As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

How The Crazy Manifests

It's not just that John McCain is an ornery, angry, hot-tempered coot in theory, the kind of guy who won't look at his opponent in a public forum. In practice he would chart a course that is far more belligerent than the current regime:

Yesterday, Sen. John McCain met with the editorial board of the Denver Post. Discussing Iran, McCain took an extreme hard-line approach, saying the U.S. should “cut off” all ties to Iran, including “diplomatic” ties:

Let’s cut off all kinds of credit to ‘em, all kinds — diplomatic, trade, you name it. Basically isolate them. Because they are in violation of solemn agreements that they entered into, concerning nuclear weapons. And so I really believe that we could have an effect on Iranian behavior.

This mirrors the policy we had for five years against Iran, which did nothing to curb their behavior, as instead they strengthened their hand in the region. It was a failure, and the Bush Administration has acknowledged it to be a failure as they have sent high-level diplomats into talks in the region. Some of McCain's own advisers and just about every non-crazy American agree that diplomatic engagement is the only sane policy. What's more, Iran is dropping hints that they are ready to deal:

Iran would consider stopping sensitive uranium enrichment if guaranteed a supply of nuclear fuel from abroad, an Iranian official suggested on Thursday [...]

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog, said the reason why the Islamic Republic was enriching uranium was the lack of an legally binding international accord on security of fuel supply.

Asked if with such a deal Iran would shelve enrichment, he said that arrangement would be a first step but it would have to be implemented, and Iran would need to retain some enrichment as a contingency in case supplies were cut.

"This is a first step ..., then the next step is to see it really implemented," he told reporters at a Brussels conference.

In fact, Iran has been ready to deal since 2003, but Fourthbranch Cheney intercepted the communication and rejected it. We now have a Republican Presidential candidate willing to do that in public.

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Low Road

And this would be different how?

Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said.

With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan's campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.

"We're going to get a little tougher," a senior Republican operative said, indicating that a fresh batch of television ads is coming. "We've got to question this guy's associations. Very soon. There's no question that we have to change the subject here," said the operative, who was not authorized to discuss strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity [...]

"We are looking for a very aggressive last 30 days," said Greg Strimple, one of McCain's top advisers. "We are looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis and getting back to discussing Mr. Obama's aggressively liberal record and how he will be too risky for Americans."

That's not just ridiculous, it reveals a crucial lack of understanding of the situation we're in. The financial crisis isn't going anywhere. The plan has been approved but not has to be implemented, and that could easily go awry and very quickly. Wall Street is already making noises that $700 billion isn't enough, and car dealerships are operating under such narrow margins that a whole bunch might go under. There is no "snap your fingers" moment here, and people witnessing a nation on the brink aren't likely to pivot and give a flying crap about Bill Ayers.

Not that the New York Times isn't trying to help any way they can, of course. But the low road isn't likely to be smooth terrain this year. Doesn't mean that Obama can safely ignore it. But it feels like flailing.

And it's hardly an October surprise - they've been doing this for 30 years, and McCain lost his honor in this campaign a long time ago.

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Actually, She Was Terrible

The more that you delve into Sarah Palin's Thursday night performance in the debate, the worse it appears, because lots of her statements were outright lies. She stated that John McCain favors bankruptcy judges restructuring the principles homeowners allow on their mortgages - not so. She stated that public schools need additional funding and teachers need to be paid more - that's not the McCain position. She said that she favored divestment from Sudan while Governor of Alaska - sadly, no (apologies to Sadly, No).

"The [Palin] administration killed our bill," said Alaska state representative Les Gara, D-Anchorage. Gara and state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, co-sponsored a resolution early this year to force the Alaska Permanent Fund  a $40 billion investment fund, a portion of whose dividends are distributed annually to state residents  to divest millions of dollars in holdings tied to the Sudanese government.

In Thursday's debate, Palin said she had advocated the state divest from Sudan. "When I and others in the legislature found out that we had some millions of dollars [of Permanent Fund investments] in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars," Palin said.

But a search of news clips and transcripts from the time do not turn up an instance in which Palin mentioned the Sudanese crisis or concerns about Alaska's investments tied to the ruling regime. Moreover, Palin's administration openly opposed the bill, and stated its opposition in a public hearing on the measure.

"The legislation is well-intended, and the desire to make a difference is noble, but mixing moral and political agendas at the expense of our citizens' financial security is not a good combination," testified Brian Andrews, Palin's deputy revenue commissioner, before a hearing on the Gara-Lynn Sudan divestment bill in February. Minutes from the meeting are posted online by the legislature.

Not to mention the answer about how as Vice President she will seek additional authority from the legislative and judicial branches, which is honestly frightening. We already know that Palin is perfectly willing and able to abuse her authority - the machinations to shut down the Troopergate investigation are a perfect example. This is a dangerous person to put into power. The fact that the emergency appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court warns that "the plaintiffs and Alaskans will suffer irreparable harm" if the Branchflower report is released as scheduled on October 10, which is the exact language used in Bush v. Gore, gives you a clue.

All the more reason to work harder and make sure she comes nowhere near Washington.

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This Has The Look Of A Zombie Lie

The right-wing narrative has been set - the federal government forced the lenders to give houses to black people and Hispanics, they couldn't pay back, "Fannie and Freddie went wild," and they brought the whole system down.

It should be noted that we've had housing downturns before in this country, and none of them caused the financial markets to collapse (the Depression was more about monetary policy, stock speculation, and trade). The extreme leveraging (and the exemptions given to investment firms to double their leveraging limit) and bundling of exotic securities, as well as authorizing awful loans, is the new element here, and both the CRA and the GSEs have nothing to do with that.

Let's clarify the causes of current circumstances. Ask yourself the following questions about the impact of the Community Reinvestment Act and/or the role of Fannie & Freddie:

• Did the 1977 legislation, or any other legislation since, require banks to not verify income or payment history of mortgage applicants?

• 50% of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject comprehensive federal supervision; another 30% were made by banks or thrifts which are not subject to routine supervision or examinations. How was this caused by either CRA or GSEs ?

• What about "No Money Down" Mortgages (0% down payments) ? Were they required by the CRA? Fannie? Freddie?

• Explain the shift in Loan to value from 80% to 120%: What was it in the Act that changed this traditional lending requirement?

• Did any Federal legislation require real estate agents and mortgage writers to use the same corrupt appraisers again and again? How did they manage to always come in at exactly the purchase price, no matter what?

• Did the CRA require banks to develop automated underwriting (AU) systems that emphasized speed rather than accuracy in order to process the greatest number of mortgage apps as quickly as possible?

• How exactly did legislation force Moody's, S&Ps and Fitch to rate junk paper as Triple AAA?

• What about piggy back loans? Were banks required by Congress to lend the first mortgage and do a HELOC for the down payment -- at the same time?

• Internal bank memos showed employees how to cheat the system to get poor mortgages prospects approved that shouldn't have been: Titled How to Get an "Iffy" loan approved at JPM Chase. (Was circulating that memo also a FNM/FRE/CRA requirement?)

• The four biggest problem areas for housing (by price decreases) are: Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California. Explain exactly how these affluent, non-minority regions were impacted by the Community Reinvesment Act ?

• Did the GSEs require banks to not check credit scores? Assets? Income?

• What was it about the CRA or GSEs that mandated fund managers load up on an investment product that was hard to value, thinly traded, and poorly understood

• What was it in the Act that forced banks to make "interest only" loans? Were "Neg Am loans" also part of the legislative requirements also?

• Consider this February 2003 speech by Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozlilo at the American Bankers National Real Estate Conference. He advocated zero down payment mortgages -- was that a CRA requirement too, or just a grab for more market share, and bad banking?

The answer to all of the above questions is no, none, and nothing at all.

