votes. When the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked the military record of Democrat and fellow Navy officer John Kerry in 2004, McCain called the ads "dishonest and dishonorable."

Now, top aides to McCain include Steve Schmidt, who has close ties to Karl Rove, Bush's premier political adviser in 2000.

Andrew Sabl at The Reality-Based Community did a quick survey of newspaper cartoons and editorials in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, and Florida. Every example he found was dismissive of McCain/Palin.