Tuesday, September 30, 2008

THIS Is Their Plan?

I realized that I had promised to, in a future post, discuss what led to AIG's failure. The news over the past couple days has given me a chance to revisit the problems that led to AIG's bailout.

AIG, formerly the world's largest insurer, had more problems than its own bad mortgage investments. Like Lloyd's of London, who are famous for insuring things like J-Lo's legs or whatever because they will insure anything, for the right price, AIG began finding new products to insure. They had entered into a number of credit default swaps (CDSs), which are, like, complicated and stuff, but so far as I can tell, they involve insuring companies against losses on investments. Let's say I have a bond (AKA, an IOU) worth $1 million from Bear Stearns, and I begin to doubt if I'm ever going to get my money back. So I call up my buddies at AIG, who, like any good casino that benefits off of more bets, are desperate to find another insurance policy to sell. They will, in exchange for premiums, promise to, for example, guaranteeing that they will give me $700,000 if my bond/IOU becomes worthless.

So, in effect, AIG was doubly exposed to the subprime mortgage crisis. In addition to their own direct ownership of bad investments, they were on the hook for lots of insurance claims, like my fictional $700,000. If AIG goes out of business, I and everyone else who has a similar agreement gets screwed, which the government would like to avoid because EVERYONE has similar agreements with the giant insurer. And that, in a nutshell, is how a company goes from being one of the 30 companies chosen to make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average to selling 85% of itself to the government to keep from disappearing.

What is it that brought AIG to mind today? House Republicans' response to the Paulson plan (previously discussed before John McCain read it!) was a plan in which the Treasury would sell insurance to the banks to protect them from losses on mortgate investments. The House Republic plan is.... wait for it.... Credit Default Swaps! The very thing that killed one of the 30 strongest companies on Wall Street! THAT'S THEIR PLAN!!!


Oh, actually, there is a little more to their plan. They are also pushing for an end to an accounting practice called "mark-to-market". This rule requires that a company count an asset (say, a package of mortgages) to have whatever value it would currently fetch on the open market. This is in contast to how things were accounted for before this rule, which basically let companies assign whatever value they wanted to an asset. Because they could, before mark-to-market, assign whatever value they wanted, they would sometimes LIE (gasp!) by inflating the apparent value of investments in order to make their bottom lines look better. In other words, mark-to-market keeps banks from lying, so Republicans want to get rid of it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is their plan to solving the financial crisis; credit default swaps, and letting banks lie.

How is it people are still wondering if it's time to let the Democrats have a chance for a while?

Please Let This Be True!

Politico's Jonathan Martin, their expert on the Republican side of things, reported the following yesterday:
Of concern to McCain's campaign, however, is a remaining and still-undisclosed clip from Palin's interview with Couric last week that has the political world buzzing.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.
The report is backed up by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, who writes:
And the worst may be yet to come for Palin; sources say CBS has two more responses on tape that will likely prove embarrassing.
Oh sweet lord, please let CBS release the video! They'd, I mean, they'd have to get rid of her, right? A sophomore in high school could talk about more cases than that! Pro-life folk like to talk about Dred Scott. Ms. "no abortion for rape victims" couldn't even come up with that one?

I'm going to be so bummed if this isn't true and/or released.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Senate Update

Though not as important as the presidential election, polls in the various Senate races are beginning to point to the possibility of 60* Democratic Senators in January. This would dramatically change the way laws are passed in the Congress for the next two years, which I'll go over in the rest of this paragraph. The Speaker of the House can more or less call for a vote whenever she wants, because through her control of the Rules Committee, she can end debate and force a vote. All it takes is the Speaker and half of the remaining 434 Representatives to get a bill passed in the lower house. In the Senate, each and every Senator can talk as long as he or she wants before a bill is voted on, unless 60 Senators vote for cloture, meaning an end to the debate. If fewer than 60 vote to end debate, the opposing minority (i.e., the Republicans, these days) can go on talking all day and all night long, keeping a vote from being held. This is a filibuster. This system is meant to to allow a minorty party to prevent a thin majority from completely running roughshod over the process.

For example, let's assume a President Obama (be still my heart!) was dealing with the Senate as currently composed, with 51* Dems and 49 Republicans, on the issue of Obama's health care proposal (btw, being in the health field, I do feel obligated to talk about the candidates' health care reform proposals, which are radically different both from each other and from the current system. So stay tuned!). If the 51 Democrats were for it and the 49 Republicans were against it, it wouldn't pass, because Obama and his allies could not get the 60 votes needed to get cloture, ending debate and allowing the vote to occur.

In the current election, 37 Dems, 26 Republicans and the 2 Independents do not have to run for re-election this year, while 12 Democratic and 23 Republican seats are up; there's so many more Republican seats up because the Democrats got their asses handed to them in '02, in the lead-up to the Iraq war. If the Democrats win in 21 of these 35 seats, they would then have the magic 60, meaning that they could push through any bill they wanted without any Republican input at all.

Based on the polling-analysis model over at fivethirtyeight.com, the 12 Democratic seats up for election are all safe, meaning they need to win 9 currently-Republican seats to reach 60. Picking up seats in Virginia and New Mexico seems to be a mortal lock. Colorado, New Hampshire and Alaska (depending largely on the federal corruption trial of Ted Stevens) are looking good. Oregon and North Carolina currently appear to be 50-50. And Republican seats in Minnesota, Missippi and Kentucky are vulnerable. fivethirtyeight's model calculates, at present, about a 1 in 6 chance that the Democrats will reach 60. Given Obama's massive voter registration and GOTV (get out the vote) efforts, and possible coattails if his poll numbers remain as strong as they are, I'd put the odds a bit better than that.

So, long story short, the fate of Obama's health care plan might depend on Al Franken.

*Actually, right now there's 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans in the Senate, along with 2 Independents, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who are for all intents and purposes Democrats. Even if Lieberman were to break from the Democratic Party more fully than he has, he still is, in terms of domestic policy at least, in line with the Dems and would often be a reliable vote for cloture.

The Debate, Two Days Out

With a couple days to reflect back on the debate, as well as the live-blog, some thoughts:

First off, in re-reading the debate post, some of my responses needed to include more about what I was responding to. If I may get a little racial, some of my comments were like an audience at, say, Barbershop: "There you go!", "mhmm", "that's right!". I don't know, is that what our African American brethren say in movie theaters? It's what I imagine they do.

In 1980, before his debates with Jimmy Carter, lots of voters thought Reagan was a right-wing nutjob. Which, of course, he was. But at the debates he managed to convince people that he had sufficient temperament and knowledge for the job. At Friday's debate, Obama met this same threshold. While he probably did, on balance, lose the 2nd half of the debate after the focus switched to foreign policy, he managed to make himself at least on the same level as John McCain. After the debates in 1980, a close race became a bowout after the "new" candidate established himself as qualified and mainstream. I'm cautiously optimistic that we might be heading for a similar scenario now. Obama had a 3 point jump today in the Gallup tracking poll, which is a three-day rolling average of telephone polls. So a 3 point, one-day jump means that Obama's one-day lead over McCain in phone surveys done yesterday (after the debate) was 9 points (!!!) higher than his lead over McCain on Wednesday, the day which fell out of the 3-day average.

I think I might've explained the Gallup thing rather poorly... Take home message, Obama's ahead by much more today than he was before the debate and McCain's pseudo-suspension.

A preview of the VP debate preview: expectations for Sarah Palin are just about as low as they could possibly be, so it wouldn't take much for her to declare "victory".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama Won When It Counted

Both men had their moments. Obama's tone and posture was much better. A lot of it might have to do with McCain's POW injuries, but the visual was very striking, I think, and that matters a lot to the dreaded "low-information voter".