Honestly, most of these charlatans on the right probably don't know what Fannie (FNMA) and Freddie (FHLMC) stand for. They just want something to yell about. And the GSEs sound as good as anything else.

I'm glad that activists are fighting back against this not-too-subtle racism. It won't be successful, but at least they're putting another narrative out there.

The head of the National Urban League is calling on Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to refute statements by conservative politicians and pundits that subprime mortgages provided to minorities led to the financial crisis and a $700 billion federal rescue of Wall Street.

In a strongly worded letter to Paulson this week, Marc H. Morial said Paulson has "an obligation to correct the misinformation that is spread concerning the root cause of the current financial crisis."

Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, said in an interview yesterday that the effort "to pin the subprime crisis on African Americans and Latinos" is a "big lie."

"It's an effort to shift the climate away from deregulation and the lack of oversight," he said. "The numbers are becoming clearer each day that a large number of people who ended up with a subprime loan could have qualified for a prime loan. That's the abuse that's inherent here."

I think that ultimately, reasonable people would agree on that as the cause of the crisis. Those who want to believe something else are being fed an alternate take. It's disgusting.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Friday Random Ten

Remote Control - The Beastie Boys
Gone For Good - The Shins
I Almost Forgot - Matthew Sweet
La Douce Humanité - Stereo Total
NYC - Interpol
Streets Of Fire - The New Pornographers
Atomic - Blondie
Breakin' - The Music
Call It A Day - The Raconteurs
Super Sex - Morphine

I would offer more songs, but my iPod annoyed me.

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Prop Watch

Welcome to a probably not-so-regular feature, offering the latest news on the ballot propositions. The Calitics Editorial Board will be out with their endorsements on these initiatives sometime next week.

• Prop. 1A: A lot of good stuff on this race at Robert Cruickshank's California High Speed Rail blog. For instance, Arnold has come forward with his support:

There is far more economic opportunity in fighting global warming than economic risk....We shouldn't let the budget crisis hold back good things for the future. 20 years from now you can't look back and say "well they had a budget crisis so we didn't do it." Just because we had a problem with the budget does not mean that people should vote "no" on high speed rail. Our rail system in America is so old, we're driving the same speed as 100 years ago, the same system as 100 years ago. We should modernize, we should do what other countries do...We should start in this state, we should show leadership.

Absolutely, especially when you consider that initiatives which reduce emissions routinely save money and improve quality of life. A recent study showed that HSR would be a tremendous economic benefit to the Central Valley, with $3 billion in direct benefits and the creation of over 40,000 new construction jobs. You can add that to the reduction of billions of pounds of CO2 annually, which would be significant in that region at a time where interest groups are successfully suing the city of Fresno for its failure to curb pollution and protect the environment.

In other news, The LA Times has come out in favor, and check out this neat little graphic anticipating the train route.

• Prop. 2: You can see it by clicking on the ad on the side, but, you know, Piggy Wonder deserves some main-page love. Joe Trippi is apparently involved in the Prop. 2 campaign, which would help stop animal cruelty; I got an email from him promoting this video.

• Prop. 5: The LA Times has a series of profiles on all the propositions, and here's their edition on Prop. 5, which would finally increase treatment for nonviolent offenders like drug users instead of warehousing them at our overstuffed prisons. Opponents are smearing this by saying its true intent is to legalize drugs, but the failed Drug War is the great unmentionable sinkhole in state and national budgets, and a smart policy emphasizing rehabilitation is desperately needed, especially in California. The No on 5 people must have better spinmeisters, however, as most of the newspapers in the state have come out against the measure. Right, because the policymakers have done such a stellar job in sentencing law, we should just leave it to them.

• Prop. 8: An update on those million yard signs that were "in route" from China to the Yes on 8 campaign: they're still not here.

It seems that the signs, some of them outsourced overseas, didn't all arrive in time for the September event. And many still haven't reached supporters of the measure that would amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage.

"It takes longer to get a million than we thought," said Sonja Eddings Brown, deputy communications director for the Protect Marriage coalition [...]

Brown tried to spin the production glitch as a positive thing for the campaign -- a sign, so to speak, of the overwhelming demand for lawn signs by voters who wanted to participate in "the most unprecedented and largest grass-roots effort ever attempted in California."

Oh that's just a FAIL.

Meanwhile, when the most reactionary editorial board in the state, the Orange County Register, comes out against your proposition, you know you're having a tough time selling it. As for the right-wing boycott of Google for opposing Prop. 8, the website orchestrating it advises its supporters to follow the fate of the proposition - on Google News.

I think I'm going to miss this initiative, it's been hilarious so far.

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More Health Care And The Campaigns

Obama actually released a second ad on McCain's Health Care Tax today.

While this is definitely effective, it treats McCain's tax as a tax, when if you fully explain it out, it's worse than that.

In year one, you'll have to pay that tax, and the tax credit will roughly offset it. But the tax credit grows with inflation. Health spending grows much more quickly. By year five, your tax credit will have shrunk. Sharply. But health spending will be up, and so your tax increase will have expanded. Substantially. With every passing year, you pay more in taxes and receive less from the tax credit. The plan's savings -- minimal already -- are frontloaded and its costs are delayed. It's a pretty dirty trick.

That's the perfect Republican squeeze play. And if you have a pre-existing medical condition - forget it. Go sign up on a long sheet of those hoping to get the state to help you with your coverage. McCain's plan is a disaster.

What I didn't realize is that Obama released an ad about his own health care plan this week as well.

I know I'm not the target audience for this spot and that it's designed for swing-state independents, but it infuriates me. It shows that Obama is committed only to tinkering around the edges on health care. Eliminating pre-existing conditions would be a big step forward, as would mandating that a high percentage of premiums go to treatment. And preventive care is nice and all. But this keeps us very firmly in the status quo, with the insurance industry and its army of lobbyists in the lead. "Bring down costs" is thrown in there but cost control is not explained or even presented in his plan. And the public option, which is what I'm hanging my hat on in Obama's plan, goes unmentioned, which is a tell that it could go away.

This gives me little hope of Obama's seriousness about this issue, and Congress will have to take the lead here. I know there's a bias toward people liking what they have in health care, but I don't even know how true that is anymore. And his "common sense" solution makes little sense at all.


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In Ten Years, This Will Still Be The Creepiest Commentary In Political History

Rich Lowry loses it on his laptop.

A very wise TV executive once told me that the key to TV is projecting through the screen. It's one of the keys to the success of, say, a Bill O'Reilly, who comes through the screen and grabs you by the throat. Palin too projects through the screen like crazy. I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.

Get a room, Rich.

Is this the guy who watches porn and thinks the actresses are looking at him, too?

(FWIW I had other things going on, but I didn't notice the winking at all. If you wanted to know what I did notice, audio of my radio appearance is here.)

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Bailout Blues

Ian Welsh gives his typically unvarnished view of the economic consequences of the bailout passed into law (signed by Bush within like 10 minutes) today.

Japan had its own bubble back in the 80's. When it popped the Japanese decide that they would not force banks to write down their losses. Instead they left them on the books. Those of you who are old enough will remember when Japan was the economy of the future, who built the best stuff and were destroying everyone else. After the bubble popped that all ended. The world's most vibrant economy went into a long economic slump from which it never recovered. This wasn't a classic depression—there wasn't a huge immediate contraction. Things just generally got lousy - unemployment rose somewhat, jobs stagnated, no one had a lot of money. The good times never, ever, came back ever again. It was like being caught in a low grade recession, all the time.

That's what this bill will do in the most likely scenario. The US will go into recession, every once in a while it will seem to pop out, then it will drop again. Because the US has population growth, and Japan doesn't, the actual numbers will look better than Japan's, but the feeling of "there are no jobs anywhere" and "this economy sucks" will be pervasive. This will translate into a grinding down of Americans standards of living.

