Tuesday, September 30, 2008
ECONOMICS FOR DUMMIES
Thursday 25 September 2008
by: Patrick Lagacè, La Presse
Posted today by Mark from today's truthout.org
O.K., let's begin at the beginning, all right? Let's begin with the cost of this Wall Street rescue plan by Uncle Sam.
"There's too many of you!" (Art: Pancho / Le Monde)
We're talking about 700 billion American dollars.
Yeah! Seven hundred billion dollars is Taiwan's GDP; it's the equivalent of the world's 21st economy. It's only slightly less than the 829 billion US dollars that circulate as bills and coins in the world.
I know; it's still rather vague. It's still abstract.
Let's bring it down to what we can understand: Laying 700 billion US one dollar bills end to end would allow us to go two-thirds of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, or 104 million kilometers. They would weigh the same as seven American aircraft carriers.
O.K., I see in your eyes that this all is still hazy. I'll try to do a better summary.
You see, the problem is credit. The banks don't have enough dough and so they are reluctant to lend any. The value of houses has fallen; that of securities backed by mortgage payments also. So those assets are no longer salable by the banks. Financial institutions are choking.
They're choking so much that some have had to renounce the market's invisible hand to embrace - kiss kiss - the government's, which came to the rescue of giants like AIG.
So, American banks hesitate to lend what dough they have.
In an economy based on credit and $20 DVD players sold at Wal-Mart - so many $20 financed by mortgage loans against their house - Americans can't not borrow the money to finance their legitimate pursuit of happiness, guaranteed, as everyone knows, by the Declaration of Independence.
This happiness, as everyone knows, is guaranteed by the purchase of $20 DVD players (but that's not in the Declaration because Wal-Mart didn't exist in 1776) and - up until just recently - by the purchase of $200,000 houses for $450,000, the price set by the market, which market is always perceptive and right.
So, to correct the excesses of an economy doped-up by a real estate bubble, itself doped-up by the easy credit banks were giving their clients like Santa Claus giving out presents to kids on December 25, the American government has decided to administer horse medicine.
I mentioned those 700 billion dollars intended to reestablish the era of easy credit with the goal of allowing every American to buy a new $20 DVD player at Wal-Mart every day. And perhaps even to go back to paying $450,000 for houses worth $200,000 (with no down payment).
That's basic, right?
Good, now we're on the same wavelength.
That's why President George W. Bush took desperate remedies, that is, to delay the extreeeeeemely popular show, America's Got Talent (referring to talent in singing, dancing, acting, of course, not to talent in financial planning) 17 minutes.
So, Mr. Bush, with all the conviction he is famous for, no doubt after having prattled with his personal friend, Mr. Jesus-Christ, addressed the American people in one of those solemn speeches the Americans adore.
"Our economy is in danger," he soberly announced, with a sincerity rivaling that which he displayed before the invasion of Iraq. Then, the 43rd president assured the American people that the present dead-end was, "according to most economists," the fruit of problems that had been developing over the last ten years linked to the massive influx of foreign capital into the chosen country of God Himself.
Strangely, Mr. Bush did not mention that these last 18 months, all the ornaments of his administration snubbed the (many) economists who dared assert that a significant part of the American economy resembled a kind of pyramid scheme based on too-easy access to home ownership and, more properly, a defective government regulatory framework.
Why did Mr. Bush forget to mention that? No doubt an omission on the part of the technician in charge of parading Mr. Bush's text through the teleprompter.
So there we are, blissfully wondering whether 700 billion dollars stuck together can trace a path to the Sun. And whether the American economy will not experience a black and white period like the Great Depression.
Of course, we could worry. After all, if the Americans catch a cold, it's well-known, Canada ends up sneezing. Imagine when they have a Depression: that's the schizophrenia in store for us ...
Personally, I see absolutely no reason to worry: if George W. Bush conducts the war on economic gloom with the same dexterity with which he conducts the war on terrorism, I think we can rest easy.
Mr. Bush, after all, is the man who struck down Saddam Hussein. No little credit crisis is going to scare him; that's for sure.
Saturday 27 September 2008
by: Michael Winship, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Photo: macslegalhistory.com)
We thirst for leadership, vision, someone who can speak to us in a way that refuses to avert its eyes from the crisis but shines a light of truth upon the problem, then offers hope and possible solutions.
If this is indeed an economic 9/11, as some have suggested, we need that voice now. Right now. And so far it has yet to be heard. Not from McCain, or Obama, or President Bush.