I was really struck by how often McCain called Obama naive, or unprepared, or that he just doesn't get it. It's all well and good (though not particularly illuminating) for McCain to say that. It would have been better to demonstrate it, which I don't think he did.

All in all, I think that because of the difference in body language and tone, as well as managing to reassure voters that he can hold his own against McCain on foreign policy, will give Obama an edge coming out of this. While Obama was never particularly strong at any point, he was solid all the way through and didn't give McCain or SNL anything to parody. I think Darrell Hammond got some material for his McCain impersonation, though.

Live Debate Post

8:57 To review from the pre-debate post, I'm watching MSNBC (in case I comment on a particular shot angle or something, or a commercial), and also following online at the C-SPAN Debate Hub, and I'll be continuously posting within this post, so keep refreshing!

9:01 Showtime at the anti-Apollo. Doesn't get more anti than a university in Mississippi

9:03 Why the acrobatics to try to shoehorn economics into the foreign policy debate? Just say "ok, economics, go!" It's like "How It's Made" on the Discovery Channel, where they have a little intro into why water heaters are important or whatever instead of just getting on to how it's made. Just go!

9:05 Lucky for Obama to get to go first. He gets to be the first to say all the obvious stuff like opposing CEO pay

9:06 Obama needs to say "fundamentals of the economy" as often as possible

9:06 Why the mention of Kennedy? He's out of the hospital already! It was a minor seizure!

9:07 "Probably, certainly" followed up immediately by a reference to the fact that he's an old man. nice!

9:09 Obama's desperate to not answer if he's in favor of the bill. Of course, I'm sure McCain will do the same.

9:10 Taking McCain's line about a 21st century regulation plan.

9:11 What a long way to go to not say much with the Eisenhower story, John!

9:12 Attaboy! "fundamentals of the economy fundamentals of the economy fundamentals of the economy fundamentals of the economy"

9:13 Lehrer's trying to pick a fight between the candidates

9:14 Barack needs to ask McCain what exactly he wants to cut. Earmarks are in the grand scheme of things a tiny portion of the budget. You could completely get rid of earmarks without making much of an impact on the deficit. What else are you going to cut?

9:15 He's still mentioning the $3 million for bear DNA despite picking a VP who did almost exactly the same thing.

9:16 YES! Obama is in fact talking about the insignificance of earmarks. This stuff ain't so hard. Archinal in 2024! You heard it here first

9:18 People weren't corrupt before the last 5 years?

9:19 This is a fun format for a debate, ain't it? They're going to be cutting each other off before this is over. Hopefully McCain will bang on his lecturn with his shoe.

9:21 But under McCain's plan, 100 million families won't see a dime in income tax cuts

9:23 The vast majority of Americans are hearing about "taxing health care benefits" for the first time right now

9:24 McCain has tried and, by his own admission, failed to control spending.

9:25 The "voting for tax increases for people making $42,000 a year" is based on votes on broad, non-binding budget guidance resolutions. No one's taxes would have been raised by Obama's votes.

9:27 Apparently Obama thinks it's more fun to talk about what we can spend money on instead of what we can't, which is what the question was.

9:30 That was actually a pretty good answer from McCain about cost-plus contracts

9:31 Obama did a good job of stepping on McCain's "hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left" line, knocking McCain off rhythm.

9:33 Classic illustration of differences between them. McCain wants a "spending freeze", capping all spending with one fell swoop, whereas Obama wants to have a more nuanced approach

9:34 Is it just on my computer that the C-SPAN instant response graph thing isn't working?

9:36 Classic Republican "Harry and Louise" scare tactics on Obama's health care plan

9:37 Obama needs to mention Bush more

9:40 Why exactly does he think Iran doesn't have increased influence even if we "win"?

9:41 "Senator McCain and President Bush..." Keep saying that, Barack!

9:42 Here's a timeline of McCain's statements on tactics and strategy in Iraq to debunk his claim just made that he has opposed Bush's war execution since 2003

9:43 True, the next President won't have to decide if we have to go in Iraq, but he will have to decide if we go to war in Iran, Syria, Russia, Lebanon, etc. So who thought what about the previous decision is kind of relevant, despite McCain's hopes.

9:44 Good job with remembering McCain's quotes re: WMDs and being greeted as liberators

9:47 Nice answer about voting against funds for troops, making it instead about timelines

9:50 Gotta admit McCain's doing better on foreign policy questions than he did earlier

9:53 McCain didn't push the parallel between Afghanistan in the 1980's and Iraq today as hard as I thought he was going to. I expected a more explicit statement that leaving Iraq will risk a Taliban-like government in Iraq eventually...

9:56 Wow, Obama went to the "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" thing! The claws are out more than I expected

9:58 Where's McCain going with this history lesson?

9:59 So he's saying "I know how serious war is, but I'll make jokes and sing stupid songs about it anyway"

10:00 It's time for an old-fashioned bracelet-off!

10:02 McCain got more than a little snotty there with the "when I chair a sub-committee..." thing

10:03 Then stop wasting time, Jim!

10:04 "And I don't care how many brown people I have to kill to avoid that Second Holocaust!"

10:07 "But Russia and China are bad! We can't talk with them!"

10:08 Is Obama going to mention the "never negotiate from fear, but never fear to negotiate" line? Let's find out!

10:09 Attacking Obama on meeting with Ahmadinejad et al didn't work for Hillary. Why does McCain think it will work for him?

10:12 McCain is really trying to hammer on the "Obama doesn't understand" line

10:17 Look how many nationalities Obama can name! See, he's qualified!

10:20 I'm sorry, I'm bored by this Russia stuff. There, I said it

10:24 Apparently Obama's bored, too, as he's doing some contortioning to get back to energy

10:25 Obama's looking over at McCain a lot, while McCain's looking at Lehrer or the floor. If you're into reading body language, that's a plus for Obama

10:26 McCain said "How could anyone be against alternative energies?" Come back to this blog this weekend (probably on Sunday, as I'm on call all day tomorrow) for a list of times McCain voted against it.

10:27 McCain's said several times tonight that he thinks we tortured people since 9/11. Does that mean a McCain Department of Justice will pursue criminal charges against members of the Bush Administration?

10:31 Ending our occupation of Iraq is not just Obama's plan. It's the plan of the Iraqi government!

10:33 Heh, Obama was apparently saving the "We're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq when we could use that money to fund X, Y and Z here" argument for near the end, when it's more likely to be remembered. Well done

10:34 Oh, well if McCain thinks Obama is unprepared, I'm convinced. Thanks for clearing that up, John!

10:35 McCain says, basically, "Ready on Day One!". Great! Again, that worked so well for Hillary

10:37 And we're done. Another new post for post-debate thoughts

McCain-Obama 1st Debate! Live Updates!

7:21 We are coming to you live from The Doctor's Office in fabulous Pittsburgh, PA! I honestly have no idea if this is gonna be worth a darn, but join us, won't you?

I think my plan is going to be to continuously update this same post throughout the debate. If it gets too long, I'll start a 2nd post, and so on. Also, I'm going to time stamp each entry manually, unless that gets to be too irritating.

7:23 Actually, I just decided that I'll be starting a new post when the debate actually starts. But, so as to protect the integrity of the live blog/running diary concept, so you don't think I'm modifying previous sub-posts, I'm not going to change the title of this post.

7:24 Some pre-game prep: Politico has a "tale of the tape" comparing the two candidates.

7:30 C-SPAN has what appears to be a useful debate page. It's complete with one of those graphs with lines for each candidate (and the moderator, for some reason) which goes up and down based on how a focus group watching it reacts, by turning knobs or whatever. Might be fun.