You should read the whole thing. Jobs aren't really mentioned in his scenario and I think that's the key, but if the capital to start new businesses or undergo R&D is entirely tied up in the markets then it'll be difficult to grow out of the recession, absent some killer new technology that the whole world must have. And Paul Krugman's prediction is absolutely terrifying.

We’ll learn more next week. But I have a prediction: well before January 20, Congress will be asked to vote on bailout 2.0.

Let's face it, we're in those hard times right now. The next President will enter the White House with a recession in full swing. He will have seen 12 straight months of job losses, in all likelihood, and he'll have seen nearly one million new enrollees in the federal Food Stamp program. Our manufacturing base is hollowed out, our financial industry will take years if not decades to recover, housing prices still need to hit bottom, etc.

There are solutions out there, like doing a real bailout 2.0 for the people who need it, creating an HOLC, investing in infrastructure and green jobs, and nationalize the failing banks. If Wall Street does come back for another bite at the apple I don't think you can structure this any other way. Ending the war and getting us out of dozens of countries where we have no compelling national security interest and using that money elsewhere in the budget would be nice as well.

The need to create public pressure to reach these important goals is stronger than ever.

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Dems Play Soft With Bully Schwarzengger

So the Governor kicks sand in the face of the entire state Legislature, vetoing 130-odd bills with the same generic "Sorry, I couldn't persuade any Republicans on the budget so now you will pay" message, including some which were passed out unanimously, and the leadership's response is not "Time to override" but... "Oh yeah, well just try that again!"

Of course, the governor has always made it clear he prefers campaigning to governing. That has to change if we have any hope of solving California’s challenges. The people of California deserve better than constant campaign mode. The people of California deserve better than staged fights for the cameras.

I’m willing to look past all this and hope we can see a new start. Part of that should involve the new bipartisan blue-ribbon commission I’ve been pursuing to look at tax modernization and two year budgeting and other potential solutions to California’s chronic fiscal crises. The governor has been supportive of that effort, and it’s a good place for us to move forward from.

I will also be asking Assembly members to reintroduce all the blanket-veto bills and will expedite their passage so the governor can have a second chance to act responsibly on them.

That is weak from Karen Bass. There is absolutely no reason not to go back into a lame-duck session in November after the elections and get this done. Otherwise you are enabling a bully. At least some lawmakers get this:

Assembly Majority Floor Leader Alberto Torrico vowed today to push for a bipartisan legislative backlash against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by overturning many of his recent vetoes.

"We're all very frustrated, both Democrats and Republicans," the Fremont Democrat said at a news conference this morning. "I don't think there's going to be any problem attaining the votes for an override." [...]

Torrico said that when the Legislature reconvenes in January, he will push for overriding vetoes of both Democratic and Republican bills that received two-thirds support in the Legislature. Dozens of bills could qualify, he said.

Torrico said that he had not yet discussed the idea at length with legislative leadership, but "I think that's going to be the first order of business upon our return."

Sadly, Torrico doesn't know what he's talking about. The bills expire at the end of the legislative session and cannot be taken up in January.

Just leaves you brimming with confidence, doesn't it?

Instead of just stamping your feet and talking tough, this is a perfect opportunity for action. Go back to work before November 30 and override these vetoes.

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Pretty Darn Cool

Obama's campaign created an iPhone app. That's very leading edge. Not only that, but as an iPod Touch user, I really appreciate that they modified it for that device as well. We get the short end of the stick on apps.


Call Friends: A great volunteering tool that lets you make a difference any time you want by talking to people you already know. Your contacts are prioritized by key battleground states, and you can make calls and organize results all in one place.
Call Stats: See nationwide Obama ‘08 Call Friends totals and find out how your call totals compare to leading callers.
Get Involved: Do more. Find and contact your local Obama for America HQ.
Receive Updates: Receive the latest news and announcements via text messages or email.
News: Browse complete coverage of national and local campaign news.
Local Events: Find local events, share by email and get maps and directions.
Media: Browse videos and photos from the campaign
Issues: Get clear facts about Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s plan for essential issues facing Americans.

You can download it here.

...I should also note here that some bloggers are doing a phonebanking party on Sunday. Check it out if you want, and get involved.

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Small-Ball and Scrounging

Looks like the McCain campaign is going after Maine-02, while the Obama campaign is looking to flip Nebraska-02. Those are the only states that split electoral votes.

I'm pretty sure they never have split them, so the chances of this are remote. What I'm more interested in is the fact that, with Michigan off the table, McCain's team appears to have conceded Colorado, as I suspected yesterday:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) now must win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Minnesota in order to get enough electoral votes to win the presidency, his campaign says.

Those were considered swing states in 2000 and 2004, but George W. Bush lost them both times.

"Our ability to pick off one of those three states is where our fortunes are largely held," a McCain official said. "These are states where Barack Obama is on the defense."

McCain doesn't need to win any of these as long as he holds the Bush states, in theory. But Iowa and New Mexico are trending away from him, and if he thinks that he has to win one of the above states, they must feel that Colorado and/or Nevada is lost, too.


Meanwhile McCain's campaign has gone 100% negative.

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Sorry, Alaska Republicans

For Sarah Palin, the news is that the Troopergate investigation will continue.

An Anchorage judge today refused to halt the Legislature's investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin and denied the state attorney general's attempt to throw out legislative subpoenas [...]

Judge Peter Michalski said the Alaska Legislative Council can move ahead with its investigation, including having the state Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena Palin aides to testify.

“It is legitimately within the scope of the Legislature's investigatory power to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the termination of a public officer,” Michalski wrote in his ruling.

The aides (and Todd Palin) will be subject to criminal prosecution if they fail to comply with the subpoenas now.

And for Ted Stevens, the judge has rejected the motion for a mistrial over federal prosecutors withholding potentially exculpatory documents about their star witness:

After hearing heated arguments from lawyers Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan turned down motions from Stevens' lawyers to dismiss charges against the senator or to declare a mistrial.

The judge had sent the jury home for the day after the defense accused prosecutors of suppressing evidence that could help the veteran lawmaker prove he was innocent.

I'm assuming they'll put Bill Allen, the witness, back on the stand so that the information can be released to the jury. Still, this was Stevens' best shot to close the case.

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Note To Cokie

If you don't know what you're talking about, don't open your mouth. Or in your case, don't open your mouth. Because the "don't know what you're talking about" thing is self-evident.

During coverage of the October 2 vice-presidential debate on PBS' Charlie Rose, Rose asked, "Did either of them make any mistakes that you noticed?" National Public Radio senior news analyst Cokie Roberts responded that Sen. Joe Biden "talked about the Bosniaks." Roberts later said: "[I]f [Gov. Sarah Palin] had said 'Bosniak,' everybody would be making a big deal of it, you know." In fact, Biden correctly referred to certain residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Bosniaks. According to the U.S. State Department, as of 2002, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina consisted of the following ethnic groups: "Bosniak 48.3%, Serb 34.0%, Croat 15.4%, others 2.3%."

Way to go, Cokie, putting yourself in the illustrious company of The Corner, RedState and Powerline. Your family must be so proud.

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Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Vote Suppressor

Remember good ol' Tan Nguyen? He was the candidate running against Loretta Sanchez in 2006 who sent out that mailer to the Hispanic community in the district claiming they would be deported if they tried to vote. So, OK, he was indicted yesterday.

A federal grand jury indicted a former Republican Congressional candidate on an obstruction-of-justice charge on Wednesday after an investigation into a letter his campaign sent to Hispanic voters. The man, Tan Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who unsuccessfully ran in the 47th Congressional District in Orange County in 2006 against Representative Loretta Sanchez, is accused of misleading state investigators looking into the mailer.

