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

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Puck You

I actually admit that I thought the Sarah Palin puck drop at the Philadelphia Flyers game wouldn't go this badly. Flyers crowds are very white and the tickets are very pricey, so even though Philly's a Democratic town I thought there might be a healthy about of Republicans there. But, um, no.

I reserve booing like that for when Michigan gets beat by Toledo.

This has been your monthly obligatory sports post.

Go Fightin' Phils!

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To Put It Plainly, I'm The Business

I hope this guy's available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Lorne Michaels, get this guy's phone number, Fred Armisen is embarrassing himself.

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The Foreign Policy Friday News Dumps

I told you there was a lot of news, right? First, North Korea called Bush's bluff and won.

President Bush is set to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of terrorist-sponsoring nations as early as Saturday in an end-of-term bid to save a deal to eliminate the secretive communist nation's nuclear weapons program, State Department officials said Friday.

The move was being finalized Friday after consultations with U.S. ally Japan, which opposes the action, and what appears to have been a fierce internal debate within the Bush administration, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the announcement hasn't been made yet.

The most interesting part of this is that Bush ALREADY AGREED to take North Korea off the terror list. When Pyongyang actually asked for the US to hold up their end of the deal, it set off a fiery internal debate. So obviously they initially planned not to do it.

Obviously a denuclearized North Korea is preferable, and if China is involved in the verification process, it could lead to further global cooperation. But this is just a window into how the White House operates. And, it shows their weakness at the end of the regime, as NORTH KOREA can twist their arm.

So can Iraq.

Al-Maliki said the U.S. had made major concessions, including agreeing to pull U.S. forces back to their bases by the end of June and to a full withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011.

President Bush had steadfastly refused for years to set a timetable for a troop withdrawal, saying that should depend on security conditions on the ground. Iraqi politicians say they cannot sell the deal to their war-weary public without a timeline for the end of the U.S. presence.

However, one senior U.S. official, close to the talks, confirmed Friday that the Americans had agreed to the June and 2011 dates.

The official, who requested anonymity because the talks are ongoing, said the United States still believes that security conditions should determine the withdrawal schedule but that Washington can live with the language in the draft deal.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has signed off on this deal, but only if it's ratified by the Parliament, so the US might need to make even more concessions.

I'd like Maliki to be the new Speaker of the House. He apparently understands how to deal with bullies.

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Hey Kids, Let's (Pretend To) Buy A Bank!

There was a ridiculous amount of news for a Friday night, the foremost being that President Paulson is finally giving in and doing what should have been done in the first place, purchasing an equity stake in failing banks. The problem is that he is still doing it wrong.

WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Friday that the Bush administration will move ahead with a plan to buy stock in financial institutions.

Paulson said the program to purchase stock in financial institutions will be open to a broad array of institutions.

The administration received the authority to make direct purchases of stock in banks in the $700 billion measure Congress passed last week to rescue the nation’s financial system [...]

Paulson said the government’s program would be designed to complement the efforts of banks to raise fresh capital from private sources. He said that the government’s stock purchases would be of nonvoting shares so that the government will not have power to run the companies.

Actually, we need the power to run the companies, or at least tell the bankers what to do, more specifically that they must lend to one another. They aren't the kind of shares that Warren Buffett got from Goldman Sachs. If this doesn't change bank behavior then it essentially will do nothing. A bank that refuses to lend is not a functional bank, and the government ought to take it over. As Krugman says, this is a half-Gordon - referring to Gordon Brown's recapitalization plan (not the part about suing Iceland).

Worse, the G7 finance ministers aren't coordinating their efforts.

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven nations signaled reluctance to adopt a coordinated effort to shore up banks, risking a deeper crisis of confidence after this week's crash in global stock markets.

As equities worldwide suffered their worst week since the 1970s, officials gathering in Washington said they were seeking new ways to stem the meltdown. Still, they argued that tailoring efforts to the needs of individual nations was better than a cross-border plan.

The G-7 is considering including in its statement saying that no bank of systemic importance will be allowed to fail, and may outline principles all nations should follow, two European officials told reporters in Washington. Still, the group is unlikely today to endorse a U.K.-style commitment to guarantee loans between banks, an official from a G-7 member said.

AND, it appears that Paulson is going to use Fannie and Freddie to kickstart the buy-up of troubled assets, essentially widening the money pool:

Federal regulators directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to start purchasing $40 billion a month of underperforming mortgage bonds as the Bush administration expands its options to buy troubled financial assets and resuscitate the U.S. economy, according to three people briefed about the plan.

Fannie and Freddie began notifying bond traders last week that each company needs to buy $20 billion a month in mostly subprime, Alt-A and non-performing prime mortgage securities, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are confidential. The purchases would be separate from the U.S. Treasury's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Because the $700 billion is going to go to recapitalization, yet he has to reward his banker friends by overpaying for their trash.

AND, GM is talking merger with Chrysler, just weeks after securing a $25 billion dollar loan from the Feds.

These are just the economic Friday news dumps.

And they worry me. Paulson is still trying to work a heist instead of fix the fundamentals. And the market has thus far responded very poorly to heists.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night News Dump, Alaska Style

Sarah Palin abused the power of her office. Why didn't they read the report she released exonerating herself? Wouldn't that be the fair and balanced thing to do?

A legislative committee investigating Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has found she unlawfully abused her authority in firing the state's public safety commissioner. The investigative report concludes that a family grudge wasn't the sole reason for firing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan but says it likely was a contributing factor.

The Republican vice presidential nominee has been accused of firing a commissioner to settle a family dispute. Palin supporters have called the investigation politically motivated.

Monegan says he was dismissed as retribution for resisting pressure to fire a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce with the governor's sister. Palin says Monegan was fired as part of a legitimate budget dispute.

Well, she's said six or seven different things, that's just today's excuse, but that's besides the point. By the way that "politically motivated" investigation included 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats.

The report has been released (by unanimous vote of the Council) and can be found here. The nut graf:

For the reasons explained in Section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides

"The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."

The wingnuts will hang their hat on the fact that the report says that Palin's firing of Walt Monegan was within her statutory authority, but the above paragraph doesn't have a lot of wiggle room. Her handpicked Attorney General failed to turn over documents in the case, too.

I think the best way for the McCain campaign to spin this is to assert that, by being found guilty of abusing power and obstructing justice, Palin has now shown herself to be perfectly qualified for the office of Vice President as it has been conceived by Dick Cheney.

Or, they can go the route of Palin's lawyer and claim that the report is incomplete because they never talked to Palin herself, which leaves me to wonder if there's a word in Eskimo for "chutzpah."

Perhaps the best, or saddest, part of this is that they tried to stage a replay of the Brooks Brothers riot, this time by dressing up in red noses and rallying against what I guess they'd call a "reindeer court":

As for the nitty-gritty details, I figure Marcy Wheeler's better at that than I am.

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Barack Obama Just Doesn't Understand Ordinary American Racists

Barack Obama had a few words today for the increasingly eliminationist tone of McCain campaign rallies.

I think that folks are looking for something different. It’s easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division. But that’s not what we need right now in the United States. The times are too serious. The challenges are too great. The American people aren’t looking for someone who can divide this country – they’re looking for someone who will lead it. We’re in a serious crisis - now, more than ever, it is time to put country ahead of politics. Now, more than ever, it is time to bring change to Washington so that it works for the people of this country that we love.

So the McCain campaign tries to pivot into some backlash politics as a response, but it's an awkward flail that pretty much makes no sense at all:

"Barack Obama's attacks on Americans who support John McCain reveal far more about him than they do about John McCain. It is clear that Barack Obama just doesn't understand regular people and the issues they care about. He dismisses hardworking middle class Americans as clinging to guns and religion, while at the same time attacking average Americans at McCain rallies who are angry at Washington, Wall Street and the status quo.