7:44 Gonna be watching on MSNBC, hoping for a random Rachel Maddow sighting.

8:15 Even though I'm a liberal, I gotta admit the Oliver Stone W. movie looks ridiculous.

8:18 Tonight's debate will consist of nine (or ten, depending on the source) segments of ten (or nine) minutes each, with moderator Jim Lehrer posing a question to one or the other, who would be given two minutes to respond, and then it's pretty much a free-for-all for the remainder of the segment. Sounds like fun, huh?

8:24 Oops, turns out each candidate gets 2 minutes at the start of each segment, then the last 5 are free-for-all. My bad.

8:44 What the hell is this Bill Murray movie? Apparently this is supposed to be a teaser, but they're running it with every commercial break, so it's just irritating.

8:45 I realize trailer analysis might be treading on Revere High alum Scott Mendelson's turf. Sorry, Scott!

8:52 Interesting thought from fivethirtyeight.com: "There's a meta communication that Obama gives off of being calm and nuanced, that he can explain something in depth. It's reassuring The simpleton 'What do we do with evil, negotiate with it or defeat it? Defeat it!' Q-and-A that McCain is better at than Obama won't fly during this crisis."

8:56 OK, time to switch over to the main debate post, so this one's all done. Catch you on the flip side

McCain Needs a Knockout

And I'm not talking about Palin.

As glad as I am that McCain has announced that he will in fact attend the debate tonight (which you can follow right here at The Political Doctor), it really does seem to be a complete and utter capitulation from McCain.

From his statement on Wednesday, when he announced he was "suspending" his campaign:
We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved. I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the commission on presidential debates to delay Friday night’s debate until we have taken action to address this crisis.
Of course, no agreement has been reached (i.e., this crisis is not resolved and the government has taken no action to address this crisis), but McCain announced today that he will, in fact, attend the debate. From his campaign press release today:
He is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon. Following the debate, he will return to Washington to ensure that all voices and interests are represented in the final agreement, especially those of taxpayers and homeowners."
I'm trying really, really hard to not get my hopes up too much, but it really seems like McCain's in trouble. He sure could use a good performance tonight to get himself back on track and stop his slide in the polls.

Tune in to The Political Doctor tonight to find out if he does.

Schadenfreude, Anyone?

The National Review, a leading conservative magazine founded by conservative icon William F. Buckley, has a feature on their website called "The Corner", which is pretty much a combined blog for several of their contributors. It's a pretty good site for following up-to-minute conservative Republican thinking.

Pretty grim over there right now, at 1:39pm Eastern. An example.

UPDATE: 1:51pm. Now the National Review is turning on Sarah Palin! One article on their website says, re: Palin, "something's gotta change", and another says she is a candidate "Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League" and should quit the race.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain Should Read The Political Doctor!

McCain sat down for an interview on Tuesday with Cleveland's Own WKYC Channel 3 News. Here's a clip. Pay particular attention the the question about whether he would support the Paulson bailout plan, about halfway through the clip:

Isn't that amazing? On Tuesday, the senior Senator from Arizona had not yet read the Paulson bailout plan. In case you're not a regular reader of this humble blog, on Sunday, fully 2 days before McCain said he hadn't yet read the plan, I posted a link to the plan, READ IT, and then posted my reaction to the proposal.

So I would like to invite Senator McCain, who was at least two days behind The Doctor on this campaign-suspending-worthy issue, to click the "Subscribe" button on the bottom of this blog, so that I can help him stay up on the news.

Shouldn't the Campaign, Ya Know, Suspend?

As we discussed yesterday, McCain announced that he would be suspending his campaign starting this morning after a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative so that he could go to Washington and help broker an agreement on the bank bailout. But you'd be hard-pressed to find signs of the campaign actually being suspended.

The Huffington Post called 15 McCain-Palin headquarters in battleground states, and none of them were dialing down their activities at all. McCain surrogates have been appearing on CNN/Fox/MSNBC to continue advocating for their candidate. McCain himself appeared this evening on all three network evening news broadcasts. And, oh yeah, he decided to go give a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative before suspending his speech, for some reason. I thought the economy was collapsing as we speak and could only be saved by making it non-political, which could be done by bringing in the presidential nominees?!

McCain arrived in Washington this afternoon, then proceeded to sit in his Senate office for a few hours before going to the White House, where he, along with Obama, met with the President and Congressional leaders. Obama is contributing at least as much as McCain to the process (without politicizing it so darn much, as we discussed yesterday), and yet he will manage to find a few hours tomorrow to go to Mississippi to have a debate before the American people. How is it that McCain can find time to give a speech in New York, then fly to Washington to sit in his office for a few hours, then go on all three evening news broadcasts, but he can't find time to go to Mississippi for what is, for many voters, the most important opportunity of the whole campaign to evaluate the future leaders of our country?

No Pictures!

Whatever Obama does at this afternoon's White House meeting, he needs to avoid any pictures where he and Bush are standing next to each other smiling. Or any with he, McCain and Bush. For "low-information voters", those who vote on gut feelings and vague impressions, might be particularly influenced by such images, making Obama look like "Old Washington" and hurting his "Change" image.

Here is, so far as I can tell, the only pic on the internet of Bush and Obama together

Just Obama being polite and shaking the President's hand. I'm not saying he has to stand 10 feet away from him at all times, but any image of them "working together" might be bad, and he certainly needs to avoid anything like this:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Made You Come In Today?

One of the questions you learn to ask early on in med school while interviewing patients is "What made you come in today?" It helps you focus in on what is bothering the patient the most right now and can give you insight into what the patient is thinking and feeling. It's nice to know if a patient has had belly pain for the last three weeks, but knowing that today they started vomiting up blood gets you to the heart of the matter.

What made John McCain decide to suspend his campaign today? The stock market, after going up or down 150 points or more in each of the previous 7 days, was down a grand total of 29 today. Interest rates were bad, but not any worse than they've been other days. No new financial institutions joined the not-so-honored ranks of Bear Stearns, Fannie and Freddie, or AIG.

So what changed today? What happened between his meeting this morning with Lady Lynn de Rothschild, a former Hillary Clinton fundraiser who's thrown in her lot with McCain, and his dramatic announcement this afternoon about suspending his campaign?

McCain, Katrina and Suspending the Campaign

When asked about President Bush's response to Katrina, Senator McCain said "In all candor, If I'd have been President of the United States I'd have ordered the plane landed at the nearest Air Force base and I'd have been over here."

Apologies for not finding a cleaner video of McCain's statement. McCain's statement starts 10 seconds into the video and is over by 19 seconds.

In the hours and days after the levees broke in New Orleans, FEMA and numerous aid organizations were doing the best they could (which, admittedly, wasn't very good) trying to overcome huge logistical hurdles to deliver help to the victims of the tragedy. McCain's solution to the problem was to drop a Presidential motorcade into the middle of the situation, making these logistical hurdles much bigger. McCain placed a high value on a good photo op and giving the appearance of taking action, even if his actions would, in fact, make the problem worse.

Why am I talking about this today? John McCain has once again demonstrated his fetish for "doing something", even if that action would in fact make things worse. McCain announced this afternoon that he is suspending his campaign so that he can go to Washington to try to negotiate an agreement on the Wall Street bailout. Both his stated plan and the way he went about announcing it demonstrate that his true goal is "looking like a leader" and scoring cheap political points.

In his statement, McCain said:
I am calling on the president to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself. It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem. We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved.
So your goal is to get politics out of the negotiations, and you decide that the best way to go about it is to involve both presidential candidates directly in the talks, like a presidential motorcade in the middle of a disaster area, less than 6 weeks before the election? Brilliant...