Oddly, he wasn't indicted on the content of the mailer itself, which could be considered wire fraud, but maybe there will be time for that later.

This continues to be an issue across the country this year.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported today that flyers have been making the rounds in some of the city's African-American neighborhoods, falsely claiming that voters who face outstanding arrest warrants and even unpaid parking tickets may be arrested at the polls.

The flyers could prove particularly effective at scaring people away from voting, because they attribute the falsehood to "an Obama supporter."

At this point, all the Republicans have is voter suppression. If they can make the lines longer on Election Day, if they can turn people away from the polls, they will have accomplished their goal. It's their version of the ground game; they mean to disenfranchise a many Democrats as possible (the McCain campaign co-chair in Wisconsin, also the Attorney General, is leading that effort). And their noise machine is falling right in line.

On his radio show, Chris Baker said, "I don't think homeless people should vote. Frankly. In fact, I have to be very honest. I'm not that excited about women voting, to be honest." Baker later said: "But that's just me. I'm a pig, and that's fine. All right? And we'll see that, I'm sure, on a lame-ass website very soon. But I don't think hobos ought to vote at all. They're nuts. And I think that there needs to be a little more care in who votes."

"A little more care" as in "only Republicans".

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Bailout Bill Passes

So it passed with 263 votes. Republicans were still slightly opposed but they delivered 91 votes this time. It's not a great day for the country, but I've come around to the fact that this was a necessary vote. Hell, even Noriel Roubini is saying that today. Joe Stiglitz too.

We have great economic risks right now. The September job losses were immense and credit markets are very tight. California needs a $7 billion dollar loan to pay its bills (which is what happens when you run a state on the credit card - what an idiot Schwarzenegger and his Yacht Party buddies are).

Paulson and his pals really screwed the pooch on this, by ignoring the problem until it was too late and then letting Lehman Brothers fail at precisely the wrong time. I don't think the prospects for their ability to manage us out of the mess are very good. Confidence needed to be restored in the short term and hopefully that's what this does, but this is not a panacea. It's why I argued for a solution that delivered a short-term confidence boost and nothing more (Ari Melber quotes me in this story about the netroots backlash to the bailout; thanks Ari!). The Dow is apparently plummeting since the vote, so I'm not sure that even that will be successful.

So, now what? Andy Stern has some idea.

Neither you, nor I, nor many of those who voted for it believe that this bill is going to solve the pressing issues American families are facing: rising unemployment, stagnant wages, skyrocketing health care costs, a tax system that favors the wealthy over the workers. The enormous challenges facing American families are real and they aren't going away. But when your ship is taking on water and starting to sink, a bucket looks pretty good.

Another good idea? Start building a better boat.

If there's one lesson we can take away from the fight over the Wall Street bailout it is this: things aren't going to change unless we fundamentally change the way we do business in Washington.

At SEIU, we've laid out a blueprint to get there. Along with our brothers and sisters in Change to Win, we proposed that for half of the amount approved to bail out Wall Street, we can make a real investment in Main Street by funding programs that will improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Relief for struggling homeowners; quality, affordable health care for all; improved infrastructure; making sure that workers have real freedom to choose a voice at work --- these are basic steps we can take now that will have a far more powerful impact on our long-term economic health than any cash bailout for Wall Street.

You can load cash on banks and bail out everyone on Wall Street, but if you don't fundamentally change the economy it's all meaningless. Reindustrialize America, give millions of people jobs in infrastructure and green energy, buy up the homes through a new HOLC or bankruptcy restructuring, and restore the middle class. There's only one way out.

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Word Salad

I may have overestimated the ability of the public and the media to be wowed by Sarah Palin simply because she didn't go on stage and gnaw on the podium. Politico is pretty tough.

On at least ten occasions, Palin gave answers that were nonspecific, completely generic, pivoted away from the question at hand, or simply ignored it: on global warming, an Iraq exit strategy, Iran and Pakistan, Iranian diplomacy, Israel-Palestine (and a follow-up), the nuclear trigger, interventionism, Cheney's vice presidency and her own greatest weakness.

She was definitely nonresponsive and on message. Even when that message was confusing.

Palin's final quote was from Ronald Reagan, warning that without vigilance, "you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."

In fact, Reagan was not warning about a general lack of vigilance about freedom, he was warning what would happen if Medicare was enacted.

And because she was spending so much time staying on script and basically defending her own intellect, Biden could shoot the gap with strong moments like this.

Ultimately, that debate isn't moving numbers. Both sides liked what they saw. But it is significant that Palin treated it like a student taking a test, while Biden treated it like a surrogate making an argument.

She also lied a lot.

...oh that's fucking funny.

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I Want My Consultant Check, Obama Campaign

Last night I said that Joe Biden's answer about John McCain's health care plan should be an ad. Today, it's an ad:

"The McCain Health Tax" is a good name for it. It's a $3.6 trillion dollar tax, by the McCain campaign's own estimates. And the goal of it is to eliminate the employer-based health benefit system, to tax it so much that employers won't want to provide it anymore.

Now, some might say that is something we ought to do. But it's replaced with the wilds of the individual health insurance market. Which is prohibitively more expensive than the $5,000 refundable tax credit McCain's going to offer. Businesses pay less for health care because they pool their employees for a better bargaining position. McCain's plan is the insurance industry's version of union-busting.

McCain's philosophy on health care is that Americans have too much of it, and if they only knew the costs, they would purchase less. So, 47 million luckie-duckies without health insurance, and the other 40 million who are underinsured, take note - John McCain wants you to be more frugal. Comparison shop for that leg surgery. Maybe find a discount MRI. (Not that McCain's ever done this - he's been on government-run health care his entire life and hasn't complained too much about it.)

Until now, I don't think it's been made clear how truly radical McCain's health care plan really is. Bush just ignored the problem. McCain wants to actively make it worse.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gen. Scott McClellan

I don't really care much about misspeaking the name of a random general here and there. So Sarah Palin calling the NATO Commander in Afghanistan David McKiernan "General McClellan" on a couple occasions doesn't bug me. What bugs me is that she completely misstated McKiernan's opinion of the war in Afghanistan and whether or not you can use surge tactics in that theater, which was big news as it broke TODAY. I even wrote about it.

“Afghanistan is not Iraq,” said Gen. David McKiernan, who led ground forces during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and took over four months ago as head of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

During a news conference yesterday, McKiernan described Afghanistan as “a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq.” The country's mountainous terrain and rural population, its poverty and illiteracy, its 400 major tribal networks and history of civil war all make for unique challenges, he said.

“The word I don't use for Afghanistan is 'surge,' ” McKiernan emphasized, saying that what is required instead is a “sustained commitment” to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many more years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution.

That is the diametric opposite of what not only Palin, but McCAIN has been saying throughout this campaign. The "surge to Afghanistan" nonsense has been discredited by the general on the ground. And Palin outright lied about it tonight.

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The Debate

So I was in the car and running to the radio station, and then I was at the station watching while getting my headphones on straight, and my initial thoughts went out over the air, but in case you're wondering:

I'm not sure Gwen Ifill was even in the room. She did no follow-ups and recited her very generic questions by rote.

Palin's expectations were rock-bottom, but they were so low that she had to spend a significant amount of time defending herself. She was folksy, appealing, engaging, but about an inch deep, with little more than a series of scripted talking points. If it was a 30-minute debate she probably could have made it through, but it was three times that length, and by the end the constant refrain of "the team of mavericks" and "we're going to put government on the side of the people" and "we'll fight greed and corruption on Wall Street" grew stale. The talking points often didn't fit the question, and she occasionally appeared nonresponsive. I imagine that her image as a conservative base magnet has been somewhat restored, and as she is the key to Republican's ground game hopes, that was enough.

But I should mention that this part made no sense:

I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies.

Hm? That's kind of gibberish.