After September 11, 2001, the President stood on a pile of debris with a megaphone and said that the whole world could hear the rescue workers and shared their grief. Soon, words of sorrow degenerated into bumper sticker rhetoric: Axis of Evil, Wanted Dead or Alive, Mission Accomplished. Nor, at a time when people were ready to do whatever needed to be done, was there a call for national sacrifice. Instead, the President invoked not poets or statesman past, but variations on a tee-shirt slogan: when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
Over the last two weeks, he has been seen infrequently and when he has spoken his words have rung false. This Harvard MBA speaks Economics as though he were phonetically reading a foreign language.
The President has seemed underinformed, disconnected and not, you should excuse the word, invested. In his address to the nation Wednesday evening, he said that the government was blameless for the financial crisis; it had done what it was supposed to do but had been victimized by overseas lenders, greedy banks and Americans taking on more credit than they could carry. And as he has done too often before, he tried to make us afraid.
"The government's top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic, and a distressing scenario would unfold." President Bush said. "More banks could fail, including some in your community. The stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account. The value of your home could plummet. Foreclosures would rise dramatically. And if you own a business or a farm, you would find it harder and more expensive to get credit. More businesses would close their doors, and millions of Americans could lose their jobs."
Contrast what he had to say with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was sworn into office for the first time, in 1933, during the Great Depression. Rather than foster anxiety and panic, FDR proclaimed, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," despite the fact that 13 million were unemployed, nine million had lost their savings and a quarter of the banks had closed. Wages had plummeted 60 percent. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" is the phrase that everyone remembers, but here's a little more of what FDR had to say:
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper ...
"In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income ... More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment ...
"The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit ... If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take, but we must give as well."
Idealism and truth-telling intersected in FDR's speech. There was no equivocation, no pass-the-buck. But as decades passed, the belief in government as an instrument to advance the common good was rejected. Ronald Reagan became President, proclaimed that government was not the solution but the problem, and joked that, "The 10 most dangerous words in the English language are, "Hi, I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help."
Now, like a last-minute, battlefield conversion, the White House has rediscovered the value of government as backstop - not to relieve the misery of the people but the agonized indigestion of financial institutions suffering morbid obesity because they ate too much at the big shot banquet.
In these bailouts, there is no altruism but cynicism, the same attitude that scorns the Constitution and tramples civil liberties, that uses national tragedy to advance an unrelated global agenda, that doesn't give a damn as it tries to game and subvert the electoral process because deep down it fundamentally disdains democracy. Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.
We need solutions, not sound bites or pandering. We need inspiration and hope, not spin or cant. The way things are going, we may have to find it within ourselves. But in the next five weeks, if one of the candidates can discover how to articulate that hope without pandering, can define our national trauma and tell us how to try to make it better without terrifying us, can give us something to believe in without false expectations, he will be our next President.
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.
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Monday 22 September 2008
by: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ring of Fire
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has expressed concern for the safety of the vote in the 2008 election. (Photo: wikimedia.org)
Transcript from Ring of Fire on Air America Radio
Bobby: "There are about 30 scams the Republicans are deliberately using, particularly in the swing states to get Democratic voters off the rolls. These scams originate in the so-called Help America Vote Act which was passed after the Florida debacle in the year 2000. It was originally suggested by Democrats and Republicans but it was passed by a Republican congress with a Republican senate and a Republican president. And instead of reforming what happened in Florida it basically institutionalized all the problems that happened in Florida. And institutionalized a series of impediments that make it very difficult for Democrats to register, for Democrats to vote and then for Democrats to have their vote counted.
"One of these requirements under HAVA is called "the perfect match" and what that does is little known but it is devastating. A quarter of the voters in Colorado have just been removed from the rolls because of this - just this one scam. And what it does is they use a computer system to compare your registration application to all other government records of you in the state. So they'll look at your social security records, your motor vehicle records and any time you've had any interaction with the government and if there is any information on your voter registration that is different than the information on another government record that they find they remove you from the voting rolls.
"For example, if I registered as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and yet my motor vehicle license said Robert Frances Kennedy Jr. I'd be removed from the rolls. If your initial is different, if you leave an initial out, if you leave a "Jr." out, if you leave a hyphen out in your name. And what they've done is a study in New York that said 80% of the errors are errors that were done by state clerks who are taking down this information. And particularly immigrant communities that people tend to vote Democratic, people have names … spell Muhammad with an "o" instead of a "u" (crosstalk)
Pap: "Are the Democrats Suing to Stop This?"
Bobby: "No, the Democrats are doing nothing to stop it. In New Jersey, which is a swing state, 300,000 voters in New Jersey were just sent letters saying that they are now ineligible to vote. New jersey is nice enough to actually notify them - most states will not even notify them. And New Jersey intends to send out 870,000 letters so that is three quarters of a million people off the voting rolls in a state that could decide this vote by 50,000 votes. And these are Democrats that are being pushed off the rolls.