And the way that he went about announcing this plan is completely inconsistent with trying to eliminate politics from the process. Earlier today, Obama called McCain to propose a joint statement of commonly held positions regarding the bailout. McCain responded with a tactical decision to make a unilateral announcement that he is suspending his campaign to go to Washington to negotiate, which puts a big "McCain/Palin" stamp on the idea. Obama can't very well follow along without looking like he's, well, following along. Putting Obama in that position demonstrates that McCain's goal is not bipartisan problem-solving, but instead is partisan advantage.

McCain's announcement combines a misguided strategy (injecting presidential politics into the bailout negotiations) with combative, partisan tactics (making a call for bipartisanship himself, on the very same day where his opponent reached out to him to propose a joint statement). Obama's refusal to play along highlights the gimmicky, desperate nature of McCain's proposal.

Desperate McCain Campaign Responds

The McCain campaign put out their response to the New York Times and Newsweek stories (and one from Roll Call, as well. Sorry I missed that on the first post) by lashing out at the messengers. Actually, they only lash out at the Times, making it seem like the whole story is made up by the Times to hurt McCain and help Obama:
The New York Times is trying to fill an ideological niche. It is a business decision, and one made under economic duress, as the New York Times is a failing business. But the paper’s reporting on Senator McCain, his campaign, and his staff should be clearly understood by the American people for what it is: a partisan assault aimed at promoting that paper’s preferred candidate, Barack Obama.
So, in their desperation, they're attacking the messengers who dared take up McCain's challenge on 60 Minutes (video in previous post) to check up on Davis' ties to Fannie/Freddie. But they did make a token effort to respond to the facts of the report:
The New York Times charges that McCain-Palin 2008 campaign manager Rick Davis was paid by Freddie Mac until last month, contrary to previous reporting, as well as statements by this campaign and by Mr. Davis himself.
Actually, no, they didn't charge that Davis was paid, but that the firm Davis owns, Davis Manafort, was paid. And where did the Times hide this important distinction? In the headline:
McCain Aide’s FIRM Was Paid by Freddie Mac
This fact is not in dispute. From the Times article:
Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman for the McCain campaign, did not dispute the payments to Mr. Davis’s firm. But she said that Mr. Davis had stopped taking a salary from his firm by the end of 2006 and that his work did not affect Mr. McCain.
The campaign's non-denial denial goes on:
Further, and missing from the Times’ reporting, Mr. Davis has never — never — been a lobbyist for either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Mr. Davis has not served as a registered lobbyist since 2005.
The Times article was, in fact, quite clear on this:
Mr. Davis was hired as a consultant, not a lobbyist, the officials said. Davis & Manafort in recent years has filed federal lobbying reports for a number of companies but not Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.
By responding to allegations not made (Davis was paid by Fannie/Freddie; the Times never said he didn't lobby for Fannie/Freddie, etc.) instead of the facts (The firm in which Davis is still a partner and equity holder was paid, though he has not taken payments from the firm since 2006; the payments were for consulting, not lobbying), the McCain campaign is hoping that they can chalk the whole problem up to biased reporting. Unfortunately, the Times story is on the money, not to mention that other sources are reporting the same thing. Hopefully the media will continue to keep pressure on this story and not let Senator McCain wriggle off the hook.

McCain, Busted Again!

Senator McCain was interviewed on 60 Minutes this past Sunday, and the topic of his campaign manager, Rick Davis, being a lobbyist on behalf of Freddie Mac came up. Actually, the interviewer said it was for Fannie Mae, but whatever. Here's what McCain said on the subject of Davis' lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, and any continuing ties with Freddie:

Everyone knew, at the time of the interview, that Freddie had paid Davis $30,000 a month until the end of 2005 to lobby on their behalf. Turns out, however, that according to the NY Times and Newsweek Freddie continued to pay Davis Manafort $15,000 a month right up until the government took over the company last month. So when McCain said in the above video "he had nothing to do with it since", he either didn't know about Davis' arrangement to be paid about half a million dollars ($15,000 x 36 or so months) for apparently doing nothing save for, presumably, possibly providing access to a McCain White House, or he was lying.

How does McCain not fire Rick Davis because of this?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Get Ready for a Live-Blog!

I will endeavor to make live posts during the Presidential debate this coming Friday, with instant reactions and analysis from yours truly. It might fail miserably, but it's worth a shot.

So tune in Friday night! The debate starts at 9 Eastern, so I'll probably start at about 8 or so. Be there!

Why Are They Hiding Her?

Is it possible we're going to elect Sarah Palin to the Vice Presidency without ever seeing her answer answer questions live on camera?

Today, the McCain campaign set up photo ops... er, I mean... meetings between Sarah Palin and some of McCain's favorite foreign leaders, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Uribe of Colombia. There was a conflict today between the campaign and the media. The question was whether CNN, which was the "pool network"for the meetings, meaning they were the one network allowed to have a camera at the event provided that they would give video of the event to other networks, would be allowed to have a reporter present during the photo op before Palin and Karzai/Uribe talked. It is standard practice in White House and State Department events to allow such a reporter in these kinds of events.

But today the McCain/Palin campaign attempted to keep anyone who might write about the event of (GASP!) ask Palin a question (!!!!) from being present at the event. It was only after CNN threatened to pull its camera, and therefore deprive the McCain campaign of the video of Palin's first ever meeting with a foreign leader, that the campaign allowed an actual reporter in. And would you believe it? The reporter had the temerity to actually pose a query to the woman who might in 4 months be the first runner-up to the Presidency. She was asked "how did it go?", to which she responded "it was great." Clearly, you can understand why they fought to keep Mrs. Palin from having to face such grilling.

What are they worried about? They seem to think she's qualified to be the godmother of the country, but they don't think she can handle the press? What the dilly, yo?

McCain, Busted!

I think it's fairly obvious that the current Wall Street crisis is pretty much the best argument one could imagine in favor of government regulation of the financial industry. Given that banks doing stupid things might result in the government being forced to spend $700 billion to save them from themselves, it seems reasonable that the government might take steps to save the banks from getting into such trouble before it starts.

Since the possible bailout of Wall Street is, for now at least, it would look bad if one of the presidential candidates had several recent statements on the record supporting deregulation. Unfortunately for Senator McCain, he has such a record.

Despite recent statements in support of regulation, McCain was clearly in support of deregulation, at least before such a position became completely untenable.

As he told the Wall Street Journal in March, McCain is "fundamentally a deregulator".

In an article written for the September/October 2008, so presumably written recently, of Contingencies, a magazine for actuaries (like my father), McCain wrote:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.
So he's using deregulation of the financial industry as a model for his plan for healthcare, and he did this persumably within the past few weeks. Wow

McCain was clearly wrong on the most important issue out there. How is it possible that this race is still close?

Monday, September 22, 2008

What's the Goal of the Bailout?

Today, in response to the Republican bailout plan discussed yesterday, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) proposed his own addendum to the plan. It would require the banks which sell troubled (i.e., possibly worthless) assets to also give the Treasury Department contingent shares in the bank which would protect the value of the troubled asset the government (i.e., taxpayers) bought. As I understand it, if the government pays $2 million for an asset and then is only able to sell it for $1 million, the government gets $1 million in stock in the company it originally bought the asset from.

This seems like a good idea because a) the banks are allowed to liquidate their bad assets, and b) taxpayers don't lose any money, which is great, because they didn't do anything wrong. But of course, Wall Street and some (though not all, to the credit of the party) Republicans are balking at Dodd's idea, stating that it will hurt banks' profitability or "stigmatize" them by forcing them to accept such conditions.