Joe Biden was excellent throughout. Among what I appreciated were: his complete and utter takedown of John McCain's health care plan, articulating that finally for a national audience; his emotional answer about being a single parent and living through adversity; and his demolition of the myth of John McCain as a maverick. Joe Biden was debating two people tonight, George Bush and John McCain. And Palin wasn't doing a lot of defending either, really, so he landed some clean shots.

In short, Palin was probably at her best, as was Biden, and yet the snap polls all went for Biden. His message is winning out as people are more receptive to Democrats on the merits. I think Palin stopped the bleeding tonight, but it wasn't a game-changer. And unfair as it is, that's what she needed.

Ultimately the most important political news today was that McCain pulled out of Michigan.

UPDATE: Here's that health care portion. This needs to be an ad.

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Comedy Duo

Palin & Couric today:

COURIC: What do you think is the best and worst thing that Dick Cheney has done as Vice President?

PALIN: Worst thing I guess that would have been the duck hunting accident--where you know, that was an accident. And I think that was made into a caricature of him. And that was kind of unfortunate. So the best thing though, he's shown support, along with George W. Bush, of our troops. And I've been there when George Bush has spoken to families of those who have suffered greatly, those who are serving in the military. I've been there when President Bush has embraced those families and expressed the concern and the sympathy speaking for all of America in those times. And for Dick Cheney to have supported that effort of George Bush's, I respect that.


COURIC: What previous Vice President impresses you the most and why?

PALIN: Oh my goodness. It would have to be --Vice President--just a candidate, and that would have to have been Geraldine Ferraro, of course. That's an easy one for me because she's--she's the one who first shattered part of that glass ceiling anyway in American politics. So it would be she as a candidate.

COURIC: What about as an actual Vice President if you had to name one?

PALIN: My goodness. I think those who have gone on to the Presidency--George Bush Sr, having --kind of learned the ropes in his position as VP and then moving on up.

CBS needs to stop airing the news, and just give America a half hour of Katie Couric asking Palin questions every night. You ride a hit out as far as it can go.

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McCain's 6-State Strategies

Earlier today we heard that the McCain campaign has pulled out of Michigan. Now, in a conference call, they're admitting that they're playing nothing but defense:

Asked to explain their route to an electoral college win, campaign adviser Greg Strimple cited the following six states -- Ohio, Virgina, Florida, Missouri, Indiana, and North Carolina -- and described them as "all states where we're tied or ahead."

Strimple added that victories in all of them would effectively give them a route to victory, when combined with wins in other battlegrounds. But he seemed to clearly state that those six were crucial to them winning -- the foundation for their victory. All of them, of course, went for Bush four years ago.

Well, if that's true, he's already lost the election.

This does not include any of the Kerry/Gore states, which add up to 252 EVs; Iowa or New Mexico, which are looking good for Obama and are another 12 EVs; or Colorado and Nevada, either of which would get Obama to 269-plus. I don't think you can credibly put any of those states closer to the McCain column than the 6 "battlegrounds" the campaign lists. Which means that McCain is essentially fighting for a close loss. Because he's conceding as much as 278 electoral votes.

Chris Bowers is a much better McCain strategist - he tells them to get out of every Kerry/Gore state but New Hampshire, and puts Colorado and Nevada into their carpetbombing strategy:

Carpetbomb Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia with paid media, mailings, field, staff, rallies, retail politics, the works. Seriously--don't target any other states except those six, based on the reasonable assumption that if McCain wins all six of those states, he will also pick up Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia. Supplement this narrow targeting strategy, and counter the 50 state investment by the DNC and the Obama campaign, with a high intensity national cable campaign designed to maintain national poll numbers and possibly shake another state or two loose. If the strategy works, then McCain wins the electoral college 278-260, and possibly edges Obama out in the popular vote.

For the Obama campaign that means that any single state of Colorado, Florida, Ohio or Virginia, or the combo of New Hampshire and Nevada, or any permutation thereof, gives them the win. And of course, there are the states that the McCain campaign mentioned, Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina, though I agree with Bowers that it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where those flip without the ones above doing the same. But it could happen.

Obama has a lot of paths to victory while McCain has basically one defensive strategy, where he has to win practically everywhere. Despite that, this is still a race.

And the very good news is that Obama's upward rise in the polls appears to have coattails, which in many ways is just as important. We need a stronger Congress, with some better Democrats, in addition to the Presidency.

UPDATE: I'm getting a better sense of what the McCain campaign is thinking.

Their map: Win six toss up states -- Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Ohio -- that have traditionally favored Republicans and hold the solidly GOP states to get to 260 electoral votes. Then find 10 more electoral votes in some combination of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

"To say we are on defense is not true," insisted Strimple. "We are aggressively using our resources in states where we have to win."

Maybe. But the problem with that logic is it assumes McCain can hold those six red state tossups, which, in the case of Ohio, Colorado and Virginia (at least) looks to be a dicey proposition.

So the six battleground states are a firewall, essentially. Of course, they have to scrounge up 10 EVs somewhere else even if they hold all six of those firewall states.

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Sarah's Spotlight, The Right Looks For A Slight

I don't think Sarah Palin intentionally flubbed her pre-debate interviews to lower expectations as much as possible, but that has been the practical effect. And the Obama campaign is trying to dial it back and restore her reputation as an excellent debater, to balance things out.

After repeatedly calling Palin first "an extremely good debater," then a "great" one, at the end he ramped it up to "Gov. Palin is one of the best debaters in American politics," at which point the press gaggle interrupted him with its laughter.

"No, she is! Her 2006 debate, she knew where she wanted to take every question, and so I think she'll be relentlessly on message tonight..."

The interviews were conducted on the turf of the interviewer. The debate will be on Palin's turf. It's quite structured, with little time for any back-and-forth between the candidates, so there's not much chance of going off the prepared script, which will be filled with the type of zingers she delivered very well in St. Paul. And the McCain campaign has seemed to figure out that Palin's only way through this is to attack her opponent and take the focus off of her positions and knowledge and onto Biden's.

But more than all of this, Atrios described what is most likely to come out of tonight, and certainly what I'll be looking for:

I'm guessing they twist something - anything - Biden says into being an attack on Palin's children/family somehow.

Get ready! The Wahmbulance is coming to town.

While this doesn't have to be picked up by the immediate snap polls - Democrats seem to have an advantage on those - but afterwards, when it'll be relentlessly hyped by Drudge and Rush and the noise machine. Maybe Lynne Cheney will reprise her role and call Joe Biden "a baaaad man!"

The media is telegraphing this one. They are ready for any slight - Tweety and Kit Seelye obsessed over whether Biden will help Palin with her chair despite the fact that they'll be at podiums. And the culture of victimhood and self-pity on the right will certainly make it so that their ears will be pricked for anything they can twist into an insult. I'm fully expecting it.

And though the media of late has been calling the Republicans on their B.S. and has really internalized the plain truth that McCain has run a dirty, dishonest and dishonorable campaign, this race is getting a bit out of hand, maybe too much for their tastes:

Much of the news media is reporting that Barack Obama is pulling away from John McCain ... and suggesting that, because of low expectations, Sarah Palin need only get through tonight's debate without accidentally endorsing Obama in order to be successful. Put the two together, and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that the media is more than ready to push a McCain-Palin "comeback" narrative -- and, consciously or not, to help that comeback along.

Don't believe that kind of thing happens? Here's Brian Williams and Howard Fineman, in a September 21, 2000 exchange:

HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin - when he's ahead especially I think - talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?

HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.

We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.

Anyway, I'll be trying to sort all of this out tonight with Brad Friedman of BradBlog, who's guest-hosting a special "VP Debate" edition of the Mike Malloy Show immediately following the Biden-Palin matchup. Also appearing:

MARCY WHEELER of Emptywheel
PAMELA LEAVEY of The Democratic Daily, and;
PATRICK FREY of Patterico

Check your local listings for radio stations in your area. You can also find a live stream here.