Bobby: "Let me tell you about one other of these scams people should know about. If you're a newly registered voter - and of course the Democrats have done these gigantic registration drives - 12 million people on registration - if you're a new voter you MUST include your license or some other state I.D. when you come to vote. What that means is that if you're a college kid (and college kids now - they're sending in absentee ballots - they're not going to the voting place, they do everything online or they do everything remotely - they don't dream of going to the precinct house voting on election day and waiting in a long line) so if they send in the absentee ballot and they don't include a color copy of their license their vote is going to be thrown into a trash can. And none of these people know this because you have had to read the law in order to know it. So there is no notification for when you fill out your registration form, so all of those 12 million people that the Democrats have registered: those ballots are going to be just thrown out.
Pap: "And if Democrats won't talk about this how the hell's anybody gonna know about it? I'm involved with this kind of thing every day - I didn't know that until you just told me. The media is not talking about it. How in the hell is somebody gonna find this out? It's just incredible.
Bobby: "Hopefully - Obama is getting 66 million dollars a month - hopefully somebody in the Democratic organization is going to pay some attention to this before election day.
Posted by Mark from truthout.org
This polling organization has been showing up in realclearpolitics average for the past week or so. The results have been curious. Here's the explanation from today's lead story on fivethirtyeight.com. Mark
I have gotten an increasing number of questions about the GWU/Battleground Poll, which presently gives John McCain a 2-point national lead, even as essentially every other current national poll shows Barack Obama with a lead of at least 5 points.
Just because a poll is an outlier doesn't necessarily mean that it's doing something wrong. Pollsters may have legitimate reasons for having a different perspective on the election, and they may also occasionally produce odd results due to chance alone.
In this case, however, the poll seems to be making a relatively fundamental mistake: it is not weighting by age.
Take a look for yourself at the "weighted tables" that Battleground released a couple of days ago (PDF). These crosstabs provide a ton of detail -- kudos to Battleground for doing so -- but unfortunately there is one red flag. This is the age makeup of their weighted sample:
18-34 17%Intuitively, this probably looks fairly wrong to you -- almost twice as many age 65+ voters as age18-34 voters? And in fact, it almost certainly is wrong. By comparison, here is the approximate age composition of the electorate in 2004, as according to the US Census Bureau**:
18-34 26%Battleground's numbers are not even close. About 19 percent of voters were aged 65 and older in 2004, as compared to the 31 percent in the Battleground sample. On the other hand, 43 percent of voters were aged 18-44, as opposed to Battleground's 29 percent. These differences are much, much too large to be attributable to chance alone. (And all of this is assuming that turnout in 2008 will match that in 2004, even though youth turnout increased markedly in the primaries and is at least somewhat probable to do so in the general election.0
9/30 Daily Kos R2K Tracking Poll: Obama 51, McCain 41
Tue Sep 30, 2008 at 04:19:20 AM PDT
Today's Daily Kos Research 2000 tracking poll has Obama up over McCain 51-41. All trackers are data from three days prior to posting, with R2K numbers from today (yesterday's numbers in parentheses) and the other trackers are from yesterday (previous day's data). LV=likely voter, RV=registered voter.
Today's trackers will have Sat-Mon post-debate data, and will not fully reflect post-debate sentiment. The trackers do, however, include McCain campaign suspension/resumption days, and it's the financial crisis that is driving these numbers.
Obama McCain MoE +/- RV/LV
Research 2000: 51 (51) 41 (42) 3 LV
On successive days, Obama was up +9 Sat, +11 Sun and +11 Mon (MoE +/- 5.1 for individual days.)
One poll to highlight today: Gallup on the assessment of crisis response (click the pic for more readable graphic.)
Stephanopoulos: Voters blame Republicans for bill failure07:19 | 30/09/2008
ABC, Good Morning America
Stephanopoulos stated that the earliest anything can get done in Congress will be Wednesday. He said that "the power is in Wall Street now" as "another dropoff in the market on Wall Street would create more pressure" on Congress and force action in Congress.
Stephanopoulos revealed that a new ABC News poll coming out this morning asked voters who they blame for the failure of the vote. "The voters seem to be blaming the Republicans in Congress more than the Democrats in Congress" and "for the overall economic situation...voters tend to blame President Bush."
Monday, September 29, 2008
|A Very thoughtful piece written by Robert Kuttner, in today's American Prospect. |
Both presidential candidates are leaving themselves wiggle room to change their mind, and House Republicans are still on the fence.
Will Congress pass the Paulson-Pelosi package? Will both presidential candidates vote for it? And will it work?
At this writing, passage is still far from certain. There is still open rebellion on the Republican right, and a lot of progressive Democrats don't really like it either. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs at least 80 of the 199 House Republicans, or the package becomes more the Democrats' baby. Even if the rescue plan keeps markets afloat through the election, a proposition that I'd put at 50-50, there will be a rolling taxpayer backlash that Republicans will milk for all it's worth.