That would be an argument that mattered if the goal of the bailout were to help banks. Let's be clear here. The goal is (or, well, at least should be) to stave off a new Great Depression. By all rights, these banks should go out of business. Shareholders, far from being worried about the government taking a piece of their company, should be more worried about the "free market" running their company out of business.

Look, the market's got a gun to the banks' heads, and we're stepping in to bail them out. Since we're doing so at taxpayers' expense, the goal should be to do the absolute minimum to keep the banks in business and back to writing mortgages. Protecting shareholders' investments is utterly irrelevant, because without us, their investments have no value at all.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bailout Selling Taxpayers Out

As details emerge about the proposed government bailout of the financial industry is nothing more than a blank check, with no concern for the taxpayers funding the whole thing. Like the PATRIOT ACT rammed through Congress, the Treasury Department and moneyed interests more generally are attempting to force this bailout into law before anyone has a real chance to work through the implications of the bill. If the bill isn't passed by the end of next week, they say, the economy will go over a cliff, so just vote for the darn thing before noticing its shortfalls.

For example, the bill, as proposed, involves absolutely no oversight on the part of Congress on the actions of the Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson. To remind you, Hank Paulson's job before being Treasury Secretary was being Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the five (now 2, after Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch were bought and Lehman Bros. went out of business) big Wall Street investment banks. So we're definitely talking about the fox guarding the henhouse here.

Let's have a look at some troubling portions of the bill, shall we?
Sec. 2. Purchases of Mortgage-Related Assets.
(b) Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation:

(2) entering into contracts, including contracts for services authorized by section 3109 of title 5, United States Code, without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts;
Section 3109 of Title 5 deals with contracting consultants and doesn't, so far as I can tell, restrict those contracts in any real way. So Paulson can, on behalf of the US government, sign any contract he wants.
(3) designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them;
Great, so the former head of a Wall Street investment bank can designate Wall Street banks, or anyone else he wants, to oversee the transfer of taxpayer dollars to other Wall Street banks. Awesome plan.

Sec. 4. Reports to Congress.

Within three months of the first exercise of the authority granted in section 2(a), and semiannually thereafter, the Secretary shall report to the Committees on the Budget, Financial Services, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committees on the Budget, Finance, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate with respect to the authorities exercised under this Act and the considerations required by section 3.

Paulson gets three months and $700 billion to do whatever he wants, and then only has to testify before the same body that kept failing to change anything about the Iraq war despite years of evidence that the Bush Administration was screwing up royally. In order to pass another bill, after this one, to rein in Paulson's authority, you'd have to convince 60 senators that things weren't going well. Good luck with that...

Sec. 6. Maximum Amount of Authorized Purchases.

The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time

Just so we know how much money we're dealing with. Look at all those zeroes!

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Wow, really? So we're just abandoning any glimmer of such quaint oddities as judicial review, checks and balances, etc.?

But even more disturbing than what is in the proposed bill is what is not. As anyone in Washington can tell you, bank lobbyists have had far more than their share of influence over the regulations and other laws governing the financial industry. It is this influence which prevented (or reversed, in the case of the Gramm-Leach-Bailey Act (as in Phil Gramm, McCain's chief economic advisor)) the sorts of regulations which would have kept banks from getting into such trouble that they needed bailed out.

Now, the banks are negotiating not from a position of strength from lobbying and campaign contributions, but out of $700 billion worth of weakness. Now is the time (to borrow a line from Obama) for the government to put into place those regulations necessary to keep the greed which has caused this mess from happening again. Democrats, according to the Wall Street Journal, are trying to force those companies which want to sell their bad assets to the Treasury to agree to salary and bonus limits for CEOs. They also want to give bankruptcy judges the power to alter the terms of mortgages, giving people a chance to stay in their homes. And yet, per the Journal:

House Republican staffers met with roughly 15 lobbyists Friday afternoon, whose message to lawmakers was clear: Don't load the legislation up with provisions not directly related to the crisis, or regulatory measures the industry has long opposed.
If ever Republicans were going to ignore lobbyists and do what was right for taxpayers, it would be now, but the Administration and Republican allies are pushing for a "clean" bill without any regualtions. But by coughing up the cash now and then talking about new regulations later, we give away the best chance we have to actually get meaningful regulations passed. Taxpayers (that's you and me) and the media must put pressure on lawmakers now to keep them from surrendering, from a position of strength, to the banks.

You can bet your bottom $700 billion that if we screw this up, you can forget there ever being enough money for health care reform or anything else a new administration might want to do. Let's get it right.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Today's Bank Bailout, Explained

As previously discussed, financial institutions have been losing tons of money. To briefly, briefly review, here was the problem:

1. People took out loans they couldn't afford to keep inflating the housing bubble.
2. When housing prices started to fall, people with bad loans couldn't refinance to continue paying them, so they went into foreclosure.
3. Banks who owned bundles of these bad loans called CDOs lost money, because the value of the foreclosed houses was less the amount the bank had paid for the CDO.
4. Banks lost money and had less money to give out, so they stopped putting up money for mortgages, decreasing demand for houses and decreasing prices even further.
5. Go back to #2.

This set up a cycle where the value of these mortgage-backed investments kept losing value, and accountants were struggling to assign a value to these CDOs because their value kept changing a the market changed.

(simplification alert!) Say a bank owns a CDO worth $250 million, covering 1,000 mortgages each for $250,000 houses. Today, those houses are worth $200,000 each, and some portion of the 1,000 homeowners defaulted, sending their houses into foreclosure. So the $250 million investment is now worth substantially less, though no one knows how much less. Fearful of continuing losses, banks became less likely to give out new loans, since they might wind up needing to use that cash to cover their continuing losses due to bad CDOs.

What the government proposed today to step in and spend taxpayer dollars to buy a bunch of CDOs from banks at discounts. The most likely plan is that the government takes bids from several banks, to continue the example, who each have a bundle of mortgages originally worth $250 million. The lowest (cheapest) bid would then sell the CDO to the government for that cheapest price.

It's possible that the government and, by extension, taxpayers will actually make money on this bailout, because no one really knows how much the investments are worth. But the real goal is to give banks a cash infusion and cost certainty. Because they'll wind up with a bunch of cash and will no longer have to keep around excess cash to cover CDO losses, they'll be able to get back into the business of giving out loans and reinforcing the housing market.

That's the theory, anyway. Let's hope it works out.

Vicious Anti-Palin Ad

Here's the ad (and my first attempt to embed a video):

Wow. Here's more info on the subject.

To briefly sum up, Palin claims, based on shaky scientific evidence, that Alaska's wolves kill too many moose and caribou, so those Alaskan natives who are subsistence hunters go hungry (and also deprives red-blooded Americans of delicious, nutritious mooseburgers). Non-government scientists who have examined Alaskan wolves and their prey disagree, saying that wolves are mostly scavengers, eating moose who died of other causes.

In addition to borderline animal cruelty, this story demonstrates Palin's troubling tendency to pick out which "science" she chooses to believe while ignoring others. Remind you of anyone we know?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain Stubborn Re: Foreign Policy

McCain gave an interview, transcript here, this week with a Spanish-language radio station (though the interview was in English) where he seemed to slam a NATO ally. The interviewer, who does have a pretty substantial though still understandable accent, asked him questions about Latin America. McCain responded appropriately if somewhat boringly with the typical responses: "Castro's a jerk!", "Chavez is a commie", et al.