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The Green Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I know people are consumed with thinking the progressive window is permanently closed after this bailout plan, but I don't think that's the case. First of all it's good that Democrats are strategizing to try and present an alternative and make noise on the floor, perhaps for the first time ever. I don't think their alternative was any good, but we are never going to get anywhere unless the Progressive Caucus recognizes that they actually have as much leverage as the Blue Dogs to impact the debate.

Second, 152 members today united to announce steps to save the planet from global warming.

The legislators describe four key goals:

Reduce emissions to avoid dangerous global warming;
Transition America to a clean energy economy;
Recognize and minimize any economic impacts from global warming legislation; and
Aid communities and ecosystems vulnerable to harm from global warming.
These are the necessary principles that should guide any path out of the climate crisis. What makes this letter significant is the strong, specific details endorsed by the 152 signatories. These include the following measures to respect the severity of the danger of rising greenhouse gas emissions:

– “The United States must do its part to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels.”

– “Total U.S. emissions must be capped by a date certain, decline every year, be reduced to 15% to 20% below current levels in 2020, and fall to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.”

– “A mechanism for periodic scientific review is necessary, and EPA, and other agencies as appropriate, must adjust the regulatory response if the latest science indicates that more reductions are needed.”

– “Cost-containment measures must not break the cap on global warming pollution.”

– “The United States must reengage in the international negotiations to establish binding emissions reductions goals under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change . . . for the United States and other developed nations to achieve combined emissions reductions of at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, as called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

That's a big deal, especially because 152 members is a pretty strong initial caucus. You don't have to like the bailout package to recognize that it's significant and vital that we're finally going to get those renewable production tax credits locked in, saving the wind and solar industries from the very real possibility of ruin. This is the first time all year, maybe this whole Congressional session, that the Congress has put money toward a job-creation engine and the reindustrialization of America, which at the root is the only way we're ever going to break free of this fundamental economic crisis. And they used additional taxes on oil companies to pay for it. Pelosi and the Democrats have been trying to put this into law for two years. This is significant but insufficient, and yet this letter from House Dems makes me hopeful that they recognize the need for a green economy as an economic engine as well as a way to fight global climate change.

We had the first carbon-trading auction in the nation this week, raising $40 million dollars for Northeastern states. And that money will be plowed directly into renewables and energy efficiency. If this was adopted on the national level it would be a tremendous economic opportunity and it would be paid for 100% by industry. And the House letter is more far-reaching.

The signatories call for “complementary policies” like “smart growth measures, green building policies, and electricity sector efficiency policies.” They also agree that a national system should not preempt state efforts: “Federal global warming requirements must be a floor, not a ceiling, on states’ ability to protect their citizens’ health and state resources.”

The signatories also explain that polluter payments must go into building a green recovery, by calling for strong limits to free allowances, if any are made. Instead, the funds derived from auction pollution permits should go to:

— Clean energy and efficiency measures

– Low and moderate-income households

– Workforce development

– State and local adaptation and response to “more severe wildfires, intensified droughts, increased water scarcity, sea level rise, floods, hurricanes, melting permafrost, and agricultural and public health impacts”

– Assistance for developing countries

– Survival of wildlife and natural ecosystems

The bailout sucks, but it's has the potential to spur development in the green space like never before. This is a tangible answer to our economic problems. If you combine that with a responsible end to the war in Iraq, maybe you have something positive out of this.

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Wanted: Courage

Ehud Olmert gives a quite stunning interview in which he states that Israel must withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem for the sake of peace and a two-state solution, and that notions of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities are ridiculous.

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

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

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

Of course, he said all this the day after he resigned as the Kadima Party leader and Prime Minister of the country, when he no longer had, you know, control over these policies. And this is the central contradiction of politics - citizens claim to value honesty from their leaders, but so many roadblocks are constructed to prevent it. What we need in the world is more courage.

And one thing I think everyone can agree on is that we need less world leaders who are willing to believe debunked right-wing email forwards. Who knew that Asif Ali Zardari gets the same crap emails that my uncle sends me?

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Campaign Update: CA-04, CA-11, CA-46, AD-26, AD-30

Here are some things happening around the state:

• CA-04: The most important debate evah is tonight! No, not that Biden-Palin thing, it's Calitics Match candidate Charlie Brown and Tom McClintock in Oroville. Meanwhile, the air war has begun in earnest. Brown is up with a 60-second ad featuring a local family as a third-party endorser, explaining their struggles to stay ahead in this economy and how Brown is the right choice. I think it'll play well (Brown has an American Jobs Plan which includes investments in infrastructure and green jobs, which is key to the needed reindustrialization of society). On the other hand, Tom McClintock has decided to use Grandpa Fred.

"The financial crisis our nation faces is complicated, and I don't think anybody's got all the answers," Thompson, a well-known actor and former U.S. senator from Tennessee, says in the commercial. "But I'll tell you one thing. I'll feel a lot more confident with Tom McClintock working on it, rather than some amateur."

Shorter Grandpa Fred: "All this book-learnin' and financializin' is hard to figger. Pick the guy who's never voted Yes on a budget in his entire career."

• CA-11: If you want to know why Dean Andal isn't getting any traction in his race against Rep. Jerry McNerney, this quote says it all:

Elected in 2006, McNerney is in a better position for reelection than many expected. But he sits in a district that gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote in 2004, a sure sign that the freshman Democrat ought to be looking over his shoulder.

His Republican opponent, former state Assemblyman Dean Andal, may not be in a position to capitalize, though. The Lodi News-Sentinel reported that an Andal spokesman took the curious position that “it would be inappropriate of Andal to comment on the bailout bill, because he is not in office.”

Yes, it would be terrible to actually give your viewpoints on national issues during a political campaign.

• CA-46: You know that Calitics Match candidate Debbie Cook is gaining traction in her race against nutjob Dana Rohrabacher by this - Rohrabacher has gone negative. He's sent an attack mailer that takes a Cook comment about gas prices out of context and really goes to great lengths to greenwash himself. He mentions his sponsorship of a bill to completely eliminate environmental review for solar projects, which is irresponsible but which he is trying to cynically use as proof of his green energy bona fides. It also calls Cook an extremist liberal who opposes drilling.

What's hysterical is that Rohrabacher sent the mailer to everyone in the district but Democrats, meaning that Greens got it. And I'm told by the Cook campaign that they received numerous calls from Green Party members saying that they were voting for Debbie BECAUSE of the mailer!

In other news, Rohrabacher is certifiably crazy.

According to a September 25, 2008, Pasadena Weekly article by Carl Kozlowski, Rohrabacher believes that the Los Angeles Police Department has for 40 years hidden the fact that Sirhan Sirhan, the lone man convicted of shooting Kennedy, worked as part of a "real conspiracy" of Arabs [...]

In early 2007--39 years after the killing and right around the time that he blamed global warming on dinosaur flatulence, Rohrabacher decided to solve his murder mystery for "the Kennedy family."

Anyone familiar with Rohrabacher knows this story is now headed for unadulterated, wacky bliss.

At some point, Sirhan sent Summer Reese, one of his lawyers, a letter telling her that "a Diana was coming to see him."

Reese told Kozlowski, "Sirhan didn't know it was the congressman because his visitor was presented as a woman."

Rohrabacher. Undercover. In drag. Using the name Diana?

Perhaps this sheds light on why ex-Congressman Bob Dornan (R-Garden Grove) liked to call Rohrabacher "a fruitcake."

I actually know Carl, maybe I'll track him down and interview him about this.

• AD-26: I've noticed a lot of Republicans afraid to debate this year. Here's another example.