For any House Republican facing a tight re-election race, the easier vote is No. The alternative Republican plan is a joke. It's billed as a "free market" solution, but it depends on government tax breaks and government insurance to bribe more investors into buying this junk. It's hardly a free market -- if it were, they wouldn't need the tax subsidy or the insurance. And it is even less likely to work than the Paulson plan. But angry taxpayers don't follow the fine print. They only know that Wall Street is getting $700 billion and they are not.
Pelosi has one trump card. Wall Street desperately needs this plan, and Wall Street is not wrong to fear Great Depression II. In normal times, Wall Street has pretty good lines to the Republican Party. But in these times, Republican members are willing to gamble with the economy in order to appease angry voters. However, if Republican legislators will not share the credit and blame, there will be no bill and we can look forward to a deepening crisis.
A similar drama is playing out in the presidential campaign. Both McCain and Obama said they were inclined to support the package, but both left themselves just a bit of wiggle room. Imagine the scene at McCain Headquarters. The phones are ringing off the hook from opposite quarters -- captains of finance urging him to support the plan, and the Republican pseudo-populist right-wing demanding that he stand with them.
If Obama declares his intentions first, there will be great temptation for McCain to double-cross him. As McCain slips further and further in the polls, it's desperation time. McCain could easily give a speech saying he hopes the measure works, but he can't in good conscience vote for it be because it's too tilted to the fat cats and doesn't do enough for ordinary working Americans. Since the vote will be far closer in the House, which votes first, McCain would have the luxury of voting no, but knowing that the bill will pass. This then sets up the mantra of the campaign's final month: McCain=Principled Independent who speaks for You; Obama=Washington Club that bails out Wall Street.
Obama, who views himself more as a steward and is already thinking about where the economy will be in January, will very likely vote for it. But in announcing his support, we can expect him to say that the package is far from what he wanted; that it is at best a stopgap; that in round two, when he is president, we will need to come back and do this right; and that any politician who plays politics with this vote is playing Russian roulette with the economy. Voters and pundits can then draw their own conclusions about whether McCain is a populist hero or cynical opportunist.
But what about the plan itself? Ever since the plan was unveiled, I have been urging that critics of it not festoon it with more benefits for homeowners and more limits on executive compensation -- but offer a whole other approach. The road not taken included direct government refinancing for homeowners instead of government mopping up of junk securities. With that approach, stability trickles up. The money markets get the same relief. But it's far more just to ordinary people and far better politics. The Democrats, alas, were not able to add more than modest additional homeowner help to the package.
The second basic difference in the alternative approach is the idea that government should become a part or full owner in failing financial institutions. Variants of this have been proposed by Jamie Galbraith, former Soros associate Rob Johnson, and Douglas Elmendorf of the Brookings Institution.
But Congress did not follow this path. So is the package worth voting for? It is, in my view, but just barely and only as a stopgap. Congress did add tighter controls, and does not permit Paulson to go out and spend the whole $700 billion at once.
My crystal ball says that markets stabilize for a few weeks, credit begins unlocking, but the deeper rot in the system comes back to produce persistent crises. One place to look is hedge funds, as investors gradually begin exercising their right to withdraw their money. Another source of continuing crisis is the huge market in exotic derivatives. Because Wall Street financial engineers created highly leveraged and unregulated products at multiples many times the value of underlying mortgages, this process is still unwinding. The collapse of the insurance giant A.I.G. was the consequence of one small unit in London writing over $300 billion of these contracts, and taking down the entire company when its bets went bad. The best primer ever written on this subject is Gretchen Morgensen's recent Times piece. You owe it to yourself to read it carefully. The problem is that there is a lot more such rot in the system, and we don't yet know what will unravel next, only that it will be something big.
Given the choice of voting this rescue package up or down, the responsible vote is Aye. It's what's for breakfast. And we will have something else for lunch.
The new regulatory regime will also have to be global, and here our European friends are way ahead of us. They are not exactly thrilled that a made-in-America crisis threatens to create a global financial depression. Last week, Poul Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister who is now leader of Europe's social democrats in the European Parliament, was in the U.S. explaining the re-regulation package that his committee on economic and monetary affairs had just pushed through the Parliament. All three blocs in the EU's parliament -- social democrats, conservatives, and liberals, voted for tough principles, extending regulation to all categories of financial institutions, limiting leverage, and treating hedge funds and private equity companies as fully regulated institutions.