The interviewer then switched (at 2:58 in the linked audio clip) to a question about whether McCain would meet with Spain's Prime Minister, one Mr. Zapatero. McCain seemed to not know who the interviewer was talking about. He gave an apparently unrelated response about working with the Mexican government. There is, apparently, a Mexican rebel group called the zapatistas, so maybe McCain misunderstood what the interviewer was referring to. He gave a response about meeting with friends and standing up to enemies, which would seem to indicate that he might've associated something sounding like Zapatero/Zapatista with Mexico, and wasn't sure exactly how, and decided to just give a vague answer. Which is fine. No criticism there, though it sure would've been great if he'd asked the interviewer to clarify.

So the interviewer, understandably confused by McCain talking about Latin America, and actually using the phrase "Latin America" in his response to a question about Spain, so she clarified, saying "But what about Europe? I'm talking about the President (sic) of Spain." And rather than saying "Oh golly, I'm on a cellphone and misunderstood you before. Oh silly me!", McCain decided to repeat the previous answer, "I am wiling to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for humans rights, democracy and freedom. And I will stand up to those who do not."

He seems to be unwilling to state if Zapatero, the leader of a NATO ally, is dedicated to human rights, democracy and freedom. The only reason I can think of for this is that he couldn't bring himself to admit he had misheard the question, cuz that would look, ya know, weak and stuff.

Even hours after the fact, when asked just what McCain was trying to say about one of our allies, McCain's top foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, said in an e-mail that McCain was just "keeping his options open." Really? You'd rather piss off an ally by saying you might not meet with them than admit you made a mistake in mishearing a substantially-accented question? Who could be so concerned with image over alliances? Hmmm....

In case you're wondering, yes, I am looking for any excuse to use this picture. I just love it. It's the wallpaper on my desktop.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Roulette, AIG and the Subprime Crisis, pt. 2

Note: Here's my previous post on this topic.

So, how is it that so many bad bets (giving big loans to people very unlikely to be able to pay them back) were made by so many smart people? Obviously no one was making a single loan of this type and expecting to make money on it, just like no one would make a single bet at a roulette table and expect it to be a money maker. But mortgage lenders combined lots of these loans together into bundles called Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and then sold these CDOs to financial companies like Lehman Brothers and AIG. CDOs complicated the picture and gave a slick-sounding rationale for why the combination of bad bets might wind up being actually a good bet, just like my buddy's betting system for roulette obscures the bad odds and makes him think he's thought of a way to beat the house.

There are rating agencies like Standard and Poor's (of S&P 500 fame) or Moody's whose main function is to rate investments like CDOs. Lehman, AIG and other banks relied on S&P and Moody's to tell them how likely it was that they would get their money back on these CDO investments. But the rating agencies were fooled by the complexity of the CDOs (i.e., collections of bad bets) and told Wall Street that these were good investments.

So you've got a three-part system: mortgage brokers give big loans to people who can't pay them off, but the brokers don't care because they turn around and sell bundles of mortgages to Wall Street, who were told by rating agencies that the bundles were safe, sound investments. The mortgage brokers and Wall Street did nothing wrong, save from believing the rating agencies' wrong guesses at the value of CDOs.

Banks still don't know how much these investments are worth because, as housing prices continue to fall, more and more people wind up defaulting on these loans. Eventually, banks like Lehman investments lost so much value that the banks no longer had enough money to cover their obligations, like withdrawals and such. And because pretty much every bank is in the same boat, banks can't find anyone (save for the federal government) to loan them money, so they wind up having to declare bankruptcy.

So that, in a nutshell, is one man's attempt to explain the current economic struggles. Any questions?

Words Have Meanings

Much has been made in the last few days about McCain's statement that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" on the same day that the Dow lost 500 points. After realizing that this might be, ya know, dumb and tone-deaf, he attempted to "clarify" his statement by saying that by "fundamentals", he meant the "the American worker and their innovation, their entrepreneurship, the small business, those are the fundamentals of America, and I think they're strong."

This attempted fix led to some ridiculous answers yesterday during his appearance with noted vicious lefty attack dog Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Unfortunately for Senator McCain, words have meanings. In economics, as in other sciences or topics of the day, intelligent discourse requires common vocabulary. To anyone who has studied economics, "the fundamentals of our economy" brings to mind specific economic factors, including monetary policy, employment figures, productivity, and so on. You can't just go around assigning whatever meaning you want to such common phrases. It would be like, I don't know, promising to balance the budget and then saying after you fail that by "the budget" you mean "myself on a balance beam".

Of course, I have no doubt that the truth of the matter is that McCain, like his main economic advisor former Sen. Phil Gramm, thinks that the economy is fine and that we're all whiners, and then someone told him saying that this week was, frankly, dumb.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain/Palin soft on child molestation?

1. Palin's city, of which she was mayor for years and a councilwoman for years more, made women pay for their own rape kits, the bundles of swabs, test tubes and such used to gather evidence from a women's, uh, private parts (no links here. Find your own, perverts!) in order to investigate sexual assaults. The state of Alaska had to pass a law to stop Wasilla from doing this.

2. As previously discussed, the campaign attacked Barack Obama for supporting a law which would teach kindergarteners how to avoid "bad touching" (AKA, "child molestation"), labelling such teaching "comprehensive sex education".

3. John McCain, during his wild youth (AKA, his 50's), told a terrible joke about rape.

4. The McCain/Palin campaign's current explanation (there have been several) for "Troopergate" is that Walter Monegan, the former Alaska Public Safety Commissioner, was fired because he went over Palin's head by going to Washington to ask for federal money for Alaska (which has the highest per capita rape rate in the US) for a law enforcement initiative to combat child molestation. Yes, seriously.

Now, I know the internets and the Google are susceptible to hyperbole, but, given that Palin (and, by extension, the McCain/Palin campaign) is willing to ask for millions of dollars to study seal DNA but not for little things like rape kits or law enforcement, isn't it possible that the Republican standard-bearers just aren't nearly as concerned as they maybe should be about rape?

Roulette, AIG and the Subprime Crisis, pt. 1

I have a buddy, one of my best friends in the whole wide world, who is absolutely convinced that he has a system to beat roulette. This is, of course, pure BS. To those of you who might not know the game, roulette involves making bets on a randomly generated number between 1 and 36. You can bet on, for example, the exact number generated, whether it's odd or even, whether it's 1-18 or 19-36, etc. The house gains its advantage via two spots on the roulette wheel which are 0 and 00, which cause all the bets (except bets on 0 or 00) to lose. Long story short, the house has an expected profit of 2/38, and a player can expect that out of every $38 placed on the board in any arrangement or under any "system" you want, the player can expect to get back. I wrote an Excel spreadsheet to prove it, if anyone wants it. It's obvious to even the most casual observer that a single bet has an expected payout of 36/38, but my friend has come up with a system that, at the very least, is complex enough to obscure the fact that his expected payout is still 36/38. By putting some chips here, some chips there and then changing the bets on the next spin of the wheel, my friend's disadvantage became less obvious, but was always still there, unchanged.

The subprime crisis which once again reared its ugly head this week shares much with my friend's roulette delusion. Here's my attempt to briefly summarize the problem:

It used to be that, in order to get a mortgage, you'd have to demonstrate that you had some amount of income and credit history to allow the bank to be reasonably confident that you'd be able to repay it. As people who were actually qualified for a mortgage became more and more rare, banks began giving loans to people who weren't as likely to be able to repay their loans. Eventually, as this process continued, banks began loaning money to people who were so unlikely to be able to repay their loans that, even while charging those who do pay some calculated interest rate, that banks' expected payoff for a given loan was less than the value of the loan. For example, banks stopped requiring proof of your income to get a loan. So a guy who makes $25,000 could get a $600,000 mortgage, which of course he would be incredibly unlikely to be able to repay.