Stretching from Turlock to Stocton, the 26th Assembly District is fairly even in voter registration and is a target on both party’s lists. So why would one candidate take a pass on a critical opportunity to face his opponent and make his case to voters? That is the question being asked by Democratic candidate John Eisenhut who was at a League of Women Voters debate in Modesto Friday night. His Republican opponent, Bill Berryhill, had a “scheduling conflict.”

In a conversation with Eisenhut the night after the debate he said that Berryhill didn’t want to debate him. This in spite of Berryhill being quoted by the Modesto Bee saying,

“People deserve some dialogue and to know where we both stand.”

• AD-30: Fran Florez runs against Sacramento in this solid new ad. Is she also running against her own son, State Sen. Dean Florez?

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Pointing One Finger Outward Means Three Are Pointing Back At Yourself

The wingnuts are really ramping up this blame of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (I always like to put the date in there, just to show how ridiculous it all is) for the current financial crisis. It's bunk. What actually happened is that the tech bubble popped and there was a lot of global investment money that needed a place to go, so the financial industry packaged these mortgages and created a demand for them, which led to lax lending regulations, so they could give out more mortgage-backed securities, which led to more demand, etc., to create a new bubble. And now we're seeing this one pop. Despite the complexity of the financial instruments, it's pretty simple. But the wingnuts don't want simple. They want to muddy the waters and reduce the blame to the darkies.

In fact, even if this was about loaning to the "wrong" people the Bush Administration was in the position to stop it. But the "homeownership rates are high" talking point was valuable in a struggling economy with stagnating incomes, and their Wall Street friends were making bank, so they let it happen.

But it wasn't. The CRA has nothing to do with this crisis.

• The CRA was passed in 1977—over 25 years before subprime loans came into vogue. So the timing is wrong.

• The CRA only covers commercial banks and savings-and-loan institutions—not other forms of mortgage-offering enterprises. Fact is, most subprime loans weren’t made by the lenders subject to CRA.

Fannie and Freddie aren't to blame either:

• Fannie and Freddie did not guarantee and securitize subprime loans. Such loans didn’t meet their conforming loan standards. In fact, as the subprime market was building, Fannie and Freddie lost market share because they were under stricter standards. Thus, their participation in the secondary market did not assist in the creation of the subprime market.

• It’s true, however, that Fannie and Freddie were damaged by the subprime crisis because everyone in the housing sector was damaged by falling home prices and, more significantly, the two companies branched out into a broader investment portfolio. In that portfolio were included mortgage-backed securities that hurt all of those who purchased them. Fannie and Freddie weren’t the biggest players in this and, most importantly, started this practice very late in the game. In fact, the subprime market had already started to go bad when they started their purchases (which speaks poorly for Fannie and Freddie’s decision making, but precludes them from responsibility for the crisis).

• Fannie and Freddie were supposed to be more closely supervised than other lenders—with their own regulator, which was supposed to keep a special eye on them because they are important institutions. Those regulators, who were part of the Bush administration, failed along with the rest of the Bush regulatory apparatus to stop the problem.

Of course, it's a lot easier to blame the victims of predatory lending instead of the predators themselves. It's easier to cast blame instead of taking the hard look inward. In this brilliant essay, Thomas Frank says that the GOP instinct for blame-evasion is world class:

This is a movement, after all, that blandly recasts its greatest idols as traitors once their popularity has crashed; that routinely sloughs off responsibility for . . . well . . . anything since, by its logic, conservatism has never really been tried in the first place. Consider in this respect Mitt Romney's remarkable speech to the Republican convention a few weeks ago, in which he rallied his party against Washington -- a place his party has controlled, to one degree or another, for nearly three decades -- by listing the city's various institutions and crying, "It's liberal!"

Or consider the way the House Republicans torpedoed the bailout bill a few days ago. The real reason they did it was almost certainly to evade responsibility for an unpopular measure but the announced reason seemed designed to convince the nation's 7-year-olds -- because Nancy Pelosi said something mean.

On economic questions the standard exculpatory maneuver is even simpler. When some free-market scheme blows up, one needs only find an institution of government in close proximity to the wreckage and commence accusing.

And the reaction to being called on this lie on the right is to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend they never heard it.

It's entirely possible, indeed probable, that nothing proposed is a solution to this crisis we face - if housing values continue to plummet, which they should in a functioning economy to deflate the bubble, all the trickery in the world won't be sufficient. But the key conservative goal here is to elude responsibility, for responsibility might mean having to actually change their practices and have their free-market fundamentalism collapse upon them.

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Whiny, Angry, Depressed

John McCain is losing it.

John McCain said Thursday that Barack Obama's poll numbers are rising as the economy seems to sink "because life isn't fair."

"He certainly did nothing for the first few days," McCain told Fox News Thursday. "I suspended my campaign, took our ads down, came back to Washington, met with the House folks and got on the phone, and also had face-to-face meetings."

The sense of entitlement is palpable here. I think McCain is convinced of his own righteousness, as most politicians seeking the Presidency are, and can't imagine that anyone would choose that scary rookie black guy over him.

Check this out, he's even doing Abe Simpson impressions for the media:

We just followed McCain down the steps following the vote to ask him about the reaction of House Republicans to the vote.

He didn't appreciate the company.

McCain: "Excuse me, you're bothering me."

Politico: "I'm bothering you?"

McCain: "Excuse me, I have to go."

"Get off my lawn, you punk kids!"

Hey, I sympathize, I'd be upset too. Obama's lead keeps growing, and now McCain's campaign is pulling out of Michigan, which is incredible considering that was not a state where Obama did any primary organizing. But Florida is slipping away and McCain's folks are incredibly nervous, so Michigan goes off the board.

And I really don't think, in these serious times, fearmongering with Rev. Wright is going to be enough.

What I'm trying to say is that I understand the crankiness. But hey, life isn't fair.

...This Rolling Stone article is really amazing about the character of the man.

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Series of Tubes Saved?

The Ted Stevens trial hit a snag yesterday. Star witness Bill Allen has been pummeling Stevens' credibility by admitting that he gave Stevens thousands of dollars in gifts that were never paid for or disclosed. Allen's testimony really makes this a simple case. But prosecutors failed to turn over the FBI reports in a timely manner, angering the judge and leading the defense to call for a mistrial. They're claiming that the prosecution is withholding evidence.

The judge sent the jury home and is hearing arguments from both sides. I don't think the case will be dismissed, but there is that possibility, I suppose.

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McCain: Veto The Bill I Voted For, Mr. President

This is some kind of flip-flop record:

SCARBOROUGH: Why did these (pork-barrel) items have to be in this critical bill?

MCCAIN: Well that’s just the way the system is working in Washington and the reason why it’s got to be fixed, and it’s got to be changed. And no matter what the stakes are, you’ve got to stop this by starting to veto bills that come across the president’s desk. … It’s insanity and it’s obscenity, because it’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars and it goes on, and until we stop it, until we get frankly a president who will say, I’m gonna veto these bills, I’m gonna make the people famous that put them on there, uh, famous.

I want to clear up a misconception that these "sweeteners" were somehow picked specifically to appeal to individual legislators in the House. That's not true. This was a tax package that the Senate passed weeks ago. They picked it up and added it, maybe to appeal to a couple tax-cutting Republicans, but really to jam the House and force them to vote for it, after they demurred earlier. For crying out loud, the bill increases taxes on Big Oil. Do you really think they would have constructed it that way to appeal to Republicans? It's the only part of this or ANY bill passed this year, really, that would help reindustrialize America (due to the renewable energy production tax credits), and as a standalone I would have voted for it happily.

But let's get back to the main point. McCain flew to Washington yesterday and voted for the bailout bill. He hasn't been on the Senate floor to vote in six months. So this was obviously very important. And now, he turns right around and says that the President has to show some courage and veto the bill which he just voted to pass.