So the best outcome is that this bailout buys several weeks or perhaps months, that both parties' fingerprints are on this hasty and flawed package, that Paulson runs through only a hundred billion or two by the time Congress grasps that it's time to go back to the drawing board. And that the incoming president starts thinking now about how to do this right. My hunch is that the eventual rescue will include one part direct refinancing for homeowners, one part direct government takeover of financial institution, and one part explicit prohibition of entire categories of financial instruments, such as credit default swaps (see Morgensen's explanation), which multiplied a housing bubble into a full-blown financial panic.
A very good model is the FDIC, as both a tough supervisor, and one which takes over failed banks that it insures. If government extends the financial safety net to all large institutions, it should extend FDIC-style supervision.
Think of this package as a bridge -- not an Alaska-style bridge to nowhere, but as a just-barely-viable bridge to the Obama administration -- which can then begin the arduous task of getting it right.
It's a war of words between two great American politicos — one a charismatic newcomer, the other a savvy Washington veteran — squaring off over racial equality, states' rights, media manipulation and other hot topics.
No, it’s not Barack Obama and John McCain, but Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in Norman Corwin’s “The Rivalry.” The play, which opened on Broadway in 1959, revolves around a series of debates during the race for an Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate in 1858. And instead of a university stage, the two candidates will face off at the Skirball Cultural Center as part of L.A. Theatre Works’ latest offering.
Lincoln, the upstart, will be played by David Strathairn, who, it just so happens, narrated the biographical video that introduced Obama at last summer’s Democratic convention. Douglas, one of the most powerful senators of his time, will be played by Paul Giamatti, who last week picked up an Emmy for portraying another political heavyweight, President John Adams.
“Rivalry” director Eric Simonson won an Oscar for his 2006 documentary about the 98-year-old Corwin, one of America's most versatile men of letters. Corwin has written for newspapers, newscasts, film, TV, stage — and, of course, radio. That ties nicely into Theatre Works' mission of recording contemporary and classic plays for broadcast and CD through radio-style readings.
And if one debate just isn't enough for you? On Oct. 15, opening night, you can enjoy a double bill by buying tickets for a 6 p.m. dinner and big-screen viewing of the third scheduled debate between Obama and McCain; Lincoln and Douglas will take the stage at 8.
Photo credit: University of Chicago via Lincoln/Net
Why aren't we helping homeowners directly with their debt burden? Why aren't we helping American families faced with bankruptcy. Why aren't we reducing debt for Main Street instead of Wall Street? Isn't it time for fundamental change in our debt based monetary system, so we can free ourselves from the manipulation of the Federal Reserve and the banks? Is this the United States Congress or the board of directors of Goldman Sachs? Wall Street is a place of bears and bulls. It is not smart to force taxpayers to dance with bears or to follow closely behind the bulls."
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Obama is Winning, But Don't Tell Anyone!
Nate Silver will surely have a more comprehensive (and intelligent) take on all of today's polls soon enough, but for now here is where we stand:
As we have seen all year, the daily tracking polls tend to operate within a narrower range than a number of the newspaper/network surveys that only come out periodically. Another way of putting this would be to say that unless something noteable happens very soon, polls next week will begin to show Obama with a double digit lead nationally (The Washington Posta nine-point spread last week). Meanwhile, Gallup has released a separate poll that shows voters judged Obama the winner of last week's debate with John McCain. and ABC News had
The question, then, is this: When will the media stop referring to the candidates, in the wordsNew York Times, as "locked in a tight battle"? The question is a pertinent one because after an unscientific (if not altogether cursory) sampling of friends and family members over a lovely weekend (all of whom, gaspingly, are Obama supporters), the only available, reasonable conclusion is that most Democrats seem to be under the following two impressions: of today's
1. The race could not be any closer.
2. The Palin pick, while irresponsible and reckless, has given the GOP a huge boost.
Now, this may have something to do with a certain inherent liberal pessimism, or with experiences undergone over the past two election cycles, or with fatalism about the idea that the country is finally "ready" to elect a black president. But it also might have something to do with the media's fervent desire to see the race as a nailbiter (which, of course, it very well may turn out to be). But if the election were held today, the national vote (if not the electoral college tally) would look a lot closer to Bush-Dukakis than most people seem willing to concede.
There might be a certain utility in not getting overcofident, especially where it concerns one's heart (be pessimistic!!--it makes losing much, much easier), but the truth of the matter is that right now, Obama is comfortably ahead. In the name of fairness alone, that should be reported on.
Posted by Mark from today's Huffingtonpost.com
On the strength of a set of national tracking polls that each show Obama at or near his high-water mark all year, our model projects that he would win an election hold today by 4.2 points. It discounts this lead slightly to a projected margin of 3.3 points on November 4, as most races tend to tighten as we approach election day.