So why were banks making these loans? A market developed whereby they were able to bundle up a bunch of these loans into one package and sell them to banks/hedge funds/etc. They could sell shares in these bundles of mortgages. Some high-paying shareholders would be more likely to be paid each month, while cheaper stocks would be the first to not be paid as more mortgages go into default.

But few mortgages went into default, because, with more and more new mortgages being given out, homeowners could always refinance, getting more money to make their payments. So everyone made money.

Eventually, even people willing to take ask banks for such absurdly large loans became scarce, and fewer people were looking to buy homes. With this decrease in demand, home prices fell significantly. Existing homeowners became unable to refinance at sufficient house values to be able to pay off their original loans, so they defaulted. Banks were left with, instead of say a loan worth $250,000, they had a house now worth only $200,000. It is these losses of value that ruined Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros., and is ruining AIG, the world's largest insurer and a vital piece of Western finance.

I've had about enough typing for now, so I'll stop here. More tomorrow!

Bailouts and Taxes

It's been an exciting/terrifying day and a half watching the stock market. Yesterday, the Dow plunged more than 500 points, and it started today down over 100. Much of this loss, and pretty much all of the worries over the next several days, center on AIG, which is the world's largest insurance company and one of the companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Stocks have been staging comebacks today on hopes that the federal government will step in and spend tens of billions (or more) of taxpayer dollars to bail AIG out from losses incurred by bad investments by the company.

(note: In future postings, I will endeavor to summarize the whole sub-prime/Bear Stearns/Lehman/AIG mess, but for now, just know that the government might be justified in preventing AIG's going out of business because it would screw over a lot of banks.)

Given all the money being spent by the federal government to bail out Wall Street investors, isn't it reasonable to ask investors to pay more in capital gains taxes, as Obama has proposed for people making more than $250,000 a year? Wall Street wants to share the risks of their investments with taxpayers, so shouldn't they also share more of the rewards?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Speaking of lies...

Here's a doozy from McCain's appearance today on The View. He claims that Alaska didn't take any federal earmarks as governor of Alaska. Which is just colossal BS. Alaska, even under Palin, takes more earmarks per capita than any other state.

Also on The View today, he personally backed up the ads regarding sex ed and kindergarteners previously discussed here. It's so disheartening to see him personally vouch for such a misleading, sleazy ad. On the topic of the sex ed ad, Planned Parenthood came out with a response ad today that is very good and worth watching.

It really is sad that McCain is destroying his "Straight Talk" image so completely. I voted for the man in the 2000 primary season, but he's really blowing it. As the Obama campaign so wonderfully put it today, "John McCain would rather lose his integrity than lose an election."

Way to go, MSNBC!

Congressman and former Republican VP short-lister Eric Cantor (R-VA) is on MSNBC right now. He said something very similar to (I don't have the transcript, as it's a random Friday afternoon interview on MSNBC) "Sarah Palin told the federal government "no, thanks" on the Bridge to Nowhere and sent the money back to Washington." This statement, of course, is patently false. Alaska kept the money and spent it on other things. MSNBC's anchor (apologies to her for not knowing her name) just called him on it. She asked him to clarify, "Are you saying she sent the money back to the federal government?", and then when he hemmed and hawed, stated clearly that they kept it.

Media correcting lies. Amazing

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palin-Gibson Interview #1

Here's a transcript of the first part of ABC anchor Charlie Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin. Rather than copy-paste the whole thing here, I'll make references to it and let y'all read it over there, or just trust me to not take the comments I'm responding to out of context. As I expect this to be a fairly lengthy, I'll bold the key points to facilitate skimming.

1. She engaged in a circular argument about whether she feels she's qualified to be VP

PALIN: [O]n January 20, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, will be ready. I'm ready.

GIBSON: And you didn't say to yourself, "Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I -- will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?"

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?

PALIN: I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink.

So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

The definition of a circular argument. In effect, she said "I didn't blink when asked to be VP because a VP can't blink when faced with tough decisions." Oh, good. I'm glad that was cleared up.

2. She's been outside of North America exactly once. Luckily, it was a life-changing trip.

GIBSON: Did you ever travel outside the country prior to your trip to Kuwait and Germany last year?

PALIN: Canada, Mexico, and then, yes, that trip, that was the trip of a lifetime to visit our troops in Kuwait and stop and visit our injured soldiers in Germany. That was the trip of a lifetime and it changed my life.

I'm not saying that a potential VP must have been all over the world or anything, but can't we all agree that it would be way better if they have? Part of engaging in international diplomacy is having a sense of foreign culture and peoples, and one would have a much better sense of places one's visited. And it doesn't seem she did much more than visit US troops on this trip. Did she even meet any Kuwaitis or Germans on this trip?

3. She's never met a foreign leader.

PALIN: I have not and I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you. But, Charlie, again, we've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time. It is for no more politics as usual and somebody's big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yes, they've had opportunities to meet heads of state.
See what I mean about her nomination destroying McCain's biggest advantage over Obama?

4. She would add Ukraine and Georgia to NATO, even though Putin has said he would not tolerate such expansion, and even though including these nations would commit us to go to war to defend them.

GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but...

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.

But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to -- especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.

We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.

GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.

PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.

As has been endlessly discussed over the past few years, the US military is being stretched thin by our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Palin wants to commit us to defending former Soviet republics against Russia, which, last I checked, has a substantially more advanced army than either enemy we've fought during the Bush Administration. This statement is another example of the blustering, belligerent foreign policy of McCain and the Republicans.

5. Israel would have a complete carte blanche to attack whomever they pleased during a McCain/Palin administration

GIBSON: What if Israel decided it felt threatened and needed to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?

PALIN: Well, first, we are friends with Israel and I don't think that we should second guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security.

GIBSON: So if we wouldn't second guess it and they decided they needed to do it because Iran was an existential threat, we would cooperative or agree with that.

PALIN: I don't think we can second guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation.

GIBSON: So if it felt necessary, if it felt the need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be all right.

PALIN: We cannot second guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself.

Isn't that shocking? "We cannot..." Israel can do whatever they want to defend itself, even if that means attacking Iran, Syria or anyone else they perceive as a threat, and McCain/Palin won't second guess them. At his recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), John McCain reiterated a long-standing tenet of American foreign policy that we will defend Israel, through at least military aid and likely through direct intervention, if necessary. And Palin doesn't think that promise gives us the right to ask them to not to anything stupid, that might commit us to war.

6. She doesn't know what the Bush Doctrine is.

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

GIBSON: The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

PALIN: I agree that a president's job, when they swear in their oath to uphold our Constitution, their top priority is to defend the United States of America.

I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.

It's the most significant new American foreign policy in decades, and she doesn't know what it is. Actually, that's not surprising for someone whose running mate says her most prominent foreign policy credentials are commanding the Alaska National Guard and being geographically close to Alaska. Oh yeah, that reminds me...

7. She felt it necessary to point out that one can see Russia while standing on an Alaskan island.

GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?

PALIN: They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

GIBSON: What insight does that give you into what they're doing in Georgia?

PALIN: Well, I'm giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relation with all of these countries, especially Russia. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it's in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.

So she thinks she has a unique perspective of how important it is to not piss of Russia, yet as previously discussed, she wants to extend our umbrella of protection right up to their border with Georgia, despite Russia's contention that they won't let that happen. What does she think is going to happen? We're going to say "We'll defend Georgia!", and Putin will respond "Oh yeah? You and what army?"