"Even worse, he attacks anyone who dares to question his readiness to serve as their commander in chief in chief. Raising legitimate questions about record, character and judgment are a vital part of the Democratic process, and Barack Obama's effort to silence and shame those who seek answers should make everyone wonder exactly what he is hiding."

They actually had American media's punching bag, Tucker Bounds, trotting out this message today.

I mean, this is just pathetic. Obama responds to calls to "Kill him" and instances of rally mobs yelling "Terrorist!" and "Treason," and he's attacking them? Also, it's kind of hard to imagine McCain claiming that Obama "doesn't understand regular people and the issues they care about" when his own aide thinks the stock market dive isn't worth talking about:

McCain didn't talk about the stock market yesterday, and didn't put out a statement on it, while Obama did both, and McCain campaign manager Rick Davis was asked about that on a conference call (about Acorn!) this afternoon.

"There’s very little a candidate for president can say and very little the president can say about what’s happening in the stock markets except hope that they correct themselves," Davis said, adding that McCain's mortgage plan could be an "elixir" for the financial crisis [...]

The campaign, he said, shouldn't become a "CNBC news show on the stock market."

People aren't worrying about their life savings dropping into the toilet, after all, they're far more concerned about Weather Underground bombings in the late 1960s.

I guess that McCain tried to calm the masses today, but you can't put the genie back in the bottle. He unleashed these forces and he's ultimately responsible for them.

But then something weird happens: He acknowledges the "energy" people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, "I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments." People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: "I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are."

The very next questioner tried to push back on this request, noting that he needed to "tell the American the TRUTH about Barack Obama" -- a not very subtle way, I think, to ask John McCain to NOT tell the truth about Barack Obama. McCain told her there's a "difference between record and rhetoric, and I plan to talk about his record, respectfully... I don't mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean it has to be respectful."

And then later, again, someone dangled a great big piece of low-hanging fruit in front of McCain: "I'm scared to bring up my child in a world where Barack Obama is president."

McCain replies, "Well, I don't want him to be president, either. I wouldn't be running if I did. But," and he pauses for emphasis, "you don't have to be scared to have him be President of the United States." A round of boos.

And he snaps back: "Well, obviously I think I'd be better. " [...]

UPDATE: Indeed, he just snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, "I'm scared of Barack Obama... he's an Arab terrorist..."

"No, no ma'am," he interrupted. "He's a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements."

Tough beans, John. You lost your honor quite a while ago. No redemptions.

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As the McCain campaign sinks into the fever swamps and goes about as far as you can go before someone cries "racism," they've teamed up their irresponsible behavior and incitement to riot with the project to delegitimize the election itself. They just released a Web video highlighting Barack Obama's ties to ACORN.

This is all they've got left, so they're going with it. A dark, twisted conspiracy theory based on ignorance and deep-seeded xenophobia and hatred. And the BBQ-stained media is helping them along by highlighting the couple thousand voter registration forms (at MOST, and that's probably exaggerated) that ACORN alerted election authorities about being fraudulent, instead of the 1.3 million voters they registered accurately, most of them in low- and middle-income communities. This is an attack on people's right to vote and participate in politics.

In the report, Ruthann Hoagland, a Republican member of the Lake Co. Board of Elections, tells Griffin that ACORN submitted 5,000 new registrations in the past two weeks. But during the verification process, employees found that about half were fraudulent, including multiple forms turned in with the same handwriting, one signed "Johns, Jimmy" using the address of a Jimmy John's sandwich shop in Crown Point, and others with the name of registrants that are now dead. Nationwide, registrar's offices have come across similar problems in recent days.

What Griffin fails to note, however, is that ACORN made very clear that some registrations they gathered from canvassers in Lake County may have been faulty. An ACORN spokesmen explained this in an October 7 press release:

ACORN flags and turns in three kinds of cards, those that it can verify, those that are incomplete, and those that it flags as problematic. It turns those in labeled in a special way and are very conservative in terms of what it flags as problematic. It has stacks of problematic cover sheets. [...]

The Lake County Board knew about the questionable registrations today because ACORN flagged them for the board. For example, the Jimmy John’s card is one that a caller had flagged and labeled as problematic. ACORN can get that caller to talk to the press.

According to Regina Harris, the Director of Registrations for Lake County, this claim checks out. "It's certainly true. They did have three batches separated." she told me this morning. "There was a pile they knew were good, there was some they said had missing info -- like no voter ID number or a missing birthday -- and another batch they called 'suspicious.' "

Why would ACORN submit registration forms it had deemed "suspicious"? Because under most state laws, voter registration organizations are required to turn in all the forms they receive. In a phone conversation today, ACORN press coordinator Charles Jackson confirmed that this is the case in Indiana.

They turn THEMSELVES in and these idiots on the right think they're scamming the election. They're nothing but a scapegoat.

In addition, as Adam Serwer notes there is a dinstinction between registration fraud and voter fraud. To my knowledge Mickey Mouse or Moamar Qadafy or George Jetson has never attempted to vote in a national election, even if their "registrations" got by the eyes of censors, which they wouldn't, if election officials paid attention to ACORN flagging the bad forms. In fact, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud whatsoever, and this has been verified dozens of times. Josh Marshall explains in a piercing post:

The Republican party is grasping on to the ACORN story as a way to delegitimize what now looks like the probable outcome of the November election. It is also a way to stoke the paranoia of their base, lay the groundwork for legal challenges of close outcomes in various states and promote new legal restrictions on legitimate voting by lower income voters and minorities. The big picture is that these claims of 'voter fraud' are themselves a fraud, a tool to aid in suppressing Democratic voter turnout. But I want give readers a bit more detail to understand what is going because the right-wing freak out about ACORN happens pretty much on schedule every two years. The whole scam is premised on having enough people who don't remember when they tried it before who they can then confuse and lie to.

In the main I would agree that it's not a good idea to pay people to register voters, especially on a per-registration basis, because it incentivizes employees to falsify forms to keep their numbers up. In the end, the only people harmed by bad voter registration forms are ACORN themselves, because it means they overpaid their workers. I would say the same thing about signature gatherers for ballot initiatives. I would support that legislation if it came up for a vote. But the conservatives never introduce such legislation, even though they yell and carp about this every couple years. They don't want to fix the problem. They want an organization they can point at and demonize, and ACORN fits the bill. They want to use the power they have through the right-wing media and the Republican National Committee and even the Justice Department to push this narrative of Democratic perfidy and black people stealing elections.

Again, there have been numerous investigations of this. Often by people with at least a mild political interest in finding wrongdoing. But they never find it. It always ends up being right-wing hype and lies. Remember, most of those now-famous fired US Attorneys from 2007 were Republican appointees who were canned after they got tasked with investigating allegations of widespread vote fraud, did everything they could to find it, but came up with nothing. That was the wrong answer so Karl Rove and his crew at the Justice Department fired them.

Vote registration fraud is a limited and relatively minor problem in the US today. But it is principally an administrative and efficiency issue. It is has little or nothing to do with people casting illegitimate votes to affect an actual election. That's the key. What you're hearing right now from Fox News, the New York Post, John Fund and the rest of the right-wing bamboozlement chorus is a just another effort to exploit, confuse and lie in an effort to put more severe restrictions on legitimate voting and lay the groundwork to steal elections.

Meanwhile, there's a very real story about thousands of voter registrations being blocked in swing states, mass purges of the voter rolls, and all kinds of fallout from the 2002 Help America Vote Act, passed by Republicans and signed by George W. Bush. But that doesn't get mentioned, because there's no group like ACORN to tar and feather.

If you're poor, if you're struggling, if you are a minority, Republicans don't want you to vote. And furthermore, they don't care if this backfires. They mean to call into question the election and the office of the Presidency itself under a Democratic Administration. They win either way.

...Obama's campaign released a statement:

"Today's conference call was another effort by the McCain campaign to throw out false charges to 'turn the page' from the issues that matter to American families. Barack Obama strongly condemns voter registration fraud or any other breach of election law by any party or group. The McCain campaign's allegations about Sen. Obama are completely transparent and false. He believes that the registration of voters at record levels is good for our democracy, and the McCain-Palin campaign's false claims are nothing more than another dishonorable, shameful attempt to divert voters' attention from the unprecedented challenges facing their families and our nation," said Obama-Biden campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.

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CA-04: Grand Dragons For McClintock

Perennial candidate Tom McClintock is a beloved figure on the far right. We just didn't know how far.

It turns out that in 2003, when McClintock was running for his eleventy-teenth political office in the California governor recall election, he was endorsed by none other than the KKK.

Dateline: September 27, 2003

Ku Klux Klan Announces support for Tom McClintock

The Imperial Klans of America, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (IKA) have announced their full support for Tom
McClintock’s bid for the governorship of California. Their support is announced in what they term “the
lesser of all evil candidates.”

When interviewed, Mr. Chris Johnson (Grand Dragon or State Director of the IKA’s California chapter) had this to say regarding the announcement, “While Mr. McClintock is not the perfect candidate for California Governor, we have more in common with his ideology than any of the other candidates. We are in congruence with his stand on illegal aliens infecting our land and his courage in standing up to the invasion.” Mr. Johnson went on to say that, “Mr. McClintock echoes our anti-abortion stand, and our opposition to oppressive taxation.”

I guess the McClintock campaign can spin this by saying that at least the KKK called him evil, even if he was the lesser of all the rest?

Here's the thing: organizations can choose to endorse anybody they want, and the candidates have no control over that. But McClintock never said a peep five years ago when he got this endorsement. And there's a Chris Johnson on McClintock's donor list from that 2003 gubernatorial race. Chris Johnson is obviously a common name, and the donation is $100, so take it with a grain of salt. But certainly, McClintock needs to answer the question of why he never rejected the endorsement and why they never sought out and returned money that would even have the appearance of coming from the Klan.

More to the point, McClintock is just the kind of guy to demonize an opponent's associations. In fact, when running for governor in 2003, McClintock compared then-Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante's association with the Hispanic student group MEChA to, you guessed it, the KKK.

State Sen. Tom McClintock, a conservative Republican rival, recently likened the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, also known as MEChA, to the Ku Klux Klan.

"It's like saying, 'Oh, I was a moderate member of the Klan,'" McClintock said last month on the San Diego radio station KOGO. "It's incumbent on Cruz Bustamante to clearly and completely renounce ...

The idea that the KKK finds ideological kinship with McClintock is pretty much a no-brainer. His demonization of illegal immigrants as the cause of so much of the nation's economic woes plays to the baser instincts of the racist right. He's running a campaign against Charlie Brown that has recently seized on Brown's appearance at an anti-war rally before the invasion of Iraq as somehow un-American. It's really not too much of a logical leap here.

Stay tuned for more on this...

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Full Spectrum Organizing

What the Obama campaign is doing really deserves a full academic treatment. Campaign managers and consultant need to study it for the next twenty years. The level of innovation is really a quantum leap.

Their Internet fundraising, inspiring low-dollar donors to contribute over and over, has become an alternative public financing system and allowed them to stretch their dollars on the air war, including national spots at key moments and the upcoming purchase of a half-hour block of primetime a week before the election. But they are also advertising in the most unlikely places, using Google ads and iPhone applications and even buying billboards in video games like Burnout Paradise (I'm not a gamer, but Burnout rules and it's a perfect venue to find young male voters).

As for the 50-state strategy, they're being realistic (obviously) but they aren't leaving anything to chance, going hard after the extra electoral vote in Nebraska and using outlets like the DCCC to make sure allies are sent to Congress to help implement his agenda.

The voter registration project over the summer appears to have been a resounding success. An unusual amount of that record fundraising was put into work on the ground, and it has led to a five percent increase nationwide in Democratic registration, which is really game-changing and significant. In Ohio alone, 666,000 new voters have been registered, making NINETY-FOUR PERCENT of the population eligible to vote in 2008, a stunning achievement.

And then, there's the care and feeding attended to a new generation of organizers, which will be the backbone of the party for the next two decades.

Inside the Obama campaign, almost without anyone noticing, an insurgent generation of organizers has built the Progressive movement a brand new and potentially durable people's organization, in a dozen states, rooted at the neighborhood level.

The "New Organizers" have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so "top-down" and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or "bottom-up" organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization.

Win or lose, "The New Organizers" have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation. Obama must continue to feed and lead the organization they have built—either as president or in opposition. If he doesn't, then the broader progressive movement needs to figure out how to pick this up, keep it going and spread it to all 50 states. For any of that to happen, the incredible organizing that has taken place this year inside Obama's campaign—and also here and there in Clinton's—needs to be thoroughly understood and celebrated. Toward that end, here are glimpses from several days of observations and interviews in Central and Southwest Ohio. This article focuses on the field program's innovative "neighborhood team" structure and the philosophy of volunteer management underlying it that is best summarized by the field campaign's ubiquitous motto: "Respect. Empower. Include."

Read that whole article. The number that is unbelievable is that around 40% of everyone in the likely voter screen of one major poll has been contacted by the Obama campaign. That's a bigger number than anybody has ever seen.

As part of one of those neighborhood teams, it's really encouraging to see. And I do think that the teams are going to be a significant help to the progressive movement. I don't think they are tethered to the party or even Senator Obama, though that is the focus right now. After the election, a shift will occur, to cementing an agenda, and these teams will be the infrastructure for making sure that agenda gets attention, recognition and passage. And if it doesn't, I don't think anyone will hesitate to demand accountability and punish those legislators who vote against the interests of their constituents.

This election could have been won by the standard Democratic approach. Obama has built an enduring structure to last far into the future. This is really important in these times of struggle and great challenge, and it's going to lead us into the 21st century the right way.

If you're so inclined, you can give Barack a day and be a part of this exciting experiment in modern organizing.

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Vigilantes And Acorns

Why isn't this guy being fired?

COLUMBUS — Law enforcement officials in southwest Ohio are seeking information on hundreds of voters who registered and voted during Ohio's weeklong same-day voting window.

Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer and representatives of County Prosecutor Stephen Haller have contacted the local Board of Elections asking for the voter registration cards of everyone who voted during the six-day window, which ended Monday.

Haller is the law partner of former Senator Mike DeWine, who is... wait for it... John McCain's campaign co-chair.

This gives witch hunts a bad name. The girls from Salem are whispering to each other that this guy's going too far.

Jennifer Brunner is a good Secretary of State and she'll probably turn this down flat, but that doesn't mean I'm any less unsettled.

And meanwhile, ACORN's morphing into a conservative piñata is almost complete. John McCain attacked them by name today.

"You've seen the allegations, the multiple registrations under the same name, the more registered voters than the population, these are serious allegations, my friends, and they must be investigated, and they must be investigated immediately and they must be stopped before November the fourth, so Americans will not -- will not -- be deprived of a fair process in this election.