This lead might not sound like that much, but it's fairly significant: we've been through two conventions and one debate, voters have dug their heels in, and Obama's position in the Electoral College is extremely robust. Trimming away a 4-5 point lead isn't that difficult over the summer months -- in fact, McCain accomplished exactly that in July and August -- but it's a steeper hill to climb after Labor Day. And if anything, our projection may be lowballing Obama slightly, as the aforementioned national tracking data (which incorporates one day of post-debate interviewing) has Obama's lead in the range of 5-8 points; the model will need Obama to hold those numbers for another day or two before it catches up to them.
Democrats have no reason to be complacent. Although the situation looks dramatically better for them than it did two weeks ago, so too have the stakes of the election increased. The next president will face perhaps the most challenging set of circumstances of any since Franklin Roosevelt, and could potentially have nearly as much impact on the future direction of the country. Obama could very easily lose, and even if he wins, odds are that there will be at least one more swing back toward McCain in the intervening 37 days. Nevertheless, as Isaac Chotiner suggests, I believe that the national punditry is understanding the difficulty of the position that McCain finds himself in.
This article posted by Mark from today's Fivethirtyeight.com
by Mark Drucker
If the old axiom is true – what you say about others is often true of yourself – then John McCain lost his bid for the presidency in
Post debate polls seem to support this notion. Voters felt McCain was condescending, grouchy, snarky and out of touch. Barack, they said, understood them, was more likable and had a sharp grasp of the issues. He shined on economics, held his own on foreign policy, and in fact, taught us much about the state of the world and how he intends to lead. “As President of the United States I reserve the right to speak to anyone I want anywhere in the world if I believe it will keep America safer”, he declared. Slam dunk. Case closed.
McCains’s strategy was to convince the public that Obama was some sort of naïve oaf, lacking a fundamental understanding of world affairs. The tactic: repeat, ad nauseum, “….my opponent doesn’t understand…” I didn’t count, but I’m sure he said it somewhere between five and eight times. We prayed Obama would finally go for blood. But let’s understand two things: First, that’s not his style. His counterpunch is always delayed and more thoughtful when it finally arrives. Second, no one has ever been able to expose McCain’s inner Hitler in a public forum. I suggest we stop hoping for it. He always pulls through in a debate. What McCain did do, to no avail, was to persist at chipping away at Barack’s [presumed] inexperience in hopes that he’d come undone – utter the big gaffe or expose some hidden dark side. But it didn’t happen. So if McCain thought he could outsmart the junior senator from
Know your enemy. Obama knows his, and he’s armed. Poised, steady, cool – he listened, he smiled and he hit back. He deflected McCain’s cheap shots, not by directly responding to the insult, but by presenting cogent, smarter, better foreign policy solutions with an alternate point-of–view, thereby persuading us that it is McCain who doesn’t understand the modern world. Obama spoke to the future. He put a different face on diplomacy and the fight against terrorism. McCain looked back. He referenced Reagan’s missile defense system, World War II and
John McCain needs to set conditions before agreeing to diplomacy. Barack Obama is willing to go and get conditions – make them, create them, negotiate them - face to face with the enemy if need be. I ask you: Who’s the real coward and who is the real warrior? Of the two candidates, which one doesn’t understand?
Obama didn’t take the bait. He didn’t hit back with zingers, and he didn’t recoil. By the end of the evening, the verdict was in. Despite McCain’s attempt at being the 'warm, fuzzy professor to the masses' who can devalue Obama’s seemingly weak grasp of the issues, Obama succeeded at completely deflating both McCain’s central argument and his ego. He was rewarded handsomely in the polls the next morning.
Actors do not usually turn in performances that gain the notice of presidents.
But when Paul Newman decided to take the role of anti-war activist in the early days of the Vietnam imbroglio, he performed so ably – as an early and essential campaigner for Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and prominent supporter of George McGovern – that he ranked high on then-President Richard Nixon's "enemies list."
Newman's name was on the original list of enemies produced by Nixon aide Charles Colson in 1971.
Colson's notes on the memorandum with regard to the actor read: "Paul Newman, California: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement '68. Used effectively in nationwide T.V. commercials. '72 involvement certain."
The official purpose, according to internal memos that circulated in the Nixon White House prior to the 1972 election was to "screw" liberal politicians, labor leaders, business titans, academics, activists and an actor who might be threats to the president's reelection.
"This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly--how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies," wrote White House counsel John Dean.
Newman, who died Friday at age 83, survived and thrived.
He won acting's top honors and even became one of the nation's most successful entrepreneurs, marketing his own exceptionally successful "Newman's Own" brand of salad dressings and organic food. ("It's all been a bad joke that just ran out of control," Newman said of the food business, which allowed him donate more generously than just about anyone in Hollywood or on Wall Street to charity.)
Newman remained political -- dedicated to civil rights, women's rights and gay rights, committed to ending the nuclear arms race and determined to elect opponents of war and militarism.
Newman supported, and even wrote for, The Nation.
And he was a steady campaigner for and contributor to progressive causes and candidates – mostly Democrats but also anti-war Republican Pete McCloskey when he challenged Nixon in the Republican primaries of 1972 and to Green Ralph Nader in 2000. In 2006, the actor helped Connecticut's Ned Lamont mount a successful Democratic primary challenge to U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. (Newman got so into the Lamont campaign that he even volunteered to do calls for the campaign -- and wrote his own script.)
This year, Newman was a maxed-out contributor to the campaign of Barack Obama for president.
The actor finished his life with more friends and fewer enemies than just about anyone in his chosen profession. And Newman's extensive philanthropy earned him little but praise in his final years.
Yet, Paul Newman was particularly proud to have been an "enemy."
Indeed, he said to the end of his days that the place he held on Nixon's list was "the highest single honor I've ever received."
Saturday, September 27, 2008
A Fillibuster-proof Senate is Conceivable
The current projection for the Senate is 58 Democrats and 42 Republicans. Currently Democrats are poised to pick up Republican seats in Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia. Could the Democrats actually win 60 seats in the Senate? A year ago that was unthinkable. With the current state of play, they need only two more. The candidate states are Minnesota, where Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) is in a close battle with Al Franken (D) and Mississippi-B*, where appointed senator Roger Wicker (R) is fighting former governor Ronnie Musgrove (D). While it is unlikely that the Democrats can get 60 seats, it is now at least conceivable, a huge change from a year ago. Before the 2006 election, the Democrats had 45 seats and were looking despondent. Now 60 is within their grasp. Much of the change has been due to a singularly effective DSCC chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a pair of singularly ineffective NRSC chairs, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) last time and Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) this time.Posted today from Electoral-vote.com
by: Brian McGoughSpotted on vetvoice.com and sent to us for posting by Edward Kidder
Sat Sep 27, 2008 at 00:05:21 AM EDT
| In tonight's debate John McCain said "I know the veterans, I know them well, and I know that they know that I'll take care of them, and I have been proud of their support and their recognition of my service to the veterans, and I love them, and I'll take care of them, and they know that I'll take care of them." |
Truth be told, this is not the case. McCain has a lackluster voting record when it comes to veterans' issues, and America's veterans know it. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have given McCain a grade of "D" when it comes to voting in their interest. The Disabled American Veterans have given McCain a 20 percent rating when it comes to voting in the interest of disabled veterans.
More after the fold. . . .
|Brian McGough :: McCain Overstretches his Support of Veterans and Troops|
|McCain has voted 29 times against veterans' medical benefits. In April 2006, McCain joined only 13 other senators in voting against an amendment that would increase funding for the VA to provide outpatient care and treatment. Earlier that year, McCain voted against increasing funding for military and veterans' hospitals. This was money that could have been used to fix the problems at Walter Reed before it became a national disgrace. |
McCain was a staunch opponent of the bipartisan Webb/Hagel GI Bill. This bill would have provided better educational opportunities to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. McCain called this bill "too generous" and tried to introduce his own watered down bill. McCain didn't even bother to show up to vote for the bill. After it passed the two staunchest opponents of the GI Bill, President Bush and John McCain, tried to take credit for its passage.
McCain has an equally bad record when it comes to supporting our active duty soldiers. McCain opposed the Webb/Hagel Dwell time amendment. This amendment would have ensured that for every day troops were deployed, they would spend one day at home. This time would have allowed troops to decompress from combat stress and to focus on maintaining the equipment necessary to fight a war. Our troops and equipment are now dangerously overstretched.
McCain opposed the Bayh amendment that would have provided $360 million for the procurement of up-armored humvees at a time when roadside bombs were killing American troops.
McCain voted to kill the Reed Amendment. This amendment would have begun to increase the size of the active army in 2003 and focused on stability operations.
McCain voted against the Dodd amendment that would provide an additional $320 million in protective gear for our troops in harms way.
McCain also voted against a Landrieu amendment that would have given our National Guard and Reserve troops the equipment they needed to survive on the battlefield.
There is a distinct pattern in these votes, and that pattern shows that John McCain is no friend to veterans on Capitol Hill. He may say all he wants that he is, but that doesn't change the fact that he votes time and time again against the needs of veterans and active duty soldiers.
If the election were held today, the current map - a net net reflection of the most recent polls - shows Obama picking up Virginia and widening his electoral college margin.
(Click on State or Table Below for Latest Polls and to Change Status)
This article appears in today's fivethirtyeight.com
Looks like McCain posted that victory ad way too soon!
TPM has the internals of the CNN poll of debate-watchers, which had Obama winning overall by a margin of 51-38. The poll suggests that Obama is opening up a gap on connectedness, while closing a gap on readiness.
Specifically, by a 62-32 margin, voters thought that Obama was “more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you”. This is a gap that has no doubt grown because of the financial crisis of recent days. But it also grew because Obama was actually speaking to middle class voters. Per the transcript, McCain never once mentioned the phrase “middle class” (Obama did so three times). And Obama’s eye contact was directly with the camera, i.e. the voters at home. McCain seemed to be speaking literally to the people in the room in Mississippi, but figuratively to the punditry. It is no surprise that a small majority of pundits seemed to have thought that McCain won, even when the polls indicated otherwise; the pundits were his target audience.
Something as simple as Obama mentioning that he’ll cut taxes for “95 percent of working families” is worth, I would guess, a point or so in the national polls. Obama had not been speaking enough about his middle class tax cut; there was some untapped potential there, and Obama may have gotten the message to sink in tonight
By contrast, I don’t think McCain’s pressing Obama on earmarks was time well spent for him. One, it simply is not something that voters care all that much about, given the other pressures the economy faces. But also, it is not something that voters particularly associate with Obama, as the McCain campaign had not really pressed this line of attack. If you’re going to introduce a new line of attack late in a campaign, it has better be a more effective one that earmarks. And then there was McCain's technocratic line about the virtues of lowering corporate taxes, one which might represent perfectly valid economic policy, but which was exactly the sort of patrician argument that lost George H.W. Bush the election in 1992.
Meanwhile, voters thought that Obama “seemed to be the stronger leader” by a 49-43 margin, reversing a traditional area of McCain strength. And voters thought that the candidates were equally likely to be able to handle the job of president if elected.
These internals are worse for McCain than the topline results, because they suggest not only that McCain missed one of his few remaining opportunities to close the gap with Barack Obama, but also that he has few places to go. The only category in which McCain rated significantly higher than Obama was on “spent more time attacking his opponent”. McCain won that one by 37 points.
My other annoyance with the punditry is that they seem to weight all segments of the debate equally. There were eight segments in this debate: bailout, economy, spending, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, terrorism. The pundit consensus seems to be that Obama won the segments on the bailout, the economy, and Iraq, drew the segment on Afghanistan, and lost the other four. So, McCain wins 4-3, right? Except that, voters don’t weight these issues anywhere near evenly. In Peter Hart’s recent poll for NBC, 43 percent of voters listed the economy or the financial crisis as their top priority, 12 percent Iraq, and 13 percent terrorism or other foreign policy issues. What happens if we give Obama two out of three economic voters (corresponding to the fact that he won two out of the three segments on the economy), and the Iraq voters, but give McCain all the “other foreign policy” voters?
Issue Priority Obama McCain
Economy 43 --> 29 14
Iraq 12 --> 12 0
Foreign Policy 13 --> 0 13
Total 41 27
By this measure, Obama “won” by 14 points, which almost exactly his margin in the CNN poll.
McCain’s essential problem is that his fundamental strength – his experience -- is specifically not viewed by voters as carrying over to the economy. And the economy is pretty much all that voters care about these days.
Friday, September 26, 2008
My friend Tim Russert, who didn't pull his words, famously said on the night of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries: "I think we now know who the Democratic nominee will be." Tonight I think we know who the next President will be.
The debate was a crossroads. For two weeks, John McCain has lurched down a dead-end road on the economy, lurch from happy talk about "sound fundamentals" to gloom about economic crisis; alternately out of touch, confused and self-contradictory; then desperately reaching for another stunt with his blundering, transparently opportunistic intrusion into the financial rescue negotiations which crimped his debate prep. He clearly could have used more.
Barack Obama was crisp, reassuring and strong -- in short, presidential, as he has been throughout the financial storm of the past two weeks. McCain was not as bad as he has been recently; but much of this debate was fought on what was supposed to be his high ground. As the encounter ended, Obama not only controlled the commanding heights of the economic issue -- and he not only held his own on national security -- but clearly passed the threshold as a credible commander-in-chief. McCain kept repeating that Obama doesn't "understand." But he clearly did. McCain made up no ground. That's similar to what happened in 1960 when Nixon ran on the slogan "Experience Counts" but found it didn't count that much when voters decided JFK was up to the job after the side by side comparison they saw in the first debate.
So what does McCain have left? Behind on the economy, no longer able to slip into the White House on the now disproven claim that only he can handle national security, he has two more debates but no big offer to the country. And then there's the VP debate -- which is likely to be seen as the peril of Palin. (Can't they give her a basic briefing, maybe in a spiral notebook -- or is it too much to read and too hard to remember?)
McCain has nowhere to go but stunts, warmed over stump lines, and lying ads -- which pollute his brand more than they hurt Obama, and the ugly hope that backlash may save his feckless campaign. The press will mostly miss the point: Obama met and surpassed the test.