Republicans, Palin and Service

Today, as part of their efforts to be nice to each other for at least one freakin' day (after promising early on to be nice to each other for the whole campaign, but whatever...), Obama and McCain are both appearing at a forum on service. While the event will no doubt be a civil affair, Obama should be able to draw clear distinctions between himself and Republican thoughts on the topic.

Two of the three most prominently featured speeches at the Republican convention pissed on the concept of serving one's community. As the keynote speaker, Rudy Giuliani mocked Obama's work as a community organizer. During Palin's speech (I hesitate to call it her speech, because she didn't write it, but whatever), one of the more memorable lines compared her time as the mayor of Wasilla to Obama's years as a community organizer. "I guess a small-town mayor," Palin said, "is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

What an arrogant statement! Obama the community organizer worked for, among other groups and causes, factory workers who had lost their jobs and with it their income, healthcare and self-sufficiency. Saying that Obama, meeting with these men and women in church basements and working to help them find opportunities to be retrained and find new jobs, had no responsibilities while a community organizer completely blows any genuine concept of service. He had the same responisibility to help the less fortunate among us that all Christians have. It's just that he did something about it during his early career, instead of entering beauty pageants. Apparently, it's Palin's (and, presumably, McCain's, since he no doubt approved Palin's speech) opinion that only people in the government have any responsibilities.

While obviously Obama can't use this forum to campaign for votes, he can most definitely talk about the responsibility he felt as a community organizer. In fact, he should use the word "responsibility" tonight as often as possible when discussing service. As the whole "lipstick on a pig" controversy demonstrates, using specific words from Palin's convention speech gets people's attention.

So Angry at CNN

(note: this post is being originally written at about 9am today, but thanks to the SurfControl on WVU computers, even computers in the resident break room, I can't access my blog.)
CNN is covering the various 9/11 memorials happening today in NY, Washington and elsewhere. As always, CNN has a crawl at the bottom of the screen, where they usually go through whatever news stories can be summed up in one sentence. Right now, during the reading of names of those who died at the WTC, they are summarizing the total number of American and coalition deaths in Afghanistan, which is legitimate as that war was/is directly tied to 9/11. But they are also summarizing death totals for Iraq. Why are they bringing that up today? What does Iraq have to do with 9/11? They're implicitly acknowledging the often- and widely-discredited Republican position that 9/11 and Iraq should be linked.
Way to be independent, CNN.
While we're on the subject of 9/11 and Iraq, within hours of the attack, according to The New York Times, McCain did a series TV and radio interviews in which he advocated spreading our response beyond Afghanistan, including to Iran, Iraq and Syria. In early October 2001, he stated on CNN "Very obviously Iraq is the first country." And very early in 2002, he stood on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and told the sailors "Next up, Baghdad."

I only recently became aware of these statements, so (not to be immodest), I'd imagine some of y'all hadn't heard them either. And I'm sure most voters don't know that McCain was one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of the Iraq war. I wonder what it would do to his poll numbers if they were to find out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Palin's a Terrible Choice for McCain

Sarah Palin's nomination for VP, while temporarily energizing McCain's campaign, will ultimately destroy any chance he might have had to win this election. The damage to his chances has nothing to do with Trooper-gate, her pregnant daughter, her views on abortion/creationism/etc., her questionable record on the Bridge to Nowhere, or harbor seal DNA (my first self-link. Big moment!). It has to do with Barack Obama.

What was the one real argument the Republicans had against Barack Obama? It wasn't Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers. In the current anti-Republican environment, it wasn't the issues. The "He's a Muslim" angle doesn't work outside of whack-jobs. It was experience. I'm as big an Obama supporter as you're likely to find anywhere, but he is, compared to your typical Presidential candidate, rather short on experience. We can argue all day about whether that deficit matters, but it's undoubtedly there.

Sarah Palin's nomination takes this line of attack and turns it into so much moose stew. A candidate's VP choice is the Presidential equivalent of choosing a godfather for one's children. "If something happens to me, here's the one person I think is best to take care of my country/child." And McCain chose Palin, who at best has as much experience as Obama. So the next time any Republican attacks Obama's resume, he only has to point to the woman Republicans seem to think is the 2nd most qualified person in the nation to lead it.

DNA, Tax Dollars and You

During John McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, the nominee stated the following:

"I’ve fought the big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want, and the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it. I will make them famous, and you will know their names. You will know their names."

If you've heard McCain's stump speech during the campaign, you've probably heard him mention bear DNA. The federal government, McCain points out, spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. He also had an ad up in November '07 centered on this example, and mentioned it during the forum with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

Turns out, in a summary of earmarks requested by Alaska earlier this year, Sarah Palin's government asked for, among other things, $3.2 million in "funds [for] monitoring of ice seal populations in Native villages, research on the species delineation and genetics of harbor seals" (found on the bottom of page 2 of the summary). More succinctly, $3.2 million to study, you guessed it, harbor seal DNA! When will McCain make her name famous as a pork-barreler?

Palin requested an earmark which is practically identical to McCain's prime example of government waste (after, of course, the Bridge to Nowhere, about which Palin's involvement has been discussed enough in the media recently that I'll just let y'all read about it elsewhere). Since the clear plan for the McCain/Palin campaign was the whole "real maverick", anti-earmark thing, isn't it obvious that Palin wasn't at all vetted? Frankly, I'm excited. God knows what could come out about her next.

Lipstick on a Pig

Here it comes, my first possibly anti-Obama post:

Tuesday, Barack Obama, in comments in Virginia, compared McCain-Palin's attempts to label themselves as change-agents to putting lipstick on a pig. "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," Obama said. While it's true that Obama has used this particular phrase, and McCain used it in reference to Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan, I think it fairly likely that Obama did mean it as an underhanded jab at Palin. I'm not in the man's head, but it does seem odd to use lipstick imagery in such a way after Palin so prominently used it.

Rather prominent political bloggers, who claim that Obama was not referring to Palin, have missed this important distinction. The one most memorable line from Palin's convention speech (which sucked, by the way, but I suppose I wasn't exactly the target audience) involved her beauty-queen lips. This makes any subsequent mention of lipstick far more loaded than in the past. Of course, Obama says thousands of words a day in public, and maybe he just slipped. I don't know. It certainly seemed like a bad time to draw attention away from all the other potentially damaging issues swirling around Palin, whether it was intentional or a slip.

While we're on the subject, what's the difference between Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney? Lipstick.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

OK, I'm back, and pissed

It's been a busy couple months, as my wife and I have been setting up our new home in Pittsburgh (to quote Indiana Jones' father, we are pilgrims in an unholy land) and I've begun my pediatric training at WVU in Morgantown, West Virginia. I haven't found much time for posting. But, we're down to 8 weeks before the election, and I'm going to make the time, dammit!

Today, the McCain campaign released an ad attacking Senator Obama on education. It's main line of attack is based on Obama's support for a bill in the Illinois legislature which would have required "comprehensive sex education" for all students K-12. Take a moment and watch the ad, asking yourself what Obama was advocating, according to the ad.

No seriously, go watch it; it's only 30 seconds.

Welcome back. The indisputable (go ahead, dispute it, I dare you) implication of the ad is that Obama, ya know, wants to force your 5 year old to put a condom on a banana. In fact, the bill explicitly stated that education in early grades would focus on good and bad touching. Put another way, it would teach kids that your uncle shouldn't touch your pee-pee. And McCain is attacking Obama for it.

Both Obama and McCain have promised to run a clean campaign, and both have failed to varying degrees. This ad represents a new low in this campaign, where Obama is being attacked for trying to teach kids how to watch out for sexual molestation. It's a despicable attack, one that was personally approved by Senator McCain.