This is completely ridiculous. The reason that ACORN employees are filling out multiple registrations is that they get paid on a per-form basis. The quality control is bad, but in every case I've seen, they SPECIFICALLY FLAG SUSPECT REGISTRATIONS before they send them to the Board of Elections, effectively turning themselves in. Furthermore, if Mickey Mouse is on a voter registration form, it's not like Mickey Mouse is showing up at the polling place. Don't believe me - believe The Wall Street Journal, ferchrissakes.

And the delegitimization project continues.

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The Descent Into Madness

Dan Balz looks like a complete idiot for trying to balance the character attacks from the Barack Obama campaign and John McCain campaign, as the crowds of screaming hordes at McCain rallies sink deeper and deeper into the sewer.

"He promised higher taxes on electricity," McCain charged at the event in La Crosse, Wisconsin. "He voted for the Democratic budget resolution that promised to raise taxes on people making just $42,000 a year." At that point, the woman yelled "traitor," and both McCain and his wife Cindy appeared to look in her direction.

The Arizona Senator continued with his stump speech without referencing her.

There is nothing ingenuous about this. McCain and the RNC are raising the Bill Ayers issue every chance they get, and top surrogates are calling Obama "a guy of the street". The ugliness is widespread and the demonization is palpable.

Thursday's debate took place in front of a highly partisan crowd in the GOP stronghold of Middle Georgia.

Chambliss supporters waved "Saxby" signs and offered up a sustained "boos" when Martin mentioned Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

"Bomb Obama," one woman hollered.

I don't buy the hand-wringing from the McCain campaign for one minute. They're trying to make this a question of Obama hiding his true self, but given that he failed to disclose his own ties to the radical right-wing US Council for World Freedom, given that Sarah Palin has deep roots with secessionists and radical extremists in Alaska, given that Charles Keating, who bilked the US government out of billions, wrote a mash note to McCain in the 1980s pronouncing "I'm yours until death do us part," the idea of secrecy and character is one of true projection. Not to mention the fact that linking Obama to Ayers is ridiculous, so says THE PROSECUTOR OF THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND.

They are trying to make Obama illegitimate and unfit, and doing it in the nastiest, most dangerous way, practically inciting his supporters to riot. It's got saner people lamenting this lynch mob mentality.

"People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Senator Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy and a lack of experience compared to Senator McCain," Weaver said. "And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive."

Republicans with a shred of honor are backing away from McCain with speed:

He endorsed John McCain in the presidential primary, but now former Republican Gov. William Milliken is expressing doubts about his party's nominee.

"He is not the McCain I endorsed," said Milliken, reached at his Traverse City home Thursday. "He keeps saying, 'Who is Barack Obama?' I would ask the question, 'Who is John McCain?' because his campaign has become rather disappointing to me.

"I'm disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign, when he ought to be talking about the issues."

Including William F. Buckley's son.

It's not just a dangerous path that McCain is walking down, it's one devoid of honor. And if he winds up with blood on his hands, may he never forget it.

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Long Arc of History, Justice, Etc.

I had heard that Connecticut was going to wait out a decision on same-sex marriage until after the elections to see what happened with Prop. 8. But the state Supreme Court couldn't wait.

HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut's Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry, making the state the third behind Massachusetts and California to legalize such unions.

The divided court ruled 4-3 that gay and lesbian couples cannot be denied the freedom to marry under the state constitution, and Connecticut's civil unions law does not provide those couples with the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"I can't believe it. We're thrilled, we're absolutely overjoyed. We're finally going to be able, after 33 years, to get married," said Janet Peck of Colchester, who was a plaintiff with her partner, Carole Conklin.

"Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice," Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote in the majority opinion that overturned a lower court finding.

"To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others," Palmer wrote.

You really can't claim to promote a freedom agenda while wanting to curtail freedom to select members of society. The concept of freedom isn't about freedom for everything you LIKE - it's about diversity and tolerance and mutual respect. This latest civil rights crusade allows people of good faith to be as true as the ideals they like to wear on their sleeves.

Otherwise, they can descend to the levels of bigotry.

Donate to No on Prop. 8 in the name of freedom and equality.

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Motion Sickness

The Dow was down well over 600 points in the first half-hour of trading, before rallying, and now it's floating between 200 and 300 points down, with huge swings by the second. Now it's bumped to 140 220. I'm getting whiplash trying to update this post. We will look back and call this the stock market crash of 2008.

And of course, the Dow is not the best indicator. I'm hiding the next time the Labor Department announces the jobs number.

Krugman says that this weekend is a moment of truth.

The question now is whether these moves are too little, too late. I don’t think so, but it will be very alarming if this weekend rolls by without a credible announcement of a new financial rescue plan, involving not just the United States but all the major players.

Why do we need international cooperation? Because we have a globalized financial system in which a crisis that began with a bubble in Florida condos and California McMansions has caused monetary catastrophe in Iceland. We’re all in this together, and need a shared solution.

Why this weekend? Because there happen to be two big meetings taking place in Washington: a meeting of top financial officials from the major advanced nations on Friday, then the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting Saturday and Sunday. If these meetings end without at least an agreement in principle on a global rescue plan — if everyone goes home with nothing more than vague assertions that they intend to stay on top of the situation — a golden opportunity will have been missed, and the downward spiral could easily get even worse.

What should be done? The United States and Europe should just say “Yes, prime minister.” The British plan isn’t perfect, but there’s widespread agreement among economists that it offers by far the best available template for a broader rescue effort.

And the time to act is now. You may think that things can’t get any worse — but they can, and if nothing is done in the next few days, they will.

Let's hope a leader is found somewhere.

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Retreats, Parachutes, And My Little Bald Congressman

Let's talk about these AIG junkets, because I don't want to miss the outrage train. Some people are trying to make excuses for this because the company had already planned the luxury retreat, and it was for top salesman in a part of the business that was not at all part of the company's failure. Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and give a big "Who the fuck cares" on that one. At some point, when you fail so utterly that you have to ask for $85 billion from the government, you kind of shift around your executive party planning. Not to mention that they've already used most of the loan before even selling off any assets, and they ended up securing another $38 billion from the government after that. In their defense, AIG's "Blog Relations" unit says they're very very sorry and won't be holding any fun events in the near future, but I'm not in such a forgiving mood.

However, I think the bigger snake here is Richard Fuld, the head of Lehman Brothers, who should be associated with the likes of Leona Helmsley the rest of his life. The Treasury Department make a huge mistake using Lehman as a guinea pig and letting them fail, which accelerated this crisis. But Fuld hung on to $480 million in salary while his company made horrible decisions and contributed to the ruination of the financial markets.

Called on to explain why Lehman collapsed last month, Fuld began with a note of humility, saying he felt "horrible" over the demise of the 158-year-old institution. "I want to be very clear," Fuld said. "I take full responsibility for the decisions I made and for the actions I took."

In a brief speech which was heard in silence, Fuld told legislators that if he could turn back the clock he would do many things differently. As soon as he finished speaking, sparks began to fly.

The chairman of the committee held up a chart suggesting that Fuld's personal remuneration totalled $480m (£276m) over eight years, including payouts of $91m in 2001 and $89m in 2005.

"Your company is now bankrupt and our country is in a state of crisis," said Waxman, a liberal from California. "You get to keep $480m. I have a very basic question: Is that fair?"

After a long pause, Fuld said the figure was exaggerated: "The majority of my compensation, sir, came in stock. The vast majority of the stock I got I still owned at the point of our [bankruptcy] filing."

Waxman cut him off, saying that even if the figure was slightly lower, it was "unimaginable" to much of the public. "Is that fair, for a CEO of a company that's now bankrupt, to make that kind of money? It's just unimaginable to so many people."

"I would say to you the $500m number is not accurate," said Fuld. "I'd say to you, although it's still a large number, for the years you're talking about here, my cash compensation was close to $60m, which you've indicated here, and I took out closer to $250m [in shares]."

Hey, leave the guy alone, he only got $250 million that he admits to! And not only is this a matter of his CEO pay, which is annoying but kind of tangential to the problem, but while he was seeking aid from anyone and everyone, he was negotiating giant pay packages for his fellow executives.

That's behavior that makes you feel happy when you hear he was punched in the face.

From two very senior sources – one incredibly senior source – that he went to the gym after … Lehman was announced as going under. He was on a treadmill with a heart monitor on. Someone was in the corner, pumping iron and he walked over and he knocked him out cold. And frankly after having watched this, I’d have done the same too.

This would have been nice oversight for Rep. Waxman to have before the bailout bill, but I think it's worth it to both tar and feather these execs, figuratively but hopefully also literally, in front of the public. After much hounding from conservatives, Waxman will also investigate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to see how much they didn't have to do with this crisis.

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Other-Shoe-Drop Watch

Stephen Branchflower is going to deliver his report in the Troopergate probe sometime this morning. Of course, he could always back out, because Sarah Palin has exonerated herself.

On the eve of a report on a legislative panel's abuse-of-power investigation into Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, campaign officials released their own report clearing her of any wrongdoing.

Palin, running mate to Republican presidential nominee John McCain, is the subject of two inquiries into whether she abused her power by firing her public safety commissioner. The commissioner says he was dismissed for resisting pressure to fire Palin's former brother-in-law, a state trooper.

Neat trick. I'm going to try it the next time I want to get out of paying my own parking tickets. "I wrote myself a voucher!"

Back on planet Earth, the New York Times reports that Palin and her associated simply harangued the heck out of Walt Monegan in their quest to harpoon Moby Michael Wooten.

By now, the outlines of the matter have been widely reported. Mr. Monegan believes he was ousted because he would not bow to pressure to dismiss Trooper Wooten. The Alaska Legislature is investigating the firing and whether the governor abused the powers of her office to pursue a personal vendetta. Its report is due Friday.

Ms. Palin has denied that anyone told Mr. Monegan to dismiss Trooper Wooten, or that the commissioner’s ouster had anything to do with him. But an examination of the case, based on interviews with Mr. Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Trooper Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it.

In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Trooper Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show.

It goes without saying that this is not a person or a family to whom you should designate more power.

...OK, she's calling this thing Tasergate? She's actually getting ideas FROM the likes of Ace of Spades and Confederate Yankee?

Why do we wonder why we're melting down under this kind of conservative rule?

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

I Demand Levity!

The impending doom of Western civilization into an anarchic Lord of the Flies mass has me jittery, so I think I'll sit back and watch this literal music video version of a-ha's "Take On Me." You should too, it'll take the edge off.

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Web Of Lies

The Yes On 8 team isn't hiding it anymore. Their entire argument for banning same-sex marriage has nothing to do with taking away the right of gay people to marry - if it was they'd straight-up lose. Instead, they are offering a whole array of residual effects, like claiming that this would force homosexuality to be taught in public schools (not true) and churches will lose their tax exemptions (not true) and your son will be forced at gunpoint to gay marry the neighbot boy (not true, and not what they're claiming, but it might as well be).

The entire point is to make people feel icky, to play to their base instincts, and to make it seem like a vote to ban the protected rights of hundreds of thousands of citizens is actually a vote to protect their own rights. It's Machiavellian and really ugly. The No side is fighting back, but I'm not sure their soft-pedal approach is really going to work.

I understand that they're walking a tightrope, and focusing on equality makes sense. But this is a weird meta-campaign where nobody is talking about the real issue, just their "feelings" and their faulty assumptions of what would never happen. Saying "the Yes on 8 ads are filled with lies" would be a start. This reassurance business might capture undecideds at the margins, but people need to know who the dirty tricksters are. How about a spot showing the 11,000 gay couples who have already married and ripping up their marriage licenses? How about some of these people calling out the lies and calling discrimination what it is?

There's a lot of concern right now. Two recent polls show Prop. 8 winning, though not over 50% yet. Their ads are having an effect and they have lots of money.

If you can, donate to No on 8 and give some of your time. Barack Obama may be important but our local community matters too. Pass around this ad from the Courage Campaign. Spread the word. We have to defeat this bill or else discrimination will be enshrined into our state constitution.

UPDATE: And the second after I write this, No on 8 puts out an ad calling out the lies. Good on them. Instant gratification!

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Off The Cliff

I'd like it better if "weeks" were reduced to "days":

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The government is planning to buy stakes in a wide range of banks within weeks as the credit freeze increasingly threatens to tip the U.S. economy into a deep recession.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and top aides are still considering options on how the purchases would work, including having the government acquire preferred stock, two officials informed of the matter said.

The move would be a shift in emphasis in Paulson's original intention for the $700 billion bailout package passed by Congress last week. While the Treasury still aims to buy troubled mortgage-backed securities from financial institutions, a direct capital injection would offer more immediate relief.

"The Treasury is no longer looking for one silver bullet,'' said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 of the biggest firms in the industry. "They have to proceed on all fronts.''

Aside of thinking about how I should have gotten out of certain stocks when I had the chance, I have been wondering about what the hell is taking Paulson so long. He's acting like he has time to sculpt the Pieta as the Dow drops huge chunks every day and the credit markets stay frozen. We're way past the time for action on the margins.

I guess I'm supposed to be cheered that this is showing the unsustainability and intellectual bankruptcy of the conservative project, and leading to their imminent implosion. And that's fine, but the cost is going to be so great, and furthermore it won't be borne by the fanatics and fools (h/t Arianna Huffington) who brought us to the brink.

It's very depressing.

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After obfuscation and stonewalling, Todd Palin finally submitted to questioning from the Legislature's investigator in the Troopergate probe. And it really doesn't look good for the First Dude.

Page 4, Line 3: "I had hundreds of conversations and communications about Trooper Wooten over the last several years with my family, friends, with colleagues, just about everyone I could including government officials."

In a July 18, 2008 press release, Governor Palin stated; “To allege that I, or any member of my family....directed disciplinary action be taken against any employee of the Department of Public Safety, is, quite simply, outrageous.

But yet according to Todd Palin's deposition he complained about Trooper Mike Wooten to Mike Tibbles, Randy Ruaro, Ivey Frye, Frank Bailey, Mike Nizich, John Bitney, John Glass and Audie Holloway.

In addition, during an interview with former Legislative Liason John Bitney last July, he said, "People don't know just how much weight Todd's words have. When Todd Palin makes a suggestion, it's not really a suggestion."

Having this many conversations, over two years after the last interaction with Wooten shows a pattern of Palin's obsession with getting even with Wooten.

The guy seems obsessed with getting Wooten fired. He discussed it with a dozen people, and pestered his wife about it so much she asked him to stop bringing it up.

But you know, he didn't work to fire the guy who refused to get rid of his white whale.

Muckraker has more. And the Alaska Supreme Court has denied the effort to stop the investigation, so there's going to be something out of this in the next 48 hours.

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Go Ahead, I Dare Ya

Joe Biden follows his running mate in taunting John McCain.

“All of the things they said about Barack Obama in the TV, on the TV, at their rallies, and now on YouTube … John McCain could not bring himself to look Barack Obama in the eye and say the same things to him,” Biden said this morning. “In my neighborhood, when you’ve got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him.”

I can't say enough about how perfect this is. McCain CAN'T validate the fever swamps of the right and go nuclear on Obama in front of him for a variety of reasons. First of all, it'd allow Obama a platform to discuss McCain's own ties to radicals and right-wing cranks. Second, McCain risks looking angry, and voters won't like him when he's angry. And third, that's just not how this is done. What Biden and Obama are doing is calling bullshit on the entire wingnut "it's out there" strategy of whisper campaigns, anonymous emails and allegations that make their way into the ether without a source. It doesn't only invalidate the Ayers smear, it invalidates REPUBLICAN smears.

Brilliant move by them. It looks tough, makes McCain look weak, and neutralizes the charges.

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They Would Never Invade Our Privacy

Since the revelation of the illegal surveillance program in December 2005, the fundamental question - who has the government been spying on? - has yet to be answered, and with the FISA legislation providing immunity for the telecoms we thought it would forever fade into the background. But it's more likely that the truth will come out in drips and drabs; maybe not the whole truth, but enough of it to shock the conscience. Today we have another fallen domino:

Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia [...]

"These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

Kinne described the contents of the calls as "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."

She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and "collected on" as they called their offices or homes in the United States.

But, we were told that it was a Terrorist Surveillance Program, and Obama Osama bin Laden (darn it, I just always mix them up) would come to our ballgames and sell tainted Dodger Dogs to us if we didn't allow wise and benevolent Government access to every piece of communication in the world!

Funny how that worked out.

Turns out that the ordinary grunts listening to this stuff were passing around audio snippets to each other:

Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

And then there's this amazing statement, which kind of sums up life in the 21st-century surveillance state:

Asked for comment about the ABC News report and accounts of intimate and private phone calls of military officers being passed around, a US intelligence official said "all employees of the US government" should expect that their telephone conversations could be monitored as part of an effort to safeguard security and "information assurance."

"They certainly didn't consent to having interceptions of their telephone sex conversations being passed around like some type of fraternity game," said Jonathon Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who has testified before Congress on the country's warrantless surveillance program.

"This story is to surveillance law what Abu Ghraib was to prison law," Turley said....

"Information assurance." How pleasantly banal.

See the beginning here for who was spied on - not just military and government personnel but journalists and aid workers. That's exactly who I would target if I wanted to control the flow of information to the public. And there was no mistake here - members of the International Red Cross were surveilled and were "identified in our systems as 'belongs to the International Red Cross'," according to one of the intercept operators.

This is what everybody voted for in the Congress. Not to "protect America from harm," but to maintain and indemnify a shadow spying system so the highest levels of government can maintain control and power. It's against the law and many of our foundational principles and George Bush did it anyway, and the Congress - Democrats and Republicans - enabled him.

And they're still doing it.

It goes without saying that such attention to the calls and communications of ordinary Americans actually hurts our capacity to deal with any terrorist threat as simply a function of time management and prioritizing. Bush's Department of Homeland Security funded this report.

The government should not be building predictive data-mining programs systems that attempt to figure out who among millions is a terrorist, a privacy and terrorism commission funded by Homeland Security reported Tuesday. The commission found that the technology would not work and the inevitable mistakes would be un-American.

The committee, created by the National Research Council in 2005, also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of technology designed to decide from afar whether a person had terrorist intents, saying false positives could quickly lead to privacy invasions.

"Automated identification of terrorists through data mining (or any other known methodology) is neither feasible as an objective nor desirable as a goal of technology development efforts," the report found. "Even in well-managed programs, such tools are likely to return significant rates of false positives, especially if the tools are highly automated."

This is true, but of course you would have to believe that the system Bush and his pals set up was in any way designed for terrorist surveillance. Based on the details we now know, I can't imagine it was. The program is an example of how authoritarian societies maintain order and power.

You'll be thrilled to know that Jay Rockefeller is going to begin an examination of this and request information from the Administration about it. I don't know what's more hysterical - that he thinks he can get one scrap of paper from the White House, or that he thinks we'll buy that he's about to sit down and investigate himself, in effect.

Greenwald has more.

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The Lost Reports

There's a new study on Afghanistan warning of impending crisis, with an ineffective government losing power and influence to the Taliban, full-scale corruption and severe breakdowns in security. But there's also a report on Iraq that dampens the boasts of victory through surge that we keep hearing.

WASHINGTON -- A nearly completed high-level U.S. intelligence analysis warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year.

U.S. officials familiar with the new National Intelligence Estimate said they were unsure when the top-secret report would be completed and whether it would be published before the Nov. 4 presidential election.

Um, I can assure you that it won't be.

The report lays out the structural challenges which have let to be dealt with:

U.S. officials say last year's surge of 30,000 troops, all of whom have been withdrawn, was just one reason for the improvements. Other factors include the truce declared by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of an Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militia; and the enlistment of former Sunni insurgents in Awakening groups created by the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists.

The draft NIE, however, warns that the improvements in security and political progress, such as the recent passage of a provincial-election law, are threatened by lingering disputes between the majority Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other minorities, the U.S. officials said.

Sources of tension identified by the NIE, they said, include a struggle between Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen for control of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk; and the Shiite-led central government's unfulfilled vows to hire former Sunni insurgents who joined Awakening groups.

McCain will use this to walk that "we're winning but have not yet won" tightrope and argue that withdrawal equals surrender. But in actuality, our presence has done nothing to reduce sectarian tensions apart from the violence. The NIE is saying that the conditions still exist for civil war or sectarian strife, and having our troops act as a proxy army for Maliki, who wants to be a strongman, actually exacerbates the problem, increases frustrations, and heightens instability. Nobody has forced the factions to come together and reconcile - in fact, Bush decentralized the government but simultaneously empowered Maliki's militia and has now handed over control of the Sunni Awakening forces to him, which is bound to shock the system as the Prime Minister tries to consolidate power. Creating what amounts to a theocratic dictatorship allied with Iran is not a good prospect for Iraq or the world, and makes hollow the focus on violence and security in the short term.

Peter Galbraith makes a similar point in the New York Review of Books:

Less violence, however, is not the same thing as success. The United States did not go to war in Iraq for the purpose of ending violence between contending sectarian forces. Success has to be measured against US objectives. John McCain proclaims his goal to be victory and says we are now winning in Iraq (a victory that will, of course, be lost if his allegedly pro-surrender opponent wins). He considers victory to be an Iraq that is "a democratic ally." George W. Bush has defined victory as a unified, democratic, and stable Iraq. Neither man has explained how he will transform Iraq's ruling theocrats into democrats, diminish Iran's vast influence in Baghdad, or reconcile Kurds and Sunnis to Iraq's new order. Remarkably, neither the Democrats nor the press has challenged them to do so [...]

From 2003 until 2007, the Bush administration helped Iraq's most pro-Iranian Shiite religious parties take and consolidate power. Naturally, the Shiites—and their Iranian backers—welcomed the US involvement, at least temporarily. Now the United States is putting heavier pressure on al-Maliki to include the Sunni enemy in Iraq's security forces. It has created a Sunni army that, as long as the US remains in Iraq, can only grow in strength. Al-Maliki and his allies want the US out of Iraq because the American presence has become dangerous.

Without American troops, the Iraqi army and police would be able to move against the Awakening. Should Sunni forces prove too powerful, Iran is always available to help [...]

Al-Maliki's agenda is transparent. The Kurds and Sunnis are obstacles to the ruling coalition's ambitions for a Shiite Islamic state. Al-Maliki wants to eliminate the Sunni militia and contain the Kurds politically and geographically. America's interest in defeating al-Qaeda is far less important to him than the Shiite interest in not having a powerful Sunni military that could overthrow Iraq's new Shiite order. The Kurds are too secular, too Western, and too pro-American for the Shiites to share power comfortably with them [...]

John McCain says that partly because of his persistent support of the surge, we are now winning the Iraq war. He defines victory as an Iraq that is a democratic ally. Yet he advocates continued US military support to an Iraqi government led by Shiite religious parties committed to the establishment of an Islamic republic. He takes a harder line on Iran than President Bush, but supports Iraqi factions that are Iran's closest allies in the Middle East. He praises the Awakening and but seems not to have realized that the Iraqi government is intent on crushing it. He has denounced the Obama-Biden plan for a decentralized state but has said nothing about how he would protect Iraq's Kurds, the only committed American allies in the country.

George W. Bush has put the United States on the side of undemocratic Iraqis who are Iran's allies. John McCain would continue the same approach. It is hard to understand how this can be called a success—or a path to victory.

One great tidbit in there is that Maliki was kind of picked up at the last minute by the US when they needed a new Prime Minister, and that initially, they got his first name wrong. Yet in the name of increasing security, we've given him all kinds of power, seemingly ignorant that he's a longtime Dawa Party member who spent 20 years in exile in Iran.

Condi Rice is meanwhile crying that Iraq has been harder than she personally imagined. Perhaps it's because you have to actually pay attention to it.

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Fixing The Mess

Noriel Roubini has a transcript of a colloquy between Barney Frank and Jim Moran that effectively informed the Treasury Department that they could go the route of partially nationalizing the banks instead of their craptacular troubled asset buy-up program:

At first, Congressional aides we contacted were confused on whether the wording in the legislation did allow such public recapitalization was permitted or not. They pointed out to us that several sections of the legislation could be interpreted as allowing such public capital injection. Specifically such senior Congressional aides argued that several sections of the bill could be used to argue that the purchased “assets” as used in these provision would include not only securities accounted for as assets on the balance sheet of the financial institution but would also include common and preferred share, warrants on common and preferred shares, as well as secured and unsecured and convertible debt in the financial institution itself, which would be accounted for as assets on the balance sheet of the US Treasury [...]

But we pointed out that this interpretation of “assets” as including preferred shares, left to itself, was a real stretch of the meaning of the legislation as preferred shares and common shares and sub debt are liabilities – rather than assets – of the bank. Thus, it was important to clarify that "any other financial instrument" was not limited to assets but also included institution’s liabilities such as stock, preferred stock, subordinated debt, senior debt.

In other terms it was necessary to explicitly clarify that the definition of “assets” or “any other financial instrument” in the legislation did allow for such public injection of capital so as to ensure that the regulations following the legislation would allow for such interpretation and actual practice. Since it was too late – by Wednesday last week - to explicitly modify the legislation to allow for explicit wording on this matter and since Treasury was resisting such late explicit changes (that would have jolted the banking industry) the tool that was used (in full agreement with the House and Senate leadership) to allow for such interpretation was to have Representative Jim Moran use the October 3rd House floor debate right before the final vote to put on the legislative record such interpretation. See the following important exchange between Jim Moran and Barney Frank that is now on the legislative record of the House:

Mr. MORAN of Virginia. Thank you, Madam Speaker. I won't take that much time. I do want to thank the chairman for his masterful leadership on this bill, and I do want to clarify that the intent of this legislation is to authorize the Treasury Department to strengthen credit markets by infusing capital into weak institutions in two ways: By buying their stock, debt, or other capital instruments; and, two, by purchasing bad assets from the institutions, in coordination with existing regulatory agencies and their responsibilities under this legislation, as well as under already existing authorization for prompt, corrective action and leastcost resolution.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. MORAN of Virginia. I'd be happy to yield.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I can affirm that. As the gentleman knows, the Treasury Department is in agreement with this, and we should be clear, this is one of the things that this House and the Senate added to the bill, the authority to buy equity. It is not simply buying up the assets, it is to buy equity, and to buy equity in a way that the Federal Government will able to benefit if there is an appreciation.

So Moran asks Frank to clarify that the explicit intent of the legislation is to allow the purchase of bank liabilities (stock, debt, or other capital instruments) not just assets; and Frank replies firmly that this is the case and that Treasury agrees with such interpretation. Done!

I know that there's this knee-jerk response that we're supposed to de facto assume that Democrats cave and aren't worth a warm bucket of spit, but they appear to have back-doored the right idea on this crisis.

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Backroom Dealing

This is what happens when your campaign is run by lobbyists.

The document posted and e-mailed by the McCain campaign on Tuesday night says at the end of its first full paragraph: “Lenders in these cases must recognize the loss that they’ve already suffered.”

So the government would buy the mortgages at a discounted rate, reflecting the declining value of the mortgage paper.

But when McCain reissued the document on Wednesday, that sentence was missing, to the dismay of many conservatives.

That would mean the U.S. would pay face value for the troubled documents, which was the main reason Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) gave for opposing the plan.

Mortgage lenders didn't like that sentence, so out it went. Now the plan is to subsidize banks for giving out bad loans, keeping homeowners and taxpayers with the bill. For all his talk of deploring the "backroom dealing" in Washington, it appears Mr. McCain made a backroom deal behind closed doors.

And the Obama campaign is all over this. It's hard to explain how by paying face value for homes, lenders won't be taking a haircut on bad loans and taxpayers will suffer, in the space of 30 seconds, but they do an admirable job:

Finally, McCain comes forward with a vaguely populist policy and it blows up in his face.

...meanwhile, the McCain campaign has continued their ban on discussing William Ayers by releasing a 90-second Web video about him.

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Barack America

This new Obama ad is a cutdown of the biographical intro played at the DNC convention, voiced by David Strathairn. It's a wonder why you would do a bio spot at this late date, but it really frames how the Illinois Senator's life and values intersect. He tells a little story about remembering how he went with his grandfather to watch astronauts return to Earth near Hawaii after a splashdown, holding and waving a little American flag. He discusses how in his family, being an American meant being industrious, working hard and playing by the rules, respecting elders and fellow citizens, and recognizing how we are all in this together.

For too long, Democrats have discounted the importance of storytelling, of making an emotional argument to rival the argument based on issues and ideas. My first memory is a Fourth of July parade in Philadelphia during the Bicentennial. I was three years old and I just remembered the spectacle of it, the marching bands and the sparklers and yes, the little flags. When I was 7 years old, I ran a straw poll in my elementary school (Carter beat Reagan, but I date myself). My dad bought our family's first house, we moved in when I was 2, and he was fired two weeks later. These moments of reflection, hardship, civic participation, they shape worldviews.

It is embedded into the human condition to want to feel pride in your identity, be it your ethnicity or your country or whatever. We have given away American identity for too long to the right, but in fact Barack Obama is more representative of what America is in the 21st century than John McCain, and indeed, the liberal conception of values, of equal opportunity and equal rights and the value of work over wealth, is far closer to the original conception from the founding of the nation, I would argue. But you can't just expect people to intuit that. You have to make the case. And this does it in a very grounded, accessible way.

It's a very good piece.

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Delegitimization Project, Cont'd

The GOP is so incensed about the suggestion that they would try to stop foreclosed voters from voting in Michigan that they sued the news outlet that reported it. I mean, it's ridiculous on its face! Michigan is a safe blue state; McCain pulled out. Clearly the GOP will get more mileage out of stopping foreclosed voters from voting in Indiana.

Democrats are concerned that Republican officials in Marion County and elsewhere might use home foreclosure lists as a way to challenge the residency of voters at the polls. The campaign of presidential candidate Barack Obama filed a lawsuit to keep the Michigan GOP from doing just that.

County GOP Chairman Tom John said foreclosure opens the door to a residency challenge, but he said his party has no plans to pursue such challenges. However, he wouldn't rule it out.

"We might end up challenging on that," he said. "It's entirely possible. I think it would be a solid basis for asking someone to vote provisionally."

I eagerly await the lawsuit against the Indianapolis Star.

Meanwhile, the anti-ACORN scaremongering continues in Missouri.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Officials in Missouri, a hard-fought jewel in the presidential race, are sifting through possibly hundreds of questionable or duplicate voter-registration forms submitted by an advocacy group that has been accused of election fraud in other states.

Charlene Davis, co-director of the election board in Jackson County, where Kansas City is, said the fraudulent registration forms came from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. She said they were bogging down work Wednesday, the final day Missourians could register to vote.

If this is anything like the Nevada raid, ACORN was well aware of the discrepancies and in fact alerted election officials about them. That never seems to make its way into the lede.

I'm guessing this story won't show up on Instapundit this morning.

Tens of thousands of eligible voters have been removed from rolls or blocked from registering in at least six swing states, and the voters' exclusion appears to violate federal law, according to a published report.

The New York Times based its findings on reviews of state records and Social Security data.

The Times said voters appear to have been purged by mistake and not because of any intentional violations by election officials or coordinated efforts by any party.

That's if you believe that the Help America Vote Act wasn't designed to sow confusion through stringent standards, and create the very problems it was supposed to solve. It's a feature, not a bug.

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The House And Senate Picture

Just wanted to update the look of things in the Congress (outside of California this time):

• MN-Sen: Al Franken has surged ahead of Norm Coleman and looks like he's going to take this one in Minnesota. The Coleman campaign tried to drive up Franken's negatives over the summer by scrutinizing some ticky-tack tax statements, all of which had very simple explanations. This turned out to be a fatal mistake considering all of the skeletons in Coleman's financial closet, especially all the gifts he receives from lobbyists and contributors - his rent, his utility bills, and even his CLOTHING. This led to an excruciating press conference where his spokesman was resigned to repeating "The Senator has reported ever gift he's ever received" over and over. Wow, what a flameout.

• AK-Sen: In Alaska, however, I'm not nearly as sure of this one as I was. The prosecution has been so incompetent in the Ted Stevens corruption case that the judge tossed out key evidence and the defense will again call for a mistrial. If Stevens is exonerated, whether through mistrial or acquittal, there will be a significant rebound in his poll numbers, and he's already nearly even right now. This ad from the DSCC is good, but I'm not sure it'll be good enough. I think Mark Begich is in some trouble.

• NC-Sen: VoteVets is back. They've revived their wildly successful body armor ad and set their sights on Elizabeth Dole. It's just as powerful as it was in 2006.

Liddy Dole is toast.

• ME-Sen: Interesting happenings in Maine. Susan Collins was popular enough for national Democrats to kind of leave the Tom Allen challenge for dead, but the twists and turns in the economic picture makes any Republican toxic. Sensing the changing winds, Planned Parenthood, which has endorsed Collins in the past as a bone to throw to a Republican for a couple good votes, turned around and endorsed Allen. Recent polls are tightening and there really could be a late rush.

• GA-Sen: I knew the polls were very close in Georgia, and nobody deserves to lose more than Saxby Chambliss, who unleashed that shameful ad in 2002 relating Max Cleland to Saxby Chambliss, but I didn't know a lot about Jim Martin the person. Turns out he's a progressive in Georgia:

With little money, but with a lot of gumption, energy, and a truly progressive message, Jim Martin has closed to a dead-heat in this race. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights (supports ENDA and LLEA), a consumer advocate, committed civil libertarian (with ACLU awards for his efforts), opposes FISA telecom immunity, opposes the war in Iraq, is a strong environmentalist, a strong labor guy, a strong supporter of affirmative action, and so on. He is also a Vietnam vet, so perhaps he's destined for a Chambliss Special, but we can get his back. This is the kind of Democrat we can't even get in some Blue states, yet running on an explicitly progressive agenda, has a chance to represent the great state of Georgia while ousting the odious Chambliss at the same time.

If he can pull it off, it would be a clarion call that progressives can win anywhere and Democrats shouldn't be afraid of standing up for their policies.

• House of Reps.: I can't keep up with all the developments in the House - that's what Howie Klein is for. But what is clear is that the Republicans have a ton of seats to defend, more every day, and not a lot of cash to do it. That's why their campaign arm, the NRCC, is taking out an $8 million dollar loan to compete. Wait, House Republicans can GET A LOAN? In this credit market?

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Nixonland Is Alive And Well

This is just getting uglier and uglier. When Fox News has to admit that McCain rallies are taking on the character of a Mississippi lynch mob, you know something's wrong.

You’ll hear the booing behind me. In recent days, when Barack Obama’s name has been mentioned, it has gone from boos and hissing to actual chants and calls of traitor, criminal, and even terrorist.

The McCain campaign says they don’t condone it, they don’t want to see it happen, but it’s happening more and more every day.

They don't condone it, they just stoke it like a camper poking at a fire.

Today, the phrase "off with his head" made a cameo. And then there's the inevitable by-product of the incitement and hate:

After a week of McCain supporters being incited to shout "kill him!" and "terrorist!" and "treason!", a man in Louisiana was arrested for threatening to kill election officials. The Smoking Gun has his arrest report and mug shots. It seems his voter registration card was delayed, and he was insistent that he would bring his shotgun to their office and kill them if they didn't hurry up because he needed to "keep the n*gger out of office."

We're entering a dangerous time and the McCain campaign will have some measure of responsibility for this, though they won't take it. And America will have a "hoses in Montgomery" moment when forced to reckon with this.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The National

There were hints of this today, and the New York Times breaks it open:

Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.

Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks’ balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones [...]

The proposal resembles one announced on Wednesday in Britain. Under that plan, the British government would offer banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC Holdings up to $87 billion to shore up their capital in exchange for preference shares. It also would provide a guarantee of about $430 billion to help banks refinance debt.

The American recapitalization plan, officials say, has emerged as one of the most favored new options being discussed in Washington and on Wall Street. The appeal is that it would directly address the worries that banks have about lending to one another and to other customers.

The socialist jokes write themselves, especially since is happening on the watch of MBA President and free market fundamentalist George W. Bush, but this is a good thing. Nationalizing the banks is the best way to both shore up the system and get the best deal for taxpayers. Obviously it's not what you'd want to do in a sustainable economy, but it's the hand we've been dealt. The Wall Street Journal is arguing in favor of this right now. It's simply what must be done. No bank is willing to lend each other money because they have no expectation that they'll be paid back. Their balance sheets are crap, and they simply need capitalization.

The fact that the Treasury Department came to this realization now is helpful for a potential Obama Administration. He's still going to inherit one heck of a mess, but at least the plan is in action and may be in motion. And ultimately this will put the federal budget in less of a hole. The pain is going to be sustained, but I think we have a path to turn the corner.

The only thing that could derail such a plan is this:

One concern about the Treasury’s bailout plan is that it calls for limits on executive pay when capital is directly injected into a bank. The law directs Treasury officials to write compensation standards that would discourage executives from taking “unnecessary and excessive risks” and that would allow the government to recover any bonus pay that is based on stated earnings that turn out to be inaccurate. In addition, any bank in which the Treasury holds a stake would be barred from paying its chief executive a “golden parachute” package.

The only thing that will stop Paulson is the greed of his buddies. And the only thing that will stop the banks from taking the deal is the loss of their precious parachutes. Of course, there's a way for a President to play hardball on this, but I don't see that coming until January.

(By the way, Democrats forced this option for equity stakes into the bill. Just so you know.)

...I should also note that the US is taking the lead of Britain on this. I'm not fully informed on Gordon Brown's problems, but it appears that he's done quite a bit of good in the past year and is being blamed for the sins of his predecessor.

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