Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Right-Wing Boycott of Google?

Today, Google came out with an ad opposing Proposition 8 that seeks to ban gay marriage in California.

While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 — we should not eliminate anyone’s fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.
That about sums it up. Homophobic bigotry shouldn't keep gay people from exercising their fundamental rights.

There isn't that much of a distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality as sexual orientations anyway. Developments among straight guys have been especially significant in blurring the line between heterosexual and homosexual. A lot of straight guys have a preference for male companionship and simulate gay sex so frequently that it's hard not to see their primary sexual orientation as being toward "homoeroticism." These guys might be having sex with females rather than males but they have one foot pretty firmly in the gay camp.

Likewise, the homoerotic sexual interests of gay males can be seen as comparable to the homoeroticism of many straight males. Thus, gay males should be seen as part of a homoerotic continuum rather than a strange "other" and gay marriage should be seen as part a standard continuum of marriage.

At least that's the way it looks with the college guys in my classes.

I guess somebody on the right could view this as "normalizing" homosexuality. And no doubt, Baptist leaders are drawing up their boycott plans even as I write. But all human beings are pretty strange. Why should gay people be seen as being any weirder than the rest of us.

The Tide is High at Alabama

Alabama is crushing Georgia 31-3 in the third quarter. It looks like the Crimson Tide is going to have a shot at a national title this year. Soon after that, Alabama will be making their inevitable return to probation.

Alabama's compulsive cheating makes them one of the major evils of college football--right up there with Oklahoma and Southern Cal. I'm not very high on the bullying arrogance of their boosters and fans either.

If there were any justice in the NCAA, Alabama would have been shut down for a couple of years the last time they were on probation for paying off Memphis high school coaches to steer their prospects to Tuscaloosa.

But since there is no justice, the Tide is high yet again.

Speaking of "The Tide is High," here's some Blondie to help them celebrate. One of the classic Steely Dan songs off Aja is Crimson Tide-related as well.

Indiana Might Not Want John

Being a blogger means that you don't have to worry too much about your biases. So, I won't hesitate to admit that I hate corn. I'm deathly allergic to corn and everything derived from corn, including corn on the cob, cream corn, pop corn, corn starch, and corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is a special difficulty. I'm just as allergic all the crap that's sweetened with corn syrup and haven't had a Coke in 16 years now. Microwave pop corn is a particular problem microwaving projects corn smells into the air. Once I smell microwave pop corn, I have about five minutes to get out of the building before I have trouble breathing.

Needless to say, corn doesn't make my day.

So, I didn't particular mind when John McCain said that he would eliminate ethanol subsidies for corn growers. Being so allergic to corn, I can't help but wonder if I'll be able to breath at all if corn-based ethanol becomes a pervasive substitute or additive for gasoline.

But if I were John McCain, I would have explained my opposition to ethanol subsidies a lot more than McCain ended up doing. That's because the corn belt agricultural area extends from Ohio to Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and South Dakota. McCain can't win Illinois, but he can't afford to lose Ohio, Indiana, or Missouri and he'd like to have a good shot in Minnesota as well.

Indiana is a special case. It's a big Republican state that hasn't voted for a Democratic candidate since 1964 (at least). If McCain loses Indiana, he's doomed. So is the Republican Party.

But McCain's only a couple of points ahead in the recent polling and Indiana is now rated as either a weak Republican state or a toss-up. I've seen reports that the root of McCain's problem in Indiana is his opposition to ethanol and I imagine that the McCain campaign has seen the same reports.

As a result, McCain should have taken some pains to explain his opposition to ethanol. Otherwise, Indiana might want John for something other than the presidency.

That reminds me of the lyrics to the R. Dean Taylor song--"Indiana Wants Me, but I can't go back there."

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Debate as a Brown/Bengals game

Tonight's debate between Barack Obama and John McCain was your typical Browns-Bengals game--not much in the way of a coherent game plan, lots of missed opportunities, and fumbles, penalties, and turnovers galore. Josh Marshall of TPM says that both candidates brought their "A" game. Sure, but they brought Derek Anderson's "A"game instead of Peyton Manning's.

The presidential debate didn't develop any kind of early rhythm because both candidates failed to answer questions about whether they would vote for the bailout legislation and what plans they would cut, delay, or reduce as a result of the financial crisis.

It was embarrassing. This debate was for a lot higher stakes than Rick Warren's Saddleback forum and Lehrer was asking genuinely important questions. But he just couldn't get straight answers from the candidates. He tried to get an answer on which programs would be cut four times before getting anything from McCain. Obama never did say what he would cut or delay which was bizarre because he's talked about delaying some of his proposed spending on infrastructure while on the stump.

I was more annoyed with Obama because I support him and expect to see him do well. But Obama began his first couple of answers by reciting principles rather than getting to specifics. I've been on television a couple of times and I know it's hard to be one's normal clever self in front of television cameras. But impromptu televsion performance is a fundamental task of American politicians and Obama should be doing better.

There! Now I sound like I'm telling my students that they're underachieving.

Actually, Obama did surprisingly well on issues like Georgia and Afghanistan. However, he couldn't seem to get his mind around his own withdrawal plan for Iraq and didn't even mention that the Iraqi leadership and people fully support his plan. Like a football team that hasn't played together very much, Obama just couldn't get himself in sync on Iraq or the federal budget. McCain didn't do that great either, but McCain was more confident and aggressive in his mediocrity.

Fortunately for Obama, McCain wasn't nearly good enough to recover from the widespread disgust over his gamesmanship in "suspending his campaign." In fact, I could see where viewers and the media would have been found reasons to confirm their developing contempt for McCain. That's especially because McCain had a tic where he refused to look at Obama while he was talking. Arrogance and condescension don't look good during presidential debates. They especially don't look good when the candidate is developing a reputation for being a jerk as McCain is right now. McCain's refusal to look at Obama looked bad and part of the reason for that is that McCain had a smug smirk on his face while he was looking down. That in itself might have killed McCain for this debate. America has had enough of George Bush's smirking over the last eight years.

In the final analysis, I view McCain as winning on debate points because he took the initiative and was more aggressive and more into it. But I can also see the debate as confirming the media and many undecided voters in the thought that John McCain should not be president.

Live Blogging the Presidential Debate

9:01. They should be holding the debate in Morehead, KY. What a great night! An unbelievable warm wind is blowing through town. There's a beauty in the air.

9:03. First question is on the financial recovery plan as an element in national security. Obama begins with "we are in a defining moment . . ." Obama starts like the French post-structuralist Michel Foucault with about 20 questions in a row. Then elaborates principles and doesn't really get to any point. Frustrating.

9:06. Now it's McCain's turn. What an awful red and white tie. He looks like a candy-striper. McCain starts better with bipartisan testimonial and emphasis on problems of everyday people. But now he's dribbling off about the House Republicans and ends up sounding like Sarah Palin.

9:08. Lehrer brings both candidates back to the question about the plan. Obama goes back to fundamentals yet again. Too much process. Too much history. Too many principles. Why not just say what he thinks about the plan as he knows it?

9:10. McCain doesn't want to deal with the plan either. Now McCain's talking about Dwight David Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day. Maybe he could throw in something about George Washington before he crossed the Delaware.

Ugh! This reminds me of my adviser Paul Kress who told me once that the questions on Ph.D. comprehensive exams could vary, but the answers were always the same. That's what Obama and McCain are doing, giving their rote answer whatever the question.

9:13. My prediction that this debate would be pretty mediocre looks like it's going to pan out. Maybe neither of them wants to say they want to support a $700 billion bailout. But I am glad to know that John McCain has "a fundamental belief in the United States of America."

9:14. Poor Jim Lehrer. He's asking decent questions like how McCain would lead the country if he was President. McCain's talking about the mating habits of bears in Montana instead. If McCain wants to get into bears, why doesn't he discuss what they do to fertilize the woods.

9:16. Obama finally gets in a decent point about McCain's proposal for reducing tax cuts for the wealthy. He also talks about cutting taxes for 95% of Americans but would have done better to focus on his principles here. Blogger are never satisfied.

9:18. McCain goes on about earmarks and finally gets to a point about low taxes and cutting spending.

9:20 Obama is starting to bore into McCain's tax cuts for corporate taxes. McCain responds by comparing Ireland favorably to U. S. because it has a low corporate tax. Then its back to earmarks. Freud was right about the compulsion to repeat.

9:21. McCain moves to his health care proposals. That makes him a sitting duck because McCain wants to tax health care benefits. Obama catched McCain on tax loopholes for the rich instead.

Finally, Obama moves to health care but he doesn't do it particularly well.

9:24. McCain goes back to earmarks yet again, but I have to admit that the repetition has its effect. It looks like McCain has a strategy for piling up proposals to distract the debate. It has an effect to muddle up the whole exchange. More mediocrity.

9:26. Question about what Obama would give up in relation to the financial bailout. Obama starts with his priorities again--energy independence, health care, science and technology, education, and college. But what would he cut?

Of course, Obama was hurt in the Saddleback Forum because he did answer the questions. I guess he can't win either way.

9:28, What would McCain cut--Obama's liberal voting record? McCain does mention ethanol subsidies, cost-plus contracts in defense spending. It's better to be more specific. Then he talks about examining every agency in government.

9:31, Obama now dithering in his answer--he needs to give examples of what he would delay. He does on the stump. Why not now?

9:32, Lehrer tries for a third time and McCain offers an across the board spending free. But Obama doesn't have an effective answer.

9:34, McCain's now doing better than Obama.

9:34, Lehrer makes a fourth attempt to get an answer to the question. Obama still doesn't offer anything specific. Democrats all over the country feel like wringing his scrawny neck. Obama says he has to make tough decisions but he doesn't say what tough decisions he would make.

9:36, McCain talks about cutting spending. It's better than discussing priorities, but it's still vague. It's nice to know that we owe the Chinese $500 billion.

9:38, Obama does now get to McCain's connections with Bush. McCain responds by mentioning that he's a maverick but not Miss Congeniality.

9:39, Lehrer runs up the white flag and asks a question about Iraq. McCain blames the failure in Iraq on George Bush, congratulates himself on Petraeus but doesn't mention the general's name at first. Now McCain is undercutting himself with his fantasies about stable democracy and a strong ally.

9:40, Now Obama gets a chance to reply about opposing the invasion in the first place. But he should just say the invasion was wrong and stupid. Obama's beginning to hesitate a fair amount even though he's doing fairly well on Iraq. Why doesn't he get to his withdrawal plan.

Obama's tying himself up and is falling a little further behind.

9:43, McCain's not exactly covering himself with glory . . . or coherence as he moves to criticize Obama.

9:45, Obama is driving me crazy. Why not discuss his withdrawal plan? Now McCain moves to a moment of military sentimentalism.

9:46, McCain is talking about bringing "peace and prosperity" to Iraq and he looks smug doing it. A little premature I think.

9:48, Finally, Obama gets to his plan to end the war in Iraq. He should just be more emphatic about that.

9:49, "Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory--" Obama lets McCain get away with this.

9:50, Obama doesn't have a good rhythm for debating. He needs to cut and thrust first, then explain.

9:51, Obama shouldn't cite so many authorities. He just needs to say what he wants to do.

9:52, Obama's not doing that bad in explaining his Afghanistan policy though.

9:52, McCain goofs by referring back to Afghanistan in 1989. McCain disagrees with announcing his administration's policy toward Pakistan. He refers to Waziristan and calls for a surge in Afghanistan even though the generals have already said that was a dumb idea. McCain is more coherent than Obama but not exactly the coherence king.

9:54, Obama isn't bad on cross-border attacks on American troops from Pakistan. This is Obama at his best.

9:57, McCain says that Obama doesn't understand and talks about Ronald Reagan in Lebanon. This doesn't make much sense. McCain's constant appeals to military sentimentality don't work in the context of a debate.

9:58, McCain's now congratulating himself on the number of interventions that he's backed. I don't know if that's a good record. McCain's getting a little fired up about Obama claiming that he talks recklessly. Now Obama has to get fired up as well.

9:59, Obama has his own sentimental story about a mother who doesn't want to see more soldiers die in Iraq. Not bad as Obama segwe's back to Afghanistan. Funny that Obama's strongest point is Afghanistan.

10:02 I'm not sure that McCain's that effective

10:03, Hopefully, Lehrer is going to take a break. Darn, I could really stand a blogging break.

10:04, McCain responds to the issue of Iran with his "League of Democracies" idea. That's weird, especially because American neo-cons are the only people outside the comic book world who believe in the League of Democracies.

10:05, Obama pretty good on the invasion of Iraq resulting in the strengthening of Iran. Now, he moves to his intolerance for a nuclear Iran. Obama is sounding pretty good on Iran.

10:08, Now they're getting into the question of talking with Iranian leaders "without conditions." McCain sounding weird about "legitimizing" Iranian leadership.

10:09, It's interesting that McCain refuses to look at Obama while Obama is talking.

10:10, Obama is pretty good on talking with the Iranians and is effective in using North Korea as an example of how bad isolation is as a policy

10:12, Obama is catching up, but McCain responds by saying that talking is "dangerous."

10:13, Now McCain is criticizing the idea of talking with the North Koreans. I think the media is going to hop on McCain here.

10:14, We're getting higher quality debate now. McCain's getting more fired up.

10:16, Now it's onto Russia where Obama is fairly weak compared to McCain. Obama is starting off pretty well but McCain has several knives that he can use in response. Obama wants Georgia to be able to join NATO. I don't like that at all. Georgia's government is basically the Caucasus version of Bush and McCain.

10:18, McCain pulls out his first knife in saying that Obama was naive in equating Russia and Georgia. McCain is gaining confidence now and the confidence makes him look more effective.

10:19, Now McCain is undercutting himself by going into a long-winded explanation of his approach to Georgia.

10:20, McCain could have had an advantage here, but his long-windedness is undermining him. He's talking a lot about countries and leaders that no one cares about and no one should care about. One of the students leaves to have a couple of beers.

10:21, Both McCain and Obama are positive about Shakashvili who is a real idiot. Obama's pretty effective about the whole Georgia issue.

10:23, Obama is moving onto energy again. He's not very good about his plans because he insists so much getting out his principles first. McCain is looking really smug while Obama is talking. One more permutation and McCain's going to display his "horrible smile."

10:24, Was Nunn-Lugar the whole Yucca Mountain mess?

10:26, Lehrer brings out the big gun of the likelihood of a 9-11 attack. McCain responds with the commission to investigate 9-11. Yet another distraction. Finally, he gets to the point that the U. S. is safer today.

10:28, Waiting for McCain to stop blathering so Obama can finish up. Obama thinks we're safer in some ways and actually gets some facts in. Obama sounds better here because he's being specific. I wouldn't say that Obama's developing a lot of momentum, but he is evening things up at the end as he talks about chasing down al-Qaida.

10:30, Obama talking about how little the U. S. is respected in the world.

10:30, McCain moves to Iraq. Obama should have done a lot better on Iraq.

10:32, What about the poor live bloggers? I thought this debate was going to have a break. But enough whining. Obama is talking about how the Iraq war has weakened this country.

10:33, Obama's not doing too bad on the need to de-prioritize Iraq. Not bad.

10:34, McCain emphasizing that he is more experienced than Iraq. McCain testifies that he "will take care of" veterans without being specific. Sentimentality doesn't work here.

10:35. Obama is making a closing point. Now Obama is moving onto his general vision. He wants to "keep America safe" through issues of "how ordinary people are going to live out their dreams."

10:36. McCain goes to his hole card--being a POW.

Next week on October 2, the two VP candidates.

Is McCain Out of Debate Shape?

As an unofficial Obama water-carrying site, we here at RSI used to be worried about the presidential debates. Obama's not that great of a debater and isn't that good in spontaneous give and take with the media either.

But I'm not so worried tonight. John McCain used to be be a very good debater and was once great in the daily cut and thrust with the media.

But since McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt decided to shut down the Straight Talk Express, McCain is just as tightly controlled as the average political candidate. He hasn't talked off the cuff with reporters for six weeks. McCain still does plenty of town hall meetings but my guess is that McCain's not in as great a shape as a debater as he was back in the presidential primaries.

As a result, I'm a lot less nervous. Tonight's debate might be a rather dull showdown between Obama as a less than average debater and McCain as an out of condition debater.

But I'll take dull.

The Obama/McCain Debate's at Nine

Where the Action Is. Barack Obama and John McCain are going to debate tonight at 9:00 eastern standard time. I'll be live-blogging with a packed crowd of faculty, students, and friends in Rader Hall on the campus of Morehead State University in Morehead, KY.

The McCain Set-Up. If John McCain and his campaign were merely smart, they would view this first debate more as an opportunity to slow down the bleeding than anything else. McCain is getting hammered in the press for his "suspend the campaign" stunt and hammered even more because it looks like he torpedoed an emerging agreement to focus attention on himself. McCain has also lost ground in the polling with several surveys showing Obama stretching out to a 5-6 point lead over the last three days. The best strategy for McCain would be to thank god the debate's on foreign policy, hope Jim Lehrer doesn't switch topics to the economy, and persistently advocate his ideas without trying to be overly challenging or showy. That way, the McCain campaign could look for the bleeding to stop before launching more aggressive attacks on Obama next week.

But it's likely that McCain and his campaign team think they're too smart for patience and that McCain will pull off some sort of stunt to make Obama look bad on foreign policy. Maybe McCain will come out with a provocative statement about Russia, Iran, or North Korea. There's always a chance that some kind of campaign will work, but the chances are that the media and the television audience will be pretty skeptical.

One tip: If Jim Lehrer asks McCain about Sarah Palin's foreign policy experience, McCain is doomed. That might be an exaggeration, but, Palin's taking even more of a drubbing in the media than McCain as she comes off her disastrous CBS interview. McCain would be in a very tough spot if Lehrer decides to stick it to him by asking a Palin question.

The Obama Set-Up. Obama's in a great situation. He's leading and McCain's been knocked off his aggressive game by the events of this week. Obama's natural instinct would be to be cautious, take few risks, and let the debate be a boring draw. But the Obama campaign has gotten more aggressive since the Democratic convention and he has two big hammers with him. First, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki now agrees with Obama's time-table plan. Moreover, the Bush administration and John McCain have come to agree with Obama's insistence that Afghanistan is the primary threat in the war on terror. McCain will probably come at Obama with Obama's failure to support the surge in Iraq. But Obama shouldn't have much of a problem dealing with that.

Prediction: I've been horrible at predictions this election, but I think Obama will come out of the debate looking like "the leading candidate for president." He could emerge even better than that if McCain continues to self-destruct, but looking like the leading candidate is pretty damn good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain/GOP on the High Wire

It doesn't take a weatherman to know that there are so many political cross-currents right now that nobody knows much of anything. Nobody in the media knows where the negotiations on Paulson's Big $700 Billion Bailout stand. But I'm not sure the negotiators know either. The main unknowable is whether John McCain or the House Republicans actually want a settlement. One of the reasons House Republicans rejected the understanding between the Dems and the Bush administration was that they didn't want an agreement until after John McCain got back to Washington. An aide to House Republican leader John Boehner "said Republicans revolted, in part, because they were chafing at what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to jam through an agreement on the bailout early Thursday and deny Mr. McCain an opportunity to participate in the agreement." Now McCain is returning the favor to the House GOP by indicating that he might not like the settlement either. But nobody knows what either McCain or the House Republicans want because they're both focused more on presidential politics than on solving the problem. The House Republicans didn't even show up for an evening meeting at the White House.

A secondary matter is that no one realy knows whether there will be a presidential debate Friday night or not. And I haven't even seen any guesses on what all the political manuevering means for the presidential election.

Finally, there's the big question about whether the credit markets are going to completely ground to a halt if there's no big bailout deal by Monday. House Republicans might not care (". . . some House Republicans are saying privately that they’d rather “let the markets crash” than sign on to a massive bailout.) but Sept. 29 might be remembered as the Black Monday of the next big depression.

To paraphrase Karen Carpenter, "Rainy Days and Black Mondays always get me down."

But the fact that nobody knows anything doesn't mean that there aren't important things to say.

The Dems Should Roll the House Republicans. The current hold-up for Paulson's Big Bailout is the House Republicans. The House Republicans are proposing some of the dumbest ideas in the history of American government and they're willing to hold their breath and withhold their votes until everyone else agrees with them. They want to provide insurance guarantees for the private parties buying up the bad financial debt. The House Republicans didn't come up with this idea until Thursday and there's reason to believe that they're mostly engaged in political posturing so that John McCain can look like the guy who's brokering a "compromise." But Secretary of Treasury Paulson declared it unworkable as soon as he heard of it.

I don't see how this proposal would work either. If private parties purchased the debt and it started losing value again, the Republicans want them to be insured for their losses. Perhaps I'm mistaken but my understanding is that investors in capitalist economies are interested in earning profits rather than breaking even by having investments insured. But why would this mechanism give investors confidence in relation to the extremely bad debt they already hold.

Even worse, the Republican plan incorporates more tax breaks for private investors than they already have and deregulates financial markets even further.

Yeah, that's the ticket--more tax breaks and even less structure and coherence for the financial markets than they have now.

Without House Republican support, the Democrats aren't going to go along with any bailout either. The Democratic leadership insists that any bailout legislation gets 100 House Republican votes. I can see the point. The bailout looks unpopular on Main Street and the Democratic leaders want political insurance against GOP attack ads.

But here Nancy Pelosi is mistaken. The Democrats should have more faith in the rightness of their own position and they be running their own ads about how the Republicans are responding to the national crisis with even more tax cuts for the wealthy and even more deregulation to reinforce reckless behavior on Wall Street. Nobody likes bailing out the irresponsible pseudo-geniuses of the financial sector, but Republican proposals are just as irresponsible as the original sub-prime loans. Ultimately, the Democratic leadership should be prepared to pass the bailout legislation with Democratic votes alone. They should also be using their financial advantage to start attacking the conservative Republicans who are rejecting bipartisan compromise in favor of ideological nonsense.

The Debate Tomorrow. The Obama/McCain debate looked like it was on when the Democratic negotiators were declaring that an agreement had been reached. However McCain has pledged to only do the debate if an agreement has been reached and it doesn't look like McCain is particularly interested in reaching agreement unless he gets to broker that agreement himself. Something tells me the Democrats aren't going to buy into that. So it's doubtful that McCain will do the debate.

But what's it all mean for the election. Nobody knows. McCain has gotten a lot of attention for "suspending his campaign," flying into Washington, and doing interviews with CBS, ABC, and NBC. That will probably keep him from slipping further, but I don't see public opinion as coalescing in relation to McCain's latest manuevers. As a result, the meaning of McCain's campaign suspension stunt will be determined more by future events than what's happening in the short term.

But we're seeing what a McCain presidency would look like. McCain talks a bi-partisan game, but what that means is that he would play the Democrats and conservative Republicans against each other in order to make himself look good. As a result, a McCain presidency would involve a constant helping of high-wire political posturing where a President McCain would try to focus maximum attention on himself. That's McCain's character. He a "me, me, me" kind of guy who likes to take big risks without being organized or thinking things through. It's also McCain's political position. McCain doesn't have a big constitutency in the Republican Party and would be facing Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. Given that he's essentially a politicqal loner, McCain would alway have to be working out new ways to focus attention on himself. That makes for a daily high wire act.

John McCain not only likes to be irresponsible, it's his only option.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cracking Republican Foundations

Political discussion is being dominated by the McCain campaign's call for postponing Friday night's debate with Barack Obama.

But the most important development of the day involves the Republican Party in the House and the Senate. It appears that the Bush administration's plan to hand $700 billion to Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson for the purpose of buying up bad debt isn't flying with rank and file Republicans at all.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky emerged from deep obscurity to proclaim that “This massive bailout is not a solution. It is financial socialism and it's un-American.”

It didn't set too well with House Republicans either:

“Just because God created the world in seven days doesn't mean we have to pass
this bill in seven days,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

Added Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., “I am emphatically against it.”

And a visit by Dick Cheney and Josh Bolton made things even worse.

The problem for the Republicans is this. If they follow their conservative instincts and oppose the bailout on principle, Republicans risk a moment of truth in which they look like the irresponsible ideologues they are.

But they're also creating a huge problem for the McCain campaign and the Bush administration which is trying to help the McCain campaign. If Congressional Republicans oppose Paulson's Big Bailout on principle, then the only chance to pass anything is to seek Democratic support. The Bush administration has recognized this. As a result, Bush have acceded to Democratic demands for items like Congressional oversight, protection for mortgage holders, and severe limitations on CEO salaries. The Bush administration has long been successful in stiffing the Congressional Democrats because of theunanimous support they were getting from the Republican caucus. Without that, the Bush administration has had to give into the Democrats on every point except the Democratic insistence on exchanging debt relief for equity in financial companies.

So has John McCain.

In this way, the Bush bailout proposal has cracked the foundation of the Republican Party in lockstep support for Bush administration positions. That's a great deal of what's underlying McCain's stunt proposal to bring the presidential campaigns back to Washington. If the bailout proposal becomes a largely Democratic initiative, the Republican Party will look irrelevant on the biggest issue of our time just as the country is moving into an election.

It's a deadly combination for a Republican candidate like McCain. So he decided to pull a big stunt on Obama and suspend his campaign.

Quack, Quack McCain

I knew that McCain was going to do something big in relation to the Friday debate. He doesn't have any traction on the bailout issue at all and is starting to fall farther behind.

But I didn't realize that McCain's big move would be ducking the debate altogether.

The Way the Wind Blows

The die is cast. An ABC/Washington Post poll has Obama up by 9. That means that McCain's going to come out swinging in Friday night's debate. My personal bet is that we're going to hear a lot about Obama's connections to William Ayres, the ex-Weatherman radical.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bank Lobbyists like Paulson's Big Bailout

NPR has an interview with a bank lobbyist who is much happier with the Bush administration's bailout plan than Democratic ideas of limiting CEO pay and setting up an oversight mechanism. There's just something about getting $700 billion with no strings attached that seems appealing.

McCain: The Road to Nowhere

Last week, there was an announcement that construction was finished on the $25 million road to the place where the Bridge to Nowhere was supposed to be built. With all McCain's pandering, flip flops, and lies, it's becoming obvious that a McCain administration would be the ultimate "Road to Nowhere."

Thomas Friedman--Idiot

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has a column in the Herald-Leader about rating presidential candidates by how much they challenge their "base." That's too clever by half. How about rating candidates on what their policies and leadership would do for the country as a whole?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Four Corners: The Politics of the Bailout

The outline of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's massive bailout plan is clear. But only the outline is clear because the proposed bill is a two-page outline that doesn't fill in any of the details.

Paulson wants Congress to appropriate $700 billion for the purpose of buying up the bad debt of financial institutions. The money is intended solely to purchase bad debt ("cash for trash" according to Paul Krugman). Paulson doesn't want any authority to regulate, manage, purchase, or punish the corporate managements that made all the bad decisions. In other words, the proposal is designed in such a way that the federal bailout has no impact on the management prerogative of financial instititutions.

Paulson is also trying to ensure that no other federal institution can interfere with his authority to distribute the money in any way he sees fit. He demands that there not be any kind of regulatory supervision, legally mandated process, or recourse to the courts in relation to the purchase of bad debt. Much as Paulson is seeking to ensure that corporate managements can do whatever they want, he is also trying to insulate himself from any oversight that would prevent him from doing whatever he wants.

Some people criticize the money. Others don't like the preservation of corporate autonomy, and others object to the dictatorial powers Paulson seeks for himself.

But nobody thinks this is a good deal.

Liberal Democrats object to Paulson's efforts to shield failing financial institution from further oversight, consequences for their recklessness, or quid pro quos. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has filed a proposal that empowers the federal government to acquire equity in financial companies in exchange for the purchase of bad debt. Barney Frank is pushing for a Congressional Oversight Board to oversee the use of the $700 billion. Other Dems want CEO salaries kept under $500,000 while liberal bloggers like Matthew Yglesias would like to see a lot of CEO's fired as punishment for their reckless investments.

Thinking about these objections makes it possible to better understand the logic of Paulson's proposal. Paulson essentially wants to use the $700 billion to re-establish as much of the status quo ante in the financial markets as possible. He wants financial companies to go back to a state where they are fundamentally solvent, free to invest company funds (and reward executives) in the way they see fit, and "unburdened" by much federal regulation. That's why Paulson asks nothing from the companies in return for the $700 billion and is adamant that he have total control over the money. Paulson doesn't want to create any more regulatory structures that could exercise control over the market.

But Democrat counter-arguments have validity. For the Dems, the huge salaries and bonuses, disregard for basics, and reckless plays in the derivative markets were all signs that the financial markets were fundamentally disordered before the bust. Consequently, the Dems believe that the failure to enact new kinds of regulation will only be inviting another orgy of bank excess and a future financial crisis. For the Dems, putting new regulatory structures in place would create a new status quo that is more stable than what Bernanke is trying to protect.

The real action in terms of addressing the financial crisis is between the Bush administration and Congressional Democrats. If Paulson and the Democratic leadership can work out a compromise (the main issue of contention would be Dodd's idea of a cash for equity swap), there will be some plan that preserves the $700 billion bailout but also enacts some of the controls over the market called for by the Demcrats.

If not, the Bush administration and the Dems will be playing their usual game of chicken in order to see who blinks first with the economy on the verge of depression.

At the same time, some conservative Republicans are mounting an interesting sideshow. Some Republicans like Patrick Ruffini of The Next Right think that the Paulson bailout is a perfect time to assert conservative principles in a way that works for the McCain campaign.
Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi,
btw), while principled Republicans say "No" and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress.

For activists like Ruffini and "rock-ribbed" (love that phrase) conservative politicians like Jim Bunning of Kentucky, enduring a depression is not nearly as bad as enduring more government control over the economy.

For ideological conservatives, any government control is "socialism" and Paulson's bailout is "the end of free enterprise as we know it." Compared to that ideological catastrophe, a depression isn't such a bad thing.

But Republican leaders like John McCain live in a world where an economic depression is seen as one of the ultimate traumas on a par with a large-scale terrorist attack or military action on the scale of WWII.

If McCain's campaign talks about a "huge bailout" in a way that seems blase about a depression, they'll lose. But defending the Bush administration's bailout as it is doesn't look like a winner either.

Consequently, McCain is sounding a lot like the Democrats in calling for greater oversight and protection for householders facing huge mortgage payments.

. . . the GOP presidential hopeful nonetheless called for a bipartisan oversight board to supervise the proposed bailout, to be led by Warren Buffett or another widely respected business leader . . .

The Arizona senator also called on Congress to move quickly and work with the Bush administration to restore stability to the troubled financial sector. But he said the goal of any action must be to allow homeowners to stay in their homes and prevent Wall Street executives from profiting from a taxpayer bailout.

It's the worst of all worlds for McCain. Because his solutions sound lso much ike Democratic solutions, the McCain campaign was reduced to futile sniping at the New York Times and the Politico for not accepting any of their brand new distortions of Obama's background and record.

All that accomplished was getting McCain a little more bad press.

Right now, the four-corner politics of Paulson's Big Bailout is working for the Democrats. That will give Obama a little momentum leading into Friday's debate.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Paulson on the Bailout: A Trillion Here, A Trillion Now

The Bush administration has asked for $700 billion over the next two years to buy up the bad debt of the many regular banks, investment banks, insurance companies, and other entities who have goofed up the economy. I wouldn't be surprised if that turned into a trillion before everything is done.

Of course, everybody on the left, right, and in the middle recognizes the need for some form of system remedy for the crisis that's enveloped the financial sector. Whites get it. Blacks get it. So do Republicans and Democrats, the young and old, and rich and poor. Everybody gets it. I think I even hear one of the Caric family cats meowing about "comprehensive solutions."

America has achieved the kind of consensus that hasn't been seen since 9-11.

But the Bush administration is still managing to turn the Wall Street Rescue Plan into a partisan exercise.

That's because they insist on just handing over $700 billion to Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson to spend as he sees fit. The three page bill defines the Secretary of Treasury's breathtaking new powers in two brief little clauses.
Sec. 2. Purchases of Mortgage-Related Assets

(a) Authority to Purchase.--The Secretary is authorized to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and conditions as determined by
the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any financial institution having its
headquarters in the United States.

(b) Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation:

That's it. There's no oversight, no process for evaluation and dispersement of money, no requirements to meet for the companies that get the money. The Secretary of Treasury has complete discretion from which there is no appeal of any sort.
Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
In other words, the Secretary of Treasury wants to be able to play with $700 billion without any kind of checks and balances.

And the Secretary doesn't want his authority tainted by any measures that the Democrats would want that would create oversight structures, help homebuyers or hold the financial executives who created the crisis.

As the Bush administration puts it, they want a "clean bill" that only includes what they want.

And they want it now.

Perhaps they should try this slogan--"A Trillion Here, A Trillion Now."