The disconnect is staggering. It's the same feeling you get when you see McCain's reinvention as a master regulator despite his consistent opposition for 26 years. More than anything, this is why he's losing. People don't trust him.

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Changes Of Seasons In Afghanistan

I know that the media can only focus on one thing at a time, but this is a very sensitive moment for Afghanistan. US commanders and international diplomats alike are seeing a scenario that is very close to being lost.

The cable, written in French, paraphrases the 53-year-old British ambassador as saying:

The security situation is bad and getting worse.

The Afghan people have lost all trust in their current government, partly because of corruption.

The presence of foreign troops in the country is part of the problem, propping up the current regime and thus slowing progress toward Afghans putting a more effective government in place.

Sending more military reinforcements to Afghanistan would have a "perverse effect" on the country's stability and future, sending the message that an occupying force is in control of the country and widening the number of targets for insurgents to attack.

That last two are important. Many have this view that adding forces is all that's needed to stabilize a security problem. Call it "the Iraq delusion." John McCain has outright said this, that we need a "surge" in Afghanistan the way we surged in Iraq. Of course, the commander of NATO forces on the ground knows that the two countries aren't even remotely comparable:

First of all, please don’t think that I’m saying there’s no room for tribal engagement in Afghanistan, because I think it’s very necessary. But I think it’s much more complex environment of tribal linkages, and intertribal complexity than there is in Iraq. It’s not as simple as taking the Sunni Awakening and doing the Pashtun Awakening in Afghanistan. It’s much more complex than that.

But there are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it’s such a poor country, by any set of metrics you can imagine. A country that has very harsh geography. It’s very difficult to move around, getting back to our reliance on helicopters. It’s a country with very few natural resources, as opposed to the oil revenues that [Iraq] has. There’s very little money to be generated in terms of generated in Afghanistan. The literacy rate — you have a literate society in Iraq, you have a society that has a history of producing civil administrators, technocrats, middle class that are able to run the country in Iraq. You do not have that in Afghanistan. So there’s educational challenges, challenges of human capitol that I mentioned earlier.

So there are a lot of challenges. What I don’t think is needed — the word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word “surge.” There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and non-military resources, I believe. That’s my advice to winning in Afghanistan. It won’t be a short-term solution.

Of course, McKiernan also wants more troops, so while he doesn't use the word "surge," he at least thinks that adding forces can only have a salutary effect on the country. There is Afghanistan as we knew it in 2002, when a grateful nation was happy to have help in getting rid of the Taliban, and there is Afghanistan today, where the public has lost faith in the government, the Taliban is controlling major sections of the country, and those who have endured six years of aerial bombing don't see NATO troops as saviors.

... I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that six or seven years later, we can just roll up our sleeves and rededicating ourselves to achieving the goals we were told we achieved years ago. The situation has changed, windows of opportunity open and close, and our mission has gotten very murky. Oftentimes when this kind of operation goes on long enough the goal becomes “succeeding” — or, rather, doing something or other that whoever’s in charge of the operation could plausibly label success. But we need to think, instead, more concretely about what it is we’re hoping to achieve in Afghanistan — specifically, does preventing portions of Afghanistan from serving as a base for terrorist operation directed at the United States really require us to establish an effective central state in Afghanistan?

That is the key question that I don't think either Presidential candidate has answered. They are arguing for an intervention in Afghanistan circa 2002. Time has changed circumstances.

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Invading His Personal Space

So John McCain returned to Washington for the first time in six months, and he had an evening visitor:

Let the record reflect that Barack Obama made the approach to John McCain tonight.

As the two shared the Senate floor tonight for the first time since they won their party nominations, Obama stood chatting with Democrats on his side of the aisle, and McCain stood on the Republican side of the aisle.

So Obama crossed over into enemy territory.

He walked over to where McCain was chatting with Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and Independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. And he stretched out his arm and offered his hand to McCain.

McCain shook it, but with a “go away” look that no one could miss. He tried his best not to even look at Obama.

Finally, with a tight smile, McCain managed a greeting: “Good to see you.”

Obama got the message. He shook hands with Martinez and Lieberman — both of whom greeted him more warmly — and quickly beat a retreat back to the Democratic side.

It's gossip, but also a bit revealing. McCain really can't stand his opponent.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bailed Out

Well, halfway, at least. The Senate passed the bill, with 2/5 of the DeFazio plan embedded - the raising of FDIC insurance limits, which was long overdue, and the ability for the SEC to suspend mark-to-market accounting, which is some kind of fairy tale. It also includes all kinds of other legislation, like a tax package which is mainly focused on renewable energy tax credits, the only - I repeat, only - provision through all of this which could grow the manufacturing sector and reindustrialize the country (which is, you know, the key to America's economic survival). It actually RAISES taxes for oil companies as well. I don't think "Exempt from excise tax certain wooden arrow shafts for use by children" needed to be in there, but hey, it's Congress!

The Senate jammed the House pretty good on this one, and I think they'll eventually comply.

My Senators, Boxer and Feinstein, both voted for it, which shows that this cuts across ideological lines. And yet I can't argue with a word Russ Feingold says here:

"I will oppose the Wall Street bailout plan because though well intentioned, and certainly much improved over the administration's original proposal, it remains deeply flawed. It fails to offset the cost of the plan, leaving taxpayers to bear the burden of serious lapses of judgment by private financial institutions, their regulators, and the enablers in Washington who paved the way for this catastrophe by removing the safeguards that had protected consumers and the economy since the great depression. The bailout legislation also fails to reform the flawed regulatory structure that permitted this crisis to arise in the first place. And it doesn't do enough to address the root cause of the credit market collapse, namely the housing crisis. Taxpayers deserve a plan that puts their concerns ahead of those who got us into this mess."

This is all true, and this was ultimately a bad plan, but I respect the opinion of hold your nose caucus as well. I would have preferred a short-term fix with a vote giving a popular mandate to the solution.

Because right now the public opinion situation is very muddled. People absolutely believe this is a crisis and they might not want to bail out Wall Street but they are adamant that something be done. This is acute in California. The state, with its emphasis on selling bonds and borrowing, is currently unable to pay its bills. Bonds for highway construction, schools, housing and water projects cannot be sold. The credit crunch has real-world effects. This is why the Governor wrote the Congressional delegation and urged passage. This is also why you don't run a government based on borrowing, but there you go.

And so you have the fascinating and strange situation where Democratic challengers in Congressional races are hammering their incumbent opponents for voting yes AND voting no on the House plan. On the side of "how could you vote for this" are Bill Durston (who rushed out an ad hitting Dan Lungren for voting yes) and Ed Chau (who slammed Gary Miller in a press release). On the side of "I can't believe you didn't vote for this" are Nick Leibham, who couldn't have been more exercised about Brian Bilbray's no vote (calling it "totally irresponsible") and Charlie Brown, who defended the need to do something against nutjob free market fundamentalist Tom McClintock.

And then you have Russ Warner, who cited David Dreier's hypocrisy while saying he would have voted for the bill as well:

Warner's campaign pointed to a conflicting statement on Dreier's website, where the 13-term incumbent writes, "I believe we need to empower families to make sound economic choices and avoid taxpayer funded bailouts."

While Warner says he would have voted for the bailout bill as well, his campaign attacked Dreier for changing his position.

The point is that no politician has any idea what the people want, and the decision-making process is exceedingly complex. Those who are taking principled stands are likely to be rewarded and those taking political ones punished, but even that is unclear. I would steer clear of making definitive statements about the public mood; chances are they don't even know what they think. is also completely amusing that the bill bailing out Wall Street is called the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act. Because tax bills can't originate in the Senate, they grafted the legislation onto a bill that the House recently sent over. Which, by the way, is a good bill